Spotlight: Caroline Shaw

Caroline Shaw is a New York-based musician—vocalist, violinist, composer, and producer—who performs in solo and collaborative projects. She was the youngest recipient of the Pulitzer Prize for Music in 2013 for Partita for 8 Voices, written for the Grammy-winning Roomful of Teeth, of which she is a member. Recent commissions include new works for Renée Fleming with Inon Barnatan, Dawn Upshaw with Sō Percussion and Gil Kalish, the Orchestra of St. Luke’s with John Lithgow, the Dover Quartet, TENET, The Crossing, the Mendelssohn Club of Philadelphia, the Calidore Quartet, Brooklyn Rider, the Baltimore Symphony, and Roomful of Teeth with A Far Cry. The 2018-19 season will see premieres by pianist Jonathan Biss with the Seattle Symphony, Anne Sofie von Otter with Philharmonia Baroque, the LA Philharmonic, and Juilliard 415. Caroline’s film scores include Erica Fae’s To Keep the Light and Josephine Decker’s Madeline’s Madeline as well as the upcoming short 8th Year of the Emergency by Maureen Towey. She has produced for Kanye West (The Life of Pablo; Ye) and Nas (NASIR), and has contributed to records by The National, and by Arcade Fire’s Richard Reed Parry. Once she got to sing in three part harmony with Sara Bareilles and Ben Folds at the Kennedy Center, and that was pretty much the bees’ knees and elbows. Caroline has studied at Rice, Yale, and Princeton, currently teaches at NYU, and is a Creative Associate at the Juilliard School. She has held residencies at Dumbarton Oaks, the Banff Centre, Music on Main, and the Vail Dance Festival. Caroline loves the color yellow, otters, Beethoven opus 74, Mozart opera, Kinhaven, the smell of rosemary, and the sound of a janky mandolin.

Needless to say, she is pretty bad-ass.  I performed her duo for viola and cello Limestone and Felt last month and just fell in love with her music.  Not only is Caroline Shaw a freaking genius, she’s also REALLY nice, and super funny.  In this Spotlight, she talks about life as a multi-hyphonated artist, her biggest disappointment, her love of Shake Shack, and the dangerous consequences  playing piano trios can have on a teenage soul.   

TFTL: What is the best part about your career?

CAS: Getting to make something new that never existed in that particular form before, often alongside friends and colleagues whose curiosity inspires me every day.

TFTL: Are you more comfortable with a daily routine, or the freedom of an open schedule? Are you disciplined in how you work, or do you prefer to follow your mood and creative flow?

CAS: I crave a daily routine sometimes, but it’s rare. And I think that I really love the freedom of an open schedule. It’s a thrilling challenge, and I’ve always enjoyed a blank piece of paper much more than one with lines. Deadlines often generate the discipline needed to finish a project, and I’m grateful for them. Creative flow is hugely important as well, and I think that that kind of mood and flow can only come out of intense work and discipline. Freedom in rules, in various permutations.

TFTL: As a violinist, a vocalist, and a composer, how do you balance your different “lives”?

CAS: The different roles definitely feed each other, and I like the different kinds of work that they require.

TFTL: When you finished Yale and went on to get your PhD in composition, did you feel like you were moving away from being “a violinist”? Was that a choice between the two, or an expansion of your existing life?

CAS: It definitely felt like an expansion of things that I was already doing. I’ll always be a violinist; it’s just one part of being a musician, for me.

CAS: My mother, a violin teacher and singer and music organizer. My violin teacher, Joanne Bath. The organist at my church, who was also a composer (Janette Fishell). My youth orchestra directors, Glenna Theurer and John O’Brien. Anyone who I ever saw perform, or who coached any group that I played with. Too many to name.

TFTL: Who were some of your role models as a young musician?

TFTL: How old were you when you knew you wanted to be a professional musician?

CAS: I never quite knew what being a “professional musician” was (and maybe I still don’t), but I definitely felt something kick in when I was about 15 and played a piano trio by Clara Schumann. It felt like a kind of fire was lit underneath me, and I got really serious!.

TFTL: What do you think has been the most exciting moment in your career so far?

