Brennan Johns: Seizing every musical opportunity


Brennan Johns had an overarching goal for his senior recital: to make it unlike any other senior recital at IU.

In a traditional recital, he would stand in front of the audience and play his bass trombone or euphonium, interrupted by applause, for nearly an hour.

He had attended and performed in those recitals. His senior recital, he thought, should be different.

“I wanted it to be something that could adequately cap off my four years here and that people remembered,” he says. “An event.”

Brennan isn’t interested in the typical way of doing things. His time at IU is proof.

Getting the most out of college

Brennan came to IU and the Jacobs School of Music from Fairfax, Virginia. He was considering the nation’s top music schools, but he didn’t want the small, hyperfocused experience of attending a conservatory: “I was like, ‘No, this is college. I need to get the whole experience.’”

So he took advantage of every musical opportunity he could at IU. He studied and played classical music, early music, and jazz, and earned a minor in jazz studies. He performed with several orchestras and ensembles—as many as seven in one semester. And he played freelance gigs in Bloomington and all over the Midwest.

He estimates that during his four years, he played at least 400 IU and freelance shows.

“This is the only place you can get the Big Ten university experience while also getting every conceivable musical experience you could want,” Brennan says. “I didn’t want to waste any opportunity.”

Along the way, he earned impressive accolades, twice winning the IU Brass Concerto Competition (once with bass trombone and once with euphonium) and winning the 2013 Eastern Trombone Workshop national solo competition for bass trombone in his division.

His willingness to try new things is also how he discovered a genre of music that changed his life.

A love for Latin jazz

When Brennan auditioned for a jazz band as a freshman, the band’s assistant instructor asked if he was interested in the Latin Jazz Ensemble. Brennan had never listened to Latin jazz. But on a whim, he said yes.

He remembers that first rehearsal. The first tune they practiced was “Primera Vista,” and the first note he played was an A-natural.

“I was just like, ‘This is what I’ve been missing,’” says Brennan, who loves how the music makes you want to move.

The Latin Jazz Ensemble quickly became his favorite performing group. He played in it through graduation. And his mentors at Jacobs included Grammy-nominated Latin jazz musician Wayne Wallace. Brennan has even played on two of Wallace’s albums.

Going out on a high note

Brennan graduated in May 2015. He stayed in Bloomington, playing more gigs and working as the horn coach for the IU Soul Revue. In fall 2016, he’ll enter IU’s master’s degree program in jazz studies. He plans eventually to go to Los Angeles, where he wants to be a studio player for video game and film soundtracks.

But first there was his nontraditional recital.

He composed and arranged one continuous, 40-minute piece of music for it, with references to and arrangements of classical, Latin jazz, and other pieces he loves. He called it Kodachrome after the old Kodak color photo film because “I wanted it to be a portrait of my four years here.”

He worked on it for more than a year. And then on April 27, 2015, Brennan and 42 of his friends—students and faculty members alike—performed it for more than 100 people.

The performance earned a standing ovation. One of Brennan’s mentors, trombone professor M. Dee Stewart, later said, “I’ve been here 35 years, and I’ve never seen anything like it. I was really moved.”

Just like Brennan wanted.

Watch Brennan’s recital


Indiana University | Success Stories

Music in Education: Making music helps strengthen other skills

Part 2 of a three-part series


Sixth Grader Isaac Webster, center, started showing signs of improvement in music and other studies when he was in the second grade. Isaac gives a lot of credit for helping him learn. Chris Howell | Herald-Times

Isaac Webster, a sixth-grader at Grandview Elementary School, is a quiet kid. But hand him a drum or some spoons, and suddenly his volume goes up.

He says he likes music class because it makes him feel good about himself.

“I worked really hard on practicing (songs), and it makes me feel good when I get in front of people and perform,” he said.

Isaac “investigates” sounds using bongos, a drum set or beat boxing and says it’s hard to explain how he feels about music, but that he likes to have fun with it and play with sound.

ed 5

Lisa Voss uses her grade book to determine who hasn’t had a classroom award recently as students from Abby Seifers’ class line up for dismissal. Chris Howell | Herald-Times

That’s what he loves about Lisa Voss’ class at Grandview.

“Mrs. Voss lets kids do what they want in music. She’s really generous and nice. She’s the best music teacher I’ve ever had,” he said.

It isn’t just in Voss’ class that Isaac finds his own rhythm, though. His music lessons resonate throughout his other subjects.

“I like music because it gives me an inspiration and helps me in counting and finding patterns,” Isaac said.

It’s also a motivator when he’s working on a test.

“If I get off track, I think of me playing my drum set for a second, and then I can get back on task and work,” he said.

Isaac’s not the only Monroe County Community School Corp. student who has found out there’s a relationship between music and math.

Luke Kopp, a second-grader at University Elementary in Maggie Olivo’s music class, said he comes up with songs to help him with math. By putting numbers to songs, he’s able to do better. Music is also a relief and makes him feel good.

“It’s something to look forward to after math,” Luke said. “Music gets into my brain.”

Luke’s dad, David Kopp, says there’s no doubt he’s seen a difference in Luke due to music class.

“He is a very emotionally transparent kid. Period. And this is never more evident than when he is dancing and listening to music or playing and singing music of his own. His passion for music radiates,” Kopp said in an email.

Kopp’s noticed that music helps Luke let loose and be himself. It’s helped him overcome social anxiety, too.

“He not only enjoys that creative freedom and release, but he needs it to balance out his day. The biggest compliment I can give him about his approach and response to music class is that when I see him in the hall afterwards, with rosy cheeks, a sweaty forehead and his sweatshirt tied around his waist, it looks as if he has just come from P.E. instead,” Kopp said.

ed 2

Second-grader Bailey Morgan conducts during the singing of a memory song. Bailey volunteered for the task and his classmates followed along as he pointed at the notes. Chris Howell | Herald-Times

Katy Strand, associate professor of music at Indiana University and chairwoman of IU’s music education department, is not surprised to hear that kids are finding music helpful in other subjects. What students at MCCSC experience in music class is born out in research, which shows links between musical training and stronger reading skills, memory and math skills.

“We’ve known for a long time music is one of the greatest mnemonic aids we’ve ever had,” Strand said referring to the alphabet song and “Fifty Nifty United States.”

The advantage of engaging in music goes beyond memorizing letters, states and numbers, however. Studies in neuroscience have shown music stimulates the entire brain in a way that no other learning experience does, she said.

At the same time, Strand asserts studying music has merits of its own, whether it has an influence across disciplines or not.

“Music is valid for study by itself. It’s ubiquitous. It’s been known to exist in every culture that’s ever been examined,” she said.

