Skip to content

in performance: Rhymes With Opera “Heartbreak Express”

November 17, 2014

Note: Many thanks to Michael Berg for this guest review. I am thrilled to have talented writers, such as Michael, who help expand the geographical reach of the Sybaritic Singer. Read more about Michael at the end of this post. – Sybaritic Singer

Heartbreak Express

Alongside the frequent (and highly publicized) struggles of large opera companies, there lies a compelling trend: a growing wealth of smaller-scale opera companies that prioritize innovative productions of everything from standard repertoire to obscure gems to entirely new works. Rhymes With Opera is a perfect example of such a company. Since their founding in 2007, they have provided consistently high-quality performances of new operas, often in varying stages of development. Friday night’s concert performance of Heartbreak Express at the charming H.B. Playwrights Theater is no exception; in this semi-staged reading, RWO treated its audience to selections from this compelling new piece, which the company hopes to present fully staged before long. Kudos to RWO for the evening’s inventive programming: they invited pop trio Siren to perform small sets between the selected numbers from the opera. In the spirit of the opera, the trio played several Dolly Parton songs, while including several original pieces as well as selections by everybody from Beyoncé to Alanis Morissette. Between their intricate harmonies and clever arrangements of well-known works, Siren’s delightful performance provided a perfect counterpart to the opera.

in performance: Rhymes With Opera "Heartbreak Express"

Robert Maril, Karen Hayden, Elisabeth Halliday |Photo Credit: Janette Pellegrini

Heartbreak Express tells the story of four Dolly Parton fans who have an opportunity to meet the country star, first focusing on their interaction as they arrive at Dollywood and then on their reactions afterward. These four fans, supervised and herded by Ms. Parton’s assistant, arrive in two couples: LuAnne and Darlene are middle-aged sisters who dressed in angel-wing costumes for the meeting, and Don and Travis are a couple whose entire home is a shrine devoted to Dolly paraphernalia. For Darlene and Travis, meeting Ms. Parton has the air of a holy experience, on which they pin hopes for some form of personal salvation or revelation; their counterparts, LuAnne and Don, are not as devoted, but make the trip out of a combination of love and obligation. During the interview, Darlene has a nervous breakdown, and LuAnne—who appeared not to expect much from Dolly—is struck by her graciousness and sensitivity. Travis, meanwhile, is crushed by the fact that Dolly does not (indeed, can not) live up to his expectations, and Don is deeply troubled by his partner’s obsessive behavior both before and after the interview.

Dolly Parton superfandom makes it to the opera stage with Rhymes With Opera’s “Heartbreak Express.” tweet this

The structure of the piece is, in effect, a Classical or Baroque aria writ large: the first act is expository recitative, while the second act is a series of lyrical reflections in which the characters relate the experience of meeting their idol. The libretto, written by John Clum (who also served as director for the production), adroitly contrasts witty and fast-paced dialog with poignant reflection throughout the piece. George Lam’s score is evocative and nuanced, featuring a muted perpetual motion in the orchestra ensemble out of which individual instruments emerge to intertwine with the vocalists. Under the baton of Joon Andrew Choi, the orchestra played with precision and expression, providing the perfect counterpart to the narrative as it unfolds.

The singers appeared more comfortable with the music of the second act than with the recitative-like music in the first; there were moments of discomfort for all four as they navigated the less lyrical passages, but they acquitted themselves well overall. Soprano Elisabeth Halliday sang the role of LuAnne with crystalline intensity, particularly in her stunning performance of the Act II aria, “Ease This Burden.” Soprano Karen Hayden (Darlene) conveyed charming naïveté with her well-crafted presentation of the younger sister, singing with earnest warmth. In the role of Travis, baritone Robert Maril sang with searing fervor, effectively portraying the character’s blinding obsession and the crippling disillusionment he experiences after meeting Dolly. Baritone Gerald Yarbray (Don) sang with subtlety and expressivity, doing a marvelous job of acting with the voice and reacting to his partner’s worrying mania. And countertenor Peter Thoresen (the Assistant) sang with agility and passion in a role that ebbed and flowed between comic relief and eerie reflection.

in performance: Rhymes With Opera "Heartbreak Express"

Gerald Yarbray, Robert Maril | Photo Credit: Janette Pellegrini

All told, RWO’s concert reading of Heartbreak Express was an engaging performance that the full house enjoyed with great enthusiasm. The second and final performance was Saturday, November 15th, but if you found yourself unable to attend, don’t fret: RWO has promised a fully staged production, which—if it lives up to the promise of last night’s performance—will be a marvelous experience for all involved.

