Convocation 2019 honors the School of Music’s 125-year history

Dean Robert Blocker delivers his 2019 convocation speech, “Beyond Beginnings.” Seated, from left: Yale University President Emeritus Richard Levin, President Peter Salovey, Provost Benjamin Polak, and Yale Institute of Sacred Music Director Martin Jean. Photo by Harold Shapiro

Convocation 2019, during which the incoming class was formally installed, marked the beginning of a yearlong celebration of the School’s 125-year history and featured performances by faculty, students, and alumni and remarks by Dean Robert Blocker, Yale University President Peter Salovey and University President Emeritus Richard Levin. The ceremony also featured the presentation of the Samuel Simons Sanford Medal, the School’s highest honor. Members of the incoming class were joined in Morse Recital Hall by returning students, faculty, staff, the School’s Board of Advisors, trustees of the Yale Summer School of Music/Norfolk Chamber Music Festival, members of Yale’s Class of 1957, University leaders, and guests from around the world.

“Throughout the 2019-2020 academic year and concert season, the Yale School of Music community will reflect on the School’s 125-year history and look forward to the future of music at Yale,” Blocker said at the September 5 event. “While music at Yale can be traced to earlier days, it was in 1894 that the School was established and that its first degrees were conferred. To celebrate music at Yale is to appreciate and acknowledge all those who have made music here.” Addressing the incoming class, Blocker pointed to the “bold and visionary legacy and the tenacious work of many generations” who sought “to fulfill Yale’s aspirations of improving our world. Among those aspirations is this School’s firm resolve to ensure the birthright of music for humankind, without regard for who an individual is, what they look like, and where they are from.”

Just as he talked about the School’s commitments to its students, Blocker told incoming students, “your Yale citizenship carries the responsibility … of considering your dreams and how your distinctive talents will contribute to our common goals. Imagine where you want to be in a few years, and ask yourself how your vision might benefit those around you.” Blocker’s speech, Beyond Beginnings, explored the limits of time. “Most of this entering class will spend fewer than 700 days here,” he said. “The excitement of a purposeful life comes from what we do with our time. The wonder of your Yale experience can be that here you will make sense of your artistic, intellectual, spiritual, and social impulses by discovering your unique musical voices and human capacities. I implore you to embark fully on this Yale journey. Not to do so would amount to the heinous crime of stealing from yourself.”

Dean Robert Blocker, right, awards faculty composer Martin Bresnick the Samuel Simons Sanford Medal

The presentation of the Sanford Medal reflected the larger moment, calling on the School’s history by way of the award’s namesake, professor and patron Samuel Simons Sanford. The award presentation recognized the work of one of the School’s most respected and important faculty members, composer Martin Bresnick, among whose former students are several current faculty colleagues. “I know of no one who is truer to his own belief and truer to his own heart than Martin,” Blocker said, referring to Bresnick as a “master teacher.” “When the student is ready,” Bresnick said, “the teacher appears. I was happy to appear.”

Salovey and Levin, celebrating the history of music at Yale with the School of Music community, shared their perspectives on the moment. Salovey, a musician by avocation, asked rhetorically, “How many of us have felt this power in our own lives?” “The School of Music,” Levin said, “is the soul of the University.”

While the above-mentioned remarks contextualized the School’s work and music’s transformative potential, the evening’s performances spoke even more directly. Faculty tenor James Taylor, faculty trumpeter Kevin Cobb, and faculty pianist Wei-Yi Yang performed “Sound the Trumpet,” from Purcell’s Come, ye Sons of Art Away. Soprano Annie Rosen ’08BA ’12MM and pianist Hilda Huang ’17BS ’19MM ’20MMA performed La vie en rose by Piaf and Guglielmi, “C’est ainsi que tu es,” from Poulenc and Vilmorin’s Métamorphoses, and Trenet’s Le Soleil et la lune. And marimbist Jisu Jung ’19MM ’20AD performed an arrangement of part of Keith Jarrett’s Köln Concert and Leigh Howard Stevens’ Rhythmic Caprice. As is tradition, attendees sang Schubert and von Schober’s An die Musik. That performance was led by Associate Professor of Choral Conducting Marguerite Brooks and faculty clarinetist David Shifrin.

