Alumna Ailyn Pérez honored at 14th Annual “OPERA NEWS” Awards

by Henry Stewart
OPERA NEWS
April 2019

Ailyn Pérez

AILYN PÉREZ’S creamy soprano elevates all the roles she sings. When she returned to Mimì, a signature part, at the Met this past winter, she entered with an abundance of beautiful tone, perfectly matched to Puccini’s luscious melodies, her lyric soprano gleaming like bullion in sunlight. In “Mi chiamano Mimì,” her voice floated through the upper register like a body in outerspace, freed from mere earthly constraints such as gravity. She was lovably sincere about her little flowers and religious devotion, and her excitement about her sudden, newfound love felt so warm it was as though she were pointing heat lamps at your ears.

But she’s beloved for more than her gorgeous singing—she’s also a sensitive actress. “The phrase ‘an embarrassment of riches’ might have been invented to describe the combination of talents that belong to Ailyn Pérez,” OPERA NEWS reported in 2012. The first-rate acting and singing came together in that Met Bohème in Act III’s “Donde lieta uscì,” in which Pérez’s shading and dynamic modulations went deeper than what’s written on the page; her final “senza rancor”s came to the edge of breaking with hurt, belying her tough front and subtly suggesting the real feeling beneath the face-saving words.

In Act IV, she evinced the appropriate weakness of her dying character, seeming frail while still in full, powerful control of her graceful instrument. It was a consummate performance—a clear indication of why she has been invited to sing the role at top houses, from the Met to La Scala. “Her vulnerability, immediately apparent, is her greatest strength,” OPERA NEWS reported in its 2017 cover story. “We root for her, as we did for Teresa Stratas or Édith Piaf.”

Pérez had studied voice since joining the chorus in high school, in a suburb of Chicago. She got her undergrad degree at Indiana University, where she studied with Martina Arroyo; she joined the Academy of Vocal Arts, in Philadelphia, in 2002, did a summer with San Francisco Opera’s Merola Opera Program in 2005 and received a George London Foundation Award in 2006. In 2012, she received another prestigious award—the Richard Tucker—joining a list of winners that reads like a who’s-who of opera. In 2016, she received the Met’s Beverly Sills Award.

Because her family wasn’t steeped in classical music or vocal training, Pérez might have expected to make a career singing Spanish pop music, she once said, except that she’d fallen in love with opera—specifically La Traviata, and Violetta subsequently became another calling card; she has performed it at San Francisco, Covent Garden, Zurich, Hamburg, Berlin, Munich and Milan. She hasn’t recorded it, but a piano-accompanied performance of “È strano…. Ah, fors’è lui…. Sempre libera” on YouTube, from the Rosenblatt Recitals series in London in 2015, shows a performer at home with the role, traversing its moment-to-moment emotional shifts with sensitivity and secure vocalism.

Pérez attracts fans not just with her technical and dramatic skills but with her offstage savvy and enthusiasm, which have helped her bring opera into the twenty-first century, whether through her work with the Time In Children’s Arts Initiative, which helps kids in the U.S. get an education in the arts, or through her posts to her 17,000-plus Instagram followers, highlighting the glamorous onstage spectacle of the art form as well as glimpses of her life offstage—which often seem effortlessly as glamorous. Through her talent and celebrity appeal, Pérez has quickly become one of the brightest stars of her generation.

IU Jacobs School of Music NOTUS ensemble invited to New Zealand for ‘Olympics’ of choral music

NOTUS, the Indiana University Contemporary Vocal Ensemble, from the Jacobs School of Music, has been selected to perform at the 12th World Symposium on Choral Music in Auckland, New Zealand, in July 2020.

The World Symposium on Choral Music is the peak global event of the International Federation for Choral Music, its own “Olympics” and world congress rolled into one. Bringing together the leading choirs, conductors, composers and administrators from around the globe for concerts, seminars and workshops, the symposium has become a public showcase for the best the choral world has to offer.

Nearly 180 choruses, from 44 countries, applied to perform at the 2020 symposium, and NOTUS is one of only 24 choirs worldwide to receive an invitation.

“We could not be more honored and humbled by this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity,” said Dominick DiOrio, director of NOTUS and associate professor of choral conducting at the Jacobs School. “We look forward to presenting a program of invigorating and positive music that showcases the rich treasure of America’s living composers and the contributions they make to our vibrant and diverse musical ecosystem.”

Comprised of 30 students, NOTUS is unique among collegiate vocal ensembles, embodying a singular commitment to champion the music of living composers through the performance and recording of new choral works.

As an invited ensemble, the group will sing in at least two concerts, with musical programs that reflect the symposium’s theme, “People and the Land” (He tangata he whenua). The expression tangata whenua is the name the indigenous Maori of New Zealand use for themselves and a concept that sits at the heart of New Zealand culture. The tangata whenua are guardians of our natural resources, environment and sustainability—values and priorities shared throughout New Zealand, regardless of race.

