Thursday, September 22, 2011

Fun with Franz: Liszt's 2nd Hungarian Rhapsody

It's a great way to warm up for the new season. The Harrisburg Symphony and Stuart Malina start the new season this weekend - Saturday at 8pm and Sunday at 3pm at the Forum - with Franz Liszt's 2nd Hungarian Rhapsody, one of the most familiar pieces of classical music, at least to an earlier generation.

While you can read about (and hear) the other works on the program - Rachmaninoff's 1st Piano Concerto and Prokofiev's 5th Symphony - I thought this post would be a little... well, more light-hearted.

First, an educational video with background information and a performance of the orchestral version of the Hungarian Rhapsody No. 2 by Franz Liszt.

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(There's something about mentioning the various details of his love life while mixing in pictures of him as a priest. Yes, it's true, Franz Liszt later entered the priesthood but that was considerably later in his life.)

Originally a virtuoso piano piece written in 1847, the second of eventually nineteen rhapsodies for solo piano, this particular rhapsody was later orchestrated with help from Franz Doppler. Liszt himself made a piano duet version (four-hands, two pianists sharing the bench) in 1874. 

Here is an amazing performance of the piano version by none other than Sergei Rachmaninoff (whose 1st Piano Concerto will follow it on this Harrisburg Symphony program):

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Oh, and did I mention Rachmaninoff plays his own cadenza near the very end?

Of course, its popularity has also made it the target of much fun-poking. For instance, this classic skit with Victor Borge and friend in a two-seater arrangement:
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not to mention another legendary performance by Bugs Bunny, or this other famous duet team, Tom & Jerry, cartoons that those of us who are 'of a certain age' remember fondly.
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Hope you can join us to celebrate the start of the new 2011-2012 Season this weekend at the Forum!

- Dick Strawser

P.S. (See comment below) A friend and former student wrote to tell me this post reminded her of a favorite childhood cartoon. If you can bear with one more cartoon version of Liszt's 2nd Hungarian Rhapsody, I now present Warner Bros.' Rhapsody in Rivets!
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Sunday, September 18, 2011

Prokofiev's 5th Symphony: Getting Behind the Music

The Harrisburg Symphony’s first concert of the new season - Saturday, September 24th at 8pm and Sunday, September 25th at 3pm at the Forum - is called “Russian Radiance,” and featured the work of two great Russian composers, one technically belonging to the 19th Century and the other one of the two leading composers of the 20th Century Soviet Union.

The program opens with Franz Liszt’s popular Hungarian Rhapsody No. 2, inspired by the melodies of the Gypsies who’d settled in Hungary and, at least in the 19th Century, was synonymous with Hungarian “Folk Music” (technically, this is not the case, as they’re not ethnically Hungarian nor is the music “folk music” but an urban popular form of entertainment that would make it just as ridiculous to claim American Jazz was “folk music,” but I digress). PPP There is the 1st Piano Concerto of Sergei Rachmaninoff (you can read more about that, here) and one of the most popular symphonies by a Soviet composer, Prokofiev’s 5th.

The first thing anybody usually finds out about Prokofiev’s Symphony No. 5 in B-flat Major with its nice round Op. 100 number, is that it was written during World War II and that Prokofiev said it was about the “grandeur of the human spirit,” that it was “intended as a hymn to free and happy Man, to his mighty powers, his pure and noble spirit. I cannot say that I deliberately chose this theme. It was born in me and clamored for expression. The music has matured in me, it filled my soul.”

It was written in one month in the summer of 1944 while the composer was staying at the ‘House of Creative Work,’ a government-supported artists’ refuge and “safe-haven” outside Moscow near the end of the war – in fact, by then, the end of the war seemed imminent, unlike the timing of Shostakovich’s two large-scale war-time symphonies, his 7th (shortly after the Nazi invasion began in 1941 and mostly during the horrific siege of Leningrad) and 8th Symphonies (an even darker work written in 1943). In the moments before Prokofiev brought down his baton to conduct his new symphony’s world premiere in Moscow on January 13th, 1945, the audience listened to a cannonade resounding outside the Conservatory’s Great Hall, saluting the Red Army’s crossing of the Vistula River in Poland, chasing the Nazi invaders back toward their own homeland and their eventual defeat.

