IU Contemporary Vocal Ensemble ready for New York audience


By Peter Jacobi


You know the old give-and-take.

Give: “How do you get to Carnegie Hall?”

Take: “Practice. Practice. Practice.”

Well, yes, but in the case of NOTUS, the Indiana University Contemporary Vocal Ensemble, part of the practice happened in Auer Hall Tuesday evening before a Bloomington audience. The final 25 minutes of that concert contained the package of music that conductor Dominick DiOrio and NOTUS will perform for a New York City audience next week during an inaugural concert of a series devoted to new vocal music. That series will be housed in an intimate space within the Carnegie Hall complex called Weill Hall.

If Maestro DiOrio’s band of 24 vocalists sings as it did in Auer, then that familiar give-and-take will hold true once again. Practice will have done it. Innate talent will have helped. And fascinating music, too.

DiOrio packed five compositions into those 25 minutes, each designed to further a sharpened NOTUS goal, which is to perform the music of living composers. On Tuesday, all of the music — the Carnegie Hall portion and the five additional works that filled the hour — had been written in the past seven years. Three are receiving world premieres. So, it was not out of line for the concert to be titled “Hot off the Press, Freshly Minted New Works for Voices.”

Two of the debuts are included in the Carnegie Hall segment: “To the Roaring Wind,” by a widely admired Zachary Wadsworth, and “Virginia: The West,” by IU Jacobs School of Music composer Aaron Travers.  Both pieces were commissioned by NOTUS. Wadsworth’s “To the Roaring Wind” doesn’t roar at all but sets quiet words by poet Wallace Stevens into quiet sounds that bridge from breathing and representations of wind to words spoken and sung.  Travers was inspired by more muscular language of Walt Whitman and mingles the chorus and solo voices into a feast of shifting textures.

Caroline Shaw’s “Passacaglia” from Partita for 8 Voices, which won her the only Pulitzer so far given to music for a cappella voices, was previously performed by NOTUS last fall, and continued to weave magic. Conductor DiOrio’s “O Virtus Sapientiae,” based on 12th century words and melody of Hildegard von Bingen, contained a magnetic sense of awe and mystery. The concert-ending “Zephyr Rounds” was written for the Yale Glee Club by Robert Vuichard. It sets a Biblical text from John: “The wind blows where it pleases. You hear its sound but you cannot tell from whence it has come or where it is going.”  Indeed, not only the words but the music tells it so.

In the pre-Carnegie Hall segment, one heard Tawnie Olson’s “Scel lum duib,” taken from a 9th century Celtic poem about winter and wind and wild fowl. Harpist Alexandra Mullins provided the instrumental atmosphere and, for it, DiOrio handed the baton to an aware student conductor, Jaeeun Kim. Ted Hearne’s “Agnus Dei,” sensitively led by NOTUS associate conductor Carlo Vincetti Frizzo, proved a haunting mix of harmonies, very old and new.  DiOrio’s “Absence,” directed most effectively by graduate student conductor Mason Copeland, sets Amy Lowell’s passionate poem of that name to passionate music.

The top two choices in the NOTUS Student Composition Context won space on the program and plaudits from the audience. Patricia Wallinga, a not-yet-20-year-old Jacobs school undergraduate, took top honors with “Portraits of Wartime,” a quite powerful choral exploration of “The Wind,” “In Battle,” and “Catharsis,” elements in our lives that seem always with us. An anguished cello accompaniment by Nicholas Mariscal underscored highly expressive choral material. Texu Kim’s “Chopsaltok,” with Connor Lidell’s baritone set off against the chorus, captured memories of vendors in Korea making mouths water for rice cake and other goodies; its concluding sound was a mighty slurp.

In sum: “Hot off the Press” brought pleasures and set off no alarms. The music intrigued, for its variety and quality.


