YSM composer presents “Stinney: An American Execution” in New York

Baltimore premiere of Stinney: An American Execution. Photo by Will Kirk, Homewood Photography

While pursuing degrees and performing at the Yale School of Music, students also actively engage in collaborations outside of Yale, and work to affect change in their communities and beyond. YSM composer Frances Pollock ’19MM has worked in conjunction with the Prototype Festival, French Institute Alliance Française, and Harlem Stage to present the opera Stinney: An American Execution, for which she wrote the score and co-wrote the libretto. Stinney was originally premiered in Baltimore in 2015, where Pollock earned a master’s degree from the Peabody Conservatory. Speaking about the premiere, Pollock said, “Part of our audience came to the show because of their profound dedication to new music. The other part came out of a profound dedication to the fight for human rights. I caught my first glimpse of how art can be a powerful unifier in a moment when there doesn’t seem to be a way to move forward.” Hailed by the Baltimore Sun as a “bold, bracing opera that pulls no punches and never flinches,” Stinney will be performed this weekend at Flourence Gould Hall in New York City.

Stinney tells the story of George Junius Stinney Jr., who was executed at age 14 for a crime he didn’t commit. According to the Prototype Festival website, “Having been wrongly accused and convicted of the rape and murder of two white girls in Alcolu, SC, in 1944, George became the youngest person legally executed in 20th-century America. Stinney tells the story of George, his family, his community, and the jury of ten white men that sent an innocent black boy to the electric chair. A new opera with roots in both gospel and electronic techniques, Stinney: An American Execution spotlights the anger and agony of the entire populous of Alcolu, connecting the dots to our own socio-political climate in 2019 and the pervasive ‘fear of the other.’”

We recently spoke with Pollock and the production’s music director, Alex Blake, about the opera and its importance in today’s world.

Q. What do you think is the role of an artist in tackling issues of racism and oppression? 

Blake: I feel like art should reflect the times that we are in and should reflect the struggles of a people. Art allows artists to reach people, a way to present difficult topics, and a way for audiences to enter into a conversation without feeling defensive or feeling like they have to respond to a topic in the moment. We tell stories and we open up dialogue in an emotional sense that push beyond the academic or intellectual spaces.

Pollock: The thing that I’m most interested in right now is challenging the systems in which art is created. In telling charged stories, we as artists must be aware of our limited perspective and make sure we are working with collaborators who will challenge that perspective in the creative process. For this project, it was crucial to decentralize the role of the composer and focus on establishing a team that is invested in crafting the story. For me personally, being in touch with the Stinney family and including them at every step was the only way to make sure that we were telling the story in a way that truly listened.

We are also trying out a new model for royalties on this opera. As the opera goes on, most of the royalties will go directly to the Stinney family. The cast and creative team will also continue to receive collaborative royalties as the show progresses. This model ensures that the team is recognized for role in the creative process even as the show goes forward.

Q. Why is this opera important? Do you think it is particularly important now, in our current social and political climate? 

Blake: This opera is extremely important. We have seen more and more cases of the struggles and interactions between police and people of color, including Black children. From a socio-political sense this piece definitely brings up questions that we need to respond to as a population in these times right now.

Musically, this opera is important because it involves a story of a community that rarely feels represented in classical music and more specifically in opera. To hear the story of someone in the community and to see members of that community represented on stage is an experience that has not been offered to people of color, and that representation is essential when we talk about the relevance of opera to an American populous.

The status quo for opera is dominated by heteronormative caucasian stories told from a singular perspective. This story about this African American boy and the American systems that have been detrimental to the success and progression of marginalized populations are beautifully represented in Stinney.

Pollock: I totally agree with Alex. It’s also important to challenge the spaces of western art music—spaces that are still predominantly white and predominantly wealthy. There is nothing wrong with canonic repertoire itself nor the audiences that attend these performances, but often these spaces pride themselves on being elite. Elitism often leads to exclusion, and the history of elitism in opera manifests in whole communities being excluded from classical music spaces.