But to us – and not just those of us listening to it today, sixty-six years later – does this really sound like a War Symphony struggling with heroism against evil before concluding with assured Victory? Compared to Shostakovich’s war-torn symphonies, no. It can certainly be appreciated as a work celebrating the “human spirit” (if you didn’t believe, in one sense or another, all art already does that, to some extent) and even, compared to the symphonies of Brahms and Tchaikovsky who seem its direct ancestors, an abstract work.

There are always risks listening to music that is “about” something – whether it’s telling a story like Berlioz’s Symphonie fantastique, implying a program suggested by verbal images like Beethoven’s Pastoral Symphony or suggesting something dramatic but unspoken like the struggles we associate with the opening Beethoven’s 5th and it’s triumphant conclusion.

Taking Prokofiev at his word is one thing but if we imply this is a War Symphony, do we start seeing evil erupting in the final moments of the 1st Movement? Or imply that the opening of the 3rd Movement is a tribute to the ‘Moonlight’ Sonata of Beethoven which supposedly was Lenin’s favorite piece of classical music? Or how the last movement ends as its “counter-subject removes its velvet gloves and bludgeons the main subject. Sorely wounded, the playful rhythm is mercilessly driven on, limping and weakening. As a baleful alarm sounds, it runs smack into a brick wall.”

Really? Well…

On the other hand, the “free and happy man” could be the composer himself – not the glorified Soviet Man, as is usually inferred. It was, otherwise, a fairly happy time in Prokofiev’s life and during the War, various restrictions on what Soviet composers could “get away with” were either eased or ignored.

There were, certainly, war-time works – after all, he’d just completed a mammoth opera setting Tolstoy’s mammoth novel, War and Peace, usually considered The Greatest Russian Novel Ever. But he also set an English Restoration Comedy to music in his delightful opera, Betrothal in a Monastery based on Sheridan’s “The Duenna,” a work whose rehearsals were interrupted by the invasion and postponed, however, till after the War. In fact, even as timely a work as War and Peace could not find its way to the stage until a few months after Prokofiev’s death in 1953!

While he wrote music for Eisenstein’s film Ivan the Terrible, he also wrote the ballet Cinderella. In addition to the three “War Sonatas” for piano (Nos. 6, 7 & 8), there’s the lyrical Flute Sonata which he later arranged for David Oistrakh as his 2nd Violin Sonata.

So, whether the War Effort was behind Prokofiev’s new symphony or not, one could argue either side. At times, it seems more on the verge of being epic rather than sounding heroic. The ending is certainly celebratory, light-hearted and joyful enough but hardly a victory lap!

(photo, left, of violinist David Oistrakh and Prokofiev playing chess.)

It’s very possible it really had nothing to do with the War or Soviet Socialist Realism at all, that it was just a well-written and appealing symphony.

As both Prokofiev and Shostakovich were well aware, what the music “meant” to the composer as he was writing it may not be anything the listener (concert-goer or government bureaucrat) might hear in it: witness the ‘secret program’ in Shostakovich’s Symphony No. 10 where his initials (in the German notation) become a famous musical motive – DSCH.

Here is Prokofiev’s 5th Symphony. For this post, I’ve specifically chosen (considering the few good performances available through YouTube) this transcription of an old LP recording, released in 1967 on the Soviet label, Melodiya, with the Moscow Philharmonic (the orchestra Prokofiev conducted at its world premiere in 1945) with the great violinist and close friend of Prokofiev’s, David Oistrakh conducting:
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1st Movement
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2nd Movement – Scherzo
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3rd Movement – Adagio
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4th Movement – Finale, Allegro giocoso  
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The Symphony, understandably, went on to become one of his most popular and frequently played works, both in the Soviet Union and in the West.

You can read more about the chess match between Soviet politics and music on my blog, Thoughts on a Train.

