Omer Quartet is named YSM’s new fellowship quartet-in-residence

Omer Quartet

Omer Quartet

The Omer Quartet has been named the new fellowship quartet-in-residence at the Yale School of Music. During its two-year appointment, which begins in the fall, the quartet will be mentored by the School’s ensemble-in-residence, the Brentano String Quartet, and will coach undergraduate chamber music ensembles at Yale College’s Department of Music. The Omer Quartet, which succeeds the Rolston String Quartet as YSM’s fellowship quartet, includes violinists Mason Yu and Erica Tursi, violist Jinsung Hong, and cellist Alex Cox.

The quartet won the Grand Prize and the Gold Medal at the Fischoff National Chamber Music Competition in 2013 and was a first-prize winner at the 2017 Young Concert Artists International Auditions, among other distinctions. The quartet was formed at the Cleveland Institute of Music and later served a graduate residency at the New England Conservatory. The group has collaborated with such respected artists as Sérgio and Odair Assad, Eugene Drucker, Clive Greensmith, Kim Kashkashian, Cho-Liang Lin, Ricardo Morales, and the Borromeo String Quartet, and has collaborated with composers Perry Goldstein and Sean Shepherd.

The Omer Quartet comes to Yale having served as chamber-ensemble-in-residence at the Bravo! Vail Music Festival and as the doctoral fellowship quartet-in-residence at the University of Maryland. While at Yale, the quartet will be introduced to audiences in New Haven and beyond. In October, the group will perform concerts in Sudler Hall and at Carnegie Hall as part of YSM’s Yale in New York Series. In December, the quartet will perform a recital program in Morse Recital Hall.

Committed to community engagement, the quartet inaugurated a Music for Food concert series in the Washington D.C. area with the mission to support local hunger relief with a Tarisio Trust Young Artists Grant. The concerts involved local and out of town guest musicians and raised almost $5,000, creating over 10,000 meals to date.

Learn more about the ensemble at omerquartet.com.

Published July 25, 2019
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Brentano String Quartet to perform program of “Lamentations”

Brentano String Quartet

The Brentano String Quartet, left to right: violinist Serena Canin, cellist Nina Lee, violinist Mark Steinberg, and violist Misha Amory. Photo by Ian Christmann

Commenting on a concert program called “Lamentations,” Brentano String Quartet violinist Mark Steinberg explained, “There exists an old tradition of professional lamenters, who, as a service to those who grieve, digest and transfigure that grief in giving it voice,” asking, “What greater faith in art can be imagined?” The program, Steinberg said, “celebrates that art of cathartic expression in songs of lamentation from Purcell through Bartók and Carter, evincing strength and vulnerability in equal measure, through the intimacy and immediacy of the string quartet.”

The Brentano String Quartet, YSM’s outstanding ensemble-in-residence, will perform its “Lamentations” program at Yale on Tuesday, Jan. 29. We spoke recently with the group’s violist, Misha Amory, about the program.

Q: What are the origins of this program? How did you and your colleagues conceive “Lamentations” and choose the repertoire?

A: This project is a brainchild of Mark’s and has two origins behind it. One is the idea that music of mourning or lamentation is everywhere in our canon, composed and expressed in all periods and in all styles, and Mark felt it would be interesting to gather up examples of this into a single program so that we can appreciate how a diverse body of music can spring from a single, universal urge. The other idea propelling the project is perhaps more of a practical one, which is that each of these little pieces, taken on its own, is awkward to fit into a conventional string quartet program, which typically consists of three or four substantial works in several movements. In that type of program, smaller works might end up marginalized or lost in the bigger picture. This program enables us to perform these beloved pieces in a setting where their power is not dimmed, but rather thrown into relief.

Q: What other works of art, if any—literature, visual art, etc.—have you considered as you’ve developed this program?

