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It’s been 10 years in the making. First known as The Academy, whose performing arm was Ensemble ACJW, the recently renamed Ensemble Connect is a two-year fellowship program that continues to attract the finest young professional classical musicians in the United States, preparing them for careers that combine musical excellence with teaching, community engagement, advocacy, entrepreneurship, and leadership. Now with the seventh class of fellows carrying the torch through the 10th anniversary year, alums and long-time partner teachers from New York City public schools reflect on the connections that have been forged as a result of Ensemble Connect.


“Ensemble Connect has undoubtedly changed the direction my musical life has taken and will continue to guide my career and purpose. Perhaps that is the most beautiful aspect of the program: There are no limits to what you may be inspired to do. Before joining Ensemble Connect, the thought of creating Musicambia—a non-profit organization to help heal the bloated incarceration system of America—never crossed my mind. Nor would I have ever thought that it was possible to do that while also discovering the greatest works of art the world has known through the medium of a professional string quartet [Attacca Quartet]. Every day my life is more fulfilled knowing that whenever inspiration strikes, I will have the invaluable tools of Ensemble Connect to make those inspirations a reality.”

—Nathan Schram, 2012 alum

101 alumni + 18 current fellows = 119 musicians


“Upon graduating from a dual-degree program in international relations and viola performance in 2007, I dreamed of a professional life that would combine my passions for music and social impact, but I didn’t know how to make it happen. Ensemble Connect provided me with serendipitous answers. It was the creative playground I needed to forge my own path, providing a community of like-minded individuals and a home to develop skills that use music as a tool for social impact. Most of all, the fellowship challenged me to deftly navigate being both a leader and a team player, while helping me transfer my musical skills into the wider world of entrepreneurship. Since completing the fellowship, I co-founded Decoda, a chamber music ensemble made up entirely of Ensemble Connect alumni with a mission to bring creative musical experiences to concert halls and also to places where music is rarely heard. And my most recent venture, Reveler, is an online platform that curates arts and culture experiences in San Francisco with a focus on engaging millennials.”

—Meena Bhasin, 2010 alum

Ensemble Connect 10 years: Meena Bhasin
Meena Bhasin (Photography: Christopher Smith)

“Over the course of four years, I have had the pleasure of having Ensemble Connect at my school in Queens. I have watched the students evolve from being timid about music to being true musical forces. One of my favorite things about having Ensemble Connect is that our music community feels like it is part of something amazing and bigger than just a high school program. The Ensemble Connect fellows have shown these students that there is a possibility to not only be performers, but also to realize your dreams no matter how big or small.”

—Laurel Hornick, partner teacher, Grover Cleveland High School

25,000 hours coaching, mentoring, and co-teaching


“Being a partner teacher with Ensemble Connect has changed who I am as a teacher, a performer, and even as a person. I have been gently pushed outside of my comfort zone to experience new ideas and methods to teach my students. I have collaborated with fellow teachers, musicians, and many others in the music field who have enriched my teaching practice. Through this program, I have been able to bring my students and their families to Carnegie Hall to watch brilliant concerts, and to Juilliard to perform as they celebrate their work with other fellows from Ensemble Connect. I have been challenged to become a better musician and “practice what I preach,” which is to play more, to expand my listening repertoire, and to become immersed in the music. Because of this program, I have raised my expectations for myself and for my students.”

—Audrey Mullen, partner teacher, PS 21 Edward Hart

Ensemble Connect 10 years: Nathan Schram
Nathan Schram (Photography: Nan Melville)

“My time in Ensemble Connect not only opened my eyes and ears to new musical experiences, but introduced me to future possibilities in the arts that I didn’t even know existed. The opportunity to work alongside passionate music educators and to collaborate with innovative arts leaders led me to pursue a career as a teaching artist. Several years later, my ongoing work with the New York Philharmonic, Carnegie Hall, and The Juilliard School allows me to continue to bring meaningful musical experiences to students and audiences in NYC and beyond.”

—Stephen Dunn, 2008 alum

50,000 students in 78 public schools


“As a brass player who teaches two orchestras and several bands, I have been delighted to have had two cellists (Yves Dharamraj and Caleb van der Swaagh) and two violinists (Michelle Ross and Becky Anderson) as my Ensemble Connect partners. They have helped me develop my knowledge of string technique and made me a better strings teacher. The fellows have shared their knowledge and love of music with all of my musical groups. For my students, having these fine musicians “up close and personal” has been invaluable. They have had many opportunities to hear Ensemble Connect perform at Carnegie Hall, where the Ensemble Connect musicians make a fuss over them. Quite a few of my students have pursued music in college in hopes of becoming professional musicians or music teachers. The Ensemble Connect program has been a godsend for both my students and me.”

—John Scandone, partner teacher, Brooklyn High School of the Arts

Learn more about Ensemble Connect.

