This week, we're featuring Connor Cochran, playing the role of Dr. John Watson! A young but talented vocalist, Connor relishes the opportunity to perform new works by living composers. "I'm excited to be portraying Watson in the premiere performance of this chamber opera," Cochran says. "I'm grateful for the opportunity to sing such beautifully crafted music and to be the first singer to share this work with the world. Singing new music provides the singer with such a unique opportunity, as I am able to create my own unique interpretation of this music. Hopefully my performance will be looked on as a model by future singers performing in this role."
With the exciting premiere of my chamber opera coming up fast, I will be featuring a principal singer cast in the opera every week, as well as interviews and sneak peeks of music from the work. First up is Marques Jerrell Ruff in the role of Sherlock Holmes! Eager to perform new music, Marques says "When you consider the fact that just over a century ago Puccini (and his contemporaries) were considered new music, there arises a responsibility as a professional musician to continue the tradition that those long before me began. Particularly with operatic repertoire, with so many opera houses performing the standards season after season, it is refreshing to step into a new role that has never been occupied before believing that, hopefully, you are leaving a mark that future generations will one day take note of."
American bass-baritone Marques Jerrell Ruff has performed across the globe, gracing the stages of the Walt Disney Hall in Los Angeles, Weiner Musikverein in Vienna, the Rudolfinum in Prague, and the Mariinksy Theater in St. Petersburg, Russia. A former member of the Grammy® award-winning ensemble, Chanticleer, Mr. Ruff has traveled to more than 25 countries, performing well over 500 concerts, and numerous masterclasses. As a featured soloist with the Hartford Symphony, Hartford Chorale, and VOCE, Inc., he has distinguished himself as a versatile, dynamic performer who excels in oratorio, musical theater and the music of the African-American experience. Marques Jerrell Ruff has been the featured soloist on several recordings, including a world premiere by the talented young American contemporary classical composer, Nico Muhly, entitled ‘Three Moon Songs.’ The Hartford Courant marveled, “Ruff has a voice that has power, clarity and brilliant shades of color.” Following an international debut at the National Concert Hall in Dublin, Ireland, GoldenPlec Music Magazine wrote, “Ruff steps out front, his voice powerful, acrobatic, and full of soul.” In addition to a 2010 recording of a new song cycle, ‘Guided Imagery,’ composed by Staff Sergeant Daniel J. Campolieta, Marques also appears on ‘Sure on this Shining Night’ with famed American composer, Morten Lauridsen (both recordings available on all digital music platforms). A graduate of Central Connecticut State University, Mr. Ruff was the University Singers Scholarship recipient, under the direction of Dr. Pamela J. Perry, and is currently pursuing his Masters of Music Degree in Choral Conducting, at the University of Missouri, under the tutelage of Dr. R. Paul Crabb.
What a year! It's been so musically fulfilling, and had so many wonderful opportunities. I've written new works, had exciting premieres, performed with symphony orchestras and choirs alike, and conducted some fantastic new music by living composers! On top of this, I've been writing a chamber opera for the Show-Me Opera in Columbia, Missouri, and I've begun writing a violin concerto for the incomparable Eva Szekely. In more recent news, I've been named a finalist for the American Prize in Composition in two different categories: Vocal Chamber Music and Choral. The winners will be announced soon. Below, you can listen to the two pieces that are finalists for the Prize.
One of the things I love most about composing is getting to collaborate with other musicians in order to write something crafted specifically for them. This experience is particularly special for me when I have the opportunity to collaborate with and write for dear friends of mine. Recently, I asked four very close friends to send me poetry so I could write each of them an art song with a text of their choosing. To commemorate our friendships and my time here at the university, I choose to name this set of art songs "Pieces from Columbia". The set will consist of a song each for soprano, mezzo-soprano, tenor, and bass, featuring texts anywhere from e e cummings to Edgar Allen Poe. I think voice is one of the most beautiful instruments that a composer can write for — though as a vocalist, myself, I might be slightly biased — and this past year, I've really come to love composing more choral and art song literature. Please enjoy reading about my dear friends and their wonderful accomplishments below. I look forward to sharing this collection of songs with you very soon!
