YSM Alumni News | May 2019

Miki Aoki

Composers Samuel Adams ’10MM and Suzanne Farrin ’00MM ’03MMA ’08DMA have been named 2019 Guggenheim Fellows.

Kathleen Allan ’14MM has been appointed Artistic Director and Conductor of the Amadeus Choir of Greater Toronto, a 45-year-old symphonic chorus that works regularly with the Toronto Symphony Orchestra.

Pianist Miki Aoki ’02MM released her fourth album, Tokyo Story, in the fall. It contains the world’s first recordings of the original piano scores of the last seven films by Yasujiro Ozu.

Composer Sheila Barnes ’74MM ’75MMA has taught voice at Cambridge University, Trinity College since 2010. In 2018 she adjudicated the Governor’s Prize of the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland and led a forum for composers at the Conservatory of Amsterdam on writing for voice. Barnes is currently writing an opera for the Netherlands Opera and the London-based early music group La Nuova Musica.

Double bassist Andrea Beyer ’15MM, bassoonist Francisco Joubert Bernard ’17MM, violinist Ethan Hoppe ’16MM ’18MMA, double bassist Levi Jones ’16MM, clarinetist Jesse McCandless ’17MM, cellist Alan Ohkubo ’14MM, violist Yuan Qi ’15MM, and violinist Yefim Romanov ’16AD are current fellows in the New World Symphony.

Violinist Claudia Bloom ’80MM is the Director of the Palo Alto School of Chamber Music, an intergenerational chamber music program. Now in its fifth year, the program offers professional coaching for string players, woodwind players, and pianists, and participants comprise a small orchestra.

The Great Necks Guitar Trio, whose members include Scott Borg ’06AD and Matthew Rohde ’07MM, released its debut album, Original Arrangements for Three Guitars, which reached the No. 10 spot on the Traditional Classical Billboard Charts for the week of December 1.

Trumpeter Joel Brennan ’06MM ’07MMA ’11DMA and violist Anne Leilehua Lanzilotti ’08MM are inaugural faculty members at The Tianjin Juilliard School.

Violinist Davis Brooks ’78MM released his fourth solo album, Violin & Electronics 2, in December, featuring music by Richard Einhorn, Filipe Leitão, Frank Felice, Patrick Long, James Aikman, and Otto Luening.

Pianist Lydia Brown ’95MM ’96AD has been named Chair of the Collaborative Piano Department at the Juilliard School for fall 2019. Brown is in her 15th year as Assistant Conductor at the Metropolitan Opera and her 13th year as the head of the vocal program at the Marlboro Music School and Festival.

The St. Martin’s Chamber Choir of Denver performed Two French Noels by Susan Brown ’76MM as part of a series that featured music by women composers, exclusively.

Conductor Hannah Carr ’17MM, Artistic Director of the Hoboken, New Jersey-based Cantigas Women’s Choir, led the group in a May 19 concert called “Music from the Mountaintops.”

Composer Carlos Carrillo ’96MM and flutist Christine Gangelhoff ’95AD recently co-organized Puentes Caribeños (Caribbean Bridges), a Symposium of Caribbean Art Music. The symposium focused on strengthening bonds between composers, performers, artists, and scholars throughout the Caribbean and its diaspora.

Countertenor Jay Carter ’08MM and soprano Sherezade Panthaki ’11AD sang the Houston premiere of Alessandro Stradella’s oratorio San Giovanni Battista with Ars Lyrica Houston in March.

Christopher Cerrone

The Peabody Institute will welcome Christopher Cerrone ’09MM ’10MMA ’14DMA and Harold Meltzer ’97MMA ’00DMA to its composition faculty for the 2019-2020 academic year. Cerrone was awarded a 2019 Charles Ives Fellowship by the American Academy of Arts and Letters.

Eric Cha-Beach ’07MM, a member of So Percussion, has contributed to tracks on the new album I Am Easy to Find by The National and appears on upcoming albums with Caroline Shaw, Buke and Gase, Tristan Perich, and others. So Percussion recently premiered Construction, a new project with choreographer Susan Marshall.

Trumpeter Kelly Dehnert ’86MM will return to Central Wyoming College as Director of Bands in fall 2019. Dehnert was Professor of Music at CWC for 14 years before spending eight years in Malawi, Africa, as Chair of Music at the African Bible College.

Percussionist Peter Derheimer ’88MM completed a tour of Germany with the Real Orquesta Sinfónica de Sevilla in March with the celebrated guitar soloist Pepe Romero.

Conductor Dominick DiOrio ’08MM ’09MMA ’12DMA and NOTUS, the Contemporary Vocal Ensemble at Indiana University’s Jacobs School of Music, have been selected to perform at the 12th World Symposium on Choral Music in Auckland, New Zealand, in July 2020.

The April 2018 issue of The Strad included a feature on Spectrum Concerts Berlin, which opened its 31st season in March. The chamber ensemble is directed by founder and cellist Frank Dodge ’81MM.

Pianist Richard Dowling ’87MM has been appointed Visiting Artist Faculty at the new Aureus Conservatory of Music in Singapore. He will teach individual lessons, give master classes and workshops, and perform solo recitals during each of his six, two-week residencies in 2019 and 2020.

Violinist Gerald Elias ’75MM won first prize in the Creative Nonfiction Essay division of the 2018 Utah Original Writing Competition for his essay “War & Peace. And Music.”

The S&R Foundation announced its 2019 Washington Award winners: Reena Esmail ’11MM ’14MMA ’18DMA, who won the Grand Prize, and trombonist Brittany Lasch ’12MM. Esmail was one of six musicians to be named a 2019 Fellow by United States Artists, an organization that aims to illuminate the value of artists to American society.