6 months ago | |
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It’s been 10 years in the making. First known as The Academy, whose performing arm was Ensemble ACJW, the recently renamed Ensemble Connect is a two-year fellowship program that continues to attract the finest young professional classical musicians in the United States, preparing them for careers that combine musical excellence with teaching, community engagement, advocacy, entrepreneurship, and leadership. Now with the seventh class of fellows carrying the torch through the 10th anniversary year, alums and long-time partner teachers from New York City public schools reflect on the connections that have been forged as a result of Ensemble Connect.


“Ensemble Connect has undoubtedly changed the direction my musical life has taken and will continue to guide my career and purpose. Perhaps that is the most beautiful aspect of the program: There are no limits to what you may be inspired to do. Before joining Ensemble Connect, the thought of creating Musicambia—a non-profit organization to help heal the bloated incarceration system of America—never crossed my mind. Nor would I have ever thought that it was possible to do that while also discovering the greatest works of art the world has known through the medium of a professional string quartet [Attacca Quartet]. Every day my life is more fulfilled knowing that whenever inspiration strikes, I will have the invaluable tools of Ensemble Connect to make those inspirations a reality.”

—Nathan Schram, 2012 alum

101 alumni + 18 current fellows = 119 musicians


“Upon graduating from a dual-degree program in international relations and viola performance in 2007, I dreamed of a professional life that would combine my passions for music and social impact, but I didn’t know how to make it happen. Ensemble Connect provided me with serendipitous answers. It was the creative playground I needed to forge my own path, providing a community of like-minded individuals and a home to develop skills that use music as a tool for social impact. Most of all, the fellowship challenged me to deftly navigate being both a leader and a team player, while helping me transfer my musical skills into the wider world of entrepreneurship. Since completing the fellowship, I co-founded Decoda, a chamber music ensemble made up entirely of Ensemble Connect alumni with a mission to bring creative musical experiences to concert halls and also to places where music is rarely heard. And my most recent venture, Reveler, is an online platform that curates arts and culture experiences in San Francisco with a focus on engaging millennials.”

—Meena Bhasin, 2010 alum

Ensemble Connect 10 years: Meena Bhasin
Meena Bhasin (Photography: Christopher Smith)

“Over the course of four years, I have had the pleasure of having Ensemble Connect at my school in Queens. I have watched the students evolve from being timid about music to being true musical forces. One of my favorite things about having Ensemble Connect is that our music community feels like it is part of something amazing and bigger than just a high school program. The Ensemble Connect fellows have shown these students that there is a possibility to not only be performers, but also to realize your dreams no matter how big or small.”

—Laurel Hornick, partner teacher, Grover Cleveland High School

25,000 hours coaching, mentoring, and co-teaching


“Being a partner teacher with Ensemble Connect has changed who I am as a teacher, a performer, and even as a person. I have been gently pushed outside of my comfort zone to experience new ideas and methods to teach my students. I have collaborated with fellow teachers, musicians, and many others in the music field who have enriched my teaching practice. Through this program, I have been able to bring my students and their families to Carnegie Hall to watch brilliant concerts, and to Juilliard to perform as they celebrate their work with other fellows from Ensemble Connect. I have been challenged to become a better musician and “practice what I preach,” which is to play more, to expand my listening repertoire, and to become immersed in the music. Because of this program, I have raised my expectations for myself and for my students.”

—Audrey Mullen, partner teacher, PS 21 Edward Hart

Ensemble Connect 10 years: Nathan Schram
Nathan Schram (Photography: Nan Melville)

“My time in Ensemble Connect not only opened my eyes and ears to new musical experiences, but introduced me to future possibilities in the arts that I didn’t even know existed. The opportunity to work alongside passionate music educators and to collaborate with innovative arts leaders led me to pursue a career as a teaching artist. Several years later, my ongoing work with the New York Philharmonic, Carnegie Hall, and The Juilliard School allows me to continue to bring meaningful musical experiences to students and audiences in NYC and beyond.”

—Stephen Dunn, 2008 alum

50,000 students in 78 public schools


“As a brass player who teaches two orchestras and several bands, I have been delighted to have had two cellists (Yves Dharamraj and Caleb van der Swaagh) and two violinists (Michelle Ross and Becky Anderson) as my Ensemble Connect partners. They have helped me develop my knowledge of string technique and made me a better strings teacher. The fellows have shared their knowledge and love of music with all of my musical groups. For my students, having these fine musicians “up close and personal” has been invaluable. They have had many opportunities to hear Ensemble Connect perform at Carnegie Hall, where the Ensemble Connect musicians make a fuss over them. Quite a few of my students have pursued music in college in hopes of becoming professional musicians or music teachers. The Ensemble Connect program has been a godsend for both my students and me.”

—John Scandone, partner teacher, Brooklyn High School of the Arts

Learn more about Ensemble Connect.

6 months ago | |
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| Read Full Story

Inspiration ...

Motivation ... Creativity ... Encouragement ... Imagination ....

These are all words that Merriam-Webster uses to define that very simple but special feeling we have all experienced at one time or another in our lives. For me, music has been my inspiration since age 5, when my hands first discovered 88 black and white keys. I often wonder what inspires others—what touches others hearts and souls. I know that as a man of music, it is my journey to consistently discover new ways to “inspire.”

