Merz Trio is a winner of the Concert Artists Guild competition

The Merz Trio. Photo by Nile Scott

The Merz Trio, which includes pianist and Yale School of Music alumnus Lee Dionne ’11BA ’13MM ’14MMA ’19DMA, violinist Brigid Coleridge, and cellist Julia Yang, was named a winner of the 2019 Concert Artists Guild Victor Elmaleh Competition. The other winners were cellist Jamal Aliyev, violist Jordan Bak, and recorder player Tabea Debus.

“Each of the winners receives management contracts with CAG, including performance opportunities with more than 40 leading orchestras, concert series, and festivals, as well as a New York showcase performance and professional career development and coaching,” according to the organization’s news release. Application materials for this year’s competition required “a general statement of your artistic intent. This should also include how you plan to use your art to make an impact outside the concert hall.”

The Merz Trio, which won first prize at the 2019 Fischoff National Chamber Music Competition, “is passionate about connecting with diverse audiences through innovative concerts, multidisciplinary projects, and interactive performances,” the group’s website indicates. The trio’s work has been supported in part by Entrepreneurial Musicianship grants from the New England Conservatory, where it is in residence. The Merz Trio was formed in 2017 and won the Lerman Gold Prize and Audience Choice Award at the 2018 Chesapeake Chamber Music Competition in Easton, Maryland.

Lee Dionne. Photo courtesy of the artist

A founding member of the Merz Trio, Dionne has performed as a chamber musician and as a soloist in venues around the world and has recorded for MSR Classics and Naxos Records. He is a core member of Cantata Profana along with several fellow Yale alumni including violinist Jacob Ashworth ’13MM ’14MMA ’18DMA, cellist Hannah Collins ’06BS ’08MM ’09AD, clarinetist Gleb Kanasevich ’13MM, stage director Ethan Heard ’07BA ’13MFA, guitarist Arash Noori ’12MM ’13AD, percussionist Doug Perry ’14AD, soprano Annie Rosen ’08BA ’12MM, composer-pianist Daniel Schlosberg ’10BA ’13MM ’14MMA ’18DMA, and bass-baritone John Taylor Ward ’12MM ’13MMA ’17DMA.

In addition to degrees earned at the Yale School of Music, Dionne has a soloist diploma from the Hochschule für Musik, Theater und Medien Hannover, and an undergraduate degree in literature from Yale College.

The final round of the 2019 CAG competition took place on October 6, 2019, at Merkin Concert Hall at the Kaufman Music Center in New York City. Numerous YSM alumni have been among the winners of the CAG competition over the past decade. These include percussionist Mitya (Dmitrii) Nilov ’18MM; pianist Dominic Cheli ’16MM; guitarist Jiji (Jiyeon Kim) ’17MM; double bassist Samuel Suggs ’14MM ’20DMA; violinists Katie Hyun ’09AD and David Southorn ’09MM ’10AD, and cellist Mihai Marica ’04CERT ’08AD of the Amphion Quartet; violinist Sami Merdinian ’06MM ’07AD of Sybarite5; and violinist Sarah McElravy ’12AD, violist Eric Wong ’12AD, and cellist Felix Umansky ’12AD of the Linden String Quartet. The Argus Quartet, which served from 2015 to 2017 as YSM’s fellowship quartet-in-residence, was a CAG competition winner in 2017. The competition has been held since the early 1950s.

The Yale Daily News recently published a piece about the Merz Trio. Read it here.

MERZ TRIO

LEE DIONNE

Published October 17, 2019
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Pianist Hilda Huang ’19MM ’20MMA receives Soros Fellowship

Hilda Huang. Photo by Maxwell Tiedemann

Pianist and current School of Music student Hilda Huang ’19MM ’20MMA has received the prestigious Paul and Daisy Soros Fellowship for New Americans. The Soros Fellowship is a merit-based scholarship for immigrants and children of immigrants who are pursuing graduate work in the United States. Thirty winners are selected from a pool of more than 1,800 applicants every year, and each winner is awarded up to $90,000 to help support their education. The Soros Fellowship program was founded in 1997 and over the years “has built a community of 655 immigrants and children of immigrants … with heritage in 89 countries,” according to the organization’s website.

