Beauty, California, Christian Baldini, composer, Concert Hall, Conductor, Experimental

Composer Mathilde Wantenaar in Conversation with Christian Baldini

Shortly before the world stopped turning around as usual, in December 2019, I had the pleasure of conducting again at the beautiful Concertgebouw in Amsterdam, one of my favorite concert halls in the world. While I was there, I reached out to Carine Alders, who coordinates the Leo Smit Stichting. Whenever I travel for work somewhere I like to immerse myself with the local culture, and to recognize gems that I could do research about share with audiences back home. The purpose for me was simple: to become acquainted with some of the most important (forgotten, neglected and also new) voices of female composers in the Netherlands. Our meeting was very helpful, and Carine shared with me recordings, scores, and much information. Mathilde Wantenaar‘s name came up, and when I researched on it a little bit I found her music fascinating, refreshing and very original. This is how I decided to program it for our upcoming concert with the UC Davis Symphony Orchestra, on November 20, 2021.

Christian Baldini: Mathilde, it will be a pleasure to conduct the US premiere of your orchestral work “Prélude à une nuit américaine”. I find this work extremely fascinating, beautiful, with very subtle orchestration and also particularly reminiscent of Bartók and Debussy. Tell me, what is the genesis of this piece? How did you approach writing it? How would you explain your compositional process, and does it change much from piece to piece? 

Mathilde Wantenaar: I improvise a lot on the piano, this is also how I started composing as a child – I was supposed to be studying pieces for my piano lessons, but would wander off in my imagination and start playing around with the notes, inventing little melodies and pieces. As I improvise, or play an existing piece, I might find something which draws me in, a chord or a melody or a little motive and I start playing around with it. Once I have some material I might look for some more contrasting material perhaps and also think about the form. Sometimes the form comes first, though, or I have an atmosphere in mind while I start improvising or if the starting point is a text, everything changes and I start by reciting the text, learning it by heart and trying to hear the music that is hidden in it. So it does change from piece to piece.

CB: What would you say to someone who has not listened to your music yet? What should they listen for? Ultimately, what do you hope listeners will take with them home after experiencing one of your pieces?

MW: For me music is about beauty, but I mean this in the broadest sense (so not just pleasant music, although there is nothing wrong with pleasant music either in my opinion). I think that artists all over the world are making a collective effort to look for and bring forth beauty just like scientists all over the world are making a collective effort to discover truth. But every artist has their own approach and highlights different aspects, which makes the musical landscape so rich and diverse. I try to capture and present the musical aspects that I myself find thrilling or touching and offer them to the musicians and listeners in the hope that it might touch them the same way that the music I love touches me. Some of my favourite musical aspects are lyricism, I love it when the music sings, long lines and a sense of direction, the building of tension, unabashed dramatic gestures, playing with different textures and atmospheres which can be far-away, misty and magical or golden, shimmering and triumphant and anything in between. 


CB: What are some of the things you care about the most when it comes to music (both new and old)?

MW: You are asking some pretty intense questions haha. Let me think… I think I should refer back to my previous answer. Music is about beauty and communicating beauty, first with the performer who is to interpret and add their own musicality to the piece, and via the performer the piece is communicated to the listener, whose imagination is also unleashed, hopefully.  


CB: You are still very young, and you’ve developed a remarkable career already. Can you tell us about some of the most important or inspiring experiences and/or people that you’ve had so far? What has helped you or inspired you to continue growing and excelling as an artist?

MW: When I was still in high school, there was a project with the renowned ASKO|Schönberg ensemble, for whom we got to write a piece which was then performed in the beautiful small hall of the Concertgebouw in Amsterdam. This was such a great experience that I decided to go for it and study composition at the Conservatory of Amsterdam. I have had many more inspiring experiences after that, because writing a new piece and working all kinds of musicians is always an adventure, but one of my most recent important experiences was the première of my second orchestral piece ‘Meander’, performed by the Rotterdam Philharmonic Orchestra and conducted by Lahav Shani. Lahav is a brilliant conductor and I was quite nervous to be working with him to be honest, because I looked up to him so much, but he was so kind and warmhearted and also gave me some very useful feedback to further improve my orchestral writing. I greatly appreciate it when the people who perform my work, not just the conductor but also individual musicians, share their experience and thoughts with me. It means they find it worthwhile and it allows me to grow.

