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Ravenna Strings: A Magical Community Orchestra

“I think we’ve found some cool new notes to play,” exclaims a voice from the cello section. “They’re mysterious notes, but I think they add something – so we’ll play them.”

The voice is joined by others, and some laughter ensues among the Ravenna String Orchestra, a group of volunteer musicians who meet weekly at a community center to play under the baton of Judy Drake and with help from co-director Lorraine Hughes.

At 7pm each week, a flood of tiny ballerinas exits the rehearsal room, and in come the musicians. They transform the room in moments, and for the next hour and a half, the room is theirs to fill with music.

Common threads

As is typical for a community orchestra, members of Ravenna Strings come from all walks of life, spanning numerous professions and more than 60 years in age. Some took lessons when they were young, playing on and off throughout the years. Others began learning later in life.

“When I think about it, it seems strange that ensemble playing works at all,” says cellist Taylor Weiss. “We’re a small group as orchestras go, but we’ve got a really wide range of technique and experience. And there is quite a bit of individual variation that goes into each person’s performance of a piece. You would think that all the variable bits would cause the music to devolve into something a chaotic blob, but the opposite tends to happen. The common threads of each individual performance reinforce and strengthen the collective performance.”

What binds them together?

“There seems something intrinsically down to earth and honest about everyone playing there. There are no pretensions, just an earnest desire to do the best we can and make music,” says violinist (and nephrologist) Michael Sutters.

And let us not forget the diminutive conductor, whom the musicians must crane their necks to see.

“Judy takes this all-volunteer group, selects music to challenge and delight us, and guides us cheerfully and joyously through a quarter of weekly rehearsals. We learn from her and from each other. Somehow, at the end of the term, we produce ‘music.’ It is a magical process,” says violist Lenell Nussbaum.

Rehearsing the Boccherini cello concerto with Nathan Whittaker.
Rehearsing the Boccherini cello concerto with soloist Nathan Whittaker.

‘It’s kind of magical’

Lenell, a criminal defense lawyer, says playing with the orchestra lets her use part of her brain that would otherwise lie dormant. A longtime musician, Lenell took up viola for this orchestra, learning a new notation and range.

“My day job relies exclusively on words. My brain physically feels different when it gets to perform music. It’s a good feeling,” she says.

Lenell isn’t the only one enjoying this mental spa.

“Most Wednesdays I scramble out of work, bolt down a bite to eat, and then contemplate whether I really have the energy to drag myself off to rehearsal,” says Taylor. “But after a few minutes into the evening, I’ve lost that lethargy, and by the time we’re done I’ve got a head full of music that has driven out all the little stresses of the day. It’s kind of magical what playing with a group does for you.”

Comparing notes.
Comparing notes.

Two pets and a plan

How did this magic come to be? Rewind to 1996. The scene: Green Lake, Seattle. Judy and Lorraine are walking their dogs around the lake, discussing what to do about retirement. “One idea was to lick envelopes; the other was to start a community orchestra,” they write in their bio.

Both women were professional musicians, and also taught music. Lorraine had suggested putting their students together to play chamber music. One day they did, and the orchestra was born. Over time, it grew into a more advanced ensemble.

“Often, someone really skilled would come in, so we’d make the music a little harder… and then someone else would join, and it would keep getting harder and harder,” says Judy. So they divided the orchestra in two, and in 2000 the Ravenna Second String Orchestra was born.

Almost two decades after its creation, the original Ravenna String Orchestra is still going strong. Many of the members have been playing together for more than half that time, and several of their children have grown up in the group, some continuing to play through college.

Members of the orchestra describe the atmosphere as one in which they are both challenged and supported – and no wonder.

“Our mission is to help people love music, and to feel comfortable about playing,” says Judy. “A lot of the tension and nervousness comes from people being treated badly or too competitively as they grew up, so we try and get rid of that – because I think people play better if they can love music.”

They seem to be succeeding.

