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Brooklyn Youth Chorus Continues Acclaimed Silent Voices Series

Brooklyn Youth Chorus Continues Acclaimed Silent Voices SeriesThe GRAMMY Award-winning Brooklyn Youth Chorus presents Silent Voices: If You Listen, the second installment of its multimedia, multi-composer, and multi-year Silent Voices series of concert works with spoken word, conceived, produced and performed by Brooklyn Youth Chorus (April 27-28, at National Sawdust). Silent Voices: If You Listen builds on the success of Silent Voices' 2017 premiere at BAM's Howard Gilman Opera House. Here, eight composers, all women, collaborate with the choristers in amplifying the voices of the marginalized and confronting the challenges of division and categorization, racism, sexism, social and economic disparity, immigration, our environment, and threats to our understanding of truth. Commissioned composers for Silent Voices: If You Listen include Julia Adolphe, Olga Bell, Anna Clyne, Paola Prestini, Toshi Reagon, Shelley Washington, Bora Yoon, and Pulitzer winner Du Yun; the concert will also feature a work with guest artist Shaina Taub. Unifying this work is the distinctively versatile and beautiful sound of the rigorously-trained singers - a chorus of culturally and socioeconomically diverse New York City young people, ages 12-18 - joined by International Contemporary Ensemble (ICE). These are young voices set on resisting the socio-politically retrograde elements of the present in a move towards a more inclusive and compassionate vision of the future.

The Silent Voices series began developing prior to the 2016 election when the political prospects looked very different. "After the election, the importance and interpretation of the work changed-just because people's focus on these issues of racism, sexism, immigration, minorities, and climate change became much more personal," explains Brooklyn Youth Chorus founder and artistic director Dianne Berkun Menaker, who realized it was now all the more crucial to support compositions by women, the voices of the generation that will inherit this world, insisting for it to be better. "All of a sudden the fear, and the divisiveness, and the categorization-who's in and who belongs and who's out-all had very different kinds of meanings. People were frightened, and young people were frightened. All young people are in some way also silent voices in society, because they're so undervalued. But they in many ways are much more evolved in their thinking than many adults. This world is changing in the hands of young people, and it's time for people to hear that."

From Reagon's R&B and folk influences to Prestini's contemporary classical style, Silent Voices: If You Listen draws musically on Burkun Menaker's emphasis on variation and flexibility in vocal training. The performance provides both young singers and audiences alike with a boundlessly inclusive exposure to the sounds that make up contemporary music. Burkun Menaker explains, "I always want composers to write from their own strengths-rather than what they think it means to write choral music, because you're going to have 40 or more voices with a variety of timbres and the range and interest and flexibility to do just about anything. It has always been my intention to commission a diverse range of composers in the hopes that the end product will be just that-open ears, open minds. For audiences, if you want to tap your foot along and rock your body to something that's got a strong back beat, you can do that, and if you want to twist your mind around really crunchy harmonies and expand your ears with sounds you haven't heard before, that's gonna happen too."

To develop their pieces, several of the composers and librettists sat in on rehearsals and interviewed choristers, conducted surveys, or even asked for written responses so as to draw texts straight from the insights of young people. Presented between these musical expressions of these thoughts, Silent Voices: If You Listen features individuals from the chorus performing spoken word pieces. Here, young people assert themselves as both sophisticated artists and sophisticated thinkers, bearing vital messages.

Those messages are conveyed with immediacy by R. B. Schlather, a former artist-in-residence at National Sawdust deemed "one of our more ambitious and effective younger directors" by The New York Times, who brings immersive staging to Silent Voices: If You Listen. Choristers are dispersed throughout the audience at National Sawdust to physically place audiences within the music and conversations at hand, with S. Katy Tucker's video design further evoking the themes of the piece. In Silent Voices: If You Listen, spoken word, untraditional staging, and evocative visuals work in tandem to break down barriers between artists and audience members, as well as the socially constructed barriers the performance investigates.

