Performance Thursday, December 4, 2014 | 7:30 PM

The Classical Style

Zankel Hall
Jeremy Denk, a 2013 MacArthur Fellow, is pianist and librettist in this concert that features the eagerly awaited New York premiere of Pulitzer Prize–winning composer Steven Stucky’s opera The Classical Style. Inspired by Charles Rosen’s famous musicological work of the same name, Stucky and Denk have created an opera buffa where chords are characters sharing the stage with Mozart, Haydn, Beethoven, and, as Denk describes, “several unnecessary characters.” With absurd humor and great music, The Classical Style is sure to surprise and delight.

The contemporary work on this program is part of My Time, My Music.


  • Jeremy Denk, Piano
  • The Knights
  • Robert Spano, Conductor
  • Mary Birnbaum, Director
  • Jennifer Zetlan, Soprano
  • Rachel Calloway, Mezzo-Soprano
  • Peabody Southwell, Mezzo-Soprano
  • Dominic Armstrong, Tenor
  • Keith Jameson, Tenor
  • Kim Josephson, Baritone
  • Aubrey Allicock, Bass-Baritone
  • Ashraf Sewailam, Bass-Baritone


  • MOZART Rondo in F Major, K. 494
  • MOZART Sonata in C Minor, K. 457
  • STEVEN STUCKY / JEREMY DENK The Classical Style: An Opera (of Sorts) (NY Premiere, co-commissioned by Carnegie Hall)

Event Duration

The printed program will last approximately two and one-half hours, including one 20-minute intermission.


  • Jeremy Denk

    One of America's most thought-provoking, multifaceted, and compelling artists, pianist Jeremy Denk is the winner of a 2013 MacArthur "Genius" Fellowship and the 2014 Avery Fisher Prize, in addition to being named Musical America's 2014 Instrumentalist of the Year. He has appeared as a soloist with the Los Angeles Philharmonic; The Philadelphia Orchestra; and the symphony orchestras of Boston, Chicago, San Francisco, and London; and regularly gives recitals in New York, Boston, Philadelphia, and Washington, DC. In 2014-2015, he launches a four-season tenure as an artistic partner of The Saint Paul Chamber Orchestra, makes debuts with The Cleveland Orchestra and New York Philharmonic, appears as a soloist with the Los Angeles Philharmonic and San Francisco Symphony, and performs Bach concertos on tour with the Academy of St. Martin in the Fields.

    Mr. Denk is known for his original and insightful writing on music, which Alex Ross praises for its "arresting sensitivity and wit." His blog, think denk, was selected for inclusion in the Library of Congress Web Archives, and he has written pieces for The New Yorker, The New York Times, and The New York Review of Books. One of his New Yorker contributions, "Every Good Boy Does Fine," forms the basis of a memoir for future publication by Random House. In 2014, he served as music director of the Ojai Music Festival.

    Mr. Denk's debut recording for Nonesuch Records juxtaposed Ligeti's Études with Beethoven's final sonata, and was included on many "Best of 2012" lists, including those of The New Yorker, The Washington Post, and NPR Music. His second recording for the label, J. S. Bach: Goldberg Variations, was released in September 2013. It reached number one on Billboard's Classical Albums chart.

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  • The Knights

    The Knights are an orchestral collective, flexible in size and repertoire, dedicated to transforming the concert experience. Since its inception in the early 2000s, the ensemble has become known in New York City and around the world for engaging listeners and defying boundaries with programs that showcase the players' roots in the classical tradition and passion for musical discovery.

    The Knights' 2014-2015 season kicks off with a performance at Brooklyn's Roulette, the first of a series of New York City residencies taking place over the next three seasons with support from The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation. Other highlights include the Caramoor Fall Festival, where The Knights serve as curators and give three performances that feature saxophonist Joshua Redman and violinist Gil Shaham; and a collaboration with The National's Bryce Dessner to be broadcast on WNYC's New Sounds Live. In 2015, The Knights tour the East Coast with banjo virtuoso Béla Fleck before embarking on a European tour with soprano Dawn Upshaw.

    Recent season highlights include The Knights' debut at the Tanglewood and Ojai music festivals, plus collaborations with Yo-Yo Ma, Itzhak Perlman, the Mark Morris Dance Group, santur player Siamak Aghaei, and pipa virtuoso Wu Man. Recordings include the ground beneath our feet, a live album to be released in January 2015 by Warner Classics that features Stravinsky's "Dumbarton Oaks" Concerto and original works by members of the ensemble; an all-Beethoven disc released in 2013 by Sony Classical (its third project with the label); and 2012's A Second of Silence for Ancalagon Records.

    The Knights evolved from late-night chamber music reading parties with friends at the home of violinist Colin Jacobsen and cellist Eric Jacobsen. The Jacobsen brothers, who are also founding members of the string quartet Brooklyn Rider, serve as artistic directors of The Knights, with Eric Jacobsen as conductor. In December 2012, the Jacobsens were selected from among the nation's top visual, performing, media, and literary artists to receive a prestigious United States Artists Fellowship.

