Baruch Performing Arts Center

Insider Interview: Ted Altschuler, Director of BPAC

 

Insider Interview with Ted Altschuler, Director of the Baruch Performing Arts Center

What’s the process for programming a season at BPAC?  How do you develop a theme or unifying concept?

We feature New York as well as international artists, presenting a season that is diverse in artistic genre, national origin of the art and artist, and subject matter. We present only artists whose work I have experienced live.  I am particularly interested in a confluence of genres – whether that means multiple arts disciplines, arts and humanities, or arts and sciences.  We emphasize programs combining arts and social justice.  As a venue located at Baruch College, part of the City University of New York, we echo the university’s ethos of inclusion and accessibility.  Our students come from over 100 different countries!  I don’t tend to decide on a more specific theme beforehand, but as the season takes shape, one emerges. The 2019-20 tagline is: Imagination. Depth. Diversity. 

You have a doctorate in neuroscience and decades of experience as an opera and theatre director.  How does your unusual background inform your programming decisions?

I spent many years directing plays and opera and teaching at The Juilliard School because I am interested in the creative process.  When I really connect with artists, it is most often about artistic practice and values. There are easily 50 cellists whose playing might be thought of as excellent. I’m interested in what values they bring to the work, the extended narrative of their work over time, what composers they are drawn to, how they connect with the music, fellow artists and audience, does their practice include intense collaboration, site-specific work, do they improvise, do they compose – how they achieve the qualities we see in the finished product? As someone who makes work, I am intensely aware of the creative and practical resources required.  At BPAC, we don’t just “book” artists, we host residencies for choreographers, composers, playwrights and other artists, providing time and space to make work.  This helps cushion the financial risk, and since the creation of the work is happening here, creative process can be another point of entry for BPAC patrons and Baruch students.  While some people love the performance, others get into what goes on behind the scenes. 

I got interested in neuroscience via my work with performers. Cognitive neuroscience looks at the physiological sources of our emotions and behaviours - how we pay attention, remember, use our senses – these are processes we all engage in, but actors consciously exploit them. My experimental studies looked at what the brain contributes to the information that our eyes collect from our world to produce the experience of seeing - something that is really a creative act. 

Science, like art, observes the world, playing with something in it to understand it better. Cognitive science has made me keenly observant of human behaviour; it has given me a rigor in how I direct an artistic organization and, has made me a better story teller.  The data that results from an experiment is really not of value until it is embedded in narrative.  It is story that attaches outcomes to what is known so far and says why they are significant.

How do you discover the artists that you consider for a season?  How do you get to know these performers if you have not already experienced their work?

I’m a voracious consumer of live performing arts.  It’s my pleasure, as well as my job. Living in New York City certainly doesn’t hurt, although I see performances pretty much anywhere I travel.  As more arts patrons have gotten to know BPAC’s great 25th Street location - its intimately scaled concert hall with superb acoustics, its beautiful black box theatre - and as our programs have become generally more visible in the performing arts landscape, colleagues, artists, and artists’ managers have come to me with great frequency about their ideas for collaborations. I get to know artists’ work over time by experiencing it myself and talking to them. Then logistics like time and budget come into play and if that works for everyone, we have lift-off! 

What kind of balance do you strive for, with regard to artists making their BPAC series debut vs. returning artists?  

I hope that around 1/3 of our artists or artist pairings in any given year are new to BPAC.  Sometimes they are completely new, for instance this year we will present Clarion and Daedalus Quartets for the first time, but we are also bringing back pianist Michael Brown.  Instead of a solo recital, he will perform with his frequent collaborator, cellist Nicholas Canellakis. We have also invited back the fabulous modernist pianist Guy Livingston, he will perform with soprano Rayanne Dupuis who is well known internationally, but will make her New York debut at BPAC premiering songs by William Bolcom! I’m very excited that BPAC is the venue where New Yorkers can first hear his “Poèmes libres de droits” written for Guy and Rayanne.