The first installment of Silent Voices featured new compositions from eight composers-Jeff Beal, Mary Kouyoumdjian, Paul Miller (DJ Spooky), Nico Muhly, Shara Nova, Toshi Reagon, Kamala Sankaram,and Caroline Shaw-who boldly unpacked their social experiences, observations,and questions about "otherness"in America. Original writings by Hilton Als (The New Yorker), who won the 2017 Pulitzer Prize for Criticism, Claudia Rankine (Citizen), and playwright Jackie Sibblies Drury rounded out the work, which also featured personal narratives, interviews, and historical texts. That first installment of this evolving series was about giving voice, in a variety of languages, to those who have been silenced. With what that performance uncovered, Silent Voices: If You Listen seeks to further amplify those crucial voices, speaking out as a personal, and hopefully infectious, antidote to the current (and past) American political propagation of fear and division. Bolstered by the perspectives brought forth in first two installments, Brooklyn Youth Chorus will follow up the original Silent Voices and Silent Voices: If You Listen with the third installment in the series, premiering during the 2018-19 season, meditating on the world we aspire to be in and featuring works by Pulitzer Prize winner David Lang, Bryce Dessner (The National), Reena Esmail, and more.

Berkun Menaker emphasizes the importance of establishing Brooklyn Youth Chorus rehearsals as forums where young people can simultaneously feel open to expressing their differences as a means of uniting over their shared humanity-where discussion of intersectional matters provoke augmented, uplifting understanding. Young people have been the leaders of discussions of identity and the movements combating various systems of marginalization throughout the country. While Brooklyn Youth Chorus also supportively collaborates with established artists on their own works and performances, the Silent Voices series centers the skills and ideas of its young choristers. Here, the choristers come together to harmonize, in both senses of the term, across divisions, and to show multigenerational audiences how it's done.

Schedule and Tickets

Friday, April 27, 7 pm (doors open at 6 pm)
National Sawdust (80 North 6th Street, Brooklyn)

Friday, April 27, 9:30 pm (doors open at 9 pm)
National Sawdust (80 North 6th Street, Brooklyn)

Saturday, April 28, 7 pm (doors open at 6 pm)
National Sawdust (80 North 6th Street, Brooklyn)

About the Artists

Dianne Berkun Menaker (Conceived and conducted by) is the founder and artistic director of Brooklyn Youth Chorus. Under her visionary leadership, the Chorus has become one of the most highly regarded ensembles in the country and has stretched the artistic boundaries for the youth chorus. Hailed by The New York Times as "a remarkable choral conductor," Berkun Menaker has prepared choruses for performances with acclaimed conductors Alan Gilbert, Marin Alsop, Gustavo Dudamel, and Robert Spano and others. Most notably, she prepared the Chorus for its 2002 debut with the New York Philharmonic in John Adams's On the Transmigration of Souls, the recording for which the Chorus won a Grammy Award in 2005. Berkun Menaker is the creator of the Chorus's Cross-Choral Training program, a proven holistic and experiential approach to developing singers in a group setting encompassing both voice and musicianship pedagogy.

The International Contemporary Ensemble (ICE) is an artist collective committed to transforming the way music is created and experienced. As performer, curator, and educator, ICE explores how new music intersects with communities across the world. The ensemble's 35 members are featured as soloists, chamber musicians, commissioners, and collaborators with the foremost musical artists of our time. A recipient of the American Music Center's Trailblazer Award and the Chamber Music America/ASCAP Award for Adventurous Programming, ICE was also named the 2014 Musical America Ensemble of the Year. The group currently serves as artists in residence at Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts' Mostly Mozart Festival, and previously led a five-year residency at the Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago. Read more at

