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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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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Jungah Yoon ’19MM, on performing Reinecke’s Flute Concerto

Jungah Yoon

On April 26, flutist and Woolsey Hall Concerto Competition winner Jungah Yoon ’19MM will perform Carl Reinecke’s Flute Concerto in D Major, Op. 283, with Principal Conductor Peter Oundjian and the Yale Philharmonia. We spoke with Yoon about the challenges and rewards of performing such an important part of the flute repertoire.

Q: Why did you choose the Reinecke Flute Concerto as your competition piece?

A: The Reinecke Flute Concerto is unique in being the only flute concerto of the Romantic era, and many audience members will get to experience it for the first time. I feel a strong connection to this piece and believe that many aspects of it relate to my own life and personal experiences. When I perform this piece, I hope to share my story. I chose this piece especially because of the second movement, which is extremely nostalgic and heart-wrenching. Throughout the concerto, there are many passages of dialogue between the different voices—for example, between the solo flute, trumpet, and clarinet in the first movement, and a wonderful cantilena with the cello in the slow movement (or with the timpani, which features the same rhythm as the cello’s pizzicato passages). This rhythm sounds like a beating heart, or perhaps recalls a funeral march. The work encompasses a wide expressive scope, and it is an outstanding piece for the flute.

Q: Reinecke was a contemporary of Brahms and conducted several premieres of Brahms’ works. Do you hear the influence of this relationship in Reinecke’s Flute Concerto?

A: The Flute Concerto was written in 1908, and a key element to understanding the music is to consider its Romantic idiom, an old-fashioned style for its day. The work is rooted in the early 19th century language of Mendelssohn and Schumann, with whom Reinecke studied after settling in Leipzig in 1843, in stark contrast to the style and texture of some exemplary works composed during the same period—for example, Stravinsky’s Firebird (1910) and Petrushka (1911) ballets. Reinecke’s concerto shows him at his best and provides a milder taste of the early 20th century.

The work is in three movements, all rather different in character. The opening Allegro molto moderato is the most symphonic of the three and reflects the influence of Brahms. The first measures seem to emerge and join in on an already existing thought. The slow movement, Lento e mesto (“slow and sad”), is in the style of a bel canto aria, recalling Bellini, or the young Donizetti. The orchestra recedes to an accompanimental role, clearly giving front stage to the flute-as-protagonist, who sings mournfully in B minor. The finale is more upbeat than its Moderato marking might suggest. Reinecke’s keyboard influences are apparent in the overall texture, in which melody and accompaniment are clearly delineated yet rhythmically and gesturally interwoven.

Q: What have been the challenges of preparing and performing this concerto?

A: Personally, the most important aspect of my preparation is feeling that I truly know the work inside and out. Although the process is different for every performance of it, and new challenges arise, I always try to place focus on shaping the various lines, feeling comfortable with the technical elements, and, above all, sharing an expressive story with the audience.

The Romantic language of the Reinecke Flute Concerto has a lot to offer in terms of the expressive writing in the strings and the many colors in the winds and brass. The most challenging aspect of performing this piece is to project above and amid these textures, not just in the literal sense of projecting into the concert hall, but also the deeper manner of projecting my story and emotions to the audience. In this spirit, I hope to connect with the audience in a meaningful way.

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

A: I have come to think about my sound more than I used to in the past. Playing with a big ensemble means that I have to project through the texture even in the softest dynamics, and that my sound needs to be clean and focused. Therefore, it requires a lot more energy compared to when I am playing solo, and I need to be aware of the balance and interaction as a soloist with the many textures and instruments of the orchestra.

Q: What are your thoughts on working with Principal Conductor Peter Oundjian, and on performing as a soloist with an orchestra of your peers?

A: I had the experience of working with Maestro Oundjian earlier this year, when we performed selections from Prokofiev’s Romeo and Juliet, as well as Shostakovich’s Symphony No. 11, for which I was principal flute. I was inspired by his expressive approach and flexibility, always engaging the orchestra to actively listen better. His passion carries through to the vibe of the orchestra and encourages us all to keep an open mind to music-making. I feel grateful for the opportunity to work with Maestro Oundjian again, and to play with the Yale Philharmonia.

This experience is so meaningful to me, especially since it is my first time playing as a soloist with an orchestra. I am so happy to share the stage with my wonderful colleagues and beautiful musicians, who are so supportive and always give me positive energy. Coming to Yale was my first time studying abroad, and this enriching community of peers made me feel comfortable and at home. I look forward to playing with them and am excited for the concert!

