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Category Archives: Interviews

Interview with Donald Nally (The Crossing Choir)

Posted on: August 25th, 2015 by Inna Heasley 1 Comment

I interviewed Donald Nally in 2010, when Lyric Fest collaborated with The Crossing Choir in the  Biography in Music series. This program marked the 100th Anniversary of Samuel Barber (1910-1981), one of the 20th century’s most renowned and beloved composers. In the concert, Barber’s biography was featured alongside his songs, including several previously unpublished, opera excerpts, and choral works performed by The Crossing, with Nally conducting and Laura Ward at the piano.


IH:  What is the story and the inspiration behind The Crossing? How was this group created?


DN:  We came together in 2005 as a group of friends who missed each other – we never intended to found a chorus and I certainly don’t take credit for that. Instead, we planned a concert and were surprised that so many people came and The Philadelphia Inquirer made a big deal out of it and said we were like ‘an answered prayer’ for choral music here. So, we thought, heck, let’s do a second concert. And here we are in 2010, commissioning projects through the summer of 2013: collaborations with great area musicians like Lyric Fest, Network for New Music, Tempesta di Mare, Piffaro. Our summer festival called The Month of Moderns has been in the Philadelphia Inquirer’s Top Ten Classical Events of the Year for the last two years, and….well, it’s still like a dream…


Q:  Please describe the group in your own words, and share your thoughts on your rehearsal process. What particular qualities, personal and professional, are you looking for in your singers?  


DN:  Again, your question implies that this is ‘my’ group, and I think it’s important to stress that we really see it as community. Sure, people have gone off to other lives that prevent them from staying with us and so we’ve added new ones, but we’re very careful to add people who fit the community – that is, they’re great musicians, they love working and singing challenging repertoire, they must sing as a means of expressing (as opposed to just liking it…), they’re great and warm and creative colleagues, and they’re nice.


That ‘working hard’ part is important, because there is no way you can sing the rep we sing without serious outside study. Even if you could read it, you wouldn’t get anything out of it if you didn’t put in the time because our music requires such intellectual activity that you have to work through the cognitive stuff in order to allow the emotional stuff to surface. Thus, when we come together, we’re mostly in a process of ‘assembly’ and ‘discovery’. The assembly aspect is taking these disparate parts and making sense of them; the discovery aspect is that in most of our music we are dealing with previously uncharted musical languages (at least for us). It’s always exciting, and exhausting…


IH:  Your life as a choral conductor has been super busy.  In addition to The Crossing, you are holding two other very responsible posts: Chorus Master of the Lyric Opera of Chicago and music director of Cincinnati’s Vocal Arts Ensemble, a professional choral ensemble that performs new music as well as classic choral works. In this context, what makes your experience with The Crossing unique? What do you think makes this group’s performances so well-accepted and admired by the audiences?


DN:  Of course, it’s clear to anyone that I’m most at home with The Crossing. I’m not sure my opera colleagues would appreciate that, but anyone can see that ‘the clothes fit best’ when I am working with these particular singers in this environment. I suppose that I react to the same thing the audience does – that we are simply trying to say something, something honest that may give us a brief glimpse into our inner lives. The singers we work with at The Crossing are all concerned with these issues, even though we rarely discuss that specifically (one of music’s gifts is that we can agree about these things, we can be naked, we can be truthful, and we do not need to discuss it since, once it has happened there is only the memory of it).


I consistently hear from the audience that we have a very unique sound; this is not something I consciously think about, even though I know that any great choir reflects the color that the conductor is carrying in his/her chest and born on the breath. But, I do know that the collective sum of the singers we choose produces a particular basic color which we are constantly modifying to meet the demands of each piece. The other thing I hear from the audience is how much they loved what they heard, despite not having any preconceived notions. I think it’s not despite, but in fact is somewhat because they have no preconceived notions. It’s like walking into an art gallery curated by an artist you have come to trust for quality, yet with no knowledge of what will be hanging on the walls today. The Crossing is the curator, the program is the gallery.


IH:  The Lyric Opera of Chicago has recently announced that you will be leaving your post of Chorus Master following the 2010-2011 season. Does this mean that you will be able to expand The Crossing’s season in the near future?


