Uncategorized

Jennifer Reason in Conversation with Christian Baldini

On November 20, 2021, we are featuring the very unusual work “Tabuh-Tabuhan” by Colin McPhee (subtitled as Toccata for Orchestra and 2 Pianos). For it, we will present two outstanding pianists that are in different stages of their lives. Jennifer Reason is much beloved in our region as a pianist, cultural leader,  artistic director, and also much admired classical music host at CapRadio (the local NPR Station). She is an incredibly versatile, all-round artist. She directs RSVP, a choir with a very important social justice mission, she plays lots of new music, lots of old music, she collaborates with the Rogue Music Project as Music Director, presenting new and/or unusual operas to local audiences. She’s a complete omnivore (I feel very identified with this!) and she comes with a lot of experience working with different kinds of orchestras, ensembles, and as a solo artist with recordings under her belt. For the McPhee we also feature an extremely talented Davis High School student, Adrián Zaragoza, as our second piano soloist. I have known Adrian’s family for a number of years and I’ve followed with great pleasure his ascending trajectory and growth as a musician. I am very glad that we can create these opportunities to foster our extraordinary, and very talented youngsters. They deserve these opportunities and we are here to help them.

In preparation for our performance I had the opportunity to ask Jen a few questions, and below are her answers:

Christian Baldini: Jen, first of all, what a pleasure it will be to feature you as our soloist at the Mondavi Center. This is a brilliant piece by a visionary composer. Without his music, it would have probably taken a lot longer for the music by John Adams, Steve Reich or Phillip Glass to come into existence. The clear inspiration he received during his time in Bali is what marked his path and musical development. What can you share with people who know nothing about this music? What can they expect from your performance of Tabuh-Tabuhan? What is very special about this piece?

Jennifer Reason: They can expect to get a bit of EVERYTHING. You will get the virtuosic fireworks you already expect from a piano concerto, only times two with the double grand pianos on stage! You will also get to have an out of the box experience, with churning rhythms and the glorious harmonic flavors of Bali, some deliciously subtle and some ferocious. This piece is a fascinating tour de force and an absolute joy to play. 

CB: Tell me about your musical upbringing. How did you start? What were your first steps?

JR: Well my mother was a piano teacher, so I was always clambering up onto her piano bench pretty much as soon as I could walk! She noticed how much I loved to move my fingers on the keys even as that tiny toddler, so she had me in formal lessons by the time I turned four. I will be forever grateful for that. 

CB: Who have been some of the most inspiring people in your life? And experiences? What are some of those essential before and after moments that made you realize you needed to change course?

JR: Oh, I could write a novel here. Life has such a way of bringing you just what you need, and it hardly is ever what you expect, right? My teacher Richard Cionco certainly ranks among the very top most inspiring people in my life. I started studying with him in high school, when I was on the fence about whether I loved music enough to devote myself to it or not. (Sports and a potential career in science among two of the things calling my attention away..) It was through him that I found my Yes: my own musical voice and my own passion for this special art form. If I hadn’t found him when I did, I wonder if I would have made a career in this business. I’ve gone with him now many times to festivals in Europe, but that first time he took me to Italy as a young college student changed my life forever. There was no turning back from a life in music, and music combined with travel, after that.

CB: You do a lot of social justice work through your RSVP Choir. Could you explain how you started with this wonderful project, what it means to you, and what you hope to accomplish in the coming years with them?

JR: Yes, I went to hear RSVP in a concert many years ago and was so blown away by their blend, versatility and musicality that I decided on the spot I had to sing with them. I auditioned and was lucky enough to be accepted by Julie Adams, the founder and former Artistic Director (and also my mentor) back in 2008. When it was Julie’s decision to retire, I was offered the directorship, which I have held now for coming up on 8 years. This project means the world to me: it is how I give back to our community, and how I use music to make a difference for the less fortunate among us. We have supported over 35 amazing local charities through our concert programs so far, and I hope to add as many groups to that number as possible! 

CB: You are an incredibly versatile musician. You are Music Director of the Rogue Music Project with other beloved musicians in our community (Carrie Hennessey, Kevin Doherty, Omari Tau and Sarah Fitch). How does this fit within all your other work? What are some of the exciting things coming up with this remarkable group?

JR: It fits like a glove! One of my primary goals in all my musical endeavors is to expand the canon, to create diverse and culturally relevant space for art making. (Much like the concerto we are performing together!) RMP does just that in its adventurous and boundary pushing theater experiences. Upcoming we are prepping “small bites” of collaborative works that include the music of Darius Milhaud, Boris Vian, William Mayer and more with dance! Some live and some via short film format!