CB: Is there anything that you would change in the so called “classical music” world? Are you at all interested in other genres, in crossover, or other variants of possible collaborations? (Are you also interested in composing an opera, perhaps?)

MW: I really like the classical music world. It is such a wonderful tradition with immense beauty to offer. Of course a bit more new music on the program never hurts, but perhaps I am not completely unbiased on that front haha. But seriously, I do think it is important to focus also on programming new works so that the classical music tradition really stays alive, instead of a beautiful but ancient piece of art in a museum. And as for ‘other genres’, I think new music is new music, you never know what it will sound like and what it will sound like is up to the composer. It can be crossover like you mentioned, if the composer feels that is an interesting path to explore, but in any case it is good to give many different people the opportunity to write and be performed, so we musicians, listeners and composers alike can be inspired and the music continues to grow and live on.


CB: I’d like to ask you to dream of a music festival for which you’d be the artistic director. What would you program? Which guests would you invite? Which orchestras and/or ensembles would be featured? (to make it even more difficult: you’d have unlimited funds!) – if possible, please provide two or three sample programs.

MW: Christian, what a question! I feel like my head might explode, I would need weeks or months even to think about that question! And I am still trying occasionally to write some notes also… I am sorry I cannot come up with something right on the spot. In any case, referring to your previous question, I think it is always nice to combine ‘old’ and ‘new’ music in a program. When I go to a concert I want to hear the treasures form the past as well as experience something new and fresh and anything in between. It’s no revolutionary stance I think, but I strongly believe in it. 


CB: Thank you very much for your time Mathilde, I look forward to performing your music and to sharing it with our audiences!

MW: Thank you and all the musicians for performing my piece! And the audience for listening of course. I wish I could be there, but Davis is a little far from home (Amsterdam, the Netherlands) for me. I just looked it up and read it is the most popular city in Yolo county, which sounds like a place worth visiting, so who knows one day… In any case good luck and fun with the performance! I hope you and the listeners will enjoy it 🙂

Mathilde Wantenaar (Photo by Karen van Gilst)

Amsterdam born composer Mathilde Wantenaar (1993) started her studies at  the Amsterdam Conservatory, where she studied classical composition with Willem Jeths and Wim Henderickx and subsidiary subjects including piano, cello, classical voice and advanced rhythm. 

   Wantenaar’s music has been described as lyrical, enchanting and eclectic yet authentic. The combination of her craftsmanship and openness to a broad array of genres make Wantenaar a very versatile composer. She works with individual musicians, both vocalists and instrumentalists, as well as small ensembles, large orchestras and everything in between, and is especially interested in creating opera. 

   After her first chamber opera premiered during the Opera Forward Festival 2016 of the Dutch National Opera Wantenaar completed her composition studies and was admitted to the Royal Conservatory of The Hague to study classical voice with Rita Dams and Noa Frenkel where the goal was to further develop her musicality, explore the art of singing in depth and learn more about drama. This proved to be an invaluable experience with regards to her vocal writing in particular, but also her compositional approach in general.

   For three years Wantenaar divided her time between her composition practice and vocal studies, until she got her first orchestral commission (Prélude à une nuit américaine for the Rotterdam Philharmonic Orchestra) as well as an opera commission (Een lied voor de maan for the Dutch National Opera) in 2019 and decided it was time to focus solely on composition from now on. 

   Wantenaar has written for, and collaborated with, the Dutch National Opera, the Rotterdam Philharmonic Orchestra, the Netherlands Philharmonic Orchestra, the Netherlands Radio Choir, the Dutch Wind EnsembleAmsterdam SinfoniettaWishful Singing, Liza Ferschtman, Ralph van Raat, Johannette Zomer and many others.

California, Chorus, Christian Baldini, composer, Experimental, Singer, Symphony Orchestra, Uncategorized

Composer Laurie San Martin in Conversation with Christian Baldini

On Friday, March 6, I will conduct the world première of Laurie San Martin’s work “what remains” at the Mondavi Center, especially written for the UC Davis Symphony Orchestra and University Chorus. Also on that program we will perform Beethoven’s only oratorio, Christ on the Mount of Olives, with Jacqueline Piccolino, Kyle Stegall and Daniel Yoder as our vocal soloists, and Beethoven’s Piano Concerto No. 4, with Andrei Baumann. I had the chance of asking Laurie San Martin some questions, and below are her answers.