Directed by conductor-composer DiOrio since 2012, NOTUS has performed across the nation, from regional and national conferences to Carnegie Hall. In September 2018, NOTUS released its first commercial album, “NOTUS: Of Radiance and Refraction,” on the Innova label to substantial acclaim: “mature and assured, even as [they] navigate a thorny array of styles” (“Choral Journal”) and “compelling and attractive … superbly performed and recorded” (“Fanfare”).

Originally founded in 1980 as the Indiana University Contemporary Vocal Ensemble, NOTUS was renamed in 2013 after the selection of DiOrio as its fourth director. (The choir’s new name was inspired by Notos, the Greek god of the south wind.) Previous directors include Alan Harler (1980-81), Jan Harrington (1981-1992) and Carmen Helena Téllez (1992-2012).

“This invitation is one of the greatest honors a chorus can receive,” said DiOrio. “I have every confidence that our students will represent the very best of what it means to be a citizen of the Jacobs School of Music, of Indiana University and of our global musical landscape. They will return from this experience changed, as they will have moved hearts across the world with their song.”

IU Opera Theater’s ‘Elixir’ an effective tonic

by Peter Jacobi
Feb. 25, 2019

Scene from "The Elixir of Love."

Bradley Bickhardt as Nemorino and Alyssa Dessoye as Adina rehearse a scene from Indiana University Opera Theater’s production of “The Elixir of Love.”

This was opera for enjoyment: no levels of hidden meaning or complexities for listening involved. From curtain opening to closing, both this past Friday and Saturday evenings, Indiana University Jacobs School Opera Theater’s production of “L’Elisir d’Amore” at the Musical Arts Center provided enjoyment, entertainment.

That’s not only because the presentation was lovely to the eyes and attractive to the ears. It is because the point of attention fell on an opera by a master of the genre and craft, composed and premiered in 1832, in the midst of Italy’s “bel canto” period. Bel canto, “beautiful sound”: We can’t know for sure what those singers of beautiful sound truly sounded like, of course. There are no recordings to let us in on what audiences way back then heard. But musicology about and written reactions from that period reflect the importance of singers being required to produce a vocal product that soothed the mind and melted the eardrums.

I’m not sure if the two casts who shared the weekend offered true bel canto; in fact, I’m pretty sure they didn’t, at least all the time. But they did mighty well with music extremely difficult to pull off successfully. Consequently and rightly so, the audiences treated them in very friendly manner.

They and the chorus and the orchestra (the IU Symphony) had a delightful score to work with, as did those who prepared them for the full staging: a very knowing and skillful conductor, David Neely, who certainly left his mark on the proceedings; a visiting stage director, Linda Brovsky, who kept things moving adroitly and just short of frenzy, and the always reliable and experienced resident chorus master Walter Huff.

The opera is special, part of growing proof that Donizetti, long considered a hack who worked too fast and carelessly, was not so at all. He amazingly wrote more than 70 operas. For decades, he was remembered almost totally for his tragic “Lucia di Lammermoor.” Then, during periodic revival periods focused on bel canto operas, other works of his, the tragic and the comic, reappeared to add luster to his reputation.

One of the first was “The Elixir of Love.” Why not? It’s a melody-bulging, funny, occasionally rueful comedy about characters one can care about. At the end, they — lovers driven apart until feelings in conflict get straightened out — are happy, so to leave us happy. Yes, it’s an “elixir,” actually a cheap Bordeaux wine with label thrown away, that paves the way to conciliation.

Among devotees of these early 19th century Italian operas, Rossini’s “The Barber of Seville,” appears to have captured the top spot for excellence, often with Donizetti’s “Elixir” following behind. In my view, the No. 2 has qualities that might raise that ranking. No matter: it’s a good show and shown off here in excellent form, surrounded by a picturesque and workable set done for IU Opera Theater a while back by the eminent, then resident, designer Robert O’Hearn.

For what composer Donizetti and what IU Opera Theater intended to do, the product in the spotlight at the MAC (again next weekend) is a class act.

Back to the presentation:

Maestro Neely had the orchestra play crisply, but also with finesse and unflagging energy. His communication with those on stage, both the soloists and the chorus of villagers, seemed assured. No glitches in unison disturbed the never-stopping flow of music and accompanying action.

Director Brovsky made splendid use of the applauded set and knew, from instinct and experience, how to move each cast of young singers to be a part of the story. She did so, too, with the choristers who were given personalities and things to do without interfering with the unfolding plot. That chorus, musically, took splendid care of Donizetti’s bundle of demands. Master Walter Huff knows his opera chorus business.

O’Hearn’s set has passed the test of time and still works for movement and atmosphere, the latter enhanced by the adept lighting, for mood changes and passage of hours, by guest lighting designer Thomas Hase. And the total picture wouldn’t have worked without the attractive period costumes created by IU’s Dana Tzvetkov.

