Tobias Greenhalgh, baritone

Finding the right time zone in which to conduct a FaceTime interview with baritone Tobias Greenhalgh took some figuring out. When he is not actually on stage, he always seems to be in a plane, in Europe, the United States, or in between. Does he actually have a home?”

“That’s the greatest question in my life at the moment!” he laughed. “I’m not really in a rush to plant myself down, because I love working in the United States and in Europe. But one of these days I’m going to want to have a place where I can relax and put my feet up. Maybe Florida. I’ve sung with the Palm Beach Opera and I was a member of their Benenson Young Artist Program. I love Florida.”

The Florida climate and culture could hardly be further from Tobias’s other favorite hangout, Vienna. While a member of the Junges Ensemble at the Theater an der Wien, he made his European debut as the title role of Eugene Onegin at the Wiener Kammeroper, followed by performances of Argante in Rinaldo, which he reprised in a tour to the Bolshoi Theater, Ramiro in L’heure Espagnole, Le Directeur and Le Gendarme in Les mamelles de Tirésias, Cecco in Gli Uccellatori, and was presented in solo concert and recital. He has continued to perform at the Theater an der Wien, where he is currently rehearsing the role of Demetrius in Britten’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream; he has also performed at the Wiener Kammeroper and, more recently, at the Arnold Schoenberg Center there.

“I love performing on both sides of the Atlantic. In Europe, where opera companies and concert halls are publicly funded, one has more resources to try out new productions and new ideas, to take risks. In the United States, where there is always a scramble for money and time, passionate artists develop a hunger, a will to make it happen. And when it does, that edge can produce the most wonderful results.”

Dame Ethel Smyth and The Prison were totally new to Tobias when he was offered the baritone solo role of The Prisoner. “I’m really curious and excited to learn more about the work and the composer,” he said.  Now armed with a list of  twenty-odd articles and reference books, he is delving into Smyth territory. “I always like to do my homework.”

BIO Tobias Greenhalgh, baritone

This season Tobias will make role debuts as both Demetrius (A Midsummer Night’s Dream) and Cecil (Maria Stuarda) at Theater an der Wien, as well as house debuts with Glyndebourne on tour as Figaro (Il barbiere di Siviglia), and at the prestigious Festival d’Aix as Aeneas (Dido and Aeneas). Additionally, he will sing Maximilian (Candide) with Palm Beach Opera.

Tobias made his European debut singing the title role in Eugene Onegin at the Wiener Kammeroper. Whilst working in Vienna he sang Ned Keene (Peter Grimes), Escamillo (Carmen), Argante (Rinaldo), Peter (Hänsel und Gretel), and Ramiro (L’heure Espagnole).

Last season, Tobias sang the role of of Tom Joad (The Grapes of Wrath) with the Opera Theatre of Saint Louis, and debuted as the Cold Genius and Merlin (King Arthur) at the Staatstheater am Gärtnerplatz. Upcoming engagements include the title role in Don Giovanni with Virginia Opera, Tom Joad (The Grapes of Wrath) with Michigan Opera Theater, and Malatesta (Don Pasquale) with Opera National de Montpellier.

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Thierry Escaich: Organist-Composer in the French Tradition

 Thierry Escaich

Thierry Escaich

On March 4, The Cecilia Chorus of New York will present a quadruple bill of works by French composers: Requiem (1983) by Charles Gounod, Cantique de Jean Racine (1866) by Gabriel Fauré, the organ solo Dieu Parmi Nous (1935) by Olivier Messiaen, and the U.S. premiere of Messe Romane (2014) by Thierry Escaich. Though less well known in the United States than his predecessors, Escaich, at 52, is currently one of the most important contemporary composers in France, inspired by the French tradition of organist-composers such as Ravel, Messiaen, Dutilleux, Fauré, and Franck. He has composed over 120 works, recorded over 50 CDs and DVDs, and is celebrated and sought after as a creator and performer around the world.

Last month, arriving in Paris for a week’s vacation, I decided to contact Thierry Escaich in the hopes of scheduling an interview with him while I was in town. Knowing what a demanding work and travel schedule he follows, I wasn’t surprised when I didn’t hear back from him. But in the wee hours of the morning I was to leave on a high-speed train to Amsterdam, my phone pinged: Excusez-moi, I have been working like a madman on a viola concerto for the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra and I just now finished it, completely exhausted. Could we meet later this morning?

Plans were re-adjusted, bags were hastily packed and an hour before my train was to depart, Escaich rose to greet me at a back table in the Café Terminus Nord, across the street from the train station. Looking pale and creased but smiling genially, Escaich started by correcting my pronunciation of his name.

Escaich: It looks like ES-CA-ITCH, but it’s actually pronounced ES-KETCH. This is an old name in the Occitane dialect from the province of Bėarn-l’Ariège, in the Pyrenees mountains near the Spanish border, where my father’s family lived. And where Gabriel Fauré, one of my role models as an organist-composer, came from, by the way! The name Escaich means a small piece of fabric, like a swatch. Most people in France have never heard of it.
My father came from a family of peasants, but he escaped the farming life by joining the military. My mother was a schoolteacher. I myself was born in Rosny-sous-Bois, a suburb of Paris. My parents were not musical themselves, but when I was about three or four they noticed that I invented my own way of notating music that I heard on the radio and television and even composed little songs of my own, and they encouraged my talent. When I entered primary school they gave me an accordion, and from the age of 13 to 15, I was the world champion accordionist in my age group! I still love the accordion, but the organ soon took precedence.
One Sunday when I was seven, my mother took me to mass at the local church where there was a harmonium. After the service, I asked if I could play on it. I’d never touched a piano or any other instrument besides an accordion before, but the priest let me improvise on the harmonium and then led me over to the church’s small organ. To me it was huge and awe-inspiring, but I started improvising on it and the priest said, “Our organist is ill. Would you like to fill in for him?”
Before I knew it, I was hired as the official church organist. I didn’t know how to read music, but I knew the hymns by heart from having attended church regularly, and I could improvise on entrances and exits, so it didn’t matter. I didn’t start piano lessons until two years later, when I was nine.

That was at the Conservatory of Rosny-sous-Bois. Escaich later enrolled in the National Conservatory in Paris, where he won eight first prizes and has taught improvisation and composition since 1992. He has since been Composer-in-Residence with orchestras in Lyon, Lille, and Paris, and has received four “Victoires de la Musique” awards. He is artistic director of the Mariinsky International Organ Festival and in Paris he is an official organist of the Saint-Etienne-du-Mont church near the Panthéon in the Latin Quarter, a position once held by the composer Maurice Duruflé. From February 6-11, Radio France will focus on Escaich’s work  in its Présences Festival, devoted to contemporary music and composition. (For a full biography, a complete list of works, and to hear fragments of his music, see Escaich’s website or that of his management agency Intermusica.)

Eschaich’s work consists of composing, performing, and collaborating with other creative artists, and includes orchestral music, solo music, vocal and choral music, opera, and music for dance and films.