- Dr. Dick

Thursday, September 15, 2011

First Concert - Rachmaninoff's First

Daria Rabotkina, who played the Schumann Piano Concerto last year, returns to play Rachmaninoff with Stuart Malina and the Harrisburg Symphony at the first concert of the new season, Saturday September 24th at 8pm and Sunday September 25th at 3pm. The program opens with Franz Liszt's 2nd Hungarian Rhapsody and concludes with Prokofiev's triumphant war-time 5th Symphony.

But instead of the more familiar Rach2 or Rach3 as his two famous concertos are affectionately known, she's playing Rach1.

If Rachmaninoff hadn’t written his 2nd and 3rd Piano Concertos, this concerto would be played a lot more often. Of course, if he hadn’t written the 2nd and 3rd, the world would be a much poorer place, since they’re two of the most popular concertos around, full of beautiful melodies and daunting challenges for the soloist. It often happens that a youthful work shows promise that is then overshadowed by mature realization.

Sure, it's his Opus 1 - how early is that? - but he also revised it 25 years later and that's what everybody hears today: the reflections of a 44-year-old artist looking back on a piece written when he was 19.

And at 19, Rachmaninoff had a lot going for him. A brilliant student, he graduated from the Moscow Conservatory that May in a class that included Alexander Scriabin. He shared the Gold Medal in piano performance with Josef Lhévinne (originally Levin, but once his career began in Europe and the United States, he Westernized the spelling to match the Russian pronunciation – Lhévinne would go on to become one the of century’s leading pianists and teachers, teaching at Juilliard until his death in 1944, a year after Rachmaninoff’s). Scriabin won the “Little Gold Medal” that year but did not complete his composition degree because of disagreements with his teacher, Anton Arensky.

Rachmaninoff had written other works that year – a one-act opera, Aleko, which won the Grand Prize in Composition at his graduation; the Trio elegiaque No. 1 (often associated with Tchaikovsky’s death but that event happened the following year and inspired a second, less well known trio elegiaque) and a little thing called the Prelude in C-sharp Minor whose popularity would haunt him the rest of his life.

There had been an earlier concerto – in the key of C Minor (the same key as his famous 2nd Concerto) – begun but abandoned a few years earlier. It would not be unusual for a young pianist dreaming of a concert career (and he had been studying to realize that dream since he was 9 years old) to write a concerto for himself. And when young students began major works like this, the usual advice is to model it after something you like, something recognized as a good example. The next year, he wrote to a cousin he was working on a new concerto (the first two movements already composed, the third not yet written down) and this eventually became his first published work.

While I hear echoes of Franz Liszt’s 1st Piano Concerto in Rachmaninoff’s Opus 1, his actual model was the Grieg A Minor Concerto (at least its two outer movements) which he heard Alexander Siloti (seen on the left, here, with the composer, photographed in 1892 or so) practicing during visits to the Rachmaninoffs in 1890. Rachmaninoff was the soloist when the first movement was performed at the Conservatory in March of 1892 (a couple of weeks before his 19th birthday) but he dedicated it to Siloti who would play the whole concerto frequently. The composer himself apparently never played the concerto again, which may seem odd.

Odder still was that he’d wait 25 years before revising it.

The usual argument to explain why so few pianists perform this concerto dismisses it as a youthful work that doesn’t stand up to the later, more mature concertos. That may be, but when he revised it in 1917, he corrected some of these “youthful indiscretions” in terms of its form and harmony, thinning out a lot of the texture and replacing some “filler” with more compelling material. He also replaced the original opening of the finale which gets things off to a much more exciting start (aaaaaand they’re off!)

Yet he kept the best features of the early work, perhaps lacking in the Great Themes that the later two concertos have, but still full of vitality and spontaneity. So in that sense, the work is both a young work and a mature one – or at least a mature look back on a youthful one. Even then, though, it never became popular with audiences.

As he wrote to a friend, "I have rewritten my First Concerto; it is really good now. All the youthful freshness is there, and yet it plays itself so much more easily. And nobody pays any attention. When I tell them in America that I will play the First Concerto, they do not protest, but I can see by their faces that they would prefer the Second or Third."

Ironically, Rachmaninoff emigrated from Russia following the two revolutions in 1917, driving across the border into Finland in a horse-drawn sleigh in the dark of a winter’s night, carrying with him only a handful of scores and notebooks, having lost his family’s estate and his wealth not to mention the whole lifestyle and culture that defined him as a Russian now that Russia no longer existed.