A: We have not referred to works of art or literature that are not directly connected to the pieces on the program. That said, almost every piece on the program has some point of reference beyond “pure music.” The Haydn [“Eli, Eli” from the Seven Last Words of Christ] of course is music depicting the spirit of Christ’s final utterances, meant to provide time for meditation during the Good Friday service; Lekeu’s Molto Adagio is similarly religiously themed. [Purcell’s] Dido’s Lament connects us to Virgil’s Aeneid, an epic poem of antiquity, and more nearly to the world of Baroque opera, intertwining the sensibilities of two artistic periods pre-dating the string quartet. Shostakovich’s Elegy is his own transcription for string quartet of the extraordinary aria from his opera Lady Macbeth of Mtsensk: like the Purcell, it displays the grief of a solitary and unloved one, and like the Purcell it is from an opera based on a great literary work of the past. The Gesualdo madrigals have their own poetic texts (of course not heard in a quartet performance), and madrigal form is the most literary of music, with every note and turn of phrase intimately connected to and entwined with its text. All in all, this program has deep ties to many primary strands in Western culture.

Q: Mark has asked, rhetorically, “What greater faith in art can be imagined?” What has music meant for you during times of grief and what is it about music that it can reach us so deeply?

A: This question needs a whole book to answer! I believe, personally, that the power of music in this sense is somehow connected to its non-verbal nature. Nobody can escape the experience of grief, and yet it will come to each person differently. Likewise, virtually no one is unaffected by music, but each listener will hear his own version. Music does not explicitly state its meaning in performance, leaving the listener to construe it according to her own lights. Sometimes music can be consoling, sometimes unbearable to one who is grieving; either way, it unquestionably penetrates deep into the psyche.

Q: What have conversations between you and your colleagues been like as you’ve rehearsed this repertoire? In what ways have you explored the composers’ motivations and intentions?

A: Mark once told me a story about being coached by Fritz Maag, a great cellist and musical thinker who was on the faculty at Indiana University. Mark was in a student group that was playing the grief-stricken opening of the finale of Beethoven’s Op. 95, a devastating passage of just a few bars. Mr. Maag memorably said, “As human beings, I hope you never have to experience the suffering contained in this music … but as artists, you have to be able to imagine it.” This is about as good a set of marching orders as there is for a musician aspiring to meaningful expression. We are always method actors of a sort, trying not just to understand the composer’s intention, but to crawl into his mind, to become him, or the person he is depicting. Of course it is part of every performer’s job to be well-grounded in the biographical and stylistic details of the composer he is performing, and I believe that this knowledge casts a kind of penumbra that deepens the performance and gives it resonance.  However, the chief part of our labor consists in engaging with the piece itself, at a molecular level: pondering the expressive aspects of a subphrase, meditating on the contours and textures of a single work by a single person, identifying what makes it unique by dwelling within it as a primary source. In fact, to spend too much time examining external considerations (for example, events in the composer’s life in the year of the composition) can have an oddly distracting, or diluting, effect on our work. We do best when we scrutinize the composer’s motivations and intentions as seen in the music that is on the page, before our eyes.

Q: Does this repertoire require a unique performance headspace? To what extent is each of you experiencing catharsis through playing this music and is that something you’ve discussed?

A: This program of lamentations is certainly concentrated on a special theme, a special state of mind. At the same time, the fabric of Western music is shot through with threads of grief and mourning—it is a powerful and ever-present trait in the music we play, and I can’t think of an important work that doesn’t contain at least moments of sorrow. So it would be fair to say that the feeling of playing music of this sort is almost second nature to us. I expect that an audience member might be surprised if he could enter into our thoughts as performers during a program, how they might seem dry and practical in comparison to the music itself. This is the double nature of being a performer, to take care of the laundry list of details while never losing sight of the transcendental nature of the art that confronts us.

Having said that, we find that the audiences that have heard this program do indeed enter into a “unique headspace,” which is very much what we hope for. Taken as a body of work, the pieces on the program slow down time; they invite a meditative state and ask for the listener’s compassion as she contemplates these manifold expressions of grief and loss expressed from so many different times and places. The catharsis will take place, it is hoped, in the minds of those who are listening.

