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“The bravura aria from Borodin’s “Prince Igor” gave both artists a chance to shine, the baritone’s canny sense of drama matched by Kurdina’s almost savage grace at the keyboard. “Maria, dearest Maria” from Tchaikovsky’s “Mazepa”,was an equally impressive vehicle for the pair, beautifully judged and impeccably ardent.
F.Paul Driscoll, Opera News, April 2003
“Mr Hvorostovsky’s able and supportive collaborator was Yelena Kurdina, who was at her best in the appealingly detailed accompaniments to the five Tchaikovsky songs and an aria from “Mazepa”
Allan Kozinn, The New York Times, January 2003
“All these composers make virtuosic use of the piano. Accompanist Yelena Kurdina met the challenges superbly without overpowering the singer”
Howard Kissel, New York Daily News, 2003
Hvorostovsky “was accompanied by the Russian-born pianistYelena Kurdina, who provided stylistically authentic, well-articulated support for his voice”
Verena Dobnik, Associated Press, January 2003
“Hvorostovsky and pianist Yelena Kurdina, whose collaborations were rich and haunting all evening, spent the first half with Tchaikovsky and the second with Rachmaninoff.”
Donald Rosenberg, The Cleveland Plain dealer, December 2002
“Yelena Kurdina, the pianist for Wednesday's recital, is an opera coach and assistant conductor at the Metropolitan Opera, where she and Hvorostovsky met. Kurdina's attentive, well-judged playing allowed the singer to be shown in the best light.”
Elaine Guregian, Beacon Journal, December 2002
“Pianist Yelena Kurdina accompanied singers with a mix of authority and poise”
Philip Kennicott,Washington Post, April 2001
One man band
One Man Band
by Yelena Kurdina
After 20 years of coaching and accompanying professionally in New York it has been an interesting undertaking to explore the role of a vocal coach as a part of a team in building a singer’s career.
In a way a vocal coach/accompanist is a team in itself thanks to the many roles we have to play under one hat.
Of course being a coach, language coach, accompanist or collaborative pianist is all part of a big picture but the focus of what we do in these different capacities is slightly different in each case.
So I would like to discuss each aspect of our work individually to help singers better understand what to expect and what to look for as one builds a team.
Several things come to mind immediately when I think of an audition accompanist- a person whose services you will be requiring A LOT in the process of building your career. I am often perplexed to hear how little singers seem to care about an accompanist who will play for them at auditions. So often I hear:
“The accompanist was bad (awful, terrible, etc.) but I didn’t care, I just sang…” Why not say: “Oh, I didn’t want to wear a nice dress to an audition, I just went in my pajamas…”
When a singer sings, he or she indeed is a soloist but at the same time a part of a bigger picture. How can one not care about such an important part of their performance as a pianist whose job is to support the singer and to help them present themselves in the best possible light?
The truth is that singers often don’t even realize what makes one a good accompanist. They might intuitively feel that someone is good- or not- but they can’t usually describe what makes one better than the other. I would say that there several key qualities to a good accompanist.
Strong sense of rhythm and ability to “extract” the important harmonies that provide a clear, solid foundation rather than play as many notes as possible, is number one. When accompanying operatic repertoire we are serving as an orchestra. Obviously we cannot play everything on the page, even when playing from a piano reduction, but we can create a feeling of an orchestra by creating contrasts between different registers, accompanying chords and melodies, etc. Number two is the ability to serve as a conductor who leads and a person who follows at the same time. We have to provide a steady frame yet give a singer the freedom to express within that frame. That is a quality that makes accompanying an ART.
What is the best way to find that perfect accompanist? Word of mouth is the best way I know in our business. One can always ask fellow singers who have been auditioning for a while. Listen to other singers auditions. Try a few people by scheduling a session. What works well for one person may not be comfortable for you. I suggest having a person who plays most of your auditions as well as several other people you like that may help if your regular accompanist is unavailable. Try to KNOW your accompanist.
Finding a vocal coach is another important aspect of building a team. There are several things to consider. One is having a person who is a “second” ear to your voice teacher and is someone you respect, trust and like as a musician and a person. Ideally it is a person who likes your voice and talent but is also capable of honestly telling you where you need improvement and is not intimidated to give you constructive criticism. It is your professional confidant. Make sure however that this person is also capable of “sharing” you with other professionals in the business and is open minded to hearing other points of view and capitalizing on them by helping you to apply good advice and incorporate it into your work. My strong belief is that no one person knows everything, has answers to every question and can do it all.
I personally have my own “team” of coaches I like to send my students to to polish certain repertoire, to work on diction in certain languages or dramatic presentation.
A coach has to be humble enough to know his/her strengths and weaknesses.
Again word of mouth is generally the best way. ASK. And don’t be shy to go to your colleagues’ lessons.