Its functions are varied, including communication, expression, art, ritual and play. In addition, music affects the way children understand themselves and the universe.

“If we as a culture turn back to educating the whole child, arts are tremendously important,” she said. A good teacher doesn’t hurt, either.

Music education hasn’t been exempt from the statewide teacher shortage the Indiana Department of Education has been studying lately, but Strand doesn’t seem too worried.

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Fourth-grader Brayden LaGarde asks questions about the music the students will be rehearsing for the Veterans Day program at Grandview Elementary last fall. Voss has directed a Veterans Day show since she started teaching in 2001. Chris Howell|Herald-Times

“Teaching is a hard profession. There is a shortage, but there are still people wanting to enter the field,” she said. “Students coming into the music education program say they were inspired and motivated by their music teachers. They have great energy, and eight out of 10 are inspired by a teacher who showed them the joy and passion of music, and they want to pass it on.”

The significance of what she’s doing in the classroom isn’t lost on Voss.

“It’s mind-blowing to think how much influence you have as a teacher, but I have a lot of influence to impact their future even if they don’t go into music education, but just simply learning how to enjoy it, how to appreciate it,” she said.

  • By Mary Keck Former H-T Staff Writer © Herald Times Online

Grammy Winning Violinist Joshua Bell Guest-Stars on TV’s Royal Pains


Josh Bell Royal Pains


ROYAL PAINS– “The Good News Is” Episode 807– Pictured:–(Photo by Giovanni Rufino/USA Network)

Superstar violinist Joshua Bell makes a very special guest appearance on the TV Series “Royal Pains,” airing on the USA Network on Wednesday, June 29.

Playing himself, Bell performs an original song by Tom Kitt in a scene with Cloris Leachman, who guest stars as a London West End diva. Also making special guest appearances are Henry Winkler and Christine Ebersole.

This is the second to last episode of the final season of the series which stars Mark Feuerstein, Paulo Costanzo, Reshma  Shetty, Brooke D’Orsay, Ben Shenkman, and Campbell Scott.

The episode, titled  “The Good News” was written and directed by Michael Rauch (who also co-wrote the lyrics with Tom Kitt). Executive Producers: Michael Rauch and Andrew Lenchewski.

The writers, Michael Rauch and Antonia Ellis, have worked with Joshua Bell on Rauch’s show “Love Monkey,” and are huge fans of his.

Joshua Bell is one of the most celebrated violinists of his era, and his restless curiosity, passion, and multi-faceted musical interests are almost unparalleled in the world of classical music. Named the Music Director of the Academy of St Martin in the Fields in 2011, Bell is the first person to hold this post since Sir Neville Marriner formed the orchestra in 1958.

Equally at home as a soloist, chamber musician, recording artist and orchestra leader, Bell’s 2015 summer highlights include a South American and European tour with the Academy of St Martin in the Fields, a tour to South Africa, including appearances with the Johannesburg Philharmonic and Starlight Classics, performances in New York and Shanghai with the New York Philharmonic and summer festivals including Verbier, Tanglewood, Mostly Mozart and Saratoga.

In 1989, Bell received an Artist Diploma in Violin Performance from Indiana University where he currently serves as a senior lecturer at the Jacobs School of Music. His alma mater honored him with a Distinguished Alumni Service Award, he has been named an “Indiana Living Legend” and is the recipient of the Indiana Governor’s Arts Award.

Photo attached courtesy of USA Network

Left to right: Joshua Bell, Christine Ebersole and Henry Winkler



Pacifica Quartet says farewell to founding member and violinist

Peter Jacobi H-T Columnist

The Pacifica Quartet

The Pacifica Quartet

A few matters to write about.

A developing story

Word came quietly from Norman Lebrecht’s music website and then from the website of the Jacob School’s resident string ensemble: “The Pacifica Quartet has announced the departure of founding member and first violinist Simin Ganatra. Ms. Ganatra, who has been the first violinist of the ensemble since their founding in 1994, will be leaving at the end of the 2015-16 season to assume an expanded role at Indiana University’s Jacobs School… and pursue other musical opportunities. The Pacifica Quartet will announce Ms. Ganatra’s replacement at a later date.”

On behalf of his Pacifica colleagues, violinist Sibbi Bernhardsson told us in the news release: “We are so very proud of Simin and wish her nothing but the best on her new adventure. As we say farewell to Simin, we look forward with much excitement to the next leg on our musical journey.”

On behalf of herself, Simin Ganatra said: “The decision to leave was not an easy one, but after 22 years with the ensemble, I feel ready to explore other musical opportunities. I will excitedly watch as my colleagues continue to grow artistically and further develop this remarkable ensemble into the quartet of the future.”

There were immediate questions without answers.

One: When is “a later date?”

Two: What are the specifics about Simin Ganatra’s new job, the job with “an expanded role at IU?

Three and Four: As for the Pacifica and its change of personnel — Will the group stay here and continue its important efforts to heighten student enthusiasm for chamber music training? Or will the Pacifica depart to headquarter elsewhere?

Five: What are the why and wherefores for these changes?

I emailed the Pacifica’s usual spokesperson, violinist Sigurbjorn “Sibbi” Bernhardsson. Sibbi answered: “Dear Peter. Thanks for your email. Sorry for the late reply. I am en route to Japan. The short answer is that we are all very much staying and will continue our work at Jsom. We have had over 20 wonderful years with Simin. She has taken a more expanded role at Jsom. The Pacifica Quartet will continue on, and we are in the midst of finding a replacement. Please write to Brandon [cellist Brandon Vamos] and Simin directly about this for future clarification.”

I wrote back: “Thank you, Sibbi. That’s great news. Happy journey!” Then I wrote Brandon and Simin.

She answered: “I just arrived in Japan and am reading your email now. Hope it is not too late to respond. I am taking on a more extensive role at Jacobs which I am really excited about. I absolutely love the school and love that I will be able to do even more on campus. I plan to still perform extensively, and more in Blooomington than I have been able to, and look forward to exploring other repertoire. As you may or may not know, Brandon and I have two wonderful girls, ages 5 and 10, and this new position allows me to pursue the dreams I have for my career while at the same time not leaving them home 3-4 days every week with a nanny. I also know that I will be able to devote more time to my students. Thanks for your interest and support.”

What more can I say except to emphasize the good news: that, after all, we’re not losing anyone, and we’ll be gaining another violinist for the Pacifica package. My frown has changed to a smile.

BLEMF remembered

If you read my reviews of five Early Music events that took place during an extended Memorial Day weekend, you’re undoubtedly aware that I was pleased by what some devoted and gifted musicians managed to contribute to the town’s musical scene and, thereby, keep BLEMF’s footprint distinct.

