Thank You

On behalf of the CSB team, thank you to everyone who has joined us over the course of the past four years. With the close of this season, we have decided to move in new directions and conclude Soundbox’s activities. We have had a great run!

Please do consider joining us for our two final events on May 12, 2019 and June 23, 2019. Both concerts are at 7 PM at the 21c Museum Hotel Cincinnati.

– Rachel & Ivan

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Interview with the Vocalists of Music for Three

The vocalists of Music for Three (mezzo-soprano Ellen Graham, soprano Jackie Stevens, and mezzo-soprano Lauren McAllister) sat down with us to discuss this week’s concert.

Join us on May 12 at 7 PM at the 21c Museum Hotel Cincinnati.


CSB: Could you tell us a bit about your past experiences singing together?

LM: I have been singing with these awesome performers for several years. We have worked together on a variety of concerts with many ensembles in Cincinnati. Jackie and Ellen are phenomenal musicians with gorgeous voices, and I am so glad to take part in this unique project with them!

JS: Lauren and I have done so many gigs together, I can’t count them. We love working together. One of my favorite experiences with Lauren was performing Pergolesi’s Stabat Mater with Cincinnati Chamber Opera. It’s a two woman show of baroque yumminess, and we’ve been talking about doing it again ever since!

Additionally, Ellen and I both sing at Knox Presbyterian, so we see each other twice on a weekly basis. Outside of church choir, we have done a few other choral gigs together, so I am excited to work with her in a closer capacity.

EG: Jackie and I sing together at Knox Presbyterian and Collegium Cincinnati, though our first time singing together was actually a gig singing Finnish folk music for trio women’s voices, so this is a format we are familiar with. Lauren and I met in the Cincinnati Opera Chorus, but sing together with a variety of groups. 

CSB: What past collaborations have you shared with the composers on this concert?

EG: This is my first time working with Cincinnati Soundbox and this group of composers. I am looking forward to future collaborations, though! 

LM: I have worked with Rachel since we were both students at CCM. I have premiered several of her works, including a piece for voice and percussion for last April’s Soundbox concert. I have performed choral works by Laura Harrison and Julia Seeholzer while at CCM. Stephen Variames and I work together often; I performed his set of songs for Mezzo and Baritone for the Lynx Project’s Autism Advocacy Project, and I have been fortunate to read through many of his other works for voice. We also have something exciting in the works for next year — stay tuned!

JS: Oh gosh, where do I begin? Ellen Harrison has been a wonderful mentor and friend to me over the past few years. I have sung and recorded many of her pieces for solo voice and obligato instruments and participated in a recording session of one of her choral pieces. I find her music hauntingly beautiful and love singing it!

Julia and I did our masters degrees together and I premiered a song cycle of hers on one of my doctoral recitals. I find her music edgy and powerful with moments of beautiful tenderness. I cannot wait to see what she contributes over the course of her compositional career.

I am excited to perform Laura’s piece! She and I have been trying to make our schedules line up for years, so it will be lovely to finally perform one of her works. I look forward to growing more familiar with her music.

Stephen Variames and I go back way back to 2015 when we were at CCM together. We have gigged together on many occasions, and he is a fantastic musician and collaborator. This is the first time I get to perform a composition of his!

I have performed a few of Rachel’s pieces before and have really enjoyed them! Her music tends to be very free in structure, which can lend itself to more artistic freedom for the performers, making every performance a unique one. I am excited and terrified to sing in Chinese!

CSB: How have you approached the new works written for this concert?

LM: I spend a lot of time with each text, then I focus on the interplay between voices (for example, which voice highlights an interesting harmonic structure or an important segment of text?).

EG: After Lauren and I sorted out who would sing which mezzo line in which pieces, I started by learning the texts for each work.

JS: New music requires a special kind if diligence. A lot of time has been spent at the piano getting to know the unique harmonic languages of each of these composers.  Also… Chinese and Polish… Need I say more?

CSB: Were there any specific challenges you faced while preparing these pieces?

LM: This concert has given me the opportunity to push myself linguistically. This will be my first experience singing in Polish, and I am still very new to singing in Chinese.

JS: Chinese and Polish are new to me! That has been challenging. 

EG: I have never sung in Polish before.  

CSB: What are other upcoming projects on your radar?

LM: I am grateful to have a busy few months ahead! I am excited to travel back and forth to Austin to sing with the choral ensemble Conspirare. I have a second Cincinnati Soundbox concert featuring voice, percussion, and bass, I am covering the role of Ännchen in Queen City Opera’s Der Freischütz,  and I have two upcoming recitals in the works to be announced soon. 

JS: I’ll be singing the soprano solos in A Child of Our Time with Walnut Hills High School along with Lauren.

EG: I am making my mainstage debut with Cincinnati Opera singing the role of Dryade in Ariadne auf Naxos. The spring has been busy, so I’m looking forward to a little break after that.

