Peter Oundjian, on the Yale Philharmonia’s “spontaneity and commitment”

Peter Oundjian conducts the Yale Philharmonia

Yale Philharmonia Principal Conductor Peter Oundjian has conducted Scheherazade many times. Still, he said last week after he and the orchestra rehearsed the piece in preparation for a concert this Thursday night, “For me, it’s always the first time. You have to have fresh energy for every single performance.”

It’s something he learned as the first violinist of the Tokyo String Quartet—and something he’s brought to the podium. The Yale Philharmonia has energy in abundance, in addition to the professionalism one finds in and around ensembles like the Toronto Symphony Orchestra, which Oundjian led for a decade and a half.

Professional groups like the TSO have a repertoire that includes pieces like Scheherazade, which are programmed every so often. Musicians who’ve been in a particular orchestra for a number of years might perform a piece like Scheherazade many times. The Yale Philharmonia, though, is an orchestra whose roster turns over by half every year, as students graduate from the School of Music. While the Philharmonia has performed Scheherazade in recent years, the musicians who’ll perform the piece on Thursday night have not—at least not together.

“This orchestra has never and will never play this music again,” Oundjian said. That means, performance-wise, “there’s no preconception and there’s no habit.” For Oundjian, and for audiences, this means an “incredible amount of spontaneity and commitment” in each performance.

“There’s an element of risk that makes this so exciting,” he said. This is why live performance is the experience that it is. “You don’t know what’s going to happen or how it’s going to happen.”

So far this season, Philharmonia audiences have heard the orchestra deliver memorable performances of Mahler’s Fifth Symphony and Prokofiev’s Fifth Symphony, along with music by Debussy, Mozart, and Szymanowski. On Thursday night, the Philharmonia will perform Rimsky-Korsakov’s Scheherazade on a program that also includes Debussy’s Nocturnes, with the treble voices of the Yale Schola Cantorum, and Weber’s Bassoon Concerto, with Woolsey Hall Concerto Competition winner Eleni Katz ’20MM.

What audiences can expect from this orchestra, Oundjian said, is a “huge amount of talent and instinct.”

The musicians, he said, “turn up for orchestra ready for anything that’s possible, which, for them, is limitless.”

Principal Conductor Peter Oundjian will lead the Yale Philharmonia in a performance of Debussy’s Nocturnes, with the treble voices of the Yale Schola Cantorum, Weber’s Bassoon Concerto, with Woolsey Hall Concerto Competition winner Eleni Katz ’20MM, and Rimsky-Korsakov’s Scheherazade on Thursday, November 21, at 7:30 p.m., in Woolsey Hall.

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Published November 18, 2019
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Drummer Louis Hayes pays tribute to hard-bop pioneer Horace Silver

Louis Hayes. Photo courtesy of the artist.

In 1956, teenage drummer Louis Hayes joined a new quintet led by pianist Horace Silver. While Hayes had found early success in Detroit playing alongside Kenny Burrell, Yusef Lateef, and Doug Watkins, Silver was in New York developing the hard-bop style, having already worked with the likes of Stan Getz, Miles Davis, and the Jazz Messengers with Art Blakey. The Washington Post described Silver’s stylistic leanings this way upon his 2014 passing:

When other jazz musicians were becoming more and more esoteric, reaching levels of musical abstraction where few listeners would follow, Mr. Silver remained grounded in the traditions of gospel and the blues. … ‘They got so sophisticated that it seemed like they were afraid to play the blues, like it was demeaning to be funky,’ Mr. Silver told Newsday in 1994, describing his populist musical approach. ‘And I tried to bring that. I didn’t do it consciously at first. But it started to happen.’”

Silver didn’t reimagine the jazz landscape alone. Those who played in his band were part of the new sounds. For Hayes, playing with Silver was an entrée to working subsequently alongside such iconic artists as Cannonball Adderley, Freddie Hubbard, and Oscar Peterson. The list of musicians with whom Hayes has worked is almost surreal and includes John Coltrane, Dexter Gordon, Freddie Hubbard, Thelonious Monk, Wes Montgomery, and McCoy Tyner, among others. “Look who he’s played with,” Ellington Jazz Series Artistic Director Thomas Duffy said. “Everybody.”

