Darius Milhaud arrived at Mills College in 1940, fleeing Nazi persecution and grateful for the invitation that had been extended to him by President Aurelia Henry Reinhardt. At the time, Mills had already secured a fine reputation in the arts and humanities and a tradition of lively cultural exchange. In the 1930s, during its famed Summer Sessions in the Creative Arts, the faculty included such distinguished figures as artists Fernand Léger, Oscar Kokoschka, and Alfred Neumeyer; dancer Hanya Holm; composers and musicians Henry Cowell, Lou Harrison, and Egon Petri; author Andre Maurois; and poet William Rose Benét. Both the Pro Arte and the Budapest String Quartets had residencies at Mills, and John Cage worked as an accompanist for the Dance Department.
In the 1920s, Erik Satie had seen in Milhaud "a new spirit in French music," as well as "a more progressive modern sensibility based on spontaneity, fantasy, and audacity." In the years following World War I, Paris was a dynamic intellectual center. In the Quartier Latin, Dadaist soirées, which included music by Satie and Milhaud, often ended in riots and brawls. Writer and activist Jean Cocteau proclaimed the birth of a new modern French art free from what he termed “Wagnerian fog” and “Debussian mist.”
Milhaud's compositions during this period anticipated later developments in 20th-century music. He experimented with indeterminacy (Cocktail Music) and noise (Les choéphores), and, in 1920, joined Satie in the premiere of the latter’s musique d'ameublement, or furniture music, designed to be ignored by its audience. This proved to be prescient—a direct precursor not only of John Cage’s ideas concerning the unnecessary distinction between music and environmental sound, but also the hugely influential ambient music proposed by Brian Eno some 50 years later.
The reception of Milhaud's new works was not always favorable. His compositions using polytonality—writing in two or more keys at once—provoked violent responses, but Milhaud was not discouraged by such hostile reactions. “It is indifference in the public that is depressing,” he explained. “Enthusiasm or vehement protests prove that your work is alive.”
The vital intellectual and artistic community at Mills provided a perfect atmosphere for Milhaud, and he continued his prolific output of beautiful works and taught his students to use the most contemporary tools at their disposal. His encouragement to find their own voice marked generations of composers, including names as diverse as Elinor Armer, William Bolcom, Dave Brubeck, Janice Giteck, Leland Smith, and Morton Subotnick. Milhaud remained a beloved teacher at Mills for more than 30 years.
As the artistic director of Ensemble Parallèle, Nicole Paiement has recorded numerous world premiere performances since 1993, including music by Henry Cowell, Lou Harrison, and Andrew Imbrie; French composers such as Germaine Tailleferre, Claude Debussy, and Henri Collet; and students of Olivier Messiaen. Dedicated to 20th- and 21st-century music performance, her ensemble has commissioned many new works from international composers. Commissions and premieres have included music by Elinor Armer, Jacques Desjardins, John Harbison, Alden Jenks, Hi Kyung Kim, Bruce Mather, Laura Schwendinger, and Stella Sung.
Also under Paiement’s baton, the San Francisco Conservatory of Music New Music Ensemble (NME) has commissioned many works, including music by Martha Horst, Eric Sawyer, Cindy Cox, and Alexandra Vrebalov, and recorded music by David Conte, Michèle Reverdy, and Darius Milhaud. Paiement has recorded various CDs at UC Santa Cruz, where she conducts the University Orchestra, Chamber Singers, and Opera as director of ensembles.
In 2002, she founded BluePrint, a well-received new music project. In its first season, BluePrint honored the work and students of Olivier Messiaen, as well as apprentices of Darius Milhaud at Mills College, both of which attracted composers from all over the world. BluePrint has collaborated with the International Women Composers and Other Minds Festivals, and conducted the American premiere of Hanna Kulenty’s Flute Concerto. More recently, the series celebrated the achievements of Ligeti, Weill, and Dutilleux.
Paiement’s interest in vocal and instrumental music has led her to conduct and record numerous operas. With Ensemble Parallèle, she recorded the world premiere of Rapunzel, Lou Harrison’s serial opera, and has worked on the premiere of his last opera, Young Caesar.
She has been a guest conductor with the San Francisco Contemporary Music Players and various orchestras, including the Kochi Orchestra, the Monterey Jazz Festival Orchestra, the Ottawa Symphony Orchestra, and the Suwon Philharmonic Orchestra.
Mezzo-soprano Wendy Hillhouse has achieved a versatility and mastery of diverse repertoire that is rare. Her operatic career has encompassed performances with the Metropolitan Opera, the Glyndebourne Festival, and most of the major American opera companies, as well as in Europe and Japan. Hillhouse is an accomplished concert artist, having performed with the symphony orchestras of Boston, Seattle, Dallas, Pittsburgh, and Denver, and the Tanglewood, Cabrillo, and Midsummer Mozart Festivals, as well as maintaining a busy schedule of Bay Area concert appearances.