“Judy and Lorraine are wonderful leaders: warm, welcoming, funny and talented. It’s a gift that they share their expertise and experience with us,” says Susan Fung, violinist and speech-language pathologist.

Avshalomov death chord
“All summer long, I Googled Avshalomov’s ‘death chord,’ and Google giggled at me. So finally, I had to ask the composer about it. And he said to me: ‘I made up the death chord.’ It’s full of all the things you feel if you’ve lost someone you care about. It’s unresolved, left hanging.” – Judy Drake, conductor

Soloist on board

The orchestra had a guest this quarter: Nathan Whittaker, a chamber musician, recitalist, teacher and historical cello specialist. Nathan joined the orchestra as soloist for the Boccherini cello concerto – and then seated himself comfortably in the section for the rest of the program. Throughout the rehearsal cycle, he has been on hand to offer gentle instruction on style and technique.

With Nathan on board, musicians are able to work closely with an accomplished performer and learn to shape the orchestral parts to his needs. And Nathan, in return, gets a bit of variety.

“It’s exciting to work with adult enthusiasts who do it for the love of making music,” says Nathan. “They’re eager to learn everything about what music is and what it can do and how to best express emotions and musical concepts through their instruments. It’s a really fun and somewhat different experience working with a group like that.”

He adds, on a sober note: “When you’re in history class in high school, you learn two things: what the wars were, and what the artistic achievements were, of any age. I know which one I’d rather focus on. Every chance I have to be part of the collective consciousness of music is a real gift.”

The Ravenna String Orchestra and the Ravenna Second String Orchestra perform tonight at 8pm at the Eckstein Middle School auditorium. For details, click here.

Nathan and Judy work on the Boccherini.
Nathan and Judy work on the Boccherini cello concerto.

Would you like to be featured on the Live Music Project? Drop us a note at info@livemusicproject.org. All photos © 2015 by Shaya Lyon for the Live Music Project.

The Versatile Trio Andromeda

Trio Andromeda
Trio Andromeda (Photo: Hong-Ren Lin)

Trio Andromeda is Allion Salvador (violin), Hye Jung Yang (cello), and Li-Cheng Hung (piano). They performed at Brechemin auditorium, University of Washington School of music, on May 30, 2015.

This very young trio maintains the intensity required for chamber music, clearly coming into their own cohesiveness, and at their recent concert showed us that they are artistically and technically versatile.

The first piece, Kaley Eaton’s Sacred Geometry, was a musical presentation on perspective. At first startling, the piece became intriguing and then enjoyable. Many varying sounds were produced in coordinating ways but with few singing tones of strings, chords and arpeggios, and the composer’s description – given right before the performance – of what she was expressing conceptually through her music gave the audience many “I get it” moments. The music remained abstract, but she made it more accessible: one had an idea, instead of a melody, to carry one through the complete composition. Sacred Geometry is fresh, thoughtful and, importantly in the nova music area, pleasant on first hearing. It prompts one to explore what else Eaton has composed.

The Shostakovich and Beethoven pieces provided their challenging harmonies and rhythms but with more subtle emotional range than we usually hear from these two composers. In these nuanced compositions – a challenge for the most experienced small ensemble – the trio gave voice to both musical identities. For those of us who favor Shostakovich and Beethoven, the applause was a release for the appreciation and happiness the trio and their music generated.

Brechemin is an ideal chamber work venue, which contributed to the overall delight of the concert.

Guest contributor Roberta Kanive performs with the Ravenna String Orchestra.

The Golem

On Monday night, Music of Remembrance presented a screening of The Golem, a film by German director/actor Paul Wegener in 1920. This silent “horror” movie, filmed in the German expressionist tradition, was accompanied by a live klezmer-inspired score for string quartet and clarinet, composed by Betty Olivero in 1997.

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The program also included works by Joseph Achron (Hebrew Melody, 1911), Joel Engel (The Dybbuk Suite, 1922) and David Beigelman (Dybbuk Dances, Lodz Ghetto, 1941).