“I love being onstage myself, at the piano or the organ, expressing my own emotions to the public,” says Escaich. “But that isn’t always possible. I would love to play the organ at your performance of my Messe Romane in New York, but I will be on tour in China then.” (Editors: Organist Bálint Karosi will perform all four works of the March 4th concert - see article.)

Why did you give the Messe Romane—Roman Mass—that title?

I was commissioned to write this work in 2014 for a special concert at the Cathedral of Notre Dame in Paris, where several choruses were to sing together. Each choir would rehearse the piece individually but not together in one place! So I wrote it for two choruses, which respond to each other. In the traditional Gregorian—early Roman—mass, the priest sings part of the mass and the chorus or congregation sings the response. Messe Romane is reminiscent of Gregorian chants, with its use of call and response. I know that your chorus will be divided in two for this purpose.

You have written masses, oratorios, and—increasingly—operas. Do you see a relationship between the human voice and the organ?

To me they are both musical instruments, just like the various instruments in an orchestra. People who hear me play the organ say that they think they are hearing an entire orchestra. In my compositions I am always trying to express something, and I use the voice to express the same message with the same intensity as the other instruments. The great master at doing this was Bach, with his cantatas. I understand that The Cecilia Chorus of New York performed Bach’s Christmas Oratorio with great success in December, so I’m confident you’ll do a great job with my Messe Romane!

(Jeanne Wikler)

Bio Thierry Escaich:

Composer, organist, and improviser Thierry Escaich is a unique figure in contemporary music and one of the most important French composers of his generation. Escaich draws from the French line of composition of Ravel, Messiaen and Dutilleux, and whose works are imbued with references from contemporary, folk, and spiritual music.

His most recent new works include a Viola Concerto for Antoine Tamestit commissioned by Netherlands Radio Philharmonic, and Organ Concerto No. 3 which received its European premiere by Escaich and Orchestre National de Lyon in November 2017. His works are performed by leading orchestras in Europe and North America and by musicians such as Lisa Batiashvili and François Leleux, Valery Gergiev, Lothar Zagrosek, Renaud and Gautier Capuçon, Emmanuelle Bertrand, Paul Meyer, John Mark Ainsley, and the Quatuor Voce.  

Esciach is featured composer of the 2018 Radio France Présences Festival, and other highlights of the season include the world premiere of his Viola Concerto for Antoine Tamestit at the Royal Concertgebouw in Amsterdam, and Stéphane Denève, and the European Premiere of Organ Concerto No. 3 with Escaich as soloist alongside the Orchestre National de Lyon and Leonard Slatkin in Lyon and at the Paris Philharmonie.

Thierry Escaich is represented by Intermusica.

Organist Bálint Karosi: We Need Composers like Escaich!

  Bálint Karosi

Bálint Karosi

Bálint Karosi (38) was somewhat taken aback when he heard that Thierry Escaich—one of his heroes—had originally wanted to play the organ himself during our March 4 performance of his Messe Romane; due to scheduling conflicts, Escaich was unable to come and Karosi was asked in his place. “Talk about pressure!” he said, laughing. In fact, Karosi will play all three choral works plus an organ solo on the program by a quartet of French organist-composers.

Karosi: All four composers on the program occupy a special place in the great French tradition of organists-composers-improvisers. Both Gounod and Fauré worked to come to terms with their own compositional style in relation to the classical German composers of the day, especially Wagner. They emphasized clarity and harmonic simplicity as opposed to Wagner’s bombastic complexity. That’s why their music is so beautiful to listen to. Messiaen invented his own colorful style that he described as “...true music, music that is to say spiritual, a music which may be an act of faith; a music which may touch upon all subjects without ceasing to touch upon God.” I have yet to find a more poetic and beautiful description of music!

How does Escaich fit into this tradition?

Karosi: I had the pleasure of meeting Thierry Escaich years ago when I was a student at Oberlin on an organ tour of France.  He has a delightful personality that shines through in his music, which engages and enchants his audiences.  In fact, his works are complicated and include dissonant harmonies and nontraditional scales, but on the surface they are pleasing, likeable, flamboyant, and gestural. He writes for dance and movies as well as for orchestras and operas.  He is doing something very important for the future of organ music: he is making it appealing to a contemporary audience; he is keeping it relevant. In Europe, with its many cathedrals, this is a bit easier, as church music is still a vital part of the culture there. But here in the United States, we really need composers like Escaich to revitalize the appeal of the organ.

Is composing and improvising on the organ as strong a tradition in the United States?

Karosi: Organ improvisation is not taught so much in U.S. conservatories, where organists generally hope to play in concerts rather than in church services, though most of them also have jobs as church organists. In concerts,  you are expected to play the repertoire the way it is written. But in church, the organist has a huge amount of freedom, especially, in hymn playing, where organists are expected to come up with improvised ornamentation and variations, similar to jazz musicians, who learn to improvise by ornamenting and elaborating on jazz standards. During a traditional liturgy, organists need to fill silence, like the censing of the altar or sometimes during communion. So we improvise.

Born in Budapest and starting his musical education at the age of seven, Karosi attended the Liszt Academy in Budapest, where he concentrated on piano, organ and clarinet. But when he got a scholarship to spend two years in Geneva studying with the great composer and organist Lionel Rogg at the conservatory there, he realized that composition and organ improvisation would be his future. He was thrilled to have the chance to play on beautifully preserved historic organs.

Karosi: Switzerland is full of them! There are no 17th and very few 18th century organs in Hungary and those that are there are generally in poor condition, although there is a very strong revival of old organs in most recent years. The reason is of course historic: central Europe was ruled by the Ottoman Empire years from 1541 to 1699, and churches were either destroyed or turned into mosques, like the Matthias Church in Budapest. But in Switzerland the organs have been preserved and contemporary Swiss organ builders are still making new organs based on 17th or 18th century designs.

Still, the United States beckoned. In 2003, Karosi did a master class with the acclaimed organist James David Christie, who invited him to continue his studies with him at the Oberlin Conservatory. Karosi received a master’s degree in historical keyboard performance, an artist diploma in organ performance, and recently—after spending eight years working in Boston—a doctorate in composition at Yale. In 2015, he took the position of organist at the Saint Peter’s Church in midtown Manhattan.

Karosi: I love the dynamism of New York City – there is so much going on here! But I decided to move to Westchester, because I am hypersensitive to noise. I live with my fiancée, my three clavichords and harpsichord in the woods in Hartsdale, listening to the birds and getting inspiration from them, like Messiaen did!

For more information on Bálint Karosi, a complete list of his works and samples of his music, see his website.

(J.W.)

Bio Bálint Karosi:

Bálint Karosi, composer and organist, has won first prizes at the J. S. Bach Competition in Leipzig, the Dublin and Miami International Organ Competitions, and is the recipient of the 2014 Charles Ives Scholarship by the American Academy of Arts and Letters. He has recorded four CDs, The Art of Fugue and the Clavier-übung III by Bach and an album of his own compositions, released by Hungaroton and Dulzian Records.