There are two Nemorinos. Friday’s was tenor Spencer Boyd, a dominatingly tall figure with the ability to portray this humble, bumbling, love-sick fellow who sort of emotionally drifts between his village life and an imagined fairyland. Saturday’s tenor, Bradley Bickhardt, is not as physically outsized but has an agility he’s willing to use to convince us his Nemorino also is not quite there but is moved by sincerity and youthful passion. Vocally, they did quite well and delivered what is arguably all of opera’s most beguiling tenor solo, “Una furtiva lagrima” (“A Furtive Tear,” which Nemorino believes he has detected in his hard-to-get Adina’s eyes), with melt and adoration.

The high soprano voices of the Adinas, the hard-to-catch, then finally melting heroine (Avery Boettcher on Friday and Alyssa Dessoye on Saturday), differ in texture but were well capable of mastering the fioritura and belting out the high notes as the role requires. As dramatically necessary, their role’s shift in feelings for the suitor, from don’t-bother-me to love, was clearly evident.

Two other roles significantly matter. One is Belcore, the braggart sergeant who comes to town with his small band of soldiers on assignment and initiates a conquest of Adina, thereby giving Nemorino more heartache. The other is Dr. Dulcamara, a traveling quack dispensing tonics and potions that promise all but provide nothing save fooled optimism; it is he who promises Nemorino the love of all women if he drinks the magic love potion, in fact nothing but wine.

Bruno Sandes and Ian Murrell take on the Belcore character with comic pomp and circumstance and let loose with expressive baritone voices. Baritone Ricardo Ceballos de la Mora and bass-baritone Cameron Jackson make one almost believe Dr. Dulcamara, so convincingly deceptive they dig into their patter song-dominated part.

Best I stop, but this “Elixir” will cure your gloom.

Jacobs School’s ‘Giulio Cesare’ an achievement

by Peter Jacobi
Feb. 4, 2019

“Giulio Cesare” is being staged at IU’s Musical Arts Center, with performances this Friday and Saturday.

“Giulio Cesare” is being staged at IU’s Musical Arts Center, with performances this Friday and Saturday.

The current Indiana University Jacobs School of Music Opera Theater production of George Frideric Handel’s opera “Giulio Cesare” is an achievement, not perfection, mind you, but effective, interesting to watch, and definitely worthwhile to listen to.

There are always issues when performing what we refer to as Early Music, that created from the Baroque period and back. Here are a few, generally speaking and/or pertaining to the local presentation. Please remember that an entire field of study (including at IU’s Historical Performance Institute) has grown around how musicians of today should read and use the scores from that period, which often tend to be less informative than those from later on that offer more instructive clues.

This production’s music director and conductor, Gary Thor Wedow, reminds us that Handel wrote four hours of music for “Giulio Cesare,” which the maestro wisely considered too much for most in a modern audience. He did some pruning, and folks this past weekend, save the scholars and the experts, are not likely to have missed the cuts. Plenty remains in a version that reaches the finish line just short of three hours from the start, with the insertion of one intermission.

There is the matter of the orchestra and its instrumentation. Does one use in a full-scale opera house like the MAC an ensemble of period instruments or of instruments usually heard from a pit orchestra? Maestro Wedow, a specialist in preparing Baroque works, chose not IU’s Baroque Orchestra but the Chamber Orchestra. Consequently, that probably pleased some in the audience, displeased others, and made no difference to still others. But a choice it was, with marked artistic results. The Chamber Orchestra and its maestro deserve plaudits for music firmly and affectionately played.

Choice of singers is a major concern. I don’t mean one soprano versus another, or one tenor versus another. For instance, in the past, I’ve heard male and female voices sing the role of Julius Caesar, even males with different high voices: a male soprano and a countertenor (and there are differences). Actually, the role, as were several others, was written for an alto castrato. Well, there aren’t any more of those or shouldn’t be.

Maestro Wedow and colleagues chose a basso for the opening night cast and a female mezzo-soprano for the Saturday. The result was dramatically different. In terms of vocal quality, both choices — bass Rivers Hawkins and mezzo-soprano Grace Skinner — brought strength to their portrayals, he a greater vocal power and authority, she the greater vocal flexibility. Bu the entire soundscape changed from one night to the next.

And just where does all this happen, the story, based somewhat on history, of Caesar visiting Egypt and meeting Cleopatra? Well, that meeting happened in ancient Egypt, 48-47 B.C. The IU production’s designer, Allen Moyer, gives us an Egyptian background, sometimes using two of the Great Pyramids, at others the Sphynx (from different angles to suggest the action has moved). There also are interiors cleverly created by roll-ons and walls and ceiling that shift up and down.

In terms of historic period, I’ve seen the story unfolding at Chicago’s Lyric Opera in modern colonial times early in the 20th century. The IU production chosen by set designer Moyer and stage director Robin Guarino selected the 18th century during Napoleon’s French campaign in Egypt and close to Handel’s lifetime. I was not bothered by the shift, in that the sets and Linda Pisano’s costuming and Julie Duro’s evocative lighting made the pictures one observed so striking.

