Wednesday, September 14, 2022

"Love, Loss and Exile": a recap of SongFest with Abigail Sinclair

Abigail Sinclair received Talent Trust scholarships in 2018, 2020, and 2021.  She also received the Portia White Award in 2020 and the Sheila K Piercey Award in 2021.  She spent her summer in California perfecting her craft as a soprano, and has shared her experiences with us:

 Hi NSTT Community!

My name is Abigail Sinclair and I am a soprano from Halifax. I recently graduated with a Bachelor of Music in Performance from the University of Toronto’s Faculty of Music where I studied with Elizabeth McDonald. 

Like many musicians at a university level, I auditioned for summer programs this year so that I could continue to study in the Summer months. With the support of the NSTT I was very lucky to attend SongFest, an American Art Song Festival held every June in California! I had previously applied to SongFest in 2020 when it was held in Los Angeles, but the Festival was forced to cancel its in-person programming for 2 years because of Covid. 2022 Marked the return of SongFest in person, and their first year running the festival at the San Francisco Conservatory of Music (SFCM) in beautiful San Francisco.

The most intriguing part of SongFest is that it provides young singers and collaborative pianists the chance to study some of the great classics of song repertoire, while still emphasizing the performance of new art song through its composer mentorship program and opportunities to work with living composers on their music. New music is something I have been very passionate about since I started my studies in Toronto, so SongFest felt like the perfect fit for me! Composers on staff at the festival this year included Jake Heggie, Sheila Silver, John Musto, Libby Larsen, John Harbison and David Conte.

Before the end of classes in April I received a call from Rosemary Ritter, the Artistic Director of SongFest, to let me know that I had been chosen to premiere the 2022 Sorel Commission. Each year through the Sorel Organization, SongFest commissions a new work to be premiered as part of the festival. This year’s piece was “Love, Loss and Exile” for soprano, piano and cello by American Composer Juhi Bansal. The text for this five (5) part song cycle was taken from Landays, which are short anonymous poems passed down orally through generations of women in Afghanistan. Beyond my passion for new work is a personal mandate to work with women composers and highlight women’s experiences through music. The opportunity to work with Juhi on this piece was a treasure beyond words. We were able to zoom a couple times to discuss the piece, what stylistic influences and colours were important to bring through in its performance and create a game plan for rehearsals when we met up in person in San Francisco.

I was also incredibly lucky to be going to SongFest with a small contingent of Canadian singers, some of whom I already knew very well, and others I am pleased to say I formed strong bonds with. Sopranos Alexa Frankian, Sarah Richardson and Emily Rocha had all attended U of T with me (Emily took my headshot!) and Soprano Alyssa Bart joined us from the University of Western Ontario. While there I also got to work with pianist Gina Hyunmin Lee, a fellow East-Coaster from New Brunswick who is currently studying at the Eastman School of Music. In addition to the wonderful Canadian artists and Faculty, I also connected and performed with many young artists from Universities across the United States, and I am so grateful for the friendships we formed.

I was a member of the Young Artist program at SongFest, and had two weekly lessons with Amy Burton who is on faculty at both the Juilliard School and Mannes School of Music. I also received coachings with pianists Jennifer Tung and Javier Arrebola. My sessions with these three Faculty members in particular were exceptionally helpful, and made me feel both supported and inspired. I also thoroughly enjoyed my time working with pianist Mark Trawka, who is the Director of Musical Studies at the Pittsburgh Opera Resident Artist Training Program. I later had the chance to perform “Tornami a vagheggiar” with him in a special arias concert featuring Jake Heggie and Frederica von Stade. 

Other highlights included performing an excerpt from Lili Boulanger’s epic cycle “Clairières dans le ciel” with pianist Maeve Berry for American pianist and conductor, Martin Katz. Katz’s uncompromising approach to the study and performance of art song and his reverence for each piece that was presented to him in our masterclasses really resonated with me. Watching him work with other students changed the way I look at my own process and artistry. Performing for him was certainly a high point, and I encourage anyone to check out his masterclasses online.

While Juhi was in town for the premiere we had the chance to meet up and chat as well as rehearse in person with pianist Yu-Hsin Teng, and Cellist Evan Kahn. It is a rare and special thing to meet someone you click with so instantly, but I was overjoyed to discover a fast new friend in Juhi. This made the process of preparing Love Loss and Exile all the more fun and the three of us had a great time working with her and Canadian soprano Martha Guth prior to the premiere at SFCM’s Caroline Hume Recital Hall.

In between performances, we had some time to explore San Francisco. SFCM was situated right across the street from both the Symphony and the Opera House and a 15 minute drive to Ghirardelli Square and the San Francisco waterfront. One evening, the Canadians and I took a stroll along the waterfront and rode the cable car back uptown which was quite an adventure! We also hiked up to Alamo Square park to see the famous “Pink Ladies” houses from the Full House title sequence.

I am so grateful to the NSTT and the musical community in Nova Scotia for making opportunities like this possible for me. I had a wonderful time in San Francisco and learned so much from both the instructors and my peers. Exposure to artists from different backgrounds with preferences and experiences from my own is something I feel is important to my development, and that of any young artist. My time at SongFest provided just that, and I know that I will continue to work with the musicians I met there for many years to come!

Signing off,



Want to hear more about the Talent Trust? Please sign up for our newsletter.

Want to support the next generation of Nova Scotian artists? Donate today!

No comments:

Post a Comment