“His oxygen was being breathed by all the greats,” Duffy said. Putting it another way, Duffy asked, “What do all these people have in common?”

Louis Hayes.

Hayes comes to Yale on Friday, November 15, to perform a program called Serenade for Horace, the name of the 2017 album its label, Blue Note Records, described as “his splendid tribute to his mentor and friend.” Hayes told Blue Note that Silver said, “Louis, you are a part of my legacy.”

Of Hayes’ 2017 tribute album, DownBeat said, “Serenade for Horace isn’t just homage paid to a jazz great; it’s also a testament to the vitality of Silver’s songbook.” All About Jazz offered, “(Hayes) brings together a group of seasoned, dedicated musicians to honor Silver, not by imitating or outdoing him, but by playing his music with great fidelity to Silver’s ideas and the hard bop period which he helped to innovate.”

On November 15, Hayes will be joined by tenor saxophonist Abraham Burton, vibraphonist Steve Nelson, pianist Anthony Wonsey, and bassist Dezron Douglas. Burton, Douglas, and Nelson played on Serenade for Horace.

Drummer Louis Hayes’ quintet will perform an Ellington Jazz Series program called Serenade for Horace on Friday, November 15, at 7:30 p.m., in Morse Recital Hall. Free student-rush tickets will be offered at the box office for students in college and K-12 with a valid ID. Tickets will be distributed starting 30 minutes before each concert. One ticket per ID, subject to availability.

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Published November 13, 2019
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Yale Choral Artists to perform all-Brahms program

Tomorrow, the Yale Choral Artists will perform a program that “is intended to showcase Brahms’ mastery of the choral idiom and the incredible emotional range of his choral output,” the group’s founding director, Jeffrey Douma, said, “from the intricate counterpoint of the two a cappella motets Schaffe in mir, Gott and Warum ist das Licht gegeben, to the moving elegy Nänie, a work originally for chorus and full orchestra but performed this weekend in a piano four-hands reduction (a practice common in the era before recorded music).”

“We finish the program,” Douma said, “with the Liebeslieder, one of Brahms’ most popular works during his lifetime, adding a unique dimension by alternating between solo quartets and tutti choir from movement to movement, highlighting the individual character of each of the 18 exquisite miniatures that comprise the set.”

Douma founded the Yale Choral Artists, a professional project-based group, nearly a decade ago. “In recent years in the United States, the emergence of the professional project choir has added an exciting and rich new dimension to the choral landscape,” he said, “and I think it has been important to have that model as part of the range of ensemble singing at Yale.”

Many of the Choral Artists are products of Yale. “Just over half of YCA’s singers for this project are YSM alums from both the voice program and choral conducting program,” Douma, a professor of choral conducting at the Yale School of Music, said. “We also have two Yale College alums in the group this time.”

In addition to solo careers, members of the Choral Artists perform with such ensembles as Chanticleer, Conspirare, the Handel and Haydn Society Chorus, Seraphic Fire, the Trinity Wall Street Choir, and Voices of Ascension, among others. The vocalists’ successes are in large measure a reflection of the potential they brought to and realized during their time at Yale.

“We are fortunate to have some of the best young musicians in the world studying here,” Douma said. “Like all of my colleagues, I am so proud to be able to send them out into the world and am thrilled when we are able to invite them back to compose and perform both for the YSM community and for our broader audiences.”

Founding Director Jeffrey Douma will lead the Yale Choral Artists and faculty pianists Robert Blocker and Melvin Chen in an all-Brahms program on Saturday, Oct. 26, at 7:30 p.m., in Morse Recital Hall. The concert is free and open to the public.

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Published October 25, 2019
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Program notes offer insight into Yale Philharmonia’s Oct. 25 concert repertoire

By Rachel Glodo

On Friday, Oct. 25, guest conductor Ludovic Morlot will lead the Yale Philharmonia in a performance of Debussy’s Prélude à L’après-midi d’un faune, Szymanowski’s First Violin Concerto, with Woolsey Hall Concerto Competition winner Jung Eun Kang, and Prokofiev’s Fifth Symphony.