A highlight was 13-year-old violin soloist Takumi Taguchi, who played Hebrew Melody with feeling that seemed far beyond his years (and then took his bows with a delightfully dimpled grin).

The musical ensemble also played three pieces touching on stories of the mythological Dybbuk and other pre-WWII Jewish musical themes. Hebrew Melody (1911) was performed by 13-year-old violin soloist Takumi Taguchi, who played with feeling that seemed far beyond his years (and then took his bows with a delightfully dimpled grin).

After years of hearing the traditional story of the Golem, seeing the Wegener film was refreshing and thought-provoking.

On one level, this was entertainment, pure and simple: a classic Frankenstein story paired with a lively, suspenseful score whose folk styles and courtly themes complemented the on-screen drama exquisitely. And at the same time: the pre-Holocaust context, the visual and cultural messages, the caricature-like portrayals of Jews and Aryans.

What must it have been like to watch the film in that pre-WWII climate? Today’s audience laughed at the Golem’s goofy, leaden antics and the chest-heaving, swoony romance between the rabbi’s daughter (eyelash-batting Miriam) and the emperor’s emissary (elegant, confident, tights-wearing Knight Florian!).

Did the German audiences of the 1920s laugh at the same? Were Wegener’s melodramatic portrayal of Jewish prayer, the Ghetto’s constant state of panic or jubilation, the witchlike dress and cultish behavior a tribute to myth or a tribute to memory?

Check out Music of Remembrance for consistently excellent programming dedicated to ensuring that the voices of musical witness are heard.

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Music of Remembrance: The Golem (Photo by Shaya Lyon)

The Unintuitive Symphony: LUCO plays Sibelius’ 1st

Picture a darkened Parks & Rec building in West Seattle. In the single lit room, some 70 members of the Lake Union Civic Orchestra are arranged in arcs, with Maestro Christophe Chagnard at the center. And then there’s the stuff that doesn’t usually adorn an orchestra space: gym equipment, a wall of folded bleachers, a computer lab, ominous air ventilation tubes…

It is in this unlikely setting that a wonderful concert is taking shape – a balancing act in three parts: first, a rousing debut fanfare by Cornish student Lydia Park, followed by Mendelssohn’s gracefully harmonious Violin Concerto, and finally, Sibelius’ deeply moving Symphony No. 1.

Here’s a modest guide to the concert, and notes on what to keep an ear out for.

Park – A Serenade Fanfare

Cellist Michael Schick rehearses A Serenade Fanfare.
Cellist Michael Schick rehearses A Serenade Fanfare.

A Serenade Fanfare is Lydia Park’s first composition for orchestra. It is a short work whose theme gets into your head and stays there. Lydia was inspired by the ability of a fanfare to convey a rich, powerful feeling that the audience connects with immediately, and she kept this connection in mind as she wrote the piece.

I asked Lydia what it was like to compose for so many instruments at once.

“When I write on the piano, the notes usually scream for themselves which instrument they want to be played on,” she says. “For example, when I’m playing a series of chords with both my hands that create a certain smooth, self-defining harmony, I give these roles to the strings, who will be able to bring out the ultimate sensation of the harmony.”

How does she decide when to let a single instrument shine through?

“The idea of ‘giving’ solos to instruments is amusing,” she says. “The melody itself already knows which instrument it would be best suited for.”

Lydia is a winner of LUCO’s 20th anniversary fanfare competition, which aims to help aspiring young composers meet the challenge of getting original music performed.

LISTEN FOR…
> The theme, which is played first by solo trumpet, then magnified in a majestic crescendo as the entire orchestra joins in.

Mendelssohn – Violin Concerto

Soloist Denise Dillenbeck
Violin soloist Denise Dillenbeck.

Mendelssohn’s Violin Concerto – considered one of the finest in the violin repertoire – is all about grace and virtuosity, says Chagnard. “Mendelssohn is an absolute genius, and the ease in which he crafts the most sublime harmonies and melodies is astonishing.”