CB: On top of all those hats you wear, you are also a much admired classical music host at CapRadio in Sacramento. Can you tell me what you like the most about this position? How does it fit within your life as a busy musician that performs in so many places and in so many capacities?

JR: I couldn’t ask for a more ideal position than hosting classical music for CapRadio. Most shows and rehearsals take place in the evening, so on air hosting during the midday is just perfect. But past that, and so much more importantly, I get to talk about music, hopefully in a way that educates, inspires and uplifts this community. It’s also a singular opportunity for connecting the greater community with local artists, as well as introducing people to neglected/ under-represented voices and music makers. 

CB: Imagine you have unlimited funds to put together a week-long festival. You could invite any orchestras, soloists, directors that you like. You can program any music that you’d like. What would you do? (if possible give 2 or 3 sample programs)

JR: What a fabulous question. I think I would combine everything I love: new music, education, and FOOD. We would invite all sorts of living modern classical composers and ensembles, with as great a focus as possible on diversity. In addition to multiple formal concerts a day, we’d have jam sessions or sightreading parties where people could sit around and make music together in casual spaces, (with free flowing drink of course!) the way it used to be done. We’d incorporate a mentorship component where young and particularly economically disadvantaged players could sit in with the pros. And then of course we would have all sorts of fine dining experiences incorporated as well! Perhaps every night a wonderful dinner show, or perhaps guest chefs or mixologists to create food/cocktails inspired by the music being performed! 

Jennifer Reason

Hailed as a pianist “in the league of Carnegie Hall,” a “rising star” whose playing is “lush, sensual and colorful: like a painting” (Sulzbach-Rosenberger, Germany), a “powerhouse” (Victor Forman, CPR), and one who possesses an “extraordinary skill” (D. Frantztreb, SCC), Jennifer Reason is a vibrant young performer in consistent demand, and the recipient of Sacramento Business Journal’s Top 40 Under 40 Award for 2016. She gave her first solo recital at the age of 5, and had acquired her first Staff Pianist position by the age of 12. She has since gone on to appear in solo and ensemble performances across 15 states and 11 countries, including such prestigious venues as Carnegie Hall, the Vatican, and the Liszt Academy in Prague. Festival appearances include the Festival of Peace and Brotherhood in Italy, the Interharmony International festival in Germany, the Schlern International Festival in Italy, and the Orfeo International Festival in Italy.
Dearest to Ms. Reason’s heart is collaborative work, and as such she is the Artistic Director of the Emmy-nominated ensemble RSVP, an acapella group that sings to raise money for local charities (www.rsvpchoir.org). She is also a founding member of the 15 year old contemporary sextet Citywater, currently Ensemble-in-Residence at CSU Sacramento (www.citywatermusic.com). Finally, she is the recently appointed Music Director of the Rogue Music Project, a music collective formed to challenge current perceptions of opera through unpredictable, adventurous, and socially conscious performances. (www.roguemusicproject.com).

She has shared the stage with such noteworthy artists/personalities as John Rutter, members of Journey, Tower of Power, Santana, and Sly and the Family Stone, Governor Jerry Brown and Billy Bob Thornton. When not personally performing, Ms. Reason enjoys working as Music Director for staged productions-including the world premiere of Max Understood in San Francisco and the Bay Area premiere/adaption of Shakespeare In Love-as well as maintaining a private piano studio. Her students have been accepted on scholarship to collegiate music programs such as the Hartt School of Music, University of North Texas, CSU Long Beach, CSU – Sacramento, William Jessup University and Cosumnes River College. Away from the concert hall, Ms. Reason is the Midday Classical Host for Capital Public Radio (www.capradio.org/music) and a Voting Member of the Recording Academy for the Grammys.


www.jennifer-reason.com

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”.

Conductor, Music, Singer, Soloist, Symphony Orchestra, tenor, Uncategorized

Kyle Stegall 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, tenor Kyle Stegall. Click on these links for interviews with Ms. Piccolino 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?

Kyle Stegall: I’ve been interested in professional singing and in teaching singing since my senior year of high school.  All three of my degrees are in Vocal Performance, and were granted by the Universities of Missouri, Michigan, and Yale.  My passion for communication is what has driven my studies, and the development of my performance and teaching career.

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

KS: I am so looking forward to performing this dramatic and heroic work with Maestro Baldini and the musical forces at UC-Davis.  I am particularly fond of the moment in which the clarinet introduces the prayer theme in Christ’s opening aria.

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?

