Visiting Artists

Having professional artists in the classroom invigorates students and teachers alike.

Our Visiting Artists program connects students directly with Bay Area visual artists, guest choreographers, theater specialists, and master musicians. They work alongside students sharing their craft, expertise, and advice. Visual Arts teachers Eric Oldmixon and Allyson Seal presented at the National Art Educators Association (NAEA) annual conference about the value of our Artist in Residence program.

Yale's "Just Add Water," with Luke Mobley ‘16, Showcases Improv at Branson

Branson alumnus Luke Mobley '16 headlined the visit of Just Add Water (JAW), an improvisational comedy troupe from Yale University, when they visited Branson on Monday, January 6...

Branson alumnus Luke Mobley '16 headlined the visit of Just Add Water (JAW), an improvisational comedy troupe from Yale University, when they visited Branson on Monday, January 6. The group’s visit included an announcement at Assembly, a lunchtime workshop with the Branson acting program, and an evening performance open to the whole community.

Comprised of Yale’s funniest and most daring students, JAW performs both on- and off-campus, bringing laughter to fellow students and the world at large. They've performed at Full Frontal with Samantha Bee, The Second City in Chicago, and schools and theaters around the entire U.S. JAW is the only Yale comedy group to do long-form, short-form, AND musical improv. This means they do short scenes, longer multi-scene stories, songs, and musicals completely on the spot. There is no planning ahead - they rely on audience suggestions for inspiration, and create the rest on the fly.

The improv. troupe shared their craft with Branson’s actors in a series of high-energy, fast moving exercises during the noon workshop. Branson students had to think on their feet, take risks, and keep up with the rest of the players. They were rewarded by much applause and encouragement, from each other and from the Yale actors.

“The workshop today went well,” reflected Mobley. “ As I get older, it becomes more about paying it forward. I would have never done improv if it weren’t for Maura [Vaughn] and now it has become such an integral part of my life.”

Branson senior Brendon Milan-Howells said, “I thought the group provided a great lesson in improv while introducing us to the idea of chorus creation that somehow worked out. We spontaneously created a song called 'Romance in Edinburgh' about falling in love with a rat. It was hilarious!”

“Working with the current Branson students was amazing because I can see that they have received the same training I did under Maura’s guidance,” said Mobley. “It gave the improv work we were doing more depth and natural ease. Their willingness to just jump in with Branson enthusiasm, the kindness they showed toward one another, and their overall courage in the work were true Branson just as I remembered it.”

 

 

Guest Artist Ian Scarfe Challenges Branson Chamber Musicians

Pianist Ian Scarfe presented the third in a series of chamber music master classes in Rachel Kim’s Performance: Classical seminar on Wednesday, November 20. Scarfe is the Founder and Director of Trinity Alps Chamber Music Festival. 

Pianist Ian Scarfe presented the third in a series of chamber music master classes in Rachel Kim’s Performance: Classical seminar on Wednesday, November 20. Scarfe is the Founder and Director of Trinity Alps Chamber Music Festival. He received the prestigious Artist Diploma in Chamber Music from San Francisco Conservatory, where he currently serves as a staff accompanist and coach. 

Branson students Corbin Glover ‘20, violin and Stanley Wong ‘23, piano, first joined cellist Julie Feldman to present Dvorak’s Piano Trio in E minor, nicknamed the “Dumky.” Scarfe advised the musicians to be aware of how they keep the storytelling moving forward in the piece, and to outline a clear narrative through the different musical voices. He urged them to experiment with different musical expressions, sometimes giving more and sometimes holding back.  

After underscoring how important it is for players to practice and learn their notes, Scarfe later reflected back on his own experience. “When I was a student, one of the hardest things for me was performing in front of my peers. So I really admire how this group is able to do that with such a generous spirit. It’s so easy for a musician to shut down in those situations.” 

Violinists Shun Graves ‘23, Adriana Nordlicht ‘23, and pianist James Grossman ‘21 presented three movements of the Shostakovich Five Pieces for 2 Violins and Piano. Taking the reins at the piano again, Scarfe challenged the players to define the character of the pieces in a few simple words, and to play with different sounds, attacks, and musical colors.

When the final group assembled to perform the Vivaldi Concerto in B minor for Four Violins with piano, the analogies to pop music started flowing.