    The Knights' roster boasts remarkably diverse talents, including composers, arrangers, and singer-songwriters. The unique camaraderie within the group retains the intimacy and spontaneity of chamber music in performance. Learn more at

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  • Robert Spano

    Conductor, pianist, composer, and pedagogue Robert Spano is known for his unique communicative abilities. Beginning his 14th season as music director of the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra, this imaginative conductor has quietly been responsible for nurturing the careers of numerous classically trained composers and conductors. As music director of the Aspen Music Festival and School, he oversees the programming of more than 300 events and educational programs for 630 students, including Aspen's American Academy of Conducting.

    The Atlanta School of Composers reflects Mr. Spano's commitment to American contemporary music. He has led ASO performances at Carnegie Hall (this season marks his ninth consecutive season as a guest of the Hall); Lincoln Center; and at the Ravinia, Ojai, and Savannah music festivals. Guest engagements include the New York and Los Angeles philharmonics; the San Francisco, Boston, Cleveland, Chicago, and Philadelphia symphony orchestras; as well as Orchestra Filarmonica della Scala; BBC Symphony Orchestra; and Amsterdam's Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra. He has conducted for the Royal Opera House (Covent Garden), Welsh National Opera, Lyric Opera of Chicago, Houston Grand Opera, and the 2005 and 2009 Seattle Opera productions of Wagner's Ring cycle.

    Following performances of Britten's War Requiem at Carnegie Hall and Verdi's Aida in Atlanta, Mr. Spano conducted the world premiere of Steven Stucky's The Classical Style at the Ojai Music Festival. In addition to his hands-on leadership and eight festival concerts at the Aspen Music Festival and School, Mr. Spano's Hölderlin Songs premiered in August with soprano Susanna Phillips.

    Recordings for Telarc, Deutsche Grammophon, and ASO Media have received six Grammy Awards. An all-Vaughan Williams disc was released last September. Mr. Spano is on the faculty of Oberlin Conservatory and has received honorary doctorates from Bowling Green State University, Curtis Institute of Music, Emory University, and Oberlin. Mr. Spano was inducted into the Georgia Music Hall of Fame in 2012 and is proud to live in Atlanta.

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  • Mary Birnbaum

    Mary Birnbaum's recent credits include a critically acclaimed production of Eugene Onegin at The Juilliard School and the world premiere of The Classical Style at the Ojai Music Festival. Selected opera credits include productions in New York (La finta giardiniera and others), Houston, Melbourne, with the New World Symphony under Michael Tilson Thomas, and at the New York Festival of Song under Steven Blier. She has assisted Stephen Wadsworth at Santa Fe Opera, Seattle Opera, and on Broadway. She was also the associate director of Wadsworth's Ring cycle at Seattle Opera in 2013.

    Ms. Birnbaum has also collaborated with playwrights to develop new works in New York and Los Angeles, and at The Old Vic in London. She is an alumna of the Soho Rep. Writer/Director Lab.

    As the associate director of the Artist Diploma in Opera Studies program at Juilliard, Ms. Birnbaum teaches and coaches acting for singers at the undergraduate, masters, and post-graduate levels. She has a bachelor's degree from Harvard University and a certificate in movement and design from École internationale de théâtre de Jacques Lecoq in Paris. She was additionally the first recipient of the Marcus Directing Fellowship at Juilliard. Upcoming productions include the world premiere of Baby No More Times at the Knitting Factory and The Rape of Lucretia at Juilliard. 

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  • Jennifer Zetlan

    Soprano Jennifer Zetlan is swiftly garnering recognition for her artistry and captivating stage presence. On the opera stage, Ms. Zetlan performs in The Tempest Songbook with Gotham Chamber Opera, and also creates the role of Fanny in the world premiere of Morning Star with Cincinnati Opera. Concert engagements include a performance as the soprano solo in Ligeti's Requiem with the American Symphony Orchestra at Carnegie Hall, as well as of the Chichester Psalms and Carmina Burana with the Oratorio Society of New York.

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  • Rachel Calloway

    An internationally recognized interpreter of contemporary and modern music, mezzo-soprano Rachel Calloway brings versatility and compelling insight to stages worldwide. She has championed the works of Kaija Saariaho, Unsuk Chin, Mohammed Fairouz, Oliver Knussen, George Crumb, Nico Muhly, Steven Stucky, and Georg Friedrich Haas. She has performed with Ensemble Signal, Alarm Will Sound, JACK Quartet, Berkeley Symphony, Ensemble Modern, Gotham Chamber Opera, Los Angeles Philharmonic, and Omaha Symphony; as well as at the BAM Next Wave Festival, Prototype Festival, Castleton Festival, Glimmerglass Festival, and CalArts.