Recent opera performances have included the role of Aunt Julia in Lou Harrison’s Young Caesar with BluePrint, a return appearance with the Utah Opera in Carlyle Floyd’s new opera Cold Sassy Tree, the Witch in Lou Harrison’s Rapunzel with the Cabrillo Festival, and Mama McCourt in Utah Opera’s The Ballad of Baby Doe. She can be seen on video recordings of Le nozze di Figaro at Glyndebourne in the role of Marcellina, and as Grimgerde in the Metropolitan Opera’s Die Walküre. Recent audio recordings include vocal pieces by Lou Harrison and Elinor Armer; Britten’s A Ceremony of Carols with the Schola Cantorum; and Henry Cowell’s Atlantis, Dusan Bogdanovich’s Games, and George Benjamin’s Upon Silence with Ensemble Parallèle.
Early in her career, Hillhouse won numerous competitions and awards, including the Metropolitan Opera Auditions, the Pavarotti International Voice Competition, the Loren L. Zachary Competition, and the Eleanor Steber Competition. In 1985, she was the first prize winner of the National Association of Teachers of Singing Artist Award, and consequently sang many recitals in the United States and Europe. She participated in the San Francisco Opera’s Merola Opera Program, as well as the apprentice programs of the Santa Fe and San Diego Operas.
She is a member of the faculty and former co-chair of the Voice Department of the San Francisco Conservatory of Music. Currently serving as president of the San Francisco Bay Area Chapter of NATS, she is also a member of the board of directors of the San Francisco Song Festival. A resident of Redwood City, she holds degrees from the San Francisco Conservatory of Music and UC Berkeley.
Patrice Maginnis has pursued a career in performance with an emphasis on contemporary music. Her recordings include the title role in Rapunzel by Lou Harrison, and other recordings feature the music of Milhaud, Satie, Cowell, and Tailleferre. Maginnis has performed and given master classes in Europe, Canada, and the United States. She was a founding member of Opera San Jose and has also sung with Ensemble Parallèle, the Santa Cruz County Symphony, New Music Works, the Santa Cruz Baroque Festival, and the Santa Cruz Chamber Players. She has been on the faculty at UC Santa Cruz since 1986, teaching voice, opera performance, and pedagogy.
Robert Stafford (bass-baritone) is a San Francisco native who sang his first operatic lead role at age 12 in Gian Carlo Menotti’s Amahl and the Night Visitors. After studying music synthesis, music production, and jazz piano at Berklee College of Music, he received his bachelor of music degree from Oberlin College’s Conservatory of Music in vocal performance. Returning to California, he sang leading bass-baritone roles at Opera San Jose, West Bay Opera, Pocket Opera, Pacific Repertory Opera, and the San Francisco Conservatory of Music, where he completed his master of music degree.
A love of 18th-century music has since led him to sing concert solos with some of the country’s leading Baroque orchestras, including the American Bach Soloists, Apollo’s Fire, Musica Angelica, and Magnificat. Recent engagements have included the title role in Don Pasquale with Sonoma City Opera, Jupiter in Rameau’s Castor et Pollux with L’Opéra Français de New York, Pandolfe in Massenet’s Cendrillon at the Manhattan School of Music, and a concert of Buxtehude cantatas and Vaughan Williams’ Fantasia on Christmas Carols with Jeffrey Thomas and members of the American Bach Soloists at UC Davis.
Tenor Brian Staufenbiel has appeared at the Boston Early Music Festival, the Rochester Bach Festival in New York State, the Sherbrooke Summer Music Festival, and sings frequently throughout the San Francisco Bay Area. He is well known for his dramatic interpretation of the evangelist role in Bach’s Saint Matthew and Saint John Passion, as well as his comically gruesome depiction of the Roasted Swan in Orff’s Carmina burana.
Staufenbiel is a voice faculty member and the artistic director of the Opera Program at UC Santa Cruz. With his 2006 production, he was awarded the first prize in the National Opera Association Opera Competition.
In addition to live performance, Staufenbiel has recorded for Musical Heritage Society, Koch International Classics, and Helicon Records music by Alessandro Stradella, Heinrich Schütz, Lou Harrison, and Paul Bowles. His most recent recording includes the world premiere recordings of tenor arias from Lou Harrison’s opera Young Caesar and the St. Cecilia Mass (Kleos Records). Staufenbiel holds a doctorate in vocal performance and literature from the Eastman School of Music.
Winner of numerous awards, including the 1975 Ravel Prize at the Marguerite Long International Competition in Paris, pianist Robert Schwartz has performed extensively in the United States and abroad. Of his performance of the Shostakovich First Piano Concerto with the Northeastern Pennsylvania Philharmonic, the Scranton Times found his playing "crystal clear" and "his poetic insights remarkable."