Published September 13, 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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Commencement focuses on the artist’s role

YSM Commencement 2019In his remarks to members of the Class of 2019 during the School of Music’s 126th Commencement on May 20, Dean Robert Blocker told graduates, “The world needs you! It is gasping for the oxygen that your talent and sense of justice can provide.”

Before awarding diplomas to 110 graduates, Blocker presented three students prizes. Composer Miles Walter ’20MM was awarded the Harriet Gibbs Fox Memorial Prize, which is given to the student who has achieved the highest grade-point average during the student’s first year at the School; composer Frances Pollock ’19MM was awarded the Horatio Parker Memorial Prize, which is given to the student who best fulfills Dean Parker’s lofty musical ideals; and violist Marta Lambert ’19MM was presented with the Dean’s Prize, the School’s highest excellence award.

Blocker lauded the work members of the graduating class did to make their community a more welcoming place for those who call the School home, even for a few relatively short years. He cited OutLoud, the School’s first-ever affinity group, which seeks to create a safe space for LGBTQ students, faculty, and staff. And he praised the YSM Black Collective, whose leadership, “with courage, kindness, and restraint, called on our community to become better educated about unconscious and implicit bias.” Blocker also referenced the Music in Schools Initiative and the School’s Declaration on Equity in Music for City Students in pointing to the School’s commitment to advocacy and action.

Faculty trumpeter Allan Dean and faculty and University organist Thomas Murray performed Schubert’s An die Musik, which students, faculty, and staff sang, in keeping with School tradition. For Dean and Murray, the performance marked the end of decades-long careers at Yale. Both retired at the end of the academic year.

Watch Dean Blocker’s 2019 Commencement Address, Why Music Matters

Watch the presentation of student prices

Watch the awarding of diplomas

Published May 23, 2019
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Trumpeter Kevin Cobb appointed to YSM faculty

Kevin Cobb

School of Music Dean Robert Blocker announced today that trumpeter Kevin Cobb has been appointed to the YSM faculty. Cobb will begin teaching at the School in the fall. “Kevin is a member of the American Brass Quintet and performs frequently with the New York Philharmonic,” Blocker said. “He teaches at The Juilliard School and also gives master classes throughout the country. His concert activities and discography reflect those of a renowned artist.” Cobb also holds teaching positions at New York University and SUNY Stony Brook, and at the Aspen Music Festival and School and the Colorado Summer Music Festival.

Cobb has performed with such renowned ensembles as the American Composer’s Orchestra, Cleveland Orchestra, Metropolitan Opera Orchestra, New York New Music Ensemble, Orpheus Chamber Orchestra, Philadelphia Orchestra, Speculum Musicae, St. Louis Symphony Orchestra, and St. Paul Chamber Orchestra, among others.

In additions to his solo recording One: American Music for Unaccompanied Trumpet (Summit Records) and those made with the American Brass Quintet, Cobb appears on recordings by the St. Louis Symphony Orchestra and the Metropolitan Opera Brass.

Cobb studied at the Interlochen Arts Academy and earned his bachelor and master of music degrees from the Curtis Institute and The Juilliard School, respectively.

He succeeds Allan Dean, who will retire at semester’s end after 30 years on the YSM faculty. “My gratitude to Allan Dean is boundless,” Blocker said.

Published March 13, 2019
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NHSO honors YSM Dean Robert Blocker

YSM Dean Robert Blocker. Photo courtesy of the NHSO

Dean Robert Blocker was honored at the New Haven Symphony Orchestra’s 125th Anniversary Gala on Jan. 25, along with former Yale University Vice President for Global and Strategic Initiatives Linda Koch Lorimer. The NHSO cited Blocker’s steadfast support of the symphony and his dedication to the arts in the New Haven community.