Add to these matters, a physical issue for one of the cast members. As the printed program states: “Due to an injury, Gretchen Krupp will sing the role of Cornelia from off-stage during her designated performances while Yujia Chen performs the role on stage.” Mezzo-soprano Krupp on Friday did her sitting on the edge of the orchestra pit while fellow mezzo Chen acted and mimed the role; on Saturday, Chen took over her assigned role entirely. They both were excellent as the grieving widow of the would-be Egyptian ruler Pompey, murdered by Cleopatra’s evil brother Tolomeo, the usurping King of Egypt.

The production’s two sopranos selected to portray Cleopatra, Ahyoung Jeong on opening night and Virginia Mims the next, were outstanding in handling music of utmost difficulty, often fiendishly rapid and jumpy and reaching for the stratosphere. They also theatrically attuned themselves to the character and what happens to her: an assured flirt as co-ruler (with her brother Tolomeo) in act 1, as a despairing woman with seeming lost power given two gorgeously sad arias by the composer in act 2, and as a triumphant woman of power in the final act, a ruler finally granted the power of a queen by a magnanimous and admiring Caesar, power with no more possible interference from her nasty brother.

The nasty brother received his due just before opera’s end by knife thrust. But before the knife cut to the quick, the role had been villainously portrayed by male soprano Elijah McCormack on Friday and countertenor Hunter Patrick Shaner on Saturday. In a movie house, we might have hissed the pair of them.

The important role of Sesto, son of the slain Pompey, was given to a pair of impressive mezzos, Gabriela Fagen and Emily Warren. And the remaining cast members added their energies to the enterprise, making the whole a success, very difficult to achieve but definitely accomplished.

Come in from the cold and simmer in the Egyptian heat with ‘Giulio Cesare’

By Peter Jacobi H-T columnist
Jan. 27, 2019

Says Gary Thor Wedow of the Indiana University Opera Theater’s new production that he’ll conduct: “It promises to be a knockout, with set design by Allen Moyer, costumes by Linda Pisano, and lighting by Julie Duro.

“It will visually stun you,” Maestro Wedow continues about the show that opens in the Musical Arts Center this coming Friday evening. “And then, the orchestra and singers will stimulate you with brilliant music and, in the meantime, give you a little history, a travelogue, a lesson in political intrigue and an epic love story all told with universal, unending truth. Caesar will come, will see, and he will conquer you!”

Wedow, a specialist in music of the Baroque, is a native of lndiana and an alum of the Jacobs School of Music, a member of the faculty at the Juilliard School, an active guest conductor elsewhere, including previous productions here, these of two other Handel operas: “Xerxes” and “Rodelinda.”

“Giulio Cesare,” he says, “is a very special opera for me for several reasons. It was the first opera I conducted here many years ago after I graduated as a student, and my dear mentor, Thomas Durrn, was in the audience. The current production unites me with director Robin Guarino, a dear friend (and distinguished chair in opera at the University of Cincinnati’s College Conservatory of Music) and frequent collaborator. We first did a marvelous production of this opera for Seattle Opera starring Ewa Podles, which was a turning point in both of our careers. Handel’s opera is a masterpiece, so every time I return to it, I find new things to admire and to love.

“On a very personal note, I remember when I was a student at IU, turning pages for Beverly Sills’ accompanist on the stage of the IU Auditorium, as she sang arias from ‘Giulio Cesare’ in recital, she asked me about all the voice teachers here with whom she had sung or who she had heard when she was a student in New York. That was a star-struck moment for me.”

My wife and I have seen several productions of Handel’s “Giulio Cesare,” here and elsewhere. One, however, we remember most, up to now.

The time is November 2007. The place is Chicago. On that season’s repertoire at the Lyric Opera of Chicago was “Giulio Cesare.” We drove up from Bloomington for one of our weekends featuring what the Lyric then billed as its “0” series, its selected performances for out-of-towners. That meant evenings for which the company held blocks of seats and reserved them for fans who came from all over the United States and elsewhere. Through the “0” period of years, in addition to outstanding opera, we met some fascinating opera lovers, a few we remain in touch with.

The trip up had been arduous because the weather was rotten: cold, windy, bitter. Handel was the fare for that Friday evening. We were tired. We yearned for rest, closely available food, bed time. Our hotel, a Frank Lloyd Wright-styled charmer where we always stayed, was across the Loop from the opera house. We were hard-pressed to go rather than remain at our cozy lodging. But my wife reminded me of the tickets we had purchased, expensive ones. So, we changed clothes and, with no empty cabs in sight, headed on foot for a long night of Handel, reluctantly.

But they don’t call “Giulio Cesare” Handel’s most popular opera today for nothing. What started out as a reluctant trek turned into one of our most memorable operatic evenings ever, one we’re still grateful to have experienced. The delicious production came courtesy of England’s Glyndebourne Festival and the creative mind of designer David McVicar. The remarkable cast, headed by countertenor David Daniels in the title role and Danielle de Niese as Cleopatra, along with other fine singers and artistic elements, came courtesy of Lyric. The music came courtesy of composer Handel. We were mesmerized.