CAS: Ha. That’s a tough question. But the first thing that popped into my head was the feeling of singing “Passacaglia” with Roomful of Teeth, at our very first concert ever, in 2009 at Mass MoCA. There was a wonderful energy in the room then that feeds me still.

TFTL: What has been the most disappointing? How did you recover from it?

CAS: I worked for a long time on a piece called Ritornello, for which I wrote the music and made a film. I could tell in the performance that it wasn’t going well, and that I should have spent more time editing the music and definitely editing the video. I got some bad reviews (both in person and in print), but I am thankful for that honesty. It made me realize that it takes a long time to make something as deep and important as I wanted that piece to be, and as I still want that piece to be. I still think about it and work on it from time to time, and it’s an important lesson that I keep with me.

TFTL: What is your favorite thing about going to a classical music concert these days?

CAS: When something honest and beautiful happens. Could be in the performance. Could be in the music itself. I love being moved by a particular harmonic shift, maybe one that was written hundreds of years ago. Harmony is so effing great.

TFTL: If you could have dinner with any classical musician, dead or alive, who would you choose, and what would you ask them about?

CAS: I would really like to go to Shake Shack with Gesualdo.

TFTL: Quickies: Tea or Coffee? NYC or Maine? Summer or Winter? Morning bird or Night owl?

CAS: Coffee. Maine. SUMMER, R U KIDDING. Night owl.

TFTL: where can people find you? 

CAS: ig: carolineadelaideshaw
twitter: caroshawmusic

TFTL: What can we look forward to seeing next from you?

CAS: A new album of my string quartets with the Attacca Quartet is coming out in February, on Nonesuch/New Amsterdam.

Thank you SO much, Caroline! 

Wanna hear how great her music is? 

I just received this holiday “ecard” from the Attaca Quartet with a little BTS video of their recording sessions with Caroline.  

Here’s a video of Roomful of Teeth performing her Partita.

You can get the whole sha-bang here.

 

Happy Thanksgiving!

Wishing all of you the Happiest Thanksgiving Weekend.  May your cranberries be canned (yes!) and your turkey not be burnt to a crisp. Here are a few of our more popular recent posts, in case you need a break from the game, an escape from nosey (well-meaning?) relatives, or just a little “alone” time over the next few days.

-Kate

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Holiday Gift Guide for Musicians

How to Make a Supplemental Audition Recording

Holiday Gift Guide for Your Child’s Music Teacher

Spotlight Series: Crushing Classical’s Tracy Friedlander

Turning a Funk into Your Next Breakthrough

How to Learn a Piece of Music Once You’ve Left School

Secrets of Effective Practicing

Ten Things I Wish I had Known When I was Taking Auditions

The $100 Bill

Teaching According to The Four Tendencies

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(Sorry, little buddy!) 

Spotlight Series: Tracy Friedlander

This month’s spotlight is shining on horn player, writer and podcaster Tracy Friedlander-creator of the podcast Crushing Classical.  Here, she talks about her own path of discovery towards her ideal career, growing up in Chicago (we played in the Chicago Youth Symphony Orchestra together!), the No. 1 Secret of Success she has learned from interviewing hundreds of people in creative fields, and the one piece of advice she would give to an incoming college freshman.

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TFTL: What made you decide to start a podcast?

TF: At a career crossroads myself, I realized I didn’t feel like I had any options besides getting back on the audition track. I started looking around for myself at what people were doing and thought “gee, maybe I should start a podcast”! Once I started I could see that there were so many musicians creating unique careers that had interesting and inspiring stories to share.

TFTL: Do you have a morning ritual or routine? Can you share some of it?

TF: I ALWAYS start my day with a cup of yerba mate. Every morning I get up and do a sort of reflection/meditation, and review what I have coming up for the day… usually I do some writing, and always drink tea while doing it!

TFTL: What’s been your biggest overall takeaway after having interviewed so many different musicians?

TF: That the best quality you can possibly have is self awareness. When you are in tune with what you really want in your life, it helps you make better decisions when moving toward a career. Tactically this looks like really reflecting about what you want for your LIFE – do you love travel? Do you have a particular place in mind where you want to live? Do you want a family? The people I’ve interviewed seem to have a strong sense of what works for THEM – and they’ve been able to create a career custom to who they are. That’s what I hope people are able to see through my interviews and reflect on what it means for their own purpose.