Christian Baldini: Laurie, we’ve known each other for many years, I have had the honor and pleasure of conducting the world premiere of two of your works: a concerto for two marimbas and orchestra for Mayumi Hama and Chris Froh, and a new work for the Camellia Symphony Orchestra. This will be the first time that I’m conducting a work of yours for chorus and orchestra. When I asked you to write this piece for the UC Davis Symphony and the University Chorus, I mentioned to you that you’d be sharing the program with two major works by Beethoven (his oratorio Chris on the Mount of Olives and his Fourth Piano Concerto). Was this a daunting prospect, or how did you feel?
Laurie San Martin: First, let me say that it’s an honor to write for your orchestras and in particular,  the UCDSO. It’s nostalgic for me because I played in the UCDSO as an undergraduate student  many moons ago.  But also, these are my students and it is a joy to get to work with them in this way. As for Beethoven, his impact casts a long shadow, even 200 years later. HIs 4th piano concerto is my absolute favorite. 

CB: You’ve chosen two beautiful poems that really have informed each of the two pieces. How did you choose them, and how do you look for relationships between the texts and what you do in your music?
LSM: Gary Snyder is an important poet to the greater Davis area, and I found this particular poem For the Children to be beautifully done. While I was already working on the music of the Snyder movement, I came across Rae Armantrout’s Riddance and was immediately taken with it. The similar themes (about nature, the threat of climate destruction) brought these poems close together for me. The tone of each poem is very different but the dramatic balance made them easy to imagine being paired together.

CB: I think I can say without hesitation that your music has evolved and changed considerably in the last ten years. How would you describe how your interests and priorities have changed as a composer?
LSM: I have always been interested in harmony, counterpoint, rhythm, and  how these elements help build a piece. It sounds old-fashioned and in some ways, it is. In the past 10 years, I have heard  a lot of “sound-based pieces” or pieces that are devoid of pitch completely and instead use different shades of noise. Hearing so many pieces that experiment with sound has influenced the way I think about it as well.  

CB: Who were some of your compositional role models 20 years ago? And who are they now?
LSM: 20 years ago, I was finishing my dissertation on the music of Andrew Imbrie whose music offers so much integrity and craft. I was fascinated and inspired by Mario Davidovsky’s music. My playlist likely included Ursula Mamlok’s From my Garden, Dallapiccola’s Piccola Musica Notturna and the many, many piano etudes by my teacher, David Rakowski. More recently, I am interested in music by Unsuk Chin (Akrostichon-Wortspiel in particular). I heard the premiere of Spiral by Andrew Norman in June, 2018 and found it to be brilliantly crafted. My former colleague and good friend Yu-Hui Chang (her Binge Delirium is a go-to for percussion writing) and Kate Soper’s only the words themselves. There are many other composers and pieces that have caught my attention in the past 20 years but I think the most important thing I have done is to go to a lot of concerts. I think experiencing music live—any style of music—has a profound impact us as humans. And I think that has been the single most important part of my growth. 

CB: In your opinion, what is the meaning of art in our society? What can we do as artists to keep our mission relevant to more people?
LSM: Art communicates something that can’t always be said with words. Art is abstract and what we each take from a specific piece of art is as individual as we are. If we don’t retain our individuality in the world, then I think  we will be doomed. I think there is power in experiencing art– how it stirs ideas and emotions that every day life might otherwise leave dormant.

CB: Thank you for your time and for writing this wonderful piece for us. We look forward to sharing it with the audience!

LSM: Thank you for the opportunity. I’m so proud of the student performers and of our audience that continues to support the orchestra. I think it’s really important to program living composers and I’m grateful that you are doing so much to integrate the new and the old into your programming!

