Voice and Opera at Eastman
Student Performance Opportunities
The Eastman School of Music and its musical environment are unique. The school has attracted the most talented of instrumental and vocal students as well as musicology and theory scholars of the highest quality. The opportunities for collaborative music making here are plentiful. It is often the case that vocal degree recitals, both graduate and undergraduate, include performances of chamber music, even works for voice and orchestra. These ensembles and collaborative pairings with the singers are done voluntarily and with sincere interest by the instrumental student body. Our students are interested not only in their own instrument’s solo repertoire but also in the repertoire of many other musical disciplines. This broad repertoire is one of the hallmarks of the Eastman so that the our students are exposed to the complete musical experience which helps to develop their own unique artistic personality.
With four unique choirs, Eastman provides numerous opportunities to perform choral repertoire ranging from Renaissance masterworks to premieres of 21st century works. Voice students may sing as part of the ensembles or as soloists. Throughout the year, audition opportunities are posted frequently. Students have auditioned for solo parts in Mozart’s Requiem, Beethoven’s Mass in C Major, Schumann’s Requiem für Mignon, Handel’s Messiah, Mendelssohn’s Elijah, Britten’s War Reqiem and Bach’s St. Matthew Passion.
The four choirs at Eastman are:
- Eastman Chorale: A select ensemble of 45 singers, the Chorale consists primarily of students in vocal performance, music education, and conducting. The choir has performed at ACDA, NCCO, and MENC conferences. Repertoire in recent years has ranged from the music of Bach, Palestrina and Brahms to the works of Dominick Argento, Steven Stucky, Arvo Pärt, and George Rochberg. The Chorale participates in annual recordings of selected compositions by Eastman student composers and collaborates regularly with the Eastman-Rochester Chorus and Eastman orchestras in performances of the monuments of the repertoire for chorus and orchestra.
- Eastman Repertory Singers: A mixed 60-voice chorus of Eastman students, the Eastman Repertory Singers presents frequent performances under the direction of graduate students in conducting. Recent concerts have included Mozart’s Requiem, Haydn’s Lord Nelson Mass, Duruflé’s Requiem, and works of Britten, Brahms, and Bach. This chorus includes students in vocal performance, conducting, piano, organ, composition, and music education.
- Eastman-Rochester Chorus: A 150-voice chorus comprised of Eastman students and members of the Rochester community, ERC is now in its 25th Anniversary Season. The chorus often collaborates with orchestras at Eastman and the Rochester Philharmonic Orchestra. Highlights of past seasons included Bach’s St. Matthew Passion, Beethoven’s Mass in C Major and Missa Solemnis, Brahms’ Schicksalslied, Haydn’s The Creation, and works by Schumann, Vaughan Williams, Holst, and Chesnokov.
- Eastman Women’s Chorus: A select ensemble, the Eastman Women’s Chorus is comprised of music majors and women in other majors throughout the University of Rochester. The Women’s Chorus is dedicated to the performance of compelling repertoire created with real women’s voices in mind, including music from the Venetian Ospedali, the German Frauenchor, and contemporary female composers. Recent performances have included Nicolai Porpora’s Magnificat, Gabriel Fauré’s Messe Basse, and Roxanna Panufnik’s Olivia.
The coaches at Eastman strive to assist the voice teachers in preparing our students for both current performance needs and for a lifetime of thoughtful and disciplined musical and linguistic preparation. There is no extra fee for coaching at Eastman. Our coaching staff includes two fulltime faculty members and several part-time staff who do not address any technical matters of voice production, but rather touch on repertoire, diction, rhythm, interpretation and style. The singers’ own pianists are welcome and encouraged to come to their coaching sessions whenever possible but this is not required.
Every full-time graduate voice major (either MM or DMA) currently studying with an Eastman Faculty member is entitled to seven forty-five minute coachings with Benton Hess per semester, scheduled for every other week. Professor Hess coaches opera and art song in British and American English, Italian, French, German, Spanish, Russian, Czech, and Hebrew. He can also help with the pronunciation of repertory in the various Scandinavian languages, Polish, Portuguese, Hungarian, or specific dialects of Italian (Venetian or Neapolitan), Spanish (European, South or Central American, Ladino, etc.) or German. Russell Miller gives priority in coaching to those voice majors (including double majors) with upcoming required degree recitals, beginning with seniors and second-year master’s students, followed by DMA students and in the spring semester, juniors. Dr. Miller is qualified to coach songs and arias in English (British and American), German, French, Italian, Spanish, and to a limited extent, Russian. With all of our coaches, repertoire is selected and prioritized in collaboration with the student’s major teacher; vocal chamber repertoire and oratorio are welcome in addition to songs and opera arias.
Freshmen and sophomore voice majors may sign up for weekly thirty minute coachings, as available, with Ms. Beryl Garver. Staff opera coach Ksenia Leletkina-Stichman is available for individual coaching on repetoire for Introduction to Music Theater, Opera Workshop, or Eastman Opera Theatre projects.
In addition to the many and varied performing opportunities involving opera, oratorio, and recital, Eastman has several unique and exciting voice competitions each year. All of these events include preliminary and final rounds of competition and often feature eminent guest adjudicators.