“The New Haven Symphony was delighted to celebrate not only our 125-year partnership with the Yale School of Music, but to honor the valuable contributions of Dean Robert Blocker,” the NHSO’s chief executive officer, Elaine Carroll, said. “He was selected as our gala honoree because of his many years of service to the symphony’s board of directors, his willingness to share his extensive knowledge of our field, and his wonderful artistry when he has appeared as a piano soloist with the NHSO. On a personal note, Dean Blocker is one of the first people I turn to when I have a ‘big picture’ question, and he never fails to provide immediate feedback and useful information. It was a real pleasure to see someone who gives so much be acknowledged for his outstanding volunteer efforts on behalf of the symphony.”

The NHSO has been closely tied to Yale since its inception in 1894, the same year the Yale School of Music was established. Yale provided financial and organizational support, as well as composers and performers, to the growing ensemble. Woolsey Hall, commissioned by Yale in 1901, has served as the NHSO’s chief performance venue. Another important figure in the shared histories of the Yale School of Music and the NHSO is Horatio Parker, who not only served as the School’s first Dean, but served as the first conductor of the NHSO and was responsible for transforming the orchestra into a nationally acclaimed ensemble. The Yale School of Music will celebrate the 125th anniversary of its founding from summer 2019 through fall 2020.

Published February 8, 2019
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Hurun Report recognizes YSM with New York-China Award

YSM Dean Robert Blocker

In January, YSM Dean Robert Blocker accepted an award, on behalf of the School of Music, from the Hurun Report. The Shanghai-based media company presented New York-China Awards “recognizing outstanding contributions to the New York-China relationship.” The Yale School of Music was acknowledged “for services to music education.”

Among the other award recipients at a Jan. 23 dinner at the Harvard Club of New York City were Carnegie Hall Executive and Artistic Director Clive Gillinson and Steinway & Sons.

 

Published February 7, 2019
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Pianist Roberto Prosseda, on making music in the 21st century

Roberto Prosseda

Pianist Roberto Prosseda will perform a program music by Mozart, Mendelssohn, and Schubert on a Feb. 13 Horowitz Piano Series recital. We recently spoke with Mr. Prosseda about modern modes of communication, musical expression, and the repertoire he’ll perform here at Yale.

Q: You’ve found benefits in modern modes of communication and talked about the importance of direct, in-person experience. “Today we tend to live through too many filters: for many people it now comes more naturally to communicate their states of mind and everyday experiences through social networks, rather than by meeting a friend directly in person,” you’ve written. “Live music, both for those who play and those who listen, is an experience of far greater depth, able to open channels of communication that are profound and direct.” Would you talk about how we, as artists and audience members, should use the tools at our disposal and when we should put them down?

A: Tools such as the internet and smartphones are very useful also for musicians, of course. For example, we have the possibility to find rare scores online (also browsing the digital catalogues of several libraries), or to compare several recordings of the same piece using streaming services: they are invaluable resources that past generations could not use. But today there is a concrete risk that we become slaves to our smartphones and lose the ability to keep our concentration and to enjoy “real life”: a coffee with a friend is a much more rewarding experience than a Facebook chat with the same friend. In the same way, a live concert is not comparable with a CD, and a live piano lesson is something completely different from watching a master class on YouTube. To prevent the risk of being addicted to smartphones or social media, I suggest to my students some “digital detox” during practicing sessions, switching off the mobile phone and the computer, as we do when we attend a concert.

Q: Technology has been an area of interest to you. To that end, you conducted an experiment with a robot-pianist called Teo Tronico in which you each performed the same piece of music and studied the resulting performances. What did you learn about your own playing and interpretations in that exploration?

A: The project with the pianist robot, Teo Tronico, was conceived to explain the differences between a real “human” interpretation and a literal reading of the score. Comparing my own playing with the mechanical performances of the robot was a good way for me to become more aware of those differences, and to deepen the research towards the dramaturgic and poetical elements of music—something that a robot is not able to achieve, yet.

