Bonus conversations with special guests:
Program Notes and Biographies
Like many, I have been fascinated by stars my whole life. My childhood bedroom and graduate student apartment had stars pasted on their ceilings. Over the years, I have realized the human obsession with stars are connected to histories of Ancient Egypt, Calendars, and Music. In many ways, stars links all of my above mentioned interests together.
Robert Hayden’s poem “Stars”, organized in five sections, immediately struck me as a poem that addressed my fascination with stars. The first poem makes references to the constellation Orion, significant in the culture of the Ancient Egyptians who believed that when their pharaohs died, the pharaohs would ascend through the use of pyramids to the constellation to meet their relatives, deities living in Orion. The first movement launches the piece into the stars toward Orion.
Scientists have converted the light waves of stars into sound waves to create the “music” of stars. The second poem in the collections lists many stars that seem to be arranged by their luminosity; the cooler, giant red stars, have a lower frequency than the hotter blue stars. The music of this movement tracks the ascent of frequencies demonstrated by stars of different luminosities.
NASA launched the Voyager 1 Space Probe in 1977 with a golden record containing sounds of earth. The record includes a 1927 recording of “Dark was the Night” by Blind Willie Johnson, a Gospel Blues musician. The third poem celebrates the life of Sojourner Truth, the African American abolitionist and feminist who literally walked away from slavery as a leading star against injustice. The music in this movement honors her legacy with more obvious African American musical reference of the Rural Blues heard in the Blind Willie Johnson recording.
The fourth movement imagines the beautiful colors and static shapes of pulsars as static harmonies. I consider this to be the Musica Mundana movement, music of the cosmos. For centuries, scholars believed that the movement stars and planets created music. This movement was inspired by these mythical sounds.
Stars transmit energy as light. The light we see and do not see, affect us as energy or magnetic waves. The last movement combines all of the energy of the previous movement into a powerful rhythmic force. When we see stars we are technically seeing their past due the number of light years it takes for their image to reach us on earth. Playing with this idea, the Soprano is often in the “present” as the instruments are often in the past catching up to the voice part. This is the only movement where the voice leads the instruments.
– Trevor Weston
Trevor Weston, Composer
Trevor Weston’s music has been called a “gently syncopated marriage of intellect and feeling.” (Detroit Free Press) Weston’s honors include; the George Ladd Prix de Paris from the University of California, Berkeley, a Goddard Lieberson Fellowship from the American Academy of Arts and Letters, and residencies from the Virginia Center for the Creative Arts and the MacDowell Colony. Weston co-authored with Olly Wilson, “Duke Ellington as a Cultural Icon” in the Cambridge Companion to Duke Ellington, published by Cambridge University Press.
Carnegie Hall co-commissioned Weston’s Flying Fish, with the American Composers Orchestra, for its 125 Commissions Project. The Bang on a Can All-Stars premiered Weston’s Dig It, for the Ecstatic Music Festival in NYC in 2019. The Grammy-nominated Choir of Trinity Church Wall Street, under the direction of Julian Wachner, recorded a CD of Trevor Weston’s choral works. Weston’s work Juba for Strings won the 2019 Sonori/New Orleans Chamber Orchestra Composition Competition. Dr. Weston is currently Professor of Music and Chair of the Music Department at Drew University in Madison, NJ.
Donika Kelly, Poet
Donika Kelly is the author of the chapbook Aviarium (fivehundred places) and the full-length collections The Renunciations (forthcoming, Graywolf) and Bestiary (Graywolf). Bestiary is the winner of the Cave Canem Poetry Prize, a Hurston/Wright Legacy Award for Poetry, and the Kate Tufts Discovery Award. She is a Cave Canem graduate fellow and member of the collective Poets at the End of the World. She currently lives in Iowa City and is an Assistant Professor at the University of Iowa, where she teaches creative writing.
Karol Bennett, Soprano
Hailed for her “sumptuous sound, wrenching poignancy, and faultless musicianship” (The New York Times), soprano Karol Bennett has been heard worldwide in lieder, oratorio, opera, and new music. Her honors include the Pro Musicis International Award, a fellowship from the Bunting Institute of Radcliffe College, an Artistic Ambassadorship, and a Duo Recitalists Grant from the National Endowment for the Arts. Ms. Bennett has appeared as soloist with the Houston Symphony, the St. Paul Chamber Orchestra, the San Francisco Contemporary Music Players, the Sinfonia Cracovia, and numerous other ensembles. As a recitalist, she has performed a televised concert from the Opéra Comique in Paris, as well as recitals in France, Rome, Moscow, the Far East, Mexico, and throughout the United States. Ms. Bennett has been a participant at the Round Top, Bowdoin, and Marlboro International Festivals, and Artist-in-Residence at the Universidad Verucruzana and International Festival of Music in Morelia, Mexico. A champion of living composers, she has premiered hundreds of works, many written especially for her.