Principal Conductor Peter Oundjian leads the Yale Philharmonia in a season-ending performance of Brahms’ First Symphony on a program that also includes Reinecke’s Flute Concerto in D major, with Woolsey Hall Concerto Competition winner Jungah Yoon ’19MM, and Joan Tower’s Made in America, on Friday, April 26, at 7:30 p.m., in Woolsey Hall.

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Published April 12, 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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Yale in New York concert celebrates YSM’s guitar and composition programs

Ben Verdery

Benjamin Verdery

In programming Music for Guitars, an upcoming Yale in New York series concert at Carnegie Hall, faculty guitarist Benjamin Verdery reflected on a November 2010 program that featured music by a host of Yale-affiliated composers. That program, by design, celebrated the legacies of the School of Music’s composition and guitar programs.

Verdery also reflected, in curating the upcoming Yale in New York program, on inspiration he found, a little more than 10 years ago, at the Rhode Island School of Design. Verdery’s son was applying to the school, whose application requirements included drawing a bicycle or some element thereof. Accepted students’ illustrations were on view when Verdery brought his son to Providence to visit the school. “It was mind-bending,” Verdery said.

“I’m going to have my friends write a piece of music—just the notes, the pitches and the rhythms,” without tempo or dynamic indications, he decided. Since then, each year, prospective School of Music students applying to study with Verdery have been required to learn and perform, as part of their audition, a piece written by one of Verdery’s colleagues, along with other repertoire. Like RISD’s bicycle-drawing admissions requirement, the commissioned audition pieces leave room for interpretation, giving Verdery some insight into the ability and creativity of prospective students.

Those who have been commissioned by Verdery to compose audition pieces, over the course of the past decade, include former YSM Dean and Prof. of Music Ezra Laderman, faculty composers Martin Bresnick and Christopher Theofanidis; Lecturer in Electronic Music Jack Vees; YSM alumni Bryce Dessner, James Moore, and Brendon Randall-Myers; Yale University Department of Music Prof. Kathryn Alexander; and current composition student Tanner Porter, among others. Audition pieces by the above-mentioned musicians will be showcased as part of Music for Guitars, the third and final concert in the 2018-2019 Yale in New York series. The concert will feature Verdery and current School of Music students and alumni, including René Izquierdo.

The program also includes works by Hindemith (who taught at the School of Music), Mudarra, and Terry Riley; arrangements of music by Bach, Scarlatti, and Schubert; and world premieres of James Moore’s Turning and Verdery’s arrangement, for guitar and string quartet, of Bernstein’s Sonata for Clarinet and Piano. Izquierdo will perform Turning, which was this year’s YSM guitar audition piece. Verdery will perform the Bernstein with violinists Kate Arndt and Gregory Lewis, violist Marta Lambert, and cellist Guilherme Monegatto-all current YSM students.

The repertoire for the program reaches back to 16th century composer Alonso Mudarra’s fantasias for vihuela—which will be played on an instrument from the Yale Collection of Musical Instruments—and visits music composed since then and up to the present. The program also taps into the arranging chops of the guitarists who’ll be performing. It’s something “all of us in the world of guitar do,” Verdery said.

“There’s a lot of color and expression of what the guitar is,” Verdery said of the program. There will also be a lot of virtuosity on display—and, like the 2010 program, of which it’s a musical extension, many connections to the School of Music.

The School of Music’s Yale in New York series presents Music for Guitars on Friday, March 29, at 7:30 p.m., at Weill Recital Hall at Carnegie Hall. A preview concert is scheduled for Thursday, March 28, at 4:30 p.m., in Morse Recital Hall in Sprague Memorial Hall. Admission to the preview concert is free.

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Published March 20, 2019
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Ensemble of YSM clarinetists to perform at Carnegie Hall

David Shifrin

It’s been 235 years since Mozart composed his Adagio in B-flat major for two clarinets and three basset horns. That is, clarinet ensembles have been a thing for centuries. In the mid-20th century, concertgoers in the United States heard performances by large clarinet choirs. YSM faculty clarinetist David Shifrin has organized a pair of concerts geared toward introducing today’s audiences to that tradition. Since Mozart wrote his Adagio, Steve Reich, Peter Schickele, and Jeff Scott have written for clarinet ensemble. Works by other composers have been so arranged.

