Thursday, February 24, 2011

David Shifrin Interview

Clarinetist David Shifrin with Yale School of Music ensemble (photo courtesy of Yale School of Music)

Yale in New York: Concertante
February 28, 2011
Zankel Hall, 7th Avenue between 56th and 57th Streets

The Yale in New York series has already brought much unheralded music to Carnegie Hall’s stages since its inception a few years ago. Last season alone saw the Yale Philharmonia Orchestra performing works by Polish modernist composer Krzysztof Penderecki, who also conducted. Coming up next is Concertante, a chamber-orchestra concert of four rarely-heard works by 20th century masters: Ernest Bloch, Alberto Ginastera, Richard Strauss, and Frank Martin, whose work will be receiving its U.S. premiere more than 70 years after it was written.

Clarinetist David Shifrin—who will play the Strauss work and who doubles as the series’ artistic director—recently talked about the Concertante concert at Zankel Hall, how the series came about, and a sneak peek at what’s coming next season.

Kevin Filipski: Who came up with the idea for the Yale in New York series?
David Shifrin: It was the brainchild of our dean, Robert Blocker, who felt it was important for the school to have a presence in New York, a crossroads of the world for music. It serves a number of purposes, primarily as an opportunity to showcase the faculty, students and alumni on a world stage. The concert halls at Yale are very good but it’s a different mindset to play in New York. Some things we’ve done have an identification with the university: most notably, we recently brought Krzysztof Penderecki, a member of the faculty awhile back, to conduct his own music at Carnegie Hall. We also featured composers who have been part of Vivian Perlis’ extensive history of American music. Being asked to curate the series is an honor—it’s also a lot of fun and a challenge to find things that will add to the musical life of New York and showcase the Yale musical community in a different light.

KF: How did you create this program for obscure 20th century concerti grossi?
DS: If you look at our past programs, I’ve tried to showcase different aspects of the school. One concert featured our amazing percussionists, another featured our guitarists and another featured composers from the school. We’ve had an orchestral concert of Messiaen, Prokofiev and Penderecki, but we haven’t done a chamber ensemble, so I thought it would be nice to feature a select group of Yale students in a more intimate hall doing 20th century versions of concerti grossi. We call the program Concertante because I was fascinated by Bloch’s Concerto Grosso No. 1, which is a name usually given to works of Handel or Bach. Ginastera’s Variaciones concertantes also fits into that category, and that was a chance to highlight different sections, each movement being a concerto for a different instrument, and in the final movement all the instruments come together. I started looking at that period with those two works as bookends. Strauss’s next-to-last work was a glorious Duet-Concertino, which we’ve talked so long about playing, and it fits perfectly on this program. It’s a golden coda to Strauss’s career.

KF: There’s also a U.S. premiere of a rare work by Swiss master Frank Martin.
DS: When I was talking with flutist Ransom Wilson about this program, I mentioned a Martin concerto for seven winds that’s a little too long to fit. Ransom told me about the Second Ballade that Martin wrote for saxophone, then made a flute version that never played during his lifetime. Ransom corresponded with Martin’s widow, who found the manuscript of it. There was a European premiere, and it hasn’t been heard in America yet, so we're honored to play it.

KF: What can we look forward to next season?
DS: Our next season is still in the works, but one program will feature 20th century British vocal music: a one-act opera by William Walton, The Bear, and Benjamin Britten’s Serenade for Tenor, Horn and Strings. It will have a chamber ensemble and a vocal focus. A few years ago, we did the songs of Charles Ives but we haven’t featured our opera department or vocal soloists yet. The Bear cast will be made up of Yale students and alumni, and conducting will be William Boughton, a British conductor who’s the Music Director of New Haven Symphony Orchestra, and who has recorded a number of Walton works. There are a lot of Walton manuscripts at the Yale Library, so there’s a close connection there also. We’ll also be doing a string orchestra concert that will feature a mix of students, alumni and faculty playing well-established works like Strauss’s Metamorphosen, Tchaikovsky’s Serenade and a new work. I had the idea to have a contest for a composition with the same instrumentation as the Strauss work (23 string players). The winner will be announced with the rest of our season.

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