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Sasha Cooke

Sasha Cooke

A critically acclaimed mezzo soprano with a voice which is at once clear, emotive and powerful, Sasha Cooke is fast becoming world renowned for her charm and talent. 


Producer's Notes

I used to spend a lot of time at The Metropolitan Opera, but have lived in Los Angeles for the past 25 years so no longer hear opera in New York very often.  I am therefore doubly grateful to Peter Gelb for creating "The Met: Live in HD" which broadcasts in movie theaters around the world. Even though mezzo-soprano Sasha Cooke has been recognized as a young superstar in concert and opera for many years now, it was as Kitty Oppenheimer in The Met's 2008 production of John Adams' Doctor Atomic that I first heard her. Half way through her first act aria "Am I In Your Light?" I knew I wanted to work with her.  Despite her ferociously busy schedule Sasha responded immediately with a "Yes!" to my suggestion we make her debut album. Since then we had the great pleasure to hear Sasha in Southern California in her debut performances with the Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra and with the Los Angeles Philharmonic.  Sasha won her first GRAMMY® Award for Sony's DVD release of Doctor Atomic from The Met. 


The Colburn Orchestra, close to home but international in quality, proved an equally powerful draw.  These musicians, all members of the Colburn Conservatory conducted by Music Director Yehuda Gilad and led by concertmaster Caitlin Kelley, enrich our lives in Los Angeles. We are lucky in Southern California, with the Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra, The Colburn Orchestra and the Los Angeles Philharmonic performing regularly in some of the world's greatest concert halls. When I hear The Colburn Orchestra play live, and play on this recording, I am happily reminded of the successful recordings Mercury Records created with Howard Hanson and the Eastman Rochester Orchestra. Or of the sound of the Berlin Philharmonic under Simon Rattle.  Like these other youthful musicians in Berlin, the members of The Colburn Orchestra create a distinct orchestral sound (a great one), and Maestro Gilad elicits sensitive and lyrical interpretations of the repertoire.  The New York Times recognizes his "strong imaginative programming," and "great sensitivity for details." So for Yarlung's first release with Sasha Cooke and our first release with The Colburn Orchestra, it is a dream come true that we were able to bring Sasha and Yehuda and this orchestra together for our concert at Ambassador Auditorium in Pasadena, and for this recording. Richard Colburn dreamed that one day his conservatory could produce an orchestra of this caliber, and it is especially rewarding to release this album on the hundredth anniversary of his birth. Thanks enormously to Richard Beene, Dean of Colburn Conservatory, and to President Sel Kardan, whose vision and generosity, along with Yehuda Gilad's, made this recording possible.


Alex Ross praised Sasha Cooke in Doctor Atomic at The Met for her "fresh, vital portrayal, bringing a luminous tone, a generously supported musical line, a keen sense of verbal nuance, and a flair for seduction."  She then made her European debut singing Kitty Oppenheimer in Doctor Atomic at English National Opera. In addition to her successes in the standard operatic and concert repertoire, Sasha has premiered works by Jack Beeson, William Bolcom, John Corigliano, Luigi Dallapiccola, John Musto and Augusta Read Thomas, among others. Sasha includes music by American composers in every recital program and next year celebrates some of her favorites on the opera stage as well. Next season Sasha performs Showboat at Houston Grand Opera, The Aspern Papers at Dallas Opera and the title role in the world premiere of Mark Adamo's The Gospel of Mary Magdalene at San Francisco Opera. Sasha has performed with the symphony orchestras of Chicago, Boston, San Francisco, Houston, Kansas City, Lyon, Los Angeles, Dallas, Cleveland, Detroit, Pittsburgh, Milwaukee, Denver, Aspen, San Diego, Baltimore and Hong Kong as well as the New York Philharmonic, Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra, Deutsches Symphonie-Orchester Berlin, Orpheus Chamber Orchestra, Saint Paul Chamber Orchestra and the Orchestra of St. Luke's. Conductors include Marin Alsop, Jirí Belohlávek, Alan Gilbert, Bernard Haitink, Manfred Honeck, Jeffrey Kahane, James Levine, Robert Spano, Leonard Slatkin, Pinchas Steinberg, Michael Stern, Michael Tilson Thomas, Edo de Waart and Jaap van Zweden.


Sasha earned degrees from Rice University and Juilliard and then joined the Lindemann Young Artist Development Program at the Met. During those years she performed The Composer in Strauss's Ariadne auf Naxos, Endimione in Cavalli's La Calisto at Juilliard, Charlotte in Massenet's Werther, Dorabella in Cosi fan tutte at Rice, Olga in Eugene Onegin at Opera Israel, Meg Page in Verdi's Falstaff at Seattle Opera and the Sandman in Hansel and Gretel at The Met (also released on DVD). In the same year that Sasha joined the Lindemann program, she also won the 2007 Young Concert Artists International Auditions. They presented her in her widely acclaimed New York and Washington debuts at Carnegie's Zankel Hall and at the Kennedy Center, as well as in concerts and master classes throughout the United States. Sasha has performed frequently with the New York Festival of Song at Merkin Concert Hall, and gave a duo recital with her husband, baritone Kelly Markgraf at Carnegie's Weill Recital Hall under the auspices of the Marilyn Horne Foundation. In 2010 Sasha won First Place and the American Prize in the José Iturbi International Music Competition, Top Prize in the Gerda Lissner Competition and the Kennedy Center's Marian Anderson Award. Especially important to Sasha were summers with Music Academy of the West, Aspen Music Festival, Music@Menlo, Ravinia Festival's Steans Institute, Wolf Trap Foundation, Marlboro Music Festival and Central City Opera's Young Artist Training Program.