As New York Times critic Steve Smith wrote in his review, the production “stands out for sheer audacity,” explaining that McVicar relocated “the opera’s setting from the time of the Roman Empire to the British colonial era in the early 20th century. Caesar and his pith-helmeted, rifle-toting soldiers maintain stiff upper lips when confronting the exotically glamorous Egyptians, who try to sway the balance of power through seduction and deceit.”

Neither my wife nor I am particularly fond of dramatically altered times or places given to familiar and fondly-thought-of operatic masterpieces, but we fell in love with the Lyric production, its charm, its rightness and an evening that glowed after having started out on our part with such timid desire to see it.

What’s to come this weekend, we have only hints. What we’ll think of the IU Opera Theater presentation, we can’t predict. But the folks collected to put the show together seem to be wise choices, not only for their talents and enthusiasms, but for their experience working with young musicians, their ability to enthuse and train them.

Stage director Guarino does give us a hint on focus: “We have set our production during the French campaign of Egypt. Napoleon, who was born 10 years after Handel’s death, was a lifelong aficionado on the history of Caesar and was very influenced by him. There were parallels: Both were highly educated, ambitious politicians, and generals. Both fought civil wars in Egypt. Both were consumed by their passion for the rights of citizens and fought the European and, in Napoleon’s case, British monarchy. Both became emperors to advance their political agenda. There is wonderful image research on Napoleon’s campaign in Egypt: paintings, lithographs depicting the French camp in front of the great pyramids. In Jacque Louis David’s painting of Napoleon’s coronation, he is depicted as Caesar wearing a crown of laurels and Roman-influenced robes.”

Guarino says she is attracted by Cleopatra as “brilliant and strong and a comparable states-person to Caesar. I am committed to giving agency to women in the baroque, classic, standard, and contemporary productions of opera.”

As for the local production, she says both casts “are lovely and bring the full expanse of their imagination, training and artistry to their depiction. They handle both the drama and the comedy well. It has been fun.”

Wedow says rehearsals “have been going swimmingly. From the beginning, we’ve focused on the opera from two vantage points: looking at it from the text and the recitatives, with their rhetoric and dramatic opportunities, which carry the action from aria to aria, and from the arias themselves, which give the singers chance for vocal display, dramatic reflection, and splendid ornamentation. Many of the singers have devised their own ornaments, based on 18th century treatises and manuals, and everyone is trilling away like warblers. It might be cold outside in Bloomington, but inside the MAC, it is simmering in Egyptian heat.”

In Wedow’s estimation, “Handel wrote some of the most splendid music imaginable: dramatic music that explores the human soul. Not only does his music delight the ear, but it also ignites passions and stimulates thought as we delve into our deeper human nature. He had it performed by his greatest singers and orchestra. They were rock stars. Then, because Handel was such a terrific psychologist, he gives you characters with whom you immediately identity and are interested in. These are people you might meet daily in the course of your life or see on television or read about in the newspaper. In the case of ‘Giulio Cesare,’ these are world leaders caught in political intrigue but also driven by personal passions.”

So, it’s on to Egypt in an unexpected century, the 18th, but Caesar and Cleopatra will be there, along with Handel’s score.

Norman Krieger garners “majestic” Carnegie Hall recital review

Key Pianists presents Norman Krieger in Review

Norman Krieger, piano; Weill Recital Hall at Carnegie Hall, New York, NY
Wednesday, October 17, 2018, 8PM

The fourth season of the wonderful Key Pianists series opened on Wednesday, October 17th with a majestic recital by the American pianist Norman Krieger. Key Pianists has a mission of presenting lesser-known pianists, often stellar in quality, who may not “fit” into the established “star” system.

Norman Krieger

Norman Krieger

Mr. Krieger has everything: technique (of course, one assumes), but one that never calls attention to itself, only to the musical ideas- a truly admirable virtue. He has the thundering fortes (but never harsh, surely the inheritance of his former teacher Adele Marcus) and the breathtaking, whispering piano dynamics, along with everything in between. He has the intellectual probity of another of his mentors, Alfred Brendel. His phrasing is generous, and his elasticity always in proportion. He presents the ideal combination of respect for the score, along with a fusion of the composers’ emotional message without sacrificing the performer’s own passion and point of view.

I can always tell by the first two or three notes if I am going to be comfortable in a recital and really enjoy the pianist. Thus, when the opening arpeggio of the first work of the evening, Beethoven’s Sonata Op. 31, No. 2, often referred to as “The Tempest,” was played with absolute perfection, followed by meticulous portamenti, ascending the triad, I was set at ease. The alternation of stormy fast outbursts with the mysteries of the way the arpeggiation is developed were balanced and exciting. I have never heard a more thrilling rendition of the pedaled recitativo sections, which caused me to hold my breath until they were over. The middle movement, Adagio, sang and consoled with evocations of muffled timpani and horns, and the final Allegretto was not rushed, without losing any propulsion or demonic subtext.

