Long Beach Opera’s production of The Central Park Five. Photo credit: Long Beach Opera

CCM alumnus Leslie B. Dunner conducts Pulitzer Prize-winning opera ‘The Central Park Five’

Long Beach Opera’s production of The Central Park Five. Photo credit: Long Beach Opera

Anthony Davis’ opera won the prestigious prize after Dunner led the world premiere in June 2019

CCM graduate Leslie B. Dunner (DMA Orchestral Conducting, ’82) conducted the premiere of Anthony Davis’ The Central Park Five last June with California’s Long Beach Opera. In May, the opera won the 2020 Pulitzer Prize in Music.

Composed by Davis with a libretto by Richard Wesley, the opera was described by the jury of the prestigious award as, “a courageous operatic work, marked by powerful vocal writing and sensitive orchestration, that skillfully transforms a notorious example of contemporary injustice into something empathetic and hopeful.”

The Central Park Five’s musical style combines elements of jazz, hip-hop, blues and other historically African-American genres. The opera centers on the five African American and Latino teenagers who were unjustly convicted of a Central Park assault in the 1980s, but were exonerated through DNA evidence 13 years later.

CCM audiences may remember Dunner from his recent appearance on campus. In October 2019, Dunner returned to CCM to conduct the Philharmonia in its “CSI Halloween: Post-Mortem” performance. While on campus, Dunner connected with CCM conducting students over dinner and worked with them in studio class as well as in rehearsals to prepare for the performance.

An award-winning conductor with a glowing international reputation, Dunner is the Music Director of the South Shore Opera Company in Chicago and serves as the conductor of the Interlochen Arts Academy Orchestra, the World Youth Symphony Orchestra and the Interlochen Arts Camp.

Dunner began rehearsals for The Central Park Five shortly after his teaching and conducting work at the Interlochen Arts Academy ended for the 2018-19 school year. In an interview for Interlochen’s website, Dunner commented on the importance of telling the stories and struggles of black Americans through the lens of opera.

“Anthony Davis said something very interesting,” Dunner tells Interlochen. “He had an interview where he was asked what he thought was relevant with opera. Because the interviewer said, ‘Opera was becoming a dead medium.’ And Anthony replied, ‘No. It’s not a dead medium. It’s a dead medium for your stories. It’s not a dead medium for our stories because our stories have not been told in opera.’”

For Dunner, the story of the Central Park Five is very personal. “I grew up in the area where all of this took place,” Dunner tells Interlochen. “I lived eight blocks away. I used to go to that part of Central Park as a kid. All of what went on during that time I have been through.”

From the Central Park Five to today’s #BlackLivesMatter movement, stories of cultural, racial and socio-economic injustices regularly make headlines across the country. “The cycle is still being perpetuated,” Dunner tells Interlochen. “What happened to them should not be happening anymore. Yet it is still happening. That is the relevance. That’s why this was important.”

One month after Dunner led the world premiere of The Central Park Five at Long Beach Opera, another opera focused on wrongful convictions premiered at Cincinnati Opera. The stories of six people who were wrongfully imprisoned and then freed were told in Blind Injustice, a collaboration with CCM, UC’s Ohio Innocence Project (OIP) and the Young Professionals Choral Collective. Based on casework by the OIP and the book “Blind Injustice” by UC law professor and OIP Director Mark Godsey, the highly acclaimed opera was directed by CCM Professor of Opera Robin Guarino and featured several current and former CCM students in the cast.

Efforts to share diverse stories through the performing arts is not limited to tales of wrongful convictions and struggle. In February, Dunner conducted the Toledo Symphony in a program that highlighted classical musicians of color. Selections included excerpts from Nkeiru Okoye’s opera Harriet Tubman: When I Crossed That Line to Freedom, Duke Ellington’s The River Suite, André Previn’s Honey and Rue and William Grant Still’s Symphony No. 1, among other pieces. As Music Director and Interim Artistic Director of Chicago’s South Shore Opera, Dunner furthers the company’s mission to provide greater opportunities for professional artists of color, especially local black artists, in performances of classic and contemporary operas.

“We are just now coming to the foreground,” Dunner tells Interlochen. “So we are using this medium to tell our stories, and we are modifying the medium so that it’s relevant to our population, and that’s what’s interesting, and that’s what’s exciting, and that’s what I want to be a part of.”

Read Dunner’s full interview on Interlochen’s website.

Learn more about Pulitzer Prize-winning opera, The Central Park Five.

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CCM Winds' 2010 Prism XIII Concert

CCM Conducting Alumni Receive Prestigious Award from the Solti Foundation

We are honored to announce that two conducting alumni of the University of Cincinnati College-Conservatory of Music (CCM) were among 11 musicians recently announced as recipients of the Solti Foundation U.S. Career Assistance Awards, a grant prize given to help up-and-coming conductors further their careers.