Huang was born in Fremont, California, to Chinese and Taiwanese parents and began playing piano at age 3. She received a bachelor of science degree in chemistry from Yale College before attending the Yale School of Music, where she is pursuing a master of music degree in piano performance, studying with faculty pianist and Deputy Dean, Melvin Chen. While she was an undergraduate at Yale College, Huang said, she recognized “the great potential of music to shape lives,” which convinced her of its “profound utility and worth” and led her to her current focus. She will remain at YSM next year to pursue a master of musical arts degree. Huang earned international acclaim upon winning the 2014 Leipzig International Bach Competition while she was still an undergraduate at Yale College. She was the first American to earn the prize and the youngest winner in the competition’s history.

“Winning the Paul and Daisy Soros Fellowship and being a student at the Yale School of Music are for me one and the same with what it means for me to be able to pursue a career in music,” Huang said. “The financial and institutional—not to mention artistic and academic—support provided by these two institutions is the means by which I am able to do what I love every day; they are gifts I do not take lightly. Playing the piano is one of the strongest forces in my life. It has contributed to shaping how I think, how I feel, and what I value. I have experienced unmatched happiness and productivity during my two years at YSM, and I am utterly grateful to have another year at YSM for my MMA. I intend to make the most of it.”

READ MORE ABOUT THE 2019 PAUL AND DAISY SOROS FELLOWS

Published May 6, 2019
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Pianist Henry Kramer ’13AD ’19DMA receives Avery Fisher Career Grant

Henry Kramer

Pianist and Yale School of Music alumnus Henry Kramer ’13AD ’19DMA, the L. Rexford Whiddon Distinguished Chair in Piano at the Joyce and Henry Schwob School of Music at Columbus State University, has been awarded a prestigious Avery Fisher Career Grant. The $25,000 award is designed “to give outstanding instrumentalists significant recognition on which to continue to build their careers,” according to Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts, which administers the Avery Fisher Artist Program. Other 2019 grant recipients include the JACK Quartet, pianists Christina and Michelle Naughton, and violinist Angelo Xiang Yu.

Past Avery Fisher Career Grant recipients include pianist Hung-Kuan Chen, violinist Ani Kavafian, and clarinetist David Shifrin—all members of the Yale School of Music faculty. Several School of Music alumni have also received an Avery Fisher Career Grant, including cellist Carter Brey ’79, pianist Helen Huang ’09MM, bassoonist Peter Kolkay ’02MMA ’05DMA, and clarinetist Richard Stoltzman ’67MM.

Kramer, who studies at YSM with Boris Berman, won second prize at the 2016 Queen Elisabeth Competition and has earned prizes at the Honens International Piano Competition, Montreal International Music Competition, Shanghai International Piano Competition, and National Chopin Piano Competition. He was the recipient of the Harvard Musical Association’s 2018 Arthur W. Foote Award.

Kramer has appeared with the National Orchestra of Belgium, Bilkent Symphony Orchestra, Shanghai Philharmonic Orchestra, and Calgary Philharmonic Orchestra, among others, and has worked with such conductors as Marin Alsop, Stéphane Denève, and Hans Graf. Prior to attending the Yale School of Music, Kramer earned bachelor and master of music degrees from The Juilliard School.

The 2019 Avery Fisher Career Grants will be presented on Friday, March 15, at 6 p.m., at WQXR’s Greene Space. The event, featuring performances by grant recipients, will be streamed live on the WQXR website.

Published March 15, 2019
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YSM Student News | March 2019

Sophiko Simsive. Photo by Marco Broggreve

Composers Ryan Lindveit ’19MM, Paul Mortilla ’20MM, Tanner Porter ’19MM, and Miles Walter ’20MM were awarded Charles Ives Scholarships from the American Academy of Arts and Letters.

As the winner of the Music Academy of the West’s 2018 Solo Piano Competition, Sophiko Simsive ’18MM ’19MMA will embark on a recital tour that includes appearances in London, Chicago, and Los Angeles.

