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A festival of cellists

Rainer Crosett ’14, a resident of Pforzheimer House enrolled in the Harvard/New England Conservatory joint five-year AB/MM program concentrating in Philosophy, was awarded a Fellowship to attend the Kronberg Academy’s cello masterclass program in Germany. Crosett, a cellist, has been a member of the Brattle Street Chamber Players, Dunster House Opera Orchestra and Harvard-Radcliffe Orchestra. He also served as principal cello of the Boston Philharmonic Youth Orchestra during its inaugural season and performed on the National Public Radio show “From the Top.” He intends to pursue a career in music. The following is his reflection on his time in Germany.

Rainer Crosett

Rainer Crosett

 

I arrived on September 21 in the beautiful medieval town of Kronberg, Germany, which is situated about 20 miles outside of Frankfurt. Already I understand why Rostropovich nicknamed this place the “capital of cello.” Pictures of great cellists are everywhere, and, for the biennial cello masterclasses and concerts, more than 100 young cellists descended on the small town. We crowded into all of the few tiny restaurants in town with our bulky cello cases, and from the moment I started talking to fellow participants on the train platform in Frankfurt, I felt a very special collegial atmosphere at this festival. Cellists, after all, are known for having festivals devoted exclusively to our instrument, whereas many other types of musicians (such as violinists) aren’t.

This same day, I played a short audition today for Gary Hoffman, the extraordinary cellist with whom I would work here. The next several days were packed with masterclasses from 9:30 to 6:30 each day, followed by a concert in the evening by each of the four master teachers – Hoffman, David Geringas, Frans Helmerson, and Jerome Pernoo, in the stunningly beautiful Johanniskirche. During the day, I observed dozens of students in the classes and benefited from individual instruction on my own playing. I was thrilled to sit in on as many classes as possible, because there is so much to be learned from listening to different styles of playing and schools of teaching. Hoffman, for instance, was influenced in large part by the teaching of Janos Starker, whereas Geringas is known as Rostropovich’s favorite student. The variety of legacies of cello playing and teaching presented were unparalleled. I was  itching for the classes to start so that I could soak up as much knowledge and inspiration as possible. Read more…

Brutally honest, and encouraging

Phillip Golub ‘16, a resident of Dunster House concentrating in English and enrolled in the Harvard/New England Conservatory five-year joint AB/MM program, was awarded an Office for the Arts/Office of Undergraduate Research and Fellowships Artist Development Fellowship to pursue studies in music composition and conducting this summer at the FUBiS program at Freie Universität Berlin under the tutelage of Juilliard professor and renowned composer Samuel Adler. Phillip has participated in the Los Angeles Philharmonic Composer Fellowship Program and the Young Artists Program of the Yellow Barn Music. A member of the Harvard Composers Association, his work has been performed by Harvard’s Brattle Street Chamber Players. He hopes to pursue a career as a professional musician and composer.

I have been in Berlin for six weeks now. The first large-scale arc of my summer just wrapped up, and I am now writing from Paris, where I am spending my week-long break between my composition program and my German language program.

Professor Adler and Phillip Golub after the concert

Professor Adler and Phillip Golub post-concert

The program has been amazing. I had twelve private lessons with Samuel Adler, roughly the equivalent of a semester of study with him, but condensed into half the length. We were given a lot of time to write so that we could bring material to our lessons. We also wrote one song very quickly, in the first two weeks of the program, that was performed in the last week by very, very skilled players and singers from Berlin. Adler is famous for his teaching, and I now know why. He is both brutally honest, always precise and clear with his comments, and also very encouraging. He will frequently say something as direct as, “I don’t like this B flat here, you should change it. How about a G instead, or an A?” It can even border on being absurd, compared to the much, much more abstract comments one usually gets from composition teachers, but it is so much more valuable. It was particularly exciting to work with him on setting a poem (by Charles Simic) because he challenged me to have a clear reading of the poem—pushing me to explain my interpretation of the poem—before writing the song.