This is the second time my wife and business partner, Vivian, and I have been blessed with the opportunity to present a sampling of what inspires us here at Carnegie Hall. As with our first sold-out production of A Night Of Inspiration in 2010, we knew it was important to show inspiration in all of its forms, with traditional and contemporary gospel, pop, opera, and classical music along with the art of dance. As a young child, my mother exposed me to all areas of the arts. It is those experiences that have made me into the artist I have grown to become. It is my job on Earth to take the sum total of all that was presented to me and translate it into something special and magical for others.

Tonight’s gift will be presented from my heart to yours. May you feel the lushness of the 64-piece orchestra. May you feel the strength of the 200-voice mass choir. May you feel something that you may have never felt before.

May you leave here feeling inspired …

—Ray Chew

6 months ago | |
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Music has the power to evoke endless emotions and feelings, whether we listen to music as a form of escapism, a mode of entertainment, or a way to brighten our days. On December 6, everyone has the chance to be inspired with A Night of Inspiration, an evening of uplifting music during which diverse artists come together and show us how music can lift our spirits. Cantor Azi Schwartz of the Park Avenue Synagogue is among these artists.

Acclaimed composer, music director, and producer Ray Chew—along with his wife and business partner, Vivian Scott Chew—first presented A Night of Inspiration at Carnegie Hall in 2010. The sold-out performance showcased how inspiration in music transcends genre, incorporating traditional and contemporary gospel, pop, opera, and classical music. In addition to connecting musical genres, this year the Chews have organized artists who represent a variety of nationalities and religious backgrounds: soloists—including gospel singers Yolanda Adams, Shirley Caesar, Kurt Carr, Donnie McClurkin, and Richard Smallwood; operatic tenor Lawrence Brownlee; singer Dionne Warwick; Albanian violinist Olen Cesari; and Cantor Azi Schwartz—will perform alongside a 64-piece orchestra and 200-voice choir directed by Rev. Dr. Lester W. Taylor Jr. As Ray Chew explains, the upcoming presentation is “not just a concert—it moved us beyond the spirit of doing a show, where secular and gospel can come together.”

Cantor Azi Schwartz
Cantor Azi Schwartz

For A Night of Inspiration, these artists come together in the spirit of universal unity. The Chews first saw Cantor Azi Schwartz perform for Pope Francis at a service for peace and remembrance at the National September 11 Memorial and Museum in 2015. This gathering showcased the musical intersections of a multi-religious population, amplifying the ability that music has to bring people together from all walks of life.

Just like the Chews, Schwartz does not shy away from musical intersections, as is apparent from his setting of the Jewish hymn “Adon Olam” to the melody of Lin-Manuel Miranda’s “You’ll Be Back” from the musical Hamilton. At A Night of Inspiration, Schwartz will perform alongside tenor Lawrence Brownlee, best known for his roles in Rossini and Donizetti operas.




Ray Chew
Ray Chew
Tuesday, December 6 at 8 PM
A Night of Inspiration

Acclaimed composer, music director, and producer Ray Chew leads outstanding soloists and a 64-piece orchestra, along with Rev. Dr. Lester W. Taylor Jr. directing a 200-voice mass choir, in a program of uplifting music from diverse traditions. Lift up your spirit with moving music—get your tickets now.

6 months ago | |
Tag
| Read Full Story

Music has the power to evoke endless emotions and feelings, whether we listen to music as a form of escapism, a mode of entertainment, or a way to brighten our days. On December 6, everyone has the chance to be inspired with A Night of Inspiration, an evening of uplifting music during which diverse artists come together and show us how music can lift our spirits. Cantor Azi Schwartz of the Park Avenue Synagogue is among these artists.

Acclaimed composer, music director, and producer Ray Chew—along with his wife and business partner, Vivian Scott Chew—first presented A Night of Inspiration at Carnegie Hall in 2010. The sold-out performance showcased how inspiration in music transcends genre, incorporating traditional and contemporary gospel, pop, opera, and classical music. In addition to connecting musical genres, this year the Chews have organized artists who represent a variety of nationalities and religious backgrounds: soloists—including gospel singers Yolanda Adams, Shirley Caesar, Kurt Carr, Donnie McClurkin, and Richard Smallwood; operatic tenor Lawrence Brownlee; singer Dionne Warwick; Albanian violinist Olen Cesari; and Cantor Azi Schwartz—will perform alongside a 64-piece orchestra and 200-voice choir directed by Rev. Dr. Lester W. Taylor Jr. As Ray Chew explains, the upcoming presentation is “not just a concert—it moved us beyond the spirit of doing a show, where secular and gospel can come together.”

Cantor Azi Schwartz
Cantor Azi Schwartz

For A Night of Inspiration, these artists come together in the spirit of universal unity. The Chews first saw Cantor Azi Schwartz perform for Pope Francis at a service for peace and remembrance at the National September 11 Memorial and Museum in 2015. This gathering showcased the musical intersections of a multi-religious population, amplifying the ability that music has to bring people together from all walks of life.