Pianist Gabriele Strata ’19MM was the winner of the 35th Concorso Pianistico Nazionale Premio Venezia (Venice Prize) and was awarded the Plaque of the President of the Italian Republic and the Medal of the Italian Senate.

Published March 12, 2019
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Pianist and composer Renee Rosnes to perform Ellington Jazz Series concert

Renee Rosnes

Jazz pianist and composer Renee Rosnes comes to Yale this week to perform an Ellington Jazz Series concert with her quartet, which includes vibraphonist Steve Nelson, bassist John Patitucci, and drummer Lenny White. The group will play music from Rosnes’ two most recent albums, Beloved of the Sky and Written in the Rocks. We spoke with Rosnes, whom DownBeat has described as “a virtuoso jazz composer,” about the music on those recordings, and more.

Q: Beloved of the Sky includes music that celebrates the Pacific Northwest (where you’re from) and laments the environmental destruction that has scarred the region. …

A: There is one piece from the recording that deals with this subject and that is “Scorned as Timber, Beloved of the Sky,” which is the name of a painting by Canadian artist Emily Carr (1871-1945). Having grown up in British Columbia and seeing her work frequently, Carr’s paintings evoke a strong emotional response in me. Her canvases of the Canadian coastal landscapes and deep woods are familiar territory. She was an environmentalist ahead of her time and created several paintings that deal with her concern for the environment, and specifically the clear-cutting of forests (Odds and Ends, Above the Gravel Pit, Loggers Culls, Stumps and Sky, A Forest Clearing).

Q: To what degree do you hope audiences come to this music with an understanding of its origins, and to what degree can that information exist as your compositional motivation, without necessarily being a programmatic element?

A: I have no expectations with regard to the listener coming to the music with any background knowledge. It is not necessary that one understands the inspiration in order to enjoy it. With that said, I’m happy to illuminate or motivate people to learn about the various subjects that have inspired my music.

Q: For Written in the Rocks, you explored evolution, the earth’s—and various species’— beginnings. Technology specialist Dino Rosati’s liner notes informed your writing for this album, specifically for “The Galapagos Suite.” Would you talk about finding inspirations for new projects and how you go about conceiving and developing music from there?

A: Picasso once said, “The artist is a receptacle for emotions that come from all over the place: from the sky, from the earth, from a scrap of paper, from a passing shape, from a spider’s web.” This is a true statement, although often the inspiration simply comes from within—with the music coming first: a short melodic phrase, a rhythmic motif or an unusual chord progression. The sounds themselves evoke a theme or a feeling that inspires a title.

Recently, I was commissioned by Aaron Schwebel, the artistic director of Echo Chamber Toronto, to compose a jazz chamber piece for string quartet, flute, and piano. It is part of a performance series that brings musicians and contemporary dancers together on stage in collaboration with each other, and the composition will be choreographed and performed later on this year. I have never worked with dancers before, and am really enjoying the challenge of composing with movement in mind.

Q: “Goodbye Mumbai” is autobiographical in nature. Would you share briefly how this tune came to be and how you approach playing it?

A: In 1994, I was very fortunate to have discovered by maternal biological family and consequently learned of my Punjabi heritage. In 1996, I released a recording entitled Ancestors (Blue Note Records), in which many of the pieces reflected that experience. Since that time, I’ve had the opportunity to visit India once, and my trip inspired this particular piece, which feels celebratory in nature. “Goodbye Mumbai” was composed with the hope that I’ll someday return.

Q: In recording Beloved of the Sky and Written in the Rocks, to what extent did you share the above-mentioned background information with the musicians with whom you recorded (and with whom you perform) the music?

A: I always share any stories or thoughts that might accompany my compositions with the band. Sometimes there is a direct musical outcome, such as at the beginning of “Galapagos.” You can hear a musical representation of ocean waves and bird calls during the introduction. Another example is in the piece “Scorned as Timber, Beloved of the Sky.” The “cry of the tree’s heart” that Emily Carr spoke of is sonically depicted by the “tall” dissonant chords with which the piece begins and ends. To whatever ends an individual musician embraces the narrative as a part of their improvisational statement is a free choice.