DN:  Yes, definitely. We’re already making a wonderful line-up of concerts in the 2011-2012 season that includes possible collaborations with American Composer’s Forum, Tempesta di Mare, Mimi Stillman of Dolce Suono, many commissions and the possibility of touring. We’re thinking expansively and hopefully most of those thoughts will become a reality. So, my move is largely to be nearer the group, to oversee things, and to aid in our long-term planning. You can’t get anywhere without some goals and dreams…


IH:  Please comment on The Crossing’s first collaboration with Lyric Fest and things you are most looking forward to in this joined project.


DN: Well, I wrote my doctoral dissertation about the music we will be performing and so it is very dear to my heart. Samuel Barber has always held a really important place for me because of his being from West Chester (I’m from Upper Bucks County), his connection to Gian Carlo Menotti – who I knew very well – and Spoleto – where I conducted many of our singers for years – his love for poetry and literature (which I share), and – and this is quite specific – his unique and entirely beautiful manner of using modal music to achieve a certain kind of warmth contrasted with a certain kind of emptiness. The entire point to my dissertation, which largely addresses the poetry in these works, is about Barber’s being somewhat haunted by the theme of loneliness. Thus, the end of his last choral work ends with Neruda’s words, “Foresaken, foresaken…” These are themes that speak very strongly to me – and, let’s face it, to most.


IH: Could you please comment on some of your choices for this particular program and on how you plan to approach placing emphasis on text with your singers?


DN: I do not think that there is anything different in approaching text in any music – for almost everything we do in our art, it drives it – it’s the impetus for the musical material and the atmosphere the composer discovered in the text. Barber was particularly careful in the texts that he chose – he tended to find great poems that seem maybe a little unfinished after you know his version of them. This is not a criticism of poets like James Agee, Stephen Spender, James Stephens, or the marvelous Louise Bogan, but it’s certainly a statement about his ability to ingest a poet’s words and go beneath them into the emotional world they invoked in him. My choices started with those unaccompanied choral works I consider to Barber’s most successful, including the little-known but truly stunning Twelfth Night, including his most famous choral work, Reincarnations, touch on his Shakespeare setting in the opera Antony and Cleopatra (another underappreciated work in my opinion), and ensure that, amidst the joy in much of this music, that constant to which he returns (as the monk says in the final song of Hermit Songs: “Alone I came into this world, alone I shall go from it”) is there.


IH: What, if any, are the challenges of Barber’s vocal/choral works?


DN: I  do not think there is any complexity to Barber’s choral works for a modern choir; it is largely based on a Brahms-like tradition of vocal counterpoint and the musical language is therefore fairly familiar. This is not to say it is not challenging, because Barber wrote very virtuosically for nearly all his forces, including choirs. In fact, this will be a kind of ‘premiere’ for me, as I have programmed and rehearsed the final work of the three-movement Reincarnations and have always cancelled it (I will not do that this time) because I did not feel that I or the choir were up to it. It’s an emotionally difficult work, and the fabric is very fragile; it’s also in F Major, which, though it sounds ridiculous, is the most difficult key to sing in and maintain pitch. At any rate, Barber just assumes that the singers are going to be very musically sophisticated and since he was at all times a vocal composer – a singer himself – the individual lines are (like Brahms) beautifully written and require that this musicianship be balanced with solid vocal technique and richness of color.


IH: How many singers from The Crossing will be performing the Barber program and where are they coming from?


DN:  22 singers – that’s our usual roster, though we go up to 24 at times. I frankly don’t know where a lot of our singers originated but, because of the timing of Lyric Fest’s Barber concert, all the singers will be currently in the Philadelphia-Princeton corridor. We often have out-of-towners for our Month of Moderns, and last summer had three from Cincinnati, one from Chicago, one from Georgia, one from New York, and etc. It’s a great group and I can’t wait to start with them.


IH: What would be your greeting words to those who will visit the Barber gallery curated by The Crossing and Lyric Fest in October?


DN: We’re just thrilled to be asked and have the opportunity to work with Lyric Fest and their wonderful singers. For us, Barber is a bit of ancient music; we really do only contemporary music. So, it’s a welcome departure and a wonderful reason for that departure – the 100th birthday of an American genius who we all, as singers, know and love. Who has not heard Despite and Still and wondered if the tormented soul who set that to paper hadn’t written it about them?


By Inna Heasley, for Lyric Fest.

September, 2010. Philadelphia.