TFTL: What is the best part about your career?  

TF: Conversations. I enjoy having meaningful conversations with people about creating music and art they love. It inspires me to do the same thing. I also love that I’ve built a platform in which I can share my ideas and other people’s stories – and hopefully by doing it keep inspiring people to do things they love.

TFTL: Practicing: Love it or Hate it?

TF: I guess I have a love/hate relationship with practicing… I’ve gone through times where I hated practicing those SAME excerpts again for another audition. Now I look at practice as a way to stay in shape, like a workout. And I’m learning new things, like learning to improvise. It’s fun to challenge myself to learn new skills.

TFTL: Who were some of your role models as a young musician?

TF: I really looked up to the Chicago Symphony horns. I grew up outside of Chicago and theirs were my first recordings of classical music I ever listened to.

TFTL: How old were you when you knew you wanted to be a professional musician?

TF: I think by the time I was a 14 or so – once I was playing in youth orchestra I was hooked. It was so much fun, I could barely imagine you could get paid for doing something so incredible.

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TFTL: What do you think it takes to “make it” in today’s classical music world?  

TF: I think it depends on what your definition of “make it” is – and you need to really define what that is for yourself. Personally, I think you’ve made it when you don’t have to rely solely on being chosen by someone else to do what you love. So, in order for that to be the case, it’s your job to CREATE something that you can call your own. Then, regardless of if you audition or not, you have something that is yours. That’s when you’ve made it in my eyes.

TFTL: What is your favorite thing about going to a classical music concert these days?

TF: I like to go to a classical concert if it’s one of my favorite symphonies or a piano concerto, but mostly my favorite concerts to go to now are more unique, outside of the box concerts.

TFTL: What advice would you give to an 18-year old freshman at a music conservatory?

TF: Get OUT of the music school and EXPLORE your university. I don’t care about required classes or any of that. Find out what you are interested in. Study a diverse range of things while you can. Also – study abroad! There’s no better time to live in another country and learn about a new culture and learn a new language than when you’re young. There are fabulous teachers all over the world, especially in Europe. Go find out what that’s like!

TFTL: If you could have dinner with any classical musician, dead or alive, who would you choose, and what would you ask them about?

TF: Without a doubt, Leonard Bernstein. I would want to talk to him about how he would suggest musicians can continue his legacy, and what he would do personally if he were in his prime today with the internet and social media.

TFTL: Quickies: Tea or Coffee?  NYC or Maine?  Summer or Winter?  Yoga or Crossfit?

TF: Tea every day, but coffee for a treat. NYC. SUMMER! Crossfit (actually, weight training to be specific!)

TFTL: Where can people find you? 

TF: I’m on Facebook and Instagram @crushingclassical.

You can also find my writing on Medium.com

For the Podcast: Tune in to Crushing Classical on Apple Podcasts, Google Play Music, iHeart Radio, Android App, YouTube, Spotify or Stitcher

A new episode of Crushing Classical comes out every two weeks. You can subscribe HERE by going into itunes, and you’ll get the newest episode delivered to your app of choice each time a new episode launches! I have loved every one of her episodes.  She always has incredibly inspiring guests, and I love hearing their stories about how they have shaped their own unique career.

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Thank you so much, Tracy! 

Spotlight Series: Sarah Whitney

To continue our monthly series on kick-ass women of the classical music world, this month we have violinist, blogger and all-around music entrepreneur Sarah Whitney.  A native of Concord, MA (She’s a GBYSO alumna!) and currently residing in NYC, Sarah has been taking the classical music world by storm as a member of the acclaimed ensemble, SYBARITE5, as well as running her own unique concert series titled “Beyond the Notes”.  She performs regularly as a duo, AND a trio, is a regular on the recording session circuit and is passionate about creating innovative concert experiences.  As if being on the road almost half the year isn’t enough, she has also recently launched her own blog, The Productive Musician, where she gives great advice on time management and basic life hacks for the artistic soul.  Today, she is giving us a little insight into how she gets it all done,  the valuable lessons she has learned while on the road as a touring musician, and how the biggest risks are always the ones worth taking.