(Have you ever heard an orchestra hum? LUCO rehearsed Mendelssohn’s violin concerto several times without soloist Denise Dillenbeck before she joined them; in her absence, Maestro and the orchestra hummed her part. It sounded excellent.)

LISTEN FOR…
> In the first movement, look out for the ricochet bowing (bouncing the bow across the strings) at the end of the solo. This is very challenging.
> Also note the concerto’s harmonious nature, which will provide a perfect setup for the troubled Sibelius that follows.

Sibelius – Symphony No. 1

(Photo: Shaya Lyon/The Live Music Project)

“It has to have more angst! It’s a bit banal. Violas – give me something!” Chagnard is enthusiastic about conducting Sibelius’ Symphony No. 1, a powerful, angsty, unintuitive piece that unsettles even the musicians playing it.

“It is music that is not self-evident. You really have to immerse yourself in this language to understand it,” he says.

During rehearsal, the musicians express concern that the Sibelius sounds wrong, that perhaps their scores have an incorrect note here or there. Chagnard explains that the dissonance is not a typo but rather an expression of Sibelius’ angst.

The Russian oppression of Finnish independence was a source of tremendous anger for Sibelius, who was putting the finishing touches on this symphony in 1899 as the Emperor of Russia issued the “February Manifesto,” which restricted the autonomy of the Grand Duchy of Finland.

“His music is fiercely individualistic, and a reflection of his strong Finnish identity (against the oppression of Russia’s iron-fist rule at the time),” says Chagnard. “There is great poetry and nature, as well as rebellion and anger, in his music.”

A century later, LUCO reminds us of Sibelius’ strikingly original genius from the very beginning of his creative output.

“It is a musical language like no other,” says Chagnard. “The Sibelius is very esoteric and most unusual in its structure… He presents themes as fragments and later builds them into a whole, which is the reverse method from most other composers.”

During rehearsal, as more questions arise about timing, he dispels them all. “I tell you,” he says, “– angst!” Someone in the orchestra calls out, “I feel it!” and they press on, angst and longing welling up from the strings.

Chagnard is delighted. “What a great passage, eh? It’s a we’re-going-to-kick-the-Russians-out kind of passage. Took a while, though. Took a while.”

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One of the most captivating moments of the symphony is its opening. A solemn, pensive melody rises up from the clarinet, accompanied by a low rumble from the tympani, while the orchestra waits silently.

This solo seems, to me, like a massive responsibility. I asked the clarinetist, Steven Noffsinger, what it feels like to play those opening notes.

“The best description I’ve found, and which is running through my head while I’m playing, is this: a solitary clarinet solo breathes a sense of desolation, which is from time to time emphasized by the distant rumbling of the timpani​. The wintry Finnish landscape is unmistakable, and a sense of expectation fills the air.” (See www.sibelius.fi and inkpot.com for the sources of this quote and more on Sibelius Symphony No. 1.)

LISTEN FOR…
> A sense of desolation and expectation in the clarinet’s opening notes
> Unexpected notes and timing
> Themes that build in small pieces and later come together as a whole

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The Lake Union Civic Orchestra (LUCO) will perform Park, Mendelssohn and Sibelius at Town Hall on Friday, February 27, 2015, at 7:30pm. For details and tickets, click here.

Would you like to be featured on the Live Music Project? Drop us a note at info@livemusicproject.org. All photos © 2015 by Shaya Lyon for the Live Music Project.

A live survey of commonly faked orchestral works

Cellist Alice McVeigh wrote a delightful piece on the art of orchestral fakery in The Strad (2006, reprint 2014). After offering tips on how to fake effectively, she compiled a list of the most commonly faked works, as cited by veteran orchestral players.

I checked the calendar to see when these tricky works are being performed in Seattle.

Of the 10 works listed, only one (Barber’s Violin Concerto) is currently scheduled to be played in spring 2015, but orchestras will be playing many other works by their troublesome composers.

The list is below; click a composer to see all upcoming concerts with his works, and click a work to see if it has been scheduled (the links will stay up to date as the the 2015-2016 calendar is published).

