The Governor's School for the
Arts, 2008-2009 Season
GSA Liederabend - An Introduction, A Hint of Things
T'was a week before Christmas and only Director Robert Brown and
Department Chair Alan Fischer were stirring - leading a program full of surprises.
December 18, 2008 at Chandler Recital Hall the Governor's School for the
Arts Vocal Music Department presented a program of classical vocal music that
showed a high level of accomplishment. The Contemporary Vocal Ensemble sang an
a capella arrangement of Mozart's Overture to Le Nozze di Figaro where
the voices created the sound of the instruments. Think Swingle Singers and you
are close. Without a conductor, these nine young women, trained by Mike Regan,
stood in a semi-circle and gave a brilliantly coordinated performance: seniors
Alexandra Braham, Kamaren Holloway, Courtney Johnson, Tatyanna Johnson and Heather
Yarbrough and underclassmen Haleigh Busby, Bridget Cooper, Rebecca Ryan and Shondera
Robert Brown directed the program and was the pianist. He played
the entire program with the piano lid closed as the students presented sets of
French chanson, German lied, Italian canzone, English song and African-American
spirituals. Each was performed by a different student who gave a verbal introduction
for their song.
Vocal students have a challenge that instrumental students
don't. If you blow a horn consistently you get a consistent sound but the human
voice is much less predictable. Vocal power and beauty often do not develop in
tandem. Accuracy without enough power may not give the results the singer wished
and so it goes. The important thing is to learn to be on-stage, do your best and
go with the flow.
There are many new students in the vocal music department
this year and this was a first step for many of them into the world of classical
art song, not in the safety of the studio with a teacher who celebrates even your
smallest accomplishment but on stage before an audience of mostly strangers. So
it follows that we can celebrate their courage and hard work. It is the promise
of things to come, new developments in subsequent performances that made this
evening so exciting.
Some of our French favorites of the evening: Madeline
La Rossa sang with accuracy Villanelle by Berlioz. Shondera Willis sang
Debussy's Romance with a French sensibility and a mature vocal sound and
La Tetra Lewis sang with such passion and beauty of sound the very long Au
pays by Duparc.
Senior Kate May gave an intensely emotional reading
of Schubert's Gretchen am Spinnrade as did Courtney Johnson in Die Junge
Nonne. In the Italian songs new student Caleb Willman's surprisingly big tenor
voice in Gluck's O del mio dolce ardor was the big news. Bass Brandon Bell
sang Caldera's Sebben crudele. He is also new to the program and has great
potential as well. In the English set senior Jonathan Champ sang Head's Money-O.
Jonathan was recently accepted as a vocal music student at George Mason University.
Margaret Bonds wrote To a Brown Girl Dead and senior Victoria Francis brought
the song in all its vocal challenge alive for us. Baritone D.J. Johnson deserves
a gold star for Burleigh's Every Time I Feel the Spirit.
39 students and when they gathered on stage to do choral songs I was in heaven:
Copland Ching-a-ring chaw, Rutter What Sweeter Music and 3 pieces
by contemporary composers . We heard Ave Maria by Dr. Wayne Oquin, who
is on the faculty at Juilliard since fall of 2008. Sheldon Becton set All Good
Things (you may remember this from the Bill Cosby Show) which featured La
Tetra Lewis as our wonderful mezzo-soprano soloist. Courtney Johnson as soloist
in My Man's Gone Now, backed by the powerful choral work of these GSA vocal
students, reminded me of Leontyne Price on the recording of Gershwin's Porgy
and Bess from May of 1963. She and La Tetra and the chorus were all wonderful!
They closed with English/Irish composer Arthur Warrell's arrangement of A Merry
Christmas, a "colorful vamped up version of We Wish you a Merry Christmas"
done a capella. Vocal music chair Alan Fischer was behind the camera as a sort
of Herr Drosselmeyer presence over the whole evening.Courtney Johnson
is Finalist in
National Foundation for the Advancement in the Arts Contest
senior Courtney Johnson has been chosen as one of fifteen vocal finalists in a
nationwide high school talent search. Her award is an all-expense paid trip to
Miami, Florida in January, 2009. At the one-week camp some 150 students in dance,
cinematic arts, jazz, music, photography, theater, visual arts, voice and writing
gather for master classes, showcase performances, exhibitions and enrichment programs
. Selected from some 6000-8000 students who register in a process that is a sort
of dress rehearsal for college auditions, these talented students will have time
to bond with peers in a supportive, nurturing environment.
While in Florida
all students are reviewed against a standard of excellence in their respective
disciplines and 60 finalists will be selected. From these 20 will be designated
Presidential Scholars in the Arts. The online information seems to indicate that
all camp participants will receive a cash award ranging from $1000 to $10,000,
based on level of achievement.
