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LIFESTYLES | PERFECTPITCH

FROM CORNELL TO CHORAL ARTS J BY PAT R I C K D. M C C OY

oining the rich fabric of the Washington choral music scene, conductor Scott Tucker, 55, talks about leaving his academic post with Cornell after 17 years to take the baton at Choral Arts Society of Washington and the road ahead in this new season of music making. WASHINGTON LIFE: Tell us how you learned about the music director position with Choral Arts and why you made the decision to relocate. SCOTTTUCKER I am acutely aware that any artist can become complacent. I thought after 17 years that it was possible that I might become a little too self-satisfied and maybe lose my edge if I just coasted there to the end of my career. Leaving was a very difficult decision, but I am convinced it was the right one. Additionally, I have a love interest in Washington. It was not at all clear that she would remain were I to move here because she has a music career of her own. But so far things have worked out, so I feel especially lucky. I have known of Choral Arts since I was a teenager, and first discovered “Mass” by Bernstein. Norman Scribner’s name was seared into my mind because he prepared the chorus for the premiere of that work at the Kennedy Center. An alumnus from the Cornell Glee Club joined Choral Arts after his graduation in 2000, and he introduced me to the Maestro and kept me abreast of the goings on here through the years. WL: The rapport between you and former music director Norman Scribner seems quite remarkable. Could you discuss the role of Executive Director Debra Kraft in that transition? ST Debra is an incredibly gifted strategic thinker. Choral Arts is very lucky to have her. She has wonderful instincts and is able to take in the big picture as well as the finest details. This is a rare gift, and she put it to use in the transition. She didn’t do it alone, of course. The board worked extremely hard to identify the organization’s needs and to

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chart a plan for the transition. It helped a lot that Norman Scribner is a gentleman with the grace and foresight to put the organization first and to offer himself as a resource while at the same time completely removing his ego from the equation. I have enormous respect for him. His influence on choral music in this city is immeasurable and yet he is truly modest, not falsely so.

Scott Tucker (Photos by Stephen Elliott)

WL: What elements of the collegiate teaching experience will you bring to this new setting? ST Teaching a college choir is not so different from preparing adults. The key is to share your vision of the music and have the singers internalize it in such a way that all of us work together toward the same goal. I was never a didactic teacher. I have always been lucky enough to work with smart, musical people. My job is just to harness that collective musicality and to focus it. WL: At Cornell, you worked with the Glee Club. Any plans to explore that kind of ensemble singing with the men of Choral Arts? STI also conducted the Women’s Chorus at Cornell. I am equally interested in treble and repertoire for divided men’s voices. Yes, I am sure there will be programs that involve all kinds of combinations of voices and timbres in our future. WL: Though you already conducted one of the Christmas Concerts and also the Martin Luther King Tribute, April 2013 will mark your “official

concert.” Tell us about the music and theme for this. STThe thing that inspired the April concert was actually going to see National Presbyterian Church: walking inside, hearing the organ being played and just the expansive nature of the space. It is a very inspiring building. I used to be a brass player long ago. The sound of brass and organ in a space like that is compelling. That was my thought really behind programming these works. The program itself is designed to move from a very dark place to a light place, beginning with Hindemith’s “Apparebit repentina dies.” The chorus has an incredible entrance after a long brass introduction, representing how the “judge” will appear on the last day. So, it starts with a sense of terror. The Brahms pieces take that theme of judgment and explores the idea of why light is given to mankind, but then turns to very comforting text as he explores that theme. The second half of the program features Benjamin Britten’s “Rejoice in the Lamb,” a whimsical, yet sincere expression of what our relationship is to God. Ending the program is the music of Gabrieli, who wrote antiphonal music for the large space of Saint Mark’s Cathedral in Venice.

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So, it is the kind of music that is expansive and uses inspiring space in a way that is sonic and in surround sound.. WL: During Scribner’s tenure he created the annual tradition of the M.L.K. Choral Tribute. Have you thought about a signature event or project to repeat annually? STThe M.L.K. tribute grew organically out of Norman’s great need to do something when the city erupted after King’s assassination. I would hope any annual project that would grow out of my tenure would be equally the result of my interests intersecting with the city’s needs. WL: What are some things you are looking forward to about living in the nation’s capital? STI am a sap when it comes to being in the nation’s capital. I drive by the Kennedy Center in the evening, with the Lincoln and Washington

monuments in view, and my heart literally skips a beat. I suppose that would make many people roll their eyes, but I am afraid I can’t help myself. I am also feasting on the art and architecture, and especially the embassy life here, with the rich offerings of cultural events. WL: When did you know that you would pursue a professional career in choral music? STI was drawn to music very early and originally hoped to be a professional trumpet player. I got interested in choral music via doing musical theater. I was involved quite a bit in community theater in college, and right after, I formed a chorus out of a cast of “Hello, Dolly!” I just sent around a questionnaire, asking who would like to give a choral concert after the show was over. Almost everyone signed up, but of course, I had no music and no real knowledge of repertoire. I called my old high school teacher who was very gracious and lent me some music from her library. Once I started to learn the choral repertoire, I was hooked. I realized that I could study choral music for the rest of my life and never even scratch the surface. This sense of an endless pursuit really appealed to me. WL: Who were some of your musical role models? STMy first trumpet teacher in Boston, Richard Given. He never stopped pushing himself, and that made an impression on me. My older sister Nancy has always been a huge source of inspiration to me. She is a very fine, self-taught guitarist and has a sense of creativity and artistic integrity