However, I learned much more from Adler than where to change B flats into Gs and As. I found a lot of confidence in my own work over the course of the six weeks. In talking with him about music tastes, about his own life escaping Nazi Germany and later being in the U.S. Army, and about teaching for 30 years at Eastman School of Music and 18 years at the Juilliard School while being a participant in the harshest and most divisive ideological debates the music world has ever seen, I have found a lot of affirmation in that our views and approaches to thinking about both musical-political and geo-political issues seem to be quite aligned. Having your own opinions affirmed by someone of his stature really allows you to hold your own views more strongly, and be more confident in acting on them—using those views, so to speak.

Related to this is the remarkable way in which Adler is an “American.” There are sadly too many American musicians in the last century who imitated European ways, not feeling comfortable otherwise. Adler has never felt this sort of shame or smallness of not belonging to the “greater” German or French musical traditions, and has been a steadfast supporter of American classical music his whole life, and continues to be. I was particularly moved when I presented a piece to the class and he called the harmony “very American,” which to me was surprising to hear because it hadn’t quite occurred to me that there really was a tradition of approaches to harmony that were truly unique and American in the 20th century. But sure enough, in our next lesson he demonstrated to me the basis of the theory behind these approaches. All very excitng for me, for it seems rather often in the classical music world that we are constantly told that there is nothing truly originally American, and that we are only imitators.

Second curtain call at "Die Soldaten at Komische," Oper Berlin

Second curtain call at “Die Soldaten at Komische,” Oper Berlin

Lastly, confronting the sorts of issues I just expressed was especially exciting to do from the heart of European classical music. On the first day Adler said, “The reason I hold this program in Berlin is very simple. Berlin is the best city in the world right now for classical music, and I want you all to experience that.” For young people, classical music in Berlin is almost ridiculously inexpensive and accessible. There are seven orchestras and three opera companies, all with frequent performances. It is absolutely unbelievable. I went to nearly 20 concerts in six weeks, spending less than 10 euros for every single one. Being in a city and country that values classical music this much is not only a wonderful feeling, but it shows how much work can be done on our side of the Atlantic.

HRO soloist Stella Chen ’15 and Harvard’s classical community

October 31st, 2013 No comments

Stella Chen '15

As this year’s winner of the James Yannatos Concerto Competition, Stella Chen ’15 will be playing Dvořák’s violin concerto with the Harvard Radcliffe Orchestra at their Freshman Parent’s Weekend concert, which also includes works by Mozart and Thomas Ades, 8 p.m. Saturday Nov. 2 atSanders Theatre. As a math and music joint concentrator, Chen is exploring the ways a liberal arts education influences learning and collaboration in the arts. After running around Boston all day attending to maintenance for her violin, Chen was calmly practicing the concerto in one of the brightly-painted practice rooms in the newly renovated music building.

Why did you choose the Dvořák for this concert?

It’s a standard piece in violin repertoire, and I was working on it on my own. When the concerto competition came around, I decided to use it. Winning the competition is a great performance opportunity to play with an orchestra. Solo performance opportunities are not as frequent at a place like Harvard as a place like Juilliard or NEC, so it’s a really great opportunity.

What performance do you usually do on campus?

I took a gap year at Juilliard before I got here, so I was used to people telling me to do performances all the time. Here, I have discovered chamber music classes. I’m taking a music analysis class and Music 187, which is a chamber music class. We have coachings weekly and a performance at the end of the semester. But solo performance opportunities are really hard to come by, and I’m really lucky that I get to do this with HRO and that I’m performing Beethoven’s Triple with MSO, and I’m trying to work out possibly giving a recital in Kirkland—so it all has to be very self-motivated, basically.

Do you feel like that’s a good thing?

