Dr. Jill Bolte Taylor: A Work of Art Based on Her Words

Dr. Jill Bolte Taylor exudes a quiet sparkle. Picking her up at LaGuardia Airport for the video shoot the next day, I couldn’t mistake her amongst the crowd of departing passengers: tall and slim, with long, flowing white-blonde hair, a generous smile and arms stretched out for a hug. She showed no trace of fatigue even though she had flown across the country and back twice that week. She will turn sixty on the weekend of May 3rd, when the work, Fifty Trillion Molecular Geniuses, has its world premiere in Carnegie Hall.

Read More

Amanda Lynn Bottoms sings the mezzo solo role in Fifty Trillion Molecular Geniuses.

“The drama in the piece lies in the unexpected textures of the music and the unexpected words that flow out. The things that are said are things we never would think about on a daily basis. We don’t consider that a small molecular part of us allows us to breathe and to love and to smell. We get so caught up in rushing through the day and thinking we have control, when indeed our own bodies are governed by little bits of energy within us. We indeed are not sole captains of our ship. It’s something that’s very scary….we don’t have that much power over our trajectory in life.”

Read More

Of Two Minds: The World Premiere of Fifty Trillion Molecular Geniuses (A Mini-Documentary)

Dr. Jill Bolte Taylor is a neuroanatomist who survived a stroke and turned her experience into a best-selling book and TED Talk. Based on her prose, The Brothers Balliett have composed a piece for chorus, orchestra, and mezzo-soprano soloist entitled Fifty Trillion Molecular Geniuses. On May 3, 2019, The Cecilia Chorus of New York will perform its world premiere at Carnegie Hall.

Purchase Tickets | Additional Concert Info

Read More

Brahms, Elgar & The Brothers Balliett: Conductor's Note from Mark Shapiro

As we sought to craft a program that would do appropriate honor to Alice Mandelick Flagler, an early leader, benefactor and alto member of The Cecilia Chorus of New York, we hit on the beguiling notion of a triptych, each of whose works would feature mezzo-soprano solo with chorus and orchestra. This led us to reflect on the ecological predicament of the mezzo-soprano voice. In choruses, altos (mezzos’ rustic cousins) are “an inner part,” a lovely Cinderella consigned to a deceptively humble-seeming service, often, and oh so wrongly, likened to a sort of choral scullery. Like bridesmaids, they do the vital, exacting work of holding the show together, soldiering gamely on as, time and again, glory and appreciation are heedlessly bestowed “above.” That is to say, the spotlight is most often trained elsewhere.  When chorus altos are maximally effective in discharging their quietly essential role, audiences may casually be led to exclaim at the sopranos’ radiance. “Your sister is so beautiful!”  In opera, mezzo-sopranos are often (though of course not always) character parts: mothers, aunts, witches, servants, vamps, comedians…and men!

Read More

Sing Me the Universal: Conductor's Note from Mark Shapiro

Walt Whitman. We at The Cecilia Chorus of New York are far from alone this season in drawing attention to the life and achievements of this game-changer of American creatives, who celebrates his 200th birthday in 2019.  As we looked into promotional channels for our concert, we came across the Walt Whitman Consortium, a likeminded group of at least 42 east-coast organizations presenting exhibits, performances, readings, lectures and much more in tribute to this unique voice. Surveying all that is on offer gives a vivid picture of the distinctly generative nature of Whitman’s artistry. In a characteristically “entrepreneurial” American way, he launched a movement, still vital today.

Read More

JORGE MARTÍN: “As a composer, you have to approach Whitman’s poetry with humility, but you have to have gumption of your own.”

“Cuba gave to the world some of the greatest popular music ever, a mix of European melodies and complex African rhythms, which was truly a great contribution. As a small child I heard it all around me. But classical music stole my imagination and my heart.”

Jorge Martín lived the first six years of his life in Cuba, where a miniature piano was his favorite toy. When he was three or four, his older sister brought home a record of Tchaikovsky’s Violin Concerto and Jorge felt an immediate connection to the music. With his mother’s encouragement, he followed his passion through piano lessons in New Jersey, where the family settled in the United States, through music studies at Yale and Columbia University, to a prolific career as a composer of opera, orchestral, chamber, choral, vocal, and solo works. A classmate at Yale of The Cecilia Chorus of New York’s Music Director Mark Shapiro, he wrote an a cappella choral work based on texts by Walt Whitman called One Hour to Madness and Joy, which Shapiro premiered with his chamber choir Cantori New York in 2004. Now, in the year of the bicentennial of Whitman’s birth, Shapiro asked him to revisit the piece, this time with accompaniment, for The Cecilia Chorus of New York.