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  • Peabody Southwell

    Lauded in repertoire from Baroque to modern, American mezzo-soprano Peabody Southwell is recognized in a range of mediums as both singer and actor. Recent debuts include principal roles with Los Angeles Opera, Chicago Opera Theater, San Francisco Symphony, and the New World Symphony with conductors Michael Tilson Thomas, James Conlon, and Plácido Domingo. She has premiered many works by contemporary composers, including Lee Holdridge, Kamran İnce, and Bruno Louchouarn, with upcoming premieres by Thomas Morse, Nathaniel Stookey, and David Lang.

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  • Dominic Armstrong

    Tenor Dominic Armstrong began the season with the premiere of The Classical Style at the Ojai Music Festival, and appeared with On Site Opera and The Phoenicia International Festival of the Voice in Clarimonde. He debuts with Dayton Opera as Tamino in Die Zauberflöte and with Ash Lawn Opera as Freddy in My Fair Lady, and also sings the Verdi Requiem with the Waterbury Symphony Orchestra. Future appearances include performances in the role of Arthur Dimmesdale in the world premiere of Lori Laitman's The Scarlet Letter with Opera Colorado.

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  • Keith Jameson

    Tenor Keith Jameson opens the 2014-2015 season at the Lyric Opera of Chicago singing the role of Taupe in Capriccio under the baton of Sir Andrew Davis. Engagements at the Metropolitan Opera this season include Le Remendado in Carmen, Alméric in Iolanta, and the Four Servants in Les contes d'Hoffmann. Mr. Jameson also sings a semi-staged performance in the title role of Candide with the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra, as well as Sancho Panza in Man of La Mancha with Central City Opera.

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  • Kim Josephson

    Metropolitan Opera baritone Kim Josephson has performed more than 250 performances of 29 roles at the Met, including the title role inRigoletto, Giorgio Germont in La traviata, Enrico Ashton in Lucia di Lammermoor, and Eddie Carbone in a View from the Bridge. He has also appeared at the Lyric Opera of Chicago, Seattle Opera, Washington National Opera, New York City Opera, Vienna State Opera, and Houston Grand Opera. He sings King Claudius in Hamlet this season at the Fort Worth Opera Festival.

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  • Aubrey Allicock

    Bass-baritone Aubrey Allicockmade his Glyndebourne debut in Rinaldo and his Metropolitan Opera debut as Mamoud in The Death of Klinghoffer this season. He also makes his Seattle Opera debut as Cesare Angelotti in Tosca, performs concerts with the Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra, debuts with Komische Oper Berlin as Escamillo in Carmen in 2015, and returns to Seattle in the title role in Le nozze di Figaro. He holds degrees from Grand Canyon University, Indiana University, and The Juilliard School.

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  • Ashraf Sewailam

    Egyptian native Ashraf Sewailam made his US debut in 2004 as Leporello in Opera Colorado's Don Giovanni. Career highlights include performances in the roles of Colline in La bohème and Pistola in Falstaff; as well as recent performances as Leporello (Seattle Opera), Alidoro in La Cenerentola (Opera Queensland), Ramfis in Aida (Virginia Opera), Sparafucile in Rigoletto (New Zealand Opera), and King in Aida (San Diego Opera). Mr. Sewailam has served as music director for dubbing Disney productions into Arabic (voicing Mickey Mouse himself). He earned his doctorate in vocal performance and pedagogy from the University of Colorado Boulder.

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A Brief Synopsis

Scene 1. Heaven. A trio of Classical composers confront their ennui and perceive a solution.

Scene 2. Charles Rosen’s apartment. Despite being summoned to a Sonata Form symposium, Charles Rosen launches into an explanation of the birth of the Classical Style.

Scene 3. A bar. The three fundamental harmonies of the Classical Style (Dominant, Tonic, Subdominant) explain their problems. Mozart enters, searching for Charles Rosen, but is distracted.

Scene 4. Undisclosed location. Charles explains the relationship between grief and sensuality in Mozart. This causes the opera Don Giovanni to begin, and then to be strangely interrupted. In a series of unexpected encounters, Beethoven learns that Charles will be at the symposium.

Scene 5. A lecture room: the Sonata Form symposium. Various theories of Sonata are explained to a captive and not entirely brilliant audience. Charles does not show up, but Haydn, Mozart, and Beethoven do.

Scene 6. That same bar. The fundamental harmonies are still locked in their codependent love triangle. They meet a mysterious stranger and gain perspective.

Scene 7. Finale: Charles’s apartment. Charles is explaining late Beethoven, but at last consents to sit down to dinner. Dinner is interrupted; confrontation ensues; someone is dragged down to hell. At last Charles is (not quite) alone. He and Robert Schumann meditate on the mystery and miracle of the Classical Style, the shadowy life-in-death of the past.
Program Notes


Pianist Jeremy Denk discusses his libretto for The Classical Style.
This performance is part of Chamber Sessions III.

Part of