Mr. Krieger then had the inspired idea of presenting two sets of preludes by relatively unknown composers. I had never heard a note of Henri Lazarof performed live, only on recordings, and Michael Fine was new to me. The prelude as a free-standing genre piece (not the introduction to something else) has benefited many composers for its concise expression: Chopin, Debussy, Fauré, Rachmaninoff, to name but a few. Mr. Krieger prefaced the performances with well-chosen verbal commentary. In the case of Lazarof, a Bulgarian-born composer who finished his life in the United States, he mentioned correspondences between modern visual art and the late-Romantic and even sometimes twelve-tone language of Lazarof. The three preludes (from a larger set of twelve) were redolent with finely gauged attention to color. Fine, an American-born composer who now resides in Europe, created preludes that are more aphoristic, containing more than a bit of Copland-esque typically “American” atmosphere, something Mr. Krieger said we needed now “more than ever.” His delicacy and wit in these miniatures was delightful.

Mr. Krieger finished the first half with three brief but difficult works by Chopin. First, Chopin’s very first nocturne, the B- flat minor, Op. 9, No. 1, whose debt to Bellini-style cantabile is apparent from the first measure. Once again, Krieger rose to the poetic demands with wonderful variation of the many repeated passages. He followed with two of the etudes, Op. 25, No. 1 in A-flat major and Op. 10, No. 12 in C minor. I have heard the A-flat (sometimes called the “Aeolian Harp”) played with greater delicacy, but rarely greater evenness. Then he gave a truly masterful “no-nonsense” reading of the great C minor (“Revolutionary”) that masked just how difficult it is, so great was his command.

After intermission, just one work dominated: the enormous four-movement Brahms Sonata No. 1 in C major, his Opus 1. This work strains against the boundaries of what a solo piano can do, often sounding like an orchestra. It also contains a nightmarish compendium of technical, musical, and balance problems for the interpreter—we were in good hands however. What amazed me most was Mr. Krieger’s ability within a fast, loud, and propulsive movement (of which there are three in this work) to find oases of great calm and yearning. This allowed me to appreciate how, for a work in a major key, Brahms loves to stray and dwell in the minor mode, typical of his Romantic-era unfulfilled longing. In the second movement, Mr. Krieger captured the sound of the German Männerchor, with its solo call and choral response, through atmospheric pedaling. The exacting leaps of the final two movements posed no apparent problems for Mr. Krieger, as he accelerated to the thrilling conclusion, and rose from the bench with one last release of all that energy.

The audience rose too, as one, and was favored with one encore: Gershwin’s Prelude No. 2, a masterclass on the “art of artlessness” by Mr. Krieger.

Dominic Muzzi scores in piano competitions

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Dominic Muzzi

Dominic Muzzi, a doctoral student of Roberto Plano, has scored big in numerous recent competitions.

This month, he won the gold medal in the 2018 Wideman International Piano Competition, after winning the 2018 Indiana State MTNA Competition in the Young Artist Piano category in November.

Muzzi also was selected as one of the top three candidates from the North American preliminaries of the Hastings International Concerto Competition and will travel to the U.K. in February on scholarship to compete.

In addition, he was chosen as one of the 16 semi-finalists in the Ann & Charles Eisemann International Young Artists Competition for piano. The competition will continue in Texas in January.

Muzzi completed his M.M. with Karen Shaw and was an undergraduate student of Jacobs School of Music alumnus Read Gainsford at Florida State University.

Katherine Bodor and Jeff Sabol named winners of 2019 NOTUS contest

Katherine Bodor and Jeff Sabol have been named the first- and second-prize winners, respectively, of this year’s NOTUS Student Composition Contest. Both are current graduate students working toward masters degrees in composition at the Jacobs School of Music.

Katherine Bodor

Katherine Bodor

Katherine Bodor takes interest in music as a vessel for exploration of non-musical processes, specifically the psychological processes that take place in personal and human concepts of cause versus effect and the internal versus the external. She graduated in 2016 from Washington University in St. Louis with a BS in Mechanical Engineering and a second major in Music Composition, studying with Christopher Stark and Martin Kennedy. Katherine is pursuing an MM in Composition at the Jacobs School with Claude Baker and Don Freund. She was last year’s second-prize winner of the NOTUS contest.

Bodor’s first-prize work is Assurance for mixed chorus, clarinet, and violin. Of the work, she says: “I wrote the text for this work after a long period of internal turmoil, in which my mind kept returning to images of water, drowning, and suffocation. … Much of the music of Assurance reflects this internal tumult and pain, as much of the harmonic and rhythmic material is rife with nervous, aggressive energy that doesn’t know where to go. … After all the work I had put in to keep my head above water, I found a new peace simply by letting go of what had gotten me thus far.”

