Sunday, May 29, 2022

Carrie Hennessey in Conversation with Christian Baldini

On June 4, 2022 I will share the stage with soprano Carrie Hennessey, who has been a frequent collaborator of mine. She will sing arias by Verdi and Dvorak, and duets by Offenbach and Delibes with mezzo-soprano Sarah Fitch. All of this will be with the Camellia Symphony Orchestra in a program that includes Holst's masterpiece The Planets

Christian Baldini: Dear Carrie, I am always delighted to work with you and to share your amazing voice and musicality with our audience here in Sacramento. This time we get to do a couple of duets with you and Sarah Fitch, as well as two wonderful arias by Verdi, and one by Dvorak. Tell me, what is special to you about this program, these pieces, this collaboration?

Carrie Hennessey: Well, two of the arias are ones that I performed and advanced in the Metropolitan Opera Auditions, Merce dilette amiche and Rusalka's Song to the Moon. The Dvorak holds a special place in my heart.  I am currently in the process of writing a one woman show about my singing life, the devastating 12 years away from singing and the coming back to it. This aria has its own tender scene in the show retelling the other worldly experience of my very first Met Audition. I also, of course, love singing with my dear friend Sarah Fitch, so the two duets will have me smiling from the inside out!

CB: How were your beginnings with opera? How did it all start for you?

CH: Growing up in MN, we were exposed really early on to choral, symphonic music and opera. My mother accompanied many local choirs and as a small child I was already memorizing all the parts! In high school I sang in the choirs, the musicals, solo competitions, and one year a famous conductor from the MN Bach Society came to our school to coach our school choir. My choir teacher had me sing a little Italian aria for him and he decided I should work on Handel’s “Let the Bright Seraphim” for the next competition. He accompanied me, brought in a professional trumpet player, and needless to say helped me develop some rather flashy ornamentation! The more I learned about opera, I loved the playful, collaborative nature of it all and the depth of the storytelling that was possible. 

CB: Why do you think opera is relevant nowadays? What would you like to convey to people in the audience with your wonderful artistry?

CH: Opera, by its nature, conveys deep emotional content. It’s larger than life and can truly house the tremendously big  emotions we all feel. Opera allows for the force of these emotions to move through us in a way that everyday life doesn’t allow. The release is visceral. The depth and breadth of storytelling in this tradition is vast and needed, especially now. My intent is always to connect first to the text and music, to find the universal truth and to take risks vocally and dramatically in order to serve it as best as I can. I intend to be the vessel for our communal, musical experience that we have been lacking during the pandemic. To feel the shared vibrations in these concert halls is a moving way to connect as humans. 

CB: Do you have any advice for young singers who are starting out? What are some helpful considerations? How does one deal with frustrations, failure, and hard decisions? (we have all gone through those!)

CH: Oh my goodness, do I! Seek advice and support from those who are doing the work, those you admire. Communicate clearly with mentors and teachers when things are getting frustrating and you find your needs are shifting. Only YOU know the kind of career you want, the only path is yours. Seek teachers who encourage you to look outside their studio, to be curious, to have questions. Don’t be afraid to ask, even if it seems like a risk. Artists want to support one another, and often we forget that.  I left singing for over 12 years because I didn’t have the tools to communicate as clearly as I needed, so I am a huge advocate in teaching my young vocal students to truly advocate for what they need, even if they think that the powers that be might shut them down, embarrass them or never hire them again. It is still so important to communicate needs so that we can be vulnerable in this rehearsal and performing space.

CB: Thank you so much Carrie. I very much look forward to our upcoming performance. I know that people will be in for a treat, as is always the case with you!

CH: Thank you, Christian! This will be a full and satisfying program indeed!

Carrie Hennessey - Photo by @cymberella

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. As Kát’á in Kát’á Kabanová,  “in a vivid star turn in the title role...brought a wondrous blend of silvery tone and sinuous phrasing to her assignment...Hennessey’s performance touched perfectly on Katya’s anxiety, joys and uncertainty, all through a surge of Puccinian lyricism.”- Joshua Kosman, San Francisco Chronicle


The 2022/2023 season kicks off with Opera and Interstellar Voices with the Camellia Symphony, the Brahms’ Requiem and Happy Birthday, USA! with the Music in the Mountains Chorus and Orchestra, and appearances with the Bear Valley Music Festival and the Auburn Symphony.