Just like the Chews, Schwartz does not shy away from musical intersections, as is apparent from his setting of the Jewish hymn “Adon Olam” to the melody of Lin-Manuel Miranda’s “You’ll Be Back” from the musical Hamilton. At A Night of Inspiration, Schwartz will perform alongside tenor Lawrence Brownlee, best known for his roles in Rossini and Donizetti operas.




Ray Chew
Ray Chew
Tuesday, December 6 at 8 PM
A Night of Inspiration

Acclaimed composer, music director, and producer Ray Chew leads outstanding soloists and a 64-piece orchestra, along with Rev. Dr. Lester W. Taylor Jr. directing a 200-voice mass choir, in a program of uplifting music from diverse traditions. Lift up your spirit with moving music—get your tickets now.

6 months ago | |
Tag
| Read Full Story

Six young musicians take the stage of Zankel Hall. Acoustic instruments, music stands, the trappings of classical music. But they’re familiar from other stages. Did the tie-wearing violinist tour with Bon Iver? Was the mop-haired trumpeter onstage with Paul Simon? Could this sextet be the multitalented band that gave Ben Folds’s recent shows a soft-spoken delicacy?

The group is yMusic. Six impeccably trained classical instrumentalists. Six creative artists. Six badasses. They aren’t household names, but they have provided the foundation for powerhouse acts. This December, they step into the limelight to take their bow.

yMusic
Photos by Allan Amato

Nadia Sirota, yMusic’s violist, buzzes with wit and verve over a weary internet connection from Australia, recounting the group’s origin story. “We kept bumping in to each other at not-quite-classical gigs, playing with The National or Sufjan Stevens.” They found the quality of backing musicians varied wildly. “The world’s best trumpeter might be standing beside somebody’s cousin on cello ... who also played guitar.”

A post-gig hang, a hatched idea: “What if we weren’t 50 feet from each other? What if we treated these gigs with the care, love, and attention we give chamber music?” What if they came in spick and span and ready to kill—ready to listen, discuss, collaborate?

While older generations of classical musicians looked down their nose at indie collaborations, this new generation has a different attitude. Walls disappear, ideas flow. yMusic—as in “generation Y”—are classical music’s millennials. Critic Steve Smith says yMusic gives all music “equal enthusiasm and respect, with the idea that everything is worth doing and worth considering on its own terms.”

When playing alone, “our castle needs to stand up on its own. It requires a different kind of focus.”
 

Since yMusic’s founding in 2008, they have become indie darlings, collaborators of choice for artists from Ben Folds to the Dirty Projectors to José González. As backing players, “we work off someone else’s charisma, building little houses around this human, making them shine,” Sirota adds. When playing alone, “our castle needs to stand up on its own. It requires a different kind of focus.”

Composer Nico Muhly, a frequent musical partner, calls yMusic an “engaging and explosive group. I always look forward to seeing how others have unlocked the strange door to their sound.”

Their mission developed two prongs. One: collaborate with bands and songwriters “to develop interesting, toothsome, awesome projects,” says Sirota. Two: work with composers to make “dynamic, contemporary chamber music.”

yMusic photo by Allan Amato
Photo by Allan Amato.

And with Carnegie Hall being 125 years young, the venerable institution echoes yMusic’s ideals. Looking firmly to the future, it is celebrating the energy and spirit of classical music by bringing 125 new musical works into being. Last season, pianist Brad Mehldau spun delicate webs around J. S. Bach, Shara Worden’s tremulous voice mused on birth and death, and composer Mehmet Ali Sanlikol communed with Turkish Sufi mysticism. This season brings new works by Inuit throat singer Tanya Tagaq, Russian mystic Sofi a Gubaidulina, The National’s guitarist Bryce Dessner, and minimalist master Steve Reich.

yMusic
Photos by Allan Amato

And in December, yMusic presents two new Carnegie Hall–commissioned works by Caroline Shaw and Chris Thile—two energetic musical omnivores, collaborating with six open-hearted instrumentalists.

Composer Caroline Shaw seeks to capture “the tragic, beautiful loneliness of existence, and the complete ecstatic joy of existence.” Her musical voice—direct, heartfelt, with a keening edge of pain—is connected to older worlds, but breathes the 21st century’s bracing air.

For Shaw, the members of yMusic are “some of the most versatile musicians I know.” That’s high praise from the Pulitzer Prize–winning composer who is equally at home playing viola, singing with Roomful of Teeth, or collaborating with Kanye West. And she is pushing yMusic into uncharted territory, “to get them to sing with their own voices as well as with their instruments.” This challenge, to sing while playing, is familiar in many genres, but stubbornly remains a rarity in classical music.

yMusic is eager to step onto the tightrope. “Putting yourself in uncomfortable positions,” says Sirota, “keeps you honest and musically interesting. We enjoy seeing how ‘flexie’ we can be.” And flexible they are, as multi-instrumentalists, arrangers, radio presenters, classical soloists, entrepreneurs, jazz musicians, and orchestral players. Composer Timo Andres calls yMusic “the most useful implement in your kitchen, pressed into service in a nearly infinite number of ways.”