Update. Alan Fischer says: "Courtney as
a finalist has won a monetary award, but the amount and the final placement of
the performers has yet to be finally decided. On our trip to New York this March,
Courtney will be one of the students singing for a master class presented by the
Metropolitan Opera Guild for us and a New York high school, to be run by Nico
Violinist Pavel Ilyashov Solos with
On Sunday, January 11, 2009 at the Roper Performing Arts
Center the Governor's School for the Arts Orchestra played a blockbuster program
for a large audience. Led by conductor Jeffrey Phelps, they presented Antonin
Dvorák's Symphony No. 7 in D minor, Op. 70, written in 1885. Grove Dictionary
of Music tells us that it is a work of a man who has battled with his conscience
and experienced tragedy. The symphony begins as if the orchestra is waking-up
section by section. The emotional intensity of the work comes through the strong,
concise development of his themes in the first movement. In the recapitulation
in the coda tensions are resolved. The tranquility of the Poco adagio second movement
opening is followed by questioning melancholy and a brief storm. The third movement,
Vivace poco meno mosso, has the character of a furiant, a rapid Bohemian dance
of frequently changing rhythm which resolves as a charming trio. The basic heroic
spirit of the 37 minute symphony shines through in the finale, Allegro movement
when it resolves into a major chord to end. The student performers played with
accuracy and with a fine sense of the shape of the symphony.
with conductor Jeffrey Phelps, a GSA graduate himself not so many years ago, we
learned that it was his idea to invite Pavel Ilyashov to play the violin solo
for Pyotr Ilych Tchaikovsky's Concerto in D Major, Op. 35 with the orchestra.
Ilyashov has an international career as violin soloist, chamber player and symphonist.
He learned this piece especially for this performance.
11 days to sketch out his concerto and scored it all between March 19 and April
11, 1878. The year before he had married a music student and had lived with her
for nine weeks. This was a near fatal step for a man with "homosexual tendencies"
who attempted suicide in a near mental collapse. A wealthy widow offered him financial
and emotional support so he resigned as a teacher and became a full-time composer.
He and the widow never met but their letters are available and tell the whole
story. In January, 1878 he finished his 4th Symphony and in February his opera
The concerto follows a simple pattern filled with
appealing melody. The melodic flow and sense of creative delight in his composition
were well-served by the enthusiastic and accurate playing by the student orchestra.
They created a firm foundation for the flights of rhapsodic playing by Ilyashov
in this three movement piece. After the first, allegro moderato, the soloist received
a rousing cheer from the students' family members in the audience as he had when
he first appeared on-stage.
Conductor Phelps stood beside his platform
while Ilyashov tuned his violin. The replacement for a string broken earlier in
the day required extra care after each movement. When the conductor stepped up
to the podium we were treated to the lyrically beautiful Canzonetta: Andante,
a light, flowing kind of simple song. The passion in the solo work was matched
by passion from the orchestra which came to a grand conclusion in the third movement,
Allegro vivacissimo. Merry, quick, lively and bright and all played very fast,
all describe the mood as well as the tempo.
Patti Watters, Chair of Instrumental
Music, acted as emcee. She, Conductor Phelps and soloist Ilyashov with the entire
orchestra offered the community a wonderful experience.
Zauberflöte Staged by Governor's School for the Arts
Alan Fischer led the GSA Opera Orchestra of twenty players in a delightful production
of Mozart's fantasy tale of a magic flute on May 8 and 9 at ODU's University Theater.
The staging was simple and effective, a three-sided surround with wide doors on
each white wall. Using projected bold designs and washes of color he created moods
that helped tell the story as an uninterrupted flow of action. This straightforward,
simplified staging allowed the plot to emerge with greater clarity than I've experienced
in any other production.
In the first scene Tamino (Kelvin Gooding) is
pursued by a fierce monster and is saved by Three Ladies, Attendants to the Queen
of the Night. On May 8th the ladies were Courtney Johnson, Kamaren Holloway and
LaTetra Lewis, all graduating seniors and terrific in their roles. The following
night's performance featured Katie Grant, Tatyanna Johnson and Katherine May,
also graduating seniors. The level of professional polish in these roles by high
school seniors was amazing. They could walk on any stage, anywhere and measure
up. I had never focused on what a large role the Three Ladies play in the story
and was pleased they appeared in so many scenes.
They flirt and compete
for the young Prince Tamino's attention. Once they leave to tell the Queen, the
birdcatcher Papageno, played by Brandon Bell, takes credit for slaying the monster,
only to have his lips locked by the returning Ladies. The Queen, played by Madeline
LaRossa, (Morgan Melville, May 9th) comes, takes one look at the handsome prince
and charges him with a mission to rescue her daughter Pamina, played by senior
Heather Yarborough May 8 and Alexandra Braham - May 9.
From here a tale
of a brotherhood, temple ritual and initiation into sacred mysteries unfolds.
The life of the spirit and intellect, represented by the Prince and Princess are
sharply contrasted to the spontaneous, sensual life of the good-humored, fun-loving
birdcatcher in his camouflage feathers. The Queen of the Night is an angry, vengeful
person competing for control with Pamina's father Sarastro who runs the Temple
of the Sun.
Papageno's trial fits his character - he is to keep quiet.
He cannot, and talks to a flirtatious old woman played by Shondera Willis. Eventually
he decides an ugly, old wife is better than none. Afer the old woman removes her
disguise he sees his ideal Papagena and they sing of a brood of many, happy children.
Several suicides are headed off. Caverns of fire and then water are traversed
by the royal couple, protected by the magic flute and they are eventually wed
in the temple. The Queen of the Night, her Three Ladies and the lecherous Monostatos
are banished to the depths of the earth - a great waste of vocal talent, if you
Thirty-seven singers took a curtain call. For the second performance
other singers from this group filled the principal roles while tonight's stars
rotate to the chorus. So much fine stage experience prepares some of them for
college and a life in music and others become choristers and listeners who know
what it's all about. The other graduating seniors were Jonathan Champ as Speaker
on May 8 and Victoria Francis as Second Priest and Armored Man in both performances.
The entire cast put heart and soul into bringing us an excellent evening. But
mentioning everyone by name would, I fear overtax our readers.
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