Robert Isaacs, choral director & conductor

Isaacs

Appearing in the concert Music U., performed on April 19, 2015 at Carnegie Hall.

Robert Isaacs is the director of choral activities at Cornell University, a position generously supported by Priscilla E. Browning. Previously, he ran choral programs at Princeton University and the Manhattan School of Music, and served as interim director of the National Youth Choir of Great Britain. He has chorus-mastered for BBC Proms concerts and worked as a guest conductor with ensembles on both sides of the Atlantic, including Laudibus, Cerddorion, Amuse, TENET, and the Vox Vocal Ensemble. He made his conducting debut at Carnegie Hall with the Argento New Music Project, and has also conducted at the Royal Albert Hall in London, the Edinburgh Fringe Festival, the Snape Proms, the Guggenheim Museum, and other venues ranging from Stockholm to the Cook Islands. As a singer, he has appeared as a guest soloist with Saint Thomas Fifth Avenue, Trinity Wall Street, Musica Sacra, Polyphony Voices of New Mexico, and many more. He regularly tours and records with Pomerium, the Vox Vocal Ensemble, and the Clarion Music Society, accompanied the Mark Morris Dance Group on tour in Russia, and performed twice in Jonathan Miller’s staged St. Matthew Passion at the Brooklyn Academy of Music. He was nominated for a Grammy Award in 2006.

Mr. Isaacs graduated with high honors from Harvard University, where he designed his own course of study in choral music. After a stint as a juggler and unicyclist on the streets of San Francisco, he spent a year as a Trustman Fellow, researching choral rehearsal psychology throughout England and Scandinavia.

Fall 2014

Nicholas Canellakis, cello

Canellakis

Appearing in the concert Music U., performed on April 19, 2015 at Carnegie Hall.

Nicholas Canellakis is an artist of The Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center, with which he performs regularly in Alice Tully Hall and on tour throughout the U.S. and abroad. He has given concerts in some of the most prestigious venues in the U.S., including Carnegie Hall, the Kennedy Center, the Kimmel Center, Harris Theater, Jordan Hall, and Disney Hall, and is a frequent performer at Bargemusic in NYC. He has also been a guest artist at many of the world’s leading music festivals, including Santa Fe, Ravinia, Verbier, Music@Menlo, Mecklenburg, La Jolla, Moab, Bridgehampton, Sarasota, and Aspen. He is the co-artistic director of the Sedona Winter MusicFest in Arizona.

The Canellakis-Brown Duo, Mr. Canellakis’ collaboration with pianist/composer Michael Brown, performs numerous recitals throughout the country, and is set to release its debut album during the 2014-15 season. Mr. Canellakis and Mr. Brown have also garnered attention for their multimedia projects, and one of their short films received a world premiere at the 2013 Look & Listen Festival in NY.

Mr. Canellakis was a winner of The Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center’s CMS Two international auditions. He was also selected to be in residence at Carnegie Hall as a member of Ensemble ACJW, in which he performed often in Weill and Zankel Halls and worked to enhance music education throughout NYC. He is on the faculty of the Brooklyn College Conservatory of Music and the Bowdoin Music Festival.

Fall 2014

James Bagwell

James Bagwell
Photo by Erin Baiano

Directing the Bard Festival Chorale for the concert Troubled Days of Peace performed on October 19, 2016 at Carnegie Hall.

James Bagwell maintains an active international schedule as a conductor of choral, operatic, and orchestral music. He was most recently named associate conductor of The Orchestra Now (TŌN) and in 2009 was appointed principal guest conductor of the American Symphony Orchestra, leading them in concerts at both Carnegie Hall and Lincoln Center. From 2009–15 he served as music director of The Collegiate Chorale, with whom he conducted a number of rarely-performed operas-in-concert at Carnegie Hall, including Bellini’s Beatrice di Tenda, Rossini’s Möise et Pharaon, and Boito’s Mefistofele. He conducted the New York premiere of Philip Glass’s Toltec Symphony and Golijov’s Oceana, both at Carnegie Hall. His performance of Kurt Weill’s Knickerbocker Holiday at Alice Tully Hall was recorded live for Gaslight Records and is the only complete recording of this musical. Since 2011 he has collaborated with singer and composer Natalie Merchant, conducting a number of major orchestras across the country, including the San Francisco and Seattle Symphonies.

