Elegant, Evocative, Edgy — The New Face of Classical Music

If you think classical music is stuffy, boring, and dead, you’d be surprised to meet Chattanooga’s passionate new generation of classical musicians. These artists are breathing life and vitality into classical music performances across our city. Next time you see an advertisement for a symphony, opera, or choir, you might want to take a closer look.

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By Karen Wilson

Holly Mulcahy,
Concertmaster of Chattanooga
Symphony & Opera (CSO)

Mulcahy is a vibrant advocate for symphonic music. First introduced to classical music by her third grade public school music teacher, she was instantly entranced.

“The teacher played Rimsky-Korsakov’s ‘Scheherazade’ and my imagination was immediately captured by the beauty and strength of the violin. I wanted to be the strong hero princess of the story, and that has never left me,” says Mulcahy.

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Educated in her craft at the renowned Peabody Institute of the Johns Hopkins University, she has held multiple tenured positions in numerous symphonic orchestras and has performed on a variety of domestic and international tours.

When asked how she came to Chattanooga, she admits it was somewhat of a fluke. “I was living in Chicago and took the audition on a whim. The CSO was really not in my plans. After the audition here, I was offered a trial week – I came and fell in love with Chattanooga and the quality of the orchestra,” Mulcahy says.

She continues to split her time between Chattanooga and Chicago, taking advantage of her time in airports by inviting fellow travelers to attend CSO concerts. In addition, she has a thriving online presence. She authors a popular blog, “Neo Classical,” and regularly uses social media to recruit audience members and others to the cause of classical music. She is adamant that people see classical music as approachable.

“I like to invite the audience to join me after the concert and bring a friend,” she says. “Recently after a show, I used Twitter and Facebook to invite fans to join me at a downtown restaurant – close to 100 people showed up!”

Classical2Gloria Chien,
Associate Professor of Music at
Cleveland’s Lee University and Founder and
Artistic Director of String Theory Concert Series

Chien believes classical music is inspiring and empowering and she wants her audiences to immerse themselves in it with her. “I want to create an environment for the audience that draws them in,” Chien says. 

Born in Taiwan, she was introduced to music early as her violinist mother always had classical music in the house. She made her orchestral debut in the U.S. as a classical pianist at the age of 16 with the Boston Symphony Orchestra. She now holds a doctor of musical arts degree from the New England Conservatory of Music in Boston.

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As founder and artistic director of String Theory, a chamber music series in partnership with the Hunter Museum of American Art and Lee University, Chien wants to introduce classical music to new audiences. What began as a few concerts by Chien’s friends has grown to bring world-class musicians to Chattanooga for six concerts per year in the intimate setting of the Hunter Museum. In its sixth season, audiences average around 200 per concert.

“People come up and thank me, saying they never thought they would hear a certain piece of music live,” Chien says. “It was the right time to launch this in Chattanooga, to give back to my community.”

Another way Chien gives back is the newly established String Theory Youth Initiative. Eighteen young student artists from Chattanooga and Cleveland are involved in the project. “I want to encourage the next generation and develop ambassadors for classical music. I am so impressed by the young local musicians,” says Chien. The Youth Initiative includes open rehearsals, master classes with the artists, and one-on-one mentoring.

Chien herself is continuing to grow as she books artists, fundraises, and performs both in her String Theory concerts and in concert with the Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center. “The future is bright. We are so excited to continue to bring the highest quality of chamber music to Chattanooga. Anything is possible here.”

Classical3Tim Hinck,
Composer and 
Pianist, Founder
of Counterpoint Concert Series and
New Dischord Festival

Classically trained as a pianistand composer, Hinck has become a local symbol of multi-media art. He began learning classical violin and piano at the age of 5, but realized at age 13 that there was an exciting culture around new music.

“I experienced a live premiere of a violin concerto by contemporary composer John Adams. It struck me, even at that early age, that you didn’t have to be dead to be acknowledged as a classical composer,” says Hinck.

A graduate of Southern Adventist University and a Fulbright scholar who has spent time in Europe absorbing contemporary music and art, Hinck believes the future of the arts is in interdisciplinary collaboration and incorporating technology. He is interested in composing new works that incorporate theater, music, and movement with visual technology. Hinck credits his interest in creating and composing to an early piano teacher who urged him to compose original works as early as age 7.

