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


Mark Kaplan Pierces the Heart of Bach


Bach: Complete Sonatas and Partitas for Solo Violin / Mark Kaplan, violinist / Bridge 9460A/B (2 CDs)

I’m almost ashamed to admit that this is the kind of recording I might have passed on for review had I still been writing for a major classical journal—not because I dislike the music, but on the contrary, because there are so many performances of these Sonatas and Partitas out there, and I’ve heard so many of them that I was afraid of Bach Overload. And, from the first notes of this new release, I was worried by the fact that Kaplan seemed to take these pieces at not merely a leisurely pace but a granitic one, almost like Otto Klemperer’s recording of the Bach St, Matthew Passion.

But like Klemperer’s Passion, Kaplan creates here an entire world of feeling and emotion. For him, these are obviously not just Bach pieces to be played but major, monumental structures to be explored and savored, note by note and phrase by phrase. By the time you finish just one complete Sonata, you are emotionally drained, but you realize there are two more sonatas and the three partitas yet left to hear.

It is difficult to describe in words exactly what Kaplan does with this music; an objective description really isn’t enough, but I will try. To begin with, he plays in a more modern style. Kaplan plays a 1685 Stradivarius called “The Marquis” after the Marchese Spinola whose family owned this instrument for generations, and although he does not use straight tone, he does employ a light, fast vibrato which gives the illusion of straight tone without sacrificing beauty of sound. More importantly, to my ears, is that he knows how to “build” each piece, using both its structure and its emotional message (to him) to convey something far, far deeper than what one sees in the naked music. It is as if every note, every phrase of these monumental works has something to say to Kaplan and, in turn, he has something to say to you about them.

It took me a while to figure out who Kaplan’s tone reminded me of. It reminds me of Isaac Stern, but Stern in a really fired-up mood. I have to say that I was never much of a Stern fan, not because he couldn’t play the violin well—he certainly could—but because I found most of his performances very generic-sounding. There is nothing generic about Kaplan; on the contrary, he is an individualist of the highest order.

When Kaplan played the entire Sonatas and Partitas over two evenings at Ostin Hall in Los Angeles in October 2000, at a time when he was on the faculty of UCLA, Los Angeles Times critic Richard S. Ginell praised him for his “near-perfect intonation, even in the most treacherous multiple-stopped chords; expressive rubatos in the slower dances; sufficiently graceful rhythm in others. He could dig trenchantly into the Sonata No. 2’s great Fuga, finding the climaxes and crunching them with satisfying, robust attacks.” This is perhaps a bit more of a “macho” description of what Kaplan does in this music than I would say, but it’s very close. In style, he seems to me to combine the best of the Italian and German approaches to violin playing in that his long-lined passages have extraordinary lyricism yet do not collapse under the weight of the slow pace he chooses, while the fast movements have the brightness of sound and that identifiable “lift” to the rhythm that the best Italian violinists can bring to this music.

Prior to hearing Kaplan’s recording, my benchmark performances in these works were the ones recorded by the great Dutch violinist Sigiswald Kuijken way back in 1981. They were, I believe, the very first recordings made of these works using straight tone, and Kuijken was able (as so few Historically-Informed violinists can do) to make the violin sing without sounding whiny. Going back and relistening to Kuijken’s performances after hearing Kaplan’s, I still find much to admire insofar as the unusual approach is concerned (there is, as I’ve said many times, no conclusive evidence that 18th-century violinists played with constant straight tone or even mostly with straight tone), but because he is using constant straight tone, Kuijken is physically incapable of achieving the kind of emotional impact that Kaplan brings to this music.

Now, I’m not saying that no straight-tone violinist can achieve anything close to what Kaplan gives us, but I’m not holding my breath, either. Regular readers of my reviews know my philosophy: it’s the musical approach, not the instrument or the technique used, that brings a piece of music to life. If you don’t really love the music and get deep inside it, all your audience is going to hear is a nice progression of notes, possibly played with a good legato and spiffy stops but not much more. I’ll take an artist—a real artist—like Kaplan over a more clinical approach any day of the week.

