Young area singers at Ravinia
Laura Strickling (from left), Carolyn Jeanette Stein, Leo Radosavljevic, Nathaniel Olson. | Photo courtesy of Ravinia Festival
Songs by American Composers
Steans Music Institute Bennett Gordon Hall, Ravinia Festival, Lake Cook and Green Bay roads, Highland Park
8 p.m. Monday, Aug. 13
Tickets can be ordered at www.ravinia.org or (847) 266-5100
Updated: August 8, 2012 4:04PM
Four young area singers will perform songs by American composers Monday evening in the Ravinia Festival’s Bennett Gordon Hall.
Baritone Nathaniel Olson of Vernon Hills, bass-baritone Leo Radosavljevic of Wilmette, mezzo-soprano Carolyn Jeanette Stein of Northbrook and soprano Laura Strickling of Chicago are among 15 young people who were chosen to take part in this summer’s Steans Institute for Young Artists, a six-week program that concludes Aug. 14.
They were interviewed at the Steans Institute last weekend by Pioneer Press.
Carolyn Jeanette Stein
Carolyn Jeanette Stein holds a master of music degree in vocal performance from the New England Conservatory and it was there that she participated in a master class with the great American soprano Renee Fleming.
“She communicates so clearly,” she said, “and when I was finished singing, she told me that I gave her goose bumps. It is one of the highlights of my life.”
Her audition song for the Steans program was “All That Gold” from Gian Carlo Menotti’s “Amahl and the Night Visitors.” While at Steans, she is concentrating on Mahler’s “Kindertotenleider” and Schumann’s Frauen-Liebe undo Leben.”
“Those songs are a good jumping off point for a young singer,” she said. “We have to be diverse these days. I sang the Baroque repertoire in Boston. We need to be ready to take on whatever our vocal type will allow.”
And the aspiring artists must do more than just stand and sing. “We have to dance, act, and know how to move,” she added. To that end this year she also is enrolled in the Chicago Opera Theater’s Young Artist Program. She is also a member of the Lyric Opera Chorus.
At Glenbrook North High School she took part in school productions of “West Side Story,” and “Evita.”
“My biggest influence and the reason I got into the New England Conservatory was because of my studies at the Music Institute of Chicago,” she said. “I started when I was 11 years old and my teacher was Barbara Ann Martin. Frank Little was the director then and he told me who to study with at the conservatory. Both he and Barbara saw my potential.”
Nathaniel Olson played the role of Eddie Carbone in William Bolcom’s opera “A View from the Bridge” at the Indiana University Opera Theater in 2005. His blond hair was dyed black. “Then they put powder on it to make it look as if it were turning gray,” he said, laughing.
The young baritone was never on stage in any musicals while attending Vernon Hills High School. “I was always in the pit, playing trumpet with the band,” he explained.
But as time went on, he realized that he could be a singer. “It became clear to me that my voice was in the driver’s seat,” he said.
He attended the Wheaton College Conservatory of Music before going to Indiana’s Jacobs School of Music, where he studies with Tim Noble.
Olson comes from a medical family. His father is a doctor and his mother works at a hospital. “I prepared for my Steans audition by giving recitals at Condell,” he said. “I had very appreciative audiences.”
The trumpet provided his entry into the ensembles at Midwest Young Artists in Highwood. “I began when I was 13 years old,” he recalled. “My Mom would wait in the van for me, reading a book.”
Quite by chance, he sang something during a rehearsal and MYA founder and director Allan Dennis heard him. “He immediately arranged a scholarship for me in the MYA singing program,” he said, with obvious pride.
On Monday’s program Olson plans to sing Aaron Copland’s “Old American Songs.” “I am a history buff,” he said, “so when I sing ‘floatin’ down the river, the Ohio’ I know what that means.”
Since this is an election year, he is especially looking forward to singing Copland’s “The Dodger.” “That was written when Grover Cleveland was running against (James G.) Blaine in 1884,” the baritone explained, noting that politics doesn’t seem to have changed much since then.
Leo Radosavljevic has already made his Carnegie Hall debut as both a singer and a pianist. He sang lieder of Franz Liszt and with two other pianists, played music for six hands by Rachmaninoff.
He is a 2007 graduate of New Trier, but he was never in any musicals. Instead, he concentrated on playing the piano. But this bass-baritone is also a composer. So for the recital Monday he will will present some of his own songs, as well as songs by Charles Ives.
“My compositions are highly influenced by 20th century French Impressionist composers, such as Debussy and Messiaen, “ he said. “The bright vibrant colors in Messiaen are fascinating to me.
“My songs are not as harmonically dense as his,” he added, “but you can definitely hear the influence. I think of it rather like a Turner painting.”
He writes music with text in mind. “I like the 19th century British poets,” he said, “Tennyson, Keats, Robert Browning, and Elizabeth Barrett Browning.” He also mentioned the Irish poet W. B. Yeats as a favorite.
“I choose the text and then sleep on it for a while,” he explained. “Then I go to the piano and lay down a vocal line on the words. It helps that I am a singer.”
Radosavljevic was raised in a musical family. His father is George Radosavljevic, a professional pianist on the music faculty at De Paul University in Chicago.
So it is no surprise that he received his earliest training as a member of the Lyric Opera of Chicago children’s chorus from age 8 to 12 years of age.
In 2009, Radosavljevic performed Mozart arias with the Lincolnwood Chamber Orchestra in Chicago, as well as the baritone solo in Faure’s Requiem with the Northwest Choral Society.
The young man will complete his master’s studies at The Juilliard School next year.
“We do more than just study at Steans,” he said. “There is a great spirit here. Sometimes Nathaniel and I get together and I accompany him on the piano while he plays his trumpet.”
Laura Strickling has also performed at Carnegie Hall, at the Kennedy Center and, among others, the Afghanistan National Institute of Music.
“I was in Afghanistan because my husband is a law professor at the American University in Kabul,” she said. “I’ve been to that country three times.”
The soprano grew up in Portage Park and attended Lane Tech High School. She played percussion in the marching band there, then received her college degree from the Moody Bible Institute. She left Chicago to attend the Peabody Conservatory in Baltimore, Maryland.
She credits the Chicago Children’s Choir with helping her decide to become a singer. “It was under the direction of Bill Chin then and I was 17 when I joined,” she explained. “We sang all over the place. We toured Great Britain, and we sang in Kurt Weill’s ‘Street Scene’ at the Lyric Opera.”
Her husband had been in the chorus since he was about seven years old. “We met there,” she said, smiling.
Her career was interrupted as she put him through law school and later she traveled with him to Morocco, where they both studied the Arabic language. “It was such an opportunity that I couldn’t resist it,” she admitted.
At her husband’s urging, upon return from Morocco, she began entering one competition after another, winning awards in almost a dozen. “I worked for about nine months getting myself back,” she said, “and then I just did it.”
To her surprise, the first competition she entered, she emerged the winner. “It was a huge encouragement for me,” she declared. “Not long after that I won a national competition.”
She is an alumna of the Berkshire Opera Company resident artist program, and her operatic roles have included Cleopatra, Mimi, Dinorah, Elvira, Josephine, Mabel, Belinda, Gretel, Micaëla, and Pamina.
On Monday evening she will sing several numbers from from Tom Cipullo’s songbook “How to Get Heat without Fire.”
“He’s from New York, and this will be the first time his songs have been performed at Ravinia,” she said, adding “I fell pretty good about that.”