New York is a world capital when it comes to the performing arts.  What are the special aspects of BPAC that bring audiences to your events?  What is unique about BPAC and its offerings?

What is unique about BPAC, and a real asset to New York when it comes to chamber music, is our Rosalyn and Irwin Engelman Recital Hall. At a capacity of 175 seats, it is truly a chamber setting in which to appreciate soloists and small ensembles.  Its acoustics are among the best in the city.

BPAC prioritizes intimately scaled performances. This is the third year in which we will co-present Heartbeat Opera, whose aesthetic is intentionally scaled down – they are what off- Broadway is to Broadway. They take the grandiosity out of opera, leaving what is truly grand – focused story-telling, compelling characters, and an impeccably played and sung score that has been re-orchestrated so as to hear the music anew in a way that fits a 200-seat theatre.

There are some ways in which I’m pleased not to be unique.  I would say that the quality of the artists we present are on par with the musicians you can and do hear at Alice Tully Hall or Jazz at Lincoln Center, the dancers you see at the Joyce, the performances that you see at New York Theater Workshop or the Metropolitan Museum.

We are in a great neighbourhood - 25th Street between 3rd & Lexington Aves borders Gramercy, Kips Bay and No Mad – the area now known as Flatiron, due to its proximity to the Flatiron building on 23rd & 5th.  There are so many good places to eat nearby – Eataly, the Freehand Hotel, all the fantastic Indian spots in Curry Hill.  Madison Square Park is a lovely urban refuge just two blocks away on Madison and 25th.  

Last, but certainly not least, in this pricey cultural capital, we have affordable tickets.  For every event in our season, there are tickets available for $35 and often for less, and student tickets for $15 and sometimes less.

What programs on the ‘19-20 season stand out for you as highlights?

I’m not supposed to play favorites, but in each program genres I’ll draw your attention to:

THEATRE

Terra Firma – WORLD PREMIERE -   Sep 27 – Nov 10.

In a Brechtian future, a tiny kingdom is created. This play wrestles with what makes a citizen, a country and a civilization.  Inspired by real events in which an army major claimed an abandoned concrete platform in international waters as his own sovereign nation.  Featuring Andrus Nichols (Sense & Sensibility) “I’m beginning to think she can do anything.” – Ben Brantley, NY Times.   

CHAMBER MUSIC

Daedalus Quartet – Music from Exile w/ NY PREMIERE of Babel - Nov 22

This “exceptionally refined young ensemble with a translucent sound.” – The New Yorker makes a sonic exploration of the response to repression and exile.  The program includes the defiantly joyful third string quartet of Viktor Ullman, written in Theresienstadt in 1943. The NY Premiere of Babel by Gabriel Bolaños, whose family fled Nicaragua. The piece uses the sound of string instruments to explore the variety of human language, revealing both cultural differences and our fundamental similarity. Mieczyslaw Weinberg’s monumental piano quintet, composed in Moscow after his escape from the Nazi invasion of Poland, closes the program in celebration of his centenary

OPERA

dwb (driving while black) NY PREMIERE  - March 19 – 21

“Singers are storytellers,” says soprano/librettist Roberta Gumbel (“silver voiced…” – The New York Times), “but rarely do we get the opportunity to help create the stories we are telling.” Collaborating with Susan Kander (“A composer of vivid imagination and skill.” – Fanfare) and the cutting-edge cello/percussion duo New Morse Code,  this brief, powerful music-drama documents the all-too-familiar story of an African-American parent whose “beautiful brown boy” approaches driving age as, what should be a celebration of independence and maturity is fraught with the anxiety of “driving while black.” 

DANCE

Foray WORLD PREMIERE - March 26 – 28

The first evening-length solo concert in five years by this very-in-demand Lincoln Center Institute choreographer.  Set to an array of classical/contemporary music remixes, this marks the debut of D2D/T, Mr. Latif’s artist collective. They present four original works made with collaborators from New York City Ballet, Alvin Ailey, and American Ballet Theater.  