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10 Questions to Jacqueline Horner-Kwiatek, Mezzo-Soprano (ANONYMOUS 4)

Posted on: August 21st, 2015 by Inna Heasley No Comments

Ahead of her solo performance with Bach@7 Cantata Series in April of 2015, Jacqueline was kind to answer my 10 questions. Here is the full interview, which is also published by Choral Arts Philadelphia here.


“I have always been bowled over by the incredible loyalty of the Anonymous 4 fans in Philadelphia and I hope they will come out to hear me sing some beautiful Baroque music!”

(Jacqueline Horner-Kwiatek)


Jacqueline has a reputation as a versatile and accomplished soloist, specializing in early and new music, singing with many distinguished ensembles and opera companies in Europe and in the US. She has collaborated with leading modern composers and premiered roles in several operas and oratorios. As a member of the world renowned vocal quartet Anonymous 4, Jacqueline has recorded twelve award-winning CD’s with the group. An accomplished voice teacher, Jacqueline is also a C.V. Starr Doctoral Fellow at The Juilliard School.




  1. What is your family background? Any musicians in your family?


JHK:  My family loved music and my father was a keen amateur musician who played piano. But I was the first to take up music professionally.


  1. Why did you choose to become a classical singer?


JHK:  Actually I wanted to be an actress! When I was about 10 years old, I sang on a local Irish TV show, and the host encouraged my parents to send me for voice lessons and that is how I found my love for classical music.


  1. Who are your favorite composers of all times?  


JHK:  J.S. Bach, Benjamin Britten, Lennon and McCartney… The list goes on. I have somewhat eclectic tastes!


  1. Describe the happiest episode in your singing career. 


JHK:  Being asked to join Anonymous 4 and being accepted into the Doctoral program at Juilliard!


  1. What factors, in your opinion, contributed to the amazing success of Anonymous 4 over the years? 


JHK:  Anonymous 4 was the first female ensemble to sing music originally thought to have been written for men’s voices. The group has always worked hard to achieve a unity of timbre despite, or one might say because of, our very different individual voices. And I think people respond to that, and to the beautiful repertoire that we have been so fortunate to bring to light.


  1. What are your other interests and passions, besides music?  


JHK:  I don’t have a lot of time for other interests, my work as a singer and voice teacher is all consuming! I am very interested in Egyptology and love to read thrillers and watch horror movies and old British sitcoms – a great way to relax, I find!



  1. What inspires and motivates you in personal and professional life?


JHK:  I’m inspired by colleagues, family, friends and energized by working in such a challenging but rewarding profession!



  1. What was the best advice you were ever given?


JHK:  “Listen to what your voice wants” – this is from a singing teacher in London, when I was having vocal problems. It’s a wonderful piece of advice and something that I pass on to my own voice students.



  1. What would be your professional recommendation for young aspiring singers of today?


JHK:  Don’t give up!  Going professional is hard, and there are so many ups and downs. Just try to stay focused and have clear and realistic goals.



  1. As Anonymous 4 is closing the curtain this year, what will you be working on next?


JHK:  I will be continuing my work at Juilliard in the Doctoral program and will be expanding my work as a voice teacher and visiting artist. My work as a mezzo soloist will also continue in both early and new music, with some exciting new opera projects in development, including an as yet untitled opera/theatre piece about Nikola Tesla being created by composer Phil Kline, film-maker Jim Jarmusch and director Robert Wilson, and a monodrama being written especially for me by Phil Kline in which I will play none other than Joan Crawford!


More about Jacqueline on her website.


Interviewed on March 2015



Interview with violinist Rebecca Harris

Posted on: April 7th, 2014 by Inna Heasley No Comments

Ahead of her solo performance of Biber’s Mystery Sonatas this month, I got a chance to chat with this amazing artist.


A specialist in the field of historically informed performance, Rebecca Harris is in high demand as a versatile soloist, chamber musician and orchestral player, as well as a teaching artist. She can be regularly heard playing and recording with the Philadelphia baroque orchestra Tempesta di Mare, as well as many other prominent ensembles like Pennsylvania Ballet orchestra, the Philly Pops, Piffaro, Seraphic Fire, Publick Musick, New Trinity Baroque, and so many others.


If you have been to any of Choral Arts Philadelphia concerts in recent years, you also know Rebecca and her violin very well. She is a regular leader in the newly launched Bach@7 Cantata Series.