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What are your morning rituals or routines?

SW: In the past year or so my morning time has become very sacred. I’ve found that it’s the only way for me to have any sort of routine amidst my ever changing schedule. Ideally, I like to have 1 1/2 hours of “me time” BEFORE I check my email. During this time I will do the basics – make my espresso, eat breakfast, shower, get ready, etc. I will also spend time to plan my day, set my daily goals, read something inspiring and do a short meditation. I’m currently using a planner called the Panda Planner which I love and helps outline much of my planning. This pre-email time has helped me immensely. Most emails are “asks” and although they are things that I need to tend to, most of the time they are other people’s priorities to be fulfilled. By setting my priorities first thing in the morning before checking email, I’ve found I have a better chance of keeping track of and completing my most important tasks.

Any Must-Haves for air-travel? 

SW: A pashmina scarf! The temperature can always be unpredictable on planes so a scarf is something small and lightweight to carry that can be a great way to keep warm and double as a blanket. Also, I oftentimes roll the scarf up and use it as a makeshift lumbar back support which I’ve found makes longs flights SO much more comfortable.

I also only travel wearing jersey and never leave for the airport without my refillable water bottle!

What has been your scariest moment on stage? 

SW: A few years go my quintet, SYBARITE5, premiered a brand new concerto for string quintet and orchestra with the South Carolina Philharmonic. We had been mumbling about switching to iPads for music reading for a while and thought this would be a great time since we wanted to read off of scores. So, we took the plunge. During the performance, all seemed to be going well until I turned the page with my foot pedal only to see I had flipped from page 1 to page 3. I turned back thinking I had skipped a page only to find myself toggling between pages 1 and 3 with no page 2 in sight at all! Mild panic ensued and since there wasn’t much I could do, I slapped on a big smile and did a little improvising to get me through the missing page! Luckily, all the pages were in impeccable order moving forward, but my heart definitely skipped a few beats – no, MANY beats – during that performance!

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What has been your most rewarding moment as a musician?

SW: One of my favorite things is performing at retirement and nursing homes. When my grandparents were living, I would visit their retirement home and grew up frequently performing at these communities. Sometimes they were formal concerts and other times they weren’t but I loved sharing my music this way. Throughout my career, I’ve continued to play at retirement homes all over the country; a few years ago, I was playing at an intensive care unit where many of the residents were not 100% cognitively aware. I was playing Moon River and all of the sudden one of the residents started humming along. This created a chain reaction and before I knew it, I had a choir of residents singing along! It was an extremely rewarding and magical experience. Although we couldn’t really speak to one another, we could connect through our music.

Practicing: Love it or Hate it?

SW: Practicing is a very precious time for me and it’s something that I have grown to sincerely love. Between all of the necessary admin work, travel and life events, it can be quite challenging to find a lot of practice time. I miss those days at grad school when practice hours were a plenty! I have, however, learned to be much more effective with my practice time and can accomplish more in less time than I used to.

What about when you were a kid?

SW: Probably the exact opposite of how I feel about it now! There was usually lots of negotiating about practice time and I was constantly looking for ways to put it off. My parents probably have a laundry list of excuses I used!

Who were some of your role models as a young musician?

SW: Gidon Kremer was a huge role model to me. He was one of the first violinists I learned about that pushed the boundaries of being a classical musician. I was fascinated and inspired by his creativity, artistry and fearlessness to be different. This opened my eyes to a whole new way of thinking about what it meant to be a violinist.

How old were you when you knew you wanted to be a professional musician? 

SW: I didn’t actually grow up always knowing 100% that I wanted to pursue music professionally. It was a large part of my life and I was very serious about it, but I had a lot of interests and ideas about the future as a young child. When college “discussions” came along my junior year of high school, the prospect of music school was appealing and seemed to make a lot of sense. In some ways you could say the decision to become professional was during my junior year when I applied to music schools for college, but honestly, there really wasn’t a “moment” and in hindsight, it actually happened very organically.

 

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Have any pre-concert rituals? 