Jessie Kneisel Lieder Competition
This wonderful competition honors the memory of Eastman’s beloved German professor, Jessie Kneisel, and is made possible through the extraordinary generosity of Eastman alumnus George McWhorter. The competition is held annually in May with the preliminary round in March. The preliminary round is judged by the entire Voice and Opera faculty, while the finals are judged by a invited distinguished guest. Such guests in recent years have included: Benita Valente, Brian Zieger, Tom Muraco, James Courtney, and Haken Hagegard.
The repertoire for the preliminary audition consists of three German lied, one of which must be by Schubert. From the initial audition, six singers are chosen for the finals where each participant prepares thirty minutes of German lieder representing a variety of composers. In the finals, each singer performs for twenty minutes with the first ten minutes consisting of repertoire chosen by the singer and the final ten minutes of repertoire chosen by the panel of faculty members. Substantial cash prizes are awarded to both the top four singers as well as the top four pianists. The Kneisel Lieder Competition is truly thrilling each year and represents a one of a kind opportunity amoungst the music schools in the United States.
Friends of Eastman Opera Competition
The Friends of Eastman Opera is a magnificent organization which contributes generously not only to Eastman Opera productions but also to our voice majors as a whole. Their long list of contributions includes opera support, voice-related equipment, considerable scholarship support for students, and a fabulous annual opera competition. The preliminaries for this competition are held early in the fall semester and are judged by the entire Voice and Opera faculty. For the preliminary audition each singer performs one aria. From this audition eight singers are chosen for the finals, which are held in mid November. In the finals there is only one adjudicator, and recent guests have included: Thomas Lausmann, Darren Keith Woods, Eve Queller, William Florescu, Robert Larsen, and Christopher Hahn, Lenore Rosenberg and Jay Lesenger. Each singer in the finals prepares three arias, and the top three or four participants receive substantial cash prizes.
Voice and Opera Department Concerto Competition
The Concerto Competition represents a wonderful opportunity to do symphonic vocal repertoire specifically unrelated to opera. Repertoire may include orchestrated songs or non-operatic pieces with orchestral accompaniment. The preliminaries for this competition are held in the spring and may include repertoire for chamber or full orchestra. Two winners may be chosen with the performances taking place the following year and accompanied by Eastman’s magnificent orchestras under the baton of Maestro Neil Varon. For the preliminary audition, each singer is asked to perform ten minutes of the chosen repertoire. Selection of the winners is determined by the entire Voice and Opera faculty.
Voice students at Eastman enjoy a program designed to meet their individual goals and needs. There is a wonderful dynamic at Eastman that seeks students in voice and all instrumentalists to create music together.
Eastman is home to the best instrumentalists in the country, those who will populate the orchestras in the very near future. During the time spent at Eastman, the singers will discover many opportunities to collaborate with these outstanding players for special projects, recital performances and premieres.
The faculties in each discipline respect and enjoy each other and are eager to work together. In recitals and independent projects, singers can collaborate with instrumentalists from Bach arias with obbligato instruments to very recent compositions calling for a great variety of instruments. Singers become part of the musics of many disciplines, adding the profundity of text to the music that normally express without words; This collaboration sparks interests in the players and singers that lasts a lifetime.
Opportunities include singing with chamber groups, small and large orchestra, and perhaps most adventurous, collaborating with the composition department, faculty and students, to create new works.
The voice faculty and the instrumental faculties at Eastman believe in making music together. The faculty models this in concerts and gives the time and extra effort it takes to join forces to create and experience joining our musical worlds.
The Eastman School of Music has a proud tradition of master classes. We have invited master teachers from all over the world who have been eager to come to the school. They hail from a variety of disciplines in the profession including singers, accompanists, directors, composers, and diction coaches. Without exception, they have been impressed with the talent, energy, and collegiality of the students and have left thrilled with their accomplishments.
The following is a partial list of guests:
- Dominick Argento
- Martina Arroyo
- Robert Cowart
- Renée Fleming
- Christian Gerhaher
- Ricky Ian Gordon
- Håkan Hagegård
- Jake Heggie
- Marilyn Horne
- Richard Hundley
- Graham Johnson – Words spoken by Mr. Johnson in 2014 after three days of master classes on the songs of Schubert and others:
“I visit many of the schools of the world, in Germany, France and certainly England. There is a combination here of old-fashioned values in terms of architecture–this very room, Ciminelli, the Kilbourn Concert Hall, the way Eastman School is endowed and its history; its connection with the values of the 19th century which are actually to be cherished when we spend such a lot of our time thinking about 19th century repertoire. It’s very, very difficult to summon the magic of Schubert from a huge multi-storied modern building in a jungle city. If you want to choose any area whereby one actually treats one’s period of study as a spiritual retreat away from the blandishments of the outside world…the theory being that if you go to a bigger town, you have all the advantages of millions of concerts. You’ve also got all the advantages of the other distractions that have truly nothing to do with concerts, but that have to do with socializing and the new excitement of living in a big city and not concentrating on the study of music. The scale of the city of Rochester is more European. It reminds me very much of all the conservatoires I’ve been to; of the Leipzig Hochschule, for example, famously founded by Mendelssohn which has a fantastic reputation as a city for music-making. What could you want more than the Thomaskirche statue of Bach, or the house where Mendelssohn lived, or where Schumann wrote all his great songs of 1840? The esprit de corps here, the standard of preparation; I think you’ve got a very lucky deal where you are. You’re all doing very well. It’s been a very great privilege for me to be here. Thank you”