Just the idea of doing it took courage on the part of performers and, perhaps even more, on the part of planners: the board members of Bloomington Early Music, the faculty and students at the Jacobs School’s Historical Performance Institute, and the leaders in the student group Gamma Ut. They all apparently felt the need to test whether or not Bloomington misses BLEMF, its Bloomington Early Music Festival, enough to attempt a revival. I think the test validated the belief of local enthusiasts that public reaction to the event was encouraging and that what we saw and heard merited future efforts.

This time around, the musicians worked for free so that audiences could come free of charge. In the long run, that won’t work and would hinder growth. Local talents, from the Jacobs School and from loyal alums, are far more likely to do their parts without compensation, but adding musicians of note from greater distances becomes another reality: paying musicians, which is only fair, requires paying customers.

So, not all the tests have been taken. But I’m encouraged that there are enough musicians of serious interest to sustain the desire, and there will be, I think, a continuing interest from those of us who listen (and, yes, pay for tickets) if the offerings promise sufficient pleasure. The wonderful thing is that Bloomington had and has and will continue to have contingents of talents for BLEMF-like endeavors, a talent base from and with which to start. Then, depending on the budget’s health, decisions about celebrity invites can be made.

I’m encouraged.

At the auditorium

Somehow, I always wish for more when the brochure detailing the IU Auditorium’s next season arrives in the mail. I always want more to be chosen from the classic arts. But how valid can my argument be when the coming season holds two hardcore classical ensembles in the month of January: the Cleveland Orchestra and Dance Theater of Harlem?

The Clevelanders give a concert at the Auditorium on the 18th (the Tchaikovsky Piano Concerto Number 2 with Yefim Bronfman as soloist and the Sibelius Symphony Number 2). The orchestra’s stay also includes, as is becoming a wonderful custom, a residency that gives IU music students opportunities to engage with the orchestra’s musicians through master classes and additional small ensemble concerts, which all Bloomingtonians are able to take advantage of.

The Dance Theater of Harlem’s performance on January 28 will also be enriched by a short residency designed for ballet and dance students, a most welcome add-on.


I missed the recent welcoming event in the City Hall Council Chambers for Sean Stamowitz, hired by Mayor Hamilton and Linda Williamson, Bloomington’s interim director of economic and sustainable development, to become assistant director for the arts. Sean succeeds Miah Michaelsen, a terrifically productive predecessor who has moved on to become the Indiana Arts Commission’s deputy director.

We, on the Bloomington Arts Commission, miss Miah. I miss Miah. But Sean Stamowitz appears to have a rich background for his new job, along with the right temperament. I express regret for having missed the City Hall get-together but look forward, as a member of the BAC, to working with him. Belatedly, I say, “Welcome, colleague.”

Contact Peter Jacobi at

Show times

• Competition sessions for the 10th USA International Harp Competition set for this week are open to the public. Second stage sessions are scheduled in Recital Hall on Monday and Tuesday mornings starting at 9 and afternoons starting at 3. Third stage sessions are set for Auer Hall on Wednesday morning starting at 9 and Wednesday afternoon at 2:30. Free.

• In addition, this afternoon at 3 in Auer, the 10th USA offers a recital by Yuying Chen, winner of the most recent Israel Harp Competition On a later date, the USA reciprocates by sending the winner of its current competition to Israel for a recital. The local recital is free.

• Thursday evening at 7 in Auer, the 10th USA sponsors a “Stars of Tomorrow” concert, featuring young harpists considered to be stars in the making. Free.

• Friday afternoon at 3 in the Memorial Union’s Alumni Hall, a Competition Celebration Gala honors its founder, Susann McDonald. Featured is the performance of “Fantasie for Madame McD, “ a tribute composed by Don Freund to be played by McDonald’s faculty colleague, Elzbieta Szmyt. Free.

• Saturday evening at 7 in the Musical Arts Center, hear the three finalists of the harp competition perform with orchestra. Following this final stage, the judges will announce their choices for medals and other honors. Free.

© The Herald Times June 2016

Caleb Young to be Assistant Conductor for the Fort Wayne Philharmonic

Philharmonic to welcome new assistant conductor

| The Journal Gazette

caleb youngThe Fort Wayne Philharmonic will welcome a new assistant conductor in October, the organization announced Wednesday.

Caleb Young, 27, will work closely with music director and conductor Andrew Constantine, conduct the orchestra in a variety of concerts and play an active role in engaging audiences and the community.

Young’s conducting debut will be the Family Series Halloween Spooktacular concert on Oct. 30.

“The Fort Wayne Phil has such a fantastic reputation, not only nationally, but internationally, and I have had colleagues who have been involved with this orchestra in the past, and every one of them said, ‘You need to apply,’ ” Young said in a phone interview from Dallas.

Young said he sees his opportunities with the Philharmonic as being more than just the stage. He said he wants to be in the schools, interacting with students and local music educators.

“Having as much impact as I can outside of the concert hall is important to me. That means being a full-time member of the community,” he said. “I am moving to Fort Wayne, which I’m super excited about. I went to (Indiana University) for three years , but also my dad is from (Franklin,) Indiana, so I feel like I have some roots in Indiana.”

Young will replace assistant conductor Chia-Hsuan Lin, who is moving on to another assistant conductor position after working with the Philharmonic since late 2014. She will return for the Philharmonic’s Patriotic Pops concerts scheduled at the end of June and July.

A native of Asheville, North Carolina, Young began his musical training at 3 years old. He earned his bachelor’s degree in euphonium performance from the University of Alabama, and a master’s degree in orchestral conducting from Indiana University Jacobs School of Music.

Young has been a part of high profile programs for the Salzburg Festival, the Cabrillo Festival of Contemporary Music, and he served as assistant conductor for the National Music Festival.

Young said that his position with the Philharmonic will be his first professional job as a conductor.

“My teacher always said, ‘Always come to the podium with a great sense of empathy,’ because people come to the concerts, they see the musicians on stage, and I think there can be a disconnect of how hard it is to sit in that seat week after week. There’s a lot of pressure,” he said. “So I come to the podium understanding that.”

Todd French and Genevieve Clarkson Win Major Positions

The Jacobs School of Music at Indiana University congratulates the following students of Daniel Peratoni on winning appointments of major positions

genevieve      french

Genevieve Clarkson DMA Tuba in-progress appointed as the instructor of tuba and euphonium at Northern Arizona University in Flagstaff, AZ.

Todd French DMA tuba appointed as an assistant Professor at Murray State in Murray Kentucky teaching tuba and euphonium.