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Hinck emphasizes opening a dialogue with his audience. “I feel strongly that art should not teach, instruct, preach, or have a moral message. I purposely try to put multiple messages in my work. I want to facilitate an intense conversation, but never take a side,” says Hinck

Another belief of Hinck’s concerns the future of the artist in society. “Those of us who are creating original work are faced with questions of relevancy, and our struggle becomes figuring out what to
say and how to find our voice,” he says. One of the ways Hinck hopes to do this is by using technology to enhance his concepts as society becomes more and more immersed in a technological world. He is currently working on a new opera/musical theater composition with a technology component.

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“Technology is here to stay. It is evolving very fast, and artists need to find ways to make it speak. It should be a polished part of the concept, allowing the freshness of an idea to be expressed,” Hinck says.

Cameron LaBarr,
Founding Artistic Director of the Tennessee Chamber ChorusClassical4

 Susan LaBarr,
Composer of Choral Music,
and Editor of Walton Music

This husband and wife duo is passionate about the relevance and future of choral music and believes in its capacity to bring communities together.

As founder of the Tennessee Chamber Chorus, an ensemble of professional singers from across the state, Cameron holds a doctoral degree in choral studies and has worked as a guest conductor nationally and internationally. Susan composes both original choral music and choral arrangements in addition to working in music publishing.

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Like her husband, Susan believes that choral music can be fresh and invigorating. “There is something incredible about creating for a group,” she says. One of the many groups she has done arrangements for is New York Polyphony, a Grammy-nominated vocal chamber ensemble. She has been commissioned by numerous other groups throughout the U.S. to both compose and arrange. Serving as composer in residence for the Tennessee Chamber Chorus, she works alongside her husband.

According to Cameron, the mission of the Tennessee Chamber Chorus is to foster choral art at the highest possible level, broadening the scope of choral music in Tennessee and the southeastern region. The chorus includes both local singers and those who travel from surrounding areas, drawing nearly 16 to 24 members, depending on the program.

Cameron is enthusiastic about taking on the reins of this new non-profit organization. “We were fortunate to find 50-60 founding partners, including Lee University, to come on as patrons during our first year. That speaks to the fact that choral music is alive and well in Tennessee,” he says.

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The chorus performs concerts in Chattanooga, Cleveland, and Knoxville in December and June each year. Responding to how many associate choral music with Sunday morning choirs, the LaBarrs are quick to point out that there is much more to this intricate art form. Both Cameron and Susan are interested in weaving themes throughout the concert programs in a way that brings the unexpected to the audience. Programs can include anything from traditional choral music like Medieval Chant and Britten’s “Ceremony of Carols” to the modern “MLK,” a tribute written by Bono of the Irish rock band U2.

Classical5Sara Snider Schone,
Founder and Artistic Director of Artisti Affamati

Sara Snider Schone is not your stereotypical opera diva – in fact, she’s not a diva at all. What diva would stage an opera at Engel Stadium? That’s exactly what Snider Schone did last year when she spearheaded an opera  performance at the baseball diamond based on the poem “Casey at the Bat.” Her organization, Artisti Affamati (which literally means ‘starving artists’), is a grassroots opera company in Chattanooga that has produced five operas.

Artisti Affamati, or “A2” as it is affectionately abbreviated, grew out of an event called “Divas and Drinks,” which was a local open mic night for opera singers. “A2 is dedicated to showing the community that opera is not dead – there are new operas being composed every day,” Snider Schone says. “The goal is to bring opera to life, not only in unexpected ways, but in some very unexpected places.”

Snider Schone has a degree from Southern Adventist University, where she studied bassoon. She’s played for musicals, chamber concerts, and solo recitals, and she’s used her musical talent on tours throughout Europe and South America. It wasn’t until she was graduating that she realized her true passion was singing, and thus began studying voice and auditioning in opera.

“To me, opera is an inspiration. It is a very complex combination of all theatrical elements – singers, musicians,
dancers, costume, and set design. Every time you sing a role, it can be different. There is room for growth and personality in interpreting the scene,” she says.

As a vocal soloist, Snider Schone has been featured across the region and has placed in opera competitions that include the Los Angeles International Liszt Competition and the Nico Castel International Master Singer Competition at Carnegie Hall in New York City.

Here in Chattanooga, events abound – A2’s “Divas and Drinks” continues to offer open mic opportunities for opera singers, its “Opera 101” series invites attendees to deconstruct the plots of major operas and sing the highlights, and plans
are underway to present Johann Strauss’ opera “Die Fledermaus” in April.

Snider Schone feels strongly invested in the community of local performers, local funders, and unexpected venues. “We want Chattanooga to be surprised and see that opera is for everyone,” she says.

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