“This is a very cool piece,” said Scarfe, “Vivaldi concertos are the rock n roll of the 17th century. They’re fun to play and they’re not that complicated. Dig in there… Those times when everyone comes back together and usually plays loud – the ritornello – that’s like the chorus in a pop song.”

Violinists Corbin Glover, Shun Graves, Adriana Nordlicht, and Sophie Liu '23, and pianist Stanley Wong '23 were joined by cellist Julie Feldman. The addition of this additional bass line really helped to ground the piece and give it new vitality.

Glover appreciated the opportunity to work with Scarfe: “He’s awesome; he was definitely helpful. He gave me new ideas about how to better shape the piece, and what I need to work on, especially with getting the group in better shape as a whole. He gave us new insights on different tips and tricks and techniques to have us play better together.”

Scarfe himself reflected this back as well, “Having another coach in the room is good, I’m giving them different suggestions and offering a different perspective – or I’m sharing the same things their teacher has said and helping to reinforce the direction she’s giving.”

Allegra Chapman ‘05 Returns to Coach Chamber Music Ensembles

Allegra Chapman ‘05 returned to Branson on Tuesday, November 19 to teach a masterclass to three of our chamber music ensembles in the Performance: Classical seminar.

Allegra Chapman ‘05 returned to Branson on Tuesday, November 19 to teach a masterclass to three of our chamber music ensembles in Rachel Kim's Performance: Classical seminar. The San Francisco-based pianist is an alumna of the Branson School and a graduate of Bard Conservatory, the Juilliard School, and San Francisco Conservatory. As the founder and executive director of Bard Music West, Chapman is dedicated to connecting with new audiences as performer, presenter, and educator. This was the second master class she’s offered at Branson since graduating. Read her bio. 

She first coached a Branson piano trio (Lawrence Bancroft ‘21 - piano, Sophie Liu ‘23 - violin, Andrew Maxwell ‘22- cello) in their performance of the Gavotte from Frank Bridge’s Miniatures, posing the question: what does it mean to be a piano trio?

“The collaboration of chamber music starts long before the actual music begins,” observed Chapman as she stage-directed. “It’s how you get on and off stage, how you communicate with each other on stage. It’s breathing together, cueing together, feeling what each other is doing.” The class observed how these seemingly simple things can make a huge difference in the music.

Pianist Adriana Nordlicht ‘23  and teacher Rachel Kim performed an excerpt from Ravel’s Mother Goose Suite. Commending the performance, Chapman acknowledged that performing alongside your teacher can be daunting. “You’re doing a beautiful job of playing your part in its full glory. You already have a lot of colors but you can heighten what you’re doing.” She urged all instrumentalists, particularly pianists, to sing their melodic lines as they practice them. 

Another trio rounded out the morning, as violinists Shun Graves ‘23 and Sophie Liu '23 joined violist Nathan Yamamoto (an alumnus of Marin Academy) to perform Dvorak’s Terzetto Op. 74. Chapman took this opportunity to talk about the unique and important role of each of the players in a string trio – both as a leader and a follower. She also shared some tricks to cope with performance anxiety:

“Sometimes all we need is to remind ourselves of what we’re doing and give ourselves more confidence. You can trick your mind: if you’re really nervous and you don’t feel confident, pretend to be that person who’s confident – Heifetz, whoever – and sure enough, you’ll start to become more confident. The audience doesn’t need to know that you’re nervous.”

“It’s great to come back to Branson,” reflected Chapman. “I have so many wonderful memories of when I was here, and it’s so exciting to see how the arts program has grown. I love coming back and seeing the teachers who were here when I was. It’s fun to be able to give back in any ways that I can and to stay part of the community.”

Chris Lortie Presents Composition Master Class

Composer Chris Lortie presented a master class featuring original compositions by Branson seniors Caleb Liu and Spencer Hao in the Performance: Classical seminar on Friday, November 15, 2019.

Composer Chris Lortie presented a master class to Branson students in Rachel Kim’s Performance: Classical seminar on Friday, November 15. Lortie is a 4th-year doctoral student in composition at Stanford University. His specialty is electronic music, ranging from fixed electronics, triggering electronics, and electronics that respond interactively to the player as they perform. Read his full bio

Lortie introduced himself by sharing an excerpt from his composition Jouska (2017). In this piece, a violinist performs live while wearing an electronic sensor glove that picks up motions and cues in the performance, and uses electronics that aim to fake or disrupt sonic cues. Lortie explained that the piece makes a commentary on liveness and fakeness. “It’s the hypothetical conversation you play out in your head where you do everything perfectly, which then distorts into the reality of everyday life,” he said.