Q: You’ve written, “A cold and calculated performance in which the only aim is to avoid mistakes will prove much more ‘wrong’ than a spontaneous, profound and not faultless performance.” In what ways do you apply this lesson to your own practice and playing and how do you communicate this idea to students who might aspire to a kind of “performance perfection”?

A: The above mentioned robotic performances should never be a model for us, but nevertheless there are students who think that “perfection” consists in just playing the right notes, literally respecting what is written in the score. From my point of view, the priority in making music is the intensity, depth, and sincerity of our musical expression. “Reading the score” also means knowing all the historical conventions, the meaning of each gesture corresponding to the indications written in the score. A wrong note played with the “right expression” is much better than a right note played with a wrong expression. But, while the score indicates the right notes in an incontrovertible way, the “right expression” is something that also relates to our own sensitivity, culture, and even creativity. And the same sign on the score (a staccato dot, or a slur) can have different meanings according to the context. When we perform a composition, we are at the same time film directors, actors, and photographers. It is fundamental to be aware of states of mind, expressive attitudes, dramaturgy, and rhetoric. Often, during lessons, I like to talk about the “depth of field” between the theme and the accompaniment, about the “focus” of a given melodic contour, of the temporal and spatial distance of the themes. The piano is, in fact, also a time machine, as it can “set” a theme in the present, the past, or the future, also defining the context in which it appears (reality, dream, memory, hope, illusion).

Q: Many of your projects have included an interdisciplinary element. Have these been informed by your curiosities, a desire to offer audiences something unique, or both?

A: When Franz Liszt, about 180 years ago, invented the format of the “piano recital,” this was a great innovation, breaking the traditional schemes and improving the connections between artist and audience. But I am quite sure that if Liszt were performing today, he would not give a piano recital in the way we are used to. The piano recital still works perfectly for audiences who are used to listening to classical music (and I still give about 30 piano recitals per year for those audiences), but there are alternative ways to present classical music in live formats, which fit better for other kinds of audiences. As a performing artist, I feel a responsibility to deliver a social and cultural service also to “the rest of the world.” There are millions of people who use Facebook and YouTube but will never enter a classical music auditorium if first we don’t help them “taste” and discover the intensity of a live classical music concert. Using multimedia formats or video teasers online can be an effective way to reach a wider audience and to give them the tools to understand and enjoy classical music.

Q: What is it about Mendelssohn’s music that’s been of particular interest to you?

A: I’ve always felt a close affinity with Mendelssohn’s lyricism. His music expresses a very wide range of moods, always keeping a perfect balance between complexity and freedom. I very much like Mendelssohn’s ability to write complex musical textures, never losing his unique linearity and rhythmical energy that are trademarks of his style. Then, I have always felt a special attraction for the “musical discoveries”: the piano repertoire still presents many unknown masterworks, and Mendelssohn’s piano output is, incredibly, lesser known than the one of Schubert, Schumann, or Chopin. For this reason, about 20 years ago I started researching Mendelssohn’s rare and unpublished pieces and got more and more enthusiastic about his music. After my first two CDs dedicated to Mendelssohn’s unpublished piano works were released, I started performing and recording the rest of his piano production, as even some published works are still quite unknown to the public and are seldom recorded. In the meantime, more unpublished manuscripts came to light, and in 2009 Breitkopf & Härtel published the new Mendelssohn Thematic Catalogue (MWV) by Ralf Wehner, which is now the reference for any Mendelssohn scholar. In recent years I’ve gradually completed recordings of Mendelssohn’s piano works, now released by Decca in a 10-CD box set. Soon after the release, I learned about a new discovery: a “Kleine Fuge,” MWV U 96, which was found among the papers of Mrs. Henriette Voigt (dated September 18, 1833). Of course, I recorded it as well, and it was digitally released worldwide on February 1.

Q: The program you’ll perform here at Yale features repertoire that was written over a 50-year period, roughly. What did this period yield in terms of innovations in the piano repertoire and the instrument itself? What do you hear of the period and the region in this particular repertoire? 