Mr. Bagwell has trained choruses for a number of major American and international orchestras, including the New York Philharmonic; Los Angeles Philharmonic; San Francisco, NHK (Japan), and St. Petersburg Symphonies; and the Budapest Festival, Mostly Mozart Festival, American Symphony, Cincinnati Symphony, Cincinnati Pops, and Indianapolis Symphony Orchestras. Since 2003 he has been director of choruses for the Bard Music Festival, conducting and preparing choral works during the summer festival at The Richard B. Fisher Center for the Performing Arts at Bard College.

He conducted some twenty-five productions as music director of Light Opera Oklahoma. At Bard SummerScape he has lead various theatrical works, most notably The Tender Land, which received glowing praise from The New York Times, The New Yorker, and Opera News. From 2005–10 he was music director of The Dessoff Choirs in New York, who under his leadership made numerous appearances at Carnegie Hall in addition to their regular season.

Fall 2016

Elliott Forrest

Elliott Forrest

Hosting Janáček’s Sinfonietta, performed on April 26, 2015 at Peter Norton Symphony Space.

Elliott Forrest is a Peabody Award winning broadcaster and producer. He can now be heard on WQXR and WNYC in New York. He is heard nationally as the radio host of the syndicated concerts from The Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center. For WQXR he produced and hosted The WQXR Classical Comedy Contest at Carolines on Broadway, which was also shot for WNET Channel 13 in NY. He also hosts the national broadcasts of Spring for Music live from Carnegie Hall, where he has appeared more than 50 times.

For more than 12 years, Mr. Forrest was with the A&E Television Network as host of Breakfast with the Arts. He was nominated for an Emmy in 2002 and 2005. The show featured segments on movies, Broadway, rock, jazz, world, and classical music; in studio performances; and extensive interviews with guests. Over the years, he has been a host, moderator, guest speaker, and lecturer for scores of events, shows, and galas. In January of 2006 he hosted the opening concerts of the new Globe-News Center for the Performing Arts in Amarillo, TX.

Fall 2014

CornellGleeClub

Cornell University Glee Club

Appearing in the concert Music U., performed on April 19, 2015 at Carnegie Hall.

In the fall of 1868, months after Cornell University opened its doors, students banded together to form the Orpheus Glee Club. Originally composed of a vocal quartet, several accompanying instrumentalists, and a poet, the group has become a home to thousands of young men who have traveled in all walks of life, from music and medicine to agriculture and astronomy. The group has performed songs of Bernstein on Malaysian television and songs of Shostakovich in the Moscow conservatory, sung in more than a dozen languages, logged hundreds of thousands of miles, and brought music to millions of people across the globe.

The ensemble performs a diverse repertoire, ranging from liturgical settings to folk songs and from works of the Renaissance to contemporary music. In 1995, the Glee Club began a project of annually commissioning a new piece for male voices by composers such as Augusta Read Thomas, Julian Wachner, David Conte, Daniel Kellogg, Shulamit Ran, Norbert Palej, Benjamin May, Bernard Rands, Joseph Gregorio, J. David Moore, and most recently Toby Twining.

The Glee Club has been led by several notable directors, including Hollis Dann, Eric Dudley, Thomas Tracy, and Director Emeritus Thomas Sokol, who led the group for 38 years. Scott Tucker, the Glee Club’s director from 1995-2012, brought the group international acclaim with performances at the American Choral Directors Association and the Llangollen International Musical Eistedfodd in Wales, where the Glee Club placed second place in the Male Choir competition. Robert Isaacs is the glee club’s ninth conductor.

