Posts Tagged ‘master classes’

Askim’s New Music Composition Revealed

November 11, 2011

Viola Master Class with Ms. Kozasa. (from L) Sirayah, Alex, Ayane Kozasa, Kathy and Howard

By Marcia E. Gawecki

The Tuesday, Nov. 8th afternoon concert at Stephens Recital Hall was limited to just a select few. Among those in attendance were student composers, poets, and musicians, along with a few teachers. What they were about to hear was a New Music composition by Peter Askim, Idyllwild Arts’ award-winning music director and composer-in-residence. Not only were they going to hear a brand-new piece, but also the viola player was a winner.

“This viola piece called, ‘Inner Voices,’ was written for the Primrose International Viola Competition in Austin last year, but the winner is here tonight to play it for us,” said Peter Askim, and then introduced Ayane Kozasa, a senior music student at Curtis Institute of  Music in Philadelphia.

“There were viola players from all over the country playing this piece, which was a required piece,” Peter explained. “Everyone had to learn it at the same amount of time, and Ayane won the prize for the best performance. And in a minute, you’ll see why.”

Peter handed out a few scores of “Inner Voices” for those who wanted to follow along, as Ms. Kozasa walked to the front of the room. She was a pretty woman in a black shift dress, and boots that matched the snow outside. Her hair was cut short, perhaps so that it wouldn’t interfere with her instrument.

Looking around, I learned quickly the best way to listen to New Music compositions, was to close your eyes. To my right, Peter had his eyes closed and was leaning forward slightly. To my left, Andrew Leeson, an Creative Writing instructor, also closed his eyes and leaned back in his chair. Across the room, Idyllwild Arts Headmaster Brian Cohen (who also plays the viola) had his eyes closed.

Ms. Kozasa shows Alex how to dance while playing his piece as Brian Cohen looks on.

I wasn’t sure why these guys were closing their eyes when there was a pretty coed onstage, but I guessed it was “all about the music” at this point.

From a past experience of listening to a New Music Concert at the Los Angeles Philharmonic last year, I knew that it wasn’t going to be like any standard music. It’s as if the composers crumpled it up and threw it out the window.

(from R) Peter Askim introduces Aane Kozasa to headmaster Brian Cohen

When the conductor started the New Music Concert at the LA Phil, I thought all of the musicians were still warming up. The piece had an unsettled, frenetic feeling about it.

“When are they going to start playing?” I asked the student next to me in the balcony. “Shh, they’re playing,” was my answer.

Now, sitting in Stephens Recital Hall listening to Peter’s  “Inner Voices,” I knew to expect the unexpected.

I breathed in slowly, resisting the urge to close my eyes and decided to focus on the young woman’s viola and bow.

What came out of her instrument was frenetic, and intense. Like someone running through the snow, but at a very fast pace. Maybe the person was running from the police? Who knows? But he was definitely running for his life.

Then I realized that it wasn’t likely an urban setting, but perhaps in Idyllwild. I imagined a person running through the forest. Since there aren’t any bears in these parts, perhaps the person was running from himself?

Then, after the intense part ended, the mood changed, and everything slowed down dramatically. Again, I thought of nature, and how everything seems calm after a rainstorm.

Meanwhile, Ms. Kozasa was putting on a nice performance for the audience who still had their eyes open. She moved across the stage, often times arching her bow as if it were a spear. Then she’d play the queer high notes with such delicacy that her bow barely touched the strings.

During “Inner Voices,” there were many long pauses, in which I was tempted to clap before it was over. Yet, I resisted, and succommed to the tension of the piece, which ended with more of a light “pop” than a razor-sharp dramatic ending. That was rather nice.

“That’s amazing world-class playing,” Peter said, as he stood, clapping for Ms. Kozasa.

“Peter is the master of negative space,” Andrew exclaimed.

When Peter heard that comment repeated later on, he laughed.

Ms. Kozasa works with Howard on his piece

Ms. Kozasa said that it wasn’t a difficult piece to play, once she broke it down into sections.

Peter asked her to explain to the audience how she would approach playing a new piece such as this one.

“Well, I’d look at the bigger sections at first,” she said. “And then try and figure out the character of each part. It’s harder when its free form.”

Peter said that oftentimes, the students think about the fingerings and trying to get the rhythm right, but they have a hard time finding out the meaning of the piece.

Ms. Kozasa said that she tries to find out what the composer is trying to say within the fingerings of the piece. Whenever possible, she also researches other music from the same composer to help with the meaning.

Afterward, Peter said that he finished “Inner Voices” about this time last year, but it had nothing to do with nature or the weather in Idyllwild.

