UConn Musician Instrumental in Grammy Win

In December 2014, when the U.S. and Cuba announced that they would restore diplomatic relations, UConn string bass instructor Gregg August heard the news not stateside but on the island itself. He was in Havana recording the album “Cuba: The Conversation Continues,” as bassist for Arturo O’Farrill’s Afro Latin Jazz Orchestra. One of the tracks he played on that album was “The Afro Latin Jazz Suite,” an energetic four-part work that would go on to earn O’Farrill a 2016 Grammy Award for instrumental composition.

August, who has been traveling to Cuba for the past 15 years to play jazz, vividly remembers the night the news was announced. “Nothing will compare to having experienced first-hand what was happening,” he says. “It was an amazing thing.”

Growing up in Schenectady, N.Y., August was surrounded by music. His father, who played piano, and his mother enjoyed listening to jazz and rhythmic music. He played drums in high school and his music teachers were his father’s sister, who taught piano, and her husband, who taught bass, the instrument he would eventually turn to in college.

“They always had music on in the house,” he recalls. “My parents were listening to all kinds of music, especially jazz and R&B: Cannonball Adderly (with Nancy Wilson), Bill Evans, Blood, Sweat and Tears, Sergio Mendez. There were even classical records, like Glenn Gould playing Bach. I remember getting Earth Wind and Fire and Stevie Wonder records for Christmas. I didn’t hear Latin music as a kid, but I think I developed a certain sensibility for it through listening to Chick Corea’s music; his music always has that Spanish thing, those kinds of rhythms.”

He says he experienced a “natural gravitation” to Latin music because of his background in percussion and bass, the core of a band’s rhythm section.

August received his bachelor’s in bass at The Eastman School of Music, earned his master’s from The Juilliard School before spending time as principal bass with La Orquesta Ciutat de Barcelona in Spain and freelancing as a jazz bassist in Paris. He says he returned to New York City because he knew he had to be there in order to grow as a jazz musician, and he missed the opportunity to play a wide variety of music. Over the years he has performed with percussionist Ray Barretto, The Orpheus Chamber Orchestra, The Brooklyn Philharmonic, saxophonist Ornette Coleman, American Composer’s Orchestra and saxophonist Paquito D’Rivera, among others, before becoming a member of the Afro Latin Jazz Orchestra, which plays Sunday nights at Birdland in New York.

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Journey to Freedom: Celebrating Ukrainian Composers

For UConn’s Solomiya Ivakhiv, recording a CD of Ukrainian classical music wasn’t just a professional endeavor, it was personal.

Solomiya Ivakhiv, left, assistant professor of violin and viola, and pianist Angelina Gadeliya. (Photo by Stephanie Brauer, Ukrainian Institute of America, NYC)
Solomiya Ivakhiv, left, assistant professor of violin and viola, and pianist Angelina Gadeliya. (Photo by Stephanie Brauer, Ukrainian Institute of America, NYC)

This past July, the Ukrainian-born assistant professor of violin and viola Ivakhiv and her colleague, Juilliard-trained pianist Angelina Gadeliya, began recording pieces by eight Ukrainian composers for a CD titled “Ukraine: Journey to Freedom, A Century of Classical Music for Violin and Piano.” The work chronicles different styles of classical music, such as post-modern and neo-folklorist, from 20th and 21st‑century composers who emerged and thrived professionally, despite the obstacles they faced in Soviet Ukraine.

“As a child, I grew up in the Soviet Union and experienced firsthand what this dark and painful period of world history can mean for artists,” says Ivakhiv. “With this project, we try to expose the personal journey of the featured composers, and offer them the opportunity to ‘speak’ in a way that wasn’t possible for them before.”

Ivakhiv and Gadeliya also hope to expose listeners to the sophisticated musical history from their homeland, and to raise awareness about Ukrainian culture in general. There has been increased recent interest in the region as a result of Russian military intervention in Ukraine, which began in February 2014.

Each of the composers featured on the album, which is largely comprised of previously unrecorded pieces spanning the period 1919-2014, faced many obstacles in order to maintain their personal, artistic voices during times of harsh communist oppression. Forced to compose music that glorified the Soviet government above all, the artists chronicled in Ivakhiv’s recording were denied the freedom to openly express their creative identities, and clashed with government officials as a result.

To read the entire article, visit UConn Today!

Ukraine: Journey to Freedom” was released internationally last month, and is also available on iTunes and Amazon. Ivakhiv will be performing some of the music from the CD at a solo recital at the Jorgensen Center for the Performing Arts on March 21. For more information, go to the Jorgensen website.

Singer-songwriter Trio Use Voices to Get the Vote Out

When musicians plan a national tour, the usual impetus is to promote a new recording and reconnect with fans. But when Grammy winner Patty Griffin invited Sara Watkins and Anais Mitchell to join her on a national tour it was with a different objective in mind – to promote discussion about voter engagement during a presidential election year.