IU Jacobs Student Paul Mortilla Wins 2016 BMI Student Composer Award

Above: (L-R) BMI Foundation President Deirdre Chadwick; David Bird; Justin Zeitlinger, Carlos Surinach Prize winner; Phil Taylor; Tristan Koester, William Schuman Prize winner; Paul Mortilla; Daniel James Miller; Tonia Ko; Jack Hughes; Ryan Lindveit; BMI President and CEO Mike O'Neill; Chair of the Student Composer Awards Ellen Taaffe Zwilich. Photo by: Melissa Dispenza

Above: (L-R) BMI Foundation President Deirdre Chadwick; David Bird; Justin Zeitlinger, Carlos Surinach Prize winner; Phil Taylor; Tristan Koester, William Schuman Prize winner; Paul Mortilla; Daniel James Miller; Tonia Ko; Jack Hughes; Ryan Lindveit; BMI President and CEO Mike O’Neill; Chair of the Student Composer Awards Ellen Taaffe Zwilich. Photo by: Melissa Dispenza




64th Annual BMI Student Composer Award Winners Announced

Published: 05.19.2016

The BMI Foundation (BMIF), in collaboration with Broadcast Music, Inc. (BMI), has announced the nine young classical composers, ages 15 to 27, who have been named winners of the 64th annual BMI Student Composer Awards. Renowned American composer and permanent Chair of the Student Composer Awards, Ellen Taaffe Zwilich, BMI President and CEO and BMIF Honorary Chair Mike O’Neill, and BMI Executive Director of Classical and BMIF President Deirdre Chadwick, announced the decisions of the jury and presented the awards at a private ceremony held on May 16, 2016, at the J. W. Marriott Essex House Hotel in New York City.

The 2016 award winners are:

  • David Bird – age 25, studies at Columbia University
  • Jack Hughes – age 23, studies at the University of Chicago
  • Tonia Ko – age 27, studies at Cornell University
  • Tristan Xavier Köster – William Schuman Prize, awarded for most outstanding score – age 23, studies at Hamburg Hochschule für Musik und Theater
  • Ryan Elliott Lindveit – age 21, studies at the University of Southern California
  • Daniel James Miller – age 26, studies at Dartmouth College
  • Paul Mortilla – age 20, studies at the Indiana University Jacobs School of Music
  • Phil Taylor – age 26, studies at the University of Chicago
  • Justin Zeitlinger – Carlos Surinach Prize, awarded to the youngest winner of the competition – age 15, studies at The Juilliard School’s Pre-College Division

One composer also received an honorable mention in the competition: Avik Sarkar, a 15-year-old private student of Alla Cohen’s in Boston.

Deirdre Chadwick, Director of the Student Composer Awards, commented, “These young composers are on the cusp of a professional life in music. This is such a special night for all of us at BMI, to watch them take the next steps towards their future, and shine a light on them as they do so. I hope winning this award helps them trust their instincts, take chances, and move forward with confidence.”

The distinguished jury members for the 2016 competition were Oscar Bettison, Marti Epstein, Charles Wuorinen, and Yehudi Wyner. The preliminary judges were Carlos Carrillo, Alexandra du Bois, Shafer Mahoney, and David Schober. Ellen Taaffe Zwilich, the first female composer to win the Pulitzer Prize in Music, is the permanent Chair of the competition.

The BMI Student Composer Awards recognize superior musical compositional ability. Winners receive scholarship grants to be applied toward their musical education; awards this year totaled $19,000. In 2016, nearly 700 online applications were submitted to the competition from students throughout the Western Hemisphere, and all works were judged anonymously. BMI, in collaboration with the BMI Foundation, has awarded over 600 grants to young composers throughout the history of the competition.

About the Award Winners

David Bird – Drop for string octet, strobe lights, electronic sounds

David Bird is a composer and producer from Laguna Beach, California. He is a graduate of the Oberlin Conservatory of Music and currently studies composition at Columbia University. His work frequently employs the use of live electronics with aims to strengthen the relationships between acoustic and electronic instruments. His music has been a “Staff Pick” on Vimeo and featured on their homepage, as well as in publications such as The Atlantic and The Plain Dealer. A review from Pitchfork’s Altered Zones has described his expansive sound as, “vibrant, shirt-staining, color squirting… amidst swirling layers of white noise and choir… I do believe a lie-down is in order.” His work has been performed internationally, at venues and festivals such as the MATA festival in New York City; the Wien Modern Festival in Vienna, Austria; the SPOR festival in Aarhus, Denmark; the IRCAM Manifeste Festival in Paris, France; the Festival Mixtur in Barcelona, Spain; the Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C.; the Bodo Sinfonietta in Bodo, Norway; the Percussive Arts Society International Convention (PASIC) in Indianapolis, Indiana; and the SEAMUS electroacoustic music festival in Appleton, Wisconsin.

Jack Hughes – Ripple for flute, clarinet, violin, cello, and piano

Composer Jack Hughes is currently in the second year of his PhD at the University of Chicago, where his principal teachers have been Marta Ptaszynska and Shulamit Ran. He earned a Bachelor of Music degree from the Cleveland Institute of Music in 2014 as a double major in theory and composition, studying in the studio of Keith Fitch. While in Cleveland, Jack served as the Composer Fellow of the Canton Symphony Orchestra for their 2013-2014 season, and upon graduation, he was awarded CIM’s Donald Erb Prize in Composition. For the past two summers, he has attended the Stage de Création at the Orford Arts Centre in Quebec, where he studied with Jean Lesage of McGill University and Ana Sokolovic of the University of Montreal. A native of Reston, Virginia, he plays the trumpet, piano, violin, and viola.

Tonia Ko – Games of Belief for piano

The music of Tonia Ko has been described as “stunningly smart” and “experiment-gone-right” (New Haven Independent). Born in Hong Kong and raised in Honolulu, Hawaii, her work strives to capture the poetics behind small visual details of everyday life. Tonia’s music has been performed across the United States, as well as in Asia and Europe, by ensembles such as New York Youth Symphony, Volti, Flux Quartet, orkest de ereprijs, Eastman Wind Ensemble, and New Morse Code. Festivals that have featured her music include Aspen, Tanglewood, Santa Fe Chamber Music, Thailand International Composition Festival, and the Wellesley Composers Conference. In 2013, she was awarded a Charles Ives Scholarship from the American Academy of Arts and Letters and a residency from the Copland House. Tonia has also received recognition from BMI, New York Youth Symphony, Lin Yao Ji Foundation, New Music USA, and International Alliance for Women in Music. She is currently represented by Young Concert Artists, Inc. as 2015-2017 Composer-in-Residence.