Here are the program notes that we’ll share with concertgoers and audiences watching online.

Claude Debussy

Debussy’s Prélude à L’après-midi d’un faune

The plot of Stéphane Mallarmé’s symbolist poem L’Aprés-midi d’un faune (The Afternoon of a Faun) cannot be called action-packed: “Faun awakens. Faun recounts seeing two nymphs. It may or may not have been all a dream.” The poem (translated in part below) is a series of indefinite but connected images that evoke the sensual pastoralism of Greek mythology:

These nymphs I would make last.
So rare
Their rose lightness arches in the air,
Torpid with tufted sleep.
I loved: a dream?

This was precisely the nebulous imagery that most appealed to Claude Debussy, who met Mallarmé in Paris’ salon scene in the 1880s. Like Mallarmé’s work, Debussy’s symphonic poem does not express a clear programmatic narrative. Instead, it uses orchestral and chromatic color to paint contours, suggest hazy images, and invite the listener to join the faun’s dreamworld. Debussy’s faun awakens to a sinuous flute melody, which returns throughout the piece like the nymphs’ elusive forms glimpsed through the trees.

While Debussy’s Prélude was generally well-received at its 1894 premiere, it was not until 1912 that it entered a different type of mythology. Presented by the Ballets Russes with dancer and choreographer Vaslav Nijinsky in the title role, the ballet shocked (and delighted) Parisian audiences: Nijinsky’s faun ended his afternoon with an intimate, luxurious orgasm.

Karol Szymanowski

Szymanowski’s Violin Concerto No. 1, Op. 35

For 19th century listeners, a “concerto” meant a composition for a solo instrument and orchestra that highlighted the soloist’s virtuosity and artistry. It typically unfolded in three movements, each movement with its own prototypical patterns. This was, after all, what made concertos fun: everyone knew the “rules,” and it was exciting to see how a composer would play with and bend these rules. The early 20th century saw rules bent to a breaking point. Established norms—from concert attire to musical forms—were challenged and refashioned.

Szymanowski’s First Violin Concerto (1916) exemplifies this tension. For example, the concerto is through-composed—that is, it is presented as a single movement. While there are five identifiable sections, one proceeds after another with a restless energy, without pause.

Szymanowski’s musical language fuses 19th century “Romantic” elements—cantabile violin melodies, a lush orchestral palette, and impassioned melodic sighs—with the traumas of the new century: jagged, sometimes wandering solo lines, anxious flutters from the woodwinds, and above all, perhaps, the final ambiguous whispers of the violin. Wistful and ironic, the concerto’s conclusion is reminiscent of T.S. Eliot’s famous line: “This is the way the world ends, not with a bang but with a whimper” (1925).

Sergei Prokofiev

Prokofiev’s Symphony No. 5 in B-flat major, Op. 100

Like many well-known artists, Prokofiev was shuffled around the Soviet Union during the war years, spending time in the northern Caucasus, Tbilisi (Georgia), Alma-Ata (Almaty, Kazakhstan), and Perm (in the Urals) before returning to Moscow in 1943. Though the Second World War still raged, the tide had turned for the Allied forces. In the summer of 1944, Prokofiev departed war-time Moscow for the state-sponsored “Composer’s House” in rural Ivanovo.

Despite the temptation of pastoral beauty and a cohort of fellow composers—including Shostakovich, Khachaturian, and Kabalevsky—Prokofiev maintained a disciplined schedule and produced the piano score of his Fifth Symphony in a single month. (Khachaturian recalled, “The regularity with which he worked amazed us all!”)

The result is a symphonic journey that is simultaneously expansive and tightly designed, suggesting both the shared and private experiences of nations at war. As Prokofiev told Time magazine, a little dryly perhaps, his symphony was “about the spirit of man, his soul or something like that.” Prokofiev conducted the premiere in Moscow on January 13, 1945. As the composer raised his baton, the audience heard a celebratory artillery volley: the Red Army had begun the Vistula-Oder Offensive in Poland, Nazi forces were being pushed westward, and victory was only nine months off.

Rachel Glodo is the Assistant to the Associate Dean at the Yale School of Music. She has a bachelor of arts degree from Yale University and a master of music degree in musicology from Northwestern University.