The Pasadena Symphony’s 2019-2020 season will include a Composers Showcase featuring the music of up-and-coming composers, including Teen Murti by Reena Esmail and Red, Red Rose by Caroline Shaw’07MM.

Composer Kirsten Vogelsang Eyerman ’84MM recorded and released two albums in the past year, Glowing Prayer and Cello Holiday: Carols and Incantations.

Viola da gambist Grace Feldman’63MM was inducted into the Connecticut Women’s Hall of Fame and was named one of TIAA’s 100 Difference Makers, an honor for which Neighborhood Music School in New Haven, where Feldman taught for 55 years, received $10,000.

Violinist Kirstin Fife ’86MM has had many of her compositions performed this year, including Four Paintings by Salvador Dalí by the Lobo Ensemble and Tango Johana for violin and piano. Her choral piece A Rose was recently performed in South Carolina.

The song “love is a place” by composer Douglas Fisk ’05MM ’06MMA (with text by E.E. Cummings) was included in NewMusicShelf’s Anthology of New Music: Mezzo-Soprano, Vol. I. Fisk was also awarded a 2019 New Work Grant by the Queens Council on the Arts.

Harmonizations and Descants, Parts I & II, by organist Stuart Forster ’98MM ’99AD, were published by Selah Publishing. The books have received praise from the Journal of the Association of Anglican Musicians.

Guitarist Lars Frandsen ’93MM was appointed Director of Music Theory and Ear Training at Nyack College, where he is a full professor at the Manhattan Campus. Dr. Frandsen is also an associate professor and director of classical guitar studies at Brooklyn College, CUNY, where he has taught for 21 years.

Composer Jeff Fuller ’69MM, with the trio Jeff Fuller & Friends, released his third album, Happenstance. Fuller formed the trio in 2014 to perform original music in the jazz tradition, and the group has since played at concerts, festivals, and clubs throughout Connecticut.

In January, harpsichordist Stephen Gamboa-Diaz ’16AD performed the complete Brandenburg Concerti, as the soloist and continuo player, with Chamber Music Silicon Valley.

Eliud Garcia

Trombonist Eliud Garcia ’17MM was selected for the 2019 Puerto Rico Summer Music Festival, with which he will perform Prokofiev’s First Symphony, Tchaikovsky’s Fourth Symphony, and other works on a tour of Puerto Rico.

Zachary Haas ’18MM received an Honorable Mention at the International Trombone Association’s Edward Kleinhammer Orchestral Bass Trombone Competition.

Composer Juliana Hall ’87MM has had 35 song-cycles and vocal chamber works published by E. C. Schirmer, a cycle published by Boosey & Hawkes, and several songs recently chosen for NewMusicShelf’s new art-song anthologies.

As members of the Pacifica Quartet, violinist Austin Hartman ’06AD and cellist Brandon Vamos ’94MM ’95AD gave a concert on the 25th anniversary season of the Neskowin Chamber Music series in Oregon.

Pianist Nansong Huang ’18MM was named a 2019 Luminarts Fellow in Classical Music by the Luminarts Cultural Foundation of Chicago. The fellowship includes a $7,500 award.

Composer Thomas Johnson ’67MM recently presented a new sound installation, Knock on Wood, in Lausanne, Switzerland, in collaboration with Martin Riches. A book of Johnson’s writings in German and English was released by MusikTexte in April.

Percussionists Ji Hye Jung ’09MM, Matthew Keown ’16MM ’22DMA, Svet Stoyanov ’07MM, and Sam Um ’17MM ’18MMA performed the premiere of YSM faculty composer Christopher Theofanidis’ Drum Circles with the Oregon Symphony.

Composer John Kaefer ’01MM scored the upcoming films A Score to Settle, starring Nicolas Cage and Benjamin Bratt, and The Divine Plan, as well as the video game series Quantum Break. Kaefer’s recent concert work States of Motion was premiered by The Hollywood Chamber Orchestra with pianist Molly Morkoski.

Oboist Kristin Kall ’13MM ’14AD was named Director of Operations at the National Repertory Orchestra.

Composer Daniel Kellogg ’01MM ’03MMA ’07DMA was named President of Young Concert Artists in New York City.

Members of the icarus Quartet—percussionist Matthew Keown ’16MM ’22DMA and Jeff Stern ’16AD and pianists Larry Weng ’12AD ’14MMA ’19DMA and Yevgeny Yontov ’14MM ’20DMA—recently won Chamber Music in Yellow Springs’s 34th Annual Competition for Emerging Professional Ensembles.

Soprano Angela Jihee Kim ’11AD sang the role of Mimi in La Bohème with the Orchestra of St. Peter by the Sea at the Algonquin Arts Theatre in New Jersey.

Guitarist Jiyeon “Jiji” Kim ’17MM was the featured soloist in a performance of Rodrigo’s Concerto de Aranjuez with the Sequoia Symphony Orchestra.

Violinist Kyung Jun Kim ’09CERT was awarded fifth prize at the Rising Stars Grand Prix 2018–International Music Competition Berlin.

Baritone Paweł Konik ’17MM started the 2018-2019 season singing Mercutio in Gounod’s Roméo et Juliette at the Opera Śląska in Poland. Konik also made debuts at the Staatsoper Stuttgart in October as Marullo in Verdi’s Rigoletto and with the Kölner Philharmonie as Harlekin in Strauss’ Ariadne auf Naxos.

Pianist Andrew Kraus MM presented a program of works by women composers at the University of Mary Washington in Fredericksburg, Va., in March.