I personally love singers who ask me questions and don’t blindly trust every word I say simply because a “coach knows better”. Sometimes we do and sometimes we don’t!
Even though you come to learn don’t think of yourself as a silent participant- you are an artist (or in the process of learning to be one) and your opinion does count. When I ask a singer to do something I am usually able to explain why.
And one more thing: there is no one way of singing, phrasing, and breathing. We give suggestions and options. You as a singer have to decide what is best for you and learn to be flexible and creative. A coach who says “you must do it my way” is not a team player. Run! One can say: “But a conductor only wants it this way”. Yes, indeed, a conductor might want something a certain way because a conductor has a concept of the whole piece and what he wants fits that concept. However another conductor will want it phrased in exactly the opposite way. You have to have the ability to do it both ways and find your own motivation to do it convincingly.
Who is a collaborative pianist, a person who will accompany you in recital? Well, sometimes it is your coach and accompanist and sometimes it is not. I often perform with people I coach but I also perform with singers with whom I rehearsed once or twice before the recital.
Those are singers at the top of their profession and there is no need to either coach them or even discuss anything. They know what they want, have a clear concept and communicate it so well to me through music that no words are necessary. That kind of experience is not an everyday occurrence though.
Needless to say that in recital repertoire it IS important to play as many notes as possible.
Usually one will sing art songs where the accompaniment is written for the piano and therefore not much room is left for choosing which notes to play and which to leave out.
One has to be a very good pianist indeed!
I already discussed the role of an audition accompanist.
When I coach I am a “judge” in a way- I am completely focused on listening, analyzing what is good and what is wrong, trying to find the most efficient way to fix something as well as explain it as clearly as possible. Often my playing becomes a sketch.
As a collaborative pianist I am as much a performer as a singer. My main focus then becomes my instrument, ensemble, balance, where to lead and where to support and beauty and richness of sound without domineering.
Therefore it is not always a must that your coach plays for your recitals. I have met singers who would become nervous having me play for them because they thought I was listening to them with a “coach’s” ear. I think it is very important for both a singer and a pianist to be conscious of these different roles and adapt to them in a way that is most beneficial to everyone. Of course there are plenty of terrific pianists who are also terrific coaches.
Yet another hat that some of us wear is a hat of a language coach. Many singers are surprised to learn I play the piano because I was recommended to them as a “Russian” coach. Being Russian made it natural for me to make it a specialty but I have to say that it took a few years for me to realize that speaking the language and coaching it to singers is not the same. In Russian especially, the spoken language and the way it is sung is quite different and one has to have a very well trained ear to be able to teach that.
I personally know very few people who can do it well. Therefore “I have a friend who can speak the words for me” is not a way to go in most languages but in Russian in particular. Spend a few dollars but get it right from the beginning- there is nothing more difficult than unlearning and relearning wrong sounds in an unfamiliar language.
And certainly go to a professional and preferably a native speaker. There are several languages in which I feel comfortable starting someone off on a piece but I do like to send them to a professional native coach who is a musician to get all the details, nuances and fine points only a native can feel and know, and only a musician can incorporate into a singing line.
'Brilliant Recitalist' Vladimir Chernov Performs at CCM
Russian baritone sings songs of his homeland with pianist Yelena Kurdina Jan. 16.
By: Katie Rankin
Phone: (513) 556-9484
The University of Cincinnati College-Conservatory of Music (CCM) is proud to present internationally renowned baritone Vladimir Chernov and pianist Yelena Kurdina in recital on Tuesday, Jan. 16, 2007. The concert, featuring songs by Russian composers, takes place at 8 p.m. in CCM's Corbett Auditorium.
Hailed as "a brilliant recitalist in Russian repertoire" and "nothing short of magnificent in Verdi" (Donald Rosenberg, Cleveland Plain Dealer), Vladimir Chernov has performed internationally in recital and on the stages of such notable opera houses as the Metropolitan Opera, San Francisco Opera, Covent Garden and Vienna State Opera, among many others. The Russian-born baritone also is a prolific recording artist and is featured on Sony Classics, Phillips Classics, Teldec and Deutsche Grammophon.
At CCM, he and Kurdina perform works by Russian composers, including Anton Arensky, Mily Balakirev, Alexander Borodin, Alexander Dargomyzhsky, Mikhail Glinka, Alexander Gretchaninov, Anton Rubinstein and Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky.
"Vladimir Chernov is one of the great operatic baritones of our day," says David Adams, professor of voice and chair of CCM's performance studies division. "It goes without saying that he is authoritative in Russian repertoire. His recording of Prince Yeletsky in Tchaikovsky's The Queen of Spades [on Phillips Classics] includes a beautiful performance of the character's signature aria, complete with thrilling high G. We feel fortunate to host such an inspiring and accomplished artist."
