Duo Cortona to present poignant performance of voice, violin

Duo Cortona

Inspired by Italy as a birthplace of great art, music and love, husband and wife duo Rachel Calloway and Ari Streisfield embody these three virtues through their musical ensemble, Duo Cortona.

Calloway and Streisfield were both independently accomplished musicians sharing their lives together. But it was time spent in Cortona, Italy, that spurred them to join musical forces with their instrumentation of voice and violin.

“When we were teaching for the first time at the Cortona Sessions for New Music, we were really inspired to begin performing together,” Calloway said. “That festival, that time together immersed in music, was the inspiration for our ensemble.”

Duo Cortona will perform as a part of the Chautauqua Chamber Music Resident Artist Series at 4:15 p.m. Saturday in Elizabeth S. Lenna Hall. 

Calloway, a mezzo-soprano, is spending her first summer at Chautauqua as a faculty member of the Opera Conservatory. Calloway was previously a student of the program under Marlena Malas.

“To teach at a program that was so fundamental and integral to my own artistic development is really a 360-degree, full-circle moment for me,” Calloway said. “Marlena has been my voice teacher for over 20 years, and so much more than a voice teacher. … To be able to share that lineage … is a powerful and meaningful moment for me.”

Calloway and Streisfield’s collaboration through Duo Cortona has added “another dimension to our relationship” by “bring(ing) new music to life together,” Calloway said. She describes the professional partnership with her spouse as “really special” and “one of the greatest joys of our lives.”

Duo Cortona’s program for Saturday includes five works: Ralph Vaughan Williams’ “Selections from Along the Field,” Annika K. Socolofsky’s “It is what it is,” Ingrid Laubrock’s “Erica Hunt, poet (b. 1955): Selections from Koans,” Yu Kuwabara’s “Sonatina on the name of Bach (2021-22) and John Fitz Rogers’ “Asunder.”

“Selections from Along the Field” “will demonstrate some extended techniques which will be really interesting for the audience,” Calloway said. The multi-movement work by Williams will be interspersed “amongst the other new pieces that we’ve commissioned over the years.”

Duo Cortona often commissions new pieces to perform. Since the ensemble pairs “voice and violin, there is not a ton of repertoire for us,” Calloway said.

One of the commissioned works, sponsored by Jane Gross, Socolofsky’s “It is what it is.”

“Annika creates what she calls ‘feminist rager lullabies,’ ” Calloway said. “In other words, (she) takes the nursery rhyme tunes that we are used to from childhood and reflects on those words. As a queer composer, Annika has brought to light how so many of these little nursery rhymes have very constraining didactic and narrow-minded views of how a child should grow up in the world.”

Laubrock’s “Selections from Koans is a piece that features “a series of very, very short movements” that are like “little, teeny-weeny jewels (that are) very complex and diverse musically.” Calloway and Streisfield met Laubrock in Vermont, and Calloway considers her to be an “excellent composer and saxophonist.” 

Streisfield will also perform a solo piece by Kuwabara, a Japanese female composer. 

The final piece of the program, “Asunder,” is based on a collection of Sappho’s poetry and composed by a colleague of Calloway’s from the University of South Carolina School of Music. 

“I would say it’s a really diverse program in terms of how the violin and the voice are treated, the kinds of texts that are used, the timbres and so forth,” Calloway said.

She said she hopes by “sharing this new music with the Chautauqua community,” the audience will “think deeply about their own values and their own goals.” 

In particular, Calloway is delighted to share Duo Cortona’s repertoire with students of the Opera Conservatory. Returning to the program as an educator is “Incredibly powerful” for her, and she said she believes she would not be the person she is today without having those experiences.

“I hope our performance demonstrates what professional life and music can be some 20 years after my three summers at Chautauqua,” Calloway said. “Our performance will absolutely demonstrate excellence in the field of new music, … as well as a standard repertoire and standard singing and playing techniques.”


The author Alyssa Bump

Alyssa Bump is a life-long Western New Yorker, but this is her first season on the grounds of Chautauqua. She is eager to recap the Interfaith Lecture Series while broadening her perspective of the human experience. Alyssa is a senior at SUNY Fredonia, majoring in journalism and public relations with a minor in professional writing. As editor-in-chief of her college newspaper, The Leader, Alyssa focuses on becoming a compelling storyteller and an innovative leader.