Guitarist Alan Kulka ’12MM released a single, “Special,” available on streaming services.

Jean Margaret Laurenz ’13MM ’14AD joined the faculty at the University of Wisconsin-Madison as Professor of Trumpet.

Trombonist Achilles Liarmakopoulos ’10MM has released a new single, “I will never forget,” with guitarist Spiros Exaras.

Trombonist Richard Liverano ’16MM is the new Manager of Institutional Giving at Liberation Programs, Inc.

Soprano Jamilyn Manning-White ’12AD was featured a soloist in a performance of Vaughan Williams’ Dona Nobis Pacem by the Hartford Chorale and the Hartford Symphony Orchestra in April.

After graduating from Yale, bassoonist Tonia Marcune ’73MM performed with several symphonies on the California coast and taught in the Music Department of the University of Nevada, where she completed a master’s degree in educational psychology. Today, Marcune lives in Boca Raton, Fla., where she works in forensics and performs with a touring orchestra during the summer months.

Organist Vaughn Mauren ’09MM was named Artistic Director of a newly established concert series at St. James Episcopal Church in West Hartford, Conn., and will play a recital to rededicate the church’s recently rebuilt pipe organ in late May.

Guitarist Michael McCallie ’08MM joined the faculty of the McCallie School in Chattanooga, Tenn., as full-time director of the school’s classical guitar program.

The Vic Firth Company released a video for “Five Times,” written for percussionist Kramer Milan ’15MM ’16MMA by Krists Auznieks ’16MM ’22DMA.

Violinist Ai Nihira ’08MM will join the first violin section of the San Diego Symphony for the 2019-2020 season.

Composer Andrew Norman ’09AD was named a 2019 Pulitzer Prize Finalist in Music for his orchestral work Sustain, which was commissioned by the Los Angeles Philharmonic and premiered on October 4, 2018, under the baton of Music and Artistic Director Gustavo Dudamel.

Marissa Olegario ’13MM accepted the tenure track position of Assistant Professor of Music in bassoon beginning in fall 2019 at the University of Arizona’s Fred Fox School of Music.

Composer Timothy Olsen ’88MM ’89MMA ’95DMA was named Professor of Music at Union College in Schenectady, N.Y, where he has taught courses in world music cultures, jazz improvisation, and music theory since 1994. Olsen has also been named Music Director at the Unitarian Universalist Society of Schenectady.

Organist David Perry Ouzts ’87MM co-chaired the liturgy/music committee and conducted music for the consecration of the Fourth Bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of West Tennessee in May. The festival service featured a diocesan choir of 125 singers with organ, brass, and timpani.

Oboist Andrew Parker ’10MM has been named Assistant Professor of Oboe and Director of Summer Music Camps at the Oklahoma State University Greenwood School of Music starting in fall 2019. He is currently Lecturer of Oboe and Music Technology at Brevard College.

Loft Recordings recently released Salome’s Dance, recorded by organist Robert Parkins ’73MM ’75MM ’80DMA on the renovated Aeolian organ in the Duke University Chapel. Parkins’ eighth solo recording features late German Romantic music and works by American composers.

Kim Perlak ’01MM was named Chair of the Guitar Department at the Berklee College of Music in Boston, Mass. Perlak becomes the first woman to chair the department and the fourth person to hold the position since the college added guitar as a principal instrument in 1962.

Flutist Ginevra Petrucci ’12MM ’13AD is launching a multi-step commissioning project to expand the repertoire for the flauto d’amore. A concert program that will include music by Yale composers Gleb Kanasevich ’13MM and Liliya Ugay ’16MM ’22DMA is being planned.

Violinist Igor Pikayzen has been appointed Assistant Professor of Violin at the Lamont School of Music at the University of Denver.

Composer Hilary Purrington ’17MMA joined Barnard College’s Office of Development as Associate Director of Advancement.

Bassoonist Dantes Rameau ’07MM has been selected as one of seven fellows for the DeVos Institute of Arts Management’s 2021 cohort.

Flutist Catherine Ramirez ’02MM released several chamber music videos through a Professional Development Grant from St. Olaf College. Ramirez also won several opportunities through the Sphinx Organization for Latinx and Black orchestral musicians and will participate in the National Alliance for Audition Support’s (NAAS) Audition Intensives at the New World Symphony in Miami and at the Sphinx Orchestral Partners Auditions (SOPA) in Detroit.

Violinist Kate Ransom ’81MM will launch the Serafin Ensemble, which evolved from the Serafin String Quartet, in June. Ransom will also serve as Artistic Director for the Serafin Summer Music festival, which will be presented by the Serafin Ensemble in collaboration with the University of Delaware and The Music School of Delaware.

Rhona Rider

Cellist Rhonda Rider ’80MM is Head of Strings at the Boston Conservatory at Berklee. An Artist-in-Residence at Grand Canyon and Petrified Forest National Parks, she presented her solo cello commissions at UC Davis and Brandeis University. This summer she will hold a contemporary cello music seminar on a farm in upstate New York.

Soprano Natalia Rubiś ’17MMA sang the title role in Halka by Stanisław Moniuszko at the Wroclaw Opera House in Poland under the baton of Adam Banaszak.

Sharon Ruchman ’73MM wrote a memoir, The Gift of Rudy, and a piece for viola and piano, Another Time, to honor her great uncle Rudy Fuchs, a violinist who died at age 25.

Composer Carlos Sanchez-Gutierrez ’91MM was a featured guest at Hong Kong Baptist University’s “The Keyboard in the 21st Century,” an international conference for composers, at the Mexico Remixed Festival at Indiana University’s Jacobs School of Music, and at the Chicago Center for Contemporary Composition.

