Saturday, July 20, 2013

5 Questions with Lauren Bernofsky

Lauren Bernofsky (Bachelor of Music, 1990), studied Violin Performance and Composition at Hartt from 1985 to 1990. She is currently living in Bloomington, IN.

What have you been up to since you graduated from Hartt?

I’ve had the good fortune to be able to do what I love, which is teaching (violin and music theory), playing my violin, and, most importantly to me, composing. After Hartt, I went on to do a master’s in composition at New England Conservatory and then a doctorate in composition at Boston University (thirteen straight years of college – whew!) I’ve taught violin privately and through several school systems in the Boston area, and music theory at The Cambridge School of Weston, Boston University, and the Peabody Institute of Music. But I get the most joy from my life as a composer – I’ve written for ballet, film, chamber groups, chorus, orchestra, you name it….

My most recent larger work is a children’s opera called “Mooch the Magnificent,” on a libretto by Scott Russell Sanders. The opera had an extensive run (34 performances!) with Roundabout Opera for Kids, and it was recently published by Theodore Presser. I’ve had a bunch of pieces published, actually – about thirty now. My publishers, besides Presser, are Alfred, FJH, Balquhidder, Fatrock Ink, Boosey & Hawkes, and Hal Leonard. About half of these publications are pedagogical works (so, works that would be played by, say, a school orchestra), and the other half are professional concert works (brass quintet, string quartet, orchestra, and assorted mixed ensembles.)

I should also mention another big part of my life, which is my family. My husband is Christoph Irmscher, a writer and English professor at Indiana University, and we have two kids, Nicholas (13) and Julia (8). And, yes, my kids DO play stringed instruments!
What are you involved with right now?

I’m currently getting a bunch of pieces ready for Theodore Presser – they recently accepted a string quartet, a piece for trumpet and piano, one for flute and piano, a work for soprano and string orchestra, one for string orchestra alone, and one for full orchestra (which they’d like to have in both full orchestra and chamber orchestra versions.) This is keeping me fairly busy right now! I recently sent off the full orchestra version of my Three Portraits of a Witch, so the biggest one is out of the way (that’s what I’m telling myself, because it’s frankly quite a slog working through all these scores and parts, trying to make them as player- and conductor-friendly as possible.) I’d rather be writing new pieces, but as long as I bothered writing these other ones in the first place, I may as well put in the time for getting them “out there.”

I’m also preparing for a position I’ve been recently appointed to, and that is Music Director of the Musical Arts Youth Organization (MAYO) in Bloomington, IN. I’m looking forward to hearing auditions in early fall and then choosing some exciting repertoire for the young players to perform. (And don’t expect me to stick to what was written before the year 2000!) I am pretty excited about this new prospect, this new opportunity to bring truly engaging and, well, fun music to the orchestra members. As their conductor, I’m the one who has to take the heat for either boring or too-difficult or otherwise annoying repertoire, so I take this challenge VERY seriously!

What is one of your most memorable things about your time at Hartt?

I had a lot of important formative experiences while at Hartt, but what comes to mind right now happens to be the words of a bassoon teacher, Frank Morelli. I heard him perform in Musicianship class one day, and he said that (and I paraphrase here) he listens to good singers as a model for musicality. Simple, but so very important to good music-making. During my years of working with players of all instrument groups (that is, not just the strings I’m so accustomed to), and by “working” I include playing with as well as coaching others playing my music, I have come to focus closely on the real essence of the music, how to best bring out that music, in a way that transcends the technical predispositions of any instrument. Wind players have the limitation of needing to breathe, but we have to find ways of incorporating breaths in a way that doesn’t interfere with the musical line. And strings have the limitation of the bow – I’m closest to understanding (or at least being able to point out) this problem, being a string player myself. It’s very difficult to transcend the bow to play in a way that only supports the music and in fact “overcomes” the difficulties of up-bows and down-bows and the relative lengths of each (which result in the volume of a given note.)

I am going to continue this tangent for a minute longer to describe something I’ve come to call “string player musicality.” (I made that up, by the way.) For me, it’s an acceptance of certain unmusical ways of playing that result from the natural tendencies of the instrument. I am referring especially to when string players play loud up-beats because that’s what the bow does naturally. Ridiculous, you might think – shouldn’t we know better than that? But many string players are used to hearing the music played that way, and it’s within their concept of “musical” string playing. I’ve heard way too many performances, even by professionals, where up-beats (or any off-beats) are in fact louder than the main beats, because that’s what the bow does naturally. It’s not what’s best for the music, and as I imagine Mr. Morelli to have thought, it’s not the way a good singer would sing it.
What did you learn during your time at Hartt that you did not appreciate or recognize until after time passed and you had some time to reflect?