For those pieces not being performed live in Seattle, YouTube will have to get us as close to the orchestra as possible!

And now, without further ado, the most commonly faked works:

It’s a delightful list. Have you played any of these? How did you get through them? Was fakery necessary?

Side note: If you’re playing one of these and it’s not on the calendar, please add it!

Passion, energy and expertise: SYSO teams up with the Seattle Symphony

SYSO_SSO
SYSO and Seattle Symphony musicians rehearse together with maestro Ludovic Morlot at Benaroya Hall.

The labyrinthine passageways of Benaroya Hall are filled with teenage giggles as young musicians make their way to lunch after an intense rehearsal. These ebullient high schoolers – the Seattle Youth Symphony Orchestra – are readying to share the stage tomorrow (Jan. 25) with the Seattle Symphony in a side-by-side concert featuring works by Chabrier, Tchaikovsky and Hindemith.

Onstage, they’re all business. In the morning, they rehearse with Seattle Symphony conductor Ludovic Morlot. He offers constant feedback, pausing to explain his rationale. “I’m not slowing this down because the solo is difficult,” he says of the Hindemith. “I really think it’s much sweeter this way.”

In the afternoon, the students meet in sections to work more closely with their Seattle Symphony counterparts. The harps are tucked into a dressing room; woodwinds are in the basement; cellos take to the stage. The feedback continues.

harp_sectional
Harp sectional with the Seattle Symphony’s Valerie Muzzolini Gordon.

“How many of you drive?” SSO violinist Mikhail Shmidt asks the young violins. (He’s also a SYSO parent.) “You can’t just drive, right? You have to look at the road. I personally don’t remember how Ludovic is going to conduct everything, so I look at my colleagues, I look at Ludovic. I urge you to look at each other as you play.”

You might wonder, as I did, how the students will incorporate everything they have learned today into the concert tomorrow. Four hours of feedback seems like a lot.

violins
Violin sectional with Seattle Symphony violinist Mikhail Shmidt.

Fear not.

“They came ready, and the concert will be great,” says Maestro Ludo when I ask. “More important than what gets into the concert is what they take home. What they learn about the process will stay with them.”

What of the process?

“We need to listen while we play, stay connected, build beautiful musical phrases,” says Ludo. “We get excited and we speed up and start moving. The more we move, the less we hear. We forget to listen, forget to enjoy a 16th note, the breath between phrases. When we listen, it becomes less about this note and that measure, and more about the whole piece.”

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Brass sectional with the Seattle Symphony’s Mark Robbins.

Please come hear the breaths between phrases, those pregnant silences created by a wonderful group of young musicians. The concert is free. Children age 5 and up are welcome. Tickets are available at the door.

SYSO_grins

 

CONCERT INFORMATION

When: January 25, 2015 @ 2:00 pm
Where: Benaroya Hall
Who: Stephen Radcliffe, conductor; Ludovic Morlot, conductor; Seattle Youth Symphony Orchestra; Seattle Symphony

Program:
Chabrier – España
Tchaikovsky – Francesca da Rimini, Op. 32
Hindemith – Symphonic Metamorphosis on Themes by Carl Maria von Weber

Details and RSVP: https://www.facebook.com/events/1552335261650694/

Would you like to be featured in the Live Music Project’s “About the artists” series? Drop us a note at info@livemusicproject.org.

All photos © 2015 Shaya Lyon.

A ride-along with the Seattle Philharmonic Orchestra

IMG_0306It’s a typical Wednesday evening in Seattle; the only man here without an instrument in his hands is standing with arms raised, face beaming, nearly defying gravity, carried aloft by the notes that fill the room. Ladies and gentlemen, this adventurous ride is the Seattle Philharmonic Orchestra, and we invite you to follow along from beginning to end as they prepare to perform their first concert of the season.

The theme is “Danses Macabres” – ghoulish, Halloweeny tunes by American composers. But while the music may be moody, the musicians are convivial. Volunteer performers – many of whom have chosen to pursue careers outside of music – they gather weekly in high school band rooms, practice rooms and concert halls to make the kind of music that can only be made together.