A: Those 50 years have probably been the most intense ones in the history of piano. Between 1785 and 1835, in fact, composers such as Haydn, Mozart, Clementi, Beethoven, Schubert, Mendelssohn, Schumann, Chopin, and Liszt gave their contributions to the evolution of the piano and its repertoire. The instrument had a very fast and radical evolution: the keyboard range expanded from five octaves to seven octaves and more; the action also underwent drastic developments, as did the sound production, thanks to the increased tension of the strings and the different materials used for the hammers and the other parts of the instrument. The piano language evolved in a parallel way, as composers themselves pushed piano makers to experiment with new models, and at the same time the possibilities offered by the newly built pianos inspired the composers to innovate their own ways to write for piano. For my recital, I chose the three composers to whom I’ve dedicated most of my studies: Mozart, Mendelssohn, and Schubert. The recital will open with two of the most revolutionary piano works written by Mozart: the Fantasia K. 475 and the Sonata K. 457 in C minor, published together as a diptych in 1785. Here, Mozart is very radical in using chromatic harmonies and experimenting with deep contrasts, which make this music incredibly dramatic and modern. After the Mozart I will continue with two of Mendelssohn’s masterworks: the Fantasia Op. 28 and the Rondo Capriccioso, along with some of my favorite Lieder ohne Worte. The concert will end with Schubert’s Four Impromptus Op. 90, written in the last year of his life (1828). The No. 1 in C minor has several elements in common with Mozart’s Fantasia K. 475. It will be interesting to compare the way Schubert uses similar harmonic and rhythmical patterns to reach completely new poetic results.

Roberto Prosseda will perform music by Mozart, Mendelssohn, and Schubert on Wednesday, February 13, in Morse Recital Hall. 

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ROBERTO PROSSEDA

Published February 4, 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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Willie Ruff awarded honorary doctorate

Willie Ruff receives an honorary doctorate from University President Salovey. Photo by Michael Marsland

As part of Yale’s 317th Commencement, which took place on May 21, the University awarded honorary degrees to “10 individuals who have received distinction in their respective fields.” Among the recipients was Willie Ruff ’53BM ’54MM, who retired in May 2017 having spent 46 years on the School of Music faculty.

Presenting Ruff with an honorary doctor of music degree, University President Peter Salovey said, “You have shared the wonders of music with the world. Introducing new audiences to the transcendent power of jazz; you discovered the echoes of distant times and faraway places in this quintessential American art form. In your ‘conservatory without walls,’ generations of young people have been inspired by jazz legends. Scholar, storyteller, and musician, in gratitude for your creativity and charisma, we are privileged to present your third Yale degree, Doctor of Music.”

The “conservatory without walls” to which Salovey referred is the “‘invisible institution’ through which African American music has been nurtured and developed over time,” explained Lucile Bruce in the Spring 2017 issue of Music at Yale. In 1972, a year after joining the faculty at his alma mater, Ruff brought 40 jazz legends to Yale — among them Duke Ellington, Marian Anderson, Dizzy Gillespie, and Charles Mingus — and launched the Duke Ellington Fellowship and the Ellington Jazz Series.

Throughout his extraordinary career, Ruff has introduced audiences around the world to jazz. With pianist Dwike Mitchell, Ruff — a horn and bass player — brought the art form to the Soviet Union in 1959 and to China in 1981.

Ruff’s scholarship has yielded remarkable insight into musical connections, and his eagerness to share his experiences and knowledge has enlightened many. His 1991 memoir, A Call to Assembly: The Autobiography of a Musical Storyteller, earned him an ASCAP Deems Taylor Award for Music Writing.

At the School of Music’s 2017 Honors Banquet, Ruff was given Yale University’s Nathan Hale Award. “He’s changed all our lives,” YSM Dean Robert Blocker said.

Ruff came to the Yale School of Music to study with Paul Hindemith — because he had read that Charlie Parker would have done the same. More than half century later, the School and the University continue to recognize and appreciate his remarkable legacy.

READ THE MUSIC AT YALE FEATURE
WATCH A VIDEO ABOUT WILLIE RUFF

Published May 23, 2018
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