His first published work, written mostly when he was 18, also in a sense became one of his last. Because he needed to make a living and being a concert pianist was more lucrative in the short-term, he now had no time to compose. Cut off from the Russian world that nurtured his soul, he also found it difficult to be creative when he did have the time.

Once he’d finally settled in America and built a house, it was a re-make of Russia where everything was furnished like a Russian home, where they spoke only Russian, ate Russian food and observed Russian customs. However, even this failed to spark his creativity.

Of the six works he completed after 1917, there was a 4th Piano Concerto written in 1926 that also suffers by comparison to the 2nd & 3rd, though the world could not get enough of the Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini, composed eight years later. There was a 3rd Symphony that never went over as well as the 2nd and his final work, the Symphonic Dances, also failed to please American audiences and prompted Rachmaninoff to tell Eugene Ormandy that, basically, he would never compose again.

Aside from the choral songs of Op. 42, the Corelli Variations for solo piano round out the original works he composed in the last 25 years of his life. The rest were small-scale transcriptions that became staples of his recital repertoire, many of them more like encores – including his take on some movements from Bach’s E Major Partita for solo violin which received its “world premiere” in the Forum in Harrisburg as part of a concert tour in the 1930s.

But still, everywhere he played, audiences clamored for the Prelude in C-Sharp Minor, written the same year he finished his 1st Piano Concerto.

Friday, September 9, 2011

9/11 - A Community Remembers

Okay, with a recent earthquake, a hurricane and now a history-making flood in Central Pennsylvania, we need to start off by saying, "Yes, this concert is still going ahead as planned." Set for 3pm on Sunday, September 11th at the Forum in downtown Harrisburg, it is still scheduled.
As HSO executive director Jeff Woodruff was quoted in a Patriot-News article, “The last thing we want to do is cancel this event. Unless the state or city closes the roads, we are going to play. Unless we absolutely can’t."

As of this posting, the highway exits into Harrisburg north from I-81 and south from I-83 and the South Bridge are both closed due to flooding. However, the Harve Taylor Bridge onto Forester Street is open and the State Street Bridge (behind the Capitol complex) was the only way in or out of the city during the Agnes Flood in 1972 and the 1996 Flood, so it also is open and, incidentally, will take you right behind the Forum (make a left and then an immediate right turn to the State Library Entrance, or continue around onto Walnut Street and the front of the Forum building). The river is expected to crest Friday night or Saturday morning (if it hasn't already) but the waters will not recede below the flood stage of 17' until later on Sunday.

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The concert is "9/11: A Community Remembers, A 10th Anniversary Musical Tribute" with the Harrisburg Symphony conducted by Stuart Malina, a cross-genre “concert of remembrance” coinciding with the nation's observation of the 10th anniversary of the terrorist attacks on September 11th, 2001. 