Bálint currently serves as cantor at Saint Peter’s Lutheran Church in midtown Manhattan, where he oversees an ambitious musical program with frequent performances of choral and orchestral works, including performances of J.S. Bach’s Passions on Good Friday. He founded the Saint Peter’s Bach Collegium.

Bálint’s commissions include an overture for the Hungarian State Opera, a Reformation Symphony, two organ concerti, a harpsichord and a triple concerto, a bassoon sonata and three cantatas and concertos for strings. He is under management with Penny Lorenz Artist Management. Bálint studied at the Liszt Academy in Budapest, the Conservatoire de Genève, the Oberlin Conservatory, and earned his Doctor of Musical Arts in Composition at Yale University.

Charles Sy, Tenor: Singing is Learning to Understand Myself

 Charles Sy

Charles Sy

When Toronto native Charles Sy lost his voice at the end of his senior year in high school, his world fell apart. “I was devastated. I had complete aphonia, due to the extreme swelling of my vocal folds. I couldn’t speak for a month, and I couldn’t sing for three months. But singing was my life! I was terrified that it was all over.”

Sitting in Lincoln Center’s Indie café with Charles as the words tumbled out of his mouth, it was hard to imagine him being unable to talk. Nor was there any evidence from the smiling, outgoing 25-year-old that he had ever been shy and socially awkward. But the path to where he is now—a member of the highly selective Juilliard Opera Studies program and poised to make his Carnegie Hall debut in Bach’s Christmas Oratorio—has been strewn with obstacles.

Charles’s parents, immigrants from the Philippines, had a contentious marriage, which ended in divorce when he was very young, forcing his mother to support him and his sister on her own. Difficult as that already was, Ms. Sy developed cancer three separate times and was sick for much of Charles’s childhood.

He was an excellent student, wanting to please his mother by getting the highest marks. He especially loved science and dreamed of becoming a doctor one day. But between his schoolwork and caring for his mother, there was no time for Charles to make friends. He was isolated, terrible at sports, and very insecure. But the Catholic school had a choir, and it turned out he had an aptitude for singing. This became his one hobby, his one social event at school.

In seventh grade, when his voice changed, he found that he couldn’t control his voice anymore. “I had to deal with octave displacement. I couldn’t make the connection between my brain, my ear, and my vocal folds.”

It was clear that he needed voice training to correct this, and although the thought never occurred to his family nor to him that he might become a professional singer, he auditioned and was accepted at the Cawthra Park Secondary School which is specialized in the arts. That is where his life began to change.

In addition to the usual subjects, music majors learned theory, harmony, and music history. They learned to sing pop, musical theater, ensemble singing, and classical music, and although Charles loved musicals and still does, he did not have the brassy belting voice required to sing in them. (He did perform in a school production of West Side Story, however, playing a member of the Puerto Rican gang, The Sharks. “My Asian face passed for Latino.”). Charles met other students like him who were passionate about music, many of whom hoped to pursue a career in it. It started to dawn on him that that might be an option for him, too.

At the age of 15, Charles was urged to audition for the Ontario Youth Choir, a summer program for young singers aged 15 to 24, where the older members were studying voice at the university level. Charles decided to follow the same path. He found a voice teacher, Barbara Prins, who prepared him for auditions at the top-rated University of Toronto’s voice studies program. He was accepted, eager to graduate high school and start his professional training, when he lost his voice. “It was extremely traumatic for me, but I got through it and it taught me to take care of my voice and my health in general. So now I am very careful about using my voice correctly, not overtaxing it, and about diet and exercise.”

His mother was sick again and couldn’t work, and Charles had to help support the family as well as paying for his college tuition. Unable to afford living on campus, he lived at home, which was about two hours away by bus. In addition to that daily commute, he worked in a restaurant in Oakville, another hour and a half each way by train, from 5 p.m. to 1 a.m. But in spite of the grueling hours, he actually loved that job.

“The place was called ‘Seafood, Steak, and Song,’” he recounts with a smile.  “It’s closed now, unfortunately, but I was glad to have that job. No other restaurant would hire me as a waiter because I had no experience. But at the Three S’s they had singing waiters! We were all singers and they taught us how to wait tables. That’s a lot easier than hiring experienced waiters and teaching them to sing! I’d be taking someone’s order or picking it up from the kitchen when a bell would ring, and I’d say, “Excuse me a moment,” then set down my tray and break into an aria. I can’t tell you how many times I sang ‘O Sole Mio.’”

But he was exhausted and his academic grades started to slip. His voice teacher and mentor, Dr. Darryl Edwards, noticed he was losing focus and helped him find resources to apply for grants and scholarships, which eased his financial burden considerably, all the way through to his master's degree. (For a complete list of Charles’s accomplishments during and since his academic studies, see his website: http://charles-sy.com.)

An epiphany of sorts happened when Charles saw a Metropolitan Opera HD broadcast of Der Rosenkavalier, with Renee Fleming as the Marschallin. The final trio, where she relinquishes her lover Octavian to his true love Sophie, was performed with such depth of feeling that Charles found himself overcome with emotion. “I actually wept. I had always cried a lot privately as a child, worried about my mother. But I was never moved to cry at a performance, only paying attention to technique. Suddenly it struck me that being an artist is about connecting emotionally with one’s public, one’s stage partners and, above all, oneself. I realized how I had gotten through my difficult childhood by blocking out emotions. Now it was my job to make myself vulnerable in front of thousands of people, connect with them, take risks, and not be afraid of making a mistake. For me, singing is learning to understand myself.” (J.W.)

BIOGRAPHY, CHARLES SY

Toronto native Charles Sy has been recognized internationally as a promising young artist with a “softly lyric sound, a natural sense of phrasing coupled with a rare willingness to project beyond the apron” (National Post). He is described as “vocally and dramatically mature with a delicious dark tenor sound that [stretches] easily into shining high notes” (Schmopera). Sy is a recent graduate of the Canadian Opera Company’s Ensemble Studio and received both First prize and Audience Choice in their 2014 Centre Stage Competition. He is currently completing an Artist Diploma in Opera Studies at the Juilliard School.

A graduate of the University of Toronto (BMus, MMus), Sy is also an alumnus of several training programs including Music Academy of the West in Santa Barbara, Opera Theatre of Saint Louis, the Art of Song Fellowship at the Toronto Summer Music Festival, and the Opera as Theatre program at the Banff Centre.

MEZZO-SOPRANO RENEE TATUM: TURNING THE CORNER

 Renee Tatum

Renee Tatum

Seated before a window, with the morning light filtered through gauzy curtains, Renee Tatum smiled into the camera of her computer when my Skype call came through. She was at her home in Boston, where she is now based and where she relaxes between travels and performances. Just this summer she covered her first Fricka in Wagner’s Das Rheingold with the New York Philharmonic, sang Flosshilde in the Boston Symphony Orchestra’s production of the same work at Tanglewood, and performed two roles in Van Gogh’s Ear with the Ensemble for the Romantic Century in New York City.