MULTI-DISCIPLANRY PERFORMANCE

Talea Ensemble – Love and Diversity US PREMIERE - April 2 - 4

Lying somewhere between music and theater, this work is by Manos Tsangaris, never before seen in the U.S.  The audience begins in a social setting filling out a questionnaire about, art, love, and friendship. They enter the performance in small groups, visiting several stations. At each sits a musician/actor.  In a sequence of interactions, the audience is immersed in the performance – first encountering each musician individually and, finally, experiencing the piece as a whole. This exemplifies Talea's mission to champion musical creativity and cultivate curious listeners and is why they are hailed “A crucial part of the New York cultural ecosphere”- New York Times

Insider Interview: Assaff Weisman of Israeli Chamber Project

On Tuesday, April 16 at 7:30 pm, the acclaimed Israeli Chamber Project returns to the Baruch Performing Arts Center with works including Mozart/Andre's Clarinet Quartet in E-Flat Major, Bartok's Contrasts, Brahms' Piano Quartet in C minor, Op. 60, and more. In this Insider Interview we spoke to ICP pianist Assaff Weisman about programming choices, performing at BPAC, and more.

Classical Music Communications - In an ensemble with a modular instrumentation, how do you go about choosing programs for individual concerts, tours, etc.?

Assaff Weisman - This is a pretty intricate ballet, as you might imagine, and requires balancing artistic and aesthetic goals with quite a bit of logistics. In each of our programs we try to weave together different works that have a common thread running through them, in a way that might reveal something about the program as a whole. Our three New York programs this season are good examples of this. We opened with a look at Debussy and his influence on French music in the years following his passing. Coming up this month is a program of homages, and we conclude the season with a tribute to several Jewish composers, each from a very different background. Our clarinetist and Artistic Director, Tibi Cziger, takes repertoire input from the members of the ensemble but he is ultimately responsible for programming decisions. The logistics challenges come into play when he have to consider which of our very busy musicians are available for any given program. This determines the instrumentation available, which is where things get complicated. Luckily, we built the ensemble with this kind of flexibility in mind, so have been able to make it work with some creative thinking.

CMC - What inspired you to choose the repertoire for this “Homages” tour?

AW - One of the recurring themes in our programming is the question of musical influence. What influences a composer's language or serves as inspiration - in a specific work, or in their overall style - is a fascinating topic that we have enjoyed exploring. This program of homages enables us to examine this question through the work of four composers with whom we feel a special bond. Each of these homages came to be through very different circumstances. Bartok's Contrasts pay homage to his native Hungary's folk music and to American jazz by way of the two musicians who commissioned the work - Hungarian violinist Joseph Szigeti and jazz great Benny Goodman. Brahms' C minor Piano Quartet, has its roots in both Beethoven and Goethe and can be seen as a personal letter to his the composer's unattainable muse, Clara Schumann. And there are equally interesting threads in the Mozart and Leef.

CMC - What is it about the Leef piece that attracts you to it? 

AW -  We have performed Yinam Leef’s Triptych several times over the years and think it's a fantastic piece! It evokes a Middle Eastern flavor, especially in the rhapsodic second movement, with its cantorial viola solos, but still retains a strong, clear structure, with all the instruments beautifully balanced. The three movements are quite varied in character, making for great contrast, but the whole work still feels as though cut from one cloth. The rather unusual instrumentation: string trio, piano, and clarinet fits our ensemble to a T.

CMC - What do you like about the Baruch Performing Arts Center and what does this venue mean to the ensemble?

AW - This will be our third season at BPAC, and we are feeling quite at home at Engelman Hall. From Director Ted Altschuler to the backstage crew, everyone does their part to put the music at the center and allow it to shine. We appreciate this so much, and it seems that the audience does, too! We are very much looking forward to being back on that stage. 