But they come to Carnegie Hall together, a team. “There’s something comforting about walking on stage with five of your closest friends, trying to make stirring performances in front of a live audience. It’s a special, privileged thing.”

yMusic
Photos by Allan Amato

Another of yMusic’s closest friends—“besties,” as he calls them—is Chris Thile, who is equally at home with Bach, bluegrass, and Bartók. A thoroughly modern musician, he plays mandolin with loose-limbed ease, and writes music of intelligence and joy. The Grammy-winning musician, part of the uncategorizable Punch Brothers, seeks a path “between music that is visceral and music that is intellectual. I want a new perspective on what it means to be alive.”

Thile’s new piece for yMusic is a nerve-racking beta-test—the first in which he doesn’t perform. He calls his presence “a crutch”—able to cover for weaknesses by translating wishes, leaning on his playing, and relying on a band “I know almost as well as myself.”

Thile says of instrumental music, “I love its mercurial nature. We are free as listeners to spin our own yarns. Something is being communicated, but exactly what is a dance between composers, performers, and listeners. I love collaborative meaning in concert—a living, breathing organism that can evolve”—which is exactly what yMusic brings to the stage.

So yMusic, as in “why music”?

Sirota was in a Minneapolis cab, bedraggled and disillusioned, at the end of a long travel day. The driver told her, “You are a musician. You bring people joy. You have the most important job.” “I needed to hear that,” she says. “Music gives joy, brings people together. It is something we crave on a fundamental level. It’s why people worship. In yMusic, we have the privilege of working with some of the most incredible creative thinkers. We participate in music history in some way. It’s one of the most joyful projects I can think of.”

—By Tim Munro, an Australian-born, Grammy-winning flutist based in Chicago




yMusic
yMusic
Friday, December 2 at 7:30 PM
yMusic

yMusic has been called “one of the groups that has really helped to shape the future of classical music” by NPR. This daring multi-instrument ensemble’s catholic taste, stylistic versatility, and impeccable musicianship bring striking vitality to the music of our time. yMusic performs works from its critically acclaimed albums Beautiful Mechanical and Balance Problems, and premieres new works by Chris Thile and Caroline Shaw, both part of Carnegie Hall’s 125 Commissions Project.

7 months ago | |
Tag
| Read Full Story

Six young musicians take the stage of Zankel Hall. Acoustic instruments, music stands, the trappings of classical music. But they’re familiar from other stages. Did the tie-wearing violinist tour with Bon Iver? Was the mop-haired trumpeter onstage with Paul Simon? Could this sextet be the multitalented band that gave Ben Folds’s recent shows a soft-spoken delicacy?

The group is yMusic. Six impeccably trained classical instrumentalists. Six creative artists. Six badasses. They aren’t household names, but they have provided the foundation for powerhouse acts. This December, they step into the limelight to take their bow.

yMusic
Photos by Allan Amato

Nadia Sirota, yMusic’s violist, buzzes with wit and verve over a weary internet connection from Australia, recounting the group’s origin story. “We kept bumping in to each other at not-quite-classical gigs, playing with The National or Sufjan Stevens.” They found the quality of backing musicians varied wildly. “The world’s best trumpeter might be standing beside somebody’s cousin on cello ... who also played guitar.”

A post-gig hang, a hatched idea: “What if we weren’t 50 feet from each other? What if we treated these gigs with the care, love, and attention we give chamber music?” What if they came in spick and span and ready to kill—ready to listen, discuss, collaborate?

While older generations of classical musicians looked down their nose at indie collaborations, this new generation has a different attitude. Walls disappear, ideas flow. yMusic—as in “generation Y”—are classical music’s millennials. Critic Steve Smith says yMusic gives all music “equal enthusiasm and respect, with the idea that everything is worth doing and worth considering on its own terms.”

When playing alone, “our castle needs to stand up on its own. It requires a different kind of focus.”
 

Since yMusic’s founding in 2008, they have become indie darlings, collaborators of choice for artists from Ben Folds to the Dirty Projectors to José González. As backing players, “we work off someone else’s charisma, building little houses around this human, making them shine,” Sirota adds. When playing alone, “our castle needs to stand up on its own. It requires a different kind of focus.”

Composer Nico Muhly, a frequent musical partner, calls yMusic an “engaging and explosive group. I always look forward to seeing how others have unlocked the strange door to their sound.”

Their mission developed two prongs. One: collaborate with bands and songwriters “to develop interesting, toothsome, awesome projects,” says Sirota. Two: work with composers to make “dynamic, contemporary chamber music.”

yMusic photo by Allan Amato
Photo by Allan Amato.