© Herald Times 2014


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NOTUS to perform in DCINY’s Distinguished Concerts Artist Series

Ad Astra Singers, NOTUS and UC Berkeley Chamber Singers Join Forces for DCINY  Concert at Carnegie, 3/21


Three innovative choral ensembles, all specializing in exciting new music,  take the stage on Friday, March 21 at 8:00pm for the next concert in DCINY’s  Distinguished Concerts Artist Series at Weill  Recital Hall. The three vocal ensembles include the Ad  Astra Singers, a professional choir from Wichita, Kansas; NOTUS,  Indiana University’s Contemporary Vocal Ensemble; and the UC Berkeley Chamber  Singers.

One of the only collegiate choirs in the world  that has a singular focus on new music and living composers, NOTUS  is comprised of 24 singers from the Indiana University Jacobs School of Music  and directed by conductor-composer Dominick DiOrio (pictured left). Deriving its  name from the Greek wind god, it signifies the winds of change. And,  appropriately, all of the works on the DCINY program deal with “winds of change”  in some form. NOTUS is committed to  championing music of living and emerging composers, especially notable works for  voices composed by Indiana University faculty and students.

NOTUS’ program for DCINY  features five works by young composers, each under the age of 40 and all of whom  will be in attendance March 20. They include the Passacaglia from Caroline  Shaw’s (b.1982, pictured right) Partita for 8 voices, winner of the 2013  Pulitzer Prize in Music and a wonderfully inventive work that makes use of  extended vocal techniques. Watch a video of NOTUS performing an excerpt from Shaw’s Partita here.

NOTUS has commissioned and will perform two  world premieres: “To the Roaring Wind” by Zachary Wadswoth (b. 1983), a  beguiling experimental work that uses consonants and vowels in inventive ways;  and “Virginia: The West” by Aaron Travers (b.1975), based on a poem by Walt  Whitman. NOTUS will also perform  Robert Vuichard’s (b. 1986) fascinating “Zephyr Rounds” about the circling  winds, and a majestic work by conductor Dominick Diorio (b. 1984) based on a  chant of Hildegard. Listen to a performance of Diorio’s”O Virtus Sapientiae” here.

Widely acclaimed at home and internationally,  the adventurous UC Berkeley Chamber Choir is led by Marika Kuzma, director of  choirs at UC Berkeley since 1990. All of the works featured on their eclectic  program have links to Berkeley: Requiem: a Dramatic Dialogue is by Randall  Thompson, who taught at UC Berkeley during the 1930s; Ashes is a musical  meditation on the tragedy of 9-11 by New York composer Trevor Weston, who  attended UC Berkeley as a graduate student in the 1990s; Robin Estrada, another  alumnus, skillfully merges a folk style of singing from the Philippines into a  setting of a sacred text; and Sephardisms I&II by Jorge Liderman, a  professor of composition at Berkeley as recently as 2008.

Also featured is Richard Felciano’s Seasons,  composed in the late 1970s while teaching at UC Berkeley. In this ingenious  work, each movement represents each season in a completely different,  non-western musical style: spring follows the intervals and rhythms of  Indonesian gamelan music; summer employs overtone singing of Tibet; fall employs  percussive tongue clicks of sub-Saharan Africa, and the stark severity of winter  is depicted with a spare Japanese aesthetic. Concluding US Berkeley’s program is  “Vesna” [Spring] by Ukrainian composer Lesia Dychko and an optimistic ode on the  first day of spring, the date of the concert.

A vibrant, sixteen-voice professional chamber  choir, the Ad Astra Singers  takes its name from the Kansas state motto, “To the stars.” Led by director John Paul Johnson,  the Singers are developing a reputation for creative programming, vocal depth,  and contributing to the choral repertoire by commissioning new works.

Their program includes “Four Haikus,” a work the Ad Astra Singers premiered  earlier this year by award-winning Wichita-based composer Aleksander  Sternfeld-Dunn; two works by Kansas-based composer Jean Belmont Ford, a  specialist in chamber and choral music who has composed for ensembles including  Chanticleer and the Emerson String Quartet; “O Magnum Mysterium” by Wayne  Oquin’s a Juilliard-based composer known for his music’s dreamlike spirit and  beautiful complexity; and “Cantus Gloriosus” by popular Polish composer Josef  Swider.