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that is rare. My mother is a great lover of music, as was her father, and I have very early memories of her playing the piano and singing. Playing the trumpet in Ben Zander’s youth orchestra taught me to look deeply into the score to understand why a composer makes the choices he or she makes. Later, Jim Marvin at Harvard University served as an incredible mentor to me when I was his assistant conductor. The most important lessons I learned about preparing a choir were from him. WL: What are your interests outside of music? STI am kind of a nerd. I love chess and used to play constantly when I was a little boy. I have also always loved reading things like Hawking’s “Brief History of Time,” books that shake my complacency and renew a sense of wonder. Astronomy, the ocean, and studies about the brain have always done that for me — large frontiers, I suppose. I love professional sports, and still follow my beloved Boston teams with interest. Recently I have gotten a lot of satisfaction from dancing Tango (though I don’t feel very successful at it yet) and indoor climbing. I have a membership at Earthtreks in Rockville and find it a great way to stay in shape and problem-solve. WL: Tell us something exciting that most people may not know about you. STI don’t know how exciting this is, but when I was 14 I played in an ensemble called America’s Youth in Concert. We performed in Europe, but before we left we did a concert at Carnegie Hall and the Kennedy Center. I imagine that the audience was made up of family members and friends of the performing forces all roped into buying tickets for an effort they were funding anyway. I have mixed feelings about those sorts of things now, but as a young musician it made a strong impression on me to perform in those amazing halls. Now when I walk out on the Kennedy Center stage to conduct, I have a sense that a circle has been closed. WL: After a successful concert, are you more likely to grab a beer or a glass of wine? STScotch.

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LIFESTYLES | PERFECTPITCH

Trading

Spaces PERFORMINGARTSBEYONDTHECONCERTHALL

JAZZATNATIONALGALLERYOFARTSCULPTUREGARDEN There’s no better way to enjoy spring’s fragrant beauty than with an evening of outdoor jazz. A perennial favorite, the National Gallery of Art Sculpture Garden opens in May for local and regional jazz artists, creating an ideal setting in which to relax and enjoy music that rivals anything you’ll hear at an upscale supper club. Don’t forget blankets and picnic baskets. 7th St. and Constitution Ave.,Washington, D.C. 20565, 202-289-3360, www.pavilioncafe.com

Bill Evans

BLOOMBARS Founded in 2008 by John Chambers, this happening Columbia Heights venue boasts a variety of arts events, including poetry readings, dance and film. Of particular note is The Garden, which hosts diverse performances on open mic nights. BloomBars is also a nonprofit dedicated to the arts, offering enrichment classes and partnerships with schools and other organizations. 3222 11th St. NW, Washington, D.C. 20010, 202-567-7713, bloombars.com

THEOVERTURESMUSICSERIESATEVERMAY Majestically overlooking Georgetown, this historic estate has recently become the site of the Overtures Concert Series, sponsored by the S&R Foundation.WL Performing Arts has been a guest at several concerts in this opulent setting, most recently jazz with Cyrus Chestnut. Launched by foundation founders Sachiko Kuno and Ryuji Ueno, the upcoming lineup presents a variety of salon-style concerts that feature established artists as well as performers on the cusp of great careers in an elegant music room that’s often transformed or enhanced to suit the musical genre. S&R Foundation, 1623 28th St. NW,Washington, D.C. 20007, 202-298-6007, www.sandr.org

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B I L L E VA N S P H OTO C O U RT E SY DAV E W E I S S M A N . N AT I O N A L G A L L E R Y O F A RT FAÇ A D E F I L E . N AT I O N A L G A L L E R Y O F A RT S C U L P T U R E GARDEN FOUNTAIN AGNOSTICPREACHERSKID AT EN.WIKIPEDIA VIA WIKIMEDIA COMMONS. TAMAKI KAWA KUBO BY BEN POWELL PHOTOGRAP H Y. S O I C H I M U R A J I P H OTO C O U R T E S Y S & R F O U N D AT I O N . B L O O M B A R S C O U R T E S Y P H OTO. M A K E P E AC E B R OT H E R S P H OTO B Y L I LY G I R M A .

ith world-class organizations like Arena Stage, the Kennedy Center, Music Center at Strathmore and Shakespeare Theatre — just to name a few — Washington offers some of the best halls to take in a musical celebration. That said, venues outside the traditional realm are offering opportunities to experience the performing arts in different ways. Numerous area cafés, hotels and even boutiques are incorporating live performances into the fabric of their establishments, whether you’re looking for classical music or jazz standards. A recent Friday evening at The Hamilton brought out crowds for Bill Evans’ Soulgrass, with opening act People’s Blues of Richmond. The contemporary backdrop and relaxed atmosphere proved a welcome contrast to the traditional concert hall setting, allowing Evans’ intimate saxophone riffs to connect more personally with the audience. Here, a few more trendy spots to round out any traditional roster of concert hall appointments.