Recent engagements include the title role in Kát’á Kabanová by Leoš Janáček and her illuminating the comic, awkward, and vulnerable Rose in At the Statue of Venus accompanied on piano by composer Jake Heggie. Ms. Hennessey performed the  inaugural season of the Capitol Public Radio Garden Concert Series, as soloist of operatic arias with the Cleveland Philharmonic, the world premiere of Bones of Girls by librettist, Cristina Fríes and composer, Ryan Suleiman, with The Rogue Music Project. And Yet She Persisted” is a visceral and heartfelt recital with long time collaborator Jennifer Reason of all female composers. Debuting as Estelle in a sold out run of an immersive production in the opera The Stronger was a highlight in the Sacramento restaurant Magpie.  Song of Sacramento , a benefit that also amplified the voices of local composers.


Notable opera highlights include Blanche Du Bois in A Streetcar Named Desire, Sarah Miles in the Bay Area premiere of Jake Heggie’s The End of the Affair and Elle in La Voix Humaine in NYC. Concert highlights include Strauss’ Vier Letzte Liedercollaborating in the development and performance of a world premiere ballet “On the Rocks, Please!”, “Bernstein 100” with the Colorado Symphony, 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. 


Hennessey has also performed with the Houston Symphony, at St. Stephen’s Cathedral in Budapest, Reduta Hall in Bratislava, Rudolfinum Hall in Prague, and at the International Mahler Festival in the Czech Republic.


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. She is currently in the process of writing a one woman show about her early life in singing, walking away from a singing career for 12 years and coming back to create a unique, versatile and vibrant performing and teaching career. Subscribe to her email list and follow on social media @carriehennessey for updates in the creative process! 

Wednesday, April 27, 2022

Meredith Clark in Conversation with Christian Baldini

On April 30 I will have the pleasure of conducting the beautiful and rarely performed Harp Concerto by Alberto Ginastera with a wonderful soloist: Meredith Clark (who plays regularly as guest principal harp with the San Francisco Symphony). I had the opportunity to ask Meredith some questions about her love for her instrument and for Ginastera's music. Below are the answers.

Christian Baldini: Meredith, I am very excited to have you with us for this magnificent harp concerto. People don't get to see the harp featured as our concerto soloist very often, so this is particularly wonderful. Please tell me, why is Ginastera's Harp Concerto such a favorite piece of yours? (I asked you what your favorite concerto was several years ago backstage and you answered immediately "the Ginastera", and I have been planning on doing this piece with you since then!)

Meredith Clark: Thanks so much Christian! The Ginastera Harp Concerto is my favorite because of how lively and powerful you get to be as the performer. It's very rhythmic and dancelike, there's a high drama factor and it's a really amazing piece of music. My whole career, I've heard stereotypes of how angelic the harp is, and how beautiful it is (and don't you wish you played the piccolo?), and this concerto speaks directly to those things. It lets me show off what the harp is capable of, I can be loud, rhythmic, surprising even, and do things that no other instrument is capable of. I love the shock factor, and then it's almost more meaningful to have the more beautiful and intimate moments too. 

CB: This concerto, as well as most of the very important ones of the 20th century were commissioned by the same person. Edna Phillips was a maverick, she is the reason why so many great harp concertos exist. She also had a long association with the Philadelphia Orchestra. What can you tell us about this wonderful woman and the trailblazing work she did for the harp and harpists?

MC: Edna Phillips studied with Carlos Salzedo at the Curtis Institute and became the Principal Harpist for the Philadelphia Orchestra in 1930 under Leopold Stokowski. She was both the first woman in that orchestra, and the first woman to be a Principal player in any major American orchestra. She was 23, and had only been playing the harp for 5 years at that point when she auditioned for the job. She retired from the Philadelphia Orchestra in 1946, but continued to commission many concertos, including most famously the Ginastera. She commissioned Ginastera to write it in the late 1950's, and helped with some revisions though ultimately didn't perform the premiere. She was also instrumental in developing music programs in Philadelphia, and had a passion for philanthropy. I'm so grateful for the work she did, and the amazing legacy she's left behind for all of us today.

CB: How were your beginnings with music? Did you start on the piano, the harp, or something else?

MC: I started on piano. My mother is a pianist and organist, and we had a baby grand in the living room. When I was around 4 years old, my mom caught me trying to plunk out the theme song to Sesame Street, and she decided it was time to start lessons. She wisely decided not to teach me and enrolled me in a piano program at TCU. I played the piano happily enough for a few years until my younger brother started Suzuki violin. They had a Christmas concert one year that I went to, highlighting all of the different Suzuki instruments, and at one point there were harps on stage, and I was elbowing my mom telling her THAT is what I wanted to do. Eventually we got in touch with the teacher, rented a harp, and it took off. It was clear that harp was more my thing, and I never looked back!