“I finished it in the winter, but started it in the summer,” he said. “It has nothing to do with the seasons.”

So much for my interpretation of a man running through the snow.

For the next hour, Ms. Kozasa held a Master Class in which sh worked with four viola players, including Howard, Alex, Kathy and Syriah. Each played a short piece for her, in which she gave input and suggestions. More often than not, Ms. Kozasa suggested the students become more physical and aggressive in their performances.

Ms. Kozasa makes suggestions to Kathy

For example, when Alex played a slow, Bach piece, Ms. Kozasa stated that it was a dance, and suggested that Alex take a few dance steps.

What?! Dance while he was playing? I tried to imagine what was going through that young man’s head!

“This piece is really about dances back then,” she said. “And the third step is really suspended in mid-air. Try and step while you play. Here, let me show you.”

And then she played the same song, but exaggerated the steps to an unknown dance as she moved across the stage.

Alex, likely eager to please, played the piece again, and moved as best he could to the ancient dance.

“That’s beautiful,” she exclaimed as he finished. “It feels more like a dance in which your whole body is moving to the music. Now, try and put character into each step. Don’t be afraid of making a huge dip.”

After all of the students had played, Peter and Ms. Kozasa stuck around at Stephens to record the piece. He said to look for it soon on iTunes.

For more information and to see a video of Ms. Kozasa at the June 5th Primrose Competition, visit

Copyright 2011 Idyllwild Me. All rights reserved.

Published on: Nov 11, 2011 @ 1:28





Marni Nixon’s Master Class

April 12, 2010

Marni Nixon (4th from L) & Master Class students

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By Marcia E. Gawecki

She was the singing voice of Audrey Hepburn in “My Fair Lady,” and Natalie Wood in “West Side Story,” and Deborah Kerr in both “The King and I” and “An Affair to Remember.” She sang Opera, performed on Broadway and won two Emmys along the way. At age 80, one would think that Marni Nixon would rest on her laurels and retire like many legends. However, recently, she performed with other Broadway singers at a “One Night Only” concert in Palm Springs, and then gave a two-hour Master Class at the Idyllwild Arts Academy (IA).

“We were so lucky to get her,” said Doug Ashcraft, head of the Music Department at Idyllwild Arts. “Darren (Schilling, PR) saw that she was appearing nearby, and e-mailed her to see if she’d do a Master Class for us.”

Ashcroft added that Nixon had hosted a Master Class at IA about six years ago.

“I love what I do,” Marni Nixon said when asked why she is still performing. “And I still have to set a good example for my grown children.”

Her son, Andrew Gold, followed Nixon into the music business. She said he is best known for creating the theme song for the TV sitcom, “The Golden Girls.” Her daughters, Martha Carr, became a psychologist and Melanie Gold is a massage therapist. All three live in LA, and Nixon planned on visiting them that weekend.

On April 9, Stephens Recital Hall was packed to capacity with students, faculty and even some Nixon fans who live in Idyllwild.

“I’ve been following you throughout your career,” one woman said later as Nixon was autographing her CD.

Each of the students took turns performing a song of their choosing (with special meaning to them). They included: Everett Ford, Samuel Chan, Preston Pounds, Ruby Day, Joey Jennings, Paulina Kurtz, Becca Goldberg, and Melissa Haygood

“I wasn’t as nervous as I am performing,” said Samuel Chan, a classical voice major, who performed “Loveliest of Trees.” “I knew that she was there to help me.”

For Chan, Nixon suggested that he enunciate his consonants more, and then visualize while he was singing.

“Try and visualize that tree,” Nixon suggested. “Is it old? Is there snow on the branches?” She also said to put emotion behind the discovery of the tree. “Imagine that your rooomate has just died, or something just as traumatic, then you go to the woods to get away, and you come upon this tree.”

Chan performed the song for Nixon again, visualizing the tree.

“I can see you smelling the branches,” Nixon exclaimed, as Chan blushed.

“Can you see the difference?” Nixon asked everyone in the audience and they clapped in response. She added that it was good for classical voice majors to take some acting classes to help them visualize, and for musical theater students to take classical voice for the discipline.

Everett Ford sang a song in German, and Nixon asked him to translate the first and second verses. He said that it was about death and passing away freely.

“Just because the song is sung in German, doesn’t mean you don’t have to enunciate,” she said. “Be Italian, without being ‘fake.’ It will feel strange at first, but then it’ll become more natural. We need to hear the distinction of the words.”