Q: Do you come from a musical family? What brought you to music, and to violin in particular?

RH: My family enjoys music but there are no other professional musicians besides myself. I learned to play the recorder in elementary school, and free violin classes at school became available when I was eight. Although it was just circumstance that brought me to the violin, I loved it immediately.


Q: You are an accomplished musician on both baroque and modern violin. What is the difference between these two instruments, and what different techniques do you have to use when playing them?

RH: The instrument has changed relatively little in its long history – other instruments, for example the flute and trumpet, have changed much more. The modifications that have been made since the seventeenth century version of the violin were for the purpose of enabling the violinist to more easily meet the technical demands of the music of the time. For example, as a more cantabile style of playing became desirable, the bow was elongated and made heavier at the tip, which makes it easier to achieve a singing line. I choose to perform music of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries on an instrument built in the style of the time, since it’s the ‘tool’ that the composers of the period used, and it can inform interpretation of the works. Likewise, I perform 19th and 20th century music on a modern instrument. Performing in a historically informed style goes beyond the choice of instrument, however – it’s about developing an understanding of the style and musical language of the time.


Q: You also have an active teaching career. Please share a few words about it and what it means to you?

RH: I am on the Teaching Artist faculty of The Philadelphia Orchestra, and I visit children in Philadelphia public schools each week through the orchestra’s School Partnership Program. I also perform for a fantastic organization called LiveConnections, that offers innovative programming to communities that may not easily have access to live performances. I see it as my responsibility as an artist to engage with people beyond the concert stage – music is a living art that needs people, so we need to keep passing it on.


Q: What advice do you have for young men and women who want to be successful in whatever they pursue in life?

RH: Stay true to yourself, and work with intelligence. Success to me is not about collecting accolades, but about using your gifts and skills to the benefit of those around you.


Q: You will be playing two violin sonatas from Biber’s Rosary Sonatas on April 9th. A few words about this work and about Heinrich Biber.

RH: Biber was one of the first great virtuoso violinists, working in late seventeenth century Austria. The Mystery (Rosary) Sonatas are a collection of sixteen works, each one connected to one of the mysteries of the Holy Rosary, plus one that represents the Guardian Angel. The sonatas each require a different re-tuning of the violin (a technique called scordatura), which creates unique and unusual possibilities for chords and timbres.


For Bach@7, I will be performing The Carrying of the Cross and The Crucifixion, two of the sonatas that represent the Sorrowful Mysteries. I chose these particular works because they reflect Lenten themes, as do the rest of the works on the April 9th program. Both sonatas use different scordatura, so you will notice that I use a different violin for each piece.


The Carrying of the Cross takes the form of a set of dance movements, surrounded on either side by a fantastical introduction and finale. To me, familiar dance forms played on an instrument that is mis-tuned suggests the paradox of the carrying of the cross – walking and carrying a burden are not unusual physical activities, but the context is unprecedented.


The Crucifixion is full of contrasts, which I see as reflecting the many aspects of the Crucifixion in scriptural terms – the public violence, the intimacy of Jesus and Mary as she sees him on the Cross, ultimately the joy of the promise of the resurrection. The finale of the sonata is dramatic – it could be seen as a depiction of the earthquake, the tearing of the veil and the resurrection of the saints as told in the Gospel according to St. Matthew.


Biber did not state imagery explicitly in these works – these are merely my way of interpreting the music that I perform. Whatever one’s faith or philosophy, the subject matter of the Mystery Sonatas invites contemplation of universal themes – of the strange and wonderful, of questions that cannot be answered, and of reality upturned. That is where their true beauty lies.


Read Rebecca’s blog post on Biber’s Mystery Sonatas.



Q: The audiences will get a chance to hear you play some of the Biber’s Mystery Sonatas again at the end of April, as a Tempesta di Mare artist recital series. Will it be the same program?

RH: I will perform the Crucifixion Sonata, alongside other works by Biber: selections from the Mystery Sonatas, two pieces from another set of sonatas and the Sonata Representativa, which uses animal sounds!


Q: How would you describe your experience with the Philadelphia Bach Collegium and Choral Arts Philadelphia? What do you think about the Bach@7 Cantata Series so far?

RH: The Bach@7 series has been a great success this year. One of my favorite things about Choral Arts is their warmth towards the audience – they host receptions after the concerts, and get to know people. I also love how clear and sparkling their German is when they sing, it is beautiful. The collegium is a joyful group to play with – there are so many fantastic players of early instruments in Philadelphia, it’s a great community.