Her own explorations in the visual arts have sparked a curiosity for interdisciplinary connections— recent projects include work for bubble wrap and electronics entitled Breath, Contained and a musical for Perry Chiu Experimental Theatre in Hong Kong. Tonia is currently a doctoral candidate at Cornell University, where she studied with Steven Stucky and Kevin Ernste. She received previous degrees from Indiana University and the Eastman School of Music.

Tristan Xavier Köster – The Empty City Stratagem for male traditional Chinese folk singer (or tenor) and large orchestra

Tristan Xavier Köster (b. 1993) is a Los Angeles-born composer currently studying in Hamburg, Germany. Working with ensembles and musicians in predominantly acoustic settings, Tristan is inspired by the abstract emotive capabilities of music and its ability to be radically interpreted by performers and listeners alike. Leaving musicians with a profound sense of artistic freedom, Tristan hopes that each performer uses his or her own unique perspectives to create an independent understanding of his works. Tristan’s compositions have been commissioned by the Shanghai Philharmonic Orchestra (China, 2015), the Varied Trio (Los Angeles, 2015), the 2015 HEARnow festival of new music (Los Angeles), visual artist Mark Dutcher (Los Angeles, 2014), and the Soundscape composition/performance exchange (Italy, 2013). He has been honored by the USC Thornton School of Music with the Dean’s Music Scholarship and been a finalist in the 62nd BMI Student Composer Awards, as well as the ASCAP Morton Gould Young Composer Awards in 2014 and 2016.

Tristan’s mission is to utilize the power of music as an intermediary among different peoples. Tristan regards collaborations with musicians around the world as some of his most rewarding experiences. He has had the privilege of working with vocalist Huo Yonggang, conductor Cai Jindong, cellist Jonathan Dormand, pianist Brendan White, and the L.A. Duo. Upcoming collaborations in 2016 include performances and a recording project by the Varied Trio for the Los Angeles-based record label Microfest; performances and recordings of his solo Guzheng suite by the Chinese Guzheng performer Sun Zhou; and an upcoming violin concerto, commissioned by violinist James McFadden-Talbot, who will premiere its solo cadenza at the Hamburg Laeiszhalle in June 2016.

Currently studying under Xiaoyong Chen, Tristan is earning his Master’s Degree with an emphasis in orchestral composition at the Hamburg Hochschule für Musik und Theater. Having recently completed his Bachelor’s of Music in Composition, Summa Cum Laude, at the USC Thornton School of Music, Tristan names Frank Ticheli, Stephen Hartke, Donald Crockett, and A.J. McCaffrey as his most significant former mentors. He originally began his musical career aspiring to be both a cellist and an experimental rock musician, playing in orchestras and venues all over California. Having first studied the cello under Sevan Pogosyan, as well as classical, jazz, and rock guitar under various teachers, Tristan only began composing classical music when he was asked to write a piece for his high school’s string orchestra in 2010. In his free time Tristan enjoys pretending to play the piano, performing and improvising as a cellist and guitarist, traveling, and swimming whenever and wherever he has the opportunity.

Ryan Elliott Lindveit – Spinning Yarns for wind ensemble

Ryan Lindveit (b.1994) writes music that crackles with vitality—blending craft with exuberant invention. He is motivated by the diverse potential of sound, and he finds the creation (and subversion) of musical narrative to be an endlessly fascinating pursuit. Ryan has enjoyed working with such ensembles as “The President’s Own” United States Marine Band, USC Thornton Symphony, USC Thornton Wind Ensemble, Donald Sinta Quartet (sax quartet), FearNoMusic (string quartet), and the City of Tomorrow (wind quintet), among others.

Ryan is a winner of the 2016 BMI Student Composer Award for his wind ensemble work Spinning Yarns. He has twice (2015, 2016) been a finalist for the ASCAP Morton Gould Young Composer Award and has received additional honors and awards from SCI, the American Modern Ensemble, the National Band Association, Tribeca New Music, and the Texas Music Educators Association. Ryan also won both the New Music for Orchestra and New Music for Wind Ensemble competitions at the University of Southern California. Recent and upcoming projects include works for Alarm Will Sound, the Donald Sinta Quartet, saxophonist Paul Nolen, and the LA-based trombone ensemble Skinny Lips and the Sound Malfunction.

Ryan recently graduated with a Bachelor of Music in Composition degree summa cum laude from the University of Southern California, where he was selected as Salutatorian for the class of 2016. At USC, he studied with Ted Hearne, Andrew Norman, Frank Ticheli, Donald Crockett, Stephen Hartke, and USC Trojan Marching Band arranger Tony Fox. Originally from the Houston area, Ryan began formal composition studies in high school with Stephen Bachicha at Rice University. Additionally, he has participated in lessons and masterclasses with Aaron Jay Kernis, Steven Stucky, Dana Wilson, and Chen Yi.

Daniel James Miller – Contrails for flute and responsive electroacoustic environment

A native of Seattle, Daniel Miller is a recipient of the Thomas J. Watson Fellowship, a grant that, in 2013-14, made possible twelve months of research in seven countries. His project, “Experiencing Nature through Computer Music,” took him from the Australian outback to the Tokyo subways and the high-altitude salt flats in Bolivia in pursuit of new sounds and artists working off the grid. As a composer and sound artist, Daniel’s music resists narrative structures, seeking instead to create immersive environments that confront listeners with dense and intricate tapestries of sound color, texture, and pulse. Working with field recordings, responsive electroacoustic environments, and computer algorithms, Daniel’s work engages with the Euro-American concert-music tradition, but draws equally on scientific conceptions of sound, environment, space, process, and perception for inspiration. Daniel’s music has been performed in the United States and Europe by members of, among others, the Seattle Symphony, the NOW Ensemble, the International Contemporary Ensemble, and ensemble mise-en. His electroacoustic works have been accepted by conferences of the Society for Electroacoustic Music in the United States and the International Computer Music Association. Recently he was a recipient of a commission from Le Nouvel Ensemble Moderne for a work to be performed at the 13e International FORUM at the Université de Montréal in November 2016. A former student of the Conservatorium van Amsterdam, Daniel is a recipient of degrees in music composition and philosophy from Lawrence University. He is currently a master’s candidate in the Digital Musics program of Dartmouth College where he is a composition student of Dr. Ashley Fure.