Tenor Rolando Sanz ’02MM ’03AD has taken on various large-scale projects as Executive Producer, including the world premiere of a new concept opera, I am Anne Hutchinson/I am Harvey Milk by Andrew Lippa, featuring the composer and Kristin Chenoweth.

Marco Sartor ’13MMA ’18DMA was appointed Assistant Teaching Professor of Guitar at Wake Forest University in Winston-Salem, N.C. He will start the position in the fall after three years on the faculty of the New World School of the Arts in Miami, Fla.

Organist Andrew Scanlon ’03MM was a clinician for the Royal School of Church Music Nigerian Training Course, held in Lagos, Nigeria, where he taught organ, choir training, theory, and conducting to organists and choirmasters from various parts of Africa and conducted the RSCM Nigeria National Choir at the closing performance of the conference.

Cellist Inbal Segev ’93CERT will premiere Anna Clyne’s cello concerto Dance in June with the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra under the baton of Music Director Marin Alsop. Segev will record the concerto with Alsop and the London Philharmonic Orchestra in September.

Pianist Yury Shadrin’s ’08MM 2017-2018 season included appearances with the Philippines Philharmonic Orchestra, the Gilmore Festival Orchestra in Kalamazoo, a solo recital at the Mariinsky Theatre in St. Petersburg, Russia, and master classes in Shenzhen, Guangzhou, and Nanning, China.

Bridge Records released Butterflies Remember a Mountain: Arlene Sierra, Vol. 3 in November, featuring the works of composer Arlene Sierra ’94MM. Gramophone praised the album as “a wonderful chamber music issue that enthralls from first bar to last.”

Inbal Segev

The Youth Symphonic Orchestra of Russia gave the world premiere of Across Differences by composer Alvie Singleton ’71MMA at the Zimnij Theatre in February as part of the Winter International Arts Festival.

Composer Caroline Shaw ’07MM and members of the Jasper String Quartet—violinist J Freivogel ’10AD, violist Sam Quintal ’10AD, and cellist Rachel Henderson Freivogel ’10AD—were featured in a concert at the American Music Festival in Morehead City, N.C.

James Austin Smith ’08MM was appointed Co-Principal Oboe of the Orpheus Chamber Orchestra and became Artistic and Executive Director of Tertulia Chamber Music, a series that presents concerts in restaurants in New York and San Francisco.

Conductor Anna Song ’00MM was awarded the 2018 Tom Hellie and Julie Olds Creative Achievement Award for her work as Artistic Director of In Mulieribus, an early music women’s vocal ensemble based in Portland, Ore. In Mulieribus released a new album in March titled Cycles of Eternity featuring contemporary works for women’s voices.

The Tel Aviv Philharmonic Choir premiered Out of the Whirlwind, a cantata for choir, soloists, and narrator by Max Stern MM at the Diaspora Museum of the Jewish People in Tel Aviv in commemoration of International Holocaust Remembrance Day 2019.

Double bassist Alexander Svensen ’10MM was appointed Principal Bassist of the Norwalk Symphony Orchestra. Svensen also retains his position as Assistant Principal Double Bassist of the Springfield Symphony Orchestra.

Composer Augusta Read Thomas MM will have several works premiered this season, including a work for string quartet and percussion quartet commissioned by the Boston Symphony Orchestra for the opening of its Tanglewood Center for Music and Learning, and an opera, Sweet Potato Kicks the Sun, for the Santa Fe Opera.

Horn player Josh Thompson ’17MM ’18MMA will join the Washington, D.C.-based wind quintet District5.

In January, tubist Daniel Trahey ’03MM held a residency with the Orquesta Sinfónica Nacional Juvenil, Chile’s national youth orchestra, where he worked with students, trained educators, and collaborated with professional orchestral musicians to collectively compose a new work based on civil rights issues in Latin America.

Composer Jay Wadley ’07MM ’08AD created the score for the upcoming Netflix series Tales of the City.

Composer Joseph Waters ’82MM presented pieces from his developing work El Colibrí Mágico (The Magic Hummingbird), an opera-musical about Honduran refugees attempting to cross the border, at The Cutting Room in New York City in November and at the NWEAMO Festival in San Diego in April.

Conductor Amanda Weber ’13MM accepted the position of Interim Director of Choral Ministries at Westminster Presbyterian Church in downtown Minneapolis, Minn. Weber also celebrated three years of directing the Voices of Hope Women’s Prison Choir, which she founded in October 2015 at the Minnesota Correctional Facility in Shakopee.

Clarinetist Jason Weinberger ’97MM, Artistic Director of the Waterloo-Cedar Falls Symphony in Iowa, recently founded the concert production company The New Live, which aims to bring sophisticated multimedia productions to orchestras and other presenters worldwide.

Pianist Amy Yang ’10AD performed as a guest artist with the Newport Symphony Orchestra in Newport News, Va. on a concert featuring Clara Schumann’s Piano Concerto and Prokofiev’s Piano Concerto No. 1.

Pianist Clara Yang ’06MM ’07AD was featured as a guest artist with the Winston-Salem Symphony, playing Mozart’s Piano Concerto No. 25 in C Major, K. 503.

Pianist Hanna Yukho ’17MMA hosted “Celebrate the Gift of Hearing with an Evening of Music” in Winchester, Mass., an event that raised money for Massachusetts Eye and Ear to aid research of causes and treatments for children with hearing loss.