Under the careful eye (and ear) of Music Director Adam Stern, the Seattle Philharmonic brings forth subtleties that – as a listener – are a pleasure to discover. In a room often filled with laughter, Stern speaks about the music using a gentle and humorous language that brings everyone onto the same page. Gould’s Tap Dance Concerto is “Gershwiny,” sort of a “controlled madness.”

Of Copland’s Rodeo, he requests: “Let it smile.” (And yet, “It can be a bit harsher. Not angry, but a little harsher… rattier.”) As if there weren’t already enough mischief in Herrmann’s The Devil and Daniel Webster, Stern asks gently, “Can you give me a little more sting?”

“Edgar Allan Poe took me by the hand and said, ‘Now I’m going to take you to your dark side.’ And I let him.” ~ Adam Stern, music director

Alongside works by Copland, Gould, Kubik and Herrman, the orchestra is preparing one of Stern’s own: Spirits of the Dead, set around a narration of Edgar Allan Poe’s poem of the same name. Muted instruments create tomblike, oppressed sounds that evoke the struggle of a man imagining the terrifying fate of life among dead souls after a life among the living.

Well, that’s creepy.

And fun.

The orchestra has rehearsed these works, old and new, for eight weeks – casually at first, playing pieces from start to finish and slowly dissecting them, then intensifying in a crescendo of urgency and precision, the mood becoming determined, focused and efficient. The outcome for listeners is a nuanced, immersive musical adventure that will jump-start your imagination and make you glad to be alive.

Don’t you want to hear it now? You can, if you hurry, or if you have a time machine.

The Seattle Philharmonic Orchestra will perform Danses Macabres at Benaroya Hall on October 22, at 7:30pm. Click here to get tickets and read more about the program.

Continue below to follow the orchestra through their rehearsal adventure. All photos by Shaya Lyon for the Live Music Project.

In her own words: Denná Good-Mojab

Opera singer Denná Good-Mojab
Good things come in small packages. Take the pun or leave it, but definitely hear for yourself this Saturday as Denná Good-Mojab takes the stage at the University of Washington’s Brechemin Auditorium in Seattle.

Denná – a 17-year-old opera singer who will graduate cum laude next month from the University of Washington with a Bachelor of Music in Voice – is petite, with an easy smile and tinkly laugh. A few minutes of conversation reveal that she is also passionate, curious, and a second-degree blackbelt in Taekwondo (she started when she was 6).

As if this wasn’t enough under one belt, Denná has performed in ten operas, most recently Händel’s Semele with Pacific MusicWorks and the University of Washington. She has also earned numerous awards, among them the 2014 Young Artist Awards Competition co-presented by KING FM 98.1 and the Seattle Chamber Music Society, which she won last week. She is set to continue her vocal studies at the University of Washington this fall as she pursues a Master of Music in voice.

Here is more about Denná in her own words:

How does a person come to zoom through all these phases? Do you feel like it’s been a fast pace, and do you perceive yourself continuing at this pace for the next… however long?

I don’t see it so much as a fast pace, as much as… I just skipped a few years. And I feel like things are happening at the speed that they would be happening at if I was doing this in five years instead of now. I just started the whole process when I was – you know, being in college when I was 12, as opposed to 18. I fell in love with music when I was little, and I fell in love with opera when I was ten, so, you know – everything just happened earlier, not so much faster. Now that I think about it, a lot of things have been happening lately, but I think that just comes with being in college and being in this part of my life where I’m trying to figure out what I’m doing and start building something for myself.

You seem like a person who some things come quickly to, but you also probably work really hard at them. Are there some things that you really love that were hard to do?

