There is a very happening new group in town, and when I say happening, I mean happening. Founded by Artistic Director Rolando Sanz, Music Director Kristofer Sanz, and Executive Director Jane Coyne, Young Artists of America was just a dream this time last year. In May, YAA made their presence known in a very big way with an almost unheard of and sold-out debut concert at the Music Center at Strathmore. (Click on this link to hear highlights of the concert). Their second concert, Villains!, was also performed at Strathmore, this time to a standing room only crowd and rave reviews. Villains! was named one the best concerts of 2011 by Maryland Theatre Guide, in the same category with Audra McDonald at WPAS and the NSO performance of Some Enchanted Evening: the Music of Rodgers and Hammerstein, both of which were performed at The Kennedy Center.
Young Artists of America presents large scale works for opera, musical theatre and dance, all performed with a full 90-piece orchestra. The group is made up of highly talented singers, dancers, and instrumentalists age 13-21. Among the big name professionals stepping up to mentor and perform with them are Metropolitan Opera baritone Jason Stearns, musical theatre sensation Eleasha Gamble (Arena Stage, Signature Theatre), and Baltimore Symphony Orchestra concertmaster Jonathan Carney. In January, members of the group performed for U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan and Rocco Landesman, Chairman of the National Endowment for the Arts and Humanities.
On March 16th and 17th, Young Artists of America will mount their first full scale production with the regional premiere of Andrew Lloyd Webber’s The Phantom of the Opera. Word on the street is that this is a performance you won’t want to miss.
You grew up in a household where music played an important role. How did this influence your decisions to pursue a career in music?
Kristofer: As far back as I can remember there was always music playing in our home. Whether we were dancing to some salsa or merengue, singing along to the oldies station, or listening to classical music on the radio, music was always present. At the time, I am sure that I thought nothing of all this exposure to music, but now I know that the total immersion in music that our parents created instilled in me a deep longing and passion to create music.
Rolando: I believe the story goes that I was already singing by the time I was speaking, so needless to say, having music around us all the time growing up greatly influenced my life. I sang in the Washington Opera children’s chorus as a child. As I recall, I was not initially pleased about being taken to sing in the opera, but I remember standing in the wings backstage at the Opera House at the Kennedy Center in awe to every note being sung from the stage while all the other kids ran offstage to play cards. I think it’s safe to say I was hooked as soon as I heard those amazing sounds coming out of those singers.
Kristofer, you are a conductor and Rolando, you are an opera singer. Where did you get your training, and tell us about your careers?
Kristofer: I first began directing and conducting when I was a music education major at the University of Maryland. In order to gain experience as a conductor working with both orchestra and voice, I conducted various community musical theater productions all around the Metro DC area. After college, I began my tenure as Music Director of the Instrumental Music Department at Winston Churchill High School. Since then, I have worked with high school students in a variety of musical ensembles including Maryland Classic Youth Orchestras (MCYO) as Symphony conductor and Young Artists of America (YAA) as Music Director. I have also conducted wind ensembles, symphonic orchestras, string orchestras including the MCPS Honors Orchestra, opera orchestras as well as music directed full musical productions, including a concert gala production of Miss Saigon. In order to continue my education as a conductor, I have also participated in various conducting masterclasses, including the 2011 Syracuse Opera Conducting Master class, where I worked closely with world-renowned conducting pedagogue Kenneth Kiesler, and the 2010 International Academy of Advanced Conducting After Ilia Musin, where I worked closely with Leonid Korchmar, professor at the St. Petersburg Conservatory of music and conductor of Mariinski Theatre.
Rolando: I studied locally for my Bachelor of Music degree in Voice at The Catholic University of America here in DC, and went on to receive my Master of Music degree and Artist Diploma in Opera from the conservatory at Yale University. I was fortunate enough to train under some of the best musicians in the field of opera at various institutions including the Aspen Music Festival, where I met my voice teacher, W. Stephen Smith and sang leading roles under legendary conductors such as James Conlon of the Paris Opera and Los Angeles Opera, and Julius Rudel and George Manahan, both former music directors of New York City Opera. I also have studied at the Music Academy of the West under renowned mezzo-soprano Marilyn Horne and collaborative pianist Warren Jones. Professionally, I have had the opportunity to sing and understudy leading roles at some of the best opera companies in the nation, including Opera Theatre of Saint Louis, Palm Beach Opera, Syracuse Opera, Virginia Opera, Sarasota Opera and locally with Lyric Opera Baltimore and Annapolis Opera. I actually just got back yesterday from singing a Rodolfo in La boheme with Opera Idaho.
What is Young Artists of America? When was it founded, and what are your roles and duties in YAA?
Kristofer: Young Artists of America was founded to provide aspiring and talented young instrumentalists and singers with exceptional opportunities to perform with and be mentored by professional artists and educators in fully orchestrated performances including large scale works of opera, musical theatre, oratorio and dance. Young Artists of America was founded in 2010.