KS: I am lucky to have a career engaged with a great breadth of the classical repertoire.  I sing opera, recital, and concert work in equal proportions, which is actually quite rare.  I value the opportunity to communicate in such varied stylistic-idioms and performance environments.  Everything from the haute-contre repertoire of the French Baroque to world premieres of new repertoire for the solo voice, to staples of the recital canon, to large orchestrated works such as Christus am Oelberge hold consistent spots in my performance seasons.  I am particularly fond of the Bach evangelists, the cycles of Benjamin Britten, and orchestrated masses/oratorios of the classical and bel canto repertoire.  I’d like to find a spot for Britten’s War Requiem and Berlioz’ Les Nuits d’ete in coming seasons.

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

KS: Art and music are and will forever be relevant.  Art is an intensely potent force for awakening in large numbers of people a dormant respect for our shared, vulnerable humanity. What our world needs is community. What our world needs is emotional honesty.  Music is the crystallized sonic manifestation of these things.  The question isn’t whether or not art is relevant.  The question is whether or not we will make room in our hearts, budgets, schedules, and priorities for it.


Kyle Stegall2
tenor Kyle Stegall (courtesy photo)

 

Kyle Stegall’s performances around the world have been met with accolade for his “blemish-free production” (Sydney Morning Herald), and his “dramatic vividness” (St. Louis Post-Dispatch). A career spanning concert, opera, and recital stages has grown out of successful collaborations with many of the world’s most celebrated artistic directors including Manfred Honeck, Joseph Flummerfelt, Masaaki Suzuki, William Christie, and Stephen Stubbs.

In demand as an opera and concert soloist, Mr. Stegall is a celebrated interpreter of the Bach evangelists, and is often heard in the great oratorios of Handel and Haydn.  His operatic repertoire spans the haute-contre heroes of the French Baroque to modern premieres.

Mr. Stegall  is a proud alumnus of the universities of Missouri, Michigan, and Yale.

@stegalltenor http://kylestegall.com

Christian Baldini, Concert Hall, Conductor, Singer, Uncategorized

Daniel Yoder 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, bass-baritone Daniel Yoder. Click on these links for interviews with Ms. Piccolino and Mr. Stegall.

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?

Daniel Yoder: My musical training started in 5th grade when I first held my trumpet and began assailing my family with the unavoidable tones of the beginning trumpet player.  Thankfully, I became proficient and learned the French horn, piano, and drums.  Music was always in the house, and I basked in all genres of music.  I began singing in the chairs and less of my church and then began singing in the choir.

CB: What do you find remarkable about this work by Beethoven? What are your favorite moments in it?
DY: What I find most appealing about this work is the operatic quality of the music, which serves to convey the gravity and value of the libretto and Messianic message.  As a Christian, I feel the textures and strength of the composition help the listener and performer alike understand the highs and lows of the drama preceding the coming Crucifixion and Resurrection.

CB: What does art, and music in particular, mean to you? Is it relevant in our society today?
DY:  Art, and the free expression of it in its many forms, is indispensable to me.  Society only benefits from the ability to sing, paint, sculpt, and it is a blessing to have the opportunity, as artists, to share what is inside us with the world.  While math and the sciences have their intrinsic value in society, art has its relevance in its ability to transform, edify, calm, encourage, and challenge us as humans.

Daniel Yoder HR

 


Native-American bass-baritone Daniel Yoder is delighted to be singing again with the UCDavis family!  He is a member of the San Francisco Opera Chorus, and has performed recently with companies including West Edge Opera, Pocket Opera, Diablo Symphony, Fresno Grand Opera, Sacramento Choral Society, Music in the Mountains, Sacramento Opera, Sinfonia Spirituosa, and Capella Antiqua of Sacramento.
Mr. Yoder has performed the bass solos of Handel’s Messiah, as well as the Requiems of Mozart, Fauré, Duruflé, and Malcolm Archer.  He has also recently performed the Mozart Mass in C.
Favorite operatic roles include Zurga in Bizet’s The Pearl Fishers, Gugliermo in Mozart’s Cosi fan tutti, Figaro in Mozart’s The Marriage of Figaro, Silvio in Leoncavallo’s Pagliacci, Leporello and Masetto in Mozart’s Don Giovanni, Achilla in Handel’s Giulio Cesare, Betto in Puccini’s Gianni Schicchi, and Claudius in Handel’s Agrippina.
Concerto, Music, piano, Symphony Orchestra, Uncategorized

Soloist Profile: Erica Mineo in Conversation with Christian Baldini

Erica Mineo will perform Schumann’s Piano Concerto as our soloist with the UC Davis Symphony Orchestra on June 1 in a program that will also include Shostakovich’s Symphony No. 9, and a new piece by Daniel Godsil. Click here for more details.