Jeff Sabol’s rich, colorful and vibrant music is influenced by a diverse array of sources. His compositions balance expressive solo melodies and grand harmonic textures, along with soothing pulses and complex, striking rhythmic gestures. Jeff holds a Bachelor of Music in composition from the University of Cincinnati’s College-Conservatory of Music. He is currently pursuing his Master of Music in composition at Indiana University, studying with P. Q. Phan.

Jeff Sabol

Jeff Sabol

Sabol’s second-prize work is Confiteor for mixed chorus, cello and piano. Of the work, he adds: “This setting explores the deep range of introspection and emotion that comes from admitting one’s mistakes. The text follows a symmetrical arc, beginning and ending with an acknowledgement of God. The next “layer” of text is an appeal to friends and loved ones, who, like God, are sources of trust and comfort. The beautiful and peaceful outer sections reflect the joy of absolution and forgiveness.”

NOTUS will give the world premiere of both works on Tuesday, April 9, 2019, in Auer Concert Hall at 8 p.m. as part of the concert program “Collaborations: Music with Friends.” The concert will also feature music of Petr Eben, Carolina Heredia, Dale Trumbore, Joel Thompson, and others, performing alongside faculty soloists Julia Bentley, Janette Fishell, Katherine Jolly, and Linda Strommen.

The judges also awarded three honorable mentions this year for Erik Q. Ransom’s The Sick Rose, Matt Ridge’s Reverance, and Sam Ritter’s The Glorious Imparting.

Judges for the competition included Carolann Buff, assistant professor of music (choral musicology), Jeffrey Hass, professor of music (composition) and director of the Center for Electronic and Computer Music, and Katherine Jolly, assistant professor of music (voice).

The Contest is an initiative of Dominick DiOrio, associate professor of music and director of NOTUS: IU Contemporary Vocal Ensemble. DiOrio did not take part in the judging panel. The submission of scores was anonymous and the judges did not see names or identifying information until after final decisions were made. The annual competition is open to all current undergraduate and graduate students at the Jacobs School of Music.

Katherine Bodor (b. 1994) takes interest in music as a vessel for exploration of non-musical processes, specifically the psychological processes that take place in personal and human concepts of cause versus effect and the internal versus the external. She graduated in 2016 from Washington University in St. Louis with a BS in Mechanical Engineering and a second major in Music Composition, studying with Christopher Stark and Martin Kennedy. Katherine is pursuing an MM in Composition at IU JSOM with Claude Baker and Don Freund. She has premiered works internationally and throughout the US, with ensembles including PHACE Contemporary Ensemble, Vertixe Sonora, Chamber Project St. Louis, NOTUS Contemporary Vocal Ensemble, Third Wheel Trio, and Six Degree Singers.

Jeff Sabol’s rich, colorful and vibrant music is influenced by a diverse array of sources and finds an audience with both the most experienced musician and the most casual listener. His compositions balance expressive solo melodies and grand harmonic textures, along with soothing pulses and complex, striking rhythmic gestures. His computer music, both fixed media and with live processing, is frequently a vehicle for meditation. Outside of composition, Jeff is also an active and dedicated singer, having performed in university, volunteer, and professional choral ensembles. Jeff holds a Bachelor of Music in composition from the University of Cincinnati’s College-Conservatory of Music. Currently, he is based in Bloomington, Indiana, where he is pursuing his Master of Music in composition at Indiana University, studying with P. Q. Phan.

Vera Quartet wins the 2018 Astral Artists National Auditions

From the theviolinchannel.com

Philadelphia’s 2018 Astral Artists National Audition Winners Announced

Astral Artists has today announced the four winners of its 2018 National Auditions – in Philadelphia, United States

Astral Artists has today announced the four winners of its 2018 National Auditions – in Philadelphia, United States.

This 2018 winners are:

  • 26-year-old American violinist Hannah Tarley
  • The Vera String Quartet
  • 27-year-old Polish flutist Antonina Styczeń
  • 25-year-old American french hornist Eric Huckins

This year’s winners will join the esteemed Astral Artists roster – for customized career development mentorship, marketing, performance opportunities and community engagement experience.

A graduate of The Juilliard School, Hannah is a former prize winner at the Oliveira International Violin Competition – and recently made solo appearances with the Detroit Symphony, San Francisco Symphony and the Knoxville Symphony.

Comprising violinists Pedro Rodriguez and Patricia Quintero Garcia, violist Inés Picado Molaresand cellist Justin Goldsmith, the Vera Quartet is former Graduate Quartet-in-Residence at Indiana University’s Jacobs School of Music – and will serve as String Quartet-in-Residence at the Curtis Institute of Music for 2018-2020.

A graduate of the Fryderyk Chopin University of Music in Warsaw, Antonina is a four time recipient of the Polish Ministry of Culture and National Heritage prize for extraordinary artistic achievement.

A graduate of The Juilliard School and the Curtis Institute of Music, Eric has recently performed with both The Philadelphia Orchestra and the American Ballet Theater.

“Each year the bar rises for our National Auditions candidates …” Astral Artists Executive Director, Julia Rubio has told The Violin Channel.