Musical America Praises Brian Mulligan at Baruch PAC

Two Song Cycles, One a Post-minimalist Premiere, One an Argento Classic

by Clive Paget March 15, 2019

To read review, click here.

New York Classical Review: Brian Mulligan at Baruch PAC

With a pair of song cycles, Mulligan offers an Argento tribute and New York premiere

By David Wright March 14, 2019

Dominick Argento, the superb American composer of vocal music who died last month at age 91, was remembered Wednesday night in the best way possible: with a stirring performance of one of his most significant works.

In recital at the Baruch Performing Arts Center, baritone Brian Mulligan and pianist Timothy Long boldly went where no man had gone before—or few, at any rate—with a passionate rendition of Argento’s 1974 cycle, From the Diary of Virginia Woolf.

Crafting his setting of the intimate thoughts of a great English woman writer for a great English woman singer—mezzo-soprano Janet Baker—Argento said his goal was to create a Frauenliebe und -Leben for the 20th century. He aimed, like Schumann in that work, to trace a woman’s life through many stages, in this case from the opening question, “What sort of diary should I like mine to be?” to the final song, “Last Entry,” composed to a text written three weeks before the author’s death by suicide. The resulting work earned Argento that year’s Pulitzer Prize.

It took more than the usual suspension of disbelief to appreciate a performance of this about-and-for-women work by a burly, bearded six-footer with a powerful bottom register that would qualify him as a bass-baritone in the book of most listeners. But interpreting a song is about inhabiting a character, and after a few minutes Mulligan and his piano partner had one believing that this big hearty American guy was a frail and depressive, but keen-eyed, Englishwoman.

Less of a leap of faith was required for the work that preceded Argento’s on this program, Gregory Spears’s Walden—five eloquent settings of Thoreau’s prose composed for Mulligan and Long last year, premiered last September in Washington, D.C., and making its New York bow Wednesday.

Both cycles set extensive texts by master prose stylists, crafting a vocal line of considerable range but natural phrasing, in a piano environment that tended toward tintinnabulating textures. Both dealt in ear-friendly polytonal harmonies; Argento’s was subtly unified by a twelve-tone row woven through it, which a listener would probably not notice without having read up on the piece.

A big difference was in the texts, Thoreau’s being carefully crafted and polished for publication–though with an easy American gait–while Woolf’s private thoughts came tumbling out in an even more untrammeled stream of consciousness than one finds in her experimental novels.

In both cycles, musical contrasts of fast and slow, loud and soft between the songs were subtly drawn, and so the spotlight fell squarely on the singer and his English diction to convey the meaning of the texts. 

Fortunately, Mulligan proved an eloquent orator and actor, pointing up the passion and the irony of Thoreau’s thoughts on nature and society, and evoking Woolf’s observations of herself, her home life, the pity and privations of war, a Roman street scene, and a very public British occasion, the funeral of the novelist Thomas Hardy. (It was in the wry comments on this last that one most missed an actual female voice in this recital.)

For his part, pianist Long shaped Spears’s minimalistic repeated figures to support the text, and easily took the ball and ran with it in expressive preludes and interludes. Even the seemingly-simple chordal sections in the Woolf songs contained many subtle variations and inflections crucial to the meaning of the text, and Long made those moments tell.

The second Woolf song, “Anxiety,” proved a tour de force for the duo, the pianist doubling the singer’s agitated line in precise unison, amidst constantly-changing meters, while executing a presto toccata himself.

Mulligan brought a wide variety of timbres and articulations to his part, especially in the emotionally-fraught Woolf songs. Besides a remarkably clear and projected lowest register, which he dipped into sparingly throughout the evening, his high notes ranged from a trumpet-like burst to the most ghostly pianissimo. Expressive turns in the text prompted various shades of whispers, growls, and mezza voce, as the moment required.