And with Carnegie Hall being 125 years young, the venerable institution echoes yMusic’s ideals. Looking firmly to the future, it is celebrating the energy and spirit of classical music by bringing 125 new musical works into being. Last season, pianist Brad Mehldau spun delicate webs around J. S. Bach, Shara Worden’s tremulous voice mused on birth and death, and composer Mehmet Ali Sanlikol communed with Turkish Sufi mysticism. This season brings new works by Inuit throat singer Tanya Tagaq, Russian mystic Sofi a Gubaidulina, The National’s guitarist Bryce Dessner, and minimalist master Steve Reich.

yMusic
Photos by Allan Amato

And in December, yMusic presents two new Carnegie Hall–commissioned works by Caroline Shaw and Chris Thile—two energetic musical omnivores, collaborating with six open-hearted instrumentalists.

Composer Caroline Shaw seeks to capture “the tragic, beautiful loneliness of existence, and the complete ecstatic joy of existence.” Her musical voice—direct, heartfelt, with a keening edge of pain—is connected to older worlds, but breathes the 21st century’s bracing air.

For Shaw, the members of yMusic are “some of the most versatile musicians I know.” That’s high praise from the Pulitzer Prize–winning composer who is equally at home playing viola, singing with Roomful of Teeth, or collaborating with Kanye West. And she is pushing yMusic into uncharted territory, “to get them to sing with their own voices as well as with their instruments.” This challenge, to sing while playing, is familiar in many genres, but stubbornly remains a rarity in classical music.

yMusic is eager to step onto the tightrope. “Putting yourself in uncomfortable positions,” says Sirota, “keeps you honest and musically interesting. We enjoy seeing how ‘flexie’ we can be.” And flexible they are, as multi-instrumentalists, arrangers, radio presenters, classical soloists, entrepreneurs, jazz musicians, and orchestral players. Composer Timo Andres calls yMusic “the most useful implement in your kitchen, pressed into service in a nearly infinite number of ways.”

But they come to Carnegie Hall together, a team. “There’s something comforting about walking on stage with five of your closest friends, trying to make stirring performances in front of a live audience. It’s a special, privileged thing.”

yMusic
Photos by Allan Amato

Another of yMusic’s closest friends—“besties,” as he calls them—is Chris Thile, who is equally at home with Bach, bluegrass, and Bartók. A thoroughly modern musician, he plays mandolin with loose-limbed ease, and writes music of intelligence and joy. The Grammy-winning musician, part of the uncategorizable Punch Brothers, seeks a path “between music that is visceral and music that is intellectual. I want a new perspective on what it means to be alive.”

Thile’s new piece for yMusic is a nerve-racking beta-test—the first in which he doesn’t perform. He calls his presence “a crutch”—able to cover for weaknesses by translating wishes, leaning on his playing, and relying on a band “I know almost as well as myself.”

Thile says of instrumental music, “I love its mercurial nature. We are free as listeners to spin our own yarns. Something is being communicated, but exactly what is a dance between composers, performers, and listeners. I love collaborative meaning in concert—a living, breathing organism that can evolve”—which is exactly what yMusic brings to the stage.

So yMusic, as in “why music”?

Sirota was in a Minneapolis cab, bedraggled and disillusioned, at the end of a long travel day. The driver told her, “You are a musician. You bring people joy. You have the most important job.” “I needed to hear that,” she says. “Music gives joy, brings people together. It is something we crave on a fundamental level. It’s why people worship. In yMusic, we have the privilege of working with some of the most incredible creative thinkers. We participate in music history in some way. It’s one of the most joyful projects I can think of.”

—By Tim Munro, an Australian-born, Grammy-winning flutist based in Chicago




yMusic
yMusic
Friday, December 2 at 7:30 PM
yMusic

yMusic has been called “one of the groups that has really helped to shape the future of classical music” by NPR. This daring multi-instrument ensemble’s catholic taste, stylistic versatility, and impeccable musicianship bring striking vitality to the music of our time. yMusic performs works from its critically acclaimed albums Beautiful Mechanical and Balance Problems, and premieres new works by Chris Thile and Caroline Shaw, both part of Carnegie Hall’s 125 Commissions Project.

7 months ago | |
Tag
| Read Full Story

This Saturday, November 12, South African guitarist Derek Gripper will be joined on stage in Zankel Hall by Trio Da Kali, musicians from the Mandé culture of southern Mali. Read more about the African guitar and music of the griots of West Africa and join us for an unforgettable evening of traditional Malian music on November 12.


African Guitar

Derek Gripper
Derek Gripper photo by Christoph Lenz

Derek Gripper began studying the playing techniques of the kora in 2009 by learning traditional Malian compositions. Two years later, he had a breakthrough: By using the simple textural language of the vihuela Spanish renaissance lute, it was possible to play the highly complex kora compositions of Malian virtuoso Toumani Diabaté on the six-string guitar without omitting a note of the original performances. Gripper’s project to create an African repertoire for the classical guitar, based on transcriptions of works by some of Africa’s greatest musicians, resulted in a growing collection of outstanding African guitar arrangements, with works by Toumani Diabaté, Ballaké Sissoko, Ali Farka Touré, Amadu Bansang Jobarteh, Madosini, and others, bringing the guitar and the music of Africa to life in new and exciting ways.