Founded by Iris Derke (General Director) and  Jonathan Griffith (Artistic Director and Principal Conductor) Distinguished Concerts International is driven by passion  and innovative vision. Upcoming concerts include Defying Gravity: The Music of Stephen  Schwartz and Eric Whitacre on  Sunday, March 30 at Avery Fisher Hall, and The Drop of Dawn on Sunday, April 13  at Carnegie  Hall, featuring a world premiere by Christopher Tin.

For more information see: Tickets: or 212-247-7800 or in person at the Carnegie Hall Box  Office.


© 2014


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Review: University Singers

Music for chorus

By Peter Jacobi


  Betsy Burley hasn’t been on the IU Jacobs School faculty for very long, but she’s making her mark, using skills honed not only while earning undergraduate and doctoral degrees here but in wide-ranging experience gained conducting the Cleveland Orchestra Chorus and the Mendelssohn Choir of Pittsburgh, among a host of others.

  On Saturday evening in Auer, she led the University Singers in a demanding program of works by Monteverdi, Dominick Argento and Brahms, each having to do with the whims, worries, or wonders of love.  The results were exceptional.

   The concert opened with Monteverdi’s “Lamento d’Arianna,” written for an opera, now lost, about Ariadne and her betrayed love for Theseus.  The music, impassioned and intense, weaves multiple streams of song into a potent package of anguish and melancholy.  Burley and company wove the intricacies expertly.

  Argento’s cycle, “I Hate and I Love,” employs poetry from the Roman Catullus, inspired by the poet’s feelings of love and hate for a beautiful but deceitful woman named Clodia.  “I hate and I love,” the chorus begins, with heavy percussion underscoring “hate” and percussive quiet, “love.”  “Perhaps you will ask how that can be possible,” the words continue.  “I do not know, but that is what I feel and it torments me.”  Seven more expressions of love and torment follow in Argento’s creative score.  The University Singers spared no zest in musically retelling the misfortunes of Catallus in love.

  Brahms’ lyrical and lilting “Zigeunerlieder” (“Gypsy Songs”) made for a rollicking and  melodious close, thanks to the music itself and a super-spirited performance.


© Herald Times 2014

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James Allbritten (MM, ’90) named General Director for Piedmont Opera

6 Allbritten HeadshotAlumnus James Allbritten was named the General Director of Piedmont Opera after ten years as Artistic Director of Piedmont Opera, and twenty years on the music faculty at the University of North Carolina School of the Arts. Allbritten will be responsible for the overall leadership of business operations, including fundraising, budgeting and financial control. He will continue his artistic duties.

Originally from Louisville, Ky., Allbritten began his conducting studies at Indiana University under Jan Harrington, Robert Porco and Thomas Dunn. While there, he also worked with Glyndborne Festival Opera conductor Bryan Balkwill and MET stage directors Hans Busch and James Lucas.

More info:

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Dominick DiOrio receives an inaugural grant from the Ann Stookey Fund for New Music

diOrio_composer-220Dominick DiOrio, assistant professor of choral conducting at the Indiana University Jacobs School of Music, is the recipient of an inaugural grant from the Ann Stookey Fund for New Music. Ann Stookey was a devoted choral singer and a strong advocate for new music before her death in 2012. The Fund was established in her name to support the commissioning, performance, and recording of new musical works, with a particular focus on choral music.

This grant will allow DiOrio to write a new work for NOTUS: Contemporary Vocal Ensemble for performance with the ensemble next year. The new 20 minute work will be a setting of Amy Lowell’s poem “Stravinsky’s Three Pieces ‘Grotesques’ for String Quartet” and will be scored for 24 singers, string quartet, organ, and percussion. The current plan is for this work to share the program with P.Q. Phan’s new “A Vietnam Requiem” in Spring of 2015.

This project is in line with DiOrio’s personal goal of commissioning new works for NOTUS, with a particular emphasis on new works by IU composition department faculty and students. This Spring will see the premiere of new commissioned works by faculty composer Aaron Travers, guest Zachary Wadsworth, and student composer Patricia Wallinga. It is DiOrio’s mission to commission a new work from every member of the Jacobs School composition faculty in the next few years.

