Press Room

Eastman alums and students thriving as musical activists and performers

With the announcement of the new Paul R. Judy Center for Applied Research earlier this year, the Eastman School of Music continued to emphasize the educational values that have made it one of the country’s premier music schools. As the Hollywood Reporter observed last month, in a feature that named Eastman as one of the nation’s top five music schools, “[Eastman] has thrived on buzz of late, partly for its Institute for Music Leadership [IML], which provides skills and seed money for entrepreneurs.” Based on a survey of “academic and entertainment insiders,” the report went on to praise the school’s “pragmatic innovation and what dean Jamal Rossi calls ‘a core of absolute musical excellence.’”
Leadership, entrepreneurship, innovation, community engagement, and artistic excellence—all of these values are present in the work of top Eastman students and rising-star alums making news at home and abroad, from Garrett Rubin (BM ’12) who is using a Fulbright-mtvU fellowship grant in an outreach program for Iraqi refugees in Amman, Jordan, to Kathryn Lewek (BM ’06, MM ’08) who makes her Metropolitan Opera debut in December, and South Africa-born keyboard artist Kristian Bezuidenhout (BM ’01; MM ’04), a nominee for Gramophone’s Artist of the Year who performs in Zankel Hall at Carnegie Hall on February 27.
It was studying both Classical Voice Performance and U.S.-Middle Eastern Cultural Diplomacy that prepared Garrett Rubin for his ambitious new project in Jordan. He will work with the Jordanian National Music Conservatory to create a music outreach program for Iraqi refugee children living in Amman. This program will aim to provide youth affected by displacement with an opportunity to use music making to develop confidence, express emotion, and build self-worth. Additionally, Rubin will document his project by creating a multimedia songbook for American music classrooms. This web-based music education tool will include recordings and sheet music from program classes in Amman, as well as original video footage documenting the lives and stories of participants and their families.
Prior to his Fulbright-mtvU grant, Rubin worked closely with the Shropshire Music Foundation, an organization that implements music education programs for children living in countries affected by armed conflict. He also served as co-director of the Vancouver International Song Institute’s Arts of Conscience Symposium at the University of British Columbia. While at Eastman, Rubin helped found the school’s day of service, George Eastman Day, and was the lead in the 2011 Eastman production of Sondheim’s Assassins.
Rubin is just one of many recent alums and current Eastman students who are using musical activism to promote social justice and strengthen community bonds. Earlier this fall, Eastman senior Marissa Balonon-Rosen, an Urban Youth Studies major at the University of Rochester and a music theory major at Eastman, launched the Pianos for Peace project. Placing decorated pianos throughout Rochester, the project promoted peace and nonviolence throughout the city. After a month at various sites, the pianos were moved to the M.K. Gandhi Institute for Nonviolence to form an outdoor Piano Park for Peace. For those who attended, it was an opportunity not only to enjoy some eclectic live music, but also to reflect on the ways music can bring people from diverse backgrounds together, and perhaps help them to build lasting peace and mutual understanding into their lives. After the two-month project finished, each of the pianos was donated to community organizations with a particular focus on working with youth and promoting peace. The community’s enthusiastic embrace of Pianos for Peace can be seen here, in a video available on the Eastman School of Music YouTube channel.
Over the summer, Amy Garapic, who received Eastman’s Arts Leadership Certificate in 2011 and is now a graduate fellow at Bard College, succeeded in bringing music behind prison walls. As Special Projects Coordinator with the Make Music New York Festival, she led the Rhythm on Rikers program. According to the New York Times, the ten-week program for inmates, which featured weekly lessons in music theory and drumming, was perhaps “the least publicly visible component of [the festival], but…also the most socially ambitious, bringing the joyful percussion music of West Africa into the prison on Rikers Island (the Times’s full report is available here).