After singing the mezzo-soprano solo part with The Cecilia Chorus of New York in Carnegie Hall on December 9, she will perform in Parsifal at the Metropolitan Opera in January and February, followed by roles in both Durufle’s Requiem with Back Bay Chorale and Threepenny Opera with the Boston Lyric Opera in March. Further engagements this season include Penderecki’s Credo with the Indianapolis Symphony in April and Der Ring des Nibelungen at the San Francisco Opera in June and July.

Originally from Southern California, Renee attended New York’s Manhattan School of Music and Juilliard. After spending a summer in The Mereola Opera Program and a year in the Adler Fellowship at The San Francisco Opera, where she sang five roles on the MainStage, she was accepted into the Metropolitan Opera’s Lindemann Young Artist Development Program. She stayed there for three years, in what she describes as a tough but essential experience. “The Lindemann program was something of a ‘Come to Jesus’ moment for me. I already had the tunnel vision, the athletic focus necessary to pursue a career in opera and classical music, but there I was confronted with the basic questions one has to ask oneself when embarking on a career like this: Why do I love music? What is this I am preparing myself for? Who am I, why am I doing this, and does it make me happy? Am I willing to see myself not just as an artist, but as someone who is going to work in a very hard job?”

She decided she was, and she accepted a dizzying array of roles in opera and concert performances (click here for a complete biography). “They were smaller roles in bigger operas,” said Renee. “I had to bide my time, letting my voice develop. Some voices settle in around age 25 and don’t change much after that. But I am blessed with a voice that keeps growing and changing, so I can sing an ever-wider variety of pieces. I feel that it is now turning the corner into a full, lyric voice capable of larger roles in a wide range of repertoire. And I love exploring new roles and new genres.”

Van Gogh’s Ear was a new genre for Renee. An interdisciplinary play with chamber music produced in an off-Broadway theater by the Ensemble for the Romantic Century, the piece combined music, drama, and the visual arts into a salon-scaled Gesamtkunstwerk where the various art forms are melded together to provide a cohesive unity. Renee performed two roles: that of  Gabrielle Berlatier, the young woman in Provence who received van Gogh’s mutilated ear, and Johanna, the wife of Vincent’s brother Theo. The piece required as much acting as singing. “This was a wonderful experience for me. There was no orchestra, no pit, no conductor. We were all on the stage together, directing ourselves, as it were. And I really love acting. Immersed in a character, I don’t monitor myself the way I do while singing. As a singer I am always checking in with myself. As an actor, the main thing is forging a connection between the character and the audience, and we sometimes forget that in the opera, where the audience is holding us to a very different standard. So while I remain passionately committed to opera and classical music, I think acting from time to time will help me be a better performer in any role I sing.” (J.W.)

BIOGRAPHY, RENEE TATUM

Noted for her “commanding and dramatic presence” (Opera News), mezzo-soprano Renee Tatum is rapidly gaining critical acclaim on the most prestigious opera stages in the United States. This season’s engagements include Flosshilde in Das Rheingold with Tanglewood Music Festival; Flosshilde in Das Rheingold and Götterdämmerung and Waltraute in Die Walküre with San Francisco Opera; Jenny in Threepenny Opera with Boston Lyric Opera; Flower Maiden in Parsifal at The Metropolitan Opera; and Ensemble for the Romantic Century’s production of Van Gogh’s Ear at The Pershing Square Signature Center in New York City. She also sang a concert entitled “Opera Italiana Forever Young” as part of the Central Park Summer Concerts series and Das Rheingold in concert with the New York Philharmonic at Lincoln Center.

MAKING THE WHEELS GO ROUND: Sherry Chapin and Katie Davis

In addition to singing beautiful music, members of The Cecilia Chorus of New York volunteer their time, talents, and expertise to making sure the chorus functions perfectly and its concerts go off without a hitch. In this newsletter, long-time members Sherry Chapin and Katie Davis lift the curtain just a little to reveal some of the many ways in which they make things happen behind the scenes.

Sherry Chapin - Auditions

 Sherry Chapin

Sherry Chapin

Nearly 40 years ago, working at the time as the director of training and development for Chase Bank (now JPMorgan Chase), Sherry joined The Cecilia Chorus of New York, and our December 9th performance of Bach’s Christmas Oratorio will mark her 137th concert sung in Carnegie Hall. At various times, her two sons were also members of the Chorus: “It was such a thrill to stand on that stage and sing with my boys!” she recalls.

For nearly 35 of those years, Sherry served on the chorus’s board in one capacity or another. Although she has now left the board, she is no less involved in the day-to-day workings of the chorus. Her most visible role is that of handling auditions.

“Everyone who wants to audition first fills out an audition form on our website and those go straight into my inbox. I then have a conversation with the applicants, asking them strings of questions, and I schedule an audition for them with Mark Shapiro, our music director. If their audition is successful, then I get to work: I generate a welcome letter and I send out notices to those responsible for membership, our mailing lists, our attendance sheets, our database, all the ways in which new singers are incorporated into our organization.” Sherry especially likes meeting the new members, sharing with them her enthusiasm for the chorus and making them feel welcomed and comfortable. “While  Mark is auditioning the singers, I sit at a table outside the studio and make name tags for them. I make them for all of the applicants, ‘on spec’ as it were. If they emerge with thumbs down, I say something comforting to them and quietly dispose of the name tags. But if they come out with a big smile and thumbs up, I give them their tag right away. That way, they can wear them to their very first rehearsal with us, be instantly recognizable as a new member, and already feel part of the community.”

Katie Davis - Logistics

 Katie Davis

Katie Davis

Katie Davis is a vice president at Nomura Americas, a global financial services firm where she works on the operations business management team. A member of The Cecilia Chorus of New York since 2005, she has held various board positions, and currently chairs the logistics committee, among several other volunteer duties. “Logistics fits my personality,” says Katie. “I’m a problem solver. That’s what I do at work on a larger scale, and that’s what logistics is all about!”

She pulls up an eye-popping spreadsheet with a detailed checklist. Just overseeing the workings of one of our concerts in Carnegie Hall starts many months before the event. “I make sure the date is secured and the contracts are out to the soloists, the orchestra, the composer if it’s a commissioned work, and the Hall. Those include countless details, down to how many music stands are required. Then an orchestra rehearsal has to be organized, which includes securing a venue, having the various scores prepared, and being the point person for the union and notifying the chorus and soloists of the time and place.”

“Meanwhile, we start preparation for the dress rehearsal and the performance at Carnegie Hall:  reminding chorus members of our dress code, their call times, their placement onstage, and when they sit and stand during the concert. We have a point person for the soloists and someone in charge of the entrance-and-exit lineup. There is backstage security protocol that has to be followed and a thousand other things to remember! Thank heaven for checklists!”