Published May 17, 2019
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Professor Paul Berry on scholarship, performance, and Brahms

Paul Berry

Paul Berry

On Sunday, tenor Paul Berry, Associate Professor (adjunct) of Music History at the School of Music and the author of Brahms Among Friends: Listening, Performance, and the Rhetoric of Allusion (Oxford University Press), and Boris Berman, the Sylvia and Leonard Marx Professor in the Practice of Piano, will present “Of Love, Death, and Reconciliation: Songs and Intermezzi of Johannes Brahms.” Prof. Berry has shared a few thoughts about scholarship and performance, conceiving and preparing with Prof. Berman for Sunday’s recital, and “the value of live music-making.” 

Like many music scholars, I had been performing for years before discovering the academic disciplines devoted to the study of music. When I selected 19th century Austro-German song as an academic specialty in the early 2000s, I thought I was doing so because the subject allowed me to pursue a long-standing interest in German-language literature, but in retrospect a deeper reason was surely that my youthful instruments were voice and piano. As my scholarly interests have grown to include instrumental chamber music, the concerns of practicing musicians have remained central to my work: how the music feels in the hand or the voice, how the composer engages those feelings toward expressive ends, and how the act of musical performance can open up interpretive arenas for players and listeners alike. Brahms’ songs and piano pieces offer the historian particularly rich opportunities to investigate these questions, in part because he and his contemporaries left behind a vast array of documentary evidence that speaks to their own engagement with performance. To fully appreciate that evidence, I find I have to keep one foot in the world of the practicing musician, singing and playing the music I study rather than simply listening to it. This is one reason I love teaching at the School of Music: I learn as much from my students and their music-making as they do from me.

It was a wonderful privilege to prepare for this recital with Boris, who combines formidable knowledge of the repertoire with decades of experience playing Brahms’ music at a superb level. All told, we spent an average of more than an hour on each song we’ll perform, considering how Brahms’ compositional structures project his interpretation of each text and how the different musical choices we might make in realizing those structures could affect the listener’s understanding of that interpretation. Perhaps the most exciting part for me, however, was selecting the songs we would perform and placing them into a coherent order. The Four Serious Songs, Brahms’s last opus, are unusual in many ways, including their texts, which are not poems but passages concerning death from Luther’s translation of the Bible. These songs are usually performed continuously as a set, but, following Brahms’ own practice of creating flexible “bouquets” of songs, we decided to take them apart and use them as primary colors, emotional focal points around which other songs and short piano pieces could be grouped in provocative ways.

The piano pieces come from the collections of short works, Opp. 116-119, completed in the 1890s, that together comprise Brahms’ crowning achievement as a composer for the instrument. The songs span his entire output as a composer—from his first maturity in the early 1860s to the pinnacle of his public career in the 1870s and 1880s—and his life-long involvement with artfully arranged folksong. Some of them are quite dark, a few playful, many rich and autumnal, others light and fresh. Heard interspersed among the Four Serious Songs, the music on this program may facilitate for the audience some reflection about love, death, and the process of change—hence the title of the recital. But any such reflection will be individual, meaningful to each listener for herself alone. This, I think, is the value of live music-making in a time of pervasive distractions and pre-packaged playlists: to provide an unexpected space, an unpredictable collision of impulses, within which the self can find renewal and out of which conversation can begin again.

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Published February 27, 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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Director’s diary: Paul Curran, on rehearsing “Eugene Onegin” and working with a young cast

Acclaimed stage director Paul Curran will lead the Yale Opera this month in a new production of Tchaikovsky’s Eugene Onegin. Curran has been sharing his thoughts about the rehearsal process and about working with the Yale Opera cast. 

Diary Entry No. 2: Thursday, January 31—Studio rehearsals are drawing to a close this week, then we transfer to the theater to meet a whole new set of challenges and joys. This week is a critical one for the cast.

Finding your character, dealing with your voice, and rehearsing most of the day are all part and parcel of the opera business. There’s nothing unusual in that. When you’re in school, however, it makes every waking minute all the more vital and concentrated. I admire enormously the singers’ ability to go to their classes and then come to rehearsals and keep such focus.

So, what has been going on this week? Lots. Seriously—major steps forward for many people in many ways. Pacing always poses big questions. Do I sing out here? Do I save my voice? Not easy questions to answer. In all my years directing opera, I’ve noticed that singers tend to do the same thing: they explore the limits in rehearsal—especially of a new role—so they know their vocal/emotional/stamina limits and can adjust accordingly when it comes to bigger orchestra rehearsals and performances. Not everything can be at 100 percent all day. This has been one of this week’s learning curves.

In the process of exploring this piece, I’ve used a few of my teaching techniques to help some singers where they’ve had difficulties. Long pages of singing in Russian can be daunting to even the most seasoned singer. I often ask everybody to “speak out” their ” inner voice”—in other words, all the bits a character is thinking when not actually singing. It’s a way of keeping the brain and the “moment” alive and helps your colleagues know where your mind is. Another great game is “jumpy game”—you make a jump before every single thought. Not every word or phrase; every actual thought as you’re singing. The purpose is to activate your singing and acting—and it really does! It seems to have been a revelation for some cast members. Of course, being a game, it feels very silly and a bit embarrassing when you do it the first time. But when inhibitions fall away, you leave so much more room for creation and invention. I’ve loved watching the process.

Rebecca Welles, our costume designer, has also been around doing costume fittings, so everybody slowly but surely is getting to know the world they’re about to inhabit. Equally important have been our production meetings, where all the sectors of the show gather to discuss progress, problems, solutions, or to just say, “All’s well” … or not. Such meetings are never easy to schedule, given everybody’s busy schedules, but, thanks to technology, we’ve managed to have people there in person, on Skype, on FaceTime, and on the phone. I love technology!

