Music Department Professor Sheila Silver has been awarded the prestigious Guggenheim award for 2013. She is embarking on her most ambitious opera to date: A Thousand Splendid Suns, based on the internationally best selling novel by Khaled Hosseini, author of The Kite Runner. Silver and her librettist, Stephen Kitsakos, have recently completed the first draft of the adaptation. She plans to go to India to study Hindustani music (which is at the heart of Afghan music) as part of her preparation for composing this work, so that a strand of this sound will color her compositional voice. Silver and Hosseini have discussed the project at length and he is excited about having his novel turned into an opera.
Bethany Cencer (Ph.D. candidate in Music History/Theory, DMA candidate in Harpsichord Performance) Selected for National Fellowship
Bethany Cencer (Ph.D. candidate in Music History/Theory, DMA candidate in Harpsichord Performance) was awarded a Kanner Fellowship in British Studies by the UCLA Center for 17th and 18th Century Studies. The award supports three months of research at the UCLA William Andrews Clark Memorial Library during the 2013-14 academic year.
The fellowship is open to both pre-doctoral and post-doctoral scholars conducting research in any area pertaining to British history and culture, and is given to one or two scholars per granting period. Bethany is the first musicologist to have received this prestigious award.
At the Clark Library, she will examine manuscripts and rare books pertaining to her dissertation, “Wine, Ritual, and Brotherhood: Masculinity and English Partsong Societies, 1690–1800.” The Kanner Fellowship will provide Bethany with access to important music and non-music primary sources including song anthologies, prefaces to psalters, vocal treatises, sermons, religious tracts, and courtesy books.
Mauro Calcagno, assistant professor of music history and theory, recently received mention in The New Yorker magazine. His edition of Francesco Cavalli’s 1667 opera Eliogabalo was performed by the Gotham Chamber Opera on March 15 to 29 at the burlesque theater The Box, in Manhattan.
In the article called “Shock Tactics,” a round up of particularly original recent opera productions, music critic Alex Ross wrote of Eliogabalo, “Cavalli’s opera is devoted to the most scandalous of Roman emperors, the one who was put to death because, it is said, the Praetorian Guard could not abide the fact that he called his charioteer his husband. The libretto omits the most eyebrow-raising details of the Elagabalus legend–for example, the information that he ‘welcomed lust at every gateway of his body’–but includes a scene in which the emperor convenes an all-female Senate while dressed in women’s clothes. The original version of the work never made it to the stage; the scholar Mauro Calcagno speculates that the female-Senate sequence disturbed Venetian censors, who may have seen it as an allegory for the distribution of favors to prostitutes.” He also said that “it would be churlish to describe the show as anything but a hoot.”
Though paid subscription is required, the full article can be accessed here.
Stony Brook undergraduate music major David Davani has been honored for the second time by the National YoungArts Foundation. He was named one of the foundation’s 2013 winners for baritone voice. A multi-talented musician, Davani won the same award last year on clarinet, the instrument with which he won the recent Stony Brook Undergraduate Concerto Competition.
The up to 150 chosen YoungArts national winners across the arts converge on National Arts Week in Miami, mid-April, to participate in masterclasses, performances, workshops and the opportunity to vie for up to $10,000 in individual prize money. Additionally, the YoungArts Foundation strives to provide training and networking opportunities for its winners. Last year, David participated in a master class and performed at the Baryshnikov Arts Center in New York City for clarinet. This year he was invited for a master class for clarinet provided by YoungArts through New World Symphony and again invited this year for a master class and performance in voice at the Baryshnikov Arts Center.
Faculty Member Mauro Calcagno’s edition of Francesco Cavalli’s Eliogabalo performed by Gotham Chamber Opera
Stony Brook University faculty member Mauro Calcagno’s edition of Francesco Cavalli’s 1667 opera Eliogabalo will be used by Gotham Chamber Opera, the nation’s leading opera company devoted to rarely performed chamber operas, for a production on March 15-29, 2013, at The Box, in Manhattan. In conjunction with this event, The New York Times has published an article based on Professor Calcagno’s research on Eliogabalo, including an interview. A blog on the opera company’s website summarizes Calcagno’s scholarly findings. The critical edition, which was already used for productions in Bruxelles, Innsbruck, Dortmund, and Aspen, will be shortly published by the renown German publisher Baerenreiter.