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Published October 23, 2019
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Faculty tubist Carol Jantsch, on exploration and perpetual study

Carol Jantsch

In 2006, Carol Jantsch was named Principal Tubist of the Philadelphia Orchestra. She further explains on her website that “she won the position during her senior year at the University of Michigan, becoming the first female tuba player in a major symphony orchestra.” We reached out to Jantsch, who joined the Yale School of Music faculty in 2012, to talk about teaching, arranging music for her instrument, and musical pursuits beyond her work with the Philadelphia Orchestra.

Q: When, where, and how did you choose the tuba—or did the instrument choose you? I know your family is quite musical. Were you encouraged to pursue music as a field of study and a profession?

A: My mom forced me to start piano lessons when I was 6, and she sent me and my brother to Interlochen Arts Camp a few years later. That first summer at Interlochen I took a class called “Instrument Exploration,” where we were introduced to all the instruments and chose one to learn. I wanted something weird and different, so the euphonium fit the bill perfectly. I made the switch to tuba a few years later, when I was around 12 years old.

Q: To what extent have you learned through teaching? In other words, to what degree has working with students informed your approach to the instrument? In what ways have you grown as a musician since 2006?

A: Teaching forces you to put your values and techniques into words, and this process has been hugely educational for me. I always had strong opinions about how I wanted to sound, but now my ideas have more clarity and refinement. I’m also much more conscious of how I’m doing what I’m doing from having to explain it to others.

I feel very fortunate to have come of age as a member of the Philadelphia Orchestra. I’m constantly drawing inspiration from my amazing colleagues, and I absolutely believe that I’m a much better musician for getting to hear them for the past 13 years.

Q: I’m always curious to learn about an artist’s routines. How do you juggle individual practice, arranging, rehearsing with the orchestra and other groups, teaching, recording, and other aspects of your life?

A: I get a lot of emails and arranging done on the train to Yale!

The orchestra is and always will be my primary focus; I’m very grateful to have such a wonderful job, and it’s also the thing that enables me to do everything else. I’ll definitely get more practice time when the orchestra is playing “New World” Symphony than I will in a Mahler week, and the time for other projects ebbs and flows with my Philadelphia Orchestra responsibilities. While it can be hectic to have so many side projects, I think it’s important to make the time for them because they keep me growing as a musician and person.

Q: With limited repertoire composed specifically for tuba, you necessarily perform a good number of arrangements. How do you go about choosing which pieces to arrange for your instrument—what are the important considerations beyond a desire to play a particular piece? How much do you and your students discuss and work on arranging?

A: Just like teaching, arranging has had a profound influence on my musicianship. Arranging a piece of music is like solving a puzzle: How do you fundamentally change the nature of something while still capturing the essence of the original? What specifically makes Beethoven sound like Beethoven, or Led Zeppelin sound like Led Zeppelin—and then how do I preserve that when I write for tubas?! They’re fun questions to tackle, and I think having that sense of the big picture is really helpful as a performer. I find it so helpful in fact that I’ve started requiring my students to create at least one transcription or arrangement for their graduation recital.

Q: Is Tubular currently active? If so, what’s your set list like?

A: Yes we are! For the uninitiated, Tubular is my cover band comprised of two euphoniums, two tubas, drums, and all of us do vocals. In September, we performed the entire Beatles album Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band—that was a pretty epic night. But normally our shows span a lot of eras and styles—Queen, Beyoncé, the Jackson 5, Bruno Mars, the Eagles, Kesha, Flight of the Conchords, really anything we think will be awesome and/or hilarious. I’m currently working on a ’70s rock medley that will include Styx, Heart, AC/DC, and more …

What have you been listening to and reading lately?

I’ve been on a classic rock kick because of my current arranging project! Spotify makes some pretty great playlists, and the one called “Classic Rock Workout” is pretty much solid gold; exercise or not, I highly recommend it.

Faculty tubist Carol Jantsch will perform a free Faculty Artist Series recital on Sunday, Oct. 13, at 3 p.m., in Morse Recital Hall. 