Q. What led you to begin this project? 

Blake: Frances Pollock called me and told me about this opportunity to perform Stinney in New York. I had already read about the first run-through and was both elated and horrified to be asked to be a part of it—you see, this is my first experience conducing an opera, and I remember asking if she was sure that I would be a good fit. I’m very honored and excited to be a part of telling this story.

Pollock: I have been interested in the conversation that surrounds race relations in the South since I was in high school. In college, I spent a little while working with the Innocence Project in North Carolina and became profoundly aware of systemic racism in the prison system. When I moved to Baltimore and began teaching in the public schools, I was faced with the reality that many of my students lived with daily—that low-income communities of color were chronically under-supported and over policed, which perpetuated the cycle of the school-to-prison pipeline. At the same time, I was confronted with the status quo of classical music training, training that felt wholly unaware of the social injustices that were taking place right outside the ivory walls of the conservatory. (Co-librettist) Tia [Price] and I started writing Stinney to start having a conversation with our colleagues.

Stinney: An American Execution will be performed on January 12, at 5 p.m., and January 13, at 3 p.m, with tickets starting at $30. On January 10, at 7:30 p.m., co-presenter Harlem Stage will host a moderated panel discussion, Democratic Ideals and Racism: An Examination of the Cradle to Prison Pipeline, on the creative responses of artists as they witness, experience, and analyze the collective trauma of being Black in America. The discussion will feature members of the creative team of Stinney, and tickets start at $5.

Published January 10, 2019
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Paul Hawkshaw awarded Fulbright for Bruckner research, residency in Vienna

Paul Hawkshaw

Professor of Musicology Paul Hawkshaw will be a Fulbright Visiting Scholar in Vienna in the spring of 2018. During his residency, he will teach classes at the University of Vienna’s Institute of Musicology and at the city’s University of Music and Performing Arts, in addition working at the Austrian National Library on a project titled A Bequest and a Complex Legacy: Untangling Anton Bruckner’s Revisions in Later Times, which aims to sort out the many different revisions of Bruckner’s music that have resulted from, in Hawkshaw’s words, “unauthorized tampering in Bruckner’s scores by well-meaning students and friends of his.”

According to Hawkshaw, the International Bruckner Society recently began a new Collected Works Edition under the auspices of the Austrian National Library and the Vienna Philharmonic. The New Anton Bruckner Collected Edition will eventually include new definitive scores of Bruckner’s complete works. Hawkshaw, who serves on the society’s editorial board, will work on three of the symphonies: numbers Seven, Eight, and Nine.

“In some cases,” Hawkshaw said, “previous editions had errors as a result of misreading the sources. For others, new, more reliable manuscript sources have surfaced since the older printed scores appeared.” MORE

Published April 5, 2017
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Premiere of chamber opera by composition student Hannah Lash

Hannah Lash, a first-year Artist Diploma student in composition at the Yale School of music, saw the premiere of her 40-minute chamber opera Blood Rose this past weekend at the at the Park Avenue Christian Church in New York.

Lash describes her opera as “a chilling interpretation of the legend ‘Beauty and the Beast'” that “explores concepts of violation, loss, revenge, and identity.

Blood Rose is written for alto (Kirsten Sollek), countertenor (Eric Brenner), and string quartet (the JACK Quartet).

Lash’s website describes the opera’s take on the Beauty and the Best legend:

“Blood Rose” renders the character of Beast as the victim of defilement, evidenced by his ravaged garden. It is dawn; he has just discovered the devastation in his garden. Beauty enters: a mysteriously pure woman who sings seductively. Beast is eager to make her suffer to alleviate his own sense of rage. her blood will water his broken flowers to make them bloom again.

She bleeds, but the only flowers that are revived are those with ugly meanings: rage, revenge, mistrust. Their terror builds; Beauty’s life is draining and Beast’s fevered anger has not abated. They grow closer in their mutual suffering, desperate for hope. But the flower of hope cannot be revived. Not with Blood. Beauty and Beast become increasingly enmeshed in one another’s identities as the opera draws to its heartbreaking conclusion.

