Voice, instrumental students collaborate, foster ensemble frame of mind

Leah Rankin | Staff Writer

The Wednesday-night voice concert series continues at 7:30 p.m. tonight in Fletcher Music Hall with a recital that is all about chamber music.

This will be the first opportunity for students in the Voice Program, who up until now have performed in these recitals with only piano accompaniment, to enter the ensemble frame of mind. The singers will perform with various chamber groups from the School of Music.

“Sometimes it’s important for singers to have a slice of that humble pie,” soprano Rachel Sterrenberg said. “It’s not about us all the time.”

Sterrenberg, a senior at the University of Kentucky who played La Ciesca in Monday’s performance of Gianni Schicchi, will be singing “Three Poems in French,” a contemporary work by Earl Kim. She said that because the piece is so modern, her pitch rarely matches up with that of the string quartet. However, she said, decisions about everything, from phrasing to vocal color, are easier to make when the quartet is around.

“It’s about finding that emotional connection, whether it’s 20th-century contemporary music or super-classical Beethoven,” Sterrenberg said.

She added that opera is a much easier way to communicate a story than a recital. In an opera, singers can put on a costume and become someone else while they perform. In a recital, there is no mask, and the singer is much more vulnerable. That is one reason Sterrenberg said she is so happy to work with a string quartet in today’s concert.

But the benefits go both ways. Timothy Feil, who plays oboe and English horn, said working with singers requires a different kind of instrumental support than playing with string players, for example.

“Singers create their sound differently,” Feil said, “so I try to make my playing as vocal as possible.”

Feil will perform “Pastorale” by Igor Stravinsky and collaborate with baritone Brian Vu for Le Bal Masqué by the French composer Francis Poulenc.

This also is Vu’s first experience performing vocal chamber music, especially a piece that seems to have no clear structural or emotional architecture.

“This is the first time I’ve had to be so versatile in one work,” Vu said. “(The music) is all over the place, so you have to be all over the place with your character. Luckily, I’m around native French speakers, and they’re explaining idioms to me that I got wrong on Google Translate.”

Vu now is a senior majoring in voice performance and education at the University of California, Los Angeles, and he said he never has been around so many performing arts students in one place. But he is using that to his advantage and taking every opportunity to learn as much music in as many different musical settings as possible.

Tonight’s performers will provide some versatility that will give both singers and instrumentalists the experience of working together to co-produce a versatile program of chamber music.

Donations benefit the Chautauqua Women’s Club Scholarship Fund.