Michael Berg serves as the Administrative Director of the Chautauqua Opera Company; he also works as a freelance writer and development consultant.

in performance: Beyond the Score with the Des Moines Symphony

November 16, 2014

It is a testament not only to the rich legacy of the 77 season history of the Des Moines Symphony but also to the faithful patrons in the region that on the first big snowfall of this Iowa winter, the 2,662-seat Des Moines Civic Center was nearly packed. The audience composed of diverse age groups all turned out for the perennial wonder that is Beethoven Symphony No. 5 in C Minor as well as a new edition to the performance, Beyond the Score. It was an evening devoted to committed musicianship and discovering a favorite masterwork with new ears.

Des Moines Symphony | Beethoven's Fifth "Beyond the Score"

Des Moines Symphony

Beyond the Score

Beyond the Score is a fascinating multimedia exploration featuring four actors, pianist Eugene Gaub, Maestro Joseph Giunta, and the Des Moines Symphony all working together to encourage a richer listening experience for all in attendance – not just the unpracticed concert-goer. The visual, aural, and dramatic production is a clever way to introduce the themes and elements of the symphony. Originally created by the Chicago Symphony in 2005, it is the closest I’ve ever witnessed to a “Pop Up Video” for the classical music set. The actors touched on moments in Beethoven’s life leading up to and during the writing of his fifth symphony including his admiration and esteem for Napoleon Bonaparte. Roger Mueller‘s lightly accented text leant gravitas to his Beethoven admitting, “how can I admit inferiority in the one sense that should have been more perfect in me? I heard nothing.” A few interesting pronunciations aside, Michael Boudewyns, Sara Valentine, and Stephen Yoakam were excellent guides through the history of the composer. Boudewyns as critic E.T.A. Hoffman and Yoakam’s French Military Officer were energizing and gave a sense of authenticity to the text.

Symphony No. 5 in C Minor

The Beyond the Score program with its musical extracts, theatrical narrative, and hand-paced projections stoked the audience’s anticipation for the full performance. This was not an oppressively solemn hand of fate from the Des Moines Symphony. The first movement Allegro con brio did indeed move with brilliance and the bright and brassy horn sounds were vivid throughout. Jennifer Wohlenhaus‘ treatment of the short oboe cadenza in the first movement was a sterling delivery of the unexpected phrase.

Likewise, Gregory Oakes‘ second movement messa di voce clarinet work grew out from the texture of the strings to provide a touchstone for the ear. The woodwinds exhibited accomplished and deft ensemble playing. It was gratifying to hear the orchestra under the baton of Giunta emphasize when Beethoven leads the listener’s ear in an interesting and evocative way. With their performance, one can hear how this work influenced Brahms so deeply. While there were a few debatable tuning moments in the cello/bass Scherzo theme, both elements of the “singing piano,” legato dotted rhythms in the Andante con moto of Saturday night’s performance were impressive.

When the Symphony reaches the finale there is an exuberance without hint of labor or weight. One could sense a collective smile break out across the audience. It is too often that we hear an almost out of control Allegro finale and the sense of mastery is hidden in favor of immense sound. Giunta made an expert choice to let the musicians shine rather than pummel through the finale. Instead of oppressive, the continued emphasis of the cadential chords was therefore uplifting.

While the “fate theme” is conceivably the most famous beginning of all classical music, the Des Moines Symphony took care which each successive moment of the popular work. This is not an example of a regional symphony programming stalwarts to achieve ever elusive attendees but a commitment to the musical literacy of their community and their own musical mastery. It was encouraging to witness the Des Moines Symphony actively employing thoughtful and engaging audience development tools in addition to their impressive musical performance.

in performance: A Vision for Chamber Music – Fifth House Ensemble’s “Black Violet Act II”

October 19, 2014

Peter Stevenson, Executive Director of the Civic Music Association, welcomed the audience in Sheslow Auditorium of Drake University on Saturday night declaring, “Fifth House Ensemble has a vision for chamber music that involves storytelling, graphic novels, and of course music.” Murmurs from some nearby audience members suggested that the performance, which mixes the high-calibre music making of Fifth House Ensemble with projected slides of Ezra Claytan Daniels‘ stunning drawings, was an entirely new adventure and perhaps a bit avant-garde in their experience. However, Fifth House Ensemble was superlative in their ability to craft an unforgettable evening of sight and sound with Black Violet Act II: The Great Exodus of the Tamed.

