Beloved by opera fans the world over, renowned mezzo-soprano Frederica von Stade has proved to be one of the most significant musicians of our time. For more than four decades, von Stade has stood in the spotlight of the globe’s most prestigious halls. She has received endless critical acclaim, made dozens of recordings and garnered accolades from presidents and peers alike. Additionally, she has served as a mentor to Laurie Rubin, whom we also spotlight this month. 21CM was honored to have Frederica von Stade sit down with director Mark Rabideau and discuss her wide-ranging thoughts on music education, the shifting future of opera companies and her advice for young musicians.
On von Stade’s work with young musicians…
I’ve been working with this group called YMCO, Young Musicians Choral Orchestra. I’m just so impressed with them. Our kids come from families that can’t participate if they earn over $25,000 a year. The purpose of it is to get [the kids] into college. We’ve had enormous success. We have five in college and three or four that are out – they’re working. Every child has to sing and every child has to play an instrument. It’s just amazing what these kids can do. And their families can’t believe what they can do.
I [also] started a music program at a little Catholic school in Oakland that serves mainly poorer families, and we have a violin program there that’s flourishing. These kids don’t know it’s hard yet. They’re just fearless, so they go into it sort of doing what they’re told, and it gives them stature, discipline, cooperation. It teaches so many things, music. And I believe that in the United States, there are so many disenfranchised people living with such incredibly difficult circumstances. It seems terribly unfair. And music is what I know, and it offers them so much beyond just the pleasure of making music. So I believe in it with all my heart.
On the changing nature of musical productions…
The arts for this century [will be] different. We’re not going to have the big halls. We’re not going to always have the Metropolitan Opera there, sustaining the arts. It’s going to be more and more of a struggle. And what I see the young companies doing is accommodating this fact by putting performances in smaller halls. I have colleagues who have started their own series featuring different ways of doing music. I think people are ripe for it. … One of our best companies in San Francisco is called West Edge Opera. They’ve done operas in an abandoned train station in Oakland that is covered in graffiti, in the worst part of Oakland – [they] had to put on three performances. It sold out.
I’m a huge fan of Punch Brothers. They’re all first-class musicians. Chris Thile is unbelievable! And they have invented for themselves a platform of music, but it wasn’t that way at the beginning. I see a lot of young singers doing that and I keep telling them, just because you don’t have a job and someone hasn’t hired you, start your own thing! Throw in Schubert with Beyoncé.
On the importance of artistic intention…
For young artists, it’s intention, intention, intention. What do you mean? Yes, you have a great voice. You can sing anything. But what do you mean? And it doesn’t necessarily mean you have to go back and read Mallarmé and everything; it just means, what does it mean to you? Put it in your own words. And then, chances are, you’ll get it over to somebody.