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National Gallery of Art


Looking Back: Springing Forward FAVORITEPERFORMANCESPASTANDFUTURE he past year was an exciting time for performing arts in the Washington, D.C. metro area. We began this column with exclusive interviews with star soprano Renée Fleming and Maestro Norman Scribner, who retired from the Choral Arts Society after a storied 47-year tenure as music director. Memorable performances included violinist Joshua Bell’s thrilling concert at the Music Center at Strathmore, the season opening performance by the Washington Bach Consort at National Presbyterian Church and “One Night With Janis Joplin” at Arena Stage. At The Folger Theatre, we chatted with famed Italian sculptor Ulderico Pinfildi about his rendering of the presepio, an iconic recreation of the nativity. A surprise wedding was thrown into the mix when we got the inside scoop on Washington Chorus conductor Julian Wachner’s marriage to the former Emily Bloemker, who is perhaps best known for her appearance on TLC’s “What Not To Wear.” And who could forget Washington Performing Arts Society’s lavish brunch at the Hay-Adams for opera legend Jessye Norman on the eve of President Barack Obama’s second inauguration. We were also on the scene for the National Symphony Orchestra’s recent community outreach project, which culminated with a free public performance at Howard University. There’s so much more to look forward to with Arena Stage’s National Civil War Project, celebrating the 150th anniversary of that historic conflagration; the 2013-14 Kennedy Center season featuring the series “American Voices” curated by Renée Fleming; and the National Symphony Orchestra Opening Ball marking the debut of the young concert organ virtuoso Cameron Carpenter.

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Editor’s Picks — Not to Be Missed April 6, 8 p.m.

April 28, 2 p.m.

J E S SY E N O R M A N A N D AU D RA M C D O N AL D P H OTO BY C H RI S M . B U R C H . K E I KO M ATS U I CO U RT E SY P H OTO. M I C H A E L F E I N ST E I N S AY R E B E R M A N /CO R B I S / A P I M AG E S . K AT H L E E N B AT T L E A P P H OTO/ E D R E I N K E .

S&R FOUNDATION SPRING GALA CELEBRATION WITH KEIKO MATSUI Bethesda Blues and Supper Club The foundation’s second annual gala features jazz pianist Keiko Matsui, who has enjoyed international acclaim for her unique musical style for decades. Proceeds from the evening help support the foundation’s programs and emerging artists. 7719 Wisconsin Ave. Bethesda, MD 20814; 240-330-4500; www. bethesdabluesjazz.com; $80.

WASHINGTON PERFORMING ARTS SOCIETY PRESENTS MATTHEW GRILLSINRECITAL The Kennedy Center The 2012 winner of the Metropolitan Opera National Council Auditions joins the ranks of past winners Renée Fleming, Frederica von Stade, Kathleen Battle, Jessye Norman and Washingtonian Denyce Graves in what’s sure to be a star-turning copresentation with Vocal Arts DC. 2700 F St. NW, Washington, D.C. 20566; 800-4441324; www.kennedy-center.org; $35. Now through May 12

Keiko Matsui

“THEMOUNTAINTOP” Arena Stage Katori Hall’s Olivier Award-winning new play recreates Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s last night in the Lorraine Motel in Memphis, Tenn. The drama unfolds with an exhausted King resting in his room after delivering a speech. An unexpected visit from the maid compels him to confront his own humanity and the fate of our nation. Bowman Wright stars as King with Joaquina Kalukango as Camae. 1101 Sixth St. SW, Washington, D.C. 20024; 202-488-3300; www.arenastage.org; $90. May 18, 8 p.m.

Michael Feinstein April 20, 9 p.m.

SPRINGGALAATSTRATHMOREWITHMICHAELFEINSTEIN The Music Center at Strathmore Michael Feinstein comes to Strathmore to celebrate the legacy of George and Ira Gershwin. The “Ambassador of the Great American Songbook” and twotime-Emmy- and five-time-Grammy-award nominee will share personal stories from his recent book “The Gershwins and Me.” It promises to be a night that will leave you humming along with your toes tapping. 5301 Tuckerman Lane, North Bethesda, MD 20852; 301-581-5100; www.strathmore.org; $300 and up.

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UNDERGROUND RAILROAD  AN EVENING WITH KATHLEENBATTLEANDPIANISTCYRUSCHESTNUT ANDTHEHERITAGESIGNATURECHORALE The Music Center at Strathmore Legendary soprano Kathleen Battle joins The Heritage Signature Chorale and acclaimed pianist Cyrus Chestnut in a moving evening exploring the rich tradition of the spiritual in a program that expresses the suffering and salvation of enslaved Africans as they found their way to freedom. 5301 Tuckerman Lane, North Bethesda, MD 20852; 301-581-5100; www.strathmore.org; $55-$95.

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Perfect Pitch - Washington Life - April 2013