He spent the remainder of the class working with two Branson students on their original compositions that will be performed at the Branson Winter Concert on December 8. 

Caleb Liu ‘21 presented his original score to a short film by Brendon Milan-Howells '20, performed live by violinists Corbin Glover ‘20 and Sophie Liu ‘23, guest violist Nathan Yamamoto, cellist Julie Feldman, and himself on piano. His musical score represents the conflict between an individual who has to choose between a gang and his family.

Working with the quintet, Lortie and Liu explored the intersection between the film images on screen, the audience, and the musical composition. As a composer, how much are you controlling the audience experience vs. giving them the space to make their own interpretation? How do you use different musical textures to elicit emotion and create effects?

“This was my first composition masterclass ever. It was really valuable to have someone look at my work. I never get to perform my music in front of my friends, so this was really great,” said Liu.

Spencer Hao '21 shared a recording of his new composition, based on the fairy tale Rapunzel. To create the piece, he listened to the narration of the story, thought about what kinds of themes and emotions he wanted to portray, played with ideas on the piano, then played them into the Ableton software to create the music. 

"My goal was to guide the audience’s experience, not to control it. The narration gives one feeling but I wanted to bring out the more traditional fairy tale aspect of it, make it more Disney."

Lortie and Hao talked about the challenges of balancing music and spoken word and Lortie suggested some techniques to overcome these challenges. He also shared how he approaches sound design in his own compositions.

“The Branson students were really enthusiastic, really engaged,” said Lortie. “There’s a sense of passion in what they do.”

Guest Artist Leads Partnering Class

Guest teacher Tony Nguyen led a contemporary partnering class for Dance IV and Athletic Dance for Men.

Guest teacher Tony Nguyen led a contemporary partnering class for Dance IV and Athletic Dance for Men.

  • New House Gallery
Artists in Residence Solange Roberdeau & Ido Yoshimoto

Artists in Residence Solange Roberdeau and Ido Yoshimoto, who installed a collection of their individual and collaborative works in New House Gallery, also worked with Advanced level Visual Arts students. Students learned from Ido and Solange's practices of finding inspiration in natural materials as well as their deep appreciation of craft.

Ido is inspired by his work as an arborist. He had a rich history growing up among the vibrant wilderness of West Marin and the art residence of JB Blunk, to whom his father was an assistant. Ido just returned from a successful exhibition in Tokyo and is a constant fixture among many Bay Area galleries of art and craft.  

Solange grew up in a similar rural environment further north in Humboldt County.  Her work comes from a drawing and printing-making background influenced by traditional Chinese and Japanese practices. While taking inspiration form the past, her works feel grounded in the present with bold modernist designs employing a rich mix of traditional and digital media--from Sumi ink and building to silkscreen and digital printing.

The two artists also shared their and their artistic processes during a project withwith Advanced level Visual Arts students.

  • arts
  • Visual
Visiting Artist Chongbin Zheng

Chinese III, AP, and Intermediate Painting classes made a trip to the studio of international artist and parent Chongbin Zheng. Visual Arts Teacher Eric Oldmixon said, "Our students have been studying the inspiring influences of traditional Chinese painting and Contemporary American abstraction on Chongbin's incredibly rich and successful artist practice. His work serves as a great model for sharing creative and ideas between disciplines.

Mandarin Teacher Shu-Chen Lin arranged Chongbin to come to campus and work with the two classes, as well as with visiting exchange students from Taiwan, on a Chinese painting.

  • Visual
Guest Artist Katie Bertsche

As a culmination to her New House Gallery exhibition, Guest Artist Katie Bertsche discussed her career as a science illustrator with the students of Intermediate Drawing and Painting. Katie shared the process of working with Smithsonian scientists over months to graphically represent a species of duck as well as her current work watercoloring some 130 butterfly species for a tourist brochure in South America.

  • Visual

Artist Lucia Dill visited Branson’s Portfolio Review class on Wednesday to offer feedback as students approach their final projects. Working with Saani Borge '17 (pictured here), she suggested working larger, using materials like lipstick and nail polish in the work itself.