SW: Tea! I’m very sensitive to temperature when I perform and get cold very easily. Even in warmer climates, the air conditioning in concert halls can often be very fierce. I’ve found the best and most consistent way to keep my body temperature warm is with a hot beverage so I’m usually sipping on tea or hot water before a show!

Do you have a favorite city to perform in?

SW: One of my favorite places to perform was in Fairbanks, Alaska with SYBARITE5. It was March and indescribably cold, but the the warm reception and hospitality of the community was amazing. We also got to see the northern lights and had one of the most memorable back stage riders consisting of an entire Alaskan salmon!

 

What do you find to be the hardest part of being on the road?

SW: The hardest part about being on the road is being sure to make time for myself. I travel mostly with SYBARITE5 and sometimes it’s very convenient to do everything together as a quintet. Although I love my colleagues, it took me a while to realize how essential my “me time” was. I’ve had to find ways to make sure that that happens and make sure I’m disciplined about my time management on the road.

What advice would you give to your 18-year old self? 

SW: All of the musicians you are around now will become your colleagues in the real world! Keep in touch with these people – they will be incredible resources for advice, collaborations and support.

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If you could have dinner with any classical musician, dead or alive, who would you choose, and what would you ask them about? 

SW: Prokofiev! I would ask him if he was going to write one more piece of music what would it be, and who would it be for?

What is the biggest risk you have taken in your career? 

SW: The biggest risk I have taken is probably moving to NYC …without a job! In 2008, my last year of graduate school at the Cleveland Institute of Music, I realized that I did not want to be in an orchestra and therefore had no exact idea about what I WANTED to do after I graduated. I had met Louis, founder of SYBARITE5, at the Aspen Music Festival and School and he called me with a proposal: Would I be interested in moving to NYC after I graduated to help grow SYBARITE5 into a professional chamber ensemble even though there wasn’t any concrete work or financial guarantee yet? Crazy, right?! Well, I took the plunge and I’m so glad I did. Almost 10 years later I have established quite a career in NYC and toured the country and the world with SYBARITE5!

Where can people find you? (website, IG, FB, Twitter, etc.) 

www.sarahwhitney.com

Blog: www.theproductivemusician.com

IG: @sarahwhitneyistall

FB: https://www.facebook.com/sarahwhitneyistall

Thank you so much, Sarah!  Safe Travels!

Spotlight Series: Lidiya Yankovskaya

Recenly, I wrote about the new direction I am taking with this space, and as a part of that, I am excited to introduce my new Spotlight Series.  One Wednesday each month, I will interview a totally fierce, ultra-talented female who is taking the music world by storm. I am going to have a mix of performers, composers, conductors, managers, and other lady bosses who are involved in the classical music world in some way.

 

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Today, we have conductor Lidiya Yankovskaya.   Born in St. Petersburg, Russia, I had the pleasure of meeting Lidiya in Boston a few years ago when we were both doing some work with the Boston Youth Symphony Orchestras.  It wasn’t long before she was whisked away to do project after project–collecting kudos and rave reviews everywhere she went.  She is currently serving as Music Director of Chicago Opera Theater, Artistic Director of The Refugee Orchestra Project, and Artistic Director Emeritus/Conductor of Juventus New Music Ensemble.  Here, she talks to us how she prepares for a performance, shares her tips of the trade for traveling and practicing, what advice she would give her 18-year old self, and tells a terrifying story of life in an opera pit!

What is your morning ritual or routine?

LY: Since my schedule varies wildly from day to day, I don’t have a routine (and don’t particularly enjoy having one). However, I generally plan out my schedule (including score study time, etc.) at the beginning of a week for that week or at least for the next few days.  If I don’t have a morning rehearsal, I will generally go jogging, go to the gym or do something else active in the morning.

Must-haves for air-travel?

LY: Scores—airplanes are great for score study.  Bring a big warm scarf/sweater in case the plane is super cold.  Comfortable clothing. Airborne in case I end up next to someone who is sneezing and coughing. Generally, I try to pack as little as humanly possible while traveling.

What was your scariest moment on stage?