The concert will take place on Sunday, September 11 at 3:00 p.m. at the Forum in Harrisburg.
On the jazz-flavored first half, local jazz piano legend Steve Rudolph will be joined by saxophonists Tim Warfield and Jonathan Ragonese, vocalists Diane Wilson and J.D. Walter, and the orchestra. The program will feature the premiere of an original work called Remembrance, composed by Steve Rudolph for this special performance. Also on the program will be Never Let Me Go, Shower the People, His Eye Is on the Sparrow and a medley of patriotic tunes including The House I live In and America the Beautiful.
On the second half, Maestro Malina will conduct Mozart’s final work, his moving Requiem. The performance will include vocal soloists Sasha Piastro, Amy Yovanovich, Eric Rieger, and Damian Savarino, the Susquehanna Chorale, and the Harrisburg Symphony.
This special HSO Community Concert is generously sponsored by Chesapeake Energy, Capital BlueCross, G.R. Sponaugle & Sons, Inc., Rhoads and Sinon LLP, abc27, and The Patriot-News.
The Harrisburg Symphony Orchestra presents 9/11: A Community Remembers at 3 p.m. on Sunday, September 11th at Forum, located at 5th and Walnut Street in downtown Harrisburg, PA. Tickets for this performance range from $10 to $35 depending on seating location and available online at or by calling the HSO office (717) 545-5527.
Steve Rudolph is a jazz pianist, composer, arranger and educator. He has had an inspiring career in his 40 years of professional music making. Jazz Improv magazine states, “Rudolph is a savvy, swinging, glimmering heavyweight… ...simply outstanding.” The winner of the Jazziz Magazine Piano Competition at the Seven Springs Jazz Festival in 2000, he was also awarded two Jazz Composition Fellowships from the PA Council on the Arts. With eleven acclaimed CDs as a leader, he has served as producer, arranger and performer on many recordings including CDs with Johnny Coles, Bill Goodwin, Ali Ryerson, Matt Wilson and Vinny Valentino. HIs latest CD, "Day Dream" - released in 2010, is a trio recording from a live concert at Bucknell University with drummer Phil Haynes and bassist Drew Gress. His vast experience encompasses concert performances with many jazz masters including Louie Bellson, Clark Terry, Terry Gibbs, Rufus Reid, Buddy Tate, Al Grey, Bill Goodwin, and Sal Nistico. He has toured throughout the U.S., India, Europe, Canada, Russia and the Caribbean. When at home in Harrisburg, Pa., Steve, a Yamaha Artist, can be found performing regularly at the Hilton Harrisburg on his Yamaha Concert Collection C-7 Grand. Steve is presently in his nineteenth year playing six nights a week at the Hilton.
Born in Evansville, Indiana, Steve studied trumpet and composition under scholarship at Butler University. He switched his main instrumental focus to the piano at age 22 and was hired by Buddy Morrow to perform with the Tommy Dorsey Orchestra in 1977. Since moving to Harrisburg in 1978, he has been largely responsible for the growth and development of the thriving jazz scene in Central PA. His devotion to the art of jazz inspired him to found the Central PA Friends of Jazz, now in it’s 30th successful season of monthly concerts, youth band, jazz camp, and annual Central PA Jazz Festival. Steve was the recipient of the 2002 Harrisburg Arts Award for dedication to the arts and community service. His detailed recording and touring information may be found at
Tim Warfield, Jr., a native of York, Pennsylvania, began studying the alto saxophone at age nine. He switched to tenor saxophone during his first year at William Penn Sr. High School where he participated in various musical ensembles, winning many jazz soloist awards including second out of forty competitors at the Montreal Festival of Music in Canada. After high school, Warfield attended Howard University in Washington, D.C. for two years before leaving to lead and co-lead groups in the Central Pennsylvania and Baltimore/Washington areas.
In 1990 he was chosen to be a member of trumpeter and CBS/Sony recording artist Marlon Jordan’s Quintet. In 1991 he was selected to record Tough Young Tenors on the Island/Antilles label, listed as one of the top ten recordings of the year by the New York Times. He also joined Jazz Futures, a world touring group assembled by George Wein to showcase some of the world’s brightest young stars in jazz. Also in 1991, Warfield placed third at the Thelonious Monk International Jazz Saxophone Competition held at the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, D.C.