Fall 2014

Cornell Chorus

Cornell University Chorus

Appearing in the concert Music U., performed on April 19, 2015 at Carnegie Hall.

The Cornell University Chorus, founded in 1921, is Cornell’s premier treble voice ensemble. Since 2001, the Chorus has made it a special point to commission new works from women composers with the goal of expanding the contemporary repertoire for treble voices. Comprised of 50 women from a variety of backgrounds, both academic and otherwise, the Chorus performs a repertoire spanning eight centuries and ten languages, including masses, motets, spirituals, and folk, with a variety of other classical and contemporary pieces.

The Chorus performs annually throughout the academic year for a multitude of university events, including Convocation, First Year Family Weekend, Senior Week, Commencement, and Reunions weekend. In addition, the Chorus boasts extensive experience in professional settings, having appeared on the stages of Carnegie Hall, Lincoln Center, the Kennedy Center, the Philadelphia Academy of Music, and the Saratoga Performing Arts Center. The Chorus has also had the privilege of working with renowned world musician Samite, of Uganda, and with Anonymous 4 in a production of Richard Einhorn’s Voices of Light.

The ensemble has made numerous successful tours of New England, the Midwest, Canada, and, most recently, California. The Chorus also travels to other institutions for competitions and festivals and has performed with other groups, such as the Toronto Women’s Chorus and the Penn State Glee Club.

Fall 2014

Bard Festival Chorale

Appearing in the concert A Mass of Life performed on April 5, 2016 at Carnegie Hall.

The Bard Festival Chorale was formed in 2003 as the resident choir of the Bard Music Festival. It consists of the finest ensemble singers from New York City and surrounding areas. Many of its members have distinguished careers as soloists and as performers in a variety of choral groups; all possess a shared enthusiasm for the exploration of new and unfamiliar music.

Fall 2014

Reception and Reputation

by Leon Botstein

Written for the concert Opus Posthumous, performed on March 26, 2015 at Carnegie Hall.

This concert explores shifts in the reputation and characterization of composers during their lifetime and after their deaths, generated by posthumous discoveries. As in the history of the visual arts (contrary to public opinion, the highest prices were paid for work during the artists’ lifetimes, not after), in music, composers have been best known and best understood while they were living, not after their death. The myth of the unappreciated and unrecognized genius is just that—a later romantic invention. The popularity of the image of the misunderstood artist gains momentum with Wagner, who, despite astonishing success, seemed to revel in spreading the idea that he was the victim of philistine taste, that he was held back and misunderstood. The advantage in doing so was that it enhanced his sense of self, reinforcing his belief that he was a visionary prophet of the future—a threat.

Wagner’s fame coincided with the spread of the practice of the arts during the nineteenth century; in a parallel fashion the affectations and mannerisms of the artistic temperament, and a growing affection for the notion of the great artist as “ahead of his time,” an outsider and an outcast, flourished. No one made more of this sensibility than Gustav Mahler, who despite great success and acknowledgment, felt unappreciated and predicted that “his time” would come, but after his demise.

The idea that Mozart had been buried in an unmarked grave presumably because no one cared and he was impoverished and obscure, or that Schubert was undiscovered, lonely and penniless, during his life has to be set side by side with the success and satisfaction acknowledged and experienced by Haydn, Brahms, Tchaikovsky, Strauss, and Stravinsky in their lifetimes. Mozart was hardly obscure and his burial had to do with the rituals and mores of 1791 Vienna, and Schubert was famous and well-loved in his lifetime. What is more likely the case in music history is not the discovery of an overlooked genius but the forgetting of those once justifiably famous and the recalibration of the reputation of permanently well-known composers.