By the end of the week we will have run the entire opera twice—each cast gets a full studio run.  That’ll be the last time they run the show until the orchestra joins us in the theater—so, hugely important to judge stamina and pacing. During the week I’ve managed to sneak in quite a few runs of acts and big scenes, so I think everybody’s a little more prepared.

The end of the week has brought a big freeze to the United States and we’re in below-zero temperatures. I hope people stay warm and protected and that the weather doesn’t bring a surge of illness with it. I grew up in Scotland and lived in Finland and Norway, so the weather’s no big deal for this wee Scotsman!

The show opens on February 15. Buy a ticket and come see it. You never know which star in the making you’re seeing right at the start of their career, and you never know how much you might fall in love with this beautiful, poetic piece.

Diary Entry No. 1: Tuesday, January 29—We’ve been rehearsing Eugene Onegin now for about two weeks and finally got to the final scene. It’s been quite a monumental and challenging journey for all concerned. Me included.

Just like a play, an opera takes a long time to rehearse, but, unlike a play, the rhythm and pace of the show is set already by the writer—it’s in the music. So a lot of our rehearsals have been about finding that pace and speed and about how our young singers can add their own interpretation to it, rather than just slavishly reproducing the exact note values on the page. Rehearsal is a lot of repetition … and a lot of getting it wrong.

This is the bit where I turn into the “senior” of the show and talk about me and the Millennials. Because I have to say: Getting it wrong is actually OK! The whole process is one of trying and trying again ’til something works or feels right. An “instant” result is almost impossible. We’ve had a few hilarious moments along the way and often not in the expected places. Who knew a tiny line by the Nanny could tell us so much about her teenage marriage, loss of virginity, and sadness at the loss of her husband? It’s all in there, if you know where to look.

We also met the chorus last week and started working on their none-too-small part in this big opera. We don’t have dancers, so our brave chorus is having to dance a peasant dance, a waltz, a polonaise, a mazurka, and two ecossaises! You might need to Google all of those. They’re coping terrifically but we still have a way to go, for sure.

At this stage, having covered all of the opera, we now have to go back and look at the beginning again. It feels like we rehearsed it a year ago! But all the good work of these later rehearsals always has to retrospectively inform the work we did earlier. The cast have been going back and adding new layers to their characters, and it makes a big difference.

Hands. What on earth do you do with your hands while singing? This is our daily challenge. Empty gestures? Or gestures linked directly to the thought process of the character that help express what we’re singing about? We try and try again and again. Studio rehearsal is by far my favourite part of the process. (Please don’t correct this to “favorite.” (I’m a Brit!)

I have nothing but admiration for these students all singing so clearly and correctly in Russian. I speak Russian and still find it difficult. How they’re dealing with it is miraculous.

Have there been tears this week? Yes, there have—tears of joy and surprise at how amazing it feels when it all comes together and you hit that magic spot as a performer and time really does stand still.

There’s lots more to do, lots more to rethink, develop, throw out, and guard like a tiger.

Now I need to check the schedule and see what we’re rehearsing today and spend an hour or so preparing it. The struggle is real, and it never stops.

Yale Opera will present Tchaikovsky’s Eugene Onegin February 15-17 at the Shubert Theatre.

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Published February 1, 2019
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YSM Alumni News | January 2019

Reena Esmail. Photo by Rachel Garcia

Conductor Jordan Brown AD led his first concert as Music Director of the New Sussex Symphony in November.

This Love Between Us: Prayers for Unity by composer Reena Esmail ’11MM ’14MMA ’18DMA, a work originally commissioned by the Yale Institute of Sacred Music, was given its West Coast premiere by the Los Angeles Master Chorale in November at Walt Disney Concert Hall. In January, Esmail was named a 2019 United States Artists Fellow and was the Grand Prize winner of the S&R Foundation’s Washington Award. Trombonist Brittany Lasch ’12MM was among the Foundation’s Washington Award winners.

Joseph Fala ’17MM, who is in his second year as an Organ Scholar at Duke Chapel, performed a recital in December at Duke University.

Pianist Vyacheslav Gryaznov ’18AD performed two cycles by Rachmaninov at Sudler Hall in November as part of a concert series titled Reflections of the Russian Exodus, presented by the European Studies Council.

Sarita Kwok. Photo by Kate Lemmon

Gordon College named violinist Sarita Kwok ’05MMA ’06AD ’09DMA the Adams Endowed Chair in Music. A celebratory performance was given by faculty and students of the college’s Department of Music in November.

Oboist Anna Mattix ’98MM and composer Caroline Mallonee ’00MM are featured on the Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra’s newest recording. Mattix is the soloist on Vox Humana, a work commissioned for her, and Mallonee composed Whistler Waves on a commission for the BPO’s associate principal cellist.

Proving Up, an opera by composer Missy Mazzoli ’06MM, was listed as one of the year’s “Best Performances” in The New York Times’ “The Best Classical Music of 2018.”

Conductor Julian Pellicano ’07MM ’09MM led the Vancouver Symphony Orchestra in a performance of John Williams’s score for Home Alone as part of the VSO at the Movies series in December.

Baritone David Pershall ’10MM ’11AD sang the role of Silvio in Pagliacci at the San Francisco Opera in September.

Violinist Igor Pikayzen ’11MM ’12AD was featured in “Sounds for a Starry Night,” a concert held in December at the Westport Woman’s Club. Proceeds from the performance contributed to scholarships for Staples High School seniors.

Dantes Rameau

Bassoonist Dantes Rameau ’07MM, founder of the Atlanta Music Project, which provides free music education in neighborhoods where school music programs are limited, was named one of the Top 30 Professionals of 2018 by Musical America.