The Brentano String Quartet will perform its “Lamentations” program on Tuesday, Jan. 29, at 7:30 p.m., in Morse Recital Hall.

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Published January 22, 2019
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Members of YSM community earn Grammy nominations

Missy Mazzoli. Photo by Marylene Mey

Grammy Award nominations were announced on Friday, Dec. 7, and several members of the Yale School of Music community made the list. Please join us in congratulating these outstanding musicians.

Composer Missy Mazzoli ’06MM was nominated in the Best Contemporary Classical Composition category for her work Vespers for Violin, performed by Olivia de Prato. In the same category, faculty composer Aaron Jay Kernis ’83MM received a nomination for his Violin Concerto, performed by violinist James Ehnes, conductor Ludovic Morlot, and the Seattle Symphony.

Yale Philharmonia Principal Conductor Peter Oundjian was nominated in the Best Classical Compendium category for Vaughan Williams: Piano Concerto, Oboe Concerto, Serenade to Music, Flos Campi, on which he conducted. The recording was produced by Blanton Alspaugh.

Conductor Martin Pearlman ’71MM was nominated in the Best Classical Instrumental Solo Category for Biber: The Mystery Sonatas, on which he conducted. The recording features violinist Christina Day Martinson and Boston Baroque.

Composer John Adams ’MUSHD received a nomination in the Best Opera Recording category for Adams: Dr. Atomic.

The Boston-based chamber orchestra A Far Cry, which includes alumni violinists Liesl Schoenberger Doty ’11AD and Miki-Sophia Cloud ’08MM, was nominated in the Best Chamber Music/Small Ensemble Performance category for Visions and Variations.

In the Best Orchestral Performance category, three nominations have ties to YSM. The Boston Symphony Orchestra’s recording Shostakovich: Symphonies Nos. 4 & 11, conducted by Andris Nelsons, includes alumni violinist Sheila Fiekowsky ’75MM and cellist Owen Young ’87MM. The San Francisco Symphony’s recording Schumann: Symphonies Nos. 1-4, conducted by Michael Tilson Thomas, includes alumni violinists Gina Cooper ’87MM and John Young ’MM. And the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra’s recording Beethoven: Symphony No. 3; Strauss: Horn Concerto No. 1, conducted by Manfred Honeck, includes alumni violinists Irene Cheng ’94MM and Louis Lev ’90MM and alumni trombonist Rebecca Cherian ’81MM.

Published December 10, 2018
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YSM Alumni News | November 2018

Molly Joyce. Photo by Nadine Sherman

Flutist Amanda Baker ’00MM returned to Yale in April 2018 to become Senior Associate Director for Young Alumni for the Yale Alumni Fund. She was also a guest lecturer this spring at the University of Hartford, where she taught “Entrepreneurship in the Arts,” and continues to teach flute at Eastern Connecticut State University.

Double Bassist Mark Elliot Bergman ’97MM received a Performing Arts Fellowship in Music from the Wyoming Arts Council, one of four recipients in the state. Bergman’s winning original compositions include Ondine, The Temple, and Shenandoah Suite, a string trio commemorating the 75th anniversary of the founding of Shenandoah National Park.

Violist Emily Grace Brandenburg ’17MMA was named Administrative Assistant at the McDuffie Center for Strings at Mercer University in Macon, Ga. MORE

Published November 7, 2018
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YSM Student News | June 2018

Ji Su Jung

NeoArctic, a large-scale multimedia work by composer Krists Auznieks ’16MM ’22DMA, was staged at the Southbank Center in London, in May.

Composers Ethan Braun ’21DMA and Liliya Ugay ’16MM ’22DMA have been named 2018 CULTIVATE fellows and are currently participating in the emerging composers institute at Copland House, in Cortlandt Manor, NY.

