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The newspaper of The Johns Hopkins University March 28, 2005 | Vol. 34 No. 27
Phyllis Brun-Julson to Perform for the Last Time at Peabody

Phyllis Bryn-Julson, who will continue to teach at Peabody, will wrap up her 40-year performing career in May with a farewell concert at Washington's Kennedy Center.

By Greg Rienzi
The Gazette

Peabody's Phyllis Bryn-Julson, regarded by many as the most authoritative vocal interpreter of 20th-century music, will give her final performance of Schoenberg's Pierrot Lunaire on Tuesday, March 29, in the institute's Friedberg Hall.

For Bryn-Julson, the event also will mark her second-to-last-ever performance, as she draws to a close a four-decades-long professional career that has brought her reams of praise and honors. She will officially give her farewell at a concert at Washington's Kennedy Center in May.

To honor her work and career, an exhibition titled "Phyllis Bryn-Julson, Reigning Diva of 20th-Century Music" is on view in the school's Arthur Friedheim Music Library and Bank of America Mews Gallery through April 30. The collection of documents and photos traces Bryn-Julson from her early days growing up in a small town in the Midwest right up to the present.

Bryn-Julson, 60, who will continue to teach at Peabody and chair its Voice Department, said that while she has enjoyed the ride, she knows it is time for her to step aside from the stage.

"I'm tired of travel and airplanes, and there are other things I want to do with my time," she said. "I don't want to be worried about weather all the time and what it might do to my voice. And it's always better to say farewell yourself, before someone else tells you to get off the stage."

Bryn-Julson with her husband, Donald Sutherland of the Organ Department.

Gifted with a lustrous voice, Bryn-Julson has appeared with every major European and North American symphony orchestra and performed in cities around the world. She also has more than 100 recordings and CDs to her credit, including a performance of Schoenberg's Erwartung that won the 1995 best opera Grammaphone Award.

She has premiered works of many 20th-century composers, including Messiaen, Goehr, Kurtag, Holliger, Tavener and Pierre Boulez, with whom she collaborated for much of her career. Many composers have written specifically for her, so captivated were they by her rare vocal abilities.

Born in North Dakota, Bryn-Julson began studying the piano at age 3. One of five children of Norwegian parents, she learned early on that she had a special talent, which she would later discover included a three-octave range and perfect pitch.

She moved to Minnesota at the age of 8 and later enrolled in Concordia College in Moorhead, Minn., studying piano, organ, voice and violin and performing with the renowned Concordia Choir. She later transferred to Syracuse University, studying voice with Helen Boatwright.

She was "discovered" by Gunther Schuller, who would attract her to the Tanglewood summer music festival, in which she participated from 1964 to 1967. In 1964, she made her professional debut, at the age of 19, at Carnegie Hall in New York.

She came to Peabody in 1984, joining her husband, Donald Sutherland, who is coordinator of the Organ Department. She previously had taught for 13 years at the University of Maryland, College Park.

Bryn-Julson's first performance of Pierrot Lunaire, at the Norton Simon Museum Theater in 2000, drew rave reviews. Alan Rich, music critic of Los Angeles Weekly, said that "Bryn-Julson didn't so much sing the music — with its dazzling, intricate intermix of speech, song and the infinity of gradations in between — as carry it into a whole new dimension."

Pierrot Lunaire is an eclectic melodrama consisting of poetry spoken and sung (in German) against an instrumental background. The seminal work, which premiered in Berlin in 1912, is the story of a man's journey from innocence to experience told through three characters, Pierrot, Brighhella and Columbine.

"It was a work that really opened the door to what a voice could do," Bryn-Julson said. "Its 21 songs include about as much experimentation as one could imagine. It's a masterpiece for voice that broke all the rules."

Bryn-Julson's two recordings of Pierrot have been highly praised, and she recent-ly finished a handbook for singers, co-authored with Paul Mathews, dealing with the theoretical and performance style of the work.

Pierrot Lunaire is scored for speaker, flute, clarinet and a trio. Collaborating with Bryn-Julson will be Marina Piccinini, flute; Charles Neidich, clarinet; Violaine Melancon, violin; Michael Kannen, cello; and Seth Knopp, piano. The event is part of Peabody's season-long focus called the Second Viennese School Series.

Tickets for the concert are $18 for general admission, $10 for senior citizens and $8 for students with ID. To order, call the Peabody Box Office at 410-659-8100, ext. 2.


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