Sybaritic Singer | Fifth House Ensemble

Fifth House Ensemble | Learn more at

The first of the three acts to the story of Black Violet premiered in the fall of 2009, but each act stands alone as an evening-length performance. The story, with historical consulting from Kristen Klebba, takes place in 17th Century London during the Great Plague of London, in which one in five residents died from the infamous bacterial infection. The second act of the story jumps in following the heroine Violet, a young black house cat, as she is forced to venture out into the world after she believes her owner to have abandoned her. She has already-formed alliances, both positive and negative, with other characters that the audience pieces together seeing only this middle act of the story. Ezra Claytan Daniels’ highly graphic illustration style provides a lot of information for the eye while keeping the phrasing of the text on the slides quite simple and straightforward even with the 17th Century English text influences.

It is this straightforwardness with text and highly visual artwork coupled with the precise musicality from the instrumentalists that highlighted the most important factor of this performance: curating the distance of attention. It isn’t immediately noticeable how important this influence is in this program. Cellist Herine Coetzee Koschak and pianist Jani Parsons initially draw the audience into a close focus of the aural world of the performance with the spellbinding Ernest BlochPrayer.” Then, movements of the meticulous John HarbisonQuintet for Winds” and Sergei Prokofiev‘s highly characteristic “Quintet Op. 39” matched with slides from the Black Violet graphic novel direct the listener’s attention into a big picture survey both visual and musical. This type of programming could find detractors in those that want to hear the development of a multi-movement work in its original formation. Yet, the insightful programming heightens other emotional and intellectual connections to the themes inherent in the work. It is also clear that the musicians in Fifth House Ensemble have an intense commitment to musical excellence and enjoy making music together on stage in the way that they cue and check-in visually. Then, the interludes (without the visuals) including Caleb Burhans‘ piano solo “In Time of Desperation” featuring Parsons and especially the emotionally charged Dmitri ShostakovichPiano Quintet Op. 57 Movement II: Fugue” draw the collective attention to an extremely fine point. Each of the five movements of the Shostakovich performed by Charlene Kluegel, Rachel Brown Clark, Clark Carruth, Herine Coetzee Koschak, and Jani Parsons were exquisite moments throughout the evening. With so many ensemble members, it is difficult to mention them each by name, but their work as soloists and as a whole is impressive.

It is evident with this performance that Fifth House Ensemble has a clear vision for themselves in the new music domain. While graphic novels and storytelling are an excellent outgrowth of their creative strengths in the Black Violet performances, it is their steadfast commitment to high-calibre musicianship that continues to lie at the heart of that vision.

Ezra Claytan Daniels

Photo Credit: Ezra Claytan Daniels for Fifth House Ensemble

Full disclosure: In 2013, I was a voice fellow at the Fresh Inc Festival in Kenosha, WI. I worked with many of the Fifth House Ensemble members who are the faculty and organizers of the Fresh Inc Festival. 

in performance: Opera Omaha’s Compelling “Rigoletto”

October 18, 2014

There is a point in every tragedy in which the hero’s life begins to unravel. In Giuseppe Verdi’s 1851 grand opera Rigoletto, that moment for the Duke of Mantua’s lowly court jester is the curse. The curse, in the libretto by Francesco Maria Piave, brings about the downfall of an outwardly grotesque yet inwardly noble man. With some of Verdi’s most beloved melodies and music in all of the repertory, Opera Omaha‘s current production is a compelling contrast between pure tenderness and vengeance.