Laurie San Martin
Laurie San Martin (courtesy photo)

Laurie San Martin writes music that creates a compelling narrative by exploring the intersection between texture and line. Critics have described her music as exuberant, colorful, forthright, high octane, tumultuous, intricate, intense and rumbly. She writes concert music for chamber ensembles and orchestra but has also written for theater, dance and video. Her music has been performed across the United States, Europe and Asia. Most recently she has enjoyed writing for virtuoso soloists including violinists Hrafnhildur Atladottir and Gabriela Díaz, percussionists Chris Froh and Mayumi Hama, Haleh Abghari (soprano), Yi Ji-Young (Korean gayageum) and David Russell (cello).

Recent awards include the 2018 Andrew Imbrie Award in Music from the Academy of Arts and Letters, and a 2016 Guggenheim Foundation Fellowship. She has also received awards from Harvard University’s Fromm Foundation, the American Academy of Arts and Letters (Charles Ives Scholarship), League of Composers-ISCM, the International Alliance for Women in Music, and the ASCAP Morton Gould Young Composer’s Awards. Her music has been performed across the United States, Europe and Asia. As a composition fellow, she has attended the MacDowell Colony, Yaddo, Atlantic Center for the Arts, Norfolk Contemporary Chamber Music Festival, the Montalvo Artist Residency, and the Composers Conference at Wellesley College.

Laurie holds a PhD from Brandeis University in Theory and Composition. She has taught at Clark University and is currently Professor of Music at the University of California, Davis. Her music can be found on the Left Coast Chamber Ensemble’s 2005 CD “San Francisco Premieres”,  Ravello CD “Tangos for Piano” performed by Amy Briggs, New Focus Records CD, and  “Chamber Music from the APNM”.

California, Christian Baldini, composer, Conductor, Music, soprano, Symphony Orchestra, Uncategorized

Jacqueline Piccolino in Conversation with Christian Baldini

On Friday, March 6, I will conduct Beethoven’s only oratorio, ”Christus am Ölberge” (”Christ on the Mount of Olives”) at the Mondavi Center with the UC Davis Symphony Orchestra and University Chorus, on a program that will also include Beethoven’s Piano Concerto No. 4, with Andrei Baumann, and the world première of “what remains” by composer Laurie San Martin. Below is a brief Q&A session with one of our three vocal soloists, soprano Jacqueline Piccolino. Click on these links for interviews with Mr. Stegall and Mr. Yoder.

Christian Baldini: Please tell us about your education and training. How did you start with music, and when did you decide to become a singer?

Jacque Piccolino: Throughout my childhood I enjoyed singing and was generally drawn to music and performance. Despite my general shyness as a young child, I would enjoy performing my favorite tunes at family gatherings. I did not have any formal voice lessons till I was 11 years old during which my first voice teacher recognized my potential and helped me enjoy singing from a more technical standpoint. In applying formal vocal technique to my singing, I knew that I was born to sing!  From those early lessons, to my time as an undergrad at the University of Illinois; under the direction of my then teacher and now mentor Cynthia Haymon-Coleman, I continued to hone my craft and discovered that I had a pursuable future in classical music. While still a Junior at U of I, I was invited to the San Francisco Opera Merola program which then led to a spot as an Adler Fellow with SFO. Since then, my passion and spark for singing has grown exponentially and I am dedicated to the discipline and joy an opera career brings.

CB: What do you find remarkable about this work by Beethoven? What are your favorite moments in it?

JP: Christus am Ölberge was completely new to me until Maestro Baldini suggested it as possible collaborative opportunity. I found this work incredibly fascinating, particularly how it highlights Christ’s human state over His divinity. My favorite moment comes from the Seraph’s aria, as it is truly an operatic piece in terms of form and drama. One phrase sung in unison in the Terzetto by Peter, Christ, and the Seraph is exceptionally lovely:

“Liebt jenen, der euch hasset, nur so gefallt ihr Gott” 

“Love those who hate you, only then can you love God”

CB: What are some of your favorite pieces of music, whether in the operatic realm, chamber music, or on the concert platform? Which works would you like to be singing next?

JP: I love many operas, but if I had to choose, I’d say Verdi’s La Traviata, Ernani, and Otello, as well as Puccini’s La Bohème are some of my favorites. Given my particular voice type, I hope to engage in works similar to the aforementioned. I’m currently practicing and preparing the beautifully spirited title role in Dvorak’s Rusalka. The nuances of the Czech language coupled with the dynamics and complexities of the character mesh well with the color and timbre of my voice and my artistry overall. On the concert and art song platform, I adore Samuel Barber’s Knoxville: Summer of 1915, Richard Strauss’ Vier Letzte Lieder, Joseph Canteloube’s Chants d’Auvergne, and Rachmaninoff’s sublime art songs.