Please see below for compete performance information.
University of Cincinnati College-Conservatory of Music
GUEST ARTIST SERIES
Vladimir Chernov, baritone
With Yelena Kurdina, piano
Date & Time:
Tuesday, Jan. 16, 2007, 8 p.m.
Internationally renowned Russian baritone Vladimir Chernov collaborates with pianist Yelena Kurdina on a program of songs by Russian composers.
Corbett Auditorium, University of Cincinnati College-Conservatory of Music
$15 General Admission, $10 Non-UC Students, UC Students FREE
Call 513-556-4183 or visit www.ccm.uc.edu to order.
Supported by the Thomas W. Busse Trust
About the Artists
Vladimir Chernov is renowned throughout the international operatic world for his beautifully bronzed baritone, his impressive stage presence and dramatic insight, and the flawless Italianate style that he has brought to the many Verdi and bel canto roles in his repertoire.
Trained in both Moscow and Milan and already a star of the Kirov Opera, Chernov made important appearances during the 1989-90 season as Posa in Don Carlo at the Los Angeles Opera, Andrei in War and Peace at the Seattle Opera, Carlo in La Forza del Destino at Scottish Opera, and Miller in Luisa Miller at the Rome Opera. The following season he made a highly acclaimed debut at the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden as Figaro in The Barber of Seville and at the Metropolitan Opera as Miller (Luisa Miller) conducted by artistic director James Levine.
His debut at the Met began a long relationship with the company and he appeared there in many of the great Verdi baritone parts. During his first season, he recorded both Conte di Luna in Il trovatore and Miller for Sony Classics and later on recorded Posa in Don Carlo for Sony, the title role in Rigoletto for Deutsche Grammophon and Renato in A Masked Ball for Teldec. His performances of the title role in Simon Boccanegra and Stankar in Stiffelio from the Met were both recorded for video by Deutsche Grammophon.
Other important engagements included Ford in Falstaff at the Vienna State Opera conducted by Seiji Ozawa and at the Salzburg Festival conducted by Sir Georg Solti. He returned to the Vienna State Opera for Yeletsky in The Queen of Spades conducted by Ozawa and appeared at the Metropolitan Opera in the title role of a new production of Eugene Onegin conducted by Antonio Pappano. He also works regularly with Valery Gergiev and has recorded Prince Yeletsky in The Queen of Spades with him for Phillips Classics. He has appeared at many other major opera houses, including San Francisco Opera, Lyric Opera of Chicago, Opera Orchestra of New York, Paris Opera, Deutsche Oper Berlin, Bayerische Staatsoper, Hamburg State Opera, Teatro Colon (Buenos Aires) and Gran Teatre del Liceu (Barcelona).
Chernov is also an active recital artist having appeared at many of the world's premier recital venues including Wigmore Hall, New York's Lincoln Center, Vienna Konzerthaus and others.
Future engagements include Don Carlos di Vargas in La Forza del Destino at the New National Theatre Tokyo and Yeletsky in The Queen of Spades at Theatre du Capitole in Toulouse.
An extraordinary pianist, recitalist, coach, prompter and assistant conductor, Yelena Kurdina is among the most sought after collaborators in the opera world today and has partnered with many of the outstanding singers of our time. A specialist in Russian and Slavic repertoire, she was Placido Domingo's private coach for his preparation of Ghermann in Tchaikovsky's The Queen of Spades. She also was the coach and consultant for Renee Fleming's recording of Night Songs, as well as her televised appearance as Tatiana in Eugene Onegin with the New York Philharmonic on PBS' Great Performances. Kurdina's recent recitals with the remarkable Dmitri Hvorostovsky have been called "rich and haunting collaborations, beautifully judged and impeccably ardent."
Kurdina has brought her distinguished musicianship to such renowned festivals and opera houses as the Opera National de Paris, Summerscape in the new Frank Gehry theater at Bard College, Teatro de la Maestranza (Sevilla), and the National Symphony Orchestra and Washington National Opera in Washington, D.C. Kurdina has been the assistant to a host of extraordinary conductors-Seiji Ozawa, Vladimir Jurowski, James Conlon, Valery Gergiev, among others-with whom she has worked not only on Russian operas, but also on many Italian operas. Among the highlights of her operatic career are Verdi's Otello and Don Carlo, Tchaikovsky's The Queen of Spades, Shostakovich's Lady Macbeth of Mtsensk, and Prokofiev's Gambler and War and Peace.
Kurdina has been on the faculty of the International Vocal Arts Institute in Tel Aviv for many years, she is a regular guest of the Domingo-Cafritz Young Artist Program at the Washington National Opera, and she maintains a vibrant private studio in New York City, where she has coached innumerable singers who have gone on to major operatic careers.
Visit www.ccm.uc.edu for more information and a schedule of events.
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