The full press release can be found here:

And a separate announcement and more information about the fund here:

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Wallinga and Sink named winners of NOTUS Student Composition Contest

Two Jacobs School composition students have been named prizewinners in this year’s NOTUS Choral Composition Contest.

Patricia Wallinga is the first-prize winner for her work Portraits of Wartime for mixed chorus and cello. Wallinga is a first-year undergraduate composition student studying with Don Freund. She is also a member of NOTUS and will sing in the premiere of her work on the March concert. Wallinga says of the work: “Portraits of Wartime is a sonic exploration of those things that seem to remain constant generation after generation, whether that be the winds of change, the fearful pounding of wars, or the faithful beauty of the stars.”

Phillip Sink is the second-prize winner for his work Fire and Ice for mixed chorus a cappella. Sink is currently a doctoral fellow in composition studying with David Dzubay, and he has also studied with Aaron Travers, Ricardo Lorenz, Jere Hutcheson, and Scott Meister. He says of his work: “I listened to Robert Frost reciting his poem, “Fire and Ice” … Considering that the poem was written before many of the atrocities that occurred in the twentieth century, I see Frost’s words as a timeless warning to us all.”

NOTUS will premiere the two prize-winning works on the concert program Hot Off the Press on Tuesday, March 11, 2014, in Auer Hall at 8 p.m. The concert will also feature works of living composers, part of which will be repeated on Friday, March 21, 2014, as part of “a cappella next!” a special event in New York City as part of the Distinguished Concerts International New York (DCINY) season at Carnegie Hall / Weill Recital Hall.

Two honorable mentions were also given for Yihan Chen’s Immolation and Steven Snethkamp’s Substance is Eternal.

The Contest is an initiative of Dominick DiOrio, choral conducting faculty member and conductor of NOTUS: IU Contemporary Vocal Ensemble. The annual competition is open to all current undergraduate and graduate students at the Jacobs School of Music.

Chancellor’s Professor of Composition Claude Baker and Executive Associate Dean and Professor of Composition Eugene O’Brien, along with DiOrio, served as judges for the competition. The submission of scores was anonymous and the panel did not see names or identifying information until after final decisions were made.


photoPatricia Wallinga (b. 1994) is a composer and double bassist in her first year of undergraduate studies at the Indiana University Jacobs School of Music, where she studies composition with Don Freund. Known for her vocal music, she received first place at the Illinois Music Educator’s Association All-State Festival for her vocal ensemble music in 2012 and 2013; she also placed highly in several additional categories at the festival. In addition, she has had numerous works performed and recorded by members of the Chicago Youth Symphony Orchestras and students at the DePaul School of Music and the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign School of Music. Originally from Naperville, IL, she currently resides in Bloomington, IN.


avatars-000013307036-dprryv-cropPhillip Sink (b. 1982) received bachelor’s degrees in music composition/theory and music education from Appalachian State University and masters degrees in music composition and music theory pedagogy from Michigan State University. He is currently a doctoral fellow at the Jacobs School of Music where he is pursuing a DM in music composition with minors in electronic music and music theory. He currently studies with David Dzubay. His music has been performed at conferences and festivals including: 2013 Kansas Music Educators Association conference, the 2012 World Saxophone Conference, the 2011 Brevard Music Festival, and the 2010 Chamber Music Institute.

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Alumnus E. Wayne Abercrombie receives Lifetime Achievement Award

wayne-portraitE. Wayne Abercrombie recently received the 2013 Lifetime Achievement Award at the 29th annual Alfred Nash Patterson awards ceremony on October 27. The Lifetime Achievement Award is presented annually by Choral Arts New England to individuals who have made exceptional contributions to choral singing and its culture within New England.