Logistics are involved in similar ways at all of our concerts as well as our weekly rehearsals. Many other chorus volunteers are involved in carrying out Katie’s dizzying to-do list, as are staff members at the venues, and Katie’s experience as a business manager helps her keep everything and everyone on track. “The fun for me is being on-the-spot, running around, encountering a concrete problem and finding a solution fast. To do that, I need to plan everything. I like to be ready!”

REBECCA FARLEY: PREPARED AND READY

 Rebecca Farley

Rebecca Farley

She was already a tall, striking, vibrant redhead when she sang the soprano solo part in Bach’s Magnificat with The Cecilia Chorus of New York last December.  But now, as she strode through the revolving doors into the crowded lobby of the Time Warner Center on Columbus Circle, all heads turned to follow her. Perfectly made up and sporting a soft brown fedora (“Got it in New Zealand, where I just did a three-week tour. Such a beautiful country!”) and an off-the-shoulder top as green as her eyes, with a long russet braid hanging down one side, she had the look of someone who was well aware of being observed.

“That’s one of the many things I learned at Juilliard,” said the recent Master Program graduate. “You have to have a look—a brand—that you stick to every time you go out. And that even includes going to events unrelated to your career. You never know who will be there, or even who may recognize you walking on the street. But they want to recognize the persona they’ve seen onstage, not some sloppy version of that person.”

A veteran public relations executive who represented the likes of Renée Fleming gave a course on exactly this topic at Juilliard. “It was tough on some of the students who looked perfectly presentable but didn’t project a carefully considered image. The teacher said my look was in the right ballpark, but wasn’t detail-oriented or tailored enough. She was right.” Asked how she would describe the brand she is now projecting, she said “Approachable Diva. I love elegance, but I don’t want to come across as an intimidating, untouchable type of performer. Connecting with people is my top priority—not alienating them.”

Rebecca has been connecting with people since her early days in Kentucky. Born and raised in rural Henderson, she lived with her parents and four older siblings on an acre of her grandfather’s farmland, surrounded by aunts, uncles, and cousins. Rebecca did her undergraduate work in voice at the University of Kentucky in Lexington, where a chance opportunity led to her acceptance at Juilliard (read about this important event, and her account of her first year at Juilliard, in last November’s Cecilia Chorus of New York newsletter).

Now, feeling completely at home in New York, with her Master of Music and a wide range of roles and performances under her belt, Rebecca is “happy, arrived, and ready to start my career.” She was immediately rewarded with a 10-concert tour of New Zealand with Juilliard 415, the school’s famed early music ensemble, conducted by Masaaki Suzuki, “the Bach guy.” She is now auditioning for the Young Artist programs at the country’s major opera houses and she has also, to her delight, been cast in two pieces by women composers: Sherry Woods’ chamber opera Mara with a libretto by the Buddhist teacher and author Stephen Batchelor (at the Rubin Museum, October 18 and 20), and Angela Rice’s Easter oratorio Thy Will Be Done at David Geffen Hall, Lincoln Center (March 16). Her performance in Bach’s Christmas Oratorio with The Cecilia Chorus will be her second time on the Carnegie Hall main stage.

(J.W.)

 

BIOGRAPHY, REBECCA FARLEY

Rebecca Farley, soprano, holds a master's degree from The Juilliard School. While at Juilliard she appeared as the Controller in Flight, Bubikopf in Der Kaiser von Atlantis, and covered Amina in the Met+Juilliard production of La Sonnambula. Other recent roles include Pamina in Die Zauberflöte and Gilda in Rigoletto. As a concert soloist, she has sung in Orff's Carmina Burana, Mahler's Resurrection Symphony, Handel's Messiah, and premiered the role of Mary in Angela Rice's oratorio Thy Will Be Done which she will reprise at David Geffen Hall this March. Ms. Farley is delighted to be back with the Cecilia Chorus of New York after having debuted with the ensemble last December in Bach's Magnificat. Even more recently, Ms. Farley has performed works of Bach and Handel conducted by international Bach authority Masaaki Suzuki. She participated in a ten-concert tour with Maestro Suzuki this May/June in New Zealand.

WILLIAM GUANBO SU: THE DISCIPLINE OF AN ATHLETE

 William Guanbo Su

William Guanbo Su

Bass-baritone William Guanbo Su, 23 this month, discovered his voice by accident when he was in elementary school in Beijing. Like all the other schoolboys in his choir class, William sang soprano. But their teacher had a beautiful, deep bass voice; and so, wanting to emulate him, William suddenly started singing several registers lower. The teacher, thinking that William was making fun of him, threw him out of the class. The second time this happened, the teacher accused him of insolence and of singing too loud. William didn’t return to choir class.

Instead of upbraiding her son for disrespecting his teacher, William’s mother—whose own father had a deep bass singing voice that was never trained—set out to find him a voice teacher. A student at the Central Conservatory was willing to train the young boy, and the results were enough to get William admitted to a highly selective private middle school on a voice scholarship. While there, a teacher urged him to go to America if he was serious about singing Western classical music; her American husband helped William with all the necessary forms, documents, and applications. He was accepted on scholarship as a boarding student at the Walnut Hill School for the Arts in Natick, MA, near Boston.

At the age of fourteen, William arrived alone in the United States. He knew no one and spoke no English. In addition to following a full curriculum of normal high school classes, he would have a full roster of music and voice lessons, and be coached by singers and teachers from Boston University and the New England Conservatory—a daunting prospect.

“But from the moment I arrived at the Walnut Hill School, my confidence started to build,” says William. “There was only one other Chinese student, so I had to learn English quickly, and of course all the courses were taught in English. I joined several choral groups and entered competitions, some of which I won. I desperately needed to earn money to pay my expenses, but because of visa restrictions, I couldn’t go the usual Chinese immigrant route, which was to work in a restaurant kitchen. I was only allowed to work at the school itself, so I got jobs in the computer lab and at the gym, which gave me a certain status.”  During his senior year, he was featured on the NPR “From the Top” radio program, where he was praised for his “expressive sound, and the variety of his voice.”

By now that voice had deepened to a bass/baritone. He was accepted at the Manhattan School of Music and graduated with a Bachelor of Music degree last May. He spent the summer of 2016 in Vienna at the Franz Schubert Institute, studying German Lieder. “This was a life-changing experience. I learned how entwined the text and the music are. I was taught not to sing the words, but to speak the notes.” He often took long walks in the woods where Schubert and Mozart had also walked, listening to the bird songs, the river, and all the other nature sounds that had inspired them.

Now in his first year of Juilliard’s Master of Music program, William needs all the self-confidence he can muster. In addition to attending classes, auditioning, practicing, and performing, he is learning that a successful singing career depends on a lot more than just talent. “It’s the whole package: your look, your presentation, how well you understand the maestro or the director, and most of all, your relationship with people.”