As he performed the song over again, Nixon announced that she was going to “poke” and “pry” at him. She prodded him to stand up straight, and came up behind him, and held onto his rib cage.

“That’s where your voice needs to come from,” she said.

With other students, she mentioned posture, confidence, and the Tai Chi way of  firmly planting your feet on the ground.

After Becca Goldberg sang, “I Never Knew His Name,” about a young girl who didn’t know her father, Nixon was complimentary in her delivery, but critical of her posture.

“This might sound a bit cruel, but the way you’re standing up here says, “Oh poor me, pity me,'” Nixon said. Immediately, she went over to Goldberg and straightened out her spine.

As Goldberg was singing it again, Nixon commanded her  to push against her with all her strength. “You need to get that strength and emotion into your song,” she said. Goldberg sang another song for Nixon, a sassier, jazzier one, and her posture greatly improved.

Throughout her critique, Nixon would always ask the title and composer of the songs. Most of the students didn’t know, and referred to their sheet music at the piano. When Joey Jennings announced his second song, “Bring Home My Youth,” by Oscar Levant and Edward Heyman, Nixon asked Jennings what he knew about them.

“These are famous people,” she said. “Oscar Levant was bitter and funny and honest about his putdowns of people. This is kind of his signature song.”

When Jennings finished the song, he wiped away tears and “flipped the bird.”

“That was a good exercise,” Nixon responded. “Now, next time, instead of being angry underneath, try another emotion.”

When Paulina Kurtz sang, “My Brother Lives in San Francisco,” Nixon said that she wasn’t familiar with it.

“It’s new, and never been performed on Broadway or anything,” Kurtz said. She explained that it was about a girl recollecting her gay brother who moved to San Francisco, and the effects of AIDS.

Afterwards, some of the students in the audience were brought to tears.

“Can you give me a copy of that song?” Nixon asked. “I’d like to share it with some of my students.”

Nixon answered questions from the audience

“These Master Classes are a great way for me to stay in touch with modern music,” Nixon said later.

“Just perfect,” Nixon told Melissa Heygood, the last one to perform.

“I don’t think I say it perfectly,” Melissa said later. “I think she was just a little tired.”

After the last performance, Nixon told a little bit about her career, and answered questions from the audience.

“What advice would you give to young people who are just starting their careers, knowing what you know now?” asked Ella Walker, a dance major.

“Have lots of money,” Nixon quipped, as everyone laughed. “You need to have a job at night like computer programming or something, because you need to be up and ready for auditions during the day.”

Others asked if she had travelled to Europe or Asia (because of her Suzuki teaching method) and what type of music genre she preferred.

Nixon talked about her youth, when she and her sisters would sing at local events to make money for their voice lessons.

“Sometimes the teachers would feel sorry for us and give us a break on their rates,” she said.

She said she began singing seriously, with regular performances, at age 10 or 11. Remarkably, at age 17, she performed with the Los Angeles Philharmonic.

“She seems like one of those rare individuals who came out of the womb singing,” said Jessica Scales, a theater major, later.

“I wish we could have heard her sing,” added Andie Hubsch, another musical theater major. “But was nice just being in the presence of a legend.”

Afterwards, Nixon posed for pictures, signed autographs, and sold copies of her CDs and new book, “I Could Have Sung All Night.”

Copyright 2010 Idyllwild Me. All rights reserved.

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Master Classes with the Gewandhaus Orchestra

February 22, 2010

By Marcia E. Gawecki

Hours before their Feb. 17 concert at Walt Disney Concert Hall (presented by the Los Angeles Philharmonic), several principal players from the Leipzig Gewandhaus Orchestra agreed to give 12 Idyllwild Arts students master classes.

“The players at the Gerwandhaus Orchestra have a very special way of thinking about music and playing phrases,” said Peter Askim, music director and composer-in-residence at the Idyllwild Arts Academy. “The students get a different perspective on music making, and each teacher has a different way of explaining the same concepts.”

The fortunate Idyllwild Arts students who took classes that day included Seann Trull and Rachael Hill, French horn; Ruo Gu Wang and Shen Liu, clarinet; Ting Yu “Monica” Yang, Lei Shao, and Anais “XO” Liu, cello; Xiao Fan Liu, Minyeong “Stephanie” Kim, Martin Peh, Lea Hausmann, and Dorisiya Yosifova, violin.

The four principals from the Leipzig Gewandhaus Orchestra included Bernhard Krug, French horn; Andreas Lehnert, clarinet; Christian Geiger, cello; and Concertmaster Frank Michael Erben, violin.

Peter said that he chose the guest musicians based on their reputations as players and teachers, and he tried to give the most number of students the opportunity to experience the master classes.

