October 19, 2011

Meet the Mahler Soloists: Ashley Hill & Rebecca Farley Witty

We're so happy to have Ashley Hill and Rebecca Farley Witty with us for this week's blog! Ashley and Rebecca, both talented young professionals, will perform Mahler's Symphony No. 2, "Resurrection," with the RPO and the Eastman-Rochester Chorus this Thursday, October 20 at 7:30 pm and again on Saturday, October 22 at 8:00 pm in Kodak Hall at Eastman Theatre.

Ashley Hill, mezzo-soprano, just completed her graduate studies at the Eastman School of Music, earning her Master of Music in Performance and Literature. A native of Florida, Hill has had the privilege of performing in both the United States and Europe.

Rebecca Farley Witty, soprano, also just earned a Master of Music in Performance and Literature from Eastman. Rebecca is a recipient of the Renée Fleming Award, and recently represented Eastman at the Kennedy Center for their "Conservatory Project."

RPO: Rebecca and Ashley, we’re so happy you can speak with us! You must be looking forward to your upcoming performance with the RPO.

Ashley: I am so excited and blessed for this opportunity with the RPO. I have gone to many of their concerts and know full well what a wonderful orchestra they are! And not only do I get the chance to share the stage with them, but share the stage for one of Mahler's most monumental works!

Rebecca: I'm absolutely thrilled to be performing with the RPO! I can't imagine a better masterwork to mark my debut with this fantastic orchestra. I feel so blessed to be chosen for this opportunity!

RPO: As a recent graduate, how does a soloist role help enhance your musical studies?

Rebecca: Being a soloist with a professional orchestra is pushing me to the next level of my studies and my career. It's what students and young professionals train for, and essentially what every student hopes for when they leave school.

Ashley: This opportunity definitely helps me in the professional world. As an emerging professional, opportunities like this are so crucial and definitely beneficial to get the "career ball" rolling just a little more!

RPO: Tell us a little bit more about your musical role in this symphony.

Rebecca: Well, in this epic five-movement symphony, the soprano solo doesn't begin until the middle of the fifth movement. Unlike other choral and orchestral works, like the Mozart or Verdi Requiem, the soprano soloist is more like an equal member of the orchestra and the choir. The first entrance is in unison with the choir, at a triple pianissimo. It is intense and beautiful in its simplicity. The ending is just as, if not more, powerful; but in a much louder, much fuller sonority. The climax of the choir and orchestra together is one of the most glorious and transcendent moments in all of Mahler's compositions (in this soprano's humble opinion!)

RPO: When you approach a musical performance, what do you want to achieve with the end result?

Rebecca: What an interesting question! I think one of the most important things is to communicate ideas to the audience; obviously the text is important to communicate, but also the composer's intent for the piece, the emotions behind the text, and sometimes just the gravity of the topic.

Ashley: Whenever I approach any concert, recital, or stagework, my goal is to be able to get the audience to feel as if they are not just watching a live performance, but are able to connect with the music, words, and emotional landscape the "character" is going through. I want them to be able to relate to what is happening in the performance, and learn more of who they are as a person. Hopefully, this will allow them to evaluate where they are personally — in relation to what they are watching and hearing — and where they desire to be.

RPO: What do you think young performers can bring to an orchestra, as opposed to someone who’s been performing for 20 years?

Ashley: As a young singer who is only just getting started with my career, I do feel strongly that there are things I can bring to the orchestra now that I probably won't be able to in the future, as a seasoned professional. Since I haven't sung many of these orchestral masterworks in the proper context before, I am still open to many options and possibilities when it comes to performing them. I have not yet found "my way" of singing these pieces, like the Mahler for instance, and am up for new ways of singing them. This is not to say that I don't have my own ideas for the music, but I am still very interested to hear what others think and consider putting that into my performance.

Rebecca: It's always good to get a fresh perspective on things. It's true, I haven't been singing with orchestras for 20 years, but I have loved music for 20 years and I think I have something to contribute to the music world.

RPO: What advice can you give to young singers who are just beginning their musical journey?

Rebecca: Mostly, the things I can think of have to do with non-musical things. Every choice you make affects your future. Be kind to every single person you encounter on your journey, and be a great colleague. Your talent gets you hired, your character and your attitude determine whether or not you'll be hired back.

Ashley: I would tell them to relish every moment they have now as students. Those years fly by, and before you know it, you are out in the "real world" with nothing but your passion and previous experience to hang onto, so make the most of it! Take every opportunity you can and continually challenge yourself. Don't ever expect to FEEL "ready," but instead, give yourself the opportunity to BE ready, and you will be amazed at what you can do!

RPO: After Mahler, what’s next for you?

Rebecca: Well, seeing as how I'm still young in terms of the opera scene, I will be taking some auditions for Young Artist Programs and doing some competitions as well. I am in the stage of my career where I am just asking to be heard and receive feedback. It requires a lot of patience and determination, so hopefully I'm up for the task!

Ashley: In this career, we have no idea "what's next" and that's the scary, yet beautiful, reality that we as musicians live. I do plan to take auditions for competitions, emerging professional programs, and roles for various opera companies. I will also continue to give myself opportunities to perform in solo recitals, and collaborative recitals/concerts as well. And I plan to continue to grow my own private studio so that I can share my passion with another generation of musicians, and, in turn, be encouraged by their passion.

See Rebecca and Ashley's debut performance with the RPO this Thursday and Saturday! Tickets start at $15. Order your tickets online today or call 454-2100 to order by phone. Use this link for more information about the concert.

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