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Published October 9, 2019
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Recital as reflection: pianist and Dean Robert Blocker tells a story through a concert program

Robert Blocker

Yale School of Music faculty pianist and Dean Robert Blocker was introduced to the music of Bach as an elementary school student in South Carolina, learning from and singing with part-time music teachers in the cafeteria. Today, in spaces created in a demanding administrative schedule, Blocker finds comfort and authenticity at the piano.

Tonight, Blocker will perform a program built on reflection and appreciation. Recounting a trip to Vienna during which he visited Beethoven’s and Schubert’s grave, Blocker lamented the absence of a place where admirers can pay similar respect to Mozart, whose exact burial site in Vienna’s St. Marx Cemeteryis unknown.

Blocker said Mozart’s Piano Sonata No. 4 in E-flat major, K. 282, an early sonata that opens tonight’s program, is “one of my very favorites.” He’s performed Mozart’s music frequently, and tonight’s Horowitz Piano Series concert is another opportunity to pay respect to the composer and to share with audiences something of himself.

Perhaps thinking of his own experiences with those part-time music teachers in South Carolina, and about his own grandchildren, Blocker will follow the Mozart with Ravel’s Sonatine, Op. 40 and the fairy-tale based Ma Mère l’Oye (Mother Goose Suite) for piano four-hands. Ravel dedicated the Sonatine to his friends Ida and Cipa Godebski and the suite to their piano-playing children, Mimie and Jean. Faculty pianist Wei-Yi Yang will perform the second piano part, and faculty composer Martin Bresnick will read the text that accompanies the music. Programming Ma Mère l’Oye, Blocker said, was in part a reflection on what stories and sound can mean to a child.

Brahms composed his Liebeslieder Waltzes, Op. 52 for voices and piano four-hands. Tonight, Blocker will perform the composer’s arrangement for piano four-hands without voices (Op. 52a) with faculty pianist Melvin Chen. Blocker described the love-song waltzes as “incredibly joyful pieces” and said, “Without text you can take more liberties with how you want to express your music.” Brahms’ friend Clara Schumann described the pieces as “exceptionally fetching and delightful, even without the vocal parts,” according to notes in Blocker’s piano score.

Tying Blocker’s childhood to his place at the School of Music is a grouping of music that starts with and pays homage to Bach. “I’ve always loved the music of Bach,” Blocker said, “and I’m continually reminded of how adaptable it is.” He’ll perform “Wachet Auf, ruft uns die Stimme,” the opening chorus from Bach’s cantata of the same name, Busoni’s arrangement of the music (which Bach based on a hymn by Philipp Nicolai). and faculty composer Christopher Theofanidis’ Wake Up, Called the Voice, a piece that borrows from and reimagines “Wachet Auf” and was written for and premiered by Blocker in 2016. Blocker will close his recital program with a performance of the Modern Jazz Quartet’s “Rise Up in the Morning,” an arrangement of Wachet Auf, with percussionist Jisu Jung ’19MM ’20AD. “I was a devotee of (MJQ’s) music-making in the ’70s. What they did with Bach was just magical,” Blocker said.

It’s a program that reflects on youth, on the music that has informed Blocker’s life and work, and on the friends here at the School whom he considers family. Join us tonight in Morse Recital Hall or watch and listen to the performance online.

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Published October 2, 2019
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Sofya Gulyak opens 2019-2020 Horowitz Piano Series

Sofya Gulyak

The 2019-2020 Horowitz Piano Series will introduce audiences to a number of ascendant artists, beginning with Sofya Gulyak, who opens the series with a recital on September 18. “This wonderful pianist became noticed through her winning of important competitions, most notably the Leeds International competition in 2009, when she became the first woman ever to take the first prize at this prestigious event,” series Artistic Director Boris Berman said.

