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
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
“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
“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
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
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
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
“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
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
Sliding his tall frame onto a small wooden café chair, bass-baritone William Guanbo Su, 24, plops his water bottle on the table as he catches his breath.
“What a day! It’s been a crazy week already, but I’ve just come from something so exciting!” That something was participating as a singer for prospective instructors in their interviews at Juilliard, not to teach at the famous campus at Lincoln Center but as future faculty for a new campus to open in a couple of years in Tianjin, China, about 80 miles outside Beijing.
“This is an amazing project,” says William. “It will give a huge boost to the classical music scene in China, and it will undoubtedly help raise the level of the other conservatories there. But it will also serve the rest of Asia, because the lessons will mostly be given in English, so students from, say, Japan and Korea can also attend.”Read More
On Friday, May 11, the audience in Carnegie Hall will hear The Cecilia Chorus of New York, with full orchestra and six soloists, singing Mozart’s Requiem, written as he lay dying, and The Prison, the last major work of Dame Ethel Smyth before she lost her hearing, which put an end to her prolific musical career. Our mid-winter concert on March 4 ended with Gounod's Requiem, written for his four year-old grandson but completed only days before Gounod's own death.
What can we learn from composers’ last works?
Music Director Mark Shapiro: “Composers, like any of us, engage in soul-searching later in life. An artist’s ‘late style’ typically entails both a summing up and a concentrated seeking that are charged with the wisdom and perspective earned through a lifetime of art-making. All of us are deepened—our lives become fuller and more joyful—when we are confronted with the inevitability of our own mortality and that of those we love. Artists especially can invoke and communicate this deepening, and lead us to experience it ourselves in a beautiful, exhilarating way.”
THE LEVIN COMPLETION
Mozart died in late 1791, before he could complete his Requiem. Many attempts have since been made to complete the work, the best known being that of his student Franz Xaver Süssmayr. For our May 11 performance, Music Director Mark Shapiro has chosen the 1995 edition by Robert D. Levin. "I had the privilege of attending classes taught by Robert Levin when I was a student and then administrator at the American Conservatory at Fontainebleau. I vividly remember Levin's astounding intellect and musical mind. He is extraordinarily qualified to tackle the delicate challenge of providing a new completion of Mozart’s unfinished Requiem. As beloved as the traditional Süssmayr version is, I, like many other conductors, have always been aware of its occasional infelicities and heaviness. Levin has a lighter touch, and his deeply considered solutions are markedly elegant and graceful."
The first piece Danielle Beckvermit performed in as a student of Vocal Performance at SUNY Freedonia, near Buffalo, was in the alto section of the chorus in Mozart’s Requiem. Now, on May 11, she will perform the soprano solo in that same beloved work with The Cecilia Chorus of New York in her Carnegie Hall debut. But she almost chose a path that would never have brought her there.
“I am the second of six kids. My father works in construction and my mother is the caregiver for my grandmother. I have always loved to sing, but we couldn’t afford private voice lessons so I earned money as a rollerblading car hop at the Sonic drive-in to pay for them. My high school in Kingston, NY, had a wonderful three-year voice program and I was able to take part in it. I found myself singing in Italian and learning art song in a group setting. But I never thought of performing as a career. I wanted to be just like our choir director and teach music for a living.
“So, I auditioned at SUNY Fredonia for the Music Education program. After I sang, I was asked to leave the room. My heart sank: was I that bad? Then after what seemed like an eternity, I was called back in. They told me, “We want you for our Vocal Performance program,” And with that, I was brought into a program with full opera productions, character study, music theory and history, analysis and ear training, and a wonderful opera seminar that I took every year.”
From Fredonia, NY, Danielle went on to the Mannes School of Music Professional Studies, a two-year Masters program. There, she has a team of teachers and coaches who help her focus on whatever she is working on at any time: roles, competitions, outside engagements. In addition to helping her improve her technique, language, inflections and character development, her ‘team’ advises her on her repertoire and also on the promotional aspects of her career, including the choice of publicity photos and what to put on her website. One program she especially appreciates is Mannes Performance Lab, where mock auditions are held. The students serve as panelists for one another’s auditions. “I think I learn more from being on the panel than from auditioning myself,” she says. “I’ve learned that panelists aren’t there to judge you negatively. They want you to do well. They want you to tell a story. I realize how important character interpretation is—it’s just as important as technique. And how important communication skills are to get that character across.”
The program has paid off. In addition to landing full operatic roles and winning or placing in numerous competitions, Danielle is currently a finalist in the Metropolitan Opera National Council Auditions, competing with 8 other singers, down from an initial 1000, from across the United States.