Warfield has made several television appearances including the Today Show, Bill Cosby’s You Bet Your Life (where he was a member of the house band until 1992), and Ted Turner’s 1998 Trumpet Awards. Additionally, he has made numerous stage appearances with such names as Donald Byrd, Michelle Rosewoman, Marcus Miller, Marlon Jordan, James Williams, Christian McBride, The Harper Brothers, Dizzy Gillespie, Isaac Hayes, Shirley Scott, Jimmy Smith, Nicholas Payton, Charles Fambrough, Eric Reed, Carl Allen, Terell Stafford, Stefon Harris, Orrin Evans, The Newport Millennium All Stars, “Papa” John Defrancesco, Joey Defrancesco, Claudio Raggazzi, Danilo Perez, and others. In 1994, he joined bassist and Verve recording artist Christian McBride’s group, where he remained a member until 1999.
Warfield’s first recording, A Cool Blue, was selected as one of the top ten recordings of the year in a 1995 New York Times critic’s poll, as was his 1998 recording Gentle Warrior (featuring Cyrus Chestnut, Tarus Mateen, Clarence Penn, Terell Stafford, and Nicholas Payton), proclaiming him possibly the most powerful tenor saxophonist of his generation. In 1999, he was awarded “Talent Deserving Wider Recognition” in DownBeat Magazine’s 49th Annual Jazz Critic’s poll. In 2000, alongside crooner Loston Harris, Warfield performed at the MTV GQ Men of the Year Awards in New York City.
In the fall of 1999 Warfield exclusively joined forces with New Orleans trumpeter and Warner Bros. recording artist Nicholas Payton of with whom he toured and recorded until 2005.
In 2006, Warfield joined trumpeter and Maxjazz recording artist Terell Stafford’s Quintet.
Warfield has appeared on several GRAMMY-nominated recordings such as Stefon Harris’ “The Grand Unification Theory,” as well as “Dear Louis” and “Sonic Trance,” both under the leadership of trumpeter Nicholas Payton.
Tim is currently serving as a board member for the Central Pennsylvania Friends of Jazz as well as an artist-in-residence at Messiah College in Grantham , Pa.
Jonathan Ragonese, composer-arranger-saxophonist, is a native of New Cumberland Pennsylvania. He has lived in New York City for four years, where he completed his undergraduate degree at the Manhattan School of Music. As a saxophonist he has performed and recorded with local and international performers, Terell Stafford, David Liebman, Tim Warfield, JD Walter, The Harrisburg Symphony & Stuart Malina, Steve Rudolph, Steve Wilson and James Moody. As a composer his works have been premiered by saxophonist Steve Wilson, the Vermont Mozart Festival Orchestra, the Harrisburg Symphony, and the Manhattan School of Music Jazz Orchestra. "Sweet for Duke", commissioned by the Vermont Mozart Festival was premiered in August of 2010. His latest large work, "Mother Goose Suite" a collection of dramatic nursery rhymes, was premiered in New York City with Steve Wilson, Glenn Zaleski, Harp and Winds featuring the narration of world-renowned composer, historian, and performer Dr. David Noon.
Diane Wilson is the winner of the 2007 Pennsylvania State Senior Idol competition and is known for her soulful renditions of jazz and R&B classics.
JD Walter is a Jazz singers singer - a purist and an innovator. Although his style has been compared to many vocal Titans, it is in the same breath, uniquely his own, and he has become a singular phenomenon on the music scene. Respected and lauded by the great musicians of the contemporary circuit, J.D. has shared the stage and recorded with many legendary artists. J.D. has currently recorded 5 CD's. "Sirens in the C-House", "Clear Day", a collaboration with master musician Dave Liebman, "Dedicated to You", "2Bass, a Face and a little skin", and "live in Portugal". JD has been a guest artist on many CD's, is also a member of pianist Orrin Evans Luvpk band, with 2 releases on Imani Records, as well as performing 3 songs on trumpeter Sean Jones latest release, "Kaleidoscope", on Mack Avenue records. J.D. has been a featured artist at countless American jazz festivals and clubs, performed at numerous festivals in Europe, the Middle East, Central America and toured Russia 25+ times, performing in over 100 cities. J.D. is in demand as a clinician at schools and universities. He has performed numerous clinics for the National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences, the Music Educators National Conference, and has taught at the prestigious Sebelius Conservatory in Helsinki Finland, Jazz Palau