Christian Baldini: Erica, first of all congratulations on winning the UC Davis Symphony Orchestra Concerto Competition. There was a competitive pool of applicants, and the jury’s decision was unanimously in your favor. At your age, you have already quite a few important accomplishments behind you. Please tell us how you started with the piano. How and when did you first become interested in music? I understand you also play the violin. Please tell us about it too.

Erica Mineo: Thank you! This opportunity to perform with the symphony is a great honor and a dream come true, and I must give credit to Marilyn Swan, my wonderful piano teacher, and Claire Zheng, an excellent accompanist and an even better friend. I am indebted to them both for all their support and guidance through these months of learning and interpreting the Schumann.

I started piano when I was seven, rather late compared to most of my contemporaries. But I’m thankful I wasn’t ever forced to play an instrument. Cultivating my love for music has been a very organic process. When I was very young, I listened to plenty of Classical music—my parents still have the Mozart CD’s they played when I was a baby! I suppose you could say I’m from a musical family, too. On my father’s side, my grandmother is a jazz singer, and my great-uncle Paul Peek was a rockabilly musician and a Rock and Roll Hall of Fame inductee! On my mother’s side, my uncle is a classical music aficionado, and so was my grandfather.

I’ve got a funny story about how I ended up playing the violin. My elementary school had an orchestra program in which students chose any instrument they liked. When I was nine, I arbitrarily picked the violin, and it’s stuck with me ever since. With both instruments, I’ve been lucky to have teachers who instill a solid foundation in technique, artistry, and theory while still making music meaningful and ultimately, fun. And ever since my early days with those Mozart CD’s, Classical music has remained an integral part of my life and identity.

CB: Which other activities do you enjoy outside music?

EM: Just like music, I’ve been very passionate about animals, especially cats and horses, ever since I was young. I always knew I wanted to be a veterinarian. Currently, I enjoy volunteering with Yolo County Animal Services (YCAS) and Therapeutic Riding and Off-Track Rehabilitation (TROTR), both in Woodland. I’m also a member of Foal Team—we help take care of the baby equines (and the occasional alpaca) that come through the UCD vet school’s large animal neonatal ICU. I’m an undergraduate volunteer with the Knights Landing One Health Veterinary Clinic as well—our monthly clinic provides in-town veterinary services to the rural community of Knights Landing.

I very much enjoy reading literary classics, especially Shakespeare, and writing poetry. Running and nature photography illustrate my ever-present affinity with the great outdoors. And ever since finding out I’m autistic, I’ve become keenly interested in disability rights and neurodiversity, why we need this variation of brains and minds more than ever in today’s world. As the buttons and pins on my violin case illustrate, I hope to channel this deep passion into promoting disability awareness and acceptance and empowering other autistic people. I’m the co-founder and Vice President of the Autism and Neurodiversity Community at UC Davis, a peer-support group for autistic students.

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CB: We look forward to featuring you as our soloist for the first movement of Schumann’s Piano Concerto. In your opinion, what is so beautiful and remarkable about this piece? Why did you choose to perform it?

EM: The Schumann is such a sensitive, intimate, and yet fiercely determined work, with so many mischievous moments and little conversations with the orchestra. I especially love the back-and-forth parts between the piano and the oboe solo. Here’s a fun fact: the oboist playing these solos, Rose—I mean Professor Baunach—is actually my Physics instructor this quarter! And Claire’s on timpani, and I’ve got several other friends in the strings, winds, and brass. Schumann really fosters collaboration in this concerto. I’ve never really believed the soloist is inherently “better” than the orchestra anyway—one musician does not make a concerto, after all—but here, the piano and orchestra make a true team.

I also can definitely relate to Schumann as a person. While he likely wasn’t autistic, the historical evidence shows he definitely was neurodivergent in some respect. I wonder if his music was like a different kind of language for him, much as it is for me. Music communicates so much more than mere words!

Ms. Swan suggested learning the Schumann about a year ago, since I performed Grieg’s Piano Concerto in high school. I understand Grieg composed his piano concerto after hearing the Schumann, and it’s quite fascinating to see the similarities between the two. Not only the key, A Minor, but also minutiae such as those mischievous oboe solos! These two pieces are quite like siblings, and I’m humbled to have had the opportunity to learn them both.

CB: What is a typical routine for you? How much do you practice your piano and your violin, and how do you balance your music with school activities, and everything else?