In sum, the evening offered much to reflect on: two great writers, an American living out his philosophy in the woods, and an Englishwoman vibrating like a string in sympathy with life in peace and war; and two American composers, one newly gone and remembered by his classic song cycle, and the other newly on the recital boards with a cycle of his own.

And also dessert: an encore selected from Mulligan’s latest CD of old baritone songs, Wolseley Charles’s gleefully macabre, tongue-twisting ballad “The Green-Eyed Dragon.”  It could hardly have been less relevant, or more entertaining.

The next music presentation at Baruch Performing Arts Center will be the Aaron Diehl Trio in classical, jazz, and third-stream selections, 8 p.m. March 28. baruch.cuny.edu/bpac; 212-352-3101.


Baruch Performing Arts Center: NYC premiere of Gregory Spears' "Walden"

March 13: Baritone Brian Mulligan and pianist Timothy Long perform the New York premiere of Gregory Spears' Walden

Program also includes Dominick Argento's Pulitizer Prize winning From the Diary of Virginia Woolf

“a voice that is rich, secure, and really, really big” –The New York Times

On Wednesday, March 13 at 7:30 pm, straight from its world premiere at the Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C., the Baruch Performing Arts Center presents Brian Mulligan and Timothy Long performing the NYC premiere of Gregory Spears' song cycle Walden. The program also includes Dominick Argento's From the Diary of Virginia Woolf, winner of the 1975 Pulitzer Prize for Music.

Tickets are $36 for general admission ($16 for students) and are available at www.baruch.cuny.edu/bpac. Baruch Performing Arts Center is at 55 Lexington Avenue (enter on 25th Street between Third and Lexington Avenues), in Manhattan.

Gregory Spears' opera Fellow Travelers was a sensation at the 2018 Prototype Festival. His latest work, Walden, composed for Brian Mulligan was heralded as "a gripping performance" (The Washington Post) at its world premiere in the Fall. With texts drawn from Henry David Thoreau's classic 1854 book, Walden "speaks with a naked intimacy that’s almost painful" (The Washington Post). The cycle is paired with Dominick Argento's From the Diary of Virginia Woolf, written for Janet Baker in 1974.

Praised for his "velvety, evenly and effortlessly produced baritone and nuance-rich phrasing" (Opera News), Brian Mulligan frequently appears with the world’s leading orchestras and opera companies including the Metropolitan, San Francisco, and Houston Grand Operas. He is joined by pianist Timothy Long, whose "collaboration at the piano [with Mulligan] was so sympathetically symbiotic that it seemed...that a single musical intelligence was at work (The Washington Post)."

CALENDAR LISTING

March 13, 2019 at 7:30 pm

Baruch Performing Arts Center presents:

Brian Mulligan (baritone) & Timothy Long (piano)

Program:

Gregory Spears: Walden *NYC premiere*

Dominick Argento: From the Diary of Virginia Woolf

Baruch Performing Arts Center

55 Lexington Avenue in Manhattan

(enter at 25th Street between 3rd and Lexington Avenues) 

Tickets are $51 for premium seating, $36 for general admission, and $16 for students, and are available at www.baruch.cuny.edu/bpac

New York Classical Review - Alexander SQ at Baruch PAC

New York Classical Review - Alexander SQ at Baruch PAC

Alexander Quartet brings an intimate simplicity to cornerstone rep.

New Yorker previews Guy Livingston's "Dada at the Movies"

New Yorker previews Guy Livingston's "Dada at the Movies"

On Oct. 17, the skillful pianist Guy Livingston will present “Dada at the Movies,” an audacious new multimedia program, which argues for Dada’s foresight and continued relevance.

2018/19 Season at Baruch Performing Arts Center in NYC

2018/19 Season at Baruch Performing Arts Center in NYC

Baruch Performing Arts Center announces its 2018-2019 season of opera, chamber music and jazz performances in the heart of Manhattan.