As I was preparing to upload this review online, I discovered that this is Kaplan’s second recording of these works. The first was apparently made for Mitch Miller Music (14630-2) Kaplan early Bachin 1991-92—an image is inserted here—but I’ve never heard it or even seen a review of it. (Kaplan also recorded Paganini’s Violin Concerto No. 1 and Wieniawski’s Concerto No. 2, with Miller conducting, for the same label.) I can only imagine that he must have grown in this music over the years or he wouldn’t have insisted on re-recording it. Incidentally, this recording was made in 2011, so it apparently took a few years to get the nod for release.

As noted earlier, I purposely avoid most new recordings of these great works so I can’t say with any certitude that this recording is the best out there, but by way of comparison I also reviewed Rachel Barton Pine’s new version of them (Testament: Complete Sonatas and Partitas for Solo Violin, Avie AV2360). Much as I’ve loved her in past recordings, her insistence on using straight tone in early music hamstrings her emotional projection. Her performances are more deeply felt than Kuijken’s, but every time you get the impression that she is digging into the score, all her instrument is capable of projecting is a shallower version of the emotion that Kaplan gives us in spades. One good example is the “Siciliana” of the first Sonata. Barton Pine plays it with superb balance and her patented clear tone, whereas Kaplan, who extends it more than a minute longer, is doing something entirely different. He is not playing music; he is communicating something deep and personal. Indeed, this is even true of that sonata’s concluding “Presto,” played at the same tempo by both violinists. Barton Pine has a certain swagger, she makes the music dance, but Kaplan views it as yet another way of communicating his inner feelings, building it phrase by phrase in a slow crescendo. This is not to say that Barton Pine’s recording is shallow. In comparison to many a HIP violinist, she has a unique sparkle regardless of playing method used, but compared to Kaplan it is like hearing Montserrat Caballé sing Massenet’sÉlégie before turning to Feodor Chaliapin, who tears your heart out. There is good, and there is great. Both Kuijken’s and Barton Pine’s performances are ones you will listen to occasionally, but you’ll go back to Kaplan’s, in whole or part, much more often.

This is a great recording, plain and simple.

— © 2016 Lynn René Bayley

Inaugural class of Jazz Alumni Hall of Fame inducted

By Maia Rabenold

IU Jazz Alumni Hall of Fame inductee, Jamey Aebersold, performs with members of the student jazz ensemble Saturday night at the Musical Arts Center. Aebersold has created more than 133 volumes of jazz recordings and books throughout 50 years. Photo by DEONNA WEATHERLY

IU Jazz Alumni Hall of Fame inductee, Jamey Aebersold, performs with members of the student jazz ensemble Saturday night at the Musical Arts Center. Aebersold has created more than 133 volumes of jazz recordings and books throughout 50 years.

Five of the alumni attended. Jerry Coker was unable to come, and the late David Baker was represented by his wife Lida Baker in the second balcony. Baker died March 26.

©Indiana Daily Student

Orchestral conducting student Danko Drusko produces Mahler’s Symphony No. 2 fundraiser April 28

Drusko.med.2Danko Drusko, orchestral conducting student at the Indiana University Jacobs School of Music, has partnered with several organizations to produce Gustav Mahler’s Symphony No. 2 (“Resurrection”) as a fundraiser for The Villages, Indiana’s largest not-for-profit child and family services agency.

The massive event—featuring approximately 135 orchestra members, 110 chorus members and two soloists, most of them Jacobs School of Music students—will take place at 6 p.m. on Thursday, April 28, in the Indiana Memorial Union’s Alumni Hall, on the Bloomington campus.

Tickets are $5 in advance or $7 at the door, cash only, and may be purchased at www.dankodrusko.com/hoosier-philharmonic.html.