Tubist Jake Fewx ’18MM ’19MMA will compete in August as a semifinalist in the Leonard Falcone International Euphonium and Tuba Festival competition, in Twin Lake, Mich.

Percussionist Ji Su Jung ’19MM won the Houston Symphony’s Ima Hogg Competition in early June. In addition to receiving the Grace Woodson Memorial Award, which comes with a $25,000 cash prize, Jung took home the Herman Shoss Audience Choice Award. As the winner of the competition, Jung will perform in July as a soloist with the Houston Symphony.

Flutist Benjamin Morency ’18MM won the Boston Woodwind Society’s Doriot Anthony Dwyer Merit Award Competition in April.

The New York Times described composer Peter S. Shin ’20MMA as “a composer to watch” in “The Week in Classical Music,” which includes a review of the premiere of his orchestral piece Slant.

Violist Marlea Simpson’19MM has earned a tenured position in the Grant Park Orchestra, in Chicago, Ill.

Published June 6, 2018
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Violist Josip Kvetek ’18MM, on being a soloist with an orchestra of his peers

Josip Kvetek ’18MM

When violist Josip Kvetek ’18MM played Paganini’s Sonata per la Grand Viola on a recital here at YSM last year, it wasn’t with an eye on performing the piece with the Yale Philharmonia, which he’ll do on Friday, Jan. 26. “It’s not very serious music,” Kvetek said, explaining that the Paganini sonata is a fun piece of music, a quirky sonata that just happens to be, in the words of principal conductor Peter Oundjian, “probably the most difficult piece ever written for viola.” After Kvetek’s recital performance last year, his teacher, Ettore Causa, suggested that he enter the Woolsey Hall Concerto Competition, which Kvetek won in April 2017.

The sonata, Kvetek said, is “not standard repertoire for viola.” Paganini, he explained, “commissioned a piece from Berlioz” to be played on a five-string viola. Berlioz, in response, composed Harold in Italy, an orchestral piece with viola solos. “Paganini didn’t like the first draft of the piece,” Kvetek said, “so he decided to write his own piece.” The result is “a sonata for solo instrument and orchestra, which is very odd.”

Kvetek will perform the piece on a standard viola, an instrument without an added E string, which means “I have to play with an improvised thumb position” to execute passages in the instrument’s upper register. In terms of interpretation, Kvetek said, “it’s very simple, harmonically and melodically. It’s just simple from every angle.” Still, it’s a piece that can easily feel like blocks of virtuoso passages arranged without much cohesion. “It starts becoming 50 little tasks,” Kvetek said, “and not one, coherent story. The part that helps with that is it’s very operatic. It’s much easier if you let go of the classical way of thinking.”

Now in the second year of YSM’s master of music degree program, studying with Causa, and with Steven Tenenbom while Causa is on sabbatical, Kvetek has done his share of playing with the Yale Philharmonia as a member of the orchestra’s viola section. On Jan. 26, he’ll be out front, next to guest conductor Ignat Solzhenitsyn, who’ll lead a program that also includes Stravinsky’s Firebird Suite (1919 version) and Franck’s Symphony in D minor. Performing as the soloist with an orchestra of his peers is “a little bit more stressful,” Kvetek said, “because you do know all the people. The benefit is that they’re very supportive and very helpful in the process. Everybody is hoping or cheering that you play the best you can. It becomes much easier to play in that environment.” The stress, he said, comes from wanting “to present yourself well” in front of one’s peers.

Given the operatic nature of the Paganini sonata, Kvetek said, “The majority of it is on me to deliver a performance that other people can follow.” Part of that responsibility, to be sure, falls on Solzhenitsyn, with whom Kvetek hasn’t worked. Basing his impressions on YouTube videos, Kvetek described Solzhenitsyn as an expressive conductor, which “will help me connect with the orchestra and will help bring this piece together.” Because there’s no “prescribed way of how you perform” the Paganini, Kvetek said, “It’s up to me to play it just the way I want to play it.”