I was recently commissioned by the Sheldon Concert Hall and Art Galleries to write a piece for one of their Classical Connections concerts, and I decided to write the piece for tenor and piano. My voice professor, Steven Tharp, is a phenomenal tenor that has performed with many of the leading symphony orchestras and opera companies in the world. if he would be interested in performing a brand new work of mine with me at the piano. To my childlike excitement, he heartily agreed, and I began crafting a piece of music fit specifically for his gorgeous tenor voice! My composition, Fractals of a Dream, for tenor and piano explores the world inside one’s mind once one falls asleep. Dreaming is such a wonderful thing, and I wanted to express the experience in such a way that the listener felt included in the world of my composition. I felt the best way to do this was to write a poem and set it to music – a vocalist, myself, I am quite fond of connecting with people through text! The piece begins softly as the narrator drifts off to sleep, contemplating the world around him. Lush harmonies and thick textures invoke memories of the warmth and comfort of one’s own bed. The narrator then begins his adventure within his dreams, where soaring vocal lines paired with a thrilling piano accompaniment carry the music to an apex. I had a truly magical experience writing this piece and working closely with a musician that I so greatly admire, and I can't wait for the premiere!
Missouri-born tenor Steven Tharp’s operatic credits include performances with the Metropolitan Opera, New York City Opera, Netherlands Opera, Badisches Staatsoper, Teatro Massimo, Netherlands Reisopera, Glimmerglass Opera, Opera Pacific, Minnesota Opera and the companies of Dallas, Houston, Seattle, Memphis, Omaha, Salt Lake City and Miami. Handel and Mozart are well represented in Mr. Tharp’s repertoire of more than 60 operatic parts, and his keen interest in 18th and early 19th Century opera has led to roles in Gluck’s Les Pèlerins de la Mecque, Haydn’s L’Isola Disabitata and L’Infedeltà Delusa, Scarlatti’s Gli Equivoci nel Sembiante, Conti’s Don Quixote in Sierra Morena, Gassmann’s L’Opera Seria, Grétry’s Zémire et Azor and Schubert’s Alfonso und Estrella.
In concert, Mr. Tharp has appeared with the New York Philharmonic, Chicago Symphony, Philadelphia Orchestra, Royal Philharmonic, Cleveland Orchestra, Cincinnati Symphony, Houston Symphony, Colorado Symphony, Vancouver Symphony, Orquesta Sinfónica Nacional (Mexico), St. Louis Symphony, Chicago Music of the Baroque and American Bach Soloists, under conductors including Sir Georg Solti, Daniel Barenboim, Kurt Masur, Charles Dutoit, Valery Gergiev, Christoph von Dohnanyi, Stanislaw Skrowaczewski, James Conlon, Marin Alsop, JoAnn Falletta, Alan Gilbert and Jane Glover. His concert repertoire includes the masterpieces of the 18th and 19th century — the Bach passions, the masses of Mozart, Beethoven, and Schubert, the oratorios of Handel, Haydn and Mendelssohn — and extends to Elgar’s Dream of Gerontius, Schönberg’s Gurre-Lieder, the Verdi Requiem and Britten’s War Requiem.
A dedicated song recitalist, Mr. Tharp has appeared at the New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art, where he collaborated with Will Crutchfield in two series, The World of Schubert’s Songs and The World of Heinrich Heine. He has also appeared in recital at the 92nd Street Y, Carnegie’s Weill Hall, the Bard Festival, Caramoor, Newport Chamber Music Festival, Carmel Bach Festival, the New York Festival of Song and venues in Europe, Japan and South America. His interest in musical theater and cabaret led to his appearance in 3 Tenors in Search of an Act, which won the Back Stage Bistro Award for Outstanding Musical Comedy after a sold-out run at Don’t Tell Mama in New York.