I got a B+ on my senior recital jury. I was perplexed – I’d been considered a hard worker (my friends used to make fun of me, good naturedly, on Friday nights when, after dinner, instead of going to a movie or “hanging out”, I went back to the practice room.) I’d prepared and prepared and prepared for this recital, or so I thought. But then just a B+? I asked David Wells, who was on the jury, why. I remember his words that I had “one of the best hearts and minds at Hartt,” but my performance wasn’t really communicative. I THOUGHT I was communicating, moving with the music, whatever. But obviously it didn’t come across to him that way. As I went on to do a lot more performing in various situations where I could get direct audience feedback, especially in informal settings (for instance, playing on the street at Boston’s Quincy Market and playing at retirement homes), I learned how to really communicate the music I was playing, because when I didn’t, the crowd at Quincy Market would walk away (Pachelbel Canon notwithstanding – you always get a crowd with the Pachelbel Canon.) Or the people at the retirement home would lose interest. But people really do respond, I have found, when you “look like the music” you’re playing, that is, convey the music through your body language. And it certainly translated into money for me, as a graduate student in Boston – more money in the case at Quincy Market, or maybe getting called back for a gig the next year. But, more important than the money, why shouldn’t a musician communicate to the audience how wonderful the music is? In fact, the survival of classical music might just depend on it.
What is next for you?

This fall will mark the first season for me as Music Director at the MAYO program I mentioned earlier, and I’m looking forward to my adventures there! As far as composing goes, I’ve been collaborating with some other artists (writers, graphic artists, poets, etc.) in the creation of an online “novel” about a mysterious (and fictional) island called “Blaitholm.” I have already composed the music to the introductory video, and I look forward to contributing music to other aspects of this project, too. I’ve been asked by the Cardinal Stage Company (Bloomington, IN) to write music for a new play by Scott Russell Sanders (who was the librettist for my children’s opera.) And on my wish list for the future … a commission to write a full-length opera on the novel by Sanders, The Engineer of Beasts.
Do you have any suggestions for current Hartt students?

Absolutely: make use of all the resources at Hartt that you can. Don’t just attend master classes on your instrument, or even your area of music; I call this developing “horizontally.” So, if you are a classical player, try a jazz master class. If you play a brass instrument, go to a strings or voice master class. The more you learn about other areas of music, the stronger a musician you will be in your own area. For instance, while I was at Boston University, I learned that the school had a great resource in the Empire Brass Quintet, which was in residence there. I began attending their brass quintet master classes. And there I learned some great stuff that string players don’t necessarily think about (for example, the exact moment you end a chord), and I was able to apply it to string quartet playing.

And take your history and theory classes VERY seriously – believe me, you WILL use this information when you get out of school. It might well be the reason that you get called again for a gig after something goes awry in the performance but all the people who could hear that the group was on the dominant chord found their way back – it’s these musical skills that will really help you as a professional. This is the point in your life when you’ll have the most time to spend on your music, so take in all that you can! And don’t forget to have fun along the way.
If you want people to get in touch, how can they do so?

Fee free to contact me through my website,, or via email at .

Monday, July 1, 2013

5 Questions with Peter Boyer

Peter Boyer (M.M. 1993, D.M.A. 1995, Alumnus of the Year 2002) studied composition and conducting at Hartt from 1991 to 1995. He is currently living in the Los Angeles area.
What have you been up to since you graduated from Hartt?

That’s a big question. Many things! My career has been divided roughly into three areas.

First and foremost, I’ve been an orchestral composer for the concert hall, and very active in that arena. I’ve been fortunate to have over 300 performances of my works by more than 100 orchestras; several recordings on labels such as Naxos, Koch, Albany, BSO Classics, and FWSO Live; and hundreds of radio broadcasts of my music in many countries. I’ve had a pretty steady stream of orchestral commissions, starting shortly after my student days, and continuing to the present. Recent commissions have included a work for the 50th anniversary of the Eastern Music Festival from Gerard Schwarz; my Symphony No. 1 from the Pasadena Symphony; and the Boston Pops 125th anniversary commission, celebrating the legacy of the Kennedy Brothers. Keith Lockhart chose me for this project, which was narrated by actors including Robert De Niro, Morgan Freeman, Ed Harris, and Alec Baldwin, and was recorded and televised, including on the Fourth of July for 750,000 people! My most popular work to date has been Ellis Island: The Dream of America, the premiere of which I conducted with the Hartford Symphony in 2002; it’s had nearly 150 performances, and was nominated for a Grammy Award.