De Valencia in Spain, The University of North Texas (invited back as the first vocalist ever on their lecture series), The Moscow Music Consort, and the Kazan Music Conservatory in Russia. JD is a regular on the Music Scene in New York having headlined at such venues as, Lincoln Center, The Jazz Standard, The Jazz Gallery, Joe's Pub, The Tribeca Performing Arts Center, Sweet Rhythm, Smoke, and can be seen frequently at the famed 55 Bar. He was also formerly on the faculty of the University of the Arts in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania and Currently resides in New York City, teaches at The Aaron Copeland School of Music, The New School, and can be heard at many major jazz clubs and events.
Sasha Piastro is a versatile professional singer, equally comfortable with classical and musical theater styles. Past season’s engagements include Djamileh with Opera Theater of Pittsburgh, L’Africaine with Amici Opera, Celia in Iolanthe with Harrisburg Symphony Orchestra, Zerlina in Don Giovanni with Center Stage Opera, the soprano soloist for Handel’s Messiah with the Messiah College Choral Arts Society, Leïla in Bizet’s Les Pêcheurs de Perles with Center Stage Opera, soprano soloist with the Williamsport Symphony Orchestra, and Cathy in The Last Five Years at the Mary Welch Theater in Williamsport, PA.
Ms. Piastro has sung with numerous opera and music theater companies including Emerald City Opera, Opera Theater of Pittsburgh, Center Stage Opera, Amici Opera, the New York Conservatory for the Arts, Pittsburgh Music Theater, Pittsburgh Opera, and Penn State Opera Theater. She has also sung with internationally respected conductors Robert Page and Stuart Malina, and with well-known directors such as Dorothy Danner, Sarah Meyers, and Jonathan Eaton.
Ms. Piastro received her Bachelor of Fine Arts degree in voice performance from Carnegie Mellon University and her Master of Music degree in voice performance and pedagogy from Penn State University. She is currently working on her Doctorate of Musical Arts in voice performance at Shenandoah Conservatory. Ms. Piastro is a member of the voice faculty at Grove City College, and has served on the faculties at Lycoming College and Susquehanna University. She is an active member of the National Association of Teachers of Singing and the Associated Guild of Musical Artists.
Amy Yovanovich started singing as a child. She is a 1989 graduate of Elizabethtown Area High School, Elizabethtown, Pennsylvania.  After high school she served as lead soloist at St. James Episcopal Church in Lancaster, Pennsylvania. Ms. Yovanovich studied under Mr. John Darrenkamp, a well-known veteran of the Metropolitan Opera Company in New York City and currently studies with Ms. Kyle C. Engler, Mezzo-Soprano, Baltimore, Maryland. She has performed with the Pennsylvania Academy of Music Opera Theatre Workshop, Lancaster and Harrisburg Opera Companies. She has performed in a number of operas, including, Mozart’s Cosi fan tutte as Dorabella, Bizet’s Carmen as Carmen and Mennotti’s Amahl and the Night Visitors as the Mother. Ms. Yovanovich has also performed many oratorios, including Verdi & Mozart Requiem, Handel’s Messiah and Judas Maccabeus, Mendelssohn’s Elijah, Haydn’s Lord Nelson Mass and Beethoven’s 5th Symphony. She has also performed in several productions at the Fulton Opera House including The Sound of Music as Mother Abbess, in Rags as Rosa, in Ragtime as Sarah’s Friend, in Carousel as Netty Fowler and Oliver at Widow Corney. In February of 2003, she made her non-musical debut with Ephrata ACT as Berenice Sadie Brown in Carson McCullers’ “The Member of the Wedding.”
In March of 1998, Ms. Yovanovich was the recipient of the prestigious Oxnard Gold Medal, First Place Award in the American Traditions Competition in Savannah, Georgia, sponsored by Savannah On Stage.  She also was Honorable Mention at the 1998 Metropolitan Opera District Auditions, finalist in the 1999 National Federation of Music Clubs Competition, and a winner in the 2000 Connecticut Opera Guild Competition.