Self-promotion is not something I’ve ever been good at. There’s a really strong community of classical musicians here, actually, and we’re really good at helping each other out in terms of asking one another to perform and being supportive. Classical music is just as strong here as it is at a conservatory. One thing that is unique here is the opportunity to collaborate with different mediums. I played an opera, which I would not have done normally, and I’m learning to enjoy dance and other forms of art as well. Read more…

Kansas City, Here He Comes—to Conduct

March 30th, 2012 No comments

PHOTO: Jesse Weiner

A few weeks ago, Aram Demirjian ’08 received some exciting news: He had been selected as the new assistant conductor of the Kansas City Symphony. Demirjian, who jointly concentrated in Music and Government, conducted the Bach Society Orchestra and the Harvard-Radcliffe Gilbert & Sullivan Players as an undergraduate, and went on to complete masters studies at the New England Conservatory.

Demirjian will take up his post in the fall, diving in with the first concert in the season’s Family Series. In this program, he will pair up with another Harvard alum, John Lithgow ’67, who will be delivering his own narration to Saint-Saëns’s Carnival of the Animals, and will also be narrating an accompanied version of his children’s book about musical genius The Remarkable Farkle McBride.

Conducting the Family Series is just one of the many responsibilities Demirjian will take on in his move to Kansas City. In addition to family concerts, these will include conducting the KCS Pops Series and covering for the orchestra’s Classical Series. The move to Kansas City will also afford Demirjian the opportunity to work with the KCS music director Michael Stern ’81.

Demirjian conducting the Boston Pops. PHOTO COURTESY: www.aram-demirjian.com

“I couldn’t ask to be with a better organization than the Kansas City Symphony,” says Demirjian. “The orchestra is really emerging on the American orchestral landscape, and there’s such vitality surrounding the organization. I will get to consistently be around and work with phenomenal professional musicians, with wonderful conductors who will be mentors and with a top-notch administrative staff. And it is a place where I feel I can contribute to the blossoming of the organization itself but it will also contribute to my growth with the orchestra, which is a rising star among orchestras in this country.”

The appointment marks a major milestone for Demirjian as a young conductor, but he did not necessarily plan on a conducting career before arriving at Harvard.

“I was not planning on going into conducting professionally, but because of the opportunities I had to conduct, I caught the conducting bug,” he says. “As an undergrad, it became clear to me that conducting was what I wanted to do. Harvard has been the constant for me as I’ve pursued my career in conducting – my teachers and mentors are people I can call on still, and it was the place where I first was really surrounded by consistent musical excellence.”

HEMS and Cavalli’s Arcadian Romp

December 9th, 2011 No comments

This weekend, the Harvard Early Music Society presents Francesco Cavalli’s 1651 opera La Calisto. Cavalli’s lusty romp is based on a myth drawn from Ovid’s Metamorphoses, and tells the story of Callisto, a nymph of Diana who loses her virginity to Zeus and is turned into a bear for her transgression. This semester, it has been brought to life by stage director Giselle Ty and music director Ryaan Ahmed ’12, who leads a period band in HEMS’s four show run, which continues 8 p.m. Friday, Dec. 9 through Sunday, December 11 at Farkas Hall (formerly New College Theatre). I sat down with Ahmed to ask him about the production, HEMS and early music at Harvard.

I noticed that your production isn’t necessarily set in any one period. What was your concept for this work?

In general, the style of this piece is one that’s very free and creative, and has a lot of room for interpretation. The piece is set in Arcadia, where nymphs and gods hang out, so we chose to go with an abstract representation of both the pastoral arena and  the heavens. We have been able to switch between heightened states of abstraction and more real landscapes when the drama becomes more action based.

How have you approached this work re: historical performance practice?