“The Use Your Voice Tour 2016,” which has partnered with the League of Women Voters, stops at the Jorgensen Center for the Performing Arts on Saturday, March 5, as part of a 38-city tour. The performance will be preceded at 5 p.m. by a panel discussion, “Amplifying the Voices on the Ground,” focusing on issues for communities that are traditionally marginalized.

Watkins, who first came to prominence as a founding member of the progressive bluegrass group Nickel Creek, says she and Mitchell were quick to accept Griffin’s invitation to join forces to promote voter education.

“It’s something Patty’s been very vocal and passionate about for some time,” Watkins said over the phone from South Carolina, as the tour worked its way up the East Coast. “As a group we don’t have a combined album to promote, which is the normal reason to tour. The League of Women Voters has been a common cause for the three of us. … We’re not preaching politics to people. We’re trying to bring awareness to the importance of being involved in your community.”

Molly Rockett ’15 (CLAS), a recent UConn honors graduate in political science and former intern for both U.S. Rep. Joe Courtney ’78 JD and U.S. Sen. Richard Blumenthal, will introduce the performers and discuss the League of Women Voters voter engagement effort.

To read the entire article, visit UConn Today!

“The Use Your Voice Tour 2016” takes place on Saturday at 8 p.m. at Jorgensen Center for the Performing Arts, 2132 Hillside Road, Storrs. For more information go to the Jorgensen website.

Springfield Symphony Orchestra Offers World Premiere Of Piano Concerto

A world premiere is a big deal.

When you think about it, symphony orchestras play a fairly limited repertoire, largely consisting of symphonies and concertos by Beethoven, Brahms, Mozart, Tchaikovsky, Schumann, Mendelssohn, and other masters active in the 18th and19th centuries. Occasionally, when time and money permit, a new composition is added to that canon of chestnuts.

Commissioning and premiering a brand new work augments, extends, and hopefully enhances the repertoire. It invites an audience sated with standards to experience notes never before heard in this combination, and to climb aboard a composer’s mind, taking an emotional journey no one has ever taken, to a destination no one has ever visited.

Springfield Symphony Orchestra concertgoers have this rare opportunity on March 12 at 7:30 p.m. in Symphony Hall, as Maestro Kevin Rhodes, the SSO and piano soloist Jeffrey Biegel, a favorite guest of Springfield audiences, present the world premiere of composer Kenneth Fuchs’s Piano Concerto (“Spiritualist”), After Three Paintings by Helen Frankenthaler.

Fuchs, professor of composition at the University of Connecticut, has written music for orchestra, band, chorus, and various chamber ensembles. The London Symphony Orchestra, under the baton of JoAnn Falletta, has recorded four discs of Fuchs’s music for Naxos American Classics. The first disc, released in 2005, was nominated for two Grammy Awards. The second, containing music for horn, was released in 2008. The third, recorded in London’s historic Abbey Road Studios, was released in 2012, and was included in the 2012 Grammy Award nominations. The fourth, also recorded at Abbey Road in 2013, features baritone Roderick Williams in a program of vocal music.

To read the entire article, visit Mass Live!

Tickets for the March 12 performance priced from $22-$65 may be obtained online at or by calling the box office at 733-2291. Classical Conversations, an informal half-hour discussion of the evening’s music beginning at 6:30 p.m., will be led by John Montanari, (NEPR, retired). The concert is sponsored by Falcetti Music, with media sponsor, News Radio 560 WHYN.

Expect the Unexpected at ‘Roomful of Teeth’ Performance

When the award-winning vocal ensemble Roomful of Teeth performs in J. Louis von der Mehden Recital Hall on Feb. 10 at 8 p.m., it will be as unique an experience for the group as for the audience.

Roomful of Teeth is both a Grammy and Pulitzer Prize-winning group of classically-trained musicians who perform unconventional music. They will perform with UConn students in the Concert Choir, Wind Ensemble, and Symphony, completing a Sackler Artists-in-Residency that began last fall when the group met with music and art students on the Storrs campus.

Roomful of Teeth is a group of nine musicians who perform in a wide variety of singing styles. Their performance at UConn is the culmination of a residency on campus last fall. (Photo by Bonica Ayala of Bonica Ayala Photography)
Roomful of Teeth is a group of nine musicians who perform in a wide variety of singing styles. Their performance at UConn is the culmination of a residency on campus last fall. (Photo by Bonica Ayala of Bonica Ayala Photography)

“This is probably more involved than we’ve ever been at a single institution,” says Brad Wells, founder and artistic director of Roomful of Teeth, who is also director of the choral program at Williams College in Massachusetts. “Usually we work with composers or singers [on a campus]. To have this kind of rich, multifaceted, and multipart residency is very rare and exciting.”