Sybaritic Singer | Opera Omaha "Rigoletto"

Fabián Veloz as Rigoletto and Rachele Gilmore as Gilda for Opera Omaha | Photo Credit: Jim Scholz

That contrast is never clearer than in the scenes and duets between Fabián Veloz as Rigoletto and his precious daughter Gilda, performed by Rachele Gilmore. Their tender and well-balanced duet singing juxtaposed his world-weariness and her innocence. Gilmore’s “Caro nome” was vocally buoyant and pure as was her singing throughout the rest of the evening. She clearly feels comfortable with this show-stopping aria and I was almost surprised that the audience did not clamor for an encore immediately after hearing her pitch perfect interpolated high E at the conclusion. Veloz, on the other hand, began to defiantly open up and explore new vocal colors at the end of the second act through the final act. His “Cortigiani, vil razza dannata” was full of desperation and fearless rage against a backdrop of seeming adolescents. The impassioned singing he displayed with “Piangi, fanciulla, piangi…” grew to an emotionally wrenching “Oh, mia figlia! No, lasciarmi non dêi” displaying the full weight of the curse’s fate. Director Stephanie Havey‘s use of the red scrim to split the stage throughout the show made a powerful separation of Rigoletto from the other characters with a half lowered curtain — an almost Rothko-like stage picture to frame these inwardly emotional moments.

Sybaritic Singer | Opera Omaha "Rigoletto"

Dinyar Vania as the Duke of Mantua and Rachele Gilmore as Gilda for Opera Omaha | Photo Credit: Jim Scholz

Dinyar Vania as the Duke of Mantua was a true vacillating character between the contrast of inwardly noble Rigoletto and Gilda and the grotesque Sparafucile and Maddalena perhaps being even more fickle than his famous aria “La donna è mobile” suggests of women. Vania’s most vocally compelling moments were the beginning of Act II with “Parmi veder le lagrime.” Audrey Babcock‘s Maddalena was every bit the bad girl with a luscious voice to match which never lost its presence in the third act quartet. Her seductive foil to Gilda’s purity made the second act sparkle with tension. Finally, the barbarous Sparafucile as performed by Burak Bilgili bristled with a truly ominous low F in suit with his sinister look. Heath Huberg as Borsa, Adam Cannedy as Marullo, Tyler Putnam as Count Ceprano, and Amanda DeBoer as Countess Ceprano also added vitality, forward momentum, and skilled singing to the production.

The Opera Omaha production of Rigoletto builds the tension both musically and dramatically to the final outcomes of the curse. Yet, it is not the terrible fate of the curse alone but the contrast between the grotesque and noble that makes this production compelling. There is one more opportunity to catch this emotionally compelling performance at the Orpheum Theater on Sunday, October 19th, 2014.


guest post: Curating is More Than Just Good Programming

October 9, 2014

by Judah Adashi, Founder and Artistic Director of the Evolution Contemporary Music Series

Dear Sybaritic faithful: my apologies for the delay in writing and sharing Part II of my guest post. In Part I: The M-Word, I addressed the challenges faced by artists who do their own fundraising. I’m pleased to report that we have since reached our Kickstarter goal for the 10th anniversary season of the Evolution Contemporary Music Series in Baltimore! We’ve also presented our first concert of the season, featuring the beautiful music of Caroline Shaw. That event, along with a recent concert I put together at the Peabody Institute, serve as a springboard to my thoughts below.

Part II: Putting on a Show

“As you say, the series is just starting up; the first show is…[laughs] ‘show;’ that’s not what you call a classical music recital, is it?”

This was Aaron Henkin, host of WYPR’s The Signal in Baltimore, sheepishly correcting himself on air during an interview we did a few weeks ago. Little did he know that he had stumbled upon something very much on my mind these days. If musicians aren’t putting on a show, what exactly are we doing, and why would we expect anyone to attend?

Sybaritic Singer | Judah Adashi Discusses "Putting on a Show"

Cellist Lavena Johanson begins Season 10 of the Evolution Contemporary Music Series with a performance of Caroline Shaw’s in manus tuas. (Photo credit: Faith Bocian)

I started thinking about this in earnest after attending a Peabody Percussion Group concert at the Peabody Institute last spring. Both the performance and the space were divided into three segments, each associated with a different percussion setup and repertoire. In addition to conservatory students, the event also featured guest artists and alumni.

As the evening unfolded, it occurred to me that virtually no other department does anything like this. The student percussionists, mentored passionately by my colleague Bob Van Sice, didn’t merely offer an account (a “recital”) of music learned over the course of a semester. The repertoire was compelling, and the performances were impressive, but these were only two aspects of an event that was much more than the sum of its parts. This was a show: a spectacle, in the best sense of the word.