Dr. Abercrombie earned his Doctorate of  Music degree in Choral Conducting from the Indiana University School of Music in 1974 with high distinction. Professor Emeritus of Music and former Director of Choral Activities at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst, Dr. Abercrombie taught for 33 years in the Department of Music. He founded the Children’s Chorus of Springfield, and helped establish the “Conductors Without Borders” program of the International Federation of Choral Music.

Read more here:


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Splendid work in oratorio

By Peter Jacobi

It is said to be the first English oratorio, and Handel’s, too, this “Esther,” written 22 years before the super-popular “Messiah.” And it reportedly had its first two performances ever at Indiana University’s Jacobs School of Music this past Wednesday and Thursday evenings in Auer Hall.

I attended the Thursday presentation, which was to be followed just two days later, on invitation, at the National Collegiate Choral Organization Fifth Conference in the Cathedral of St. John the Baptist in Charleston, South Carolina: a theater venue performance followed by one in a church for what Handel labeled a “sacred drama,” composed for the music-loving Duke of Chandos, his employer at the time.

Conductor William Jon Gray used a contingent of musicians similar to that back in 1720: eleven vocalists doubling as soloists and chorus, all members of his carefully selected and excelling Pro Arte Singers. As instrumentalists, he called upon the 2013 Joshi Handel Project Baroque Orchestra, 19 fine musicians, including Gray himself on the harpsichord. The Georgina Joshi Foundation underwrote the performances.

“Esther” retells the Old Testament story of the Jewish orphan who grows up to become Queen of Persia and convinces her husband, the King, to reverse a decree from his prime minister Haman to have all Jews living in the Persian Empire put to death, this in retaliation for a perceived insult, the refusal by Esther’s adoptive father, Mordecai, to bow to him, Mordecai having stated he would bow only to God.

Musically, the oratorio builds in strength as the story develops. There are dramatic arias for each character, a stunningly beautiful duet for Esther and her King Assuerus, and a series of choruses culminating in an extended “Grand Chorus” that — in mounting, horn-and-trumpet-reinforced power and celebration — praises God for having restored the Israelites’ freedom.

Gray firmly controlled all the elements and had, one could discern from the start, administered careful tutelage onto and into his musicians, both vocal and instrumental, about essential matters Biblical and musicological. Consequently, everyone seemed to get into the spirit, so that not only were technical matters properly served but the artistic.

All eleven singers contributed to the whole. Particular praise should be lavished on those with the most major assignments: Elizabeth Toy, whose beautiful soprano expressed Esther’s plights and joys; tenor Brendon Marsh, as a King eloquently infatuated with his Queen; bass-baritone Adam Walton, shedding vocal evil as Haman; mezzo-soprano Sarah Ballman as the Priest of the Israelites resonantly lamenting the plight of her people; soprano Katelyn Lee as an Israelite woman praising God, and tenor Francisco Ortega as the faithful-to-Jehovah and devoted-to-Esther Mordecai. They were splendid choices.

One also heard along the way some masterful solo work by oboist Sarah Huebsch and harpist Alexandra Mullins, plus jubilant accents during the closing scene from Burke Anderson and Kevin Miescke on horns and Zachary Kingins and Lena Console on trumpets.

© Herald Times 2013

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Faculty member Dominick DiOrio in-residence at UT-Knoxville

DSC_2748Choral conducting faculty member Dominick DiOrio was invited to the University of Tennessee-Knoxville to give a masterclass to the composition/theory and saxophone studios about his new work “Flames Will Grow”. This new composition for alto saxophone, mezzo-soprano, and piano was commissioned by Faculty saxophonist Allison D. Adams, and will be premiered by Adams, mezzo-soprano Liz Bouk, and pianist Kevin Class on Wednesday, October 9th at 6pm in the new music building.

DiOrio will also be in residence this year at Ithaca College (New York) and Whitman College (Washington), and was in residence last year at Texas State University-San Marcos.

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Music Review: Opera Chorus and University Singers

2 concerts showcase IU’s choral talents

By Peter Jacobi


A pair of choral concerts this week offered further proof of the dramatic personnel changes in the IU Jacobs School’s department of choral conducting. Just one active teacher, William Jon Gray, has been around for at least a few years; take note, he’s to conduct Handel’s oratorio “Esther” later this month. The others are recent and very recent hires.