There will be opportunities during part of the almost 90-minute work for some audience members to sit among the orchestra members in order to have a more “up-close-and-personal” experience.

Drusko’s Croatian father was abandoned by his parents at age six. He lived on the streets, surviving however he could, including sleeping in trees, busking as a boy soprano, accepting food from nuns in exchange for praying with them and doing hard physical labor on farms and elsewhere. He died in 1996.

“I wanted to do something meaningful in honor of the tenth anniversary of his death—to do something good for kids that might be in a similar situation,” said Drusko. “I thought of this, and it’s had a snowball effect. Lots of people want to be part of the project.”

Among the concert’s collaborators are the National Association for Music Education, Union Board and the Bloomington Symphony Orchestra.

Since April is National Child Abuse Prevention Month, and close to 20,000 children were removed from Indiana homes for abuse or neglect in 2015, the event is especially fitting.

It is reported that Mahler himself was born into an abusive household and had a traumatic childhood.


Laura Wilde, a Member of the Lyric Opera’s Ryan Opera Center, is Featured in the ESO’s Season Finale Concerts April 30 & May 1

20 April 2016 Soprano Laura Wilde, a member of the Chicago Lyric Opera’s Ryan Opera Center, is featured in the … Continue reading

Ray Cramer to guest conduct Springfest April 21

A Spring Festival of Woodwinds, Brass, and Percussion
April 21, 8pm, Musical Arts Center
featuring the Jacobs Concert Band, Jason H. Nam, conductor; Symphonic Band, Eric M. Smedley, conductor; and Wind Ensemble, Ray E. Cramer, guest conductor
with Briana Engelbert, brass concerto competition winner

Cramer_Ray-2.smallerRay E. Cramer was a member of the Indiana University School of Music faculty from the fall of 1969 through May 2005. In 1982, Mr. Cramer was appointed Director of Bands. Under his leadership the Indiana University Wind Ensemble earned an international reputation for outstanding musical performances including the 1982 American Bandmasters Association Convention, Indianapolis; the 1984 joint American Bandmasters Association/Japan Bandmasters Association Convention, Tokyo; the 1988 MENC National Convention, Indianapolis; the 1991 National CBDNA Convention in Kansas City, the 1994 National MENC Convention in Cincinnati, the 1995 American Bandmasters Association Convention in Lawrence, Kansas; the 1997 National CBDNA Convention in Athens, Georgia; a 2000 spring tour to Japan performing in six cities and the All Japan Band Clinic; The 2003 CBDNA National Convention in Minneapolis, MN; a December 2003 performance at The Midwest Clinic; plus numerous other regional and state conventions. In addition to his administrative responsibilities as the Department of Bands/Wind Conducting Chair, Mr. Cramer taught graduate courses in wind conducting, history and literature. He also conducted the University Orchestra for seven years during the fall semester. Mr. Cramer enjoyed a 36-year tenure at Indiana University with the final 24 years as Director of Bands.  He and his wife, Molly, reside in Colorado Springs because they love the mountains and to be closer to family and grandchildren.

Briana Engelbert is featured on this concert as the 2016 IU Brass Concerto Competition winner. Simultaneously pursuing Master’s degrees in Euphonium Performance and Music Education, Briana enjoys sharing her passion for music with whomever she meets.  Hailing from Hammond, Indiana, she was lucky enough to be taught by her aunt, Kristen Engelbert, before pursuing her B.M.E. at Tennessee Tech University, where she studied with the illustrious R. Winston Morris and met her partner-in-euphonium-crime, Austin Vogt.  Briana then traveled through India, Paris, England, and Amsterdam, where she learned about musical cultures, taught master-classes, and studied with the euphonium virtuoso, Steven Mead.  Now under the tutelage of the famed Dan Perantoni, she hopes to perform with a premier military band, teach at the high school level, and share her experiences with enthusiasts of all ages!