Movers & Makers Recommends Music for Three

“What better place to hear new music than in a temple to new art? The 21c Museum Hotel, where art is the centerpiece, has partnered with Soundbox to present intimate opportunities to experience new works. Outstanding local vocalists Ellen Graham, Jackie Stevens, and Lauren McAllister will share premieres of five duos and trios by composers with ties to Cincinnati: Ellen Ruth Harrison (to poems by Norman Finkelstein), Stephen Variames, Laura Harrison, Julia Seeholzer and Rachel C. Walker.”

– Movers & Makers, What to Do/Hear/See … April 24-30

Interview with Composer Stephen Variames

Stephen Variames is a composer, pianist, and vocal coach based in Cincinnati. He has written two new works for this week’s Music for Three which draw upon the poetry of mezzo-soprano Shannon Keegan: Their Words and A Question. Join us for the premieres at 7 PM on Sunday, 28 April at the 21c Museum Hotel Cincinnati, featuring vocalists Jackie Stevens, Lauren McAllister, and Ellen Graham.


CSB: What is your background as a composer?

SV: My undergraduate degree was in composition, focusing mainly on vocal music. I have done two musicals, a number of song cycles, and an opera.

CSB: How would you describe the musical landscape in Cincinnati?

SV: The musical landscape in Cincinnati is incredibly diverse. At one end, you can find classical performances that would rival any other city; at the other, chorus and bands are everywhere. 

CSB: You have collaborated with some of the singers in the trio previously. How did those collaborations inform the new work you composed for this event?

SV: Since I’ve worked with all three singers, it was much easier to know their vocal style and the strongest points of their ranges.

CSB: What was the compositional process for this piece like?

SV: The process for this piece was rather fun. Since it is for female voices, I wanted the text to be female-driven. I remembered seeing poetry by Shannon Keegan before, and since I play for her – she is also a singer, I thought this would be the perfect freshman collaboration. Creating a sound world for these words was my main focus.

CSB: What upcoming projects are on your radar?

SV: Upcoming projects include: Leaving Vaughan Behind, a one act opera; a song cycle in Spanish in July; and a song cycle for Lauren McAllister in December!

Poet Ruan Xuefang Discusses the Creation of “Song of Darkness”

Rachel C. Walker’s ashen windows will be premiered by vocalists Lauren McAllister and Jackie Stevens on April 28 as part of CSB’s Music for Three. Guandong poet Ruan Xuefang 阮雪芳 joins us for a guest blog post about the text for the work, her poem Song of Darkness 黑暗之歌.


阮雪芳, 《黑暗之歌》

孤立的夜晚
窗子灰了
肉体也熄灭
静静地躺着,海水,蝴蝶之心
我并不比身边的事物
更动荡 


微风
— 吹来成吨的黑暗

漆黑中
我是安静,无限沉沦的发光体
如此坚定,没有声音

Ruan Xuefang, Song of Darkness

Isolated night
ashen windows
Flesh, also extinguished
Lying still, seawater, heart of butterflies…
I am not more turbulent than the things around me

A light wind
— blows into one ton of darkness

In the dark
I am quiet, a luminous body sinking boundlessly
Resolute, without sound


Darkness is a kind of spirit. At some point, it opens the way to the universe as well as to self-knowledge.

At the time when this poem was written, I was facing a dilemma in life. The poem’s ashen windows / Flesh, also extinguished hints at the reality of my state then; similarly, seawater, heart of butterflies projects my sense of inner unease from another angle. This impulse to break through a predicament comes from the intrinsic strength present in all life. It is precisely because of this turbulence in the midst of silence, this tension which is formed against the darkness, that causes life to shine out like a celestial body.

For us, darkness is something which everyone must face. On another level, darkness breaks the natural perspective we hold of ourselves. It appears to be quiet and indifferent. In truth, it carries a multitude of richness: the faint, the flowing, the living inner. There flows out another kind of light; regardless of the spiritual quantity or field, or whether it is the beginning or final conclusion of life, the eternal elements have been prepared. My poetry tries to explore the subject from this angle: Human beings are absolutely isolated. So then, how to carry out the completion of life, and how to initiate the self-lighting of one’s own spirit?

Ruan Xuefang, April 2019.
Translations, Rachel C. Walker.

Composer Ellen Harrison on “Lost Time”

Composer Ellen Ruth Harrison‘s latest work, Lost Time, will be premiered by Jackie Stevens, Lauren McAllister, and Ellen Graham on our upcoming Soundbox concert Music for Three. Ellen shared some of the inspiration behind her work in a guest blog post, below. The premiere will take place at 7 PM on April 28 at the 21c Museum Hotel Cincinnati (Ballroom).


The poet Norman Finkelstein once told me that he is a Romantic modernist. I believe this holds true for me as well, which may explain why I find his poetry so inspiring. When I read his work, I feel transported onto another plane or into another world. And in this other world I find the inspiration for my music. The rhythm of his poems, their haunting imagery, and their sense of mystery and magic spark my imagination; and musical ideas flow forth from me in response.

