Friday, November 1, 2019

Composer Profile: Qing Olivia Yang in Conversation with Christian Baldini

On November 9, I will have the pleasure of conducting the US premiere of Qing Olivia Yang's work "Alice", with the Camellia Symphony Orchestra in Sacramento. Below is a nice exchange we had with Olivia, in preparation for the performance.

Christian Baldini: Olivia, it will be a pleasure to welcome you in Sacramento as a composer and performer to bring your piece to life in California for the first time. The work is written for voice, sampler/electronics and orchestra, and it is not very usual to have the composer serve as the performer as well, so a special treat in many ways. Please tell us about the genesis of this work, based on a lonely whale. How did you get this idea and its inspiration for your music?

Qing Olivia Yang: Thank you for this wonderful opportunity to work with the Camellia Symphony Orchestra and you! I happened to read about Alice on the Internet and heard the real voice sampling of this whale. It was unable to communicate properly with other whales and was lonely because the whale had a frequency of 52Hz, compared with 15 to 25Hz for normal whales. Alice's situation reminds me of myself, and I often feel lonely like Alice: whenever some thought or action is not understood by others, especially those close to me... But I never give up expression, looking for my soul mate, just like Alice!
After seeing it, I immediately had a lot of inspirations. And I imagined expressing the resonance between human beings and animals in the form of orchestral music, electronic music and human voice: orchestral music is the sea, electronic music is Alice itself, and human voice represents human beings. These three voices sometimes appear in isolation, sometimes appear in each other indistinguishably.
I also have a unique design about the structure and style of the music. Depending on Alice's own sound motive, I develop it into a new melody, and gradually moving from impressionist music style to a contemporary music stylefinally back to the original voiceI want to express the change of Alice that from happiness in the sea originally to pain, loneliness cause the unique voice of itself when it finds that and finally it calms down and go on seeking the bosom friends.

The work premiered at the opera hall of the Central Conservatory of Music(Beijing, China) on June 25, 2018. The conductor was Mr.Hao Shen(professorof CCOM), and UNAM-CCOM orchestra and I played it. After the first performance, I received a lot of good comments.

CB: Who would you say are your main influences as a composer?

QOY: There are a lot of composers I like very much. Their work impressed when I was a child, such as Bach, Vivaldi, Brahms, Tchaikovsky, Debussy, Ligeti, and active in modern XiaogangYe, Jianping Tag, Wenjing GuoDun Tan, Guoping JiaWenchen QinChangyuan Liu, Binyang Li, Simon Steen Anderson, and so on.

CB: What do you try to communicate with your own music? What is special about symphonic music? Would you be interested in writing an opera?

QOY: I don’t want to limit my music or my expression by making music into a single style, but I would like to express an idea clearly in each work by “music”because I think the form should serve the content. So before each creation, I often imagine and choose a theme to express the spirit, and then determine the appropriate form, style and structure. Of course, I am very interested in opera, I love singing since I was a child, I think the voice is one of the most direct way to express music emotions. I've written several musicals, and I want to write an opera very much!

CB: Tell us about your background. You grew up and studied in China. Who were the main influences and teachers in your life?

QOY: I started to learn the keyboard when I was five years old. After one year of learning, I could play Bach's Gigue, then my first music teacher Mr. GuohuiQiao discovered my gift and recommend me to engage in music. After a few years, I studied music composition in the middle school attached to Central Conservatory of MusicProfessor Changyuan Liu is my first teacher of music composition, he is a very famous Chinese composer alsoAnd I studied fothe bachelor and master degree in the composition department of the CCOM, under Professor Jianping Tang and Guoping Jia, who are also very famous composers in China. I really appreciate all three teachers for their help with my studies and the inspiration they gave me in the road of music composition.

CB: Where do you see yourself in 10 years? What would you like to be doing?

QOY: I'm not sure where I will be after 10 years. I love traveling, maybe I will be in the Antarctic when we contact one day in the future. But no matter where I am, of course I will always write as a composer, this is my career, I can't live without music.

CB: Thank you very much for your time, and we look forward to featuring your considerable talents as singer and composer in Sacramento.

QOY: Thank you, Christian. Thank you everyone! I'm looking forward to the performance on the evening of 9th November!