Q: What kind of people inspire you?

RH: People who have courage and integrity. Artists who take risks.


Q: What is your dream venue and a dream work to perform there?

RH: I would love to perform Bach at the Thomaskirche in Leipzig.


Q: When not performing, rehearsing, or teaching – what is your favorite pastime?

RH: Reading and painting – for me, a musician, quiet activities are very important!


The full interview is also published on the Choral Arts Philadelphia site.





Promotional Video – A Britten Festival

Posted on: November 28th, 2013 by Inna Heasley No Comments

Check out one of my latest videos I created to promote Choral Arts Philadelphia’s collaborative program to celebrate the 100th Anniversary of Benjamin Britten, the “people’s composer” from England. I had a lot of fun following Matt Glandorf to one of his first rehearsals with Musicopia String Orchestra, the youth ensemble directed by Daniela Pierson, and to watch the real music making with these talented and responsive kids. I got to interview the Orchestra’s first violin Samir Robinson, who is just 15 years old. And I also filmed a very touching personal story told by violinist Rebecca Harris who was born in the same area as Britten…And of course, videotaping my own chorus in action is always a treat and it doesn’t happen often. The sound we make together, the blending of the voices (even in the rehearsal) never stops to amaze. I feel so fortunate to be a part of this magic, as both a singer and publicist.



The performance took place on November 17th (featuring cantata Saint Nicolas), and it was a fantastic celebration of life and music of one of the greatest composers of the 20th century! Amateur and professional musicians, both seasoned and young, came together in song as one – and the audience who filled Cathedral Basilica of Saints Peter and Paul was singing along with us with such great enthusiasm! Read a rave review by Tom Purdom published in Broad Street Review.






Interview with Eric Whitacre

Posted on: March 24th, 2013 by Inna Heasley 1 Comment

I am thrilled to share with you this audio/video which I was fortunate to record with Eric over the phone, while he was attending the ACDA National Conference in Dallas, TX.  Below I also offer you two links:  my introductory blog post about Eric and his Singers as well as the partial transcript of this interview, both currently posted on LocalArtsLive.com.


Background: Sharon Torello, the founder of LocalArtsLive.com asked me to interview composer/conductor Eric Whitacre to preview his debut U.S. Tour with Eric Whitacre Singers. The tour included a single appearance of the ensemble in Philadelphia’s Kimmel Center on March 20th which drew highly enthusiastic crowds of audiences of all ages, with many college and high school choir groups in attendance.




Ever since 2007, when I heard Eric Whitacre’s music for the first time and subsequently was fortunate to sing some of it with Choral Arts Philadelphia, I was forever drawn to his unique style: the ideal balance – not a conflict – between the humanity and technology. The honest and heavenly, ancient-sounding spectrum of harmonies is happily married to the bold use of contemporary expressive means, which — blended together — work amazingly well to deliver the true meaning of the poetry straight into my heart. And these “delivery means” do not incorporate just singing. Eric often takes singers outside their “vocal box” and makes use of their abilities to whisper, speak, make noise, clap, snap, hit percussion, etc. (a great example is his Cloudburst where, in the second part of the piece, singers are imitating the sounds of thunder and a downpour)… Read the rest of the article here.


Read the partial transcript of my interview with Eric Whitacre.




Interview with Philadelphia composer Allen Krantz

Posted on: October 8th, 2012 by Inna Heasley No Comments

Allen Krantz

This interview was done for Lyric Fest’s upcoming program “Old City ~ New Song” where Allen Krantz’s new song On the Road will be premiered.


Read the full interview here.


Allen’s final words were my favorite part of our conversation:


“The history of cinema is relatively young and you can study a film and gain some insights into the studio system of the 30-40’s. In a funny way, this studio system was similar to what the court system was in the Mozart-Haydn era. The studio directors had to deal with studio politics similar to the ways Mozart had to deal with the court system. There were all these rules and they had to find the way to do what they wanted to do within the confines of the stetting. This, to me, is similar to how composers had to play the game and still manage to do what they wanted to do.


Sometimes the tensions between creative freedom and restricting rules produce tremendous results. We complain about the limitations, but in the end they can be your best friend because you are forced to find your own creative response.”



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