Professor Calcagno, a specialist in late Renaissance music and in Baroque opera, promoted the successful staging of Eliogabalo that took place at the Staller Center in April 2010, conducted by Stony Brook Opera‘s director David Lawton and featuring the students of the music department’s graduate programs in voice and in early music (Newsday published an article on the event). This collaboration between the scholarly and the performance sides of the music department generated the initiative Opera Studies and Performance, currently under way. The next opera within this initiative, Handel’s Orlando, will be staged at the Staller Center on April 13-14, 2013, in a production conducted by Professor Arthur Haas at the head of the award-winning Stony Brook Baroque Ensemble.
Faculty Members Michael Powell (trombone) and Kevin Cobb (trumpet) Honored With Chamber Music America’s National Service Award
American Brass Quintet Awarded Chamber Music America’s Highest Honor
The Richard J. Bogomolny Award
On Sunday, January 20, 2013 in New York City, Chamber Music America will officially confer its highest honor, The Richard J Bogomolny National Service Award, on the American Brass Quintet.
ABQ’s receipt of the prestigious award marks only the fourth time in 35 years the award has been given to an ensemble, the first time an ensemble recipient has not been a string quartet, and the first time it has been given to wind or brass performers. Past recipients include Rudolph Serkin, William Schuman, Menaham Pressler, Guarneri Quartet, and Richard Goode.
The award will be formally presented at the Chamber Music America’s national conference banquet at the Westin Hotel, New York City, on January 20, 2013 with special guest speaker composer Joan Tower. On January 19 at Symphony Space in New York City CMA presents a concert honoring the ABQ featuring noted performers including the New York Woodwind Quintet, trumpeters Wayne DuMaine and Joe Bergstaller, and renowned composer of brass chamber music Eric Ewazen, among others.
Founded in 1960, the American Brass Quintet is the longest continuously performing brass quintet in North America. It has to date commissioned or premiered approximately 150 works and has released over 50 recordings marking the largest recorded legacy of serious brass chamber music by an ensemble. Current members of the quintet are Raymond Mase and Kevin Cobb, trumpet; David Wakefield, horn; Michael Powell, trombone; John D. Rojak, bass trombone.
Playing by Heart, With or Without a Score
By ANTHONY TOMMASINI
It would seem that the filmmaker Michael Haneke, who wrote and directed the wrenching and poignantly acted new French movie “Amour,” is swept away by the mystique of a pianist, alone onstage, conveying mastery and utter oneness with music by playing a great piece from memory. The drama of playing from memory is at the crux of a scene involving the elegant French pianist Alexandre Tharaud, who, portraying himself, has a small but crucial role.
The story revolves around an elderly Parisian couple, Georges and Anne, retired music teachers, as they cope with the stroke that has paralyzed Anne’s right side. In one scene Mr. Tharaud, in the role of a former student of Anne’s who has gone on to a significant career, makes an unannounced visit to his old teacher to see how she is faring. He can barely contain his shock at her condition. Anne (Emmanuelle Riva) asks a favor: Would Alexandre play a piece she made him learn when he was 12? It is Beethoven’s Bagatelle in G minor, the second of the Six Bagatelles (Op. 126), Beethoven’s last published piano work.
At first Mr. Tharaud demurs. He has not played the piece for years, he explains, and is not sure he can remember it. Then, saying he will try, he proceeds to play the stormy bagatelle flawlessly, at least as much as we hear before the film cuts to the next scene. I suppose it would have been too pedestrian a touch if, when Alexandre said he was not sure he could remember the bagatelle, Anne had said, “Oh, I have the score, of course, right there on the shelf.”
Over the years I have observed that the rigid protocol in classical music whereby solo performers, especially pianists, are expected to play from memory seems finally, thank goodness, to be loosening its hold. What matters, or should matter, is the quality of the music making, not the means by which an artist renders a fine performance.
Increasingly, major pianists like Peter Serkin and Olli Mustonen have sometimes chosen to play a solo work using the printed score. The pianist Gilbert Kalish, best known as an exemplary chamber music performer and champion of contemporary music, has long played all repertory, including solo pieces (Haydn sonatas, Brahms intermezzos), using scores. As a faculty member of the excellent music department at Stony Brook University, Mr. Kalish spearheaded a change in the degree requirements in the 1980s, so that student pianists could play any work in their official recitals, from memory or not, whichever resulted in the best, most confident performance.
Yet there is still widespread and, to me, surprising, adherence in the field to the protocol of playing solo repertory from memory. This season Mr. Tharaud took a little flak for performing recitals in New York using printed scores.