Her recording of music of Earl Kim with the Metamorphosen Chamber Orchestra was chosen for the “Critics’ Choices: Classical Music” by The New York Times. Other acclaimed recordings include music by Anthony Brandt, Benjamin Britten, Sebastian Currier, Arthur Gottschalk, John Harbison, Jonathan Harvey, and Tod Machover. Ms. Bennett has recorded for the Bridge, New World, Albany, Archetypes, Navona, Newport Classics and Arsis labels. As Musiqa’s Resident Artist, she has performed for more than 60,000 public school children and earned the Father Merlet Award for Community Service from the Pro Musicis Foundation.
Laura Bleakley, Piano
Hawaii born Laura Bleakley received her Masters in Collaborative Piano at the University of Houston, under the tutelage of Timothy Hester, where she’s currently pursuing her Doctorate of Musical Arts in Collaborative Piano. She received her Bachelors of Organ and Piano performance from the University of Puget Sound.
Ms. Bleakley has won multiple competitions in both instruments including the MTNA State Piano Solo Competition, first alternate in the MTNA Chamber Music Competition regionals, American Guild of Organists Competition, Hawaii Institute of Contemporary Music Competition and the Aloha International Piano Festival and Competition. She was also chosen as the Presser Scholar of the year in 2012.
Laura has performed in masterclasses for distinguished artists such as Martin Katz, Kathleen Kelly, and Rita Sloan. She has performed on the National Public Radio for From The Top, performed and recorded multiple works for the Aura Contemporary Ensemble, and was featured in Houston Public Media’s Skyline Sessions. She is currently the resident artist at Opera in the Heights and is a frequent collaborator with various groups and festivals, including Moores Opera Center, Texas Music Festival, and the Houston Symphony Chorus. This year, Laura was selected as a festival artist for Opera Saratoga, and will be recording an album of rare Russian art songs for Orpheus Classical.
Jackson Guillén, Violin
Maiko Sasaki, Clarinet
Fulfilling a childhood dream, Dr. Maiko Sasaki, a clarinetist, enjoys her professional career as a solo/chamber/orchestra musician. Dr. Sasaki plays in prestigious orchestras such as River Oaks Chamber Orchestra, Opera in the Heights, Gilbert & Sullivan Society of Houston, Chamber Orchestra of San Antonio. She has also been featured in many chamber concerts such as Musiqa, the Kennedy Center Conservatory Project, the ROCO Connection Series, and Take Five — a Houston Symphony’s outreach program to just name a few. Growing up in Japan, Dr. Sasaki is reserved, kind, and friendly in person, yet dynamic and expressive on stage. For her passionate and inspiring performances, she has been awarded the Presser Music Award–which is given to an artist demonstrating excellence and outstanding promise for a distinguished career in the field of music. Dr. Sasaki made a debut at Carnegie Hall in January 2020.
Since 2011, Dr. Sasaki has co-founded an ensemble “MATIMA” with pianist Dr. Makiko Hirata. Its mission is to promote music as a universal language to help us transcend our differences through a communal sensory experience. MATIMA was invited to perform as guest artists at the International Clarinet Association’s ClarinetFest 2015 in Madrid, Spain for their contribution to the clarinet literature and their collaborative artistry.
Amanda Galick, Flute
Amanda Galick is second flute and piccolo of the Sarasota Opera. A past Young Artist with Da Camera of Houston, she has performed as guest principal flutist with the Fort Worth Symphony and has appeared with the Houston Symphony Orchestra, River Oaks Chamber Orchestra, San Antonio Symphony, Palm Beach Symphony, The Louisiana Philharmonic, The New World Symphony, and the orchestras of the Houston Ballet, Houston Grand and Florida Grand Operas. As a chamber musician, Amanda has performed locally in Houston with Aperio – Music of the Americas, Musiqa, Texas New Music Ensemble, Loop38 and WindSync.
A passionate outreach advocate and educator, Amanda currently maintains a large private flute studio in Houston and frequently visits elementary school classrooms to implement arts integration lessons with her flute. She is a faculty member of the Sitka Fine Arts Camp and a past faculty member of the Belvoir Terrace Summer Fine Arts Camp, The British International School of Houston, and The Vivaldi Music Academy. In 2016, Amanda completed a certificate with the Youth Orchestra of the Americas, which sent her on teaching missions to Guanajuato, Mexico and St. Croix, of the US Virgin Islands. Amanda is a graduate of Rice University and the University of Michigan.
Mayara Velasquez, Cello
Mayara Velasquez, cellist from Venezuela, started her training at “El Sistema” nucleo Valencia. She is an active musician and educator in the Houston area performing with St. Andrews String Quartet, Musiqa, Shreveport Symphony, Houston Latin Phil and The Terra Nostra Ensemble, a group she co-founded in 2016. She has participated in several festivals in the US such as Apple Hill center for chamber music, Texas Music Festival, Chautauqua, Colorado Collage, among others. In 2013 she participated as a member of the Orchestra of the Americas in the recording of the Grammy Award-winning Album with Venezuelan pianist Gabriela Montero. She has been a faculty member of the Festival International de Musica Naolinco in Mexico and The Encuentro Anual de Cuerdas in Tegucigalpa, Honduras. As an educator, she runs her own private studio and serves as coach and adjudicator for the Houston Youth Symphony.