Paul Mortilla – STUPOR for trumpet, bass clarinet, double bass, piano, and drumset

Paul began his studies in composition at age 14 at the Frost School of Music. He is currently pursuing a BM in composition at the Jacobs School of Music, where he has studied with Don Freund, Sven-David Sandström, and David Dzubay. Paul recently started a chamber opera, Alcibiades, which was performed by IU’s New Music Ensemble. Along with composing, Paul performs often as a singer, violinist, and conductor. Paul has conducted various works of new music, from his own, to works by fellow composers. Paul recently received a BMI Student Composer Award for his piece STUPOR. Last summer he attended the highSCORE music festival, where his piece for guitar quartet, Broken Music-Box, was premiered in Pavia, Italy. Paul’s work Vos Estis Lux Mundi has been performed by the Vancouver Chamber Choir and 2014 Florida All-State Reading Chorus.

Paul strives to create rhythmically driving and tonally exciting worlds, often combining ideas from various styles. He is currently refining his thoughts and work on composition in his “Music: Sound with Connotation,” a lecture which he first presented at the Jacobs School of Music.

Phil Taylor – Sparks for clarinet, violin, cello, and piano

Phil Taylor writes music exploring ideas about gesture, transformation, and dialogue. His works are often inspired by phenomena in linguistics, literature, visual art, and nature. Upcoming projects include collaborations with Ensemble Échappé, Ensemble Dal Niente, and Latitude 49, as well as a multimedia concert tour with violinist and visual artist Michiko Theurer. Phil is currently completing doctoral studies in composition at the University of Chicago, where he studies with Augusta Read Thomas. His award-winning work was commissioned by the Aspen Music Festival and premiered in July 2015.

Justin Zeitlinger – Miniatures for two violins

Justin Zeitlinger is a 15-year-old composer and violinist currently studying composition at The Juilliard School Pre-College Division, under Ira Taxin. A resident of Dumont, N.J., Justin attends Bergen County Academies in Hackensack, N.J. He studies violin privately with Allan Schiller, and is a member of the Juilliard Pre-College Orchestra. In 2015, Justin was named a winner in the National Young Composers Challenge for his composition Fantasy for String Quintet, which resulted in a performance by members of the Orlando Philharmonic. He was also named a finalist for the ASCAP Morton Gould Young Composer Awards. He will be attending Boston University’s Tanglewood Institute this summer. Justin formerly performed with the Bergen Youth Orchestras, serving as youngest concertmaster in the organization’s 48-year history. His BMI award-winning work was premiered at a Juilliard Pre-College recital last month.

Honorable Mention

Avik Sarkar – Purvi for orchestra (two flutes, two oboes, two clarinets in B flat, two bassoons, two horns in F, two trumpets in C, percussion, violins I, violins II, violas, violoncellos, double basses)

Avik Sarkar is a fifteen-year-old pianist, cellist, and composer, studying composition with Alla Cohen. His piece Mirror for Chamber Orchestra won the 2015 Carlos Surinach Prize and BMI Student Composer Award, as well as an honorable mention at the ASCAP Morton Gould Young Composers competition that year. Avik’s string quartet Polarity was awarded prizes at the Robert Avalon International, National Young Composers Symposium, and Tribeca New Music Young Composers, and honorable mention at the ASCAP Morton Gould competitions. His chamber piece A Separate Unity was premiered by Juventas new music ensemble at the Emerge program in Boston, and the orchestral piece Purvi was played by Janáček Philharmonic in Ostrava, Czech Republic. He has had several other works performed by prep students of the New England Conservatory, at Keller and Brown halls.

As a pianist, Avik is equally accomplished and has won many piano competitions, including 1st prize at Forte International Music, 2nd prize at New York International Artists and 3rd prize at the 2014 Louisiana International Piano competitions. He has won 1st prizes at several regional and state competitions including NEPTA, MTNA state winner, and MMTA & Steinway Society of Massachusetts piano competitions. Avik has performed at recitals at Cadogan Hall in London UK, Symphony Hall in Boston, and Carnegie Hall in New York City, and was recently heard on WGBH Radio, NPR, Boston. Aside from piano and composition, Avik plays cello in the NEC Youth Repertory Orchestra and enjoys competition math, writing poetry, and watercolor painting. He is a member of the Center for Development of Arts Leaders (CDAL) in Boston and currently a freshman at Buckingham Browne & Nichols in Cambridge, MA.

New York Public Library Collection

The New York Public Library for the Performing Arts at Lincoln Center houses a permanent archive of BMI Student Composer Award-winning scores dating back to the 1953 inaugural competition. Winning scores are annually donated by composers to the collection on a voluntary basis and are available for study within the library.

About the BMI Foundation

The BMI Foundation is a nonprofit organization founded in 1985 to encourage the creation, performance, and study of American music. The Foundation’s programs include competitive scholarships for songwriters and composers, operating grants for nonprofit arts presenters, and support for innovative music education initiatives in schools and communities across the country. For more information about the work of the Foundation, please visit For exclusive news and content, follow @bmifoundation on Twitter at and like “BMI Foundation” on Facebook

© BMIfoundation


Heavenly Talent on Strings

Remy van Kesteren was the winner of the 2013 harp competition.

Remy van Kesteren was the winner of the 2013 harp competition.

The current issue of “Harp Column,” a magazine published with the stated purpose of providing “practical news for practical harpists,” features on its cover a beaming Susann McDonald. On that cover, she is described as “America’s grande dame of the harp.” Inside, she is acclaimed as a “living legend” and “the great ambassador.”

Susann McDonald has given her life to the harp, that angelic sounding instrument so devilish to play. She’s done so as practitioner, a world class artist heard in major concert venues far and wide. She’s done so as teacher, as distinguished professor of music, a mentor both at her home base, Indiana University’s Jacobs School of Music, and in master classes at uncountable places. She’s done so as artistic director of the World Harp Congress, an organization founded and designed to assist harpists and promote the instrument. And she has done so as founder and artistic director of the USA International Harp Competition, the 10th of which gets underway this coming Wednesday afternoon here in Bloomington, that endeavor’s welcoming and only home.

Forty-three young harpists from 16 countries will be here to compete. Many of them, 26, by choice, will stay in local homes, having accepted invitations to do so. A few will be with friends. Two will be hosted by the Meadowood Retirement Community. All, as has been the practice since the competition’s founding, will be pampered, so much so that word has spread over the years about Bloomington as the place to be, a competition site to covet.

Finding those receptive homes is difficult, says McDonald. Raising sufficient funds to run the competition is difficult, sometimes a “frightful worry’ almost right to the opening ceremony. Somehow, undoubtedly in no small way aided by the prominent and trusted presence of founder McDonald, the homes and the funds have been located. “It is a constant struggle, but the effort is worth it,” she says. “Think of the fine musicians we’ve given a boost, not only the medal winners but so many others. I know competitions are not for everyone, but there are many players who have benefited from the challenge, the pressure of preparing, the discipline of sticking to a goal, the opportunity to learn new repertoire and hear the upcoming harpists of the moment. There’s value in such an experience.”