Although he is not naturally extroverted—he avoids parties, especially at bars and discos where he knows no one—William has an easy way of talking, engaging and carrying himself. But his relaxed manner belies a steely personal discipline which has supported him throughout his young life. His only leisure activities, he says, are working out at the gym and cooking with his girlfriend. Otherwise, it’s work, work, work. “I learned that from my parents, especially my dad, who was a gold medalist on the Asian Olympic windsurfing team.  I also did competitive swimming in China, but I gave that up when I started focusing on my voice. But when I was born, my father gave me the first name Guanbo. In China, names have meanings: guan means “champion” and bo means ‘fight for it.’ I’m not fighting to become a champion athlete—maybe a champion singer. But it’s too hard for Americans to pronounce right. So I came up with William. You can just call me that.”

Singing bass in The Cecilia Chorus of New York’s performance of Bach’s Christmas Oratorio will be William’s solo debut at Carnegie Hall, but he already knows the thrill of standing and singing on the Stern Auditorium/Perelman Stage: while a student at the Manhattan School of Music, he sang there as a member of Kent Tritle’s Oratorio Society. It was there that he heard about The Cecilia Chorus. “And now I’m singing solo with them—wow!”

Last month William received First Prize in the prestigious Gerda Lissner Lieder/Song Vocal Competition as well as an Opera Index Encouragement Award.

(J.W.)

 

BIOGRAPHY, WILLIAM GUANBO SU

At the age of 18, New York City based singer William Guanbo Su (1994) was featured on National Public Radio’s “From the Top” program, where he was praised for his “expressive sound, and the variety of (his) voice.”

Mr. Su has performed in solo recitals around Europe, Asia, and the United States.  He’s operatic roles range from Monteverdi’s L'incoronazione di Poppea to Janacek’s The Adventures of Vixen Sharp Ears. He has also concentrated on German Lieder at the Franz Schubert Institute in Vienna, where he was coached by Emmy Ameling, Olaf Bar, Helmut Deutsch, Robert Holl and others. He recently won first prize in the 2017 Gerda Lissner Lieder/Song Vocal Competition, as well as an Opera Index Encouragement Award.

Born in Beijing, China, Mr. Su moved to the United States at the age of 14 to attend The Walnut Hill School for the Arts in Natick MA.  He continued his voice studies at the Manhattan School of Music, graduating last May. He is currently pursuing his Master’s degree at Juilliard under the guidance of Cynthia Hoffmann. 

MAKING THE WHEELS GO ROUND: YOUR NEWSLETTER TEAM, JEANNE WIKLER AND NICK YOUNG

In the public eye, The Cecilia Chorus of New York is a smoothly running machine. A season is selected, and new works are commissioned. Flyers, posters, and newsletters are written, designed, and distributed. The Chorus website is kept updated. Concert halls are booked and soloists engaged. Notices appear in print media and on the radio. The Playbill programs are filled with background information about the concerts, the performers, and donors. Singers enter, sit, stand, and take bows at the right times and in the right order.

Chorus members see even more: music scores are ordered and sold at rehearsals, which take place in a rented hall where hot drinks and snacks are available during breaks. Membership and attendance lists are kept up to date, dues collected, fundraising events organized, grant proposals written and appeal letters sent out, auditions arranged, and social events are organized for members. The list goes on and on, and all of this is being carried out by volunteers from the ranks of our singers, organized into committees led by members of the board of directors. In this and future newsletters, we will be highlighting the work of a number of our volunteers and committee chairs.

YOUR NEWSLETTER TEAM: JEANNE WIKLER AND NICK YOUNG

Jeanne_cropped.png

Jeanne Wikler is a director-at-large of The Cecilia Chorus of New York’s board, and in that capacity she has assumed the newly created role of communications coordinator. With a background as a producer and director of documentary film and television, she puts her long journalistic experience to use as writer and co-editor of the Chorus newsletter. “My favorite part of this job is interviewing our guest artists, the soloists, and, when we are commissioning new work, the composers. I have always loved engaging with artists, hearing them talk about their work and their lives as artists, and finding out what drives their passion and what we can learn from them.” Jeanne works closely with Nick Young, who, among other things, brings great digital expertise to the production and distribution of the newsletter.


NickYoung2017_cropped.png

Nick Young is co-editor and designer of the Chorus newsletter. His background is in international relations with a focus on China, which brought him to New York to work at the National Committee on U.S.-China Relations. He has been at the nonprofit for more than four years, managing a variety of communications, including the monthly newsletter! “It seemed like a no-brainer to volunteer for the Chorus, as I’m able to provide skills that I use every day in the office. Working with Jeanne is a real pleasure—we make a great team—and I’m thrilled that my role has grown so I now get to strategize content with her. I feel more connected to the community and the music itself, which are both important to me in these chaotic times we live in."

CHRISTMAS ORATORIO by J.S. Bach: Program Notes from Mark Shapiro

 Mark Shapiro Music Director The Cecilia Chorus of New York

Mark Shapiro
Music Director
The Cecilia Chorus of New York

Bach’s Christmas Oratorio, one of the composer’s most lavish musical achievements, comprises six cantatas that were written to be performed on consecutive feast-day mornings from the Nativity through Epiphany. Although each cantata stands alone effortlessly, in the aggregate they constitute, by evident design, a magnificently cohesive whole. 

Ever the practical visionary, Bach, probably in cahoots with his trusted librettist-collaborator, the lawyer-by-day/poet-by-night Picander, seems to have anticipated multipart audience-pleasing extravaganzas such as Wagner’s Ring, or for that matter the service-music equivalent of the Netflix series. Those of us who have happily binge-watched [insert favorite show here] might have no difficulty imagining ourselves cozily settling in for a half dozen back-to-back episodes of Bach. 

The Christmas Oratorio is one of three late-career blockbusters Bach wrote for high feast days in the Christian church (the other two are his oratorios for Easter and Ascension). In addition to composing from scratch, Bach recycled music he had previously written for secular tributes to royal members of the House of Saxony. One such work bears the emphatically not biblical (and for this reason not strictly kosher) title Hercules at the Crossroads.

Though the economic and quasi-environmental benefits of Bach’s recycling practice are self-evident – nor was he at all unique in adopting this procedure; Handel, among others, did it too – scholars of music history have long fretted over its philosophical implications, especially when the recycling repurposes the secular as sacred. Many years ago, when researching this practice, whose technical name is “parody,” for a college assignment, I read an essay by the 20th-century Yale-based scholar Leo Schrade. Schrade’s luminous argument was that for a soul like Bach’s, there was no functional demarcation between the secular and the sacred. All experience was sacred, all the time. Not a bad way to live.

The six cantatas of Bach’s Christmas Oratorio were first heard in Leipzig in December/January 1733-4, and then – astonishingly – not again until 1857, having lain fallow for five generations. Since 1955, Bach’s oratorio has been recorded at least thirty times, sometimes twice by the same conductor. A takeaway here may be that, while some music catches the popular imagination immediately, other music might have to wait, ever so patiently, for its historical moment and the happenstance of a timely and convincing revival. Destiny counts on passionate cadres of committed musical excavators to ensure that worthy artifacts do not vanish forever in the silences of eternity. (In this vein, we proudly draw your attention to our May 2018 New York premiere, a mere four-score years after she wrote it, of English composer Dame Ethel Smyth’s amazing oratorio The Prison that dates from 1934.)