CB: What does art, and music in particular, mean to you? Is it relevant in our society today?

JP: Throughout my young career I’ve had the honor to share and express emotion through the gift of music. I firmly believe that music transcends all races, creeds, and backgrounds and has the powerful ability to bring people together from all walks of life. As artists, we are obliged to interlace our own unique experiences and perspectives within our work. In doing so, we pay homage to the great works that came before us. This evolution is a wonderful metaphor for our society today, as we can simply look to music as an active representation of progressive growth.

 

Jacqueline Headshots
Jacqueline Piccolino (courtesy photo)

 

Soprano Jacqueline Piccolino has been hailed by the San Francisco Chronicle as having “impeccable technique and stage presence” and as “an artist to watch”. In the 2020 season, Ms. Piccolino will join the roster of the prestigious Santa Fe Opera Apprentice Program singing Erste Dame in Mozart’s Die Zauberflöte and covering the title role in Dvořák’s Rusalka. In addition, Ms. Piccolino will perform Beethoven’s Christus am Ölberge with the UC Davis Symphony Orchestra at the Mondavi Center for the Performing Arts.

As a San Francisco Opera Adler Fellow, she made her San Francisco Opera debut in the summer of 2013 as Stella in Les Contes d’Hoffmann. She returned from 2013-2015 as the First Lady in The Magic Flute, Lady Madeline in La chute de la maison Usher, Laura in Luisa Miller, 2nd maid in the world premiere of Dolores Claiborne, Kate Pinkerton in Madama Butterfly, Clotilda in Norma, Mrs. Hayes in Susannah, and covered Contessa Almaviva in Le nozze di Figaro. As a participant in the 2012 and 2013 Merola Opera Program, Ms. Piccolino appeared as Contessa Almaviva in Le nozze di Figaro and Arminda in La finta giardiniera. She has performed the Israelitish Woman in Handel’s Judas Maccabaeus, Erste Dame in Die Zauberflöte with Seattle Opera in 2017, as well as Samuel Barber’s Knoxville: Summer of 1915 with the Johnstown Symphony Orchestra. Other career highlights include appearing as a Studio Artist with the Wolf Trap Opera Company, a performer in the Napa Festival del Sole’s Bouchaine Young Artist Concert Series and as a participant in the Houston Grand Opera Young Artist Vocal Academy.

Ms. Piccolino was recently awarded as a Bursary Recipient from the Opera Awards Foundation. She is also a first prize winner from The American Prize in Vocal Performance, the Igor Gorin Memorial Award from the Community Foundation of Southern Arizona and the prestigious Rose M. Grundman Award Recipient from the Musicians Club of Women in Chicago. She has received awards from The Sullivan Foundation, The Shoshana Foundation, The George London Foundation, and was a finalist in the 9th International Stanisław Moniuszko Competition. Jacqueline graduated with a Bachelors of Music from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign School of Music in 2013 and received the prestigious Kate Neal Kinley Memorial Fellowship from her Alma mater. Currently, she resides in the beautiful city of Chicago!

California, Christian Baldini, composer, Concerto, Conductor, Experimental, Jean Ahn, Korea, Music, Symphony Orchestra, Uncategorized