I think it’s mostly the amount of work that is involved, as opposed to the type of work, because I’m doing all of these music things but I’m also in college at the same time. So there’s all the normal good old homework that happens, and then on top of that I’m constantly in an opera, rehearsing for a recital, volunteering around the community, and then I’m also trying to juggle all the basic day-to-day assignments for all the classes I’m in. Thankfully, I’ve managed to pick a major where the musical things I do and the homework are often the same. When I have a paper, I will try to make it relate to opera – especially if it’s 10 pages long and it’s supposed to be about Bach. I will write about why he did not write opera. I’ve also done role studies through academic papers.

But still – with the opera that I just finished (Semele), we would have rehearsals generally 3 or 4 hours a day for 6 days a week, and on Sundays we’d have 6 hours… so it’s a really crazy schedule. And remember, this is my evenings, where you’d generally do homework if you didn’t do it during the day. Mostly, it’s just managing all of the stuff that I do. I mean, the work itself I love – maybe not so much the ten-page paper, but, you know. All the singing, anything that’s related to singing, languages – I’m studying Italian – that’s fun. I think the hardest part has been juggling all these things.

How do you balance all these things? Do you have any advice for others?

Be reminded by your mother! [Laughs] And try not to procrastinate too much on things.

I’m not an expert on time management. Sometimes I’ll get to a place where I just think, “I’m SO overwhelmed – nothing is happening when it should be, there’s way too much to do.” But then at some point, I will get out of that and just refuse to be beaten by whatever it is. It’s not something I really think about on a very conscious level, it’s just that I refuse to be knocked down by something that I could do.

And what counts as relaxation?

Playing piano. Listening to music – not necessarily classical. For recreational purposes, I usually listen to anything BUT classical. I don’t generally walk even from one part of a building to another without listening to music. That’s kind of my thing. I love – LOVE! – reading, although I don’t get as much opportunity to really get into reading now, because if I’m reading, I’m reading a textbook. I love being outside and doing active things: soccer, hiking, swimming, biking. I’ll do pretty much anything except beekeeping, or maybe skydiving. When I was little, I was terrified of bees, so it was the one thing that got crossed off the list of things that I could do. Or that I would do.

As a person who seems to be really passionate about trying new things, is there anything you got into that you decided: no, this isn’t interesting to me, this isn’t what I want to be doing right now, there are other things I’d rather be doing?

I dabble in things when I can and I move on and I come back to them. It’s never that I just don’t like something and decide I’m never doing it again. I don’t think I’ve ever felt that way about anything.

What are your favorite aspects of performing?

I get a rush of joy when I’m on stage and acting something, singing something. I just feel really happy when I move people to feel what I’m trying to get across. I’ve discovered that my most real smiles are the ones I give at curtain calls. Everyone is bowing, and everyone’s together, and we all just did this wonderful thing and we’re so happy – and that is when you’ll get my best grin.

Also, I love singing to a particular person. I don’t do this very often, and I should do it more: just pick someone, if it’s a friend all the better, and just pour my heart out to them. I think that would be really, really fun.

And the most challenging?

The most challenging is trying to express well something I can’t connect to as much. I don’t dwell in the hardship. I’m not a good example of the true romantic musician. I’m not tortured. It would be very hard for me to be tortured.

Are there particular songs that you love to perform?

My all-time favorite is La Fioraia (by Rossini). A new one is the one I’m going to end my recital with. I can’t tell you what it is, though. It’s a surprise.

Do you want to talk about what you’ll be doing for your recital?

I’ll be doing the entire Hermit Songs, by Samuel Barber, Suleika I and Suleika II by Schubert, and 3 Italian art songs that sound like arias.

What should we listen for?

I’ll do a lot of nuances when I get really into a song and I can express it, and the expression that I feel and I’m acting gets into the actual sound that I’m producing. So there will be vocal color and dynamic things that you will find in phrases and sentences and parts of the meaning that I feel I can really express well. It’s mostly these kinds of emotion-put-into-sound nuances that I will do. Look out for it whenever I go high, because that’s my favorite part.

Speaking of high notes, have you had any breakthroughs or particularly memorable sessions with your voice teacher?