Mr. Tharp has recorded for Decca, Delos, Newport, Albany and Naxos. His world-premiere recording of the complete songs of Edward MacDowell, accompanied by the late James Barbagallo, earned a Grammy Award nomination, and his recording of Frank Martin’s Le Vin Herbé was an “Editor’s Choice” in Opera News. Other recordings include Vaughan-Williams’ On Wenlock Edge with the Ciompi Quartet, Handel’s Messiah with the American Bach Soloists. Schubert’s Schwanengesang with Jan-Paul Grijpink and a forthcoming CD of Fauré songs with Rachelle Jonck. Mr. Tharp has also served as stage director for the Manhattan School of Music’s Handel Project (Alcina, Ariodante) and for Caramoor (Così fan Tutte, H.M.S. Pinafore, Pauline Viardot’s Cindrillon and Donizetti’s Linda di Chamounix).
About eight months ago I was being interviewed with my director Christine Seitz on a local radio talk show about our production of Mozart's Le nozze di Figaro in which I was playing the role of Bartolo. The interviewer asked Seitz what she thought the future of opera was, and she responded with a few remarks about the talented students at the university going on to have very successful careers in performance. She then went on to say that she believed composers were also responsible for the future of opera, and said, "Hans will write an opera for the Show-Me Opera program during his years here!" This was the first that I had heard of this, but there couldn't possibly be a more exciting way to find out about a commission! Seitz and I met later that week to talk about the specifics of the undertaking that is writing even a chamber opera. I told her my desire to write an opera with a brand new Sherlock Holmes story as the libretto, with fellow composer, genius, and novelist Jeremy Schwinger as my librettist. She was excited at the prospect of a Sherlock Holmes opera, and I got straight to work brainstorming with Jeremy about the plotline and characters as well as my musical aspirations for the chamber opera. The opera will be called "The Allenbach Amulet", and follows the story of Sherlock and Watson's investigation of the mysterious death of Sir Allenbach and the subsequent theft of the family's precious heirloom amulet. I am beyond excited to start working on this project, and I can't wait for it to come to fruition under the direction of Christine Seitz!
Christine Seitz, Associate Teaching Professor of Music, joined the faculty at the University of Missouri in the fall of 2008, where she is Director of Show-Me Opera and Voice Area Coordinator. She was a member of the stage directing staff for the Apprentice Artist Program at Des Moines Metro Opera from 2006 through 2013, and she was the founding Opera Director for the Pine Mountain Music Festival in Michigan's Upper Peninsula, directing and producing operas there from 1992 through 2002. She has been a guest director for the University of Kentucky Opera Theatre, the Florentine Opera of Milwaukee (educational outreach productions), the University of Wisconsin-Madison and Luther College. She has created original translations and supertitles for productions at the Florentine Opera of Milwaukee, the Pine Mountain Music Festival, the University of Wisconsin Madison, the Dubuque Symphony and the University of Nevada Las Vegas.
Christine Seitz is an established dramatic soprano, and she recently appeared with the Des Moines Metro Opera, singing the role of Madame Larina in Tchaikovsky’s Eugene Onegin. She has also sung operatic roles with the Seattle Opera, the Dallas Opera, Madison Opera, the Los Angeles Opera, the Toledo Opera, Kentucky Opera, the Florentine Opera of Milwaukee, Central City Opera, and in Europe with the Wuppertaler Bühnen and the Stadttheater Bern. She sang the leading role of Anna Clemenc in the world premiere ofThe Children of the Keweenaw, by composer Paul Seitz and librettist Kathleen Masterson, at the 2001 Pine Mountain Music Festival. She has also sung in concert with the MU Choral Union, the Waukesha Symphony, the Greater Lansing Symphony Orchestra, the Caramoor Festival, the Germanfest Symphony in Milwaukee, the Cincinnati May Festival and the Las Vegas Philharmonic. She has sung in numerous recitals in New York City and throughout the Midwest, collaborating with pianists Steven Blier and Jessica Paul, and she has presented voice workshops and master classes in Houghton, Michigan, and the University of California-Irvine.
Professor Seitz is currently the Central Region Governor of the National Opera Association. She received B.Mus. degrees in both applied voice and music education and an M.Mus. in applied voice from the University of Wisconsin, Madison. A native of Madison, Wisconsin, she was a two-time winner of the Eastern Wisconsin Metropolitan Opera District Auditions.