Qing (Olivia) Yang (born in 1992), young composer, is a resident composer of the China Broadcasting Art Troupe. Qing is also a member of the Chinese National Orchestral Society.

Qing graduated from the Attached Middle School of Central Conservatory and got her bachelor’s degree of composition from Central Conservatory of Music. In 2015, she was recommended as a graduate student majoring in composition in Central Conservatory of Music. Qing was tutored by several great Chinese composers, including professor Changyuan Liu, professor Jianping Tang, professor Guoping Jia, etc.

During her study in CCOM, Qing won a considerable amount of prizes, honors, and scholarships. Qing Yang composes an extensive range of works. The compositions have won her several prizes. Qing composes works from serious music to popular music, from classical music to fusion music, even movie soundtracks. As it comes to the genres she composes, there are solo music, chamber music and symphony for both Chinese traditional instruments and western instruments.

Qing’s compositions are well performed both domestically and internationally. Her works have been performed in Beijing National Center for the Performing Arts, Zhongshan Concert Hall, Beijing Concert Hall, Central Conservatory of Music Concert Hall, Beijing Century Theatre, Peking University Centennial Hall, Hong Kong Cultural Center Concert Hall, Taipei Zhongshan Hall, etc. There are also overseas performances in cities in Europe and North America, for example, Toronto, Tallinn, Nuremberg.

Qing cooperated with some brilliant orchestras, including China Broadcasting National Orchestra, China Broadcasting and Film Symphony Orchestra, Central Conservatory of Music Symphony Orchestra, China Youth Symphony Orchestra, Xi'an Symphony Orchestra, Taipei City Orchestra, Camellia Orchestra, Yuanyang Chamber Music Group, etc. Qing also have cooperations with Jiapeng Peng, Ling Li, Tao Fan, Hao Shen, Christian Baldini, Chunquan Qu, Bingbing Zhang, Yujue Ji and many other outstanding conductors.

The representative works of Qing can be categorized into several genres. She wrote symphonies including The Flowing River Runs into the Heart, and Alice; the symphony for national orchestra, named Overture of the National Costums; the fusion work called Screaming, solo piece called The Memory of the Tashilhunpo Monastery for the instrument Sheng; the piece for chamber music called Samatha; national symphony with a small arrangement called Songs of Chu; Concertino named Road for Konghou; soundtracks for the movie Embarrassments in Vietnam; music for stage shows called Castle in the Sky and The Magic of Panda Fairy; music for contemporary primitive dance Women of the Dai Minority in Mountains; popular song called Shining Star.

In 2017, Qing’s work Road-Trilogy was selected in the Young Composing Talent Program of the China National Arts Fund. In 2018, Qing held an exclusive concert titled Screaming performing her compositions, which was highly praised by the audiences.

Saturday, October 26, 2019

Carrie Hennessey in Conversation with Christian Baldini

On November 9, the Camellia Symphony Orchestra will present Ein deutsches Requiem by Johannes Brahms. Below is an interview with our soprano soloist, Carrie Hennessey:

Christian Baldini: Carrie, it is a pleasure to welcome you back to the Camellia Symphony Orchestra for this beautiful music. You and I have worked together with different orchestras in various cities, and it is wonderful for me to showcase your gorgeous voice with our orchestra here in Sacramento. Please tell me, how does the Brahms' Requiem fit within the usual (operatic) repertoire that you sing more frequently? 

Carrie Hennessey: The vocal line for this particular aria is quiet, extremely long, expansive, fluid and exposed. Often in the operatic repertoire that I sing, someone in the orchestra is doubling the vocal line which gives more ease to the singer, because if something goes a bit off the rails technically, there is backup in the orchestra. This opening passage really takes so much technique, but once it felt comfortable to me, it is the one line that I completely relish in ALL the repertoire that I sing! It’s quite special. This vocal line in the Brahms is beautifully accompanied by the orchestra with a counter melody that lingers in the air which allows for the opening phrase to also linger and spin. The soprano line then joins the orchestra at the end of the first few phrases and then brings in the chorus’ first lines. Just stunning!