Perversely enough, the conscientious conductor comes face to face with the transcendent beauty of Bach’s Christmas Oratorio when reluctantly choosing what to leave out. (Clocking in at nearly three hours of music, it’s just a bit too long for a single concert sitting.) Our version tonight has been discreetly Feng-shui’ed to privilege the evening’s dramatic flow and tension. That is, we’ve done a bit of streamlining so as to maximize the oratorio’s narrative effectiveness in a concert hall as opposed to a worship context, while nonetheless preserving the intervals for deep contemplation that are so integral to Bach’s poetic and spiritual sensibility. For the sweet loss of what we have omitted we console ourselves with the promise that on a next occasion we may do things differently. (If your favorite moment has gone missing, do let us know, and perhaps we can restore it in a future performance!)

Bach’s (and Picander’s?) narrative structure lucidly delineates the Nativity story, which is further supported by the key sequences of Bach’s large-scale harmonic design. (The involvement of Picander – the nom de plume of the part-time writer Christian Friedrich Henrici – is in some doubt because his personal compendium of his complete works omits the Christmas Oratorio libretto, which otherwise incorporates verses from Luke and Matthew, Martin Luther, and a handful of lesser-known contributors.) Successively, the six panels of the double triptych that comprises the Christmas Oratorio trace a cogent narrative arc through the Birth, Annunciation, Adoration of the Shepherds, Naming, Journey of the Magi, and Adoration of the Magi.

Demonstrating how a skillful, busy composer exploits opportunities afforded by circumstance – in this case, the possibility to engage different players for different days – Bach’s instrumentarium for Christmas Oratorio is exceptionally variegated. To give just one example: corni da caccia” (“hunting horns”) appear in the fourth cantata, wrought in the warmly pastoral key of F major.

Throughout human history, the dark winter solstice has been a time to turn on the lights (or light the bonfires) and, with the harvest completed and the next round of planting still in the offing, to feast unabashedly and in large numbers on perishables and preserved meats. Though there is, to be sure, a legitimate musicological basis for advocating on behalf of Bach performances by small musical cohorts, there is also something important to be said in favor of turning out the whole community to celebrate, as we do this evening. Sometimes it does take a village. 

The winter solstice is equally a moment for stillness and peaceful reflection. The firework brilliance of Bach’s concerted choruses (to name two: “Jauchzet, frohlocket”; and “Ehre sei dir, Gott, gesungen”) magnificently offsets the oratorio’s contemplative passages, such as the ineffably tender lullaby “Schlafe, mein Liebe.”

You may have noticed our promotional artwork for tonight’s performance, a rainbow display of macaroons. Meaning no irreverence, we nonetheless wanted to evoke a happy mood of color and abundance. May this evening be a feast for each of you – as it is for us.

— ©Mark Shapiro 2017

MAKING THE WHEELS GO ROUND: a look behind the scenes at the heavy lifting of Chorus volunteers

In the public eye, The Cecilia Chorus of New York is a smoothly running machine. A season is selected, and new works are commissioned. Flyers, posters, and newsletters are written, designed, and distributed. The Chorus website is kept updated. Concert halls are booked and soloists engaged. Notices appear in print media and on the radio. The Playbill programs are filled with background information about the concerts, the performers, and donors.  Singers enter, sit, stand, and take bows at the right times and in the right order.

Chorus members see even more: music scores are ordered and sold at rehearsals, which take place in a rented hall where hot drinks and snacks are available during breaks. Membership and attendance lists are kept up to date, dues collected, fundraising events organized, grant proposals written and appeal letters sent out, auditions arranged, and social events are organized for members. The list goes on and on, and all of this is being carried out by volunteers from the ranks of our singers,, organized into committees led by members of the Board of Directors.

In this and future newsletters, we will be highlighting the work of a number of our volunteers and committee chairs, starting with the publicity and development committees, currently chaired by Erika Renae Keith, Steven Salzgeber, Elaine Bergman, and Gina Carroll. Click on the photos to learn what they do for the Chorus.

ERIKA RENAE KEITH and STEVEN SALZGEBER: publicity co-chairs (outgoing)

The publicity co-chairs work collaboratively with the communications coordinating committee to develop and implement a publicity and marketing strategy that focuses primarily on promoting The Cecilia Chorus of New York’s concert season. Chairs work with fellow board members to ensure that all communications to patrons, donors, and Chorus members have a streamlined look and feel across all mediums, including print, social media, the website, and email communications.

 Erika Renae Keith

Erika Renae Keith

Erika Renae Keith has concentrated primarily on the design and production of all promotional concert materials, working directly with the Chorus's designer, Jieun Yang. With her co-chair Steven Salzgeber, Erika has overseen print production and mailings, and she has taken over the position of webmaster which she will continue to fulfill. Erika: “What I have loved best about this volunteer job is the creative side: working over the summer with Jieun, with important input from our Music Director Mark Shapiro, to determine the design of the coming season’s concert posters, flyers, and postcards. The rest of the year is more the production side, making sure that these designs are printed and distributed correctly and on time.”

 Steven Salzgeber

Steven Salzgeber

Steven Salzgeber has worked tirelessly with our paid publicist to develop press releases and conduct outreach to publications across New York City. The New York Choral Consortium lists some 65 member choruses, all performing for the public and, inevitably, competing for press coverage. Steven: “My finest moment, I think was in February of this year when I managed to get a listing of our March concert (Oedipus the King, by the Brothers Balliett - ed) in the arts section Goings on About Town of The New Yorker magazine - and then again in their April issue, when they gave us a terrific shout-out for our Jabri-Brahms concert in May. Press work is a relentless push, but it’s so satisfying when it yields results like that!”

ELAINE BERGMAN AND GINA CARROLL: development co-chairs (outgoing)

The development co-chairs create and manage the development plan of the Chorus based on the strategic goals adopted by the Board of Directors. The co-chairs recruit volunteer choristers to work on appeal letters, fundraising events (including an annual Auction), donor relations, grant writing, endowment growth, and other activities as needed. An important part of the job, recurring annually, is the grant application for the New York City Department of Cultural Affairs (DCA) as well as the required Cultural Data Project.

 Elaine Bergman

Elaine Bergman

Elaine Bergman has served as board member and development co-chair for the past six years. She has developed and implemented a segmented, multi-tiered fundraising strategy as well as crafting new ways of reaching and appealing to existing and new donors in order to help keep the Chorus in good financial health. To this end, she started a bi-monthly email newsletter, which has since expanded its readership to include fellow Chorus members and attendees, as well as donors. “What I have enjoyed most is coming up with strategic ways to reach  donors and get them excited about what we do,” Elaine says. “We need to do more than just ask for money. By creating various levels of giving, and instituting specialized funds like our recently created Composers Fund for commissioned works, I hope I’ve helped create a program of giving that will sustain itself in the long run.” Elaine plans to continue working on donor relations alongside her successor.