Roger Roe, Oboe faculty at IU, is releasing his debut recording as a member of Jackson Trio

Jackson Trio_1-sheet for Naxos-4

Poetry and lost love serve as the common threads of inspiration for Wordless Verses, a collection of atmospheric chamber music from the late 19th and early 20th centuries for the uncommon scoring of oboe, viola, and piano.

Available together for the first time, these evocative pieces make up the debut recording of the Jackson Trio, whose members are longtime colleagues and active performers and educators in university and festival settings across America.

The poetry that serves as the programmatic foundation for each of these works comes from a diverse group of voices including American Victorian poet Edgar Allan Poe, Austrian lyric poet Nikolaus Lenau, 17th-century metaphysical English poet Andrew Marvell, and French musician and decadent poet Maurice Rollinat. The work most widely known and recorded is Charles Martin Loeffler’s 1901 Deux Rhapsodies for oboe, viola, and piano. The others are by three relatively unknown composers who wrote exceptionally well-crafted music. Felix Harold White’s 1921 composition The Nymph’s Complaint for the Death of Her Fawn won the 1922 Carnegie Award and the praise of Ralph Vaughan Williams. August Klughardt composed his Schumannesque Schilflieder, Five Fantasy Pieces After Lenau’s Poems, Op. 28 in 1872. Excerpts of Lenau’s poetry written directly into the score explicitly illuminate the instrumental passages. Josef Holbrooke’s lifelong obsession with Poe’s poetry inspired 30 works including Nocturne: Fairyland, Op. 57, No. 1, written in 1917 after one of Poe’s earliest published poems by the same name.

Distributed by Naxos of America, Wordless Verses is available through select retailers and digital music channels worldwide.

Oberlin Music is the official recording label of the Oberlin Conservatory of Music. Learn more at oberlin.edu/oberlinmusic.


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New Voices Opera 2016 Double Bill

A world-premiere of two operas: Nicolas Chuaqui’s The Forest of Dreams
and Maxwell Ramage’s Swann’s Love.
Buskirk-Chumley Theater
May 5th @ 7:00pm
Curtain Talk beginning at 6:15
FREE Admission ($10 Suggested Donation)

BLOOMINGTON, IN – New Voices Opera, Bloomington’s student-run contemporary american opera company, is performing the world-premiere of two brand new student-composed one act chamber operas in a one night only double billing at the Buskirk-Chumley Theater with support from the BUEA Zone Arts Grant and the IU Funding Board. These pieces will be The Forest of Dreams by Nicolas Chuaqui and Swann’s Love by Maxwell Ramage. Admission is free and donations will be accepted at the door. There will be a curtain talk preceding the performance at 6:15 with the composers and director, David Koté.

The Forest of Dreams is an intriguing tale of the lost colony of Roanoke following the story of John White and his life after Roanoke in a new epilogue crafted by Chuaqui. Nic Chuaqui’s inventive and twisting libretto is accompanied by a music of captivation. Capturing the mind of White with glimpses of the early American colonies, it is a perfect capstone to NVO’s season.

A modern take on Proust’s “Swann’s Way,” Maxwell Ramage’s opera is a humorous exploration of modern romantic relationships and Swann’s lack of skill within them. In Swann’s Love Ramage tests the boundaries of the operatic love affair. It’s an erogenous cacophony of he loves her, she loves him, he loves him. Blurring the lines between broadway and grand opera, Swann’s Love is a modern take on what a piece of “music theatre” can be. Audience Advisory: Swann’s Love contains some strong language and adult content.

ABOUT NEW VOICES OPERA – New Voices Opera (NVO) is a student-run contemporary opera company in Bloomington, IN. With a completely volunteer staff, NVO acts as a experiential learning program for administrators, performers, musicians, designers, technicians, and composers. Each year, in addition to several other smaller events, NVO produces two world-premieres of student-composed chamber operas in a fully staged and orchestrated one-night-only event. Please find more information about New Voices Opera and our 2016 Double Bill at newvoicesopera.org