Gulyak has appeared in recitals and concerts around the world and has performed as a soloist with such ensembles as the London Philharmonic Orchestra and the St. Petersburg Philharmonic Orchestra, among others. Gulyak’s performances and recital programs have been praised by the international music press. Her eagerly anticipated recital at YSM features a number of fascinating transcriptions. Gulyak’s program opens with Ferruccio Busoni’s virtuosic rendering of Bach’s famous Chaconne from the Violin Partita No. 2 in D minor and closes with Liszt’s transcription of the climactic “Liebestod” from Wagner’s Tristan und Isolde and Ravel’s La Valse, the composer’s own transcription of his orchestral masterpiece. Brahms’ Variations and Fugue on a Theme by Handel, a monumental composition that uses an unassuming movement from a suite by Handel as a point of departure, is also on the program, as is Cesar Franck’s Prélude, Fugue et Variation, a significant triptych dedicated by the composer to his teacher Camille Saint-Saëns.

In March, Alessio Bax and Lucille Chung will present a two-piano and piano four-hands program of music by Debussy, Stravinsky, Poulenc, and Lutosławski. The husband-wife duo has been praised by Gramophone for “[applying] their effortless synchronicity to unlocking the music’s pianistic potential.”

This year’s Horowitz Piano Series also introduces audiences to Boris Slutsky, YSM’s new Visiting Professor in the Practice of Piano, to the Morse Recital Hall stage. A “distinguished artist,” in Berman’s estimation, Slutsky will perform music by Haydn, Schumann, and Chopin in December. Slutsky joins faculty pianists Berman, Robert Blocker, Hung-Kuan Chen, Melvin Chen, and Wei-Yi Yang in presenting recitals during the 2019-2020 season.

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Published September 4, 2019
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Collection of Musical Instruments closes for renovations

As the academic year comes to an end, we are looking forward to making some much-needed improvements to the Yale Collection of Musical Instruments building at 15 Hillhouse Ave. Restoration work on the exterior of the building will necessitate the Collection being closed from May 3 through fall 2019.

To prepare for the renovation work, staff at the Collection and the School of Music have worked with the construction team and with fine-art handlers to ensure the safeguarding of the Collection’s instruments.

Throughout the renovation project, Collection staff will be relocated to the Adams Center for Musical Arts at the School of Music. From there, we will continue to work on the upcoming brass-instrument exhibit, which is scheduled to open November 2019.

The Collection’s concert series will take place in 2020. Please visit collection.yale.edu for updates as they become available. For the most up-to-date news, please consider joining our email list at music.yale.edu/email-signup.

Published May 6, 2019
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Carolyn Kuan to conduct the Yale Philharmonia

Carolyn Kuan

On Friday, April 5, Carolyn Kuan, the Music Director of the Hartford Symphony Orchestra, will lead the Yale Philharmonia in a performance of Igor Stravinsky’s Symphony in Three Movements, Aaron Copland’s Fanfare for the Common Man and the suite from Appalachian Spring, and Arild Plau’s Concerto for Tuba and Strings with Woolsey Hall Concerto Competition winner Jake Fewx ’18MM ’19MMA. We spoke with Kuan about the repertoire and the experience she wants the audience to have.

Q: The works by Copland and Stravinsky on this program were all composed during World War II, though with different inspirations and motivations. Copland’s Fanfare for the Common Man celebrates the everyday American, and his Appalachian Spring, a ballet (and, later, the orchestral suite) for Martha Graham, is a musical portrait of new beginnings. Stravinsky’s Symphony in Three Movements is a more direct and personal effort to capture and share impressions of war. What went into your thinking, from a musical standpoint, in putting this program together?

A: I fell in love with Stravinsky’s Symphony in Three Movements at my first job as a conductor-in-residence at the New York City Ballet. It is one of George Balanchine’s most striking ballets and an impressive piece of the company’s core repertoire. Balanchine’s choreography comes from an in-depth understanding of the music, and for a long time I associated the piece more as a ballet than a symphonic work. Stravinsky wrote the piece in his early 60s and was revising TheRite of Spring around the same time. Influences from TheRite of Spring (written when Stravinsky was 31) can certainly be heard in the symphony, blended with elegance, maturity, life experiences, and world events. Interestingly, Stravinsky and Copland were writing their respective pieces at the same time. As artists, we are influenced by the world around us. It is fascinating to hear these two pieces in the same evening, especially in the chaotic world we live in today.

