MSFO Students to Join Young Artists in Sonic Opera Invasion of ‘In C’

  • Members of the Chautauqua Opera Company join in the finale of Opera Invasion on Thursday, August 2, 2018. ABIGAIL DOLLINS/STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER

Musicians, whether instrumentalists or singers, collaborate constantly. Instrumentalists accompany singers in an array of different performances such as opera, musical theater or recitals.

For Music School Festival Orchestra clarinetist Dustin Chung, playing with singers is not an outlandish concept, but in the case of Chautauqua Opera Company’s latest performance, it’s a bit different. He said instead of just following the music, they have to follow the singer to adequately accompany them.

“Singers use a very human rhythm — it’s not precise,” Chung said. “You have to throw everything away that is metronomic and really kind of embody what it is they want to do. It’s not just reading what’s on the page.”

At 7:30 p.m. tonight on Odland Plaza, four Young Artists, 10 students from the MSFO and pianist Rick Hoffenberg will explore a more improvisational form of collaboration. They will gather to perform Terry Riley’s “In C” as an Opera Invasion.

The piece is a construction of 53 measures that contain rhythms and pitches, but each measure can be repeated. The measures are separated, written as if each phrase is a complete song.

Instead of having a time signature, the percussionist will keep the beat. The conductor will cue the first musician, who will play the first measure as much as they desire. From there, the next instrument will be cued in and start from the beginning. As the piece moves forward, the conductor will continue adding instruments.

Steven Osgood, general and artistic director of Chautauqua Opera Company, said “In C” has a general structure but it varies from each performance.   

“That’s how any performance of ‘In C’ follows from beginning to end,” Osgood said. “It can take 30 minutes as a relatively fast performance of ‘In C’ — it would generally take 45 minutes, or as long as 90 minutes.”

“In C” requires the musicians to lead the song and decide when it is finished. In this performance, the musicians must finish the piece in 30 minutes. Osgood will hold cards to keep the instrumentalists and singers on track to end before the 8:15 p.m. Amphitheater performance of “Made in Charlotte” by the Charlotte Ballet.
Baritone Yazid Gray performs for Chautauquans in Odland Plaza during Chautauqua Opera Company’s first Opera Invasion of the 2019 season Sunday, June 23, 2019. DAVE MUNCH/PHOTO EDITOR

“When I flip over to number five, it doesn’t mean that everyone goes to five,” Osgood said. “It just means that everyone should be within three behind or three ahead.”

Instrumentalists will be arranged in a circle, with the percussionist in the middle. The Young Artists, which are mezzo-soprano Quinn Middleman, tenor Jordan Loyd, bass-baritone Michael Colman and soprano Cristina María Castro, will be moving around and through the circle.

“What we hope to encourage from our audience is — everyone picked up on it right away last year — the idea of depending on where you stand, you experience this piece differently,” Osgood said. “So, feel free to stand in multiple places.”

With singers involved, selections usually must have words for them to sing. But in this piece, there is no text, requiring the singers to choose vowels or individual syllables in order to perform the song’s pitches.

“It’s what’s called a vocalise,” Hoffenberg said. “A vocalise is a sung line without text, so they can choose different vowels or different consonants if they want.”

Hoffenberg said text develops the music for singers, so this performance is an opportunity for them to have a different experience.

“It is different to do something where the voice is essentially an instrument,” Hoffenberg said. “Because instruments are not uttering text — they are just playing pitches.”

Osgood said it’s a showcase of how singers can use their voices as instruments.   

“The fact that singers can and will embrace this kind of musical style is an important message,” Osgood said. “It’s also important to show the voice being used as an instrumental texture as opposed to a character and narrative tool — and it’s just fun.”
Tags : Chautauqua School of Musicmusicopera

The author Tina Giuliano

Tina Giuliano is a rising junior at the Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication in Phoenix, where she studies broadcast journalism and Spanish. She serves as the multimedia managing editor at her school’s paper, The State Press. She is excited to begin covering opera for the Daily. When she’s not diving into her journalism career, she’s probably rewatching “The Office,” at a soccer game or figuring out which flavor of ice cream to eat.