LY: Last season, I conducted an opera in which a chorus of women was ‘gathering water’ by scooping clay pitchers over the pit.  Someone in props decided to give them pitchers made out of actual clay, and at one point, the handle of a pitcher broke off as a woman in the chorus did the scooping motion.  The pitcher fell into the pit and shattered directly between a cello and a violist—a few inches to the left or right and it would have fallen on someone’s head or someone’s instrument!!

What has been your most rewarding moment as a musician?

LY: There are so many.  I really love my job and there is nothing like the magic of everything coming together the way you mean for it to in a performance.  Luckily, I get to have this feeling often!

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Practicing: Love it or Hate it?

LY: There are things I love about the study and rehearsal process even more than performances.  It’s exciting to discover something the composer put into the score for the first time, or to come up with a new way to shape a phrase.  Of course, it’s also very rewarding to bring the final product to the audience, but I really love the discovery and musical shaping that takes place as I learn a new piece (or rediscover an old one).

What about when you were a kid?

LY: I liked to practice, but was also very impatient about sitting still for long periods of time.  I would want to work very intensively for about 20 minutes, then get up and do something else, then come back to work.  I came from a musical culture where I was asked to sit at the piano patiently for 3+ hours in order for the practicing to be seen as effective, and I learned to do this over time.  Of course, we now know that it’s actually much more productive to work in shorter spurts.  I do wish someone recognized this when I was a kid and allowed me to take full advantage of the practicing style that was most natural for me.  These days, I find that I’m most productive in 45-minute increments.  Work intensely for 45 mins, take a stretch or grab some water or thing about something else; get back to work.

Who were some of your role models as a young musician?

LY: I had some spectacular teachers.  Probably the most important were my high school piano teachers, the duo-piano pair Vladimir Pleshakov and Elena Winther.  They didn’t really have other students and, after a long solo career in Europe, retired to upstate New York, where they occasionally concertized in their piano museum and concert hall.  Each weekend, I would drive an hour and a half to their home in Hudson, NY and spend an hour with one and then an hour with the other.  They approached music making in an incredibly deep, nuanced, and cross-disciplinary way that has stuck with me throughout my career.  They also had this huge collection of pianos from different periods and different places and had me play all my repertoire on the instrument of that time, which gave incredible insight into the work.

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How old were you when you knew you wanted to be a professional musician?

LY: Although I studied music very seriously my entire childhood, I didn’t think I would pursue it professionally.  I toyed with the idea of getting a conservatory piano degree, but realized that I wanted to study other things and also that sitting alone in a practice room for so many hours a day was not for me.  In college, I studied music, philosophy and languages, but realized that music was the one thing I couldn’t live without.  By the end of my time in college, I realized that conducting was the most natural path for me, and a perfect way to combine my various skills and interests.

Have any pre-concert rituals?

LY: Relax, stretch, eat lots of food and drink lots of water to energize for a performance. When possible, I like to go for a long jog or do something else active to clear my head in the afternoon the day of a concert.

Favorite city to perform in?

LY: I like variety.  Each city has something different to offer, and it’s often the city you least expect that is the best place to stay for a short while and that has the most enthusiastic audience.

What is the hardest part of being on the road?

LY: Not having loved ones with you.

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What advice would you give to your 18-year old self?

LY: You have lots of time—don’t feel that you have to have everything figured out now.  Also, sometimes, sleep is more important than fitting in every single thing you want to learn and accomplish; sometimes resting more will allow you to take more advantage of what life has to offer, not less!

If you could have dinner with any classical musician, dead or alive, who would you choose, and what would you ask them about?

LY: Mendelssohn—he was such an incredible overall musician and human being.  Mahler—how did he really want his symphonies to sound?  Wagner—I’d be curious to learn how such a seemingly horrible person could be reconciled with such superb music.  Anton Rubinshteyn—he accomplished so much in his lifetime, basically building a classical music tradition in Russia.  Obviously, choosing just one is hard for me!

Where can people find you?

www.LidiyaConductor.com (where you can also sign up for my mailing list!) @LidiyaConductor on FB Twitter, instagram, etc.

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Thank you so much, Lidiya, for this glimpse into your amazing life!

Photos by Kate Lemmon.