School of Music celebrates centennial
The Carnegie Mellon School of Music has a lot to be proud of. Founded in 1912, the school celebrates its 100th birthday this year. The list of Carnegie Mellon alumni who have gone on to hold high-caliber positions in leading orchestras and opera houses is extensive, and with the continuation of the school’s rigorous training, the success stories show no sign of stopping.
To celebrate the School of Music’s centennial, special concerts and events are taking place. One such concert was a collaboration between the Carnegie Mellon Philharmonic Orchestra and Choirs, which took place Downtown last Saturday at the Benedum Center. The performance featured School of Music alumni, current students, and guest artists.
A Brief History
The School of Music, which expanded from the Department of Music in 1997, has always placed an emphasis on excellence. Maintaining this view, the program’s focus has varied over the years as leadership positions have changed hands within the school. The first brick of the College of Fine Arts building was laid on April 25, 1912. The building now stands complete with magnificent pillars, elaborate ceiling frescoes, and marble floors, and it serves as the hub for Carnegie Mellon’s music and art departments.
The Carnegie Mellon music department was originally created to train future Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra (PSO) members. Although PSO operations were suspended between 1910 and 1926, the two organizations had a close relationship from the beginning, with former and future PSO musicians frequently hired as faculty.
Both World War I and World War II drew attention away from the music department. In its early years, the school focused heavily on music education, producing many music teachers for public schools in the Pittsburgh area.
Later, with the arrival of renowned artists like composer Leonardo Balada and choral conductor Robert Page, the school took a turn for the more performance-oriented. In the ’80s and ’90s, additions to the faculty included Grammy-nominated violinist Andrés Cárdenes and New York Philharmonic principal flautist Jeanne Baxtresser. These additions further advanced the school’s standards and introduced a conservatory culture.
Within this time, a Baroque Ensemble and a Contemporary Ensemble formed. New programs were introduced, including a music and technology degree, a composers’ forum, a musical theatre program, and a major in bagpiping — all of which broadened and deepened the impact of the School of Music.
In an effort to discover details about the early years of the century-old music department, assistant professor of musicology Robert Fallon researched the Carnegie Mellon archives. Fallon found that standards of performance were likely quite high in the institution’s early days. Programs show that repertoire included Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky's Violin Concerto and Johannes Brahms’ Clarinet Sonatas, challenging works that require advanced proficiency on an instrument.
Associate head of the School of Music Natalie Ozeas has been involved with the Carnegie Mellon music department since 1955, when she enrolled as a student. Ozeas has earned numerous degrees and certifications at Carnegie Mellon and has been on faculty for 24 years. In her time at the university, Ozeas has witnessed substantial change. “It has been a delight to see the School of Music grow in size and quality,” she said. “Most recently, the school is expanding to provide opportunities for the development of skills necessary for musicians in the twenty-first century.”
As the career field for music performance suffers with the downturn of the economy, the school has recognized the need for its students to learn entrepreneurial skills and to develop a practical career goal within the music industry. There is no doubt that the institution will move in a positive direction while maintaining its historical reputation for excellence.
Centennial Celebration Concert
The celebratory concert on Saturday was an exciting success. Created with the diverse and global perspective of Carnegie Mellon in mind, the program demonstrated the impressive skills of musicians associated with Carnegie Mellon.
The Carnegie Mellon Philharmonic Orchestra, Repertory Chorus, and Concert Choir joined forces, comprising 200 current students in its entirety.
Concertmistress Sonia Shklarov led the orchestra unwaveringly throughout. Manu Narayan, an alumnus screen actor and vocalist seen in the movie The Last Airbender, was Master of Ceremonies.
The show opened with the Philharmonic’s rendition of British composer Bernard Rands’ Danza petrificada. In this mysterious piece, delicate woodwind and brass solos interwove through strong string melodies.
Next on the program was the jaw-dropping first movement of Henryk Wieniawki’s Violin Concerto No. 1 in F-sharp Minor, Op. 14. Here, senior violin major Emma Steele, a recent Sibelius International Violin Competition finalist, took center stage. Her technical proficiency was showcased as she executed the work’s double stops, glissandi, and arpeggios with seeming ease.
The third piece on the program featured two male vocalists who graduated from Carnegie Mellon’s music department in 2003. Jeffrey Behrens and Liam Bonner gave a dramatic rendition of La donna è un animale, a selection from Gaetano Donizetti’s opera L’elisir d’amore. Wind and brass players were well-mannered with their intermittent musical statements, allowing the bold vocal soloists to shine.
Robert Schumann’s Konzertstück concluded the first half. Alumnus Dale Clevenger, horn player in the Chicago Symphony Orchestra for the last 45 years and three-time Grammy award winner, conducted the piece. The work featured four amazing french horn soloists. William Caballero, principal horn in the PSO and artist lecturer at Carnegie Mellon, led on first part with a warm and confident sound. Principal horn of the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra Brice Andrus, alumnus Howard Wall of the New York Philharmonic, and alumnus Peter Rubins of the San Antonio Opera filled the other three spots. These four brass voices blended with impeccable intonation and accuracy, making the fiery piece a success.
Deborah McDowell, a first-year master’s student in horn performance, also performed as a member of the accompanying orchestra for the piece. “[This piece] is really one of the most difficult compositions written for horn,” she said. “To hear it played so well is really inspiring.”
Throughout the concert, music directors Ronald Zollman and Page, former choral conductor, took turns directing the ensemble. After the intermission, Page took to the podium. A legend himself, Page worked with the Cleveland Orchestra from 1971 to 1989 and has worked with the PSO and Carnegie Mellon choirs ever since. The second half of the performance featured four popular songs with vocal soloists.
Agustín Lara’s “Granada,” a love song featuring alumna Lisa Vroman, opened with a sensual Latin trumpet solo by senior trumpet major Dan Blumenfeld. Blumenfeld’s spicy melodic lines set the stage for what was to come: Vroman danced along with the piece, ending with a flamenco kick and an impassioned kiss for Page.
The Carnegie Mellon Choirs joined in on George Gershwin’s classic “Our Love Is Here to Stay.” The piece was arranged by Page and orchestrated by David Gedris, who graduated from Carnegie Mellon in 1996 with a degree in trumpet performance.
Later in the evening, a haunting ballad from the Broadway hit Ragtime, “Back to Before,” featured soprano alumna Christiane Noll. Noll is known as one of the most versatile stage performers of her generation. She sang the part with experience and conviction.
Zollman reclaimed the podium for the final work. In collaboration between the orchestra and choirs, students rounded out the night with Alexander Borodin’s folkloric “Polovetsian Dances” from the opera Prince Igor. A virtuoso solo was executed by Kelly Coyle, a master’s student in clarinet performance. Here, the idiosyncrasies that arise when coordinating instrumentalists with vocalists were handled nicely.
The Centennial Celebration Concert was a highly successful event, featuring an impressive array of alumni and student performers.