This idea of creating a multidimensional experience for the audience is increasingly what motivates me as a presenter (and as a composer, but perhaps this is a subject for another post). As the artistic director of the Evolution Contemporary Music Series, I try to construct shows that offer an organic and uninterrupted flow, not unlike an album or playlist. I am partial to 75 to 90-minute programs, usually about an hour of music, ideally with no intermission and no need for changes in stage setup. I’ve also experimented with spoken, instrumental and electronic interludes to facilitate personnel changes and transitions between pieces, as well as multimedia, lighting and staging elements.

A few examples of events that I’ve organized on the Evolution Series and at Peabody:

  • In May 2013, we ended the 8th season of the Evolution Series with an evening of music by John Luther Adams. In between performances of John’s solo and chamber works, the composer read aloud from his own writings, most memorably his powerful piece entitled “Global Warming and Art.”
  • In September 2014, we kicked off the 10th anniversary season of the Evolution Series with composer Caroline Shaw. Caroline shares my preference for a seamless evening (as she aptly put it, “more like a theatre piece than a regular concert”). We divided the program and the small stage into three sections – a piano, a percussion setup, and a string quartet – with the musicians entering and exiting as Caroline improvised short interludes on her violin and loop pedal. Since the program opened with a solo cello piece inspired by a candlelit church service, we arranged two dozen candles at the front of the stage; these remained lit throughout the show.
  • Also last month, I presented the first concert on Peabody’s 2014-15 Sylvia Adalman Chamber Series. For this event, I brought together faculty, staff, students, alumni and guests behind a simple concept: repeating bass lines throughout music history (the inspiration came from an essay by New Yorker music critic Alex Ross). The program ranged from early music to new music and jazz, again with quasi-improvised, electroacoustic transitions. We quite literally cross-faded between pieces, using lighting to delineate a separate space for the interlude performances. As at the Caroline Shaw event, applause was welcomed and gratefully received, but never disrupted the arc of the show.

All of this is nothing new, of course. Most of it is standard fare in a jazz or pop concert. In the contemporary-music world, theatrical sensibilities are championed by artists like eighth blackbird; their recent performance of Amy Beth Kirsten’s Colombine’s Paradise Theater comes to mind. Such ideas also have a vibrant life in alternative venues, as classical musicians have ventured out into bars, clubs, and beyond.

I think we benefit from bringing aspects of the alternative venue back into the concert hall. We don’t need to discard all of the conventions of classical performance, but they should be questioned. It’s important to ask ourselves why we expect people to come hear us make music, and what kind of vibe we’re trying to create around it. Playing great music very well is rarely enough, and curating a concert should involve more than good programming.

Turning a performance into an inviting, communal experience goes beyond the concert itself. On the Evolution Series, every show opens with a pre-concert conversation, and is followed by a wine reception. For a slightly higher ticket price, we also offer an “Extended Play” event at a local coffee shop, an after party with food, drink, and a bonus track performed by the featured artists.

During a recent visit with composers and singers in a summer program offered by Rhymes with Opera (an organization that excels at smart, inventive presentation), I made an analogy between a concert and a party. In both cases, there is an art to planning the flow of an evening, greeting guests, and engaging them through conversation, music, and more. The endgame is the same: imagine the world you want to create, and be generous and entertaining with your audience. When live music is shared in this way, the experience can be transformative.

The music of composer Judah Adashi has been described as “beguiling” (Alex Ross, New Yorker) and “elegant” (Steve Smith, Boston Globe). Dr. Adashi has been honored with awards, grants and commissions from the American Academy of Arts and Letters, the ASCAP and BMI Foundations, the American Composers Forum, New Music USA and the Aspen Music Festival, as well as residencies at Yaddo and the Virginia Center for the Creative Arts. A committed musical organizer, advocate and educator, Dr. Adashi is the founder and artistic director of the Evolution Contemporary Music Series, noted for having “elevated and enriched Baltimore’s new music scene enormously” (Baltimore Sun). He is also on the composition and music theory faculty at the Peabody Institute of the Johns Hopkins University. Dr. Adashi holds master’s and doctoral degrees from Peabody, and a bachelor’s degree from Yale University.