It is this last process that this concert examines. Schubert, for example was famous at the time of his death for the lieder, choral, and dance music he wrote. The Great C major symphony came to light only a decade after his death, and the most famous of all Schubert works—the so-called “unfinished” symphony—was first heard nearly 40 years after the death of the composer. The C major Quintet came to light in the 1850s (Schubert died in 1828). Schubert harbored ambitions to succeed in the theatre—but in that he did indeed fail; most of his operatic work remained unperformed. The overture that begins the concert points to a radical shift in the way posterity has understood Schubert, a shift made possible by the discovery of unknown large scale works for the stage and concert hall. Schubert’s fame was redirected in the second half of the nineteenth century by the encounter with new works that came to light. After 1870 he became an icon of late 19th century romanticism more than a proponent of the early Biedermeier aesthetic of the years between 1815 and 1828.

Bruckner is best known for his symphonies. But Bruckner is seen as a composer in the thrall of the Wagnerian—a Viennese figure opposed to a sterile classicism associated with Brahms. Bruckner is understood as having transformed the symphony into a monumental sonic drama. He was a world-famous man at the time of his death. Much as Brahms and Bruckner shared a mutual antipathy during the more than thirty years they both lived and worked in Vienna, they both shared a deep debt to and love for Schubert. The link between Brahms and Schubert is more familiar to classical music lovers. But as the “study” symphony on this program makes evident, Bruckner’s reputation as a link to Mahler and major figure in the post-Wagnerian world becomes tempered when we encounter the early works and recognize affinities between Bruckner and Schubert.

The most astonishing posthumous discovery on today’s program is doubtlessly the Dvořák first symphony. Like Schubert’s “unfinished” it came to light only decades after the composer’s death. It required a renumbering of the Dvořák symphonies and a reconsideration of the composer’s aesthetic trajectory. Dvořák revised many of his early works; we therefore rarely get a chance to hear what the young composer thought to do, unhampered by the wisdom of experience. This symphony is a case in point since the composer considered it lost. (One is reminded in how privileged a condition we live now. Imagine writing an entire symphony and having only one copy).

In the twentieth century, each of these three works became important as scholars and audiences revisited the life, career, and reputation of three famous composers, all widely honored and acknowledged in their lifetimes, but all too quickly categorized in too simplified and reductive a manner by posterity. It is unfortunate that these posthumously discovered works have not yet gained the place in the repertory that they deserve.

Franz Schubert, Overture to Claudine von Villa Bella, D. 239

by Christopher H. Gibbs

Written for the concert Opus Posthumous, performed on March 26, 2015 at Carnegie Hall.

Born January 31, 1797, in Vienna
Died November 19, 1828, in Vienna
Composed from July 26, 1815 to September 1815
Premiered on April 26, 1913 at the Gemeindehaus Wieden in Vienna
Performance Time: Approximately 8 minutes
Instruments for this performance: 2 flutes, 2 oboes, 2 clarinets, 2 bassoons, 2 French horns, 2 trumpets, timpani, 22 violins, 8 violas, 8 cellos, and 6 double basses

The teenage Schubert tried his hand at all genres current at the time, from small-scale domestic music to Masses, symphonies, and operas. Most of these early pieces were meant to be played at home, at his school, or in community settings—they were projects through which he hoped to hone his craft (among his teachers was the formidable Antonio Salieri) and were not intended to generate public fame. He seems rarely to have looked back at these works as his ambitions became ever grander.

Although his Lieder, keyboard and chamber music, and symphonies eventually won a central place in the repertoire, Schubert’s name is rarely associated with dramatic music even though he wrote it over the entire course of his brief career. He composed his first operas and Singspiels (operas with spoken German dialogue) in his teens, and in 1820 Die Zwillingsbruder (The Twin Brothers) had a run of performances at a prestigious theater in Vienna. His incidental music for Rosamunde proved more popular than the dreary play it accompanied at its 1823 premiere in Vienna. In addition to short works and various unrealized projects, he completed two major operas: Alfonso und Estrella (1821–22) and Fierabras (1823).