Yes – a breakthrough with my own voice, really. A couple of times. It involves my sound: I just discover, “Oh, that’s how you do that!” and it takes my sound to the next level. One time, I was singing one of my favorite songs of all time – Fleur des blés (by Debussy) – and I had to sing a “u” vowel on a high G, and I could never get it to ring as much as I wanted to, and then I figured out how to do it. I just figured it out that one day, and it stuck. You can’t really go back after you learn that, because going back is going to a less developed stage – which you don’t have to do. You can just be the better singer, and continue on with your life, and keep doing that.

Often when you develop, you can’t pinpoint when a particular development happened, but with this kind of stuff there is a first time that I remember doing it. [You can hear some of those developments here.]

At the moment, I am kind of a soubrette/lyric coloratura soprano kind of person. All of the characters with my voice type – I mean, it’s going to change, I’m only 17 – we get the maid role, or the sister character, or the female sidekick, but even so the role can be a major one.

Is it weird knowing that your voice will change?

No, I’ll just change with it! I just get to sing more things!

If you could work with any musical artist from any genre, who would you like to collaborate with?

For pop… you see, I’ve never thought about… mmm, that’s not true. I could go with a classic like Beyonce. I love Beyonce. Do you know MKTO? I feel like it would be cool to do some kind of collaboration with these young emerging cover artists, like Max Schneider and Sam Tsui. I would love to do something with those people. Oh – one more thing, just because we’re being honest here. Working with One Direction wouldn’t be terrible.

Opera collaboration? Anyone from Semele. They were all amazing. Big stars? I kind of really, really like Jonas Kaufmann, who is a tenor that can pretty much sing any fach. You don’t find people like him very often, as far as I know, that can sing Verdi, Puccini, Wagner and Mozart all well – and he’s amazing. In terms of women, being in an opera with Anna Netrebko would be awesome. And Renee Fleming.

What excites you about working with these artists?

Whenever people are around people who do better than them, they want to do better themselves, and it’s this endless spiral of awesomeness that keeps increasing. Whenever I’m surrounded by people who are as passionate about what they do, I improve and become that much more passionate about what I do.

With Semele, we really interacted on an individual personal level with the principals. There was all this collaboration and interpersonal, individual relationships that formed in the few weeks that we had with these people. We’re all together, and the rehearsals are great, and we’re doing all these wonderful things, and the audience is there, and we’re just on.

It really does give you a boost to do your best, and be your best, and really interact with people as people and also with other characters as characters. It’s a two-layered thing. There are these moments when you’ll turn around and look at someone as you, and then you’re going to look at them later as a character, and sometimes you do it at the same time. And the audience being there, and you knowing that they’re being moved by what you’re doing – it’s all just so fantastic. That’s what I love about being in opera: the interpersonal interaction on so many different levels, while you’re singing, doing what you love.

Hear Denná perform her senior recital this Saturday, May 31, at 7:30pm at the University of Washington’s Brechemin Auditorium. The concert is free and open to the public. More details here.

New series: About the artists

The Live Music Project is about music and community. As we enter our third month, and prepare to expand beyond Seattle, I continue to discover more about this city’s wonderful musicians.

This learning process, and the community’s rich musical and personal experience, are inspiring, and I would love to share as much of that with you as I can.

The eagerness of young artists, passion of conductors, collaboration of orchestras, intense focus during rehearsals — these are among the topics we will explore from time to time.

Come along for the ride.

Launch news!

I am happy to announce that the Live Music Project is now live in its first city: Seattle.

There’s something for everyone: orchestral concerts, student recitals, children’s events – you name it.

Check out the following for a sample:

Together, we have made the Live Music Project a wonderful place to find classical music in Seattle, and my hope is to bring that experience to other cities as well. Please share with friends, family and musicians. The more events and listeners, the more useful the site will be to all.

Finally, thank you for your contributions of time, patience and support to help this site come to fruition. Your encouragement and feedback have been, and continue to be, a driving force of this project.

Shaya

P.S. Your feedback is welcome!