Lost Time sets segments from Finkelstein’s poem Track, a spellbinding work of great depth, wisdom, and imagination that explores the darkness surrounding us. I am fascinated by its evocative images and musical sensibility and have tried to reflect the magical, mysterious and melancholy quality of his poem in my work. The piece opens with:

“Among the paper trees
a figure glides and stops
Shimmers in a light
that is a sort of music
Turns toward
or away from home.”

Need I say more?  The mystery is captivating.

– Ellen Ruth Harrison, March 2019.

Music for Three

Join CSB for our next event on April 28: Music for Three.

Vocalists Ellen Graham, Jackie Stevens, and Lauren McAllister will give the premiere of five duos and trios by composers with ties to Cincinnati: Ellen Ruth Harrison, Stephen Variames, Laura Harrison, Julia Seeholzer, and Rachel C. Walker.

Interview with Composer Andy Villemez

Dr. Andy Villemez is a composer, educator, and performer based in Cincinnati, OH where he teaches piano and piano pedagogy at the University of Cincinnati College-Conservatory of Music (CCM). As a composer and arranger, his works have been praised for having their variety in style, affect, and level. His piece, CH, CO, US will be performed on our upcoming Solo Soundbox by pianist Kara Huber.


CSB: Could you tell us a little about your musical activities?

AV: For my day job, I serve as Assistant Professor of Piano and Piano Pedagogy at CCM where I get to coach amazing pianists on how to be effective and memorable teachers. While “CH, CO, US” is an exception, most of my other composing is primarily for educational purposes. I love being able to write pieces that have lasting value and contribute to a musician’s growth. I’m currently working on writing a keyboard musicianship textbook that has quite a lot of original pieces, arrangements, and sequenced instruction. On the concert side, I also have a commission to write a fantasy for solo piano based on themes from West Side Story set to be premiered in the Spring of 2020.

CSB: When did you first start collaborating with Kara? How have your collaborations evolved over time?

AV: I’ve known Kara for almost ten years since we started our masters program at the same time. Our first collaboration resulted in an arrangement of The Sound of Music for solo piano, as well as a few preludes from a larger collection called Book of Odes. As I look back on all the collaborations, I think both of us have gotten a lot better at showcasing the strengths of the other. Kara has a good idea of what my thought process usually is and what aspects of the music I give priority to.

CSB: Describe the work being premiered on this concert. What was the compositional process for it like?

AV: As I would describe it, “CH, CO, US” is a three-part character piece that tells a simple story about feelings of safety and home while also evoking imagery of the sharp, younger peaks of the mountains in southwest Colorado. One of the guiding points I had while writing this was that in moments where we feel lost, we realize later in life there was a purpose to the journey. In the compositional process, I had to find something that sounded “lost” without also losing the audience. I also spent quite a bit time crafting the “mountain peak” harmonies that dominate the middle section.

CSB: How do you feel your background as a pianist influences your compositional thinking for the instrument?

AV: Although it’s not always possible, I try to foster musical ideas away from the piano as much as possible. My technique usually plays a hidden but significant role in the development of a piece. Often times that can be freeing, and other times it is restricting. No composer wants to be limited by their physical capabilities on an instrument. The balance of time I spend on or off the piano is still something I’m working on. However, my background in piano helped me conceptualize a lot of the sonorities before they were on paper. I had a good idea what was possible and what was risky.

CSB: What upcoming projects are on your radar?

AV:
I’ll be spending the summer writing and composing for a textbook I’m developing, and I have one other commission set to be premiered next spring.

CSB: How has your collaboration with Kara developed over the years?

AV: I’ve known Kara for almost ten years since we started our masters program at the same time. Our first collaboration resulted in an arrangement of The Sound of Music for solo piano, as well as a few preludes from a larger collection called Book of Odes. As I look back on all the collaborations, I think both of us have gotten a lot better at showcasing the strengths of the other. Kara has a good idea of what my thought process usually is and what aspects of the music I give priority to.

CSB: Describe the work being premiered on this concert. What was the compositional process for it like?

AV: As I would describe it, “CH, CO, US” is a three-part character piece that tells a simple story about feelings of safety and home while also evoking imagery of the sharp, younger peaks of the mountains in southwest Colorado. One of the guiding points I had while writing this was that in moments where we feel lost, we realize later in life there was a purpose to the journey. In the compositional process, I had to find something that sounded “lost” without also losing the audience. I also spent quite a bit time crafting the “mountain peak” harmonies that dominate the middle section.

CSB: How do you feel your background as a pianist influences your compositional thinking for the instrument?

AV: Although it’s not always possible, I try to foster musical ideas away from the piano as much as possible. My technique usually plays a hidden but significant role in the development of a piece. Often times that can be freeing, and other times it is restricting. No composer wants to be limited by their physical capabilities on an instrument. The balance of time I spend on or off the piano is still something I’m working on. However, my background in piano helped me conceptualize a lot of the sonorities before they were on paper. I had a good idea what was possible and what was risky.

CSB: What upcoming projects are on your radar?

AV:
I’ll be spending the summer writing and composing for a textbook I’m developing, and I have one other commission set to be premiered next spring.