CB: Besides the obvious soprano solo movement "Ihr habt nun Traurigkeit", what are some of your favorite moments in this piece?

CH: Movement IV, Wie lieblich sind deine Wohnungen is one of my favorite movements! This was one of my mother’s favorite bible verses. She was my accompanist growing up and my musical inspiration, so to hear this text set with such joy right before I sing my aria is perfection for me. My mother passed several years ago, and never heard me sing this piece. The aria was added later after Brahms’ mother had passed, so this is quite a moment of comfort and joy for me .

CB: This is for sure an unusual Requiem, not only in the choice of language, as most others are in Latin, but also in the fact that the composer himself carefully chose the texts that represented the message he wanted to communicate. What are your feelings about this, and about the general feeling of the piece?

CH:I have to say I feel deeply connected to this work. The texts chosen were truly for humankind and were all inclusive. We all feel grief. We all need comfort. The opening lines make me weep every time with their ethereal and shimmering beauty "Blessed are they that mourn, for they shall be comforted.” This truly is a work of hope, a work looking to find and give comfort in the chosen texts instead of focusing on the fire and brimstone contained in the more traditional Requiem texts.

CB: Thank you so much for sharing your wonderful gifts with us, we very much look forward to the performance!

CH: Christian, thank you so much! I look forward to our time together with Brahms!

Known for her soaring voice and richly nuanced characters, soprano Carrie Hennessey is consistently thrilling audiences and critics in opera and concert appearances around the world. Ms. Hennessey’s much awaited debut in Previn’s A Streetcar Named Desire “gave us a Blanche that let us burrow into her character’s soul, even into the darkest crevices…Hennessey, using a one-two punch of music and drama, made it resonate in a way that equaled the finest stage performances of the part I’ve seen.” (Fresno Bee) Ms. Hennessey’s embodiment of the title role in the West Coast Premiere of Tobias Picker’s opera Emmeline earned her a Bay Area Broadway World Awards for “Best Leading Actress in a Musical” nomination. Praised for bringing her signature “exquisite vocal purity and range to the title role”and was “nothing short of sensational” (San Francisco Classical Voice). As Mimì in La Bohème, Ms. Hennessey “..possessed of a full, powerful lyric soprano, which delivers Puccini’s arias and duets richly. Her “Mi chiamano Mimì” (Yes, they call me Mimì) in Act 1 is gorgeous”. (San Francisco Classical Voice) On only one day’s notice, Ms. Hennessey made her debut with the Modesto Symphony Orchestra, as soprano soloist in Mahler’s Symphony No. 4, to great acclaim.

2020/2021 season includes a title role debut in Kát’á Kabanová by Leoš Janáček, Rose in At the Statue of Venus by Jake Heggie. Ms. Hennessey will also perform in Blitzstein’s Triple Sec and a world premiere of the opera Bones of Girls by librettist, Cristina Fríes and composer, Ryan Suleiman, both aforementioned productions with The Rogue Music Project, a collective of performers that cultivates adventurous musical and theatrical experiences. Other performances include collaborating in the development and performance of a world premiere ballet with choreographer Darrell Grand Moultrie and the Sacramento Ballet, Carmina Burana, Beethoven’s Symphony No. 9, Gounod’s Messe solennelle en l’honneur de Sainte Cécile, Brahms’ Requiem, as well as numerous recitals, chamber music and orchestral concerts, cabarets and continuous music education projects.

Recent engagements include Ms. Hennessey’s orchestral debut of the Strauss’ Vier Letzte Lieder with conductor Daniel Stewart, a celebration of Leonard Bernstein’s music with concert “Bernstein 100” with the Colorado Symphony and Sinfonia Chamber Brass, a role debut in a sold out run as Estelle in the opera The Stronger, a recital in several East Coast venues “Crisis of Faith” with bass Paul An of arias, duets and scenes from new operas including several World Premieres, Song of Sacramento a recital benefitting the Sacraemtno Children’s Chorus, featuring local composers and 8 world premiere songs, Carmina Burana with Sacramento Ballet, Mozart’s Exsultate, Jubilate! and Requiem, Beethoven’s Symphony No. 9, chamber works including Respighi’s Il Tramonto, Ravel’s Trois Poèmes de Stéphane Mallarmé and William Walton’s Façade, as well as several appearances in recital.