“Our four winners have excelled through a rigorous audition process … and we look forward to introducing the world to the next generation of great performers and thinkers,” she has said.

The four winners were selected from several hundred applicants – and following a number of live audition and interview rounds.

Previous audition winners include: violinists Judith Ingolfsson and Soovin Kim – and VC Artists Nikki & Timothy Chooi, Zlatomir Fung and Benjamin Beilman.

PICTURED: 2018 ASTRAL ARTISTS PRIZE WINNER, THE VERA QUARTET (PHOTO CREDIT: LINDY TSAI)

Alumnus, Zoë Martin-Doike, won the 2nd prize and Transcriptions Prize in the 2018 Primrose Viola Competition

By Laurie Niles, Editor, violinist.com

June 16, 2018, 10:07 PM · LOS ANGELES – Hae-Sue Lee was named first-prize winner in the 2018 Primrose International Viola Competition, which were announced Saturday at the Colburn School. Here are all the prizewinners:

  • First Prize ($15,000): Hae-Sue Lee, 18 of South Korea
  • Second Prize ($10,000): Zoë Martin-Doike, 27 of the U.S.
  • Third Prize ($5,000): Leonid Plashinov-Johnson, 22 of the U.K.
  • Transcriptions Prize ($1,000): Zoë Martin-Doike
  • Audience Prize: Hae-Sue Lee
2018 Primrose prize winners
L-R: Primrose competition prizewinners Hae-Sue Lee, Zoë Martin-Doike and Leonid Plashinov-Johnson

 

One of the youngest violists in the competition, Hae-Sue Lee has studied with Roberto Díaz and Hsin-Yun Huang at the Curtis Institute since she was 13. For this competition, she played a 1793 Camillus Camilli viola, on loan from Díaz. Previously, Lee won first prize in the 2015 Johansen International Competition and in the Philadelphia Orchestra’s 2014 Albert M. Greenfield Competition. She was also a prizewinner at the Stulberg International Competition and the Lionel Tertis International Viola Competition. She has also participated in festivals including the Verbier Festival Academy, Banff Music Festival, Great Mountains Music Festival and Summit Music Festival. As first prize winner in the Primrose, she also will be invited to perform at a winner’s concert at Brigham Young University, presented in conjunction with the Primrose International Viola Archive, and will receive the CodaBow Marquise, by CodaBow.

Jury members for 2018 include Lynn Harrell (Chairman), Roland Glassl, Kazuhide Isomura, Jon Nakamatsu, Nokuthula Ngwenyama, Xidi Shen, Lars Anders Tomter.

For the Finals, each of the three violists performed Brahms Trio in A minor, Op. 114, in a chamber round on Saturday morning with cellist Lynn Harrell and pianist Jon Nakamatsu.

For the evening concert, the competitors had a choice between playing the Viola Concerto by Bela Bartok, or the one by William Walton. All of them had chosen the Walton, and as I took my seat in the Colburn School’s Zipper Hall I truly wondered if I’d signed up for the Groundhog Day of viola concerts. Three Walton Concertos in a row — would the audience grow fatigued? And how about the orchestra? Along with rehearsals, the members of the Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra played a total of six Walton Concertos Saturday. And how would the competitors distinguish themselves, all playing the same concerto?

I need not have worried — each performance was unique and engaging, showing the high level and that made all three of these violists contenders for this top prize.

The evening began with Zoë Martin-Doike, who was performing on a 1999 Stanley Kiernoziak viola, on loan to her from Mimi Zweig. Martin-Doike played with accuracy and assurance — as well as a lot of kinetic energy. A violist sitting next to me pointed out that Martin-Doike had made a number of unique choices, among them playing the first movement’s quadruple stops pizzicato instead of arco.

Next was Hae-Sue Lee, who seemed well-connected to both the orchestra and conductor. Her first movement was well-played, but what caught my attention was the contrast she created, fading out of the first movement and then launching into the second. This was when she seemed to hit her stride, giving a punchy and intense performance that highlighted the rhythmic complexity of this movement. It was downright exciting — and she knew it, flashing a happy smile after the movement ended. In the third movement, she showed her ability to spin a long phrase, as well as a range of color and vibrato; the ending was captivating.

Next was Leonid Plashinov-Johnson, who played on a 1995 Stefan-Peter Greiner viola, on loan from his teacher, Kim Kashkashian, from which he milked a beautiful tone. An expressive player, his high musical sense was on display throughout, and his stage presence was engaging. The orchestra overwhelmed his sound at times, and he probably lost marks for a few small stumbles. I’d still pay to see him play.

What a treat, to see this accomplished violists show their talents in the Primrose Competition. And if you are still wondering, did those orchestra musicians get tired of the Walton? Afterwards I ran into principal cellist Armen Ksajikian and asked him just that. “Oh, no, I love this piece,” he said with genuine sentiment. “I feel like I’m still getting to know it, better and better.”

If you’d like to see the evening performances of the Walton Concerto, Click here to watch on the competition’s Facebook page.