Schwartz made his formal New York debut in 1983 at Merkin Concert Hall, having already appeared in New York City at the concert series of the American Landmarks Festivals, Trinity Church, and La Maison Française at New York University. Musical appearances on radio have included the WNYC Americathon, broadcast live from Merkin Concert Hall; WQXR in New York; and NPR affiliates, KXPR in Sacramento and WGBH in Boston.
Klavier Records has released his recording of Romero's Spirals for piano and orchestra, with the San Francisco Camerata. A CD of French piano music will be released in early 2009. Schwartz has recently given recitals and master classes at the Young International Pianists Festival in Vienna, Austria; the Chautauqua Institution; and the Beijing Conservatory in China. Last summer, he presented a lecture recital on Albéniz's Iberia at the Portland International Piano Festival in Oregon. Schwartz has appeared at numerous Bay Area concert series, including performances for Old First Church, the Steinway Society, Noontime Concerts, the San Francisco Conservatory of Music, the Chamber Music Society of Sacramento, and San Francisco Performances. He has appeared as soloist with the Redding Symphony, the Memphis Symphony, the San Francisco Chamber Orchestra, the San Francisco Camerata, and the Orquesta de Cámara Municipal de Rosario, Argentina.
Schwartz has taught at the San Francisco Conservatory of Music, Skyline College, and Santa Clara University and is currently on the piano faculty at Mills College. He was featured on the California Arts Council Touring Roster from 2003 to 2005. Schwartz holds a bachelor's degree from Indiana University, a master's degree from The Juilliard School, and a doctor of musical arts degree from the Manhattan School of Music.
Julie Steinberg, pianist of the acclaimed Abel-Steinberg-Winant Trio, performs regularly as a soloist and chamber musician. Since 1980, she has appeared many times with the San Francisco Symphony in such world premiere performances as John Adams' Grand Pianola Music; Arvo Pärt's Tabula rasa, as a soloist; and Michael Tilson Thomas' series, American Mavericks. Steinberg has appeared at New Music America, the Ravinia Festival, Lincoln Center Outdoors, and the Interlink Festival in Japan. Other performances include Le sacre du printemps with the Paul Taylor Dance Company in Paris, San Francisco, and Seattle.
As an assisting artist, Steinberg has performed in master classes with Jean-Pierre Rampal and Mstislav Rostropovich. With the Abel-Steinberg-Winant Trio, she has commissioned, premiered, and recorded numerous contemporary works. She holds a doctor of musical arts from Stanford University and has been a member of the San Francisco Contemporary Music Players since 1989.
Hailed as one of today’s top avant-garde percussionists, William Winant has performed and collaborated with some of the most innovative musicians of our time, from Anthony Braxton and John Cage to James Tenney and Cecil Taylor, and from iconic rock bands Oingo Boingo and Sonic Youth to Steve Reich and the Kronos Quartet.
Winant has been timpanist with the Philharmonia Baroque Orchestra, as well as principal percussionist with the Cabrillo Festival Orchestra; he is currently principal percussionist with the San Francisco Contemporary Music Players and the John Zorn Chamber Ensemble, and has been the percussionist with the avant-rock band Mr. Bungle since 1995. He has also been a featured guest artist with the Los Angeles Philharmonic, the San Francisco Symphony, and the Library of Congress, and has performed at major venues and international festivals throughout Europe and North America. Composers who have written works for him include Chris Brown, Alvin Curran, Fred Frith, Peter Garland, Terry Riley, David Rosenboom, Somei Satoh, Wadada Leo Smith, and John Zorn.
Winant has made more than 130 recordings in a variety of genres, including music by Han Bennink, Earle Brown, film composer Danny Elfman, Luc Ferrari, Pauline Oliveros, Mike Patton, Karlheinz Stockhausen, Siouxsie and the Banshees, The Ex, and White Out with Jim O'Rourke. His recording of Lou Harrison's La koro sutro was the New York Times Critic's Choice for best contemporary recording of 1988. SYR4: Goodbye 20th Century, on which he collaborated closely with Sonic Youth and avant-garde classical composers, was proclaimed one of the best compendiums of this genre ever recorded.
Winant was often an important catalyst for Lou Harrison’s works, touring internationally for the premiere of his Rhymes with Silver along with Yo-Yo Ma and the Mark Morris Dance Group. He has also been a regular associate of the Merce Cunningham Dance Company, working, for example, with composers Takehisa Kosugi and Christian Wolff to create music for a series celebrating the company’s 50th anniversary at the Tate Modern in London.
A visiting lecturer at UC Santa Cruz, Winant teaches at Mills College and UC Berkeley. For eight years, he was Mills’ artist-in-residence with the critically acclaimed Abel-Steinberg-Winant Trio, which has premiered more than 25 new works for violin, piano, and percussion at prominent festivals and recitals worldwide.