Previous performances include Britten’s War Requiem, Mahler’s Symphony No. 2 as well as debuts at the Concertgebouw in Bruges, in Ypres, Belgium and at the Liederhalle in Stuttgart, Germany singing the soprano solo in the Verdi Requiem. Alongside the world-renowned composer Ricky Ian Gordon in the fall of 2016, Ms. Hennessey gave Master Classes and performed a recital of his original art songs.

Notable recent opera highlights include Blanche Du Bois in André Previn’s A Streetcar Named Desire, Sarah Miles in the Bay Area premiere of Jake Heggie’s The End of the Affair with West Edge Opera, Mimì in La Bohème, Elle in La Voix Humaine in NYC, Lauretta in Puccini’s Gianni Schicchi and Magda and Floria Tosca in Puccini: A Man and His Muses for Sacramento Opera. Notable concert appearances include Other highlights include her debut with the Houston Symphony at Jones’ Hall, Mozart’s Mass in C minor at St. Stephen’s Cathedral in Budapest, Hungary and Reduta Hall in Bratislava, Dvorak’s Requiem in Rudolfinum Hall in Prague, Mahler’s Lieder eines fahrenden Gesellen at the International Mahler Festival in the Czech Republic, the Verdi’s Requiem, Mozart’s Requiem, Villa Lobos’ Bachianas Brasileiras No. 5, Mendelssohn’s Elijah and Lobgesang. the Mahler’s Symphony No. 4, Beethoven’s Symphony No. 9 and Vaughn Williams’ Dona Nobis Pacem.Handel’s Messiah with the renowned Pacific Symphony, Stravinsky’s ballet Pulcinella, Mahler’s Das Lied von der Erde at the Mondavi Center for the Performing Arts, a World Premiere song cycle written for Ms. Hennessey and the Rootstock Percussion Trio, Orff’s Carmina Burana with Grand Rapids Symphony, and Fauré’s Requiem and Brahms’ Requiem with Oakland Symphony where Hennessey brought “bright tone and elegant legato”.

Ms. Hennessey directed the Sacramento Children’s Chorus their joint production in Brundibar Sacramento Opera, is currently an artistic advisor to the board and mentor to the artistic staff. Ms. Hennessey continues to actively support music education through lectures. workshops and Master Classes in the communities in which she works, as well as nurturing a thriving private vocal studio in Northern CA.

Tuesday, October 22, 2019

Malcolm MacKenzie in Conversation with Christian Baldini

On November 9, the Camellia Symphony Orchestra will present Ein deutsches Requiem (A German Requiem) by Johannes Brahms. Below is an interview with our baritone soloist, Malcolm MacKenzie:

Christian Baldini: Malcolm, welcome back! It was some years ago that you and I first worked together, and though our schedules not always line up, I am so excited to welcome you back to the Camellia Symphony Orchestra for this beautiful work of music. Please tell me, how does a piece like the Brahms' Requiem fit within the operatic repertoire that you typically sing more frequently?

Malcolm MacKenzie: I'm so excited to work with you again!  Actually, this will be my first time singing this piece, and as your question implies, a rare opportunity for me musically. Interestingly, I've had a love of Brahms' since I sang a duet of his while still in college.  I'm delighted to be able to return to him.  

CB: Besides the beautiful baritone solo movements, what are some of your favorite moments in this piece?

MM: This is a difficult question, but I suppose I would have to say the 5th movement.  It's message of comfort for the living, I find especially moving. 

CB: One could say that Brahms' is an unusual Requiem, not only in the choice of language, but also because of the fact that the composer himself carefully chose the texts that represented the message he wanted to communicate. What are your feelings about this message, and about the general atmosphere and feeling of this piece?

MM: Yes... being a Catholic school educated, Secular Humanist myself, I have a great affinity for Brahms' point of view when composing this piece.  As a religious work, it is very unusual, with its focus on the comforting of those left behind after a death.  The piece really does have a unique, some might say radical, point of view for the time.   Choosing to abandon the liturgical elements of the traditional requiem, and picking only verses that spoke to him, personally, was very unusual.  Interestingly, I see this specificity, this concentration on an individual's personal relationship with God, as a way to broaden the reach of the message of consolation within the work to those outside of the Christian faith.  I wonder if that might have been his aim all along.  