I am very excited to work with Jake Fewx and to share with the audience Arild Plau’s Tuba Concerto. Since it is just under 20 minutes, we thought preceding the concerto with Fanfare for the Common Man, which highlights the majestic brass sounds, and following it with Appalachian Spring, would be a fascinating and rare auditory journey for the audience.

Q: What background information if any do you want the audience to have before hearing these pieces performed?

A: Many people are familiar with the song “Simple Gifts,” with its opening lyrics “’Tis the gift to be simple, ’tis the gift to be free.” I love how Copland was inspired by the melody and borrowed it for use in Appalachian Spring. Ultimately, both Copland and Stravinsky encouraged the audience to appreciate their music without thinking too much about any potentially relevant programs or stories. For its 1946 premiere, Stravinsky insisted that the Symphony in Three Movements was absolute music, although inspired “by this arduous time of sharp and shifting events, of despair and hope, of continual torments, of tension, and at last, cessation and relief.” He wrote in one of his letters that “if passages from the program notes are used to imply extramusical connotations in my work, I have to disclaim any responsibility for such interpretations.” Supposedly, Stravinsky later provided detailed comments about the symphony, and we know he used music from a previous piano concerto, as well as music for a movie. Nevertheless, it is always wonderful to just listen to the music, and let it move you and take you on a journey. For Appalachian Spring, either before or after coming to our concert, it is fascinating to explore Martha Graham’s original choreography. Understanding Graham’s original ballet, her movements, and dance languages has certainly influenced my approach to the piece.

Guest conductor Carolyn Kuan and the Yale Philharmonia in rehearsal.

Q: Arild Plau’s Tuba Concerto—any tuba concerto, for that matter—will be a new experience for most audience members. Does that place any extra responsibility on you? 

A: For me, when it comes to a concerto, my job is to accompany and support the soloist, not unlike a piano accompanist. Almost always, soloists have spent countless hours shaping their vision and relationship with the concerto. I love sharing new sounds with the audience—sometimes in the form of unusual solo instruments such as the tuba, koto, pipa, sheng, bagpipe, etc; other times in the form of unusual sounds created by composers through fascinating instrumentation.

Q: Do you take a different approach to conducting a student ensemble than you do a more seasoned orchestra?

A: The Yale Philharmonia is an impressive orchestra, and in many ways stronger than many professional orchestras. All the orchestras I work with, including the Yale Philharmonia, play at an incredibly high level. For me, the approach is always the same, which is to make music and give everything we have in the pursuit of excellence, passion, depth, and exploration.

Q: Many recordings have been made of the works by Copland and Stravinsky that you’ll be performing with the Yale Philharmonia. Why are live performances of this music important? Why should people seek out concerts like this?

A: There are so many reasons! Attending live performances is a shared experience that is completely different than listening to music on Spotify, Pandora, or on a CD. Audience members often don’t realize they are an active and integral part of a concert experience. As performers, we can feel the energy of an audience. There is often an unspoken chemistry—as the energy between performers and audience builds, it sometimes becomes electrifying, and there is nothing quite like it. Technology has come a long way. However, watching a movie on TV is still a very different experience than seeing it in the movie theater. Even with the best sound system, there is no comparison to hearing these great symphonic works live—the glorious full strings, the exquisite beauty of a flute, the magnificent brass, the powerful drums, and so much more!

Guest conductor Carolyn Kuan leads the Yale Philharmonia in a performance of Stravinsky’s Symphony in Three Movements, Copland’s Fanfare for the Common Man and the suite from Appalachian Spring, and Arild Plau’s Concerto for Tuba and Strings with Woolsey Hall Concerto Competition Jake Fewx, on Friday, April 5, at 7:30 p.m. in Woolsey Hall.

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Published April 2, 2019
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Jake Fewx ’18MM ’19MMA, on being an ambassador for the tuba community

Jake Fewx

On April 5, tubist and Woolsey Hall Concerto Competition winner Jake Fewx ’18MM ’19MMA will perform Arild Plau’s Concerto for Tuba and Strings with guest conductor Carolyn Kuan and the Yale Philharmonia. We spoke with Fewx about his eagerness to challenge people’s expectations of the tuba as a solo instrument.