Q: We think a lot around here about the artist’s role in society and what that looks like from one individual to the next. What are your thoughts on the subject?

A: On the face of the old Canadian $20 bill there used to be a quote—in very fine print—by author Gabrielle Roy. It read, “Could we ever know each other in the slightest without the arts?” Art is necessary because it reflects society. It is an expression of who we are and where we’ve been and where we’re headed. It is an act of human liberation, inspired by the whole spectrum of human emotion. With regard to my work, I hope that people lose themselves in the listening and allow the sounds to take them to a place of spiritual fulfillment.

The Renee Rosnes Quartet will perform an Ellington Jazz Series concert on Friday, March 1, at 7:30 p.m., in Morse Recital Hall. The performance will showcase music from Rosnes’ two most recent albums, Beloved of the Sky and Written in the Rocks.

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Published February 25, 2019
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YSM appoints Boris Slutsky Visiting Professor of Piano

School of Music Dean Robert Blocker recently shared with the YSM community news that pianist Boris Slutsky will join the faculty for the 2019-2020 academic year. Below is Dean Blocker’s welcome announcement. 

As we plan for the coming 2019-2020 academic year, I am pleased to announce that Boris Slutsky will join us as the Visiting Professor in the Practice of Piano, a position currently held by Professor Peter Serkin. Professor Slutsky has served on the faculty of the Peabody Conservatory at the Johns Hopkins University since 1993.

Professor Slutsky brings to our School extraordinary experience as a teacher and performing artist. He is frequently sought-after adjudicator for international competitions, and for master classes at leading institutions throughout the world. His students regularly win prizes at national and international competitions.

At YSM, he will teach applied piano and coach chamber music. Please join me in welcoming Professor Slutsky to our School. Next fall we will have an occasion to greet him personally.

Warmest regards,

Robert Blocker
The Henry and Lucy Moses Dean of Music
Yale University

Published December 22, 2018
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Boris Berman named Marx Professor in the Practice of Piano

School of Music Dean Robert Blocker recently shared with the YSM community news that faculty pianist Boris Berman has been appointed the Sylvia and Leonard Marx Professor in the Practice of Piano. Below is Dean Blocker’s enthusiastic announcement. 

It is with great pleasure that I announce the appointment of Boris Berman as the Sylvia and Leonard Marx Professor in the Practice of Piano, effective immediately.

An internationally renowned concert pianist and teacher, our esteemed colleague has established a piano program at Yale that is among the finest in our discipline. Among his students and alumni are prize winners of international competitions, university teachers, recording artists, soloists, and chamber music performers from across the globe.

Yale audiences know Professor Berman as a frequent and versatile artist who has inspired and touched them with his musical insights in recitals, orchestral appearances, and chamber music concerts. His lectures about music reveal an artist who understands the inextricable link between scholarship and performance, a value that is also evident in his books and critical editions.

Sylvia and Leonard Marx, along with their daughter, Nancy Better, are cherished patrons of the School of Music and Yale. Sylvia, a notable pianist, was honored by her family on a recent birthday with the gift of a new Hamburg Steinway concert grand for the Morse Recital Hall stage. This pianistic interest adds yet another dimension to the appointment of Professor Berman to this endowed professorship. We are thankful to the Marx family for their immense generosity and to Professor Berman for his many valuable contributions to the Yale School of Music.

Warmest regards,
Robert Blocker
The Henry and Lucy Moses Dean of Music
Yale University

Published December 21, 2018
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Miki Sawada ’14AD brings music to rural audiences

Miki Sawada

Political divisions have had many musicians thinking about the artist’s role in society. “As a musician, what is the way forward?” pianist and YSM alumna Miki Sawada ’14AD began asking herself two years ago. “Playing piano like I’d always played piano was no longer an option.”