Sasha was born in Riverside, California, but spent most of her childhood in College Station, Texas, where both of her parents are Professors of Russian at Texas A&M University. After beginning piano lessons at age four, Sasha took to choir and then viola. She now lives in Chicago with her husband Kelly and their one-and-a-half-year-old daughter Evelyn, who is already singing! Evelyn, called "Evi" for short, was named after Sasha's friend and mentor Eve Shapiro. Sasha remains modest about her success, preferring to humbly share the spotlight and thank many people who have loved and supported her, including, Deborah Birnbaum, Steve Blier, Kathleen Kaun, W. Stephen Smith, Diana Soviero, Pierre Vallet, Stephen Wadsworth, Dr. Robert White and Brian Zeger.


Maestro Yehuda Gilad's appearances on the podium have garnered critical acclaim in the United States, Asia and Europe, where he has conducted throughout Spain, Sweden, Germany, Finland, and France. Yehuda especially appreciates Sergiu Celibidache and Leonard Bernstein, who worked often with Yehuda and generously shared their immense musical gifts. In 1987 he became the first Israeli born conductor to perform in China and has since conducted often in Beijing and Shanghai. Additionally Yehuda served as Music Director for the Colonial Symphony of New Jersey from 1988 to 2003. Over the course of his career, he has collaborated with many leading musicians including Joshua Bell, Gil Shaham, Sarah Chang, Ann Marie McDermott, Pepe Romero, Joseph Kalichstein, Michelle DeYoung, Vladimir Feltsman, Misha Dichter, Jeannine Altmeyer and now Sasha Cooke. 


Yehuda serves not only as Music Director of The Colburn Orchestra, but he also teaches and runs the clarinet department at Colburn Conservatory. As a clarinetist and chamber musician, Yehuda presents master classes at Curtis, Kings College in Sweden, the Winter Festival in Spain, Toronto's Glenn Gould School at the Royal Conservatory of Music, Mannes College, the Manhattan School of Music, and Juilliard among others.  Yehuda also serves as Professor of Music at the Thornton School at USC. Yehuda moved to the United States in 1975 and continued his studies with Giora Feidman, Mitchell Lurie, and Herbert Zipper,  who served as Yehuda's principal conducting teacher. Yehuda performs regularly, and enjoys participating in many of the top music festivals across the country, including the Marlboro Music Festival and Santa Barbara's Music Academy of the West. He also founded the Yoav Chamber Ensemble, which performed at Carnegie's Weill Recital Hall and Merkin Hall in New York, and the Colburn Woodwind Chamber Players, which toured Germany, China and the United States. Yehuda has also played a major role in the founding of several notable music festivals.  From 1982 to 1993 he directed the Malibu Strawberry Creek Music Festival, hailed by the Los Angeles Times as "a summer festival in which inspired, enthusiastic performance and intelligent varied programming are the norm."


We recorded this album in Zipper Hall over three days following The Colburn Orchestra's performance with Sasha Cooke at Ambassador Auditorium in Pasadena on February 4th, 2012.  Sasha and Yehuda rehearsed with the orchestra for the week before the Saturday-night concert, and then we recorded on Sunday, Monday and Tuesday.  The concert finished late Saturday night.  After the concert, our valiant stage manager Victor Pineda and director of production Lisa Palley arranged crews throughout the night for the Zipper stage to be built out so that it was double in size. Chairs, stands, tables, percussion, harps and other equipment awaited us on time, and we began our setup Sunday morning at 5:30 AM.  Working at Colburn School is always a pleasure.  These people are my friends, and they are generous, competent and efficient. 


Yarlung has become known for using one stereo microphone or two mono microphones for our recordings. We "cheated" for this recording, using two coincident Neumann U-47s for 95% of the sound from Sasha and the orchestra and two AKG C-12s for a small amount of reinforcement for the percussion and winds. Both Neumann and AKG microphones were provided by our friend Jon Fisher at Gearworks Pro Audio.  We used Messenger microphone preamplifiers made and customized by Elliot Midwood. Elliot's tube power supplies alone are heavy enough to double as ballast in an ocean liner.  We summed into two tracks as usual, without using a mixing board, and went direct to tape, with analog record electronics made by Len Horowitz. Recording "live to tape" challenges the musicians to think and perform in long musical arcs rather than focusing on the perfection of details in individual measures. When editing is difficult or impossible, I believe the recording sounds much more like living music and becomes inherently more enjoyable for the listener.  It is a privilege to work with musicians which whom recording like this is possible. 

Bob Attiyeh, producer