On Friday, Jan. 26, guest conductor Ignat Solzhenitsyn leads the Yale Philharmonia in a program that includes Stravinsky’s spellbinding Firebird Suite (1919 version), Paganini’s Sonata per la Grand Viola, with 2017 Woolsey Hall Concerto Competition winner Josip Kvetek ’18MM, and Franck’s inventive and affecting Symphony in D minor.

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Published January 18, 2018
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Ignat Solzhenitsyn, on “Firebird” and working with young musicians

Ignat Solzhenitsyn

Principal conductor Peter Oundjian has said that guest conductor Ignat Solzhenitsyn, who’ll lead the Yale Philharmonia in a performance of Stravinsky’s Firebird Suite (1919 version, from the composer’s ballet score) on Friday, Jan. 26, “particularly wanted to do this piece with our students.” Solzhenitsyn recently pointed out that it’s “one of the very, very greatest orchestral paintings in our repertoire and a piece that, of course, is predicated upon the limitlessness of imagination.” Imagination, Solzhenitsyn said, is most fertile and open to influence during one’s youth. The Firebird Suite “is really a piece that, more than anything, is for young people,” he said. “It will showcase the Yale Philharmonia to beautiful effect.” The orchestra, in turn, will provide a capable vehicle for the stuff of Stravinsky’s imagination — and for the Russian legend that the composer explored — which will no doubt inspire the Woolsey Hall audience, just as it has long captivated audiences around the world.

With Solzhenitsyn, who serves as principal guest conductor of the Moscow Symphony Orchestra and conductor laureate of the Chamber Orchestra of Philadelphia, the Yale Philharmonia will also perform Paganini’s Sonata per la Grand Viola, with 2017 Woolsey Hall Concerto Competition winner Josip Kvetek ’18MM, and Franck’s Symphony in D minor. Kvetek recently said that the Paganini is “not standard repertoire for the viola,” and that while it’s “very simple, harmonically and melodically,” it’s not a piece that on its own tells “one coherent story.”

“The part that helps with that,” Kvetek said, “is it’s very operatic.” Kvetek “nailed it,” Solzhenitsyn agreed, saying the Paganini is a show piece, one that’s very difficult for the soloist. What makes it fun, Solzhenitsyn said, is the very notion that Paganini, a virtuoso violinist, produced such a piece for the viola. “Charm, wit, teasing, easy grace — those kind of words inform this work,” he said.

Asked about the Franck being a piece that’s gone in and out of favor with orchestras, Solzhenitsyn bristled. “It’s a concept I still have trouble wrapping my head around,” he said, pointing to the obvious fact that “the intrinsic worth of ‘X’ has nothing to do with if it’s popular or not, or has very little to do with it.” He’s among those who don’t understand why the Franck symphony is not performed more frequently, give that it is, undeniably, a “touchstone of the Romantic symphonic repertoire.”

“The beauty, the power, the innocence, the honesty of this music, I think, speaks for itself,” Solzhenitsyn said.

Seeing Solzhenitsyn on the podium will be a new experience for members of the Philharmonia. And working with Yale students, for Solzhenitsyn, will present a different opportunity than the experiences he’s had leading ensembles of more seasoned musicians. A collective sense of wonder and discovery that is at times diminished in a professional ensemble, he said, is right there, in all its glory, for everyone to see in a young ensemble.

On Friday, Jan. 26, guest conductor Ignat Solzhenitsyn leads the Yale Philharmonia in a program that includes Stravinsky’s spellbinding Firebird Suite (1919 version), Paganini’s Sonata per la Grand Viola, with 2017 Woolsey Hall Concerto Competition winner Josip Kvetek ’18MM, and Franck’s inventive and affecting Symphony in D minor.