Sawada, an accomplished concert performer and music educator, decided that the way forward was to use the piano as an instrument of healing, a gathering place where people of all backgrounds could enjoy music together. The way forward was to bring performances to people who may not ordinarily have access to them. In August 2017, Sawada launched the Gather Hear project, which involved, to begin, touring Alaska for three weeks in a van with a piano and a filmmaker, documenting the journey and giving a total of 25 performances in the cafés, bars, parks, and schools of largely rural communities. Eventually, Sawada intends to tour all 50 states.

“Alaska has an almost mythical quality,” Sawada said. The state’s vastness and the sparseness of its communities appealed to Sawada, and the close-knit nature of people in rural areas allowed her to find collaborators. In addition to her own solo playing and engaging with audiences, Sawada connected with a young local musician at each venue. She ended up performing with students of all levels, from beginner violinists to high school pianists.

Booked into unorthodox and often noisy venues, Sawada’s biggest fear before embarking on the tour was that no one would want to sit quietly and listen. “The night before I left, I got cold feet,” she said. She thought, “What if no one wants to hear me?” But her experience was quite the opposite. “There was total silence,” she said, noting “a change in the room” when she began to play, wherever she was.

While the Gather Hear Tour was sparked primarily by a desire to connect with diverse audiences, Sawada had long been interested in taking classical music beyond the confines of the concert hall. “I always envied my friends who could take their instruments and perform in pop-up concerts,” she explained. While taking a piano on tour requires some extra labor, Sawada has shown that it can be done. The instrument with which she toured Alaska is a hybrid keyboard with no strings to tune, equipped with its own amplification. However more difficult the instrument is to transport than a flute, the piano is a necessary, central focus of the project — a gathering place where people are encouraged to stop and listen, and to participate in the music-making.

Following the Alaskan tour, Sawada turned her attention to West Virginia, where Gather Hear performances featured a new work by composer and fellow YSM alumnus Brendon Randall-Myers ’14MM, a West Virginia native. Randall-Myers’ new work, A Kind of Mirror, combines classical repertoire with original music. Created to reflect the mission of the Gather Hear project, A Kind of Mirror calls for audience participation, with theatrical prompts shaped with the help of director Daniel Pettrow. At one point, an audience member is asked to make tea on stage, and the ending of the performance involves a large amount of bubble wrap.

While performances of A Kind of Mirror are somewhat structured, there is room for collaboration. “The show is built in a way so that piano players in the audience could potentially, spontaneously take the stage,” Sawada said, “or if I meet a classical musician in town when I arrive at a tour stop, I could work a collaborative performance with them into the show.”

Sawada seems flexible when it comes to life on the road, which she has found enjoyable. States on the radar for future Gather Hear tours include Missouri, Michigan, and Florida. Sawada may even attempt to tour all three within the next year. She is in no rush, however. “If it takes 50 years, that’s fine,” she said. “It will be interesting to see how the project changes over time.”

MIKI SAWADA

Published November 6, 2018
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Wei-Yi Yang to perform all-Schumann program

Wei-Yi Yang

On Wednesday, Nov. 7, faculty pianist Wei-Yi Yang ’95MM ’96AD ’99MMA ’04DMA will perform an all-Schumann program that includes the composer’s Kinderszenen, Kreisleriana, and Fantasie in C major. We spoke with Yang about the repertoire and his approach thereto.

Q: What is your connection to Schumann’s music? What about his piano writing resonates with you and why (if that can be articulated)? How and why did you choose these three works?

A: I always have a special place in my heart for Schumann’s music. Right now, my heart is saturated with it. Schumann’s obsessive, at times possessed, ways of expressing his emotions never fail to amaze me. I find it helpful to approach the heart of his music by approximating the obsession that drove him. I return repeatedly to his lieder and movements from his chamber music to mine his creative energy — though it was the piano that served as the extension of his soul in his earlier period. Inspired by his forlorn love for Clara and the difficult circumstances surrounding their forced separation, these opuses are Schumann’s ultimate love letters to her. Deciphering such personal and intimate pieces requires a certain psychological projection; it is uneasy study and work, but personally, I find a certain voyeuristic pleasure in this effort.

Q: What do these pieces require of you, physically (technically), mentally, and emotionally?