As highly as she values her training at Mannes, Danielle is actually leaving the program at the end of her first school year to join the Minnesota Opera in Minneapolis. “The Professional Studies degree is important, but it’s all about prepping you so you can get a job. And that’s what I’ve done! This will be my first time not in school since I was four years old, and I’m incredibly excited."
For more information on Danielle Beckvermit, visit http://www.daniellebeckvermit.com.
BIO Danielle Beckvermit, Soprano
Soprano Danielle Beckvermit is a graduate of Mannes The New School for Music in Manhattan, where she developed a strong affinity for new music. She previously received her Bachelor’s Degree in voice from SUNY Fredonia in 2015. She has sung with several festivals, including: Charlottesville Opera, Chautauqua Festival, SongFest, and Hawaii Performing Arts Festival. Danielle will join the Minnesota Opera for the 2018-2019 year as a Resident Artist. Notable roles include: Fiordiligi, Donna Anna, Donna Elvira, and Anne Trulove. This summer she will sing Alice in Verdi’s Falstaff with the Crested Butte Opera Studio. Danielle has been recognized in several competitions, including: The Metropolitan Opera National Council Auditions as a region winner,semi-finalist, and finalist; a finalist and award winner in The George London Foundation Competition; first place winner in The Classical Singer Online Competition; and first prize winner in the Civic Morning Musicals Competition in 2017.
The assignment in preparation of his high school choir trip to Rome was to do research on Puccini and his music. John Chonyoong Noh was very excited about the trip. It was the summer between his junior and senior years, and the Madrigals Group, an advanced section of the Annapolis Area Christian School, had been invited to participate in the International Sacred Music Choir Festival in Vatican City, performing Puccini’s Messa di Gloria.
John loved singing, but he was set to enter the ministry, just like his father, grandfather, and great-grandfather before him, pastors and a deacon in the Korean Holiness Church. The ministry was more than just a tradition in John’s family. It was a calling, strengthened by a traumatic past. In 1950, John’s great-grandfather had been murdered for his faith by a group of communists under the direction of North Korean dictator Kim Il-Sung—the grandfather of current leader Kim Jong-un—who had him and a group of other clerics locked in a wooden house which was then set on fire.
John’s grandfather, who was 8 at the time, vowed to take up the mantle, come what may. John’s father followed suit, studying at Alliance Theological Seminary in Nyack, NY, and then, just after John was born, at the Asbury Theological Seminary in Kentucky. When John was six, they moved back to Seoul. So it wasn’t such a leap when John was sent to attend the private Christian high school in Maryland, which offered theology classes along with the regular high school curriculum.
Searching on YouTube before the Rome trip, John came across a clip of Pavarotti singing Nessun Dorma from Puccini’s opera Turandot. John had never heard opera before, and he was moved to tears, an emotion which was new to him. Scrolling through the comments, he had what he calls a life-changing experience. “When I hear your voice,” wrote the commenter, “I see that there’s a God.”
“I immediately phoned my parents in Korea and told them I wanted to be an opera singer,” John recounts. This announcement was taken as a spurt of youthful enthusiasm; everyone, including John, assumed he was going to enter the ministry as planned. He applied to a number of seminaries, but just to test the waters he also applied to the Peabody Conservatory of Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore. To his great joy, he was accepted. His parents, amazed to learn that their their son had such a talent for singing, scraped together the funds to send him there for his first year.
But one year was all they could afford, and John had not received a scholarship, so he left Peabody to serve the required two years of military service in South Korea.
“I was a tank gunner,” he says. “I shot missiles.” The experience had its benefits: since every male of every background and social class is required to serve in the draft, John befriended a widely diverse group of young men, breaking through the protected circle he had grown up in. He also lost 20 pounds; the demanding physical regimen taught him about health and fitness, so important for maintaining a singing career.
But he missed singing. He practiced as often as possible, alone in his tank. “No one could hear me in there. And the acoustics were great!” Near the end of his service, he requested a three-day furlough, which he used to make a video audition tape of him in uniform—complete with sergeant’s stripes—singing a Mozart aria. Peabody not only took him back; they gave him a full scholarship.
Peabody led to the Juilliard Master of Music program, from which he will graduate a few days after his Carnegie Hall debut on May 11 as the tenor soloist in Mozart’s Requiem with The Cecilia Chorus of New York. Like his fellow soloist, soprano Danielle Beckvermit, he sang the Requiem as a chorus member during his freshman year of college, and feels he has now come full circle.
In the fall, John will enter Yale’s two-year postgraduate program with a full scholarship. And over the summer, he will accompany his father on a mission to Mongolia. His father will preach, and John will sing.