Schubert composed Claudine von Villa Bella, a three-act Singspiel, in the summer of 1815, the most prolific period of his short life. He was immersed, at the time, in the poetry of Goethe, which inspired his first masterpieces: Gretchen am Spinnrade (Gretchen at the Spinning Wheel) the previous October and Erlkönig later that year. Like most of his early large works, Claudine was never presented in public during his lifetime, although there were plans for performances of the overture in 1818. Schubert’s older brother Ferdinand informed him that the piece “comes in for much criticism . . . The wind parts are said to be so difficult as to be unplayable, particularly those for the oboes and bassoon.” The first documented public performance of the first act of Claudine had to wait until the twentieth century as most of the opera had been destroyed. Schubert had given the manuscript to his friend Josef Hüttenbrenner, whose housekeeper burned the second and third acts during the 1848 revolution. The charming overture is scored for an orchestra of Classical proportions and begins with an intense Adagio introduction followed by an Italianate Allegro vivace.

Christopher H. Gibbs is James H. Ottaway Jr. Professor of Music at Bard College.

Anton Bruckner, Symphony No. 00 (Study Symphony in F minor)

by Christopher H. Gibbs

Written for the concert Opus Posthumous, performed on March 26, 2015 at Carnegie Hall.

Born September 4, 1824, in Ansfelden, Austria
Died October 11, 1896, in Vienna
Composed in 1863
2nd movement premiered on October 31, 1913 in Vienna
1st and 4th movements premiered on March 18, 1923 in Klosterneuburg, Austria
3rd movement premiered on October 12, 1924 in Klosterneuburg, Austria
Performance Time: Approximately 41 minutes
Instruments for this performance: 2 flutes, 2 oboes, 2 clarinets, 2 bassoons, 4 French horns, 2 trumpets, 3 trombones, timpani, 22 violins, 8 violas, 8 cellos, and 6 double basses

Anton Bruckner was a late bloomer among eminent composers. He completed his first numbered symphony in 1866 at age 41. (To paraphrase the Tom Lehrer song: by that age Schubert had been dead 10 years.) His path to the piece included the “Study” Symphony heard on the concert tonight. Sloth was not a reason for Bruckner’s late start, but rather a combination of insecurity and a desire to master various technical elements of composition before presenting himself as a professional symphonist.

In 1855, at age 31, Bruckner took up a position as cathedral organist in Linz and began meticulous study of counterpoint with the noted Viennese theorist Simon Sechter (with whom Schubert sought council in the last weeks of his life). Sechter forbade free composition and for some six years Bruckner ceased his own serious work. (Sechter remarked that he never had a more diligent student.) In 1861 Bruckner sought out Otto Kitzler, a conductor a decade his junior, with whom he worked for some two years on form and orchestration. After writing keyboard music and a string quartet, he turned to bigger projects, including an Overture in G Minor, a setting of Psalm 112, and the Symphony in F minor.

Bruckner composed the symphony over the course of three and a half months in early 1863 and labeled the score a Schularbeit (school exercise). He began writing the manuscript in pencil and as he gained confidence switched to ink. Since his goal was refining his compositional technique rather than producing a recipe for actual performance, he noted relatively few dynamics, phrasing, and other interpretative markings. One can nonetheless already perceive some of the distinctive characteristics of Bruckner’s mature symphonic style, a complex alchemy of liturgical influences, Baroque organ sonorities, and his recent revelatory exposure to Wagner’s music.

Nearly two years later, in January 1865, Bruckner began his First Symphony and four years after that (the chronology is not entirely clear) wrote at least parts of another unnumbered one, in D minor, now known as “Die Nullte.” Neither this Symphony No. 0 nor the F minor “Study” Symphony was performed during his lifetime. The second movement of the F minor was heard in Vienna in 1913 and the first, second, and fourth movements premiered in Klosterneuberg in 1923 with the third movement, which had previously been thought lost, first performed in the same city the following year.

Christopher H. Gibbs is James H. Ottaway Jr. Professor of Music at Bard College.