In October at the Greenwich Village music club Le Poisson Rouge he played excerpts from his delightful new Virgin Classics recording “Le Boeuf sur le Toit,” taken from the name of the club that became a haven for Parisian cabaret during the Jazz Age. The next night Mr. Tharaud played a standard program at Weill Recital Hall with works by Scarlatti, Ravel, Chopin and Liszt. At each concert, rather than performing from memory, he used scores, something that Steve Smith, who reviewed Mr. Tharaud’s Weill recital for The New York Times, did not even mention. It was not worth commenting on. The news, as Mr. Smith made clear, was Mr. Tharaud’s absorbing and mercurial performances.
Yet the photo of Mr. Tharaud that accompanied the review clearly showed him playing from a score, and some readers were quick to react on social media. Somehow the idea persists that for a pianist to use a score in a performance suggests a lack of mastery or sufficient preparation.
Not necessarily. Though it is exciting and even magical to see a pianist giving a triumphant performance of the demonically difficult Liszt Piano Sonata, or any work, from memory, there are different kinds of talents. The towering Russian pianist Sviatoslav Richter, by the time he reached his 60s, found it increasingly hard to play from memory. He started using scores in performances. No one questioned him. This was, after all, Richter, a titan of the keyboard. Yet if a Juilliard student can give brilliant and personal accounts of works like Elliott Carter’s daunting Piano Sonata or Chopin’s 24 Preludes but needs the scores on the music stand to do so, why should that matter?
The superb pianist Stephen Hough, in an article in The Telegraph of London last year, presented both sides of the case well. As he pointed out, it goes against history to perform works of early eras from memory. It was only when Liszt, partly out of showmanship, began playing everything, including monumental Beethoven sonatas, from memory that the mystique took hold.
In earlier eras there was composed music, which was always played from the score, and there was improvised music. Since performers were almost always composers as well, as Mr. Hough explained, for a pianist to play, say, a Chopin ballade from memory would have been considered the height of arrogance, as if the pianist were suggesting that he had composed the piece.
At major performing institutions attitudes toward playing from memory have opened up. Today the artistic staff at Carnegie Hall would never think of compelling any artist to play from memory. This is a personal artistic choice. But organizations that foster student musicians still mostly insist on standard protocols. Young Concert Artists, which presents exceptional emerging artists in concert, hews to standard practice for its competitive auditions. The requirements state: “Concertos and solo repertoire for all instruments and voice must be performed by memory. Scores may be used only in chamber music, sonatas with accompaniment and contemporary works.”
It has always amused me that contemporary music is exempted from the memorization requirement. I think some pianists might find the Ligeti études, which are so technically challenging that by the time you learn them you usually know them cold, a lot easier to play from memory than Bach’s “Goldberg” Variations.
This fall, in two programs just five days apart at the 92nd Street Y, the pianist Andras Schiff played Bach’s complete “Well-Tempered Clavier,” all 48 preludes and fugues, containing some of the most intricate contrapuntal music ever written. He played both recitals from memory, an astonishing achievement.
Yet Mr. Schiff, a masterly Bach interpreter, has played this music for 50 years, since his childhood. In interviews he has said that playing from memory is not the hardest part for him in performing Bach’s keyboard works, and I believe him.
Around the same time at Alice Tully Hall, as part of Lincoln Center’s White Light Festival, the pianist Emanuel Ax took part in an intriguing program, whose main work was Schoenberg’s arrangement (later completed by the composer Rainer Riehn) of Mahler’s “Lied von der Erde” for chamber ensemble, played by members of the New York Philharmonic with Mr. Ax at the piano. But he set the mood by opening the program with two solo works: Bach’s Prelude and Fugue No. 8 from “The Well-Tempered Clavier,” Book 1; and Schoenberg’s Six Little Piano Pieces (Op. 19). He played the Bach work using the printed score and the Schoenberg from memory.
Now no one who has heard Mr. Ax over the years could possibly think he has any difficulty playing anything from memory. But this was a collaborative program. It was inspiring to see Mr. Ax taking part as just one of 15 dedicated players in the arrangement of “Das Lied.” So beginning the program with the pensive Bach work was a musical gesture, not a time to showcase memorization.
For me there was something touching about seeing a great pianist play a Bach prelude and fugue using the score. Every wondrous element of this complex music is right on the page. It looks almost as beautiful as it sounds.