Composer Jean Ahn in Conversation with Christian Baldini

On February 1, Jean Ahn’s work “Woven Silk”, for haegeum and orchestra will be performed by Korean haegeum virtuoso Soo-yeon Lyuh and the UC Davis Symphony Orchestra as part of the Taproot New Music Festival. I had the chance of asking Jean some questions about her music and training. Her answers are below.
Christian Baldini: Dear Jean, many years have gone by since you were selected as a participating fellow in the first edition of our New Music Festival at UC Davis (nowadays called Taproot New Music Festival). It is wonderful to welcome you back, and to perform one of your compositions, in this case, a Concerto for Haegeum and Orchestra, titled “Woven Silk”, and written for the astonishing Soo-yeon Lyuh, who will be our soloist at our upcoming concert. Could you tell us what it feels like for you to be back, and could you provide some background about your piece?
Jean Ahn: I had my orchesta piece “Lulu, Lulu” played by Maestro Baldini and the UCD Symphony Orchestra. It was a wonderful performance and it definitely helped me get more performance opportunities. The best thing about the UC Davis music festival was the community it built during few days. The whole department, UCD faculty and graduate students were all together with the fellow composers. The discussions were always interesting, to the point, still very comfortable and open. I remember talking a lot more than usual, and we all did!I am so excited to be part of the festival again by sharing “Woven Silk”.
Woven Silk is a tribute to the TWO strings of haeguem. Haeguem is one of the oldest fiddles from Korea. With only two strings, the versatility and the intensity of haegeum is limitless.
After many collaborations with haegeum master Sooyeon Lyuh, I decided to make an orchestra piece, featuring what these strings can do. The motive of the piece is Perfect 5th interval (the usual tuning of the two strings) and string crossing method (explicitly showing the difference of the two strings, a cliche technique in western music, but not in Korean music).

CB: Tell us, where did you grow up, and how did you first become involved with music? When did you decide to become a composer?

JA: I was born in Seoul Korea. My mother was a piano teacher so I started playing the piano at a very young age. However, I hated reading notes, so I memorized everything. Having perfect pitch and learning how to write music boosted my confidence so I was determined to be a composer at age 6 and never changed my mind.CB: What are some of the most important influences to you as a performer, and as a composer?

JA: Up to my Ph.D. degree, I was only interested in being a composer, not a musician. I would write something, give it to a performer, often argue and have unpleasant outcome. After graduation, I became much more involved as a conductor, performer, singer or page turner! That truly changed by writing. Today, I can call myself a musician and I feel so much less insecure about my composition.CB: You have founded Ensemble Ari, a group of Korean musicians in the Bay Area. Could you tell us about the mission and importance of such an ensemble?

JA: I had been organizing many concerts here and there already. In 2014, my friends and I decided to make it more formalized and start an ensemble. It happened naturally. The musicians are all Korean American, so we often collaborate with Korean composers or Korean traditional musicians. Most of our repertoire is western music and our focus is to bridge different culture and different audience. We have collaborated with many different groups, including a children’s choir, an adult choir, an early music ensemble and a poetry group. On January 25th and 26th, we are collaborating with Soprano Rhoslyn Jones and two young singers from the Bay Area Vocal Academy. We are doing all female composers work. Our audience always learn something new through our concerts. It is fun to continuously surprise them.

CB: Thank you for your time, Jean. We look forward to performing your piece at our upcoming concert.

JA: Thank you for this invitation, I very much look forward to the performance!

Jean Ahn

 

Born in Korea, Jean Ahn began to study piano and composition at a very early age.

Her creative output includes works ranging from solo instruments to full orchestra, as well as choral, dance and electroacoustic music. Jean’s music was featured at Aspen Music Festival, June in Buffalo, New Music Miami, IAWM Beijing Congress, SEAMUS, Spark Festival, Women Composers Conference in Australia, New York City Electronic Music Festival, among others. Commissions include works for the SF Bach Choir, Leftcoast Chamber Ensemble, Volti Chamber Choir, SF Choral Artists, Gayaguem Soloist JUL, Locrian Chamber Players, and Pianissimo, among others. Her works have been performed by Oakland Symphony, Earplay, Enhake, Untwelve, Berkeley Symphony, Diablo Valley Symphony, Ensemble Sur Plus, pianist Lisa Moore (Bang on a can), Contemporaneous Ensemble, Invoke String Quartet and others.

Jean’s ongoing research  “Folksong Revisited” has been presented at many conferences.  This collection shows her vision to introduce Korean songs and techniques to professional performers in the US. Jean has also studied electronic music at CNMAT and has been working on hyper-koto series that exaggerate gestures from Asian traditional music.

She finished her B.A. and M.M. at Seoul National University and Ph.D at UC Berkeley where her teachers included Edmund Campion, Cindy Cox, David Wessel, Jorge Liederman and Richard Felciano.

She is the director of Ensemble ARI and Lecturer at UC Berkeley. www.jeanahn.com