In July, I was contacted by my choral director at the University of Missouri, Dr. R. Paul Crabb. He told me he thought I should write a piece for the University Singers' fall concert, the theme of which being "Laudate et Jubilate". I was deeply honored — how often does a composer come across the opportunity to write for such a phenomenal and renowned ensemble? He sent me a list of the repertoire for the concert and suggested a few pieces for which I could write a companion piece. I immediately settled on Goodnight, Dear Heart, a beautifully patient piece by Kansas composer Dan Forrest. The poetry for the piece is "Warm Summer Sun" by Mark Twain, which he wrote in memory of his daughter. In writing a companion piece, of course, I would have to create both musical and textual contrast in my work. I searched and searched for a text that would compliment the Forrest piece, but I couldn't find anything that truly inspired me. I sat down at the piano to flesh out some preconceived musical ideas I had, and as I did so, words and a melody came to me. I scribbled down both the notes and the text in admittedly messy script and played it through a few times. I was shocked — I wasn't typically a fan of writing my own poetry, as I'd only endeavored to do so for one of my compositions on one other occasion — but I thought I had married the music to my own words quite successfully. As I continued to write, more words came, and more musical ideas, too. Before I knew it, I had the finished score of The World Awakes in front of me. I'm so excited to begin work on this piece with the University Singers, and I can't wait for its October 23rd premiere!
R. Paul Crabb, University of Missouri's Director of Choral Activities, earned degrees in Music Education, Vocal Performance and Choral Music Education. His ensembles have performed at state, regional and national conventions and have traveled extensively in Mexico, Germany, Austria, Italy, Hungary, Slovakia, Czech Republic, Russia, Bulgaria and Australia. Crabb served as assistant conductor at the Russian/American Choral Symposium for two years where his choir was invited as the resident American choir at the Moscow Conservatory. He served for one year as a visiting professor in Salzburg, Austria, where he taught and worked with the choir of the Salzburg Cathedral. He has taught conducting in Taiwan, eighteenth-century music in England, and studied sixteenth century polyphony in Italy with the renowned Peter Phillips. More recently he served as Guest Visiting Choral Professor at the Liszt Academy of Music in Budapest, Hungary - the first American selected for that position. In 2007 he became the first American conductor invited to lecture in the Choral Department at the University of Vienna's Universität für Musik und Darstellende Kunst. In 2008 Crabb accepted the position as Resident Guest Conductor of the Baroque Orchestra of Domenica Cimarosa in Avellino, Italy, where he has conducted performances in the Naples and the Amalfi Coast region for the past several years and recently completed a recording project with the same ensemble. He also accepted a position as the resident conductor for the Dante Music and Arts Festival in Nagoya, Japan during March of 2010. Invitations for 2011-12 included California, New York, Washington, D.C., Italy, Austria and Brazil. In 2015 he was awarded a research leave at MU, using the time to lecture, perform and research choral music in Sweden, including lectures and performances at Lund University, Malmӧ College of Music and the Royal Conservatory in Stockholm. He also presented seminars and workshops in Austria, Italy and Slovakia. Invitations for 2016 include Austria, Italy, China and Poland.
Under Crabb's leadership, MU's University Singers have been recognized as one of the premiere university choirs in the United States. In November of 2009, they were invited to perform at the national convention of the National Collegiate Choral Organization at Yale University--one of nine choirs selected by audition from across the U. S. In May of 2010 they accepted an invitation to perform at some of the most prestigious venues in Milan, Bologna, Rome and Salerno, Italy. This tour was sponsored by several institutions in these cities, as well as the office of the U. S. Consulate General in Naples. In January 2011 they performed by invitation at the Missouri Music Educators Association state convention. In March of that same year, they traveled to Chicago following an acceptance of an invitation to perform at the national convention of the American Choral Directors Association during a session on eighteenth-century performance practice. This same ensemble was the featured choir for a residency of Peter Phillips of the Tallis Scholars in April of 2012. In November of 2012, Crabb hosted Dr. Joseph Flummerfelt's residency during which he worked with students and conducted a performance of Choral Union's Lord Nelson Mass. In January of 2013, they returned to Missouri Music Educators Association conference as one of three collegiate choirs featured for the special 75th Anniversary convention. In May 2014 they were invited to perform in Austria and Hungary, including the Liszt Academy of Music in Budapest and performing with the Salzburg Cathedral choir. Crabb has also been recognized for his teaching skills. He was the recipient of the Walker and Doris Allen Teaching Award (Truman State University), was Missouri’s Professor of the Year, and in April of 2012 received the William T. Kemper Award for Teaching Excellence from MU. His published research has appeared in the MENC research journal Update and Choral Journal. He has also published editions of choral music with several major publishers in the U. S. Crabb is also Artistic Director and conductor of the professional vocal chamber ensemble, Prometheus.