BIO John Chongyoon Noh, tenor
Tenor John Chongyoon Noh is in the master’s program at The Juilliard School, where he studies with Dr. Robert C White. He appeared as Fenton in Die lustigen Weiber von Windsor, covered Bill in Flight, and Tichon in Katja Kabanova at Juilliard. He was seen on Medici.tv in Juilliard’s live-stream master classes with Emmanuel Villaume and Yannick Nézet-Séguin. Other roles include: Lysander in A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Belmonte in Die Entführung aus dem Serail, Rinuccio in Gianni Schicchi, Tamino in Die Zauberflöte, and Ferrando in Così fan tutte. His recent performances include Marilyn Horne's The Song Continues at Carnegie Hall, Juilliard415’s The Genius of Monteverdi led by William Christie at the Peter Jay Sharp Theater, and the concert version of L'elisir d'amore in Hahn Hall at the Music Academy of the West. He has won awards by the Metropolitan Opera National Council Auditions in Washington, D.C., the Annapolis Opera Vocal Competition, and the Gerda Lissner Liederkranz, Russell C. Wonderlic Voice Competition, among others.
Her straight, glossy blond hair, wide smile and big blue eyes reminded me of the popular cheerleaders in high school; her height and ease of movement were those of an athlete. And yes, Kathleen Reveille (despite its French origin, the name is pronounced “Revelle” here in the States) had been a swimmer, a softball player, and a cheerleader at her high school in Highland Mills, NY. But here she was, freshly graduated from Yale with a Masters of Music and about to make her Carnegie Hall debut in Mozart’s Requiem with The Cecilia Chorus of New York on May 11.
Kathleen’s father—now retired—was a sergeant with the New York Police Department and her mother is a nurse. They both worked year-round and would send Kathleen to camp for the entire summer since she was an only child and they wanted her to be surrounded by other kids. When she was ten, Kathleen declared that she didn’t want to go to camp, so her father sent her to a “Summer Enrichment Program” offered by her school district. This included a theater program, and Kathleen was cast as Little Red Riding Hood in Into the Woods. “That creative process and being surrounded by creative people did it; I was hooked!” She tried out for all the musicals in middle school and high school and, looking to improve her craft, she started taking singing lessons from James Rensink, a world-renowned musician who has appeared at Lincoln Center as leading baritone, pianist, composer, and conductor, and who happened to live nearby.
Rensink started Kathleen off with Gershwin and the show tunes she wanted to sing, but her voice started to develop away from musical theater and towards a more operatic quality. “That’s when the floodgates opened,” says Kathleen. She knew nothing about opera and neither did her parents. “They went on a learning journey with me. We read about opera, we attended concerts when we could, we listened to old recordings that James recommended—Beverly Sills, Joan Sutherland, Marilyn Horne. I felt that if I could make one person feel like I felt then, listening to those gifted passionate singers, then I wanted to make that my career. If my parents ever had any doubts about that path for me, they never told me, and I’m so grateful.”
Kathleen applied to a number of conservatories but also to Mercyhurst University in Erie, Pennsylvania. Her parents had accompanied her to a music festival and fair where Mercyhurst had a booth, and had slipped an audition CD to Louisa Jonason, director of the opera program there. Before Kathleen knew it, she was being courted by Mercyhurst, was brought up for a visit (“It was so cold up there in Erie, I almost turned right around and came home!”), was granted a full scholarship, and found herself won over by the one-on-one attention and the caring and nurturing of talent offered there. “I also was attracted by the idea of a liberal arts education. I studied ethics, philosophy, math, and science, which enhanced my ability to connect with other people.” At one time, Kathleen wanted to become a doctor but she chose singing instead. “Singing uses all the seven intelligences at the same time,” she says, referring to Harvard educator Howard Gardner’s theory of multiple intelligences. They include visual-spatial, bodily-kinesthetic, musical, interpersonal, intrapersonal, linguistic, and logical-mathematical intelligence. “And learning music is a bit like being a diagnostician. You look at every detail: the music, the words, the language, until you know you’re doing justice to the intention of the composer.”
From Mercyhurst, Kathleen was directly accepted by Yale. “It was a fine-tuning of my musical education. We learned to be professional, to show up prepared; we learned skills for going out into the world and embarking on a career like this.” As high as the artistic level at Yale was, Kathleen experienced no cutthroat competition, but rather support and empathy from her fellow students. “Singers are some of the kindest people I have met so far,” she says. “We are blessed to be able to do this, to be part of such incredible genius. I am a servant of this art form. Nothing fills my soul like being able to perform this music with my artistry.”