In association with the Royal Canadian College of Organists, Sarah Svendsen ’15MM performed a recital and led a youth-oriented workshop on the pipe organ in November.

Tubist Antonio D. Underwood ’87MM was a featured keynote speaker at Hagerstown Community College’s annual Martin Luther King Jr. Diversity Celebration in Januray.

Published January 24, 2019
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Paul Curran, on directing Yale Opera’s production of “Eugene Onegin”

Paul Curran. Photo by Christopher Reece-Bowen

Acclaimed stage director Paul Curran will lead the Yale Opera next month in a new production of Tchaikovsky’s Eugene Onegin. Curran has shared the following words about working with the Yale Opera casts and will continue to take us behind the scenes of the rehearsal process and the performances. 

Tchaikovsky’s Eugene Onegin is not only one of the most popular operas in the repertoire, it is also one of the greatest. Why, you might ask, is it so great? An easy answer: extraordinary music and vocal writing; a whip-crack-hot plot; fantastic, fascinating characters; and relationships that span the decades and centuries so as to feel they could be happening today or any day in our lifetimes. For me, as director, this is exactly why Onegin is such a splendid choice for young voices and developing artists.

Over the next few weeks, I will be writing about our production as it takes shape, tracking our rehearsal process at Yale and even reflecting on the most difficult and personal learning process of all: the performances themselves. I hope you will find time to check out what we’re up to!

Onegin is essentially a story of a teenager falling in love with a slightly older man and the struggles she endures coming to terms with his rejection—and his desire for her when it’s too late and she makes the smart, adult decision to stay with the man she’s married. I have heard this story told and retold for decades by friends of mine (no names!); rejection remains as difficult a pain to endure today as it was in the 19th century. Our casts need to make this story come alive, to make it their own. In relating, through performance, such a private and painful story, they need to show a vulnerability that makes you feel like writing to your best friend and telling her or him to get over the creep they’re dating and move on. Onegin is a modern tale—very modern.

As a story, Onegin needs very little explanation beyond what’s provided by the vivid, rounded characters and their compelling relationships. This is the challenge for all artists but particularly young singers. Memorizing hours of music, especially in a language as difficult as Russian, is not easy, but it is the challenge we embrace in taking on this piece, and that is at the heart of young singers’ development.

My aim with this production is to feature and support its young cast. I truly believe young singers need as much help in development as they can get, not to be bogged down with the unnecessary ideas of an added-on “concept” that’s often contrary to the piece itself. That is not to say such concepts are not part of the opera world or in any way invalid. Many pieces not only benefit from a very strong “concept,” but actually need it. Our casts will meet these ideas in the fullness of time, but, right now, for them, it’s a question of mastering a character and the myriad emotions that come with her or him. Singing and acting are very personal—after all, nobody at a bank or an office is spending six to eight hours a day expressing their heartache after a major rejection or crying into their pillow over a lost love, are they? Our task as directors, designers, and musicians in this venture is to afford these singers every bit of help we can offer.

So, we begin …

We hope you’ll join us on our journey as we prepare to stage Tchaikovsky’s Eugene Onegin at New Haven’s historic Shubert Theatre, and that you’ll be in the audience when the curtain rises.

Yale Opera will present Tchaikovsky’s Eugene Onegin February 15-17 at the Shubert Theatre.

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Published January 16, 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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Russian Liederabend to showcase Yale Opera singers

On Wednesday, Dec. 5, Yale Opera will present a Russian Liederabend (“evening of songs”) featuring a wide array of Russian vocal music, from solo songs and arias to ensemble pieces. The program will include works by such composers as Tchaikovsky, Borodin, Glinka, Shebalin, Pakhmutova, and Rachmaninoff.

With Yale Opera’s production of Tchaikovsky’s Eugene Onegin slated for two performances in February, Russian was a natural choice for the language of this year’s Liederabend. Integral to both projects is Emily Olin, Lecturer in Voice and Opera at the School of Music, who organized the Liederabend and will perform as the evening’s collaborative pianist. Olin put together the concert program with current Yale Opera singers in mind, tailoring musical selections to students’ individual voices.

In addition to her musical guidance, Olin has taught weekly Russian language classes and diction coachings throughout the semester. Soprano Laura Nielsen ’20MM described Olin as “an incredible resource” for the singers in the opera program. “In addition to her warm and loving personality,” Nielsen said, “she has a wonderful way of communicating subtle differences in pronunciation and helping us non-native speakers improve our Russian.”

Singing in Russian presents challenges for many singers. For Nielsen, one of the most difficult aspects of learning Russian music has been becoming proficient in reading Cyrillic. “I have only just started to be able to absorb this new alphabet and the new sounds that it includes,” Nielsen said. “I have to do so much extra work in reading that it makes learning a piece much more challenging than learning a piece in English, Italian, or French.” In many undergraduate vocal programs, it is not unusual for students to focus on Italian, French, and German repertoire, and to skip Russian works entirely. “I am so grateful to have been exposed to so much more Russian music this year,” Nielsen said.

In addition to showing off their newly enhanced Russian language skills, Yale Opera singers look forward to sharing rarely heard repertoire. “I am singing a wonderful aria from a Russian adaptation of The Taming of the Shrew by Vissarion Shebalin, written in 1957,” Nielsen said. She hopes people will come to broaden their musical horizons and to hear “the best of what each of the singers has to offer.”

Yale Opera’s Russian Liederabend, on Wednesday, Dec. 5, at 7:30 p.m., in Morse Recital Hall in Sprague Memorial Hall, is free and open to the public.

