Kristofer Sanz on Conducting YAA & MCYO’s ‘Madama Butterfly & Miss Saigon’ This Sunday @4 PM at Strathmore

Kristofer Sanz.
Kristofer Sanz.

In our final interview and article about Young Artists of America and Maryland Classic Youth Orchestras’ joint production of Madama Butterfly & Miss Saigon on Sunday, March 10th at 4 PM at Strathmore, Kristofer Sanz takes us behind the scenes of conducting over 130 musicians and singers while preparing for this Sunday’s performance.

Joel: We have already heard from the singers, so now we’d love for you to share some perspective from the orchestral point of view. This production is a collaboration between Young Artists of America and Maryland Classic Youth Orchestras. You are the conductor of the MCYO Philharmonic Orchestra. How did rehearsing for Madama Butterfly & Miss Saigon differ from a regular rehearsal at MCYO?

Kris: This concert rotation focuses on a different style of music and playing than the Philharmonic is used to doing for their concerts. We have spent much time in rehearsal not only preparing the music but also taking time to discuss and fully understand the different roles an orchestra can play. Through this open discourse, we have realized how emotionally powerful playing vocal music can actually be for both audiences as well as the musicians playing. Any time one adds the human voice to the awesome power of a full symphonic orchestra, a new organic, living and breathing musical creature is created. With the addition of the professional and student voices, the orchestra is no longer bound to strictly instrumental notes and rhythms, but instead is part of a symbiotic relationship which truly allows music to be conveyed on a different level.

Since Miss Saigon is a musical and Madama Butterfly is an opera, how difficult was it for you to merge the scores for music written in such different times and in such different styles?

These two scores were actually not very difficult to weave together. Much thought was put into the merging of these two works and the orchestra. Because both works are scored for full symphonic orchestra, the orchestra is able to flow seamlessly back and forth between both lush scores. Even though the scores are separated by about 80 years, both composers were masters of melodies and truly portraying deep human emotions in their work

How familiar were the musicians with these two scores prior to this production?

When we first began this journey, very few of the musicians were familiar with the scores. While many knew one or two songs from either Saigon or Butterfly, few understood the while story or the magnitude of emotions that they were going to be in charge of creating with their playing.

What are some of the challenges you have had training musicians to perform with singers? 

The main challenge involved with preparing this work is that many of the young musicians have never performed with singers. While symphonic orchestral works are self-sufficient and use a wide range of instrumental colors to portray different themes and moods, when singers are added, a new living breathing element is added. When orchestral musicians perform with singers, string players especially need to be focus on the breathing and phrasing of their musical lines since, unlike singers, they are able to sustain sound endlessly. When performing opera, instrumentalists not only need to perform their part perfectly in terms of pitch and phrasing but they need to watch the conductor more closely, listen to how their sections fit in to the texture of sound, and need to listen and match singers to make sure that they are creating the right atmosphere to help support the text and melodic lines.

Kristofer Sanz rehearsing with harpists Monika Vasey, Vivian Franks, and Nora Kelsall.
Kristofer Sanz rehearsing with harpists Monika Vasey, Vivian Franks, and Nora Kelsall.

This is a unique production because YAA is collaborating with MCYO. On an ongoing basis, how can talented young instrumentalists become involved with future YAA concerts and productions?

Every September, YAA holds auditions for its Colla Voce Orchestra which performs two concerts a year. If students are interested in performing more music like Butterfly & Saigon we would love to have them come out and audition for our program. Because the Colla Voce Orchestra performs in the fall and spring semesters, we also welcome instrumentalists to join us halfway through the year for our Spring concert.

What it is like for you and for your musicians to know that all of your hard work, preparation, and rehearsal ends with one single performance? What will all of you be thinking about on the downbeat?

I believe that one single performance allows our musicians to experience what it feels like to give all of themselves emotionally and physically in one afternoon While the excitement has been building up each week at rehearsal, we are all getting very anxious for that moment of release which will come with the first downbeat. Once that first downbeat is given, all of our pent-up angst and passion will flow out in one gang buster and emotionally charged performance. This is going to be a very powerful event and I can’t wait to walk out on March 10th, greet the orchestra, greet the audience, smile, touch my heart (my signal to the orchestra to remember to play from the soul), and open the floodgates!


Madama Butterfly & Miss Saigon will be presented on the main stage of The Music Center at Strathmore at 4 pm on Sunday, March 10, 2013. For tickets, purchase them by phone (301) 581-5100, or online.

Meet The Student Vocal Soloists of YAA & MCYO’s ‘Madama Butterly & Miss Saigon’ on 3/10/13@4 @ Strathmore by Joel Markowitz.

Meet The Guest Soloists of YAA & MCYO’s ‘Madama Butterly & Miss Saigon’ on 3/10/13@4 at Strathmore by Rolando Sanz

Rolando & Kristofer Sanz on Young Artists of America’s Concert: ‘Madama Butterfly & Miss Saigon’ on 3/10/13@4

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Joel Markowitz
Joel Markowitz is the Publisher and Editor of DCMetroTheaterArts. He founded the site with his brother Bruce to help promote the vast riches of theatre and the arts in the DC Metro area that includes Maryland, Virginia, and DC theater and music venues, universities, schools, Children's theaters, professional, and community theatres. Joel is an advocate for promoting the 'stars of the future' in his popular 'Scene Stealers' articles. He wrote a column for 5 years called ‘Theatre Schmooze’ and recorded podcast interviews for DC Theatre Scene. His work can also be seen and read on BroadwayStars. Joel also wrote a monthly preview of what was about to open in DC area theatres for BroadwayWorld. He is an avid film and theater goer, and a suffering Buffalo Bills and Sabres fan. Joel was a regular guest on 'The Lunch and Judy Show' radio program starring Judy Stadt in NYC. Joel founded The Ushers Theatre Going Group in the DC area in 1990, which had a 25-year run when it took its final curtain call last year. Joel is a proud member of The American Critics Association.


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