CB: What are some of the wonderful unique features of the harp? What made you fall in love with it?

MC: Obviously it's a visually impressive instrument. It's large, glamorous, and maybe a bit intimidating. I love that there's a direct physicality of making music with the harp - there's my fingers on the strings, and how I pluck them is what makes the sound. With no bow, reed or mouthpiece necessary, it feels like an extension of myself when I'm playing. There are the mechanically tricky parts too, and having 7 pedals to navigate can be a challenge, but I love how it's a bit like a puzzle. I had a friend once describe sitting in front of harpists in an orchestra like being in front of a stampede of unicorns, and I love that analogy. 

CB: You have played under many of today's foremost conductors, including last week performing with the San Francisco Symphony Mahler's 5th Symphony with Gustavo Dudamel. What can you tell us about some of these incredible experiences of working at such a high level? What are some of your favorite recollections?

MC: Wow, I'm still taking last weekend in. Working with Dudamel was incredible, and for it to be on such an iconic piece for the harp was really special. Getting to play other Mahler symphonies with the San Francisco Symphony and MTT was always a treat - one time especially was a bit scary, as I had to play Mahler 10 and 1 with SFS at Carnegie Hall, without rehearsal. Until the night beforehand, I don't think I'd ever even heard Mahler 10! Sometimes you just have to trust your training, study the score, and go out there and make music. One of my favorite memories playing 2nd harp with the San Francisco Symphony was playing Strauss' Alpine Symphony with the recently-retired Principal Harpist Doug Rioth. That week we felt especially in sync, and it was almost as if we were one harpist making one giant sound, perfectly together. Playing unison with another harpist is very challenging, so having that kind of experience and connection is unforgettable! Getting to work with Esa-Pekka Salonen on things ranging from Beethoven to premieres of new works has been amazing, and I'm looking forward to seeing how the orchestra changes under his leadership. It's exciting to be a part of, and to share a commitment to bringing what's on the page to life for the audience. I'm still so grateful that we're back, getting to perform for live audiences. The audience is an integral part of what I feel on stage, and I'm so happy we can share that space again.

CB: Wonderful to have you with us dear Meredith, I can't wait to make music with you and showcase this beautiful and exciting music with our audience!

MC:Thank you so much Christian! I'm honored to be playing this piece with you and Camellia, and can't wait for the audience to hear it! 

Meredith Clark (courtesy photo)

Meredith Clark has established herself as the lead freelance harpist in the San Francisco Bay Area. She currently has the distinction of playing as guest principal harpist of the San Francisco Symphony, and holds positions with the Oakland Symphony and San Francisco Contemporary Music Players. She enjoys working under some of the most sought-after conductors in the world including Esa-Pekka Salonen, Michael Tilson Thomas, Gustavo Dudamel and many others. Meredith enjoys a varied career, having traveled around the world to play solo, chamber and orchestral music. She also can be heard on the soundtracks for many films and video games. During the Pandemic, Meredith co-founded a business called Boundless Musician, where she works with other musicians to help them feel more connected and gain confidence in their musical abilities through work away from the instrument, blending coaching and a more holistic approach. She aims to perform at the highest level while celebrating the fact that we’re all human, and there’s more life and beauty to be found when not attempting to be perfect. Meredith grew up in Fort Worth, Texas and studied under Yolanda Kondonassis at the Oberlin Conservatory and the Cleveland Institute of Music. 


Tuesday, February 15, 2022

Amos Yang in Conversation with Christian Baldini

Christian Baldini: On February 19 I will have the pleasure of welcoming one of the most outstanding cellists in the US to play Prokofiev's Symphony Concerto Op. 125 as our soloist with the Camellia Symphony Orchestra in Sacramento. Amos is the assistant principal cello with the San Francisco Symphony, and has had a long and extremely successful career collaborating with some of the most important musicians of our time. Amos, can you start by sharing with us why this piece by Prokofiev is so important to you? And why do you think it is so rarely performed?

Amos Yang: It’s a tour de force for everyone on stage which I think makes it so much fun. The challenge for the orchestra is to balance the fine line between chamber music and full symphonic tuttis. For me, the scope of it is something I’ve always been in awe of and is a bit like Alex Harold climbing El Capitan free solo. The sheer forces and complexity of the piece are challenging but more and more people are playing this piece as our collective technique improves.