Lei Shao, an Idyllwild Arts cellist, said that he chose the music for his hour-long session with Christian Geiger at the Colburn Center across from Disney Concert Hall. Lei said that he was excited, but nervous when he played for the professional cellist.

“He gave me some good advice on how to improve my playing, and I will apply it right away,” Lei said enthusiastically. The best part, he admitted, was when he got to hear Christian play on his own instrument.

Peter said the master classes were not easy to arrange, but he has connections with two American musicians who used to play for the Leipzig Gewandhaus Orchestra. “Usually the musicians are very happy to teach and meet students from other places when they travel,” he said.

During the concert at 8 p.m. that night at the Walt Disney Concert Hall, the students got to choose from seats located in the top balcony or behind the orchestra.

“I like to sit behind the stage and watch the conductor,” Peter admitted. “A lot of the students appreciated almost feeling like a part of the orchestra.” However, he wanted the pianists to sit in the balcony so that they could experience the piano soloist from that perspective.

“A lot of people don’t realize that at these concerts, it’s all about the music. You don’t have to sit where you can see the musicians,” said Samuel Chan, an Idyllwild Arts vocal student. Although Samuel sat behind the orchestra this time, he said the best place to hear was in the balcony.

For the students, their eyes were glued to the Leipzig Gewandhaus Orchestra during the entire performance, which included two pieces by Ludwig van Beethoven: The Piano Concerto No. 5 in E Flat Major, Op 73 “Emperor,” and Symphony No. 7 in A Major, Op 92.

Peter said that the Idyllwild Arts Student Orchestra performed Beethoven’s Symphony No. 7 during their first concert in Idyllwild last year, and it was good for them to hear a professional version.

“The tempos that the conductor (Riccardo Chially) chose were different,” Peter said. “They have also been playing this music their whole life, and they are from the German culture that Beethoven is from. But I think our students did a very good job on the symphony last year, though!”

He thought the Leipzig Orchestra did a nice job that night. “Many students think that just playing the notes of a piece is enough, but seeing an orchestra like Gewandhaus shows them that the notes are just the beginning. Taking the notes on the page and turning them into such a moving musical experience, full of emotion and subtlety is beyond their imagination, and shows them how much they have to learn and grow.”

Kathryn Schmidt, an Idyllwild Arts jazz vocals student, said that Beethoven’s Symphony No. 7 was one of her favorites because it was later adapted to include vocals. “The story is about a boy who loses his father,” Kathryn said. “It’s so beautiful and sad.”

Like Peter, she was particularly impressed with the Gewandhaus Orchestra’s ability to play very soft and loud.

According to the LA Phil materials, “Movement II (of the Piano Concerto No. 5) is one of the composer’s most sublime inspirations. The muted strings play a theme of incomparable beauty and sad tenderness, with the piano responding in hushed, descending triplets, creating subtle tension until the theme is fully exposed.”

The pianist who was supposed to accompany the Leipzig Orchestra was Nelson Freire from Brazil. However, for reasons unknown, Canadian pianist Louis Lortie replaced Nelson, and did an outstanding job. Lortie, who lives in Berlin, has received accolades for his Beethoven interpretations, stated LA Phil materials.

After the orchestra received a standing ovation before intermission, Louis came out and performed Beethoven’s Prometheus Overture, Op 43, for an encore.

“It’s ironic that he chose the Prometheus Overture as his encore, because that’s the piece that our orchestra played as an encore after they played Beethoven’s 7th Symphony last year,” said Samuel Chan, who is also Canadian. “We were rolling in the aisles and couldn’t believe that we chose the same music.”

According to the Disney Concert brochure, the Leipzig Gewandhaus Orchestra, the oldest civic concert orchestras in the world. It was founded by 16 merchants in 1743.

During his lifetime, the Leipzig Gewandhaus Orchestra performed all of Beethoven’s symphonies. This orchestra has an exceptionally wide repertoire and more than 200 performances each year. This is because of its multidisciplinary function as an orchestra, an opera orchestra and a chamber orchestra that performs cantatas with the St. Thomas Boys Choir.

Sheila Bernhoft had tears in her eyes after the concert, but she was not the only one. “The students were very, very inspired and had many new ideas to explore in their own music making,” Peter said. “They were also very appreciative, which makes me feel good and happy to do this kind of thing for them in the future.”

This was the last major trip that the music department will make this year. They plan to take a few small trips to see the Los Angeles Opera and the LA Philharmonic.

Copyright 2010 Idyllwild Me. All rights reserved.