In addition to meeting with students in Department of Music classes taught by Jamie Spillane ’87 MM, director of choral studies; Kenneth Fuchs, professor of music composition; and Jeffrey Renshaw, coordinator for conducting and ensembles; and with Harvey Felder, director of the Symphony Orchestra, the vocalists also met last fall with a painting class taught by Kathryn Myers, professor of painting, whose Aqua Media class this semester is creating paintings inspired by the music of Roomful of Teeth.

The student art will be on display in the Arena Gallery in the Art and Art History Department building behind von der Mehden on Feb. 10. The performance will also include a work written by a student in Fuchs’s music composition class.

To read the entire article, visit UConn Today!

Roomful of Teeth will perform with the UConn Concert Choir, Wind Ensemble, and Symphony on Wednesday, Feb. 10, at 8 p.m. at J. Louis von der Mehden Recital Hall, 875 Coventry Road, Storrs.

From Practice to Performance: UConn’s Concerto Competition

At the conclusion of “Get Back,” the last song on his band’s final studio release “Let It Be,” John Lennon of The Beatles says sardonically, “I hope we’ve passed the audition.”

His comment was a reference to the times when what became one of the most influential rock ‘n’ roll groups failed auditions while trying to gain a recording contract, in the days before “American Idol” and “The Voice” could jumpstart a successful career in music.

Auditions continue to be part of the music profession – from pop and rock to jazz and classical genres – including UConn’s annual Concerto/Aria Competition which provides the opportunity for students in the music department to perform as soloists in concert with the University’s Symphony Orchestra.

This year’s concert takes place at 8 p.m. on Dec. 10 at J. Louis von der Mehden Recital Hall, featuring performances by graduate student Hyejin Bae, who plays flute, and undergraduates Samantha Lake ’16 (SFA), a tuba player, and Myles Mocarski ’16 (SFA), a violinist.

“It’s a real celebration of the achievements of these particular students,” says Eric Rice, head of the Department of Music. “For all of their professional work as performers, they will have to perform auditions, which can be very stressful. The students who learn not only how to overcome that stress but to perform exceptionally well have the potential to do well in the music business. Our Concerto/Aria Competition audition is a fairly high pressure environment, with three judges sitting in the audience listening to them.”

Twenty students participated in the auditions held in von der Mehden Recital Hall on the afternoon of Halloween, ranging from mezzo-soprano and baritone vocalists to various instrumentalists performing on the piano, trombone, tuba, flute, and bassoon. Each prepared a solo work no longer than eight minutes in length to perform, and could have an accompanist. Often students select a familiar work, one that they have performed for many years.

To read the entire article, visit UConn Today.

To learn more about UConn Music program, visit their site.

Hyejin Bae plays flute during a rehearsal of the University Symphony Orchestra at von der Mehden Recital Hall on Nov. 16, 2015. (Peter Morenus/UConn Photo)
Hyejin Bae plays flute during a rehearsal of the University Symphony Orchestra at von der Mehden Recital Hall on Nov. 16, 2015. (Peter Morenus/UConn Photo)

‘The Wanderer’ Combines Dance & Classic Music

Baritone Ryan Burns ’12 MM likens the preparation for his performance with the Jessica Lang Dance Co. presentation of “The Wanderer” at the Jorgensen Center for the Performing Arts on Nov. 19 to having the lead role in an opera.

“It’s not something you can put together in a couple of weeks,” Burns says of singing Franz Schubert’s “Die schöne Müllerin” (The Lovely Maid of the Mill), a song cycle of 20 songs sung over an hour. “It’s been a unique challenge to prepare this body of music in such a way that you can maintain all that good technique and language and stay focused. It’s been a challenge, but a really great one.”

A doctoral candidate in music who has performed with the Connecticut Lyric Opera and the Opera Theater of Connecticut, Burns was selected by the contemporary ballet choreographer for the unique joining of dance and classical music that has been described as “a true work of art” by the Boston Globe and “a work of high craftsmanship” by The New York Times.

Read the entire story at UConn Today!

Graduate student, Ryan Burns practicing singing at Jorgensen Performing Arts Center on Nov. 17, 2015. (Sean Flynn/UConn Photo)
Graduate student, Ryan Burns practicing singing at Jorgensen Performing Arts Center on Nov. 17, 2015. (Sean Flynn/UConn Photo)

UCMB & UConn Violinist Solomiya Ivakhiv Perform Together

The UConn Marching Band has commissioned a brand new piece of music from composer John B. Hedges in honor of the naming of the Pratt and Whitney Stadium at Rentschler Field. Written for UConn School of Fine Arts’s own professor and world renowned violinist Solomiya Ivakhiv, this piece, “Spiral,” is inspired by the Pratt and Whitney jet engine. This combination of solo electric violin and the marching band will be performed at halftime of the UConn vs. Villanova football game on Thursday!