Erin Brooker Miller chimes in. She’s the competition’s program director, a classical and Irish harpist herself, earning while still learning by fulfilling the duties of a job that has her willingly taking on some of McDonald’s administrative burdens. “The contestants here,” says Miller, “are required to master a massive amount of music. What we demand can be discouraging, but it pushes a young artist toward greater achievements. A serious competitor will have spent perhaps two years preparing for our event. That will have stretched the harpist’s repertoire and quite possibly assisted her or him in finding management.”

McDonald notes with obvious pride that the USA International “has become so important. It is the largest harp competition, and it stands today as the primary competitor of the longer-standing International Harp Contest in Israel, the 20th of which is due to take place in 2018. “We’ve come a long way,” says McDonald, “and if we find the means, we should have a thriving future. The Jacobs School’s involvement as host gives us access to space for the four rounds of competition and for guest recitals and for the use of an orchestra in the finals: All that gives us an edge and enriches the experience for the participating harpists. I’m so grateful for that.”

McDonald and colleagues have rounded up a stellar group of judges; their vitas can take one’s breath away. Judy Loman of Canada, the jury president, for instance, long served as principal harpist of the Toronto Symphony Orchestra. She teaches at the Curtis Institute and the Glenn Gould School of the Toronto Royal Conservatory of Music. Her concert career has been vast, and she was honored recently with the Order of Canada for her service to the arts.

Others on the jury include Emmanuel Ceysson of France, gold medalist in 2004 at the USA International and now principal harpist at the Metropolitan Opera; Jason Chang of China, professor at the Shanghai Conservatory and formerly a principal with several orchestras, including the Phoenix Symphony; Sarah O’Brien of Switzerland, former principal with the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra in Amsterdam and the Munich Philharmonic; Florence Sitruk of Germany, recipient of an Artist Diploma from IU, a very active concert artist and currently professor at Cracow University in Poland; Caryl Thomas of the United Kingdom, head of the harp department at the Royal Welsh College of Music and Drama and an acclaimed soloist; and Irene Zingg of Russia, professor of harp at the Civica Scuola di Musica Claudio Abbado.

Those seven teachers and artists require vast knowledge of instrument and repertoire. They also require stamina and patience as the competition moves through the rounds. Like the players, they must understand the rules, in themselves not an easy task. Take one paragraph from the written explanation: “In the final stage, the competition winner is determined based on overall performance. Each juror awards a single numerical score between 21 and 25 (inclusive) to a contestant. Stage 4 jury scores are totaled and averaged, as in stages 1, 2, and 3. The average scores from the four stages are then summed for each contestant, resulting in an overall competition value. The first prize goes to the contestant who has the largest summed total. Second prize goes to the next highest summed score. In the event of a tie, the jury president will cast the deciding vote.”

Several paragraphs of such instruction need to be mastered. And then, there are hours upon hours of listening as the contestants supply hours upon hours of playing. The top eight contestants get prizes; in addition, there are special awards for the best performance of the composition written for this 10th competition; another for the best performance of the Alberto Ginastera Harp Concerto, and one, interestingly, to the highest ranked Italian contestant.

The bounty collected for the winner among winners is substantial: a Lyon & Healy Concert Grand Harp worth an estimated $55,000; a debut recital at Lyon & Healy Hall in Chicago; a CD recording; a recital in Hong Kong; a trophy; a five-city tour in China; a $5,000 prize given by avid supporters of the USA International, David and Linda Rollo in memory of Mindee Rollo; and an exchange recital that sends the USA winner to Israel and brings the winner of the Israeli contest here. Impressively substantial, wouldn’t you say?

The road to victory goes through four stages, each requiring the candidates to learn works for the harp. In stage one, they must play two movements of a Jon Ladislav Dussek sonata plus two more challenging pieces chosen from a list of four. Those who make the 50 percent cut to stage 2 must choose three works from a list of eight. The eight candidates chosen to continue must perform a recital of 40 minute duration that includes Jeremiah Siochi’s “Sublimation” music that won the Competition Contest. The three finalists then join the IU Festival Orchestra to each perform the Alberto Ginastera Harp Concerto, Opus 25. And, of course, since all 43 contestants probably consider themselves as potential winners, they must arrive in Bloomington prepared to handle all those requirements. A heavy assignment, indeed!

You are invited to partake of the rounds, from the initial to the climax, along with several evening recitals that spotlight former contest winners and a group of rising stars. Consider Bloomington, from June 8 through June 18, as harp capital of the world. And know everything that happens started with an idea that came to the head and heart of Susann McDonald who will be feted with a Celebration Gala, a musical tribute for what she so heroically has accomplished.

If you go

• Wednesday, June 8, at 5 p.m. in Auer Hall: Opening Ceremony.

• Thursday and Friday, June 9 and 10 – 9 a.m. to 1:20 p.m. and 3 to 6:30 p.m. – in Recital Hall: Stage 1 performances.

• Saturday, June 11 – 9 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. and 2 to 3 p.m. – in Recital Hall: completion of Stage 1

• Saturday, June 11, at 7 p.m. in Auer Hall: Laureate Recital featuring 2013 Silver Medal winner Marta Marinelli.

• Sunday, June 12, at 1 p.m. in Auer Hall: Composer’s Forum.

• Sunday, June 12, at 3 p.m., in Auer: 19th International Harp Contest in Israel Winner Recital by Yuying Chen.

• Monday and Tuesday, June 13 and 14 – 9 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. and 3 to 6:30 p.m. – in Recital Hall: Stage 2 performances.

• Wednesday, June 15 – 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. and 2:30 to 6 p.m. – in Auer Hall: Stage 3 performances.

• Thursday, June 16, at 7 p.m. in Auer: Stars of Tomorrow Concert.

• Friday, June 17, at 3 p.m. in Alumni Hall of the Indiana Memorial Union: Celebration Gala, A Musical Tribute Honoring Susanne McDonald.

• Saturday, June 28, at 7 p.m. in the Musical Arts Center: Final Stage performances, followed, at 9 p.m., by the Award Ceremony.

And to switch instruments: this evening at 6 in Auer, the Summer Guitar Academy offers a closing recital. It, as all of the above, is free of charge.

Contact Peter Jacobi at

© Herald Times

IU Jacobs School of Music professor appointed President of American String Teachers Association Board of Directors

Dr. Brenda Brenner, Associate Professor of Music Education at the Indiana University Jacobs School of Music, has been appointed president of the American String Teachers Association‘s Board of Directors. She will serve a two year term as president and will act as a member of the executive committee for the next six years.