BIO Kathleen Reveille, Mezzo-soprano
Kathleen Reveille, mezzo-soprano, has been praised for her soaring and poised vocal ability. Now, as a twice-nominated recording artist, Reveille has achieved international recognition for her performances in the Polish premieres of Vaughan Williams’ Riders to the Sea (Maurya), Holst’s At the Boar’s Head (Doll Tearsheet), and Britten’s The Turn of the Screw (Miss Jesel). In a review from Gramophone Magazine: “Kathleen Reveille, with her baleful, dark mezzo, is a near-ideal Miss Jessel.” Miss Reveille makes her Carnegie Hall debut as the mezzo soloist in Mozart’s Requiem with The Cecilia Chorus of New York. This summer, Reveille will become a member of the Apprentice Singer Program, The Santa Fe Opera, 2018. Reveille holds a Master of Music from Yale University and a Bachelor of Music from Mercyhurst University. She currently enjoys residing in New York’s beautiful Hudson Valley.
“Paul Whelan’s charismatic orotund bass practically made my fillings rattle.”
“Paul Whelan sang like black oil seeping into the hall.”
“Paul Whelan, bass, demonstrates that one can appear in a single scene and still steal the show.”
“Wondrous tone resounds from top to bottom of his register.”
“His dark voice reaches all corners of the hall.”
“… a dark, brooding intensity…”
“… wonderfully sonorous …”
Every one of the above reviews are of Paul Whelan’s performances over the past three years. At 51, he now understands why his teachers always told him his bass voice would not develop fully until he was well over forty, although he has been singing professionally since his early 20’s. “I really believe in circular learning,” he says. “That’s the idea that you return to experiences and things you have learned before, but there are always new things that you add to them, your responses are different, and so you improve each time. It’s apparently the same with my singing.”
Paul more or less fell into classical singing. His father was a cathedral organist and choirmaster in Christchurch, New Zealand, where Paul and his two brothers grew up. “From the age of 8 I played viola in the school orchestra—everyone had to play an instrument—and then I got dragged into my father’s cathedral choir when I was a teenager. But as for a career in music—I played and sang in a garage rock band and thought I’d just be a rock musician. Then I did an audition for a music college and suddenly a path appeared. I enjoyed everything about the program: lessons in voice, diction, movement, acting, all the things you have to learn to be able to sing opera. And it was amazing to me that all the fun I was having was actually considered work!”
At music college he won second prize in a contest called the Mobile Song Quest, judged by Kiri Te Kanawa; he sent a video of the televised contest as his application to the Royal Northern College of Music in Manchester, UK, and was accepted on the strength of it. Then he won the bi-annual Cardiff Singer of the World Lieder Competition, which catapulted him onto the world stage. Since then, he has sung in recitals, concerts, and operas on the world’s most famous stages—the Royal Opera House in Covent Garden, the Sydney Opera House (performing in Mozart’s Requiem —“The stage vibrated!”), Amsterdam’s Muziektheater—but his performance with The Cecilia Chorus of New York on May 11 will mark his Carnegie Hall mainstage debut.
With all the traveling his career requires, Paul considers it a special treat to make this debut in his hometown. For the past ten years, when not performing, he has lived a typical New York City life on the Upper West Side of Manhattan with his wife, Madeline Bender, founder and director of Creative Stage, and their 9 year-old son. He serves on the board of their local community garden and is helping their son’s school establish a music program. But where great music beckons, he will go. “There are still new challenges for me, new things to learn, new carrots dangling on a string in front of me. I didn’t wake up one day knowing how to do this. I’ve had to work hard at it and I still do. But nowadays, being able to give a performance I am satisfied with is a little less out of reach.”
For more information about Paul Whelan, visit https://paulwhelan.co.uk.
Bio Paul Whelan, Bass-baritone
This season, bass-baritone Paul Whelan joins the Lyric Opera of Kansas City as Gremin in Eugene Onegin, the London Song Festival, the Arctic Philharmonic for Haydn’s Creation, and The Cecilia Chorus of New York for Mozart’s Requiem. Future seasons include performances with the Jacksonville Symphony and Santiago di Chile.
Paul is a winner of the Cardiff Singer of the World Lieder Prize. Conductors with whom he has collaborated include Sir Simon Rattle, Kent Nagano, Richard Hickox, Yehudi Menuhin, Valery Gergiev, Gary Bertini, and Vassily Sinaisky; he has given recitals at Wigmore Hall, The Purcell Room, Cardiff’s St. David’s Hall, Cheltenham Festival, BBC Pebble Mill, Perth Festival, and at the Châtelet Theatre in Paris. Recordings include: A Midsummer Night’s Dream with the London Symphony Orchestra under Sir Colin Davis (Philips); Kurt Weill’s Silber See under Markus Stenz (BMG); recordings with the BBC Philharmonic for Chandos and with the BBC Scottish Symphony for Hyperion.