Current Eastman DMA candidate Catherine Branch—a flutist who has diplegic cerebral palsy—advocates for inclusion of the disabled population and against stereotypes and misconceptions, using concerts to initiate conversations through her Music of Difference Project. Branch was invited to perform at the 2010 VSA International Disability Arts Festival, and has presented Music of Difference concerts in Sydney and Melbourne, Australia; in Rochester and in Geneva, N.Y.; and at Wake Forest University, where she also spoke to students in counseling and neurological disorder seminars. In addition, Branch commissions works that reflect the experience of disability: the first Music of Difference album, recorded for her record label, Beauport Classical, and available through Amazon and iTunes, includes three such works.
Eastman alums continue to show leadership as performing artists as well, with up-and-comers heading swiftly down a path lit by such prominent alumni as opera stars Renée Fleming and Anthony Dean Griffey (who recently sang the title role in Britten’s Peter Grimes in a Carnegie Hall performance marking the composer’s centenary), and enterprising ensembles such as the Ying Quartet (Eastman’s current resident quartet) and Alarm Will Sound. In December, soprano Kathryn Lewek (BM ’06, MM ’08) will make her Metropolitan Opera debut as the Queen of the Night in Julie Taymor’s special Met holiday production of The Magic Flute (four performances, Dec 28 – Jan 4). Lewek won third place and the audience prize at Plácido Domingo’s Operalia competition this past summer, besides making unexpected headlines in August with a performance at Austria’s Bregenz Festival. Under a headline that stated, “Three opera singers were left bedraggled and sodden when the boat carrying them to an open-air stage capsized, tipping them into a lake,” Classic FM reported, “One of the singers who was tipped into the lake, Kathryn Lewek (who was playing the Queen of the Night), tweeted after the capsizing: ‘My Bregenz contract stated I must not be afraid of heights & be physically fit – but nothing about swimming.’” Click here for a feature on Lewek that appeared in the Rochester Review.
South African-born, London-based keyboard virtuoso Kristian Bezuidenhout (BM ’01; MM ’04) looks forward to a less dangerous, but no less interesting, assignment when he performs a program of Mozart and C.P.E. Bach on fortepiano at Zankel Hall in New York’s Carnegie Hall (Feb 27). Described by the Boston Globe as, “a vigorously intelligent musician, well equipped with the technique to back up some extraordinary new ideas about old music,” Bezuidenhout is celebrated for his mastery on a variety of keyboard instruments, from the harpsichord to the modern piano. But it is as a fortepiano player that he is increasingly well-known, with acclaimed recordings for the Harmonia Mundi label that led to his nomination this year as Gramophone’s Artist of the Year. Bezuidenhout is also currently a part-time Instructor of Historical Keyboards at Eastman.
About the Eastman School of Music
The Eastman School of Music ranks among the nation’s premier music schools, boasting Guggenheim Fellows, Grammy, and ASCAP Award winners on its distinguished faculty. The school has been commended and recognized nationwide for giving its students an intensive professional education, entrepreneurial opportunities in their musical disciplines, and the experience of a broader liberal arts education within the University of Rochester. Eastman’s prominent alumni include opera singers Renée Fleming, Anthony Dean Griffey, Joyce Castle, and the late William Warfield; jazz musicians Ron Carter, Steve Gadd, and Chuck Mangione; composer-conductor Maria Schneider; and composers Dominick Argento, Charles Strouse, Michael Torke, and Jeff Beal. The School presents more than 700 public concerts a year and hosts a variety of prestigious festivals and events, including, most recently, the International Society of Bassists Convention and the Xerox Rochester International Jazz Festival.
Some Eastman Alums Performing in NYC in Winter 2013/14
Dec 28, 30; Jan 2 & 4
Kathryn Lewek
Metropolitan Opera (debut)
Mozart: The Magic Flute (Queen of the Night)
Jan 24 & 25
Ying Quartet with Billy Childs Jazz Chamber Ensemble
Allen Room/Jazz at Lincoln Center
Feb 27
Kristian Bezuidenhout
Zankel Hall/Carnegie Hall
#               #               #
© 21C Media Group, December 2013

Return to Press Room