MU's University Singers have been recognized as one of the premiere university choirs in the United States. In November of 2009, they were invited to perform at the national convention of the National Collegiate Choral Organization at Yale University--one of nine choirs selected by audition from across the U. S. In May of 2010, they accepted an invitation to perform at some of the most prestigious venues in Milan, Bologna, Rome and Salerno, Italy. This tour was sponsored by several institutions in these cities, as well as the office of the U. S. Consulate General in Naples
In January 2011 they performed by invitation at the Missouri Music Educators Association (MMEA) state convention. In March of that same year, they traveled to Chicago following an acceptance of an invitation to perform at the national convention of the American Choral Directors Association before accepting an invitation to perform at the White House in Washington, D.C. This same ensemble was the featured choir for MU residencies of Peter Phillips (Tallis Scholars) and Joseph Flummerfelt in 2012. In January of 2013, they returned to Missouri Music Educators Association conference as one of three collegiate choirs featured for the special 75th Anniversary convention. In May 2014, they were invited to perform in Austria and Hungary, including the Liszt Academy of Music in Budapest and performing with the Salzburg Cathedral choir. In May 2016 they completed a performance tour in China where they were hosted by various universities.
I am beyond thankful to have the opportunity to be writing for my dear friend Patrick Graham and the University of Missouri's acclaimed New Music Ensemble. I've worked with Patrick many times before in opera scenes, Mizzou's University Singers, and in a full production of Le Nozze di Figaro, and every single time I've been blown away by his unmistakeable passion for music, his raw talent, and his stunningly beautiful voice. Knowing this, I went to him and asked if he would be interested in performing my work if I wrote him a piece for baritone and Pierrot ensemble. To my excitement, he eagerly agreed, expressing his great admiration for new music. I got right to work on searching for a text, but I couldn't find anything that quite fit the ideas already forming in my head. In the following days, I went to a local concert in Columbia, MO and heard an art song for soprano by one of my fantastic composer friends. I absolutely adored the piece, and the text was equally as enticing and gorgeous as the music. I looked at the program to see who wrote the text, and low and behold, it was a mutual friend of Patrick and mine, Lee K. Acton! I contacted Lee and told her about my project, and she generously agreed to write something brand new for my work. We've been in close contact ever since, shooting ideas back and forth about the exciting collaboration. I will have more news about this new composition soon, and I can't wait to begin writing!
Originally from Lee’s Summit, MO, baritone Patrick Graham is a senior at the University of Missouri pursuing a Bachelors of Music in Vocal Performance. He currently studies voice with Steven Tharp, having previously studied with Ann Harrell. Patrick’s operatic credits include Figaro in Mozart’s Le Nozze di Figaro and Marco in Puccini’s Gianni Schicchi, in addition to scene work encompassing operas by Copland, Mozart, Strauss, and Verdi. He is a 3-year member of Mizzou’s University Singers, under the direction of Dr. R. Paul Crabb, having travelled internationally with the group to Austria and Hungary in 2014, and to China in 2016. Patrick’s previous theatrical credits include, Aldolpho in The Drowsy Chaperone and Sweeney Todd in Sondheim’s Sweeney Todd. Patrick recently placed first in his division at the National Level of the National Association of Teachers of Singing (NATS) National Student Auditions, in addition to placing first in his division at the Central Region NATS competition in both 2015 and 2014.