They include Steve Zegree, director of the Singing Hoosiers, and Dominick DiOrio, in charge of the Contemporary Vocal Ensemble, now called Notus. Both have made recent and successful appearances.

Two others led programs in Indiana University’s Auer Hall on Tuesday and Wednesday evenings. Walter Huff, director of opera choruses, brought 37 singers to the stage on Tuesday, the same assemblage that will provide the choral element for the world premiere presentation next January of fellow Jacobs faculty member P.Q. Phan’s opera, “The Tale of Lady Thi Kinh.” The following night, Betsy Burleigh devotedly shepherded the 46 members of the University Singers. Both concerts offered pleasures and additional evidence that IU choral studies are currently in expert hands.

Huff’s work was on display earlier this season in “The Marriage of Figaro” and, before that, in three of last year’s IU Opera Theater productions. He wanted, in this concert, to show his group’s flexibility with a non-opera repertoire. Yes, there was a “Gloria” from Dominick Argento’s 1964 one-act opera, “The Masque of Angels,” exhilaratingly sung, mind you, but a far more prominent feature was Brahms’ “Neue Liebesliederwalzer” (“New Love Song Waltzes”), a set of 15 compact and lilting pieces, some for chorus, some for soloists, all having to do with the vagaries of love. The singers came out swinging and scored.

Conductor Huff followed that up with John Corigliano’s comic response to the Brahms, his 1996 “Liebeslied,” scored for vocal quartet (sopranos Brooklyn Snow and Julianne Park, tenor John Sengelaub and baritone Jacho Lee) and two pianists at the same piano (Javier Arrebola and Huff himself). The quartet acted out differing romantic relationships with melodramatic gusto, all the while constantly repeating the words, “I love you.”

The hour ended with selections from a nearly-forgotten 1964 British musical by Ron Grainer, “Robert and Elizabeth,” based on the Robert Besier play, “The Barretts of Wimpole Street,” recounting the romance between poets Robert Browning and Elizabeth Barrett. Huff said he chanced upon the music, fell for it, and determined that one day he’d bring it out of hibernation. On Tuesday, he did. The music proved tuneful, at times quite stimulating, and certainly good material for the Opera Chorus and several of its members as soloists (tenor Derrek Stark and baritone Robert Gerold shared duties as Robert; sopranos Mikaela Schneider and Meagan Sill, as Elizabeth).

Wednesday night’s splendid hour with conductor Burleigh and the University Singers focused on 20th century music, including three works by Benjamin Britten, a welcome centennial salute. Burleigh had the choir singing jubilantly in “A Wedding Anthem,” a happy paean written for the marriage of two influential Britten friends. Tones became radiant in “A Hymn to the Virgin,” a lyrical and effusive piece the composer wrote when he was 16 and which was repeated at his funeral. Quite different was the rollicking, titillating and bawdy “Ballad of Little Musgrave and Lady Barnard,” scored for the men only, which they sang with unreserved but also thoroughly controlled zest.

The ensemble’s women performed Francis Poulenc”s “Litanies a la Vierge Noire” (“Litanies to the Black Virgin”), a work of contrasts, with the chorus expressing prayer in contemplative fashion while the organ, played brilliantly by Bruce Neswick, added dissonant chords to the mix. Sopranos Natalie Weinberg and Madeline Stern and mezzo Veronica Jensen contributed entrancing highlights to the vocal element.

Neswick fulfilled a star turn in Zolan Kodaly’s “Laudes organi,” which requires heavy duty playing from the organist, and certainly got it. In concert, the chorus intoned, purred and shouted homage to the organ (“musical instrument of modern artists, exemplar of melody singing, playing lovingly, joyfully singing praises”) and to musicians (“Become like a warrior. Apply the exercises of your art daily, habituate your body, show your facile intellect”). Neswick, Burleigh and the University Singers deserve bravos for their efforts.

© Herald Times 2013


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