Christopher G. Allen (MM Orchestral Conducting, 2011) and Stefano Sarzani (CCM 2012-2013) join a group of only 46 conductors to receive this award since it was founded by the Solti Foundation in 2004. As the foremost organization in the United States dedicated exclusively to helping young composers, the Solti Foundation is currently the only American organization to grant such awards annually.

Christopher Allen.

Christopher Allen.

Both alumni are in high demand worldwide. Allen, who is currently the John L. Margo Resident Conductor for the Cincinnati Opera, is also the Associate Conductor of the Los Angeles Opera. His conducting credits include Lyric Opera of Kansas City, Opera Santa Barbara Montana’s Intermountain Opera and South Korea’s Daegu Opera House and the Atlanta Symphony. Along with the Solti prize, Allen was nominated as a finalist for the 2015 International Opera awards in London in the “Newcomer” category.

Stefano Sarzani.

Stefano Sarzani.

Sarzani was recently been appointed Associate Conductor of the Des Moines Metro Opera for their Summer 2016 season. His collaborations include the Boise Philharmonic Orchestra, National Repertory Orchestra of Colorado, Atlanta and Sarasota Operas, and numerous orchestras in Italy including Orchestra Sinfonica di Sanremo and Orchestra Filarmonica Marchigiana. A recent finalist for the New World Symphony’s 2015-16 conducting fellowship, he is also highly decorated from numerous competitions, most notably taking second prize in The American Prize competition in 2012.Please join us in congratulating these gifted young conductors on their accomplishment!

Please join us in congratulating these gifted young conductors on their accomplishment!

About the Solti Foundation U.S.

Now in its twelfth year of assisting outstanding young U.S. conductors to further develop their talent and careers, The Solti Foundation U.S. is the foremost organization in the United States dedicated exclusively to helping young conductors.

Established in 2000 to honor the memory of Sir Georg Solti by lending significant support to career-ready young American musicians, in 2004, the Foundation concentrated the focus of its award program to exclusively assist talented young American conductors early in their professional careers.

The Foundation endeavors to seek out those musicians who have chosen to follow a path similar to that followed by Sir Georg himself. In keeping with the spirit of Sir Georg’s active approach to his career, young conductors must apply to be considered for the awards.

While dedicated to identifying and assisting young conductors early on, the Foundation is also concerned with the long-term development of its award recipients, continuing to offer support and maintaining a constant interest in their growth and achievements.

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Story by CCM graduate Kevin Norton (DMA Saxophone, 2015)

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Logo for the University of Oklahoma's 4x4 Prizes for Composers and Conductors.

CCM Student and Alumnus Find Success at University of Oklahoma Conducting Competition

Both a current doctoral student and a recent CCM alumnus made the finals of the University of Oklahoma’s second-ever 4×4 Competition for Conductors and Composers. The competition took place last month and was open to both conductors and composers currently enrolled in a degree program or studying with a recognized professional composer or conductor.

Current CCM student Jiannan Cheng won second place in the conducting competition. A native of China, Cheng is currently pursuing her DMA in conducting under Director of Orchestral Studies Mark Gibson. For her finish, Cheng received a $1,000 cash prize and was able to collaborate with the second-prize winning composer to perform one of their works during a concert with the OU Symphony in February.

Also making the finals was CCM alumnus Boon Hua Lien (MM Wind Conducting, 2013), who studied at CCM and was a teaching assistant under Director of Wind Studies Glenn D. Price. A native of Singapore, Lien currently lives in Rochester, New York, where he is pursuing his DMA in Orchestral Conducting (and serves as a teaching assistant) at the prestigious Eastman School of Music. He is also a conducting fellow with the Rochester Philharmonic Orchestra.

Learn more about the achievements of CCM’s students and alumni by subscribing to The Village News!

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CCM Student Profiled By South Carolina’s ‘Post and Courier’

AikKhaiPung

Congratulations to CCM doctoral candidate and adjunct instructor Aik Khai Pung on his recent profile in Charleston, South Carolina’s Post and Courier!

Khai was the assistant conductor for the production of Matsukaze at this year’s Spoleto USA Music Festival. In addition, Khai also led members of the Spoleto Festival USA Orchestra in a May 27 Intermezzo performance of works by Charles Ives, Aaron Copland and Igor Stravinsky.

For 17 days and nights each spring, Spoleto Festival USA fills Charleston, South Carolina’s historic theaters, churches and outdoor spaces with performances by renowned artists as well as emerging performers in opera; theater; dance; and chamber, symphonic, choral and jazz music.

You can read the full article here.

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CCM Student Wins Third Prize in Li Delun National Conducting Competition

Jing Huan was awarded third prize in China's first Li Delun National Conducting Competition (photo: Ren Xihai)

CCM student Jing Huan was awarded third prize in China’s first Li Delun National Conducting Competition (photo: Ren Xihai)

Congratulations to CCM doctoral candidate Jing Huan for winning third prize in China’s first Li Delun National Conducting Competition in Qingdao!

Organized by the Ministry of Culture, China Symphony Development Foundation and Qingdao local government, the competition was held from June 18-23, 2012.

Learn more courtesy of Gramophone Magazine here.

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