 Gina Carroll

Gina Carroll

Gina Carroll is stepping down from her role as co-chair, which has largely meant assisting Elaine in all the many responsibilities that job entails. But she will continue her work as grant writer, most importantly for the annual DCA grant, which the Chorus has received for each of the four years that Gina has been in charge of the application. Gina: “For grants, especially government grants, more and more information is required as the demand for accountability and transparency grows. It’s a huge job to get everything together in the right order, the right wording, and the limited space given to us. But what I love is the fact that in order to write these grants, I have to know practically everything about the workings of the Chorus: the finances, the talent, the philosophy behind our programs, the outreach, ticket sales, publicity, and technical aspects, down to how many musicians are in the orchestra at each concert. For that I get to talk to all the various member volunteers involved in these activities: really getting a front-row view into the workings of the Chorus. What a privilege!”

CHELSEA SHEPHARD, soprano: “Music is a safe place to grieve”

 Chelsea Shephard

Chelsea Shephard

“I am incredibly excited about the chance to perform both the Brahms Requiem and A Garden Among the Flames. How admirable of The Cecilia Chorus of New York and Maestro Shapiro to commission that piece by the Syrian composer Zaid Jabri, calling out for peace and tolerance while describing the trauma of the refugees fleeing the horrors in the region. None of us can get the images of the young boy covered in blood, or the child washed up on the shore, or the most recent photos of the horrifying chemical attacks out of our minds, but we can’t take on the pain of the whole world all the time. Music is a safe place to experience this. It gives us permission to grieve in a way we can’t experience in our everyday lives. And, after hearing A Garden Among the Flames, who can listen to the Brahms Requiem without hearing it as a requiem for Syria?”

For Chelsea Shephard, the Requiem strikes an even more personal note. She is still grieving for her mother, who died two years ago of injuries from an accident. “In my experience, art is constantly following life. Brahms wrote the Fifth Movement—the soprano solo which I sing—after the death of his own mother. The soprano is not a character, like in an opera; the part is written to represent an angel, promising comfort to those who mourn. I was practicing this piece with one of my coaches and it was so beautiful, the music so ethereal, that I was on the verge of tears. But my coach said no, you must not cry. It is the audience that has to cry. Your voice needs to serve the music.”

And that music, finds Chelsea, is technically highly challenging. In most operas, a soloist doesn’t sing her great dramatic aria until well into the piece. The composer usually lets her “warm up” first with a duet or some shorter phrases in an easier range, allowing the singer to get her breath and rid herself of nerves before exposing herself with a demanding aria. “But in the Brahms Requiem, I sit silently through four whole movements until, in the fifth, I have to stand and pour out a gorgeous, high, ethereal, seemingly unending phrase. And it has to be perfect!”

Shephard to Morris and back

Many professional women with public careers struggle with the choice of whether or not to take their husband’s name. The young soprano Chelsea Shephard had no such hesitation when she married at the age of 24. As the romantically inclined, freshly minted Chelsea Morris, she began to rack up rave reviews and notices as she started building her career following her voice studies at DePaul University in Chicago and Rice University in Houston. Singing operatic roles such as Beth in Little Women, Pamina in Die Zauberflöte and Susanna in Le nozze di Figaro, winning top prizes at competitions around the country, and performing recitals and choral works in Chicago and New York, Chelsea was faced with the opposite dilemma when her marriage ended last year. “That name was no longer part of who I was. So I took the plunge and changed it back to Shephard.”

Having sung in public since she was five years old, Chelsea got leading roles in all of her school musicals. Knowing very little about opera or other forms of classical singing, her dream at age 18 was to star on Broadway, but she did want a classically-trained voice. Her first music teacher at DePaul was the mezzo-soprano Susan Mentzer, whose career spanning opera, concerts, church music, and working with composers was an inspiration to the young student. “I learned that singing classical music wouldn’t box me in. Even today, I still don’t want to have to choose one particular form. I love all kinds of song performance and I think each of them informs the others.”

Born and raised in Michigan and having performed extensively in Chicago and in Madison, Wisconsin, Chelsea feels very much a Midwesterner. Still, at age 30 she decided it was time to move to New York City to take advantage of its myriad opportunities for classical singers. "I know the competition is very stiff. There is so much talent pouring out of the schools here and into the city from all over the world. But I am ready for this. I have my own plans and I’m excited about pursuing them.”

Those plans include her Carnegie Hall debut on May 6 with The Cecilia Chorus of New York. A beloved mentor of hers, Steven Blier, the artistic director and co-founder of The New York Festival of Song, offered her her NYC recital debut in 2015. Blier then introduced her to Maestro Mark Shapiro, who engaged her to sing in Dame Ethyl Smyth’s The Prison with his chamber choral group Cantori New York last year. He followed that up with an invitation to perform in A Garden Among the Flames and Brahms’s Requiem with The Cecilia Chorus of New York.

Chelsea Shephard is dedicating her Carnegie Hall debut performance to the loving memory of her mother.

BIOGRAPHY, CHELSEA SHEPHARD

Chelsea Shephard, soprano, gave an “exquisite” NYC recital debut in 2015 with New York Festival of Song, garnering praise for her “beautiful, lyric instrument” and “flawless legato” (Opera News). In the 2016-2017 season, Ms. Shephard joined the roster of Lyric Opera of Chicago for a new production of Das Rheingold and will be making her Carnegie Hall debut with The Cecilia Chorus of New York on May 6.  Other current season highlights include recitals and a recording of Paul Bowles’ Pincin Cantata (NYFOS), return engagements with the Madison Bach Musicians (Scarlatti’s Christmas Cantata, Bach’s St. John Passion), as well as her Chicago Chorale debut in Bach’s B Minor Mass. Previously, the versatile soprano has performed operatic roles including Beth/Little Women, Calisto/La Calisto, Pamina/Die Zauberflöte, Susanna/Le nozze di Figaro, Lauretta/Gianni Schicchi, Lisa/The Land of Smiles, Emily Webb/Our Town, and Poppea/L’incoronazione di Poppea with companies such as Madison Opera, Opera Grand Rapids, Haymarket Opera Company, and Caramoor International Music Festival. Ms. Shephard was featured as a Finalist for the Lyric Opera of Chicago’s Ryan Opera Center (2015), won First Place in the Madison Early Music Festival Handel Aria Competition (2014), The Schubert Club (2013), and National Opera Association (2011) competitions, and was a Finalist in the Jensen Foundation Competition in NYC (2014). She was also awarded an Education Grant from the Metropolitan Opera National Council (2016). The Michigan native holds degrees from DePaul University and Rice University, and she recently released her first CD, in collaboration with fortepianist Trevor Stephenson: Songs by Mozart, Haydn & Schubert (Light & Shadow Label). This summer, the pair will collaborate on a second album featuring songs by Debussy, Strauss, Ives, and Brahms with Mr. Stephenson’s lovingly-restored 1855 Bösendorfer piano. More information can be found at www.chelseashephardsoprano.com.