The second concert in this season’s Yale in New York series, Shifrin said, will trace “the tradition of the sound of clarinet ensembles,” calling on current YSM students, alumni, and undergraduates from Yale College. The program, which includes music by the above-mentioned composers and others, will put on display the “versatility of the instrument as well as the homogeneity of sound.” Nearly two-dozen clarinetists will participate, along with two percussionists who will perform on Scott’s Expeditionary Airmen (Three Day Pass) and arrangements of Benny Goodman’s versions of tunes by Eubie Blake and Henry Lodge. An arrangement of Bach’s Toccata and Fugue in D minor, Shifrin said, will present concertgoers with “a living, breathing version of an organ,” with each stop played by a human and featuring the full range of clarinets, from the contrabass clarinet—which Shifrin described as the “size of a small vehicle”—to the piccolo clarinet.

By design, the program will show off the range of colors and styles that attracted Shifrin and other musicians to the instrument. It will also show off the musicians who have passed through Shifrin’s YSM studio and those who are currently studying at Yale. “To have this level of virtuosity, clarinetists coming together to play in an ensemble, is a rare type of event,” he said.

YSM faculty clarinetist David Shifrin will present Music for Clarinets as part of the School’s Yale in New York series, with a free preview concert at Yale on Thursday, Feb. 14, and a performance in Weill Recital Hall at Carnegie Hall on Friday, Feb. 15.

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Published February 6, 2019
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A tale of two Tatianas: Yale Opera sopranos discuss challenging role

With performances of Tchaikovsky’s Eugene Onegin fast approaching, singers from the Yale Opera program are in their final stages of preparation. Sopranos Madeline Ehlinger ’20MM and Lauren McQuistin ’19MMA, who will be sharing the role of Tatiana, spoke with us about the rehearsal process and their reflections on the opera.

What do you think makes Eugene Onegin such a quintessential opera? 

Lauren McQuistin. Photo by Synthia Steinem

Ehlinger: I think a lot of the appeal of Eugene Onegin comes from its striking likeness to moments and people in our lives. Almost anyone watching this opera will see themselves or people they know reflected in these characters. This, coupled with the sweeping and unabashedly Russian phrases of Tchaikovsky’s melodies, creates an opera that has the ability to move any listener.

McQuistin: Eugene Onegin isn’t driven by its plot, especially compared to other operas. Despite this, it remains a staple in the operatic canon, which can be attributed to the idiosyncratic yet relatable qualities of the characters and their interpersonal relationships. The source material, Pushkin’s Eugene Onegin, is to Russia what Goethe’s Faust is to Germany. There is a reverence for this story that prevented so many composers prior to Tchaikovsky from even attempting to put it to music. You can clearly see how Tchaikovsky poured the more hidden parts of himself and his experience into these characters. This relation to them, paired with him being the master of melody, makes something that resonates with people in an unfiltered and very human way. There’s something enchanting about the bareness of the intentions of the characters—Tatiana’s uncensored confession of love, Lensky flying so quickly to anger, Olga’s unashamed wildness, and Onegin’s sole desire to fulfil his own needs. Their interactions and the way they grow (or fail to) create an electricity that drives the opera forward without a convoluted plot. The qualities they display are parts of ourselves that we conceal, but Tchaikovsky puts a magnifying glass on them and refuses to let us hide from them for three acts of exquisite music.

How would you describe Tatiana? How is this role different from other roles you’ve sung, and what have your preparations been like?

Ehlinger: Tatiana, on the surface, is shy, quiet, and lost in her world of novels. And though parts of that analysis are true, she is also bold, dynamic, and full of wit. In opera, you are not always presented with such a layered and complex character. Getting to explore the hugely contrasting elements of her personality through her words and her music has been a really rewarding experience. So many elements of my personality align with Tatiana’s, so I’m using those parallels to interpret her story in a way that feels authentic.

McQuistin: A lot of what has made Tatiana profound for me has come from my experiences as a woman. In operas, especially as a soprano, my role has been as an accessory to a man’s love story, to die, or to go mad. Much of the agency that I have attempted to apply to my characters wasn’t necessarily written into them by the male composers. Quite the opposite, in fact. Tatiana, however, is a character that is entirely in charge of her own destiny. She is an unashamed dreamer and a unique individual, despite those around her not understanding her. She doesn’t descend into madness or apathy, and, most important, she transforms her trauma into success on her own terms. This makes her already extremely relevant to the 21st century, rather than making directorial choices to achieve that. It’s very exciting to present that sort of power on the operatic stage. Her actions are deliberate, and her transparency is brave, which has required a lot of vulnerability during the rehearsal process. She is one of the characters in the opera who goes through a significant change in circumstances, so exploring how she presents before and after her defining moment of heartbreak, whilst maintaining her core values as a character, has been the main challenge.