Our main intention when working with this piece has been that the drama story should come before everything else; all aspects of this production, including set, lighting and music, should highlight the drama. This is in tune with the 17th century Italian approach, where their whole thing was that the goal should be to stir the affekti (passions) of the crowd. We’re note necessarily concerned with frenetic adherence to the score. We’ve cut things pretty wildly, like arias that were clearly just put in to highlight the virtuosity of Read more…

Charlie Albright ’11: Sticking with the keys

October 4th, 2011 No comments

PHOTO: Tatsunori Hashimoto

Pianist Charlie Albright ‘11 has already conquered major concert venues in the country — The Kennedy Center in Washington and Symphony Hall in Boston, for instance –  and is now Leverett’s new Artist-in-Residence, a position which was last held by the cellist Yo-Yo Ma ’76. Having completed the Harvard leg of the Harvard-NEC Dual Degree Program this past May, Albright, a former Economics concentrator, is giving his first Artist-in-Residence Concert of the year at 7 p.m. Thursday, October 6 in Leverett Dining Hall. Harvard Arts Beat blogger Gabrielle Lochard ’12 sat down with Albright to talk about life, performing post-graduation and this week’s concert.

How would you define the role of the Artist-in-Residence in Leverett?

Usually when I have to explain it to people, I say it’s a kind of “pseudo-tutor,” but also a guy who plays the piano. Basically, I live here, but instead of giving study breaks, I give concerts, and people can also come to me if they have questions about performing. So I’m a kind of advisor in that way too.

Why did you decide to go with the Harvard-NEC program instead of just pursuing a degree in performance, and how do you feel about that decision now that you’ve graduated?

I knew when I was applying to college that I wanted continue with piano and didn’t want to give that up. A lot of people I knew who were really, really good and gave it up, which was really kind Read more…

Day (at Lamont) Dreams (of Japan)

October 3rd, 2011 No comments

Martin Schreiner’s name appears on the Harvard College Library staff directory with the title “Head of Maps, Media, Data, and Government Information.” The identification conjures up images of encyclopedias, atlases or, perhaps, the necessity for security clearance. What the job description does not convey is that, outside of his Lamont Library dominion, Schreiner is also a trained composer and theorist of Japanese music. Taking a break from his accomplished double life, Schreiner chatted about dreams of Japan, the melodies of the East and the surprising harmony of his seemingly disparate responsibilities.

Schreiner studied in the classical tradition of music composition, first as an undergraduate, and then in his time as a graduate student at New England Conservatory. His curiosity in what lay outside the strictures of the Western curriculum was piqued early.

“This was before world music took hold like it did and before jazz programs were common in academic institutions,” Schreiner points out. “And I was interested in the music of other cultures.” Read more…

The future of musicology: Monson’s vision

April 7th, 2011 No comments

Ingrid Monson

Ingrid Monson is the erudite and original-thinking philosopher of jazz, as well as a jazz and klezmer performer: the perfect combination of what Joseph Kerman, 1997 Charles Eliot Norton Professor of Poetry at Harvard, called the essential “doer”and “talker” combination. She is, indeed, a role model for me, as I am both a percussionist and student of musicology, and for fellow Harvard music students. Although I did not study with Monson during my Harvard/New England Conservatory dual degree years, I have benefited from her scholarship and have used her wisdom (with full attribution to her!) in my own work as a teaching assistant in the music history class of Rebecca Cypess at NEC, as well as in my study of drum set at NEC.  Monson’s view of the importance of jazz to American society and cultural life should be required reading in every government course in colleges everywhere. She has “said something” that resounds. The “ensemble as a whole” is a metaphor for American life. To honor 40 Years of Jazz at Harvard, Monson will be in conversation with Tom Everett 4 p.m. Friday April 8 at the Barker Center. Below, she reflects on jazz at Harvard in theory and in practice.

You have recently commented on the importance of Tom Everett’s role in keeping jazz at a high profile at Harvard. How have his contributions helped lay the groundwork for jazz scholarship at the University?
Having people actively listening and playing the music is what brings people to an interest in jazz history and the study of improvisation. Having major artists come to Harvard every year inspired not only the people in the bands but the people who listened to them and wanted to learn more.