CB: Please tell us about your background. Do you come from a musical household? How did you get started with music? When did you decide/realize you would make this commitment of becoming a professional musician?

AY: My parents aren’t musicians but they LOVE music and wanted to share that love with all of their children. I started at the SF Conservatory of Music under the tutelage of Irene Sharp. She was an amazing teacher and dedicated to all of us reaching our full potential. It wasn’t until my junior/senior year in high school though that I made the decision to make a go of it as a musician.

CB: As a cellist, chamber musician and member of one of the greatest orchestras in the world, what/who would you say have been the most inspiring experiences in your life?

AY: My colleagues inspire me daily with the level of playing they achieve. Touring the world with the orchestra is inspiring in and of itself. I love playing in different concert halls in different cities. It gives you perspective when you return home and while tours are brief, you get a feel for many new places and people.

CB: Who have been your most important mentors, and why?

AY: As a cellist Irene Sharp helped mold me from the age of 5. I became a cellistic mutt after that and owe a great deal to all my professors. Channing Robbins, Joyce Robbins, Paul Katz, Steve Doane and Joel Krosnick to name a few. Channing helped organize me, Joyce guided me as only a violinist could, Paul helped me greatly with sound, Steve inspired with his playing and Joel showed me what a true understanding of musical intent can convey.

CB: Why would you say performing music is important? What does it bring or add to our everyday lives? What is its role in society?

AY: It is a cliche but music really is a language without borders. It can bridge racial, cultural, social and monetary differences. Unlike languages that are usually organized with borders, music flows easily without these limitations. Because there aren’t words in much of music, the same music means something different to all who hear it. Yet, we perceive harmonies and melodies in a similar uniquely human way.

CB: What would be your advice for young musicians? What was helpful to you? How do they stay motivated, on track, and always in a growth mindset?

AY: For all young musicians I’d advise you to learn how to sing. Singing a phrase is by far the easiest and most natural way to figure out how you should shape an idea of music. Motivation is different from person to person. If you are like me, it helps to have a carrot for motivation. For me that meant competitions, auditions etc…For others that might be scheduling performances as goals.  It’s hard to stay motivated if one doesn’t have an audience to play for and share our music with.

CB: Lastly: what are three or four things that people should listen for in the Prokofiev Symphony Concerto? What would you say to someone who has never listened to a work by Prokofiev?

AY: Enjoy the banter between the soloist and the orchestra. Listen for dialogue as you might in a movie.

CB: Thank you very much for your time Amos. I very much look forward to our performance on February 19!

AY: Thank you I’m looking forward to it as well!

Watching San Francisco Symphony Assistant Principal Cello Amos Yang onstage, you’d never guess that his introduction to the cello was anything less than love at first sight. “My mother and I were going to sign up for violin lessons when we bumped into a family friend whose daughter had just auditioned for a wonderful new cello teacher,” he says. “My mom asked me if I wanted to try the cello, I shrugged my shoulders indifferently and off we went to the audition. It turns out the audition consisted of ‘bear hugging’ a tiny cello. As soon as I did that I was accepted into the studio and here I am forty plus years later still playing and hugging my cello most mornings.”

Amos’s is a uniquely San Francisco story. He studied with Irene Sharp at the San Francisco Conservatory and played with the SFS Youth Orchestra in its early days. “I was a bit of a challenge as an easily distracted eleven-year-old, but I'm glad they stuck with me. It was a terrific experience and training ground.” Amos’s studies weren’t limited to orchestral playing, however. “The San Francisco Boys Chorus also helped develop my physical and musical voice. I am constantly encouraging my students to sing and most of them are too embarrassed and inhibited to do this. If you can sing it you can play it!”

He went on to earn degrees from the Juilliard School before landing a post with the Seattle Symphony and performing as a member of the Maia String Quartet. Winning a position with the SFS in 2006 offered a rare and prized opportunity to join his hometown orchestra.

Amos’s return to the Bay Area continued the circle in more than one way. His son, Noah, also studies cello with Irene Sharp, while Amos teaches at the San Francisco Conservatory. He and his wife, violinist Alicia, are also parents to a daughter, Isabel, a budding violinist who sings in the San Francisco Girls Chorus.

The enormity of being part of the orchestra he listened to as a child isn’t lost on Amos. “Anytime we set foot in or draw the bow across the strings in a place like the Concertgebouw or the Musikverein, it's like a baseball player playing a game in Yankee Stadium or for a basketball player, the Boston Garden. It's a blessing and a privilege to share music with audiences in these settings.”