On Sunday, March 12, 2023, I will have the great pleasure of conducting Mahler’s Symphony No. 2, with soprano Carrie Hennessey as our soprano soloist, and Julie Miller as our mezzo-soprano soloist at the Mondavi Center. We will include the University Chorus, Alumni Chorus, Chamber Singers, and the UC Davis Symphony Orchestra, including also several UCDSO alumni, for a total of about 300 performers on stage. Here are some questions I asked Julie about the Mahler, and below are her answers:
Christian Baldini: Julie, the Urlicht (fourth movement of the symphony) is probably one of the favorite works in the entire repertoire. All of a sudden, we hear this solitary human voice appear out of nowhere, almost like facing an abyss. How do you approach the Urlicht? What is behind it for you?
Julie Miller: Urlicht, to me represents a moment of simplicity and faith. The beautiful, effortless legato lines, and lush harmonies make this movement one of my favorite pieces to sing. As a vocalist, I have to focus on consistent air flow and a spinning vibrato to create the seemingly endless sound and legato required to successfully present this piece. However, the most import thing for me as an artist is to take the audience on a journey from desparate need to the final destination of hope and eternal rest.
CB: You and I collaborated first many years ago, when we were both a lot younger. Please tell us, how were your beginnings with music? Did you start out as a singer, or by playing an instrument? What has made your musical path so special?
JM: I remember our first collaboration with great fondness. It was Mozart’s Mass in C minor with the UC Davis Symphony. I remember your kindness, clarity and love of the piece guided me through my first performance of the piece with ease and confidence.
My musical beginnings started quite young with my mother teaching me piano and continued through High School and early college with me singing in choirs and playing the violin. I actually didn’t decide to pursue voice in a serious way until my 2nd year of college when I “caught the stage bug” during a performance of Monteverdi’s L’incoronzione di Poppea. From that point on, I was hooked.
My musical path has had its ups and downs, and like every path, has been different than I initially thought it would be. However, what has made this journey special for me has been the people I have encountered along the way that have supported me during the “growing pains” and inspired me to continue to be the best musician and performer I can be.
CB: Thank you for sharing those wonderful memories, I also very fondly remember our Mozart C minor mass together! Now, what would be your advice for young singers? How do you face auditions, competition, and/or any other frustrations or fears that may come your way?
JM: My advice to young singers would be to know your instrument and be prepared musically. You never know who will be in the audience and when that connection will provide an opportunity down the line. Also, remember that you and your voice are in progress, so be kind to and patient with yourself. You are going to be learning and growing as a vocalist and musician throughout the rest of your career.
CB: Why is symphonic music, and why is opera relevant nowadays?
JM: Symphonic music and opera speak to us at our cores. We connect to the stories that they tell through the music and texts on a deep level and they elicit thought and conversation that lasts long past the ending of the performance. They are art forms that have survived, adapted and thrived for centuries, and their longevity continues to prove their relevance within today’s society.
CB: Thank you for your time Julie, I look forward to making music with you!
JM: Thank you for inviting me to be a part of the tour de force that is bringing this beautiful work to life! It’s always a pleasure to work with you.
Mezzo-soprano Julie Miller recently stepped in last minute on opening night to make her role debut as Ariodante (Ariodante) at Lyric Opera of Chicago. Her performance was hailed as “an extraordinarily composed and possibly career-changing performance” (Chicago Sun Times) and her singing was described as “deeply musical” (Chicago Tribune).
Ms. Miller has appeared as a soloist with wonderful organizations such as the Lyric Opera of Chicago, Kalamazoo Symphony Orchestra, Oregon Mozart Players, Grant Park Music Festival and Ravinia Festival. Recent appearances include Baroness Nica (Charlie Parker’s Yardbird) with Madison Opera, Lyric Unlimited/Lyric Opera Chicago and English National Opera/Hackney Empire Theatre; Charlotte (Werther) with Opera Idaho; the Mezzo Soloist with the Apollo Chorus of Chicago (Duruflé: Requiem); the Mezzo Soloist with the Sacramento Philharmonic & Opera (Beethoven: Mass in C); and the Mezzo Soloist with the Madison Symphony Orchestra (Janacek: Glagolitic Mass). In the coming months, Ms. Miller looks forward to appearing as Maddalena (Rigoletto) with the Sacramento Philharmonic & Opera and as a Mezzo Soloist in Mahler’s Symphony No. 8 with the Madison Symphony Orchestra.
Highlights of Ms. Miller’s operatic career include Jo (Little Women) and Ma Joad (The Grapes of Wrath) with Sugar Creek Opera; Emilia (Otello), Ida (Die Fledermaus), Annina (La Traviata) and Krystina (The Passenger) with Lyric Opera of Chicago; Orlofsky (Die Fledermaus) with Vero Beach Opera; Annio (La clemenza di Tito) and Donna Elvira (Don Giovanni) with Ryan Opera Center; Stéphano (Roméo et Juliette) with Townsend Opera; and Flora (La Traviata) with Festival Opera. She has also been heard with orchestra as a Soloist in performances of Mahler’s Symphony No. 2, Bach’s Magnificat and Cantata No. 6, Handel’s Messiah, Duruflé’s Requiem, Beethoven’s Symphony No. 9, and both Mozart’s Mass in C minor and Requiem.
Ms. Miller is the recipient of the the Jerome and Elaine Nerenberg Foundation Scholarship (Musicians Club of Women), the Rose McGilvray Grundman Award (American Opera Society of Chicago), the Richard F. Gold Career Grant (Shoshana Foundation) and the Edith Newfield Scholarship Award (Musicians Club of Women). She is an alumna of the renowned Patrick G. and Shirley W. Ryan Opera Center at Lyric Opera of Chicago, and a member of the inaugural class of Dawn Upshaw’s Graduate Program in Vocal Arts at the Bard College Conservatory of Music.