What is the importance of the subject of jazz in historical musicology studies in the Department of Music?
Jazz brings the study of improvisation — sophisticated improvisation based on a complex understanding of chromatic harmony — front and center, and consequently requires the development of new ways of thinking about the study of musical process, performance and composition. It also brings the relationship of music, society and culture to the center of attention by showing how America’s racial history shaped the possibilities and challenges facing African Americans in music and beyond. Their journey of music from marginalization and disrespect to being recognized as perhaps America’s greatest original musical language is instructive in deep ways not limited to music.

If you had all the necessary resources at your disposal, what would be your vision of a jazz program at Harvard?
I would hire jazz artists and composers to teach beginning through advanced courses in improvisation, harmony and composition, and develop new kinds of courses featuring conversations between performers and scholars about the relationship among jazz, hip hop, classical music, world music, experimental music, popular music and technology. I’d encourage everything from performance to remix to internet collaborations.

Aaron Dworkin and Sphinx: Taking the mystery out of orchestral inclusion

March 9th, 2011 No comments

Aaron Dworkin

Aaron Dworkin, founder and president of the SPHINX Organization, will receive the Luise Vosgerchian Award from Harvard and deliver a Learning from Performers lecture at 3pm on Friday, March 11, in the Thompson Room of the Barker Center. Dworkin exchanged emails with Harvard Arts Beat blogger Victoria Aschheim about the pioneering vision of his work with young black and Latino musicians and scholars.

One of your former professors at the University of Michigan has said “you have changed the world” through your path-breaking work as an arts educator and innovator. The MacArthur Fellowship citation pointed out that through your Sphinx programs and nurturing support, you have assured access and enriched symphonies across the country. Would you reflect on the progress that has been made in the classical music world to include minorities musicians in orchestras? Are you satisfied with the level of numbers of minority musicians in orchestras?

Sphinx has identified issues of diversity and access to music education as two key priorities in its mission. We have been fortunate to be able to form meaningful alliance with orchestras, music festivals, summer programs, umbrella organizations and music schools across the country, in working toward bridging the dramatic gap and a stark need in this area. Nationally, only sightly more than 4 percent of all orchestras are comprised of blacks and Latinos. Numbers are similar in the world of academia and lower in the realm of solo and chamber music performance. Furthermore, numbers are especially low in our audiences, those who propel the livelihood and longevity of live performances. Sphinx envisions a reality where our industry reflects the rich diversity inherent in our society today. While the numbers of blacks in top tier orchestras have doubled in the last decade and young artists of color are able to appear as soloists with 20 orchestras in the country annually, the harsh reality is that we have just begun to travel the path of change and transformation. Any fundamental change requires time to reflect, to get everyone to truly understand, internalize and commit to a common goal. It is our hope that, through our efforts, and that of over 30 orchestral partners and 20 music schools and summer partners, we can establish diversity as one of key priorities, and embrace solutions institutionally and globally. Read more…

True grit: The jewel of a soprano’s life and work

February 26th, 2011 No comments

Harvard provides a large range of opportunities for artists including for its extended family of employees. In the case of Sol Kim Bentley, a faculty assistant in the English Department and graduate of New England Conservatory, Harvard gives the nurturing and flexible environment in which she can pursue an opera career in Boston at the same time as working for the university. Her enterprising spirit and perseverance over the years have brought her now to the principal role in Opera Boston’s New England premiere of Paul Hindemith’s 1926 opera, Cardillac. In three segments of an interview with Victoria Aschheim, Bentley provides insights into her working life at Harvard and her artistic life outside of Harvard as a soprano advancing her career through true grit and experience with the opera repertoire.

In the Hindemith opera, Bentley plays the role of Cardillac’s daughter who, as the story tells, cannot compete with her father’s golden creations for his love. The Opera Boston production takes place 3 p.m. Sunday, February 27 and 7:30 p.m. Tuesday, March 1 at the Cutler Majestic Theatre in Boston.

Sol Kim Bentley reveals the intriguing story of Hindemith’s Cardillac:

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