Read the New York Times preview piece.

Published September 28, 2010
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U.S. premiere of Verdery’s Give, dedicated to Ted Kennedy, featured in May 5 Guitar Chamber Music concert

Benjamin Verdery, artistic director

The Yale School of Music will present a concert of Guitar Chamber Music on Wednesday, May 5, 2010 at 8 pm in Morse Recital Hall in Sprague Hall. The concert will showcase graduate performers in music for multiple guitars as well as guitar with other instruments. Benjamin Verdery, the chair of the guitar department at the Yale School of Music, is the artistic director of the concert.

The program will feature the U.S. premiere of Give, a work by Verdery written for eight guitars and dedicated to the late Senator Ted Kennedy. Verdery composed Give for Thomas Offermann and the guitar ensemble of the Hochschule for Music and Theatre (HMT) in Rostock, Germany, where it was premiered last October. The piece develops material from his previous composition Peace, Love, and Guitars, which was written for classical guitarist John Williams and jazz guitarist John Etheridge. Also on the concert is Castelnuovo-Tedesco’s Quintet for guitar and string quartet, as well as music by Mauro Giuliani and Stephen Goss.

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Published April 22, 2010
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New Music New Haven features guest composer and Yale graduate Tom Johnson in April 1 concert

Program includes the premiere of “Four Note Chords,” dedicated to Allen Forte

The New Music New Haven concert series presents a program of new music featuring guest composer Tom Johnson on Thursday, April 1 at 8 pm in Sprague Hall (470 College Street, New Haven). Johnson, a minimalist composer who studied at Yale College and the Yale School of Music, will have two pieces performed. Narayana’s Cows, for a large mixed ensemble, has been one of his most popular works since its composition in 1989. The concert will also feature the premiere of Four Note Chords, an octet for double reeds and brass written for noted music theorist and Yale professor emeritus Allen Forte.

The program includes five short works by up-and-coming composers who study at the Yale School of Music: Andy Akiho’s NO one To kNOW one, Richard Harrold’s Breed, a trio by Robert Honstein, a work for solo piano by Sam Adams, and Feinan Wang’s Yaf’s Monodrama. Renowned new music specialist Lisa Moore will perform the Adams piece. Farkhad Khudyev and Adrian Slywotzky, the School of Music’s conducting fellows, will each conduct one work. Christopher Theofanidis is the artistic director of the New Music New Haven series.

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Published March 8, 2010
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Yale in New York series offers a preview of Prokofiev Rediscovered: premieres and rarities

Among the three premieres is the unfinished opera Distant Seas and Music for Athletic Exercises, performed with dance

prokofiev_squareThe celebrated Yale in New York series offers a special preview concert of its Prokofiev Rediscovered program on Monday, February 8, 2010 at 8 pm in Sprague Hall (470 College Street, New Haven). The program, which will also be presented in Zankel Hall at Carnegie Hall on February 9, features premieres and rarely-performed works by one of the titans of twentieth-century music. Boris Berman, the acclaimed pianist and Prokofiev specialist who conceived the program, performs with faculty colleagues Ettore Causa, viola; Stephen Taylor, oboe; and Robert Blocker, piano, as well as distinguished alumni, student, and guest performers.

The concert will showcase three recently-discovered Prokofiev works: a fragment from the unfinished opera Distant Seas (1948) receives its world premiere, while Music for Athletic Exercises (1939) and the complete music from the ballet Trapeze (1924) will be heard in New Haven for the first time. In addition, Berman will be joined by Dean Robert Blocker in a rarely heard two-piano arrangement of a suite of Schubert waltzes. Music for Athletic Exercises will be performed with original choreography by the New York City Ballet’s Adam Hendrickson. The dancers, all part of the Adam Hendrickson Dance Project, are Elysia Dawn; Colby Damon, and Matthew Renko. The New York Times has raved that Mr. Hendrickson “is just about invincible: understated, enigmatic and full of eccentricity.”