Schmopera - TALKING WITH SINGERS: NELSON EBO

Schmopera - TALKING WITH SINGERS: NELSON EBO

Angolan tenor Nelson Ebo's upcoming role is one that hits particularly close to home. Next month in Heartbeat Opera's new adaptation of Beethoven's Fidelio (May 3-13), Ebo sings Stan - or Florestan, in the original libretto - the black activist who is wrongfully incarcerated.

Schmopera - DON GIOVANNI: "STRENGTHENED BY REINTERPRETATION."

Schmopera - DON GIOVANNI: "STRENGTHENED BY REINTERPRETATION."

Heartbeat Opera Co-Music Director Daniel Schlosberg is ready for the company's fourth annual Spring Festival, where he'll unveil his new arrangement of Mozart's Don Giovanni. The composer and pianist has taken on operatic classics in past seasons, experimenting with percussion with Lucia di Lammermoor and adding jazz into Carmen; for this Don Giovanni, directed by Heartbeat Opera Co-Artistic Director Louisa Proske, he gets creative with the clarinet.

Schmopera - FIDELIO: STILL POLITICAL IN 2018

Schmopera - FIDELIO: STILL POLITICAL IN 2018

As Heartbeat Opera gears up for its fourth annual Spring Festival, Artistic Director Ethan Heard is in rehearsals for his poignant adaptation of Beethoven's only opera, Fidelio (May 3-13). Heard has written new English dialogue with Marcus Scott to bring the story of political prisoners into 2018; Heartbeat Opera's production features a primarily black cast, and a true "Prisoners' Chorus" of incarcerated members of 6 prison choirs across the Midwest.

Epoch Times reviews Jane Ira Bloom at BPAC

Epoch Times reviews Jane Ira Bloom at BPAC

Bloom thought of a jazz work based on the Dickinson’s (1830–1886) creations, in part, because poet played piano and was an improviser. For the Dickinson project, the poems Bloom selected were “those that got to me.” But she picked selections from the poems rather than using the complete poems.

Jazz Trail Interview with Jane Ira Bloom

Jazz Trail Interview with Jane Ira Bloom

Jazz soprano saxophonist Jane Ira Bloom speaks with Filipe Freitas of the Jazz Trail about her most recent album "Wild Lines: Improvising Emily Dickenson" and her upcoming performance at the Baruch Performing Arts Center.

Joel Quarrington in recital

Joel Quarrington in recital

Free recital features works by Bach, Schumann, Schubert, and Erich Korngold.

Jane Ira Bloom speaks to George Grella on the BrooklynRail podcast

Jane Ira Bloom speaks to George Grella on the BrooklynRail podcast

Jazz soprano saxophonist Jane Ira Bloom speaks with George Grella of the BrooklynRail podcast about her most recent album "Wild Lines: Improvising Emily Dickenson" and her upcoming performance at the Baruch Performing Arts Center.

April 18 at Baruch Performing Arts Center: Pianist-Composer Michael Brown celebrates Leonard Bernstein at 100

April 18 at Baruch Performing Arts Center: Pianist-Composer Michael Brown celebrates Leonard Bernstein at 100

One composer-performer celebrates another

Israeli Chamber Project reviewed by New York Classical Review

Israeli Chamber Project reviewed by New York Classical Review

The seven virtuosi of the Israeli Chamber Project started yesterday evening with the impossible, and continued with the inconceivable.

Israeli Chamber Project reviewed by ConcertoNet.com

Israeli Chamber Project reviewed by ConcertoNet.com

The seven virtuosi of the Israeli Chamber Project started yesterday evening with the impossible, and continued with the inconceivable.

Concerto Net concert review: 88 keys to delight

Concerto Net concert review: 88 keys to delight

It was an irresistible music, and nobody could resist it. They could resist that Second Rhapsody, though it was played with that same flair, the same instinctual rhythm which the ebullient Ms. Buechner has in excess.