A: So much of this music is spurred by fragility, obsession, and whimsy, but at its heart lies one of the most challenging interpretive aspects: it is the portrayal of loneliness. In handling the many varied moments of heightened intensity, the succession of moods requires enormous imagination and sound resources. Often, I remind myself in practice: the hands need to move, but the ears need to move faster.

Q: These pieces were written during the same period. What do they tell us about Schumann’s life and work at that point? This music is informed by E.T.A. Hoffman’s Kreisler, inspired by the work of Beethoven, dedicated to Liszt and Chopin, and reflective of Schumann’s feelings for Clara. What do they require from an audience?

A: Schumann had a voracious appetite when it came to his attention to literature. In many ways, this repertoire represents his diary or love letters to Clara in musical form; I would further liken these pieces to three types of literary manifestation: if Kinderszenen were a collection of haiku miniatures, then Kreisleriana would be a novella rooted in violent schizophrenia, while the Fantasie represents an arching epic. Shifting between desires, fears, resignation, make-believe triumph, and longing, these are deeply personal works that cover enormous emotional terrain and can only be defined, and united, by conflicts between dreams and reality and mood swings. As a performer, I find it necessary to feel open and vulnerable, and let all guards down; as for the listeners, I would recommend the same.

The Horowitz Piano Series presents faculty pianist Wei-Yi Yang in an all-Schumann program that includes the composer’s Kinderszenen, Op. 15, Kreisleriana, Op. 16, and Fantasie in C major, Op. 17.

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HOROWITZ PIANO SERIES

Published November 2, 2018
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Boris Berman to perform program of Haydn and Prokofiev sonatas

Boris Berman

Boris Berman recently said that his Oct. 24 Horowitz Piano Series recital is “another step in (my) exploration of Prokofiev.” Berman, a faculty pianist at YSM and the series’ Artistic Director, has recorded the composer’s complete solo piano music, published a book titled Prokofiev’s Piano Sonatas: A Guide for the Listener and the Performer (Yale University Press), and served as an editor of Shanghai Music Publishing House’s critical edition of Prokofiev’s piano sonatas. In April 2016, Berman organized “Prokofiev at 125,” a concert in which his students performed transcriptions of the composer’s ballet music. Reviewing an all-Prokofiev recital Berman gave at New York’s 92nd Street Y, and with the pianist’s recordings in mind, New York Magazine’s Peter Davis offered, “For a grand tour through the total Prokofiev, I can’t imagine a more observant or articulate guide.”

For his Oct. 24 recital, Berman has paired Prokofiev’s late piano sonatas with Haydn’s “London” Sonatas. In Prokofiev’s piano music, Berman said, he sees connections to the composer’s immediate predecessors, and to the Classical style—”perhaps more so with Haydn than with Mozart.” The three “London” Sonatas (Nos. 50-52), Berman said, are very different from one another, and some of that music indeed looks forward, beyond Classicism. The Prokofiev sonatas—Berman will perform No. 9 and No. 7—are also different in their personalities, the former more introspective and the latter more muscular, in Berman’s words.

Personality will be very much on display in Berman’s recital, in historical terms. When Prokofiev “burst onto the concert scene,” Berman said, the composer and his music shocked some concertgoers. “Some of his premieres were downright scandalous,” Berman said.

In addition to his recital, and to celebrating Haydn and Prokofiev, Berman is always eager to champion the Horowitz Piano Series, which he said is “one of very few piano recital series in the country.”

“Some of the greatest musicians of our time” have performed as part of the Horowitz series, he said. Yale is home to the papers of legendary pianist Vladimir Horowitz, who died in 1989. Guest performers on the Horowitz series have included Emanuel Ax, Ran Dank and Soyeon Kate Lee, Angela Hewitt, Olga Kern, Radu Lupu, and Murray Perahia, to name just a handful. The series, Berman said, is “a great treat for all of us, right here on campus.”

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HOROWITZ PIANO SERIES

BORIS BERMAN

THE PAPERS OF VLADIMIR AND WANDA TOSCANINI HOROWITZ

Published October 16, 2018
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