Q: You’re the first tubist to be a winner of the Woolsey Hall Concerto Competition. Is the tuba at a disadvantage when it comes to competitions like this?

A: This is a huge honor for me. One of the philosophies that has been deeply ingrained from my studies is that the tuba is at a disadvantage in the sense that it has several negative connotations associated with it. When an audience sees a tubist walk on stage there are several stereotypes that run through their brains (heavy, loud, brassy, oom-pah, etc.), giving them low expectations about what they are going to hear. As a classical tubist, it is always my goal to shatter these expectations by performing with a great sound and always playing with high-quality musicianship. I am very excited to have this opportunity to act as an ambassador for the tuba community and to show the world that the tuba is a beautiful solo instrument.

Q: You’ll be performing Arild Plau’s Concerto for Tuba and Strings. Is this standard repertoire for tubists?

A: It’s a little bit of a hidden gem in the tuba repertoire but is growing very quickly in popularity. There are some great recordings of it out there and it has been on several competition lists.

Q: Musically, what can you tell us about the Plau concerto? What would you want the audience to know about this piece before hearing it?

A: This piece is very emotionally dense. Plau composed this piece in memory of his wife shortly after she passed away. The music, understandably, is filled with a lot of sadness and grief. The piece, in my opinion, depicts the composer’s own emotional journey through his loss, including a quasi-funeral march at the end of the second movement, and closes with a very odd, confused scherzo, leaving the journey (open-ended) in a way. There is a lot of fluctuation in the mood of the piece, with the music evoking some very sad, soft-spoken melodies, some very fast, passionate runs, and some very mournful kinds of shouts in the upper register of the tuba. The writing for strings is absolutely gorgeous. They provide this very lush backdrop for the tuba melody to sink into and they provide some very fiery, passionate interludes between sections. There are a few melody trade-offs between the tuba and solo violin that are particularly effective. This piece is really beautiful and I can’t wait for the audience to hear it!

Q: Does the fact that there are fewer tuba concertos out there than repertoire for other instruments make it more difficult to choose solo repertoire?

A: Yes and no. The tuba’s lineage is very young compared to the rest of the orchestra and even younger when you consider solo literature. Ralph Vaughan Williams’ Concerto, written in 1954, was one of the first, if not the first, solo pieces for tuba by a major composer. There are some other excellent tuba concertos by John Williams, Edward Gregson, and more recently by Jennifer Higdon, but, generally, there aren’t a ton to choose from. Since tubists don’t get a chance to perform as soloists too often, it is very common to hear the standard concertos. The rest of the solo repertoire for tuba is increasing in size and quality as time goes on, which is providing us with more and more great, original music for the tuba.

Q: In what ways does your mindset change when you’re a soloist?

A: When playing in an ensemble I have to wear a different hat, so to speak. Solo playing allows me to be freer and more expressive, but in a large ensemble I have to act as a foundation, always striving to produce rock-solid sound, pitch, and tempo. I often act as the bottom voice of the brass section and am most often paired with the trombones; however, depending on the piece, my role can extend outside of this. We (the Yale Philharmonia) recently performed selections from Prokofiev’s Romeo and Juliet, and I was often paired with the basses, piano, and low winds, which kept me on my toes in terms of how I approached the performance. I’m particularly fond of chamber playing because it is kind of an amalgamation of playing styles. In a brass quintet, the tuba parts are often very active and challenging, forcing me to provide a foundation for the group while also having to provide the occasional melody. All in all, each of these mediums has helped me become a more well-rounded musician.

Q: How does it feel to be performing a concerto with an orchestra of your peers?

A: It is amazing! I am so fortunate to be in a school where I am surrounded by so many awesome, talented people. I am very humbled to have been given this opportunity. I can’t wait to get on stage and share this piece with the audience!

Guest conductor Carolyn Kuan leads the Yale Philharmonia in a performance of Stravinsky’s Symphony in Three Movements, Copland’s Fanfare for the Common Man and the suite from Appalachian Spring, and Arild Plau’s Concerto for Tuba and Strings, with Woolsey Hall Concerto Competition Jake Fewx, on Friday, April 5, at 7:30 p.m. in Woolsey Hall.

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Published April 1, 2019
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