Founded nearly 70 years ago, ASTA is a membership organization for string and orchestra teachers and players, helping them to develop and refine their careers. ASTA provides professional development, career building & support, and a community of peers for all teachers of stringed instruments. Its vision is to enrich lives through universal access to fine string teaching and playing.

Dr. Brenner specializes in string music education, teaching applied violin, as well as courses in violin and string pedagogy. In addition to her role in the Music Education Department, she serves as co-director of the IU String Academy and assistant director of the IU Retreat for Professional Violinists and Violists. Her String Academy students have been featured in concerts in major venues the United States, France, Japan, Sweden, Spain, and she will soon be traveling to South America with the Jacobs School’s Violin Virtuosi.

An active teacher and performer of chamber music, Dr. Brenner earned both her Master of Music and Doctor of Music degrees at the Eastman School of Music.

Congratulations, Dr. Brenner!

New Artists of the Month: The Verona Quartet

“At first it was just a quagmire of unknowns.” Violist Abigail Rojansky of the Verona String Quartet is describing Milton Babbitt’s complex Second Quartet (1954), which the group performed at the Juilliard School’s week-long Focus! festival in January. “We couldn’t really see the hidden correlations and references he nestles into the score until we’d played through it many, many times and allowed ourselves to be open to the humor that he wrote into it and the little conversations that he builds among the four voices. It really is a masterpiece.”

“Discovery” is the key word at Focus! concerts. For 32 years, the festival has been dishing up the most delectable new-music smorgasbord in New York City. This year’s event celebrated the centennial of distinguished American composer, teacher, and writer Milton Babbitt+ (1916- 2011). The four musicians of the Verona Quartet were encountering his sophisticated 12-tone language for the first time—although a listener might never have suspected as much. Their electrifying realization of the work’s Stravinsky-esque drive and Bartókian rhythms and pizzicatos finally unlocked the secret to a composer whose music I had heretofore appreciated mostly for his puckish titles: e.g., Swan Song No. 2, It Takes Twelve to Tango, Minute Waltz (or 3/4±1/8), Sheer Pluck (for guitar), and Whirled Series (for alto sax and piano).

Verona Quartet

Cellist Warren Hagerty, violist Abigail Rojansky, violinists Dorothy Ro and Jonathan Ong

In a lively interview afterward, violinist Jonathan Ong explained, “Part of delving into the music for us really involved getting to know who Babbitt was as a person. Of course, we have no first-hand experience,” but Juilliard professor and Focus! Director Joel Sachs does, and so does Joel Krosnick, longtime cellist of the Juilliard String Quartet, recently retired. “It was such a great opportunity to work with Mr. Sachs,” says Ong, “who knew him very dearly, and Mr. Krosnick, who was a student at Columbia when Babbitt was there. Whenever they reminisced about him, they spoke so much of his humor and wit, and they laughed and smiled—they just loved him as a person.”

Cellist Warren Hagerty drew a parallel with another composer. “Bartók’s music is often based on Hungarian folk tunes and also on the speech pattern. Mr. Sachs told us that the [Second Quartet] kind of resembles having a conversation with Milton, and that Milton would tend to jump around between topics very fast. You would find yourself talking about five different things within one minute, and I think we heard a lot of that in the piece—it made a lot more sense to us.”

The Verona players will be performing Bartók’s Fifth Quartet in their May 7 Alice Tully Hall debut, which also includes works by Haydn and Mendelssohn. Violinist Dorothy Ro says she finds it “very interesting to go from Babbitt and then to Bartók. Babbitt really expanded our perspective of things, really pushed our boundaries and musical interpretation in so many ways. So when we’re working on Bartók now, I feel we have a clear palette—we have more imagination, more ideas. I feel we’re able to think outside the box more, so I think it’s done a great deal for us.”

Only three years into its formation, the Verona Quartet has straddled the professional and academic worlds, performing across North America, Canada, Asia, and Europe, amassing top awards in numerous international competitions, and playing at Wigmore Hall in London, the Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C., and this month at Tully Hall. Next season will mark its Carnegie Hall debut, in Weill Hall. Studies with the Juilliard String Quartet+ led to being named the School’s graduate resident string quartet last September, a post that will continue next season. As the designated Lisa Arnhold Fellows, they have been coaching with the JSQ and will assist them in chamber-music teaching. Also among their alma maters are Indiana University’s Jacobs School of Music, Cleveland Institute of Music, Oberlin Conservatory of Music, Rice University’s Shepherd School of Music, and Eastman School of Music.

At Indiana the Verona was the first graduate quartet-in-residence and worked chiefly with the Pacifica Quartet+, which violist Rojansky credits with the encouragement to be a quartet “right from the start,” helping the group to find its voice and pick the right pieces to continue its growth. “They were a huge influence on us, and they continue to be, to this day.” Perhaps working with the Pacifica, which performed and recorded the 15 Shostakovich quartets so memorably, will lead the Verona players to follow suit.

But don’t think they ignore the classics. “I don’t know what I would do if I didn’t have a Beethoven score, a quartet part, in my case,” says Rojansky. “I think I would feel like something was missing. It feels right to have some Haydn ready when I need it, and some Beethoven scores to pull out. For a string quartet player, it’s like carrying your heart and soul around with you, especially for us.”

Speaking of Haydn, Jonathan Ong pipes up: “There’s so much humor in Haydn—it’s amazing. I love how he just toys with the listener. Right now we’re working on Op. 50, No. 1, and there are so many false endings. We’ve actually made it a point to try to get the audience to clap!”

Rojansky sums up the Verona credo: “I think forging a quartet career—and this is something that we’ve experienced and continue to experience and learn from all of our mentors in Indiana and here at Juilliard—is very exciting. It’s a lot like learning a Babbitt quartet for the first time. It exposes gems and little delights left and right. It can be very challenging and painful sometimes, but in the end it’s always worth it.”

Her colleagues nod heartily in agreement.

The Verona Quartet will perform Haydn’s Quartet in B-flat major, Op. 50, No. 1, Mendelssohn’s Quartet in E minor, Op. 44, No. 2, and Bartók’s Quartet No. 5 at Alice Tully Hall, May 7 at 7:30 p.m.

+Milton Babbitt was Musical America’s 2009 Composer of the Year

+The Juilliard Quartet was Musical America’s 1996 Musician of the Year

+The Pacifica Quartet was Musical America’s 2009 Ensemble of the Year

Copyright © 2016, Musical America