Madeline Ehlinger. Photo by Andrew Saiz

What is the rehearsal process like for such a huge work? Has singing in Russian posed extra challenges?

Ehlinger: I am a little surprised at how smoothly and fluidly this rehearsal process has unfolded. It is quite a huge work. We all came into staging rehearsals with the music and text diligently learned, due to the help of our dedicated and knowledgeable coaches and teachers. With that base of knowledge, the staging rehearsals felt like the next organic step. And I think we would all agree that the staging has enhanced our singing and interpretation of the text. The Russian was at first a challenge, but it is a language that flows beautifully once it is understood. It was a bit of a challenge, but a rewarding one.

McQuistin: The level of commitment to Eugene Onegin has had to be nothing short of 100 percent from absolutely everyone involved. Due to the interpersonal relationships of these characters being so critical to the shows’ success we have had to commit fully to color them with our own experiences, imaginations, and everything we have in our artist’s toolkit—including dance and stage combat. I have been a Russophile since the age of 16, so I fortunately had a loose grasp of the language and history, but there is no room for approximation in this process. As a class we had the massive advantage of studying Russian lyric diction with Emily Olin last semester, which gave us the necessary tools to get started with reading and comprehension. The text in this opera is more like a novel than a play, with no repetitions of text and extremely florid language, so every ounce of our understanding is required. With the Russian language being so different from the many Romance and Germanic languages that opera fans are more acquainted with, we must be entirely clear with our interpretation and communication, else it becomes impenetrable for both ourselves and the audience. There are certain aspects of Russian opera that differ greatly from other operatic traditions. For instance, Italian emotional climaxes usually are conveyed with a high, sustained note, whereas in Russian opera the melodic lines will utilize descending lines and the lower parts of our range to indicate their points of great drama. Grasping certain characteristics like that is keeping this from becoming a one-size-fits-all operatic approach, and it’s been so exciting to explore and understand exactly how this vastly different musical tradition creates its distinctive sound world.

What has it been like to work with director Paul Curran?

Ehlinger: Working with Paul has been such a rich experience. He’s the best director I can imagine for this opera. He speaks Russian and knows the opera and story in great detail. His expertise has really elevated our work. I have been consistently pushed to overcome my fears as a performer, and Paul has taught me great ways to reach that fearlessness. And I have to mention Perry So, our wonderful conductor, who has really given this music a freshness and incredible energy.

McQuistin: Having direct contact with someone who has worked on the main stages across the world is an experience I will never forget. His resume and accomplishments speak for themselves, but even they can’t fully account for the level of commitment he has to the process, the amount that he demands from us, and his constant search for truth in our performances. As he has worked with the people we aspire to be, he can give us a first-hand account of their own struggles and successes within their individual process. This allows us space and acceptance for our own areas of development and what we still have to learn. The standard he holds us to is something to aspire to, but it is never forgotten that we are in a learning environment, and there is a firm kindness in what is expected of us. From a personal point of view, it is significant for me that he is Scottish. Though I am from Scotland myself, and lived there for most my life, I have never worked with a Scottish director. I believe there needs to be more visibility for Scottish artists, and I want to be a part of that. In my past I have hid my Scottishness to fit in in certain circles, so to work with someone so successful and so unapologetically Scottish has enriched my experience as a Scottish artist working internationally.

Madeline, now that you’re in your second semester of your first year, what are your reflections on your time here in the Yale Opera program thus far?

Ehlinger: I came into this program knowing that the work I was facing would be immense, and I hoped also rewarding. I am glad to say it has been more rewarding that I could have imagined. A lot of that is due to the fantastic group of singers I am surrounded by. The support for one another is abundant, and it really creates an environment with a perfect balance of seriousness and warmth. Yale Opera has helped me grow as a musician in every sense of the word.

Lauren, as a second-year student, now in your second semester, what are your reflections on your time here in the Yale Opera program?