The Evolution Contemporary Music Series, founded in 2005 and directed by composer and Peabody Institute faculty member Judah Adashi, is a Baltimore-based concert series dedicated to the music of living composers. Praised by Tim Smith of the Baltimore Sun for having “elevated and enriched Baltimore’s new music scene enormously,” and by the Baltimore City Paper as “superb…not the same-old, same-old,” the Evolution Series has presented or premiered works by over 75 composers, performed by acclaimed musicians from Baltimore and beyond. Events regularly include pre-concert conversations with performers, composers, critics and scholars. Featured guests have included Marin Alsop, music director of the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra; composers Caroline Shaw and John Luther Adams; and music critics Tim Page (Washington Post) and Alex Ross (New Yorker).

guest post: Behind-the-Scenes of the Evolution Contemporary Music Series with Judah Adashi

September 17, 2014

I was honored when Megan invited me to contribute a guest post to The Sybaritic Singer. Like Megan herself, the blog has done a lot of good in the contemporary music world. Megan suggested that I address behind-the-scenes aspects of directing a concert series. My two-part post will consider practical and philosophical issues that have been on my mind as the Evolution Contemporary Music Series celebrates ten years of bringing new music to Baltimore.

Sybaritic Singer | Evolution Contemporary Music Series

Evolution Contemporary Music Series

Part I: The M-Word

There’s an M-word in the arts: money.

We need money, but we don’t like to talk about it. The word itself isn’t offensive, but we routinely opt for euphemisms like “backing” and “support.”

It’s a strange business asking people for money, especially friends and family, or fellow artists who we know don’t have much to spare. If you’re a presenter, you may have already had to offer your peers more modest compensation than they deserve.

The Evolution Contemporary Music Series – a Baltimore-based concert series dedicated to the music of living composers – has sustained a steady artistic ascent since I founded it in 2005, but our finances haven’t always kept pace. The work has been a labor of love for all involved. Given artists’ natural tendency to concentrate on creating and sharing art at the highest possible level, it’s dangerously easy to treat other dimensions of our enterprise as secondary, especially securing the money needed to realize a meaningful vision.

I feel comfortable with two of the important M’s in our field, music and messaging, but money is more of a challenge. As I continue to inch along the learning curve in the art of development, here are a few of the lessons I’ve learned along the way:

  • Fundraising isn’t a one-person job. More to the point, it isn’t the sole province of an artistic director. The Evolution Series has belatedly but necessarily added a managing director, Wesley Thompson (a former series intern) and a nascent board. Though I believe it’s critical to share my own time and passion in order to engage donors, I can’t do it alone, and can better serve the series by focusing my energies on the music and musicians at the heart of what we do.
  • The Evolution Series had the privilege of presenting the outstanding, highly successful International Contemporary Ensemble (ICE) in our 6th and 7th seasons. Following one of their concerts, an after-party was hosted by an old friend of the group’s then-director of development. The event took place in a beautiful apartment across the street from the Peabody Institute of the Johns Hopkins University, where I have spent 25 years of my life as a student or faculty member. I had never been in this elegant building, nor did I know most of the guests. When I mentioned this to one of the “Icicles,” he told me: “We learned a long time ago that musicians spend far too much time with other musicians.”
  • Finally, one of my Johns Hopkins University colleagues (notably, on the medicine side) recently articulated this fundamental principle: “You have to ask.”

So here’s the ask. The Evolution Series is in the final days of a Kickstarter campaign to fund our 10th anniversary season. This season will be one of our biggest and best yet, featuring several of our favorite musicians: Pulitzer Prize winners Caroline Shaw and David Lang, standout Peabody Conservatory alumna Amy Beth Kirsten, and one of the world’s finest ensembles, So Percussion.

In exchange for your backing – your money – we’re offering exclusive rewards associated with the music and people that will bring this year’s Evolution Series to life. A Kickstarter project is only funded if it meets or surpasses its goal, so the best way to support us is to make your pledge today and then spread the word.

Thanks so much for reading and, I hope, contributing. In my next post, I’ll share a few thoughts about presenting concerts in the 21st century.

About Judah Adashi

Sybaritic Singer | Judah Adashi | Photo Credit: Frank Hamilton

Judah Adashi | Photo Credit: Frank Hamilton

Said to be “embarked on a promising career” (Washington Post), composer Judah Adashi has been honored with awards, grants and commissions from the American Academy of Arts and Letters, the ASCAP and BMI Foundations, the American Composers Forum, Meet the Composer and the Aspen Music Festival, as well as residencies at Yaddo and the Virginia Center for the Creative Arts. A committed musical organizer, advocate and educator, Dr. Adashi is the founder and artistic director of the Evolution Contemporary Music Series, noted for having “elevated and enriched Baltimore’s new music scene enormously” (Baltimore Sun). He is also on the composition and music theory faculty at the Peabody Institute of the Johns Hopkins University. Dr. Adashi holds master’s and doctoral degrees from Peabody, and a bachelor’s degree from Yale University. For more information, please visit