Music of the Griots of West Africa

Of all the music of Africa that has come to the attention of Americans and Europeans in the past 50 years, none has drawn more attention than that of the Mandinka and Bambara peoples of West Africa. Often credited by ethnomusicologists and folklorists as the incubator of the blues, the music of the Mandinka jajalu and Bambara jeliw (griots) has long given inspiration to American musicians; artists such as Taj Mahal, Ry Cooder, Béla Fleck, and others have performed with griots from the Gambia, Senegal, and Mali, and have been influenced by their instrumental styles.

Griots are essentially oral historians. They are members of a hereditary caste known by various names, depending on tribal and linguistic heritage: jalalu (sing. jali) to the Mandinka, jeliw to the Bambara of Mali, guewel to the Wolof, iggawin to the Moors of Mauritania. Traditionally, they perform various functions: as praise singers and musicians to kings, princes, and important personages; as entertainers and storytellers; and as keepers of the history and genealogy of the people. Griots were traditionally attached to the Mandinka and Bambara princes and chiefs. Their duties were to recount tribal history and genealogy, to compose commemorative songs, and to perform at important community events. Some of the traditional story-songs are epic poems that recount the deeds of great warriors like Sundiata Keita, who founded the Mali Empire in the 13th century. Sundiata’s conquests have been eulogized and mythologized for centuries by Mandinka griots and are still a part of most griots’ repertoire.

Trio da Kali
Trio Da Kali photo by Youri Lenquette

While griots are no longer attached to princely courts (though the president of the Gambia still retains an official griot), they are still highly valued by local Mandinka communities throughout the world. They continue to perform at weddings and naming ceremonies, recounting the genealogies of the families that have hired them, and sing praises of important leaders and businessmen.

Like the troubadours of medieval Europe, griots accompany themselves on musical instruments, the most popular of which are the balafon, a wooden xylophone; the ngoni (also known as halam), a skin-faced lute that is the ancestor of the banjo; and kora, a 21-string harp-lute with a large gourd resonator. The kora is the most recent of these instruments, probably originating during the time of Jali Mady Fouling Cissoko in the 16th century.

The balafon is one of many wooden xylophones found throughout Africa. Originating in the 12th century in Guinea, it has 16 to 27 keys with gourds suspended below the keys to amplify the sound. In Guinea, the Mandé balafon is considered to be a sacred instrument. The original instrument, known as the soso-bala, was thought to have supernatural powers and was taken as a war trophy by Sunjata when he defeated Soumaoro, the Susu king, in 1236. In the hands of Sujata’s griot, Balafaseke Kouyate, it became an instrument of healing, bringing together the many warring tribes of the Mandé people.



Derek Gripper and Trio Da Kali
Derek Gripper | Trio Da Kali
Saturday, November 12 at 8:45 PM
Derek Gripper
Trio Da Kali


In his search for new directions in African music, South African guitarist Derek Gripper began transcribing the kora (harp-lute) music of Malian masters Toumani Diabaté, Ballaké Sissoko, and others for classical guitar. The Malian tradition is also represented by Trio Da Kali, a group of musicians from the Mandé culture of southern Mali who come from a long line of distinguished griots (oral historians / praise singers).

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This Saturday, November 12, South African guitarist Derek Gripper will be joined on stage in Zankel Hall by Trio Da Kali, musicians from the Mandé culture of southern Mali. Read more about the African guitar and music of the griots of West Africa and join us for an unforgettable evening of traditional Malian music on November 12.


African Guitar

Derek Gripper
Derek Gripper photo by Christoph Lenz

Derek Gripper began studying the playing techniques of the kora in 2009 by learning traditional Malian compositions. Two years later, he had a breakthrough: By using the simple textural language of the vihuela Spanish renaissance lute, it was possible to play the highly complex kora compositions of Malian virtuoso Toumani Diabaté on the six-string guitar without omitting a note of the original performances. Gripper’s project to create an African repertoire for the classical guitar, based on transcriptions of works by some of Africa’s greatest musicians, resulted in a growing collection of outstanding African guitar arrangements, with works by Toumani Diabaté, Ballaké Sissoko, Ali Farka Touré, Amadu Bansang Jobarteh, Madosini, and others, bringing the guitar and the music of Africa to life in new and exciting ways.

Music of the Griots of West Africa

Of all the music of Africa that has come to the attention of Americans and Europeans in the past 50 years, none has drawn more attention than that of the Mandinka and Bambara peoples of West Africa. Often credited by ethnomusicologists and folklorists as the incubator of the blues, the music of the Mandinka jajalu and Bambara jeliw (griots) has long given inspiration to American musicians; artists such as Taj Mahal, Ry Cooder, Béla Fleck, and others have performed with griots from the Gambia, Senegal, and Mali, and have been influenced by their instrumental styles.