EM: You’re absolutely right—fitting music, schoolwork, and pre-vet activities all together is a delicate balancing act. A consistent routine is essential. I usually get up very early in the morning and try to go to bed at a decent hour if I’ve not got a late-night Foal Team shift. Social media does not exist in my vocabulary. Ironically, the academic rigor is not the most difficult aspect of the school day—it’s pacing myself through all the sensory stimuli that accumulates when I’m walking to class and interacting with others. The music building and the Pitzer center are two of my refuges when it gets overwhelming—the little red bench on the second floor of the music building is one of my favorite spots.

As a busy pre-vet, I do admit I ought to practice music more than I do—usually I snatch an hour or two in between classes, or—as Claire is apt to tell you—occasionally even before lessons. But with such limited time, one learns to make the most of every minute, to focus on those key measures while not losing sight of the entire work. And when I’m not practicing, I’ll get creative—perhaps think about interpretation and intent while walking to class, play some pieces I’m working on to the cats in the YCAS shelter, or have a playlist of passages running (excuse the pun) in my head while I’m on a run.

CB: Is music very important to you? (I imagine it is, when I hear you play!) And why?

EM: The eminent French piano teacher Nadia Boulanger once said, “Do not take up music unless you would rather die than not do so.” This sentiment resonates deeply with me. Classical music is the oxygen for my soul. It’s been the portal to forming meaningful, long-lasting friendships—virtually all my close friends play an instrument or sing. Ultimately, it’s allowed me to feel such profound emotion and expression I never previously thought possible.

And while being autistic does have its challenges as an invisible disability, you can especially see its great strengths in music. My sensitivity to sound becomes an asset in noting the little details, in pieces from my chamber group’s piano quintet to Bach fugues. When I play or hear a piece, I see and feel sparks, waves, and ripples of color in addition to the notes themselves. Thanks to this intersection of autism and musical perception, I not only hear but also experience music as a living, tangible entity.

CB: What are your dreams? Where would you like to see yourself in ten years?

EM: After finishing my undergraduate studies, I plan to attend veterinary school, most likely along the companion animal/equine track. I hope to keep advocating for acceptance of autism and neurodiversity in society, including in music and the veterinary field. And I very much hope to keep playing the piano and violin and sharing these musical masterpieces with others—both humans and non-humans—throughout these years and beyond.  

CB: Thank you very much for your time, and for your very inspiring answers. We look forward to sharing your beautiful musicality with our audience soon!

EM: You’re very welcome! I very much look forward to rehearsing and performing with you and the symphony!

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Erica Mineo, a second-year undergraduate majoring in Biological Sciences and minoring in Music and Animal Science (Equine), currently studies piano with Marilyn Swan at UC Davis. Erica began her piano studies at age seven with Soh-Ra Kim and Dr. Linda Mazich-Govel in Rancho Palos Verdes. In high school, she studied with Hans Boepple, music professor and former department chair at Santa Clara University. She has enjoyed master classes and sessions with composer Dr. David Ward-Steinman, Bernadene Blaha, Lucille Straub, Nina Scolnik, and Dr. Louise Earhart. Erica performed Mozart’s 9th Piano Concerto as a soloist with the Southwestern Music Festival and Beach Cities Symphony orchestras, and the Grieg Piano Concerto with the Monta Vista High School Chamber Orchestra and the Winchester Orchestra of San Jose. She was a three-time state finalist in the Celia Mendez Beethoven Competition at San Jose State University, and has also earned recognition for performances of Mozart, Bach, Chopin, and Grieg. In 2017, Erica was a Music Teachers’ Association of California (MTAC) Young Artist Guild finalist, and in 2015 earned MTAC Panel Honors for piano and violin. She began studying violin from age nine with Gail Gerding-Mellert, and in high school with Julliard faculty member Li Lin as well as Robin Sharp, SF Chamber Orchestra concertmaster and Stanford faculty member. Erica was the Monta Vista High School Chamber Orchestra concertmaster, and now studies violin with Jolán Friedhoff at UC Davis. As a violinist, Erica enjoys performing chamber music in a piano quintet.

A passionate pre-vet, Erica is keenly interested in pursuing the companion animal/equine track. She is a member of the UC Davis vet school’s Foal Team and the Knights Landing One Health Veterinary Clinic. She also volunteers with Yolo County Animal Services (YCAS) and Therapeutic Riding and Off-Track Rehabilitation (TROTR), both in Woodland. Her other passions include classic literature (especially Shakespeare), writing poetry, running, nature photography, and disability studies.

Erica is also a proudly autistic disability rights advocate, and the co-founder and Vice President of the Autism and Neurodiversity Community at UC Davis, a peer-support group for autistic students. She was invited as a panelist to speak about her experiences as an autistic university student at the UC Davis MIND Institute’s May 31st Neurodiversity Summit.