Eric Rieger has consistently received critical praise for his beautiful singing and exciting performances throughout his impressive international career. hails his “erotic, radiant voice” and “cultivated manner.” The Trierischer Volksfreund applauds his “fine-timbered tenor voice” and “beautiful lyric singing,” and continues by stating, “There is bel canto style to be felt, skillfulness and every amount of talent.” Indeed, says, “this is a lovely tenor voice and a winning personality who will go a long way on both the recital platform and the opera stage."  He has had great success in opera throughout Europe, particularly in the repertoire of Rossini, Donizetti, Mozart, Handel, and Britten.  His busy career has led him to the opera companies of Zürich, Luzern, Basel (Switzerland), Trier, Regensburg, Kaiserslautern, Bremerhaven, Osnabrück, Nordhausen, Konstanz (Germany), and Novara, (Italy), as well as Zomeropera Alden Biesen (Belgium), Citizens Theatre (Glasgow, Scotland), Everyman Palace Theatre (Cork, Ireland), and the Mozart and Friends Opera Festival (New Jersey). 
Equally at home on the concert platform, Mr. Rieger has appeared with such notable orchestras as the Royal Scottish National Orchestra, the Basel Sinfonietta, St. John’s Orchestra (London), the Luxembourg Chamber Orchestra “Les Musiciens,” and the Trier Philharmonic Orchestra. He has also been featured at the Claudio Monteverdi Festival in Italy, the Royal Opera House at Covent Garden, and the Concertgebouw in Amsterdam.  Frequent oratorio and concert performances have included Handel’s Messiah; J.S. Bach’s St. Matthew Passion, Magnificat and many Cantatas; Mozart’s Requiem; Rossini’s Messe Solennelle; Orff’s Carmina Burana and Britten’s Serenade, among others. A passionate recitalist, he has been heard in the United States and Europe interpreting a vast array of song literature.  Mr. Rieger is also in demand as a voice teacher and is an active member of the National Association of Teachers of Singing.  Currently, he serves as Visiting Assistant Professor of Voice at Texas Tech University.  He is a graduate of the Eastman School of Music and the Royal Scottish Academy of Music and Drama.
Bass Damian Savarino is quickly gaining attention as one of today’s most talented singers.  With his rich voice, striking musicality, and commanding acting ability, he is becoming one of the most sought-after young performers in opera and in concert.  He has appeared throughout the U.S. performing such roles as Sarastro in Die Zauberflöte, Figaro in Le Nozze di Figaro, Sparafucile in Rigoletto, Zuniga in Carmen, and Guglielmo in Così Fan Tutte.  While at the Ohio Light Opera, he sang and recorded the roles of Colonel Lester in Victor Herbert’s Eileen and Lord Dramaleigh in Gilbert & Sullivan’s Utopia Limited for the Newport Classic label as well as performed roles in Patience, Eduard Künneke’s Der Vetter aus Dingsda, Romberg’s New Moon, and Camelot.
During the past two seasons, Mr. Savarino appeared with Teatro Grattacielo as Lo zio in Riccitelli’s I Compagnacci and L’uomo di Legge in Giordano’s Il Re at the Rose Theater, Lincoln Center.  Other appearances include the bass solos in Charpentier’s Filius Prodigus and Carissimi’s Vanitas Vanitatum with Musica Sacra (Alice Tully Hall, Lincoln Center) and Handel’s Messiah with the Cayuga Chamber Orchestra (Ithaca, NY).  He had also first performed with Teatro Grattacielo as Rocco in Wolf-Ferrari’s I Gioielli della Madonna.
In January 2010, Mr. Savarino sang the bass solos in Haydn’s Lord Nelson Mass in Carnegie Hall with Distinguished Concerts International New York.  He has also recently sung Brahms’ Ein Deutsches Requiem with the Indianapolis Chamber Orchestra/Symphonic Choir, Handel’s Messiah and Mozart’s Requiem with the Choral Arts Society of Messiah College, Aaron Copland’s Old American Songs with the West Shore Symphony (PA), and Schubert’s Mass in G with the Handel & Haydn Society of Boston.  During a trip to Greece, Mr. Savarino performed the bass solos in Mikis Theodorakis’ oratorio Canto General, based on texts by Pablo Neruda.  Mr. Savarino is also an active recitalist who has presented recitals in Germany, Greece, and Sicily.
The Susquehanna Chorale was founded in 1981 by Artistic Director Linda L. Tedford. The chorus is recognized for its artistic interpretation of choral works of many styles, for its commissions of 14 new works, and for its educational outreach programs. The Chorale is the recipient of Chorus America’s highest award: The Margaret Hillis Award for Choral Excellence and is currently Ensemble-in-Residence at Messiah College. In addition to its series of performances throughout Central Pennsylvania, the Chorale performs regularly with the Harrisburg Symphony Orchestra and has toured Great Britain and Europe. The Chorale’s CD’s have received national recognition: Wondrous Love and American Treasures were offered for consideration for a Grammy Nomination.