Published November 29, 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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Soprano Leah Brzyski ’19MM, on preparing for Yale Opera’s Fall Scenes productions

Leah Brzyski

Each year, Yale Opera presents two programs of scenes from beloved and important works. Parts are assigned at the beginning of the academic year, giving singers relatively little time to learn, memorize, and inhabit their roles—sometimes more than one and in different languages. We spoke with soprano Leah Brzyski ’19MM about her preparation for this year’s programs and about developing as a singer and performer here at YSM.

Q: What roles will you be performing in this year’s Fall Scenes program, and what has the preparation experience been like?

A: This year I could not be more excited for our scenes production because I have the opportunity to perform two of my dream roles: Blonde from Mozart’s Die Entführung aus dem Serail and Ophelia from Ambroise Thomas’ Hamlet. While the characters are quite different, each has such a strong willfulness and passion about them that makes digging into their music so appealing. The preparation for my roles this year has been really rejuvenating. After being gone all summer, coming back to dive headfirst into these powerful pieces has been such a driving force behind the semester.

Now that memorized runs are done, we’re into our staging period, which is my favorite! We finally get to explore not just how [the characters] speak and sing, but how their bodies would react to a situation or another person. Not to mention our Stage Director, Chris Murrah, is one of the most artistically genius people I have ever met. He is full of unique insights and always allows us the freedom to explore and play rather than micromanaging every action we do on stage.

Q: What is the benefit and what are the challenges of having to learn multiple roles, in different styles and in different languages, in a short amount of time?

A: Every year we are assigned our roles and are given three weeks to learn and memorize all of our music. At the end of the three weeks we perform a memorized run for the voice faculty so that they can see how we’ve progressed. This process is always more than a little hectic—to memorize the notes, rhythms, language, but more so the characterization of your assignments in such little time. Just being able to physically produce the right sounds is nowhere near enough. You have to know what motivates [the characters], how they interact with the other characters, why they say and sing what they do, and so much more.

Last year I remember feeling like it was an impossible feat, but after hours and hours of weekly coaching, lessons, group rehearsals, and individual practice time, the music becomes so ingrained in you that every year we all manage to meet the deadline, (sometimes to our own surprise!). This quick learning process has actually benefited me in so many ways. Oftentimes, last minute opportunities to sing a concert or a role come up and you might only have a week or even a few days to accept and learn your music. Practicing that skill in a comfortable learning environment makes taking on professional tasks like that so much more manageable. This summer it helped me learn five roles in just a few months and prepare arias in different languages without much stress at all. This year, I noticed that the memorization of my music was so much easier, even though I had much more to learn. It’s a skill most of us don’t get to practice on our own time, so having it as part of the curriculum makes it a mandatory part of our skillset.

Q: What’s required of you, in terms of moving from one role to another in the course of one Fall Scenes production? How do the faculty help with this process?

Brzyski as the Queen of the Night in Yale Opera’s 2018 production of Mozart’s “The Magic Flute”

A: The ability to switch back and forth between such contrasting roles is absolutely demanding. To go from singing a role in French about a woman who has gone mad to the point of suicide because of lost love to suddenly switching to singing a comedic maid who is cunning and pedantic and lighthearted in German is one heck of a transition. But, in a way, all of those unique qualities help you differentiate as a performer what it feels like to be one character versus the other. Last year, singing the all-consuming and powerful role of Queen of the Night as well as the loving and tender Fairy Godmother in Cendrillon at first seemed like an overwhelming transition. But those qualities help make up the identity of each character. After living in her shoes, I would never start thinking in French or singing in the same Fairy Godmother-esque floated lines when performing Queen and vice versa. At the end of the day, it’s the differences that make the switch easy. The faculty all help in this process of course, perfecting our diction, demonstrating style differences between composers, and creating characterization of our roles.

Q: In what ways have you learned from your peers throughout this process and in the Yale Opera program in general? How, in the past year, have you developed as an artist and in what ways has YSM’s opera program informed that growth?

A: I don’t even know where to begin when it comes to this amazing group of artists. There is never a rehearsal or recital or class where I don’t learn something from my peers. We all come from such unique and enriched backgrounds that it’s like a treasure trove of skills all sitting in the same classroom. I might hear someone singing an aria I have learned but they do something different in a cadenza or approach a note in such an amazing way that I can use and apply to my own singing. So often in our movement classes, when we’re improvising, someone will take a risk and do something completely unexpected, which makes you feel more willing to take risks yourself and work off of that energy. Many people here also speak several foreign languages and it’s so amazing to be able to ask for insight on translations and specifics on pronunciation from someone who is native to that language.

I owe the Yale Opera program so much of who I am as an artist. In our undergrad training, we broadly cover so many topics, languages, requirements, etc. But here, there is such great attention to detail given to specific skillsets that are absolutely necessary in order to succeed as an opera singer. French, German, Italian, and Russian diction are taught with such finesse and accuracy that sometimes I wonder how I stumbled my way through before my two years here. Most important, however, I have grown because I have been given the opportunity to act as an artist and take artistic liberties that I wouldn’t have been given at another university, such as picking my own recital repertoire, teaching voice students, singing for top managers in the business, and performing mature roles that challenge me. Not only am I a more technically savvy singer because of the skilled guidance of my voice teacher, Doris Yarick-Cross, but I am also a more confident and independent musician. Our faculty members are some of the most experienced, intelligent instructors in their field. Learning from them every day has most definitely paid off.

Yale Opera presents its annual Fall Scenes programs on Friday & Saturday, Nov. 2 & 3, in Morse Recital Hall. 

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Published October 24, 2018
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