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Published January 26, 2010
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Premiere of Give, a new work by Benjamin Verdery

verdery_hBenjamin Verdery’s newest work, Give, premiered October 29 at the Hochschule for Music and Theatre (HMT) in Rostock, Germany. Verdery himself, a faculty member of the Yale School of Music, performed a broad range of music, and several of his compositions were performed by students from the HMT.

Verdery composed Give for Thumas Offermann and the HMT guitar ensemble. The piece, which develops material from his previous composition Peace, Love, and Guitars, is dedicated to the memory of US Senator Edward Kennedy, who passed away in August. Peace, Love, and Guitars was written for classical guitarist John Williams and jazz guitarist John Etheridge. MORE

Published December 2, 2009
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Yo-Yo Ma premieres cello concerto by Angel Lam ’10AD

lam_angel_webCellist Yo-Yo Ma and the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra, under the baton of music director Robert Spano, will present the New York premiere of Angel Lam’s Awakening from a Disappearing Garden on Saturday, November 7, at Carnegie Hall. The piece, a concerto for cello and orchestra, was commissioned by Carnegie Hall and was first performed in Atlanta Symphony Hall on October 15 and 16, 2009. This is Lam’s third commission from Carnegie Hall, which describes her as “a young composer whose work sounds both Chinese and Western, contemporary but also timeless.” MORE

Published November 4, 2009
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East Coast premiere of new Aaron Jay Kernis symphony

Yale presents the East Coast premiere of Aaron Jay Kernis’s major new work, the “profoundly spiritual” Symphony of Meditations

Kernis, Aaron JayThe Yale School of Music, Institute of Sacred Music, and Glee Club will present the East Coast premiere of Aaron Jay Kernis’s Symphony of Meditations, a major new work in the repertoire for orchestra and chorus, on Friday, November 6 at 8 pm in Woolsey Hall. Kernis himself will conduct the performance, which will feature the Yale Philharmonia (Shinik Hahm, conductor), the Yale Camerata (Marguerite L. Brooks, conductor), the Yale Schola Cantorum (Masaaki Suzuki, director), and the Yale Glee Club (Jeffrey Douma, director). The vocal soloists, all emerging artists in the Yale Opera program, are Amanda Hall, soprano, Joseph Mikolaj, tenor and David Pershall, baritone. The performance will take place during the 2009 convention of the American Collegiate Choral Organization, hosted by Yale University.

The hour-long, three-movement Symphony of Meditations was commissioned by the Seattle Symphony Orchestra. After its first performance in June under the baton of Gerard Schwartz, the piece was warmly received by the audience and hailed by the press. The Examiner called it “a complex, ambitious and, overall, brilliant undertaking… there is much to praise about this multi-textured, profoundly spiritual composition.” Gathering Note said, “Kernis has constructed a major new symphony that gives notice to everyone that the form is not dead …nothing less than a serious and worthy composition.” MORE

Published October 21, 2009
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“Senior” by Timo Andres ’09MM premieres at Carnegie Hall

andres_t_spComposer Timothy (Timo) Andres enjoyed a successful premiere of his orchestral work “Senior” in Carnegie Hall on Sunday, March 22.Written for string quartet and orchestra, the piece is written to evoke the state of mind of a senior in college. The New York Youth Symphony commissioned the 12-minute work, performing it with the ACME String Quartet and conductor Ryan McAdams.

According to Anthony Tommasini of the New York Times, “This pensive and restless music does seem to touch on the conflicting emotions that Mr. Andres identifies with senior slump: expectancy and finality, bewilderment and boredom. But the piece was fascinating on musical terms alone… The acuteness of Mr. Andres’s ear lends intricacy to the layered lines and pungency to the piercing harmonies.” MORE

Published March 25, 2009
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