The second area of my career has been as an orchestrator for films and television. I’ve contributed orchestrations to more than 20 feature film scores, by some of the top Hollywood composers, including Thomas Newman, James Horner, Michael Giacchino, Alan Menken, Mark Isham, and others, for most of the major film studios. Films I’ve worked on have included Skyfall, The Amazing Spider-Man, Star Trek, Up, Mission: Impossible III, Super 8, Cars 2, and Dolphin Tale. I’ve also arranged music for the Academy Awards on a couple occasions, and have composed music for The History Channel.

The third area of my career has been teaching. I’ve been on the faculty at Claremont Graduate University, part of the Claremont Colleges (located east of Los Angeles), since 1996. I hold the Helen M. Smith Chair in Music and the rank of Full Professor there. I should also mention conducting, though that’s largely taken a back seat to my other work in recent years. I’ve conducted various orchestras, mostly in my own music, including the Brooklyn Philharmonic, Rhode Island Philharmonic, Pasadena Symphony, and Richmond Symphony in concert; and the London Symphony Orchestra, Philharmonia Orchestra, and various studio orchestras in recording sessions.

What is your current project?

I just returned from London, where I conducted the London Philharmonic Orchestra in recording sessions at Abbey Road Studios. We recorded five of my works for an upcoming release by Naxos in its American Classics series. The centerpiece of the recording was my Symphony No. 1, a 24-minute, 3-movement work dedicated to the memory of Leonard Bernstein, and premiered just recently. We also recorded my works Festivities, Silver Fanfare, Celebration Overture, and Three Olympians. The LPO are one of the world’s greatest orchestras, and I had been hoping to work with them ever since I heard them in Howard Shore’s Oscar-winning scores for the Lord of the Rings trilogy. The LPO and I recorded nearly an hour of my music in three sessions over a single day and evening—quite a feat, and quite a thrill! I’m really looking forward to the Naxos release in early 2014.

Who were your most important teachers during your time at Hartt, and why?

My two principal teachers at Hartt were Larry Alan Smith and Harold Farberman. I studied with them both for three years, from 1992-1995. Larry was my primary composition teacher, and Harold was my primary conducting teacher. As I was focused on both composition and conducting, it was very valuable for me that both of them were highly skilled and trained both as composers and conductors. Their personalities and approaches were quite different, and I benefited greatly from their different experiences and wisdom. I also studied with Harold during the summers of 1992-95 at the Conductors Institute (which was then at Hartt).

I should also mention some other instructors whose teaching was valuable to me in different ways: Robert Carl was my composition teacher there in my first year; I had James Sellars for 20th-century music; Steve Gryc for orchestration; Anthony Rauche for counterpoint and other subjects; and Kenneth Nott and Charles Turner for music history. They were all highly committed teachers. I learned a great deal from all of them, and look back on all of these courses with great affection. (I still have all of my class notes!)

What were some of the most valuable lessons you learned during your time at Hartt?

My four years at Hartt were a time of incredible growth for me. I had done my undergraduate work at a relatively small state college music department (Rhode Island College), which was a very fine department, but limited in its resources compared to a full-fledged conservatory like Hartt. Being surrounded by so many excellent professional musicians on Hartt’s faculty was eye-opening for me in many ways. Besides my primary work on acquiring techniques and skills as a composer and conductor, probably the most important thing for me was immersion in a huge variety of musical repertoire. My classes exposed me to so much repertoire from so many different composers, and I spent countless hours in the library exploring unfamiliar music. This practice of constantly attempting to broaden one’s horizons was invaluable then, and still is now.

What is next for you?

The most significant upcoming career milestone for me will be the Naxos release of my recording with the London Philharmonic in early 2014. I’ll be on sabbatical leave from my teaching gig for the 2013-14 year, so I’ll be focusing completely on my freelance musical work. It looks like there will be some exciting film orchestration gigs in the near future, but since they’ve not yet begun, I can’t discuss them “on the record” yet. Please stay tuned.

How can your fellow Hartt alumni get in touch with you?

My website is, and on Facebook, I have both a personal page and a “fan page” for Propulsive Music.

New Series added to HarttBlogs - Help Wanted

We are pleased to start a new series on HarttBlogs.  We will continue to post items of interest concerning events at and around Hartt, but now we will also post interviews with Hartt Alumni titled "5 Questions with __.

The "5 Questions" project is just another way we are trying to help Hartt alumni and friends stay abreast of all the wonderful events at Hartt and news about post-Hartt experiences.

Look for our first installment soon!  Peter Boyer is the first interviewee.

HELP WANTED - Joe and I would like to encourage some additional people to help out with this blog. 
  • If you have ideas for a post, let us know.  Joe or I can post about it or, even better, we would welcome guest bloggers!  If you want to contribute, let us know.
  • If you know of a Hartt alum that you would like to see as a subject for our 5 Questions series, please tell us who that is.
Michael can be reached at
Joe can be reached at