About the Evolution Contemporary Music Series

The Evolution Contemporary Music Series, founded in 2005 and directed by composer and Peabody Institute faculty member Judah Adashi, is a Baltimore-based concert series dedicated to the music of living composers. Praised by Tim Smith of the Baltimore Sun for having “elevated and enriched Baltimore’s new music scene enormously,” and by the Baltimore City Paper as “superb…not the same-old, same-old,” the Evolution Series has presented or premiered works by over 75 composers, performed by acclaimed musicians from Baltimore and beyond. Events regularly include pre-concert conversations with performers, composers, critics and scholars. Featured guests have included Marin Alsop, music director of the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra; composers Missy Mazzoli and John Luther Adams; and music critics Tim Page (Washington Post) and Alex Ross (New Yorker).

guest post: Career Path? Nope. Career Meadow!

August 19, 2014

Hello kind readers! My name is the Voracious Vocalist and I am a friend and colleague of the esteemed Sybaritic Singer. After spending an afternoon re-reading Sybie’s fabulous blog, one sentence really struck chord with me and highlighted an idea that I feel like I am constantly proselytizing myself.  On Day 7 of this year’s fantastic #28DaysToDiva series our author wrote, “one of the most important points is that we cobble together the career that works for each of us individually – not just a generic idea of a successful singing career.”

I have seen so many young singers angst over getting into just the right college, so they can proceed to obsess over the very best graduate school. Then they zoom in on young artist programs and plan out how they will certainly proceed to management auditions and then the obligatory comprimario roles blah blah blah… and voila! They surely will be “successful” and happy and true vocal artists and all that. Right. Well, I have watched dozens of times how these same singers become baffled when Step A, doesn’t really guarantee Step B, or Step C for that matter.  A classical singer’s career has no guaranteed linear progression. Forward momentum is, of course, absolutely necessary and obligatory (this blog is a perfect resource to research this topic). Move forward or perish – like a shark, dear readers. However, the arts world is not some corporate worlds. There is no one ladder. Folks jump rungs and rappel to other ladders entirely.

Courtney Kalbacker

Courtney Kalbacker: “Career Path? Nope. Career Meadow!”

The so-called singing “career path” is a myth that sets up most young singers for disappointment and confusion.  Besides, we are creative types – a singular, narrow ladder/path keeps us much too focused on a small range of artistic opportunities. Instead, I encourage you to leave the ordinary path and discover new ones of your own. Don’t be afraid to dive off-course into the sometimes thorny – but much more invigorating – undergrowth!  It will stretch you as an artist and open you up as a musical entrepreneur to new projects and markets.  Take a straight theatre audition, make a connection with a new composer, volunteer for an arts organization, try directing – or painting, or writing, or skiing.  Take a shot at the new day job that will give you a new perspective on yourself and your capabilities. In fact, do it all at once. Because there is no career “path” – just a wide, wild, ever-expanding career meadow.  Make your own paths all across that meadow. Many of them.  Because we are artists and one narrow, crowded path? Well, that’s just not the place for us. Frolic in the meadow, folks. It’s waiting for you!

Courtney Kalbacker -

Courtney Kalbacker –

Courtney Kalbacker is a dedicated opera performer and production professional based in Baltimore, MD. She has taken on many roles both on and off stage including serving as Director of Production at Opera Anne Arundel Community College, an AGMA Stage Manager at Lyric Opera Baltimore, and as a Stage Director at Silver Finch Arts Collective, Unmanned Stagecraft, Oklahoma City University and the Boston University Tanglewood Institute. Since moving to the area three years ago, she has also performed as a coloratura soprano with D.C.’s Capital Fringe Festival, Lyric Opera Baltimore, The Victorian Lyric Opera Company, Harford Choral Society, HUB Opera Ensemble, Silver Finch Arts Collective and at venues abroad including the Warsaw Chamber Opera and Kingshead Theatre (London).  Most recently her production and performance of the new one-woman opera The Young Wife (K. Brochocka) won “Pick of the Fringe – Best Opera or Musical Theatre” at the 2013 Capital Fringe Festival. More info at



Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 2,687 other followers