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Published January 17, 2018
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Rolston String Quartet named YSM’s new fellowship quartet-in-residence

Rolston String Quartet | Photo by Tianxiao Zhang Photography

The Rolston String Quartet ’16Norfolk has been named the new fellowship quartet-in-residence at the Yale School of Music. The group, whose previous residencies include the Yale Summer School of Music/Norfolk Chamber Music Festival in the summer of 2016, will begin their tenure at YSM this fall. While at Yale, the quartet will work closely with the Brentano String Quartet — YSM’s quartet-in-residence — perform recitals, and participate in education-outreach programs.

“The Rolston String Quartet is very eager to come to New Haven as the Yale School of Music’s fellowship quartet-in-residence,” the group said in a statement. “We are incredibly optimistic about the possibilities for development and growth provided by Yale’s stimulating environment. We can’t wait to meet the Yale students and faculty who will illuminate and influence this new experience. Working closely with the Brentano Quartet is a dream come true. They are endlessly generous and inspiring people whose artistic spirits are to be admired. We look forward to deepening our musical understandings, refining our interpretations, and benefiting from their extensive professional experience.

“We will be so lucky to be able to coach chamber ensembles made up of Yale (undergraduate) students; this opportunity is a rare one that will yield immense insight into the complexities of teaching music. The fellowship program at Yale will aid our growth as we cultivate an ensemble that reflects the values of community, the highest levels of artistic and academic excellence, and the important traditions of chamber music,” the group said.

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Published May 16, 2017
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Argus Quartet wins Senior Strings division of M-Prize competition

The Argus Quartet, left to right: cellist Jo Whang ’09MM, violist Dana Kelley, violinist Jason Issokson, and violinist Clara Kim

The Argus Quartet, YSM’s fellowship quartet-in-residence, has been named the first place winner in the Senior Strings division of the University of Michigan’s M-Prize Chamber Arts Competition. In addition to a cash prize of $20,000, the quartet will return to the University of Michigan School of Music, Theatre & Dance for a residency during the 2017-18 academic year.

Now in its second year, the M-Prize seeks “to identify and showcase the highest caliber of international chamber arts ensembles,” according to the competition’s website. In addition to distributing more than $200,000 of cash prizes (an increase from last year) the M-Prize provides competition winners with platforms for professional development and performance opportunities.

This year, 29 applicants were selected to compete as semifinalists for the grand prize in Michigan. The ensembles, which are made up of 112 artists from seven countries, were selected from an pool of more than 100 ensembles representing 41 countries. In addition to increased prize coffers, this year’s competition featured an interview round during which each of the senior division winners (strings, winds, and other) were asked to advocate on behalf of their ensemble’s repertoire and program plan.

Having been praised by the Calgary Herald for its “supreme melodic control and total authority,” the Argus Quartet is quickly gaining a reputation as one of today’s most dynamic and versatile young ensembles.

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Published May 10, 2017
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Inside YSM: Dana Kelley, Argus Quartet

Dana Kelley, viola

We recently asked new Argus Quartet violist Dana Kelley about her experience joining a quartet whose other three members have been playing together for three and a half years.

“The process of joining a pre-existing quartet has been both exciting and challenging,” she said. “On one hand, it’s great to jump into a group that is already in motion. The other three members, Jason, Clara, and Joann, know each other very well and understand each other’s musical tendencies and preferences. They’ve also had the opportunity to experiment with rehearsal techniques and develop a group sound, as well as create an image and goals for the quartet. Being able to become a part of Argus after much of the groundwork has been laid has been a privilege for me. 

“On the other hand,” Dana said, “I am now adding my own personal and musical quirks to the equation. I only met the other three members recently, so we are learning not only how to play music together, but also how to communicate and get along with one another. Fortunately, I felt immediately welcome upon joining Argus. They’ve even tolerated my offbeat humor so far! Every rehearsal and performance has been a chance for us to learn more about and understand one another. String quartet playing is so much about the unspoken bonds and the development of trust between the musicians; the more time we spend together, the stronger these bonds will become.”

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Published March 24, 2017
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