Read More

NICOLE JOY MITCHELL, Contralto: Knowing Her Path

“Hit it, Baby!” With those encouraging words from her mother, five-year-old Nicole Joy Mitchell embarked on her path to a career as a classical singer. She will soon perform the contralto solo part in excerpts from John Knowles Paine’s Mass in D minor as well as Jorge Martín’s One Hour to Madness and Joy with The Cecilia Chorus of New York on Saturday, March 2.

“It was Christmastime, and I was out shopping with my mother. The day before, I had been sitting in our apartment in Fort Greene, Brooklyn, watching television when Pavarotti came on a PBS program with a little boy soprano. They started singing Gesù Bambino together, and the moment they started, everything else went silent around me. I was transfixed. And on the train to downtown Brooklyn I just opened my mouth and started singing the song in front of everybody. Since then, my mother’s support for my musical career has never wavered.”

Read More

MICHAEL ST. PETER, Tenor: “Paine’s Mass in D is gorgeous, lush, and cinematic”

When tenor Michael St. Peter began studying the score of John Knowles Paine’s Mass in D minor, from which he will be singing excerpts in The Cecilia Chorus of New York’s Walt Whitman Bicentennial concert Sing Me the Universal, he felt it painted a picture, like a movie score.

“The long, flowing lines, the beautiful legato – it was lush and cinematic. My part in the Gloria practically sings itself – the music just falls out of you. It’s a great experience to sing.”

Read More

MESSIAH by G.F. Handel: Conductor's Note from Mark Shapiro

A confession: I never tire of Handel’s Messiah. By now I have conducted it many times. In years past, when it would come around again, I occasionally worried that I wouldn’t enjoy rehearsing it anymore, or that listeners wouldn’t be inclined to hear it afresh. These concerns reliably evaporated from the moment I set to work on it, and now I never think of them. On the contrary, I cannot wait to hear the first chords. I know I will be immediately and completely won over by the music’s radiant beauty, its expressive range, its effortless technique, and its ineffable rightness for the voices and instruments, perhaps a by-product of its famously compressed period of composition (three weeks).

Read More

SHAKÈD BAR, SOPRANO: Bringing the World into Her Singing

The first thing that strikes you upon meeting Shakèd Bar, 29, the Israeli soprano and soloist in the December 8 concert of Handel’s Messiah, is her perfect command of American English. This is especially surprising since, until she moved to New York a year ago to enter Juilliard’s Master of Music program, she had never lived in an English-speaking culture.

“Well, of course you pick it up early on, from movies and from songs on the radio, but as a singer, knowing languages is extremely important. Not just the accent and the intonation, but also the phrasing and the cultural context. All those things add to your interpretation of the music.”

Read More

NICHOLAS TAMAGNA, COUNTERTENOR: An Opera Singer Who Loves the Drama of Oratorio

“The alto part in Messiah isn’t one person, or character – you’re a narrator of sorts, but you definitely have a point of view. That, to me, is the genius of Handel. He brought in the drama he wrote in the first half of his career, when he was creating Italian operas for English audiences, and used it in his oratorios when opera started to fall out of favor. Look at the joy, the exuberance in the announcement of the miracle to come: Behold, a virgin shall conceive, and bear a son, and shall call his name, Emmanuel, GOD WITH US.”

As he recites the line, Nicholas Tamagna’s already animated face becomes infused with the wonder and excitement of that moment in Part I of Handel’s Messiah, which he will perform with The Cecilia Chorus of New York on December 8. The sentiment is infectious and genuine, even though he has sung Messiah countless times. “This role is a staple of my repertory. The combination of Baroque arias, a libretto written in English, and the subject—being the life of Christ—with texts drawn from the New Testament, makes it fairly unique in the canon.”

Read More

MICHAEL ST. PETER, TENOR: Wonder and Gratitude

With a father who toured as a trumpet player with the likes of Frank Sinatra, Aretha Franklin, and Frankie Valli, and a pianist mother who taught music in Chicago suburban schools for nearly four decades, is it any wonder that Michael St. Peter sang so beautifully that he made the mothers cry when he performed in elementary school? Well, yes, in a way. Michael did grow up in a musical family and learned all about music from his parents, but his vocal talent came from his birthmother Jennifer.

Jennifer was a 19-year-old student of vocal performance when she unexpectedly became pregnant and decided to bring the baby to term and place him into an open adoption. When she learned that a couple of professional musicians wanted to adopt her child, the choice was clear. Michael was adopted into a musical family, who, from the start, also included Jennifer, her own parents, and later her husband and their two daughters in their intimate circle.

Read More