The New Music Ensemble, under the direction of faculty composer and Alarm Will Sound member Stefan Freund, collaborates with MU’s faculty and student composers, performs frequently on and off campus, and works with some of the world’s leading composers and interpreters of new music. Seven Graduate Assistantships are available for New Music Ensemble members (flute, clarinet, violin, cello, percussion, piano, and one rolling position).
Over the last five years, the ensemble has performed regularly in St. Louis, in such venues as the Sheldon Concert Hall, Shoenberg Theatre at the Missouri Botanical Garden, Contemporary Art Museum, World Chess Hall of Fame, and the Jewel Box at Forest Park, collaborating with visual artists in the Sound of Art series. The Ensemble has been coached by prestigious guest composers and performers, visiting the campus as a result of the New Music Initiative, including Steven Stucky, Tod Machover, Matt Haimovitz, eighth blackbird, the Verdehr Trio, Nico Muhly, Andrew List, and others.
I was recently featured alongside my choral composition, Joy, on Composers Circle. Composers Circle is a website dedicated to discovering and promoting a new promising composer each day. Feel free to check out my feature by clicking the link above!
I have recently received a very exciting commission! The artistic director and conductor of Kansas City's Heartland Men's Chorus, Dustin Cates, has commissioned me to write a piece for their ensemble to be accompanied by the UMKC Conservatory's Graduate Fellowship Brass Quintet, the Volker Brass for their Winter concert in their 2016-2017 season. The full instrumentation of the piece will be TTBB w/ divisi, piano, and brass quintet. I'm looking forward to working with Mr. Cates and the two ensembles. It will be a very fruitful collaboration for everyone involved! Please take a moment to read about the Heartland Men's Chorus below or on their website.
Heartland Men’s Chorus provides excellence in performance while advancing men’s choral music, building community, and reaching out to diverse audiences. The members of HMC have joined together for the purpose of making music as a not-for-profit, volunteer chorus of gay and gay-sensitive people who are making a positive cultural contribution to the entire community. The Chorus regularly performs with more than 150 singers, and presents a three-concert season at the historic Folly Theater. During the 2014-2015 season, more than 6,500 audience members experienced the music and message of HMC. An even greater number of people hear the Chorus at community outreach events throughout the year. HMC performs a varied repertoire of music, including jazz, Broadway, popular and classical works. In recent years, the Chorus has become known for its musical documentary format which uses music, narration and multi-media to illustrate social issues. The Chorus has performed nationally and internationally, but places particular importance on performing in smaller communities throughout the Heartland where our voices most desperately need to be heard. Heartland Men’s Chorus is a proud member of GALA Choruses, the international association of the lesbian and gay choral movement. Founded in 1982, GALA Choruses represents 190 choruses, their 10,000 singers and 750,000 patrons in Australia, Europe, South America, and North America. Heartland Men’s Chorus is registered with the IRS as a tax-exempt, 501(c)(3) not-for-profit organization. Please consider making a donation to support our music and mission.
Volker Brass is the graduate brass quintet in residence at the UMKC Conservatory of Music and Dance. Founded in 2008, the ensemble is composed of graduate students in pursuit of a career in the performing arts. Volker Brass performs on recitals and masterclasses throughout the year while also preparing for competitions and tours. In addition, the ensemble has performed on masterclasses with Mirari Brass and the Center City Brass Quintet. Community involvement is very important to the members of the ensemble. Many times each year the group visits local high schools to perform and work with younger students. The ensemble also regularly performs at various functions and meetings on UMKC’s campus. Regular rehearsals and performances provide an opportunity for the ensemble to continue discovering new and exciting repertoire in brass quintet literature as well as developing ensemble skills necessary for a career as a professional musician. Members of Volker Brass have played with various symphony orchestras and brass quintets prior to joining the ensemble, and are always freelancing in the greater Kansas City area.
ABOUT THE COMPOSER
Hans Bridger Heruth is an award winning composer pursuing a degree in musical composition and vocal performance at the University of Missouri, Columbia. His works have been performed by various ensembles, both educational and professional. In addition to composing, Heruth is an accomplished pianist, violinist, singer, and conductor.