My role in the organization is that of Music Director. It is my duty to organize, plan, recruit, rehearse and implement the instrumental side of our organization. I also serve as the chief conductor for all of our performances, shows and concerts.
Rolando: We are very proud of YAA in our mission to give our students the opportunity to study and perform in an environment that is not often provided to them. Rarely are young vocalists given the opportunity to sing with a full orchestra at a high level, and likewise rarely are instrumentalists able to work one on one with singers to perform vocal-orchestral repertoire. As Artistic Director of YAA, I work as the Vocal Director for all of our concerts, working individually with all of our student singers on vocal technique and presentation of their music. In addition, along with Kris, I oversee all artistic and musical aspects of the organization.
Our main goal with YAA is to instill in our students a respect for each other’s instruments, be in viola or voice. In my career, I have unfortunately found that many instrumentalists look down their nose at having to play in an opera orchestra, often inadvertently viewing this music as lesser art form than symphonic music, and most singers rarely fully understand the dedication that it takes for a cellist to master their instrument. By bringing these two populations together, we not only expose both to the nuances of collaborating with each other, but we also create new consumers of art, encouraging instrumentalists that would never dream of attending the opera to do so, and teaching our singers that a Beethoven Symphony is every bit as exciting as Les Misérables.
What concerts and performances are coming up for YAA?
Kristofer: Young Artists of America is pleased to present our FIRST full scale stage production on March 16 & 17, 2012. This will be the DC Metro area PREMIERE of THE PHANTOM OF THE OPERA, performed with the 80 piece CHURCHILL ORCHESTRA, featuring a cast of 40 student vocalists from all over the DC Metro area and dancers from CityDance at Strathmore. This is a first of its kind collaboration between Montgomery County Public Schools, CityDance and YAA.
Rolando: We are also thrilled to announce our 2012 SUMMER INSTITUTE for Singers and Instrumentalists, which will run June 18 – July 7, 2012 in Sandy Spring, MD. This three-week intensive program will continue our mission of bringing together young instrumentalists and singers to study together and collaborate on presenting fully orchestrated concerts of vocal-orchestral music. We will have faculty from DC area universities and opera & theatre companies presenting classes and masterclasses for our students. More information is available that the YAA website.
Why is it important to bring mentors and young musicians together and why should parents consider having their children learn to play instruments or sing?
Kristofer: I have always believed and felt in my own musical career that I perform my best when I am playing or conducting with the guidance of a mentor. There is something about being in the presence of a master musician that kicks my own performance into overdrive so that I can try to reach the level of those professionals working with me. I believe that it is the same for young musicians. As adults we often underestimate what these young musicians can actually do and we write them off as “student” musicians. At YAA we strive to break this stigma. Through years of working with high school aged musicians, I have learned that they can rise to whatever level/challenge is placed in front of them. However, it takes a very special teacher/conductor/mentor to really pull out of these young musicians such a high level of musicality and I believe that this is one of the greatest things that YAA has to offer the young musicians.
Rolando: We have been very fortunate to have attracted some astounding musicians to mentor and perform with our students, including Jonathan Carney, concertmaster of the Baltimore Symphony who has performed with YAA twice at Strathmore, Helen Hayes Award winner Eleasha Gamble who sang at our Inaugural Concert, and Jason Stearns, leading baritone from The Metropolitan Opera. They have been extremely gracious with their time and have all expressed a desire to return to work with our students because they see the high quality of music making that they are capable of when challenged.
In the same vein, we have watched our students, most of whom are at the age where nothing impresses them, light up when witnessing these masters performing along side them as the professional musicians that many of them see themselves striving to become. Whether or not our students continue on to study music in college or professionally, we feel that by exposing our students to high quality music and teaching them the discipline of the study of music, that we are making them better students and teaching them life skills that are universally true whether they become a music teacher or a surgeon. It’s an honor to be in the position to share these lessons with our students.
Purchase your tickets to YAA’s The Phantom of the Opera on Friday, March 16, 2012 at 7:30 PM and Saturday, March 17, 2012 at 7:30 PM, at The Auditorium at Winston Churchill High School -11300 Gainsborough Road, in Potomac, MD.
Watch and listen to “All I Ask of You” from The Phantom of the Opera sung at the PTA Reflections Ceremony on January 13, 2012.
Watch and listen to an interview with Eitan Mazia and Hayley Abramowitz, Kristofer and Rolando Sanz, and Jane Coyne.
Watch and listen to “All I Ask of You” from The Phantom of the Opera sung at Villains! on December 3, 2011, at The Music Center at Strathmore, in N. Bethesda, MD.
Watch highlights of the YAA inaugural concert on May 7, 2011, at The Music Center at Strathmore, in N. Bethesda, Maryland.
Young Artists of America’s website.