R. B. Schlather (Directed by)is an artist and director recognized for his innovations in the presentation of opera performance. Recent engagements include Impressions of Pelléas with Curtis Opera Theater a debut with Opera Philadelphia directing The Wake World for their inaugural 2017 festival. During the 2016-2017 season he made his debut with Wolf Trap Opera directing a double bill of Philip Glass' The Juniper Tree and John Musto's Bastianello. He also directed John Adams' Doctor Atomic for Curtis Opera Theater, and was an artist-in-residence at the celebrated Williamsburg new music venue National Sawdust, staging Vasco Mendonca's The House Taken Over, Philip Glass' Madrigal Opera, and leading a workshop developing Handel's Ariodante. His 2016 staging of David Lang's Pulitzer Prize winning the little match girl passion appeared at the Jack Shainman School | Gallery in Kinderhook, NY. Upcoming performances include The Mother of Us All at New York state's oldest surviving theater the Hudson Opera House.

S. Katy Tucker is a video and projection designerbased in New York City. Katy began her career as a painter and installation artist, exhibiting her work at a variety of galleries, such as The Corcoran Museum in Washington, DC and Artist's Space in New York City. In 2003, as her video installations became more "theatrical," Katy shifted her focus to video and projection design for the stage. Since 2003, Katy has worked all over the US and world including Broadway, Off-Broadway, The Metropolitan Opera, The Dutch National Opera, The New York City Ballet, Carnegie Hall, The Park Avenue Armory, BAM, Kennedy Center, San Francisco Opera, and more.

Garth MacAleavey (Sound Engineer) specializes in concert amplification and sound design for both traditional and experimental music performance, and cut his teeth (or ears) as an engineer on the New York City contemporary music scene (le Poisson Rouge, VisionIntoArt/National Sawdust, Beth Morrison Productions, MATA). An avid musician, MacAleavey's career in audio was strongly influenced by his time as a student of avant garde percussion at UCSC under the tutelage of Willie Winant. MacAleavey's recent credits include the sound design for "FLEXN" with Peter Sellars at the Park Avenue Armory, engineering Jeff Zeigler/Andy Akiho/Roger Bonair-Agard at the Prospect Park Bandshell for Celebrate Brooklyn and mixing Alarm Will Sound with Dance Heginbotham in Seoul, Korea. His past credits include Kronos Quartet, Philip Glass Ensemble, Terry and Gyan Riley, David T. Little, Steve Reich, Paul Simon, Atoms for Peace, Erykah Badu, The Brooklyn Philharmonic and many more.

About Brooklyn Youth Chorus

Named WQXR's 2016-17 Artists-in-Residence, the Grammy-winning Brooklyn Youth Chorus is a collective of young singers and vocal ensembles reimagining choral music performance through artistic innovation, collaboration, and an incredibly versatile range and repertoire. The Chorus's multilevel training program draws students from across the five boroughs and combines intensive voice and musicianship study with exceptional performance experiences. Acclaimed for their distinctively beautiful sound, the Chorus has appeared with world-class orchestras and conductors, including the New York and Los Angeles philharmonics, London and Atlanta symphonies, and Mariinsky Orchestra, and under the batons of Alan Gilbert, Gustavo Dudamel, Marin Alsop, Esa-Pekka Salonen, and others. Additionally, the Chorus has performed with major recording artists such as Barbra Streisand, Arcade Fire, Elton John, Grizzly Bear, and John Legend. The Chorus received a 2005 Grammy Award for the recording of John Adams's On the Transmigration of Souls with the New York Philharmonic. The Chorus recently released its first solo recording, Black Mountain Songs, through New Amsterdam Records. Brooklyn Youth Chorus has garnered a strong reputation as an arts producer. Current productions include Silent Voices, which premiered at the BAM Opera House in May 2017, Aging Magician, which received its Off-Broadway premiere last spring; and Black Mountain Songs, which recently toured to Asheville, North Carolina in September 2017. Founded in 1992 by Artistic Director Dianne Berkun Menaker, Brooklyn Youth Chorus serves over 600 students in its core after-school and public school outreach programs across New York City.

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