McQuistin: I will never forget the sheer disbelief I felt when I received the call from Doris Yarick-Cross offering me a place in the program. For the longest time I couldn’t fathom that I could have earned a place in a program like this. The program sets a bar for you that initially seems like an absolutely impossible task, and eventually, through relentless support, encouragement, and tutelage, you are given opportunities and performances that make you realize you are achieving that level of performance you initially thought was impossible. Given the small size of the class, we have been able to create a supportive environment where we have been able to challenge ourselves in a safe and productive way. It is truly unique to have so much individual attention and care, which encourages us to take ourselves seriously as artists and performers.

Yale Opera presents Tchaikovsky’s Eugene Onegin on Friday & Saturday, Feb. 15 & Feb. 16, at 8 p.m., and Sunday, Feb. 17, at 2 p.m., at New Haven’s historic Shubert Theatre.

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Published February 4, 2019
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YSM Student News | December 2018

Maura Scanlin

Tenor Luis Aguilar ’18MM ’19MMA, bass-baritone Brady Muth ’19MM, mezzo-soprano Rachel Weishoff ’19MMA, and soprano Laura Nielsen ’20MM, were the soloists for the Waterbury Symphony Orchestra’s performance of Handel’s Messiah with the Hartford Chorale.

San Jittakarn ’19MMA won third prize and Yun Lu ’20MM was one of eight semifinalists in the piano division of the 2018 Geneva International Music Competition.

Violinist Bora Kim ’16MM ’17MMA ’23DMA performed with the Sejong Soloists at Carnegie Hall in November for the ensemble’s Annual Gala Concert, which included works by Wagner, Vivaldi, Ewazen, and a premiere by Augusta Read Thomas MM.

Violinist Julia Mirzoev ’20MM was featured as a soloist in Mozart’s Sinfonia Concertante, K. 364, with the Durham Youth Orchestra in Whitby, Ontario, Canada.

Violinist Maura Scanlin ’19MM has recorded albums with her two folk bands. The Celtic fiddle/guitar duo Rakish released a self-titled debut EP in October, and Pumpkin Bread, an experimental group that blends Celtic folk and jazz, will release its second album in March 2019.

Xiaoyi Xu ’20MMA placed third and Po-Wei Ger ’20MM placed fifth at the Panama International Piano Competition.

Published December 13, 2018
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Pianist Sophiko Simsive ’18MM ’19MMA, on performing with the Yale Philharmonia

Sophiko Simsive. Photo by Marco Broggreve

Asked about Brahms’ First Piano Concerto, which she will perform with the Yale Philharmonia on Thursday, Nov. 15, Sophiko Simsive ’18MM ’19MMA does not get into musical details. “I’ve been trying to think in a more abstract way,” she said, explaining, “I like to relate to pieces on a personal level.” Simsive described herself as “a musician that always tries to identify the emotion in a piece” and wants the audience to feel that though her performance. “I feel very strongly about this piece,” she said. “I want to bring out my personality and I’m trying to bring out the story I’m trying to tell with it.”

While Simsive has long been familiar with the concerto, it was not until she played a piano arrangement of the orchestra part, for a March 2017 recital here at YSM by Dong Won Lee ’18MM, that she started “thinking deep and really getting my hands on” the piece.

Just hours removed from her first rehearsal with the Philharmonia, Simsive said, “I feel very much part of the orchestra.” Thursday’s concert in Woolsey Hall, she said, will be a high point of her time here at Yale, largely because she will be performing alongside colleagues. “I feel completely like I’m playing at home,” she said.

At the first rehearsal, Simsive said a few words to members of the Philharmonia. “I felt so grateful for the opportunity to play with the Yale Philharmonia. I wanted to let them know that for me it felt like playing chamber music with each and every one of them.” Simsive has worked with many musicians in the YSM community and pointed out that she played piano, celeste, and organ as a member of the Philharmonia in September.

As the soloist on Thursday’s concert, Simsive is looking forward to sharing a bit of herself with the Woolsey Hall audience. “I can tell a lot of different stories,” she said, “but they have to feel something—and that something is my life at Yale.”

Woolsey Hall Concerto Competition winner Sophiko Simsive ’18MM ’19MMA will perform Brahms’ Piano Concerto No. 1 in D minor, Op. 15, with the Yale Philharmonia on Thursday, Nov. 15, at 7:30 p.m., in Woolsey Hall. The program also includes Strauss’ Also sprach Zarathustra.

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SOPHIKO SIMSIVE

Published November 12, 2018
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