Griots are essentially oral historians. They are members of a hereditary caste known by various names, depending on tribal and linguistic heritage: jalalu (sing. jali) to the Mandinka, jeliw to the Bambara of Mali, guewel to the Wolof, iggawin to the Moors of Mauritania. Traditionally, they perform various functions: as praise singers and musicians to kings, princes, and important personages; as entertainers and storytellers; and as keepers of the history and genealogy of the people. Griots were traditionally attached to the Mandinka and Bambara princes and chiefs. Their duties were to recount tribal history and genealogy, to compose commemorative songs, and to perform at important community events. Some of the traditional story-songs are epic poems that recount the deeds of great warriors like Sundiata Keita, who founded the Mali Empire in the 13th century. Sundiata’s conquests have been eulogized and mythologized for centuries by Mandinka griots and are still a part of most griots’ repertoire.

Trio da Kali
Trio Da Kali photo by Youri Lenquette

While griots are no longer attached to princely courts (though the president of the Gambia still retains an official griot), they are still highly valued by local Mandinka communities throughout the world. They continue to perform at weddings and naming ceremonies, recounting the genealogies of the families that have hired them, and sing praises of important leaders and businessmen.

Like the troubadours of medieval Europe, griots accompany themselves on musical instruments, the most popular of which are the balafon, a wooden xylophone; the ngoni (also known as halam), a skin-faced lute that is the ancestor of the banjo; and kora, a 21-string harp-lute with a large gourd resonator. The kora is the most recent of these instruments, probably originating during the time of Jali Mady Fouling Cissoko in the 16th century.

The balafon is one of many wooden xylophones found throughout Africa. Originating in the 12th century in Guinea, it has 16 to 27 keys with gourds suspended below the keys to amplify the sound. In Guinea, the Mandé balafon is considered to be a sacred instrument. The original instrument, known as the soso-bala, was thought to have supernatural powers and was taken as a war trophy by Sunjata when he defeated Soumaoro, the Susu king, in 1236. In the hands of Sujata’s griot, Balafaseke Kouyate, it became an instrument of healing, bringing together the many warring tribes of the Mandé people.



Derek Gripper and Trio Da Kali
Derek Gripper | Trio Da Kali
Saturday, November 12 at 8:45 PM
Derek Gripper
Trio Da Kali


In his search for new directions in African music, South African guitarist Derek Gripper began transcribing the kora (harp-lute) music of Malian masters Toumani Diabaté, Ballaké Sissoko, and others for classical guitar. The Malian tradition is also represented by Trio Da Kali, a group of musicians from the Mandé culture of southern Mali who come from a long line of distinguished griots (oral historians / praise singers).

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Ensemble Connect flutist Rosie Gallagher reflects on preparing Hans Zender’s Winterreise with conductor Sir Simon Rattle.


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Every moment of this project felt like a spectacular gift. It began the second Sir Simon Rattle flew in the door, windswept with his score in one hand, victoriously announcing, “I was held up in an anti-Trump rally!”—and it lasted through our performance in Zankel Hall, which was the first concert for 2016 Ensemble Connect fellows. As I reflect on this surreal week, I am struck by a feeling of gratitude: to Schubert for turning his darkness into musical poetry, to Hans Zender for having the courage to reimagine such an iconic work, to the Ensemble Connect team—both colleagues and staff—for always bring their best, and to the magnificent Sir Simon and Mark Padmore for their sincere humility and infectious joy.

In true Ensemble Connect style, Hans Zender’s Winterreise proved to be an ambitious first project. It called for several members of the ensemble to double on melodica and wind machine, use extended technique, and move around the hall. Sir Simon worked diligently with us to ensure that these sounds were not gimmicks and were instead tools used to paint a landscape full of emotional nuance and dark color. Upon tenor Mark Padmore’s arrival, his voice told us a mesmerizing story, challenging the ensemble to respond to his ideas and phrasing. It was a joy to watch Sir Simon and Mark Padmore work together. Often, no more than a couple of words were exchanged between the dynamic pair as the collaboration was one of musical osmosis and unconditional trust.

It is a rare and wonderful thing to truly feel “in the moment” during a musical performance. I find that there are often distracting voices, both internal and external, that pull focus from the task at hand. There were times, both in rehearsal and on the stage of Zankel Hall, that I could feel Sir Simon existing in this moment and the ensemble coming with him. I hope to bring this experience with me as I continue to work with my remarkable colleagues over the next two years.

Sir Simon left us with this advice: “The people need your spirit, now more than ever. Go out and give it to them.” I do not take this responsibility lightly. It is a privilege to be part of a group that strives to do this on a daily basis. For all that music has given me—a sense of belonging, perspective, curiosity, and empathy—I am more than happy to share this incredible world with anyone who wants to escape inside of it.

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Rosie Gallagher, flute


Ensemble Connect performed Schubert’s Winterreise—A Composed Interpretation for Tenor and Small Orchestra by Hans Zender on Sunday, October 16. Watch a replay of the performance on medici.tv:

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