CB: You've recently started teaching voice lessons at UC Davis, and I hope that many of your students in the music department will come to listen to you sing this marvelous piece. What are some of the things you enjoy the most about teaching?

MM: Yes!  One of the neat things about teaching at UC Davis is the wide variation of students I see.  I have everything from first time singers, to those with advanced degrees in vocal performance.  One lesson, I'm teaching a student ear training, the next we're working on polishing a Mozart aria.  That variation keeps me thinking!  

CB: Thank you so much for sharing your wonderful gifts with us, we very much look forward to the performance!

MM: My pleasure!  I'm so looking forward to working with you and the other wonderful musicians who'll be performing!  

With a voice described as having a “rich vocal range full of inviting nuance,” Malcolm MacKenzie continues to attract attention in the dramatic baritone repertoire. Opera News recently praised him as a “confident, commanding Count di Luna…of robust tone, ardent address, arching phrases and genuine baritonal squillo.” Of his recent role debut as Baron Scarpia they wrote: "His rich, warm, and dark tone was bolstered by a relentless legato line which amplified the sensuous sleaziness of his Scarpia."

Mr. MacKenzie has been heard at leading opera houses throughout the U.S. and Europe, appearing at the Metropolitan Opera, New York City Opera, Paris Opera (Bastille), Finland’s Savonlinna Festival, Washington National Opera, Los Angeles Opera, Glimmerglass Opera, San Diego Opera, Arizona Opera, Fort Worth Opera, and Pittsburgh Opera, in roles including Simon Boccanegra, Iago, Tonio, Baron Scarpia, Don Giovanni, Count di Luna, Renato, Jack Rance, Marcello, Germont, and Count Almaviva.   

Recent engagements for Mr. MacKenzie have included returns to North Carolina Opera as Baron Scarpia in Tosca, Colorado Opera as Germont in La traviata, and to Pittsburgh Opera as Stubb in Jake Heggie’s Moby-Dick; as well as role debuts in North Carolina Opera's Rigoletto in the title role, Baron Scarpia in Opera Omaha's Tosca, and with Opera San Jose as Don Alfonso in Così fan tutte; returning to Dayton Opera as Tonio in I pagliacci; creating the role of Roger Chillingworth in Colorado Opera's world premiere of The Scarlet Letter by Lori Laitman; returning to LA Opera as Stubb in Jake Heggie’s Moby-Dick; Enrico in Lucia die Lammermoor with Eugene Opera; Giorgio Germont in La traviata with Virginia Opera; and Schaunard in La bohème  with San Diego Opera; a return to the Metropolitan Opera as Dancaïre in Carmen; the title role in Simon Boccanegra with Kentucky Opera; Belcore in L’Elisir d’amore with San Diego Opera; Iago in Otello with Nashville Opera; Count di Luna in Il trovatore with Arizona Opera; Alfio/Tonio in Cavalleria rusticana/I pagliacci with Arizona Opera; and Jack Rance in La fanciulla del West with Nashville Opera.

Other performances have included La traviata with Glimmerglass Opera, where Opera News described him as “a stentorian Germont, singing with a steely beauty that matched the character’s resolve;” Schaunard in La bohème for San Diego Opera; Figaro in Il barbiere di Siviglia, and Count Almaviva in Le nozze di Figaro with Sacramento Opera; Sharpless in Madama Butterfly for San Diego Opera; the baritone soloist for Horatio Parker’s  rarely performed Hora Novissima with the Pacific Master Chorale; and Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony with the Reno Philharmonic.

On the concert stage, Mr. MacKenzie has performed frequently as the baritone soloist for Carl Orff’s Carmina Burana, most recently with the Alabama Symphony, Los Angeles’ New West Symphony, the Symphony Orchestra of the University of California, Davis and the Savannah Symphony.  The UC Davis performance is available on YouTube and has received over 19 million views.  He has also appeared with the Los Angeles Master Chorale, the Pacific Chorale, the Los Angeles Mozart Orchestra, and the Madison Symphony.