Brian Asawa Memorial

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A memorial for the late world renowned countertenor, Brian Asawa will be held at The Music Center’s Dorothy Chandler Pavilion at 4pm on Sunday, May 22, 2016. Please use the Music Center Banquet Hall entrance (next to Kendall’s Brasserie) at street level on Grand Ave and take the elevator to the 5th Floor Salon.

For parking use The Music Center Garage. Enter via southbound traffic, turning right into the garage from Grand Ave between First Street and Temple Street. The Event Parking Rate is $9 upon entry.

In lieu of flowers, please donate to:

The Merola Opera Program Brian Asawa Fund: http://merola.org/home and click on the direct link or please call (415) 936-2311.

And / Or

The L.A. Opera: http://www.laopera.org/support_us/Donate-to-LA-Opera/ and note your donation is “in memory of Brian Asawa”.

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Countertenor Brings Baroque Classics to the Bay Area

"I wanted to create a costume that fit into the style and silhouette of the period without making it look like another copy of an emperor's robe." - Master Costume Designer Matthew Nash on creating Brian Asawa's period costume for San Francisco Renaissance Voices' Boar's Head Gala on January 3rd and 4th, 2015.  Photo credit: Matthew Nash

“I wanted to create a costume that fit into the style and silhouette of the period without making it look like another copy of an emperor’s robe.” – Master Costume Designer Matthew Nash on creating Brian Asawa’s period costume for San Francisco Renaissance Voices’ Boar’s Head Gala on January 3rd and 4th, 2015. Photo credit: Matthew Nash

San Francisco –  Countertenor Brian Asawa returns to the Bay Area in San Francisco Renaissance Voices’ 5th Annual Boar’s Head Gala on January 3rd and 4th. In the role of Emperor Kangxi, Asawa will perform duets with soprano solo artists Susan Gundunas and Alice N. Ko.  The evening’s storyline is driven by a meeting between the respective courts of Emperor Kangxi and Queen Elizabeth I.

“I’m thrilled that Brian will join our most popular and festive production of the season, and look forward to a live performance of some of the wonderful Spirits of the Air duets,” said Katherine McKee, SFRV Music Director. “I recently had the honor of attending Brian’s Spirits of the Air live interview sponsored by the Merola Opera Program, so I know first-hand what an incredible treat this will be for our audiences.” 

San Francisco Renaissance Voices’ Executive Director J. Jeff Badger concurs.

“Our Boar’s Head Festival is bigger every year, but this year should be our best yet, due in no small part to Brian’s participation. In addition to the solos that Brian will perform, he’ll duet with our Queen Elizabeth (soprano Susan Gundunas) and Lady Alice, soprano Alice N. Ko, who first introduced us to Brian. Our audiences will also be treated to music from period instruments, lion dancers, and select pieces sung by our stellar choristers.”

While at the recent Spirits of the Air event in San Francisco, Asawa reconnected with master costume designer Matthew Nash. In a quick turn of events, Nash, who made Asawa’s Die Fledermaus costume at San Franicsco Opera in the 1990s, was engaged by SFRV to create Asawa’s Emperor Kangxi costume. “I researched photos of the Qing dynasty, finding most references to the Imperial Robes of the Forbidden City exhibit that’s been on display in many places,” said Nash. “I wanted to create a costume that fit into the style and silhouette of the period without making it look like another copy of an emperor’s robe. I took elements from several sources and came up with a garment that is flattering and comfortable, while keeping the visual impact of an imperial robe.”

For his part, Asawa is excited with how quickly his involvement in the San Francisco Renaissance Voices’ Gala came together, not to mention feeling thankful to the creative forces working together  to make the event materialize.

“It’s amazing how everything came together as it did. Working with J. Jeff and Kathy has already proven to be a fun and meaningful collaboration and I’m really looking forward to working with Susan (Gundunas), Alice (Ko) and the entire SFRV Company. Having Matthew (Nash) as my costume designer is a dream come true. I can’t wait to bring Emperor Kangxi to life while wearing Matthew’s beautiful creation.”

Brian Asawa performs at the San Francisco Renaissance Voices’ 5th Annual Boar’s Head Winter Gala on January 3rd and 4th, 2015. San Francisco and Menlo Park, CA., respectively.   

Information and Tickets

 
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A Countertenor Passes on his Experience

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Countertenor Brian Asawa working with Orange County School of the Arts Classical Voice Conservatory students on November 17, 2014. Photo credit: Cheryl Walsh of Alt-Senior Photography.

Los Angeles, CA – Brian Asawa has had a busy autumn. According to the much-acclaimed countertenor, he’s “exploring new things” as his career moves beyond the two-decade mark.

However, this doesn’t mean he’s been quiet. Not by a long shot.

In early October, he performed with San Francisco Conservatory’s Kevin Korth as a guest soloist in LIEDER ALIVE’s Im Abendrot, a recital of lieder by Schubert and Strauss. “Spirits of the Air”, his new recording of Baroque classics with mezzo-soprano Diana Tash, was released on October 14th and lauded at a San Francisco Merola Opera Program showcase and live interview with Tash on November 7th. This was followed by a well-received Orange County School of the Arts Master Class in Santa Ana, CA on November 17th.

In addition to promotion for the new album, in-person and social media networking, and rigorous, self-imposed vocal training, Asawa also works with his own classical voice students in Los Angeles. His January appears to be filling out nicely, as well. He’s scheduled to sing at San Francisco Renaissance Voices’ Boar’s Head Winter Gala early in the month, followed by a January 29th performance at the Oxford Handbook of Voice Studies Gala Concert and Conference at alma mater UCLA’s College of Musicology. This event will feature Asawa and Diamanda Galas, amongst others.

Asawa revels in the variety.

“One of the most fulfilling aspects of being properly (vocally) trained is feeling technically secure. Through many years of teaching (by sopranos Jane Randolph, Virginia Fox, and UCLA’s Kari Windingstad), I’m able to draw from three, rich sources of wisdom and vocal technique mastery, which are integral to building my own sense of balance and technical security,” he says. In spite of being busy, or perhaps because of it, he adds: “With a healthy 22 year career and a teaching studio that I began in 2008, I feel a great sense of satisfaction when I’m able to pass along the technical and stylistic training that’s been imparted to me over the years. There’s a wonderful sense of empowerment when doing this work.”

Asawa is sympathetic when it comes to finding the right teacher.  However, he doesn’t believe it’s about finding the perfect teacher.  “It’s a fantasy to think that there can only be one great teacher. The ‘there can only be one’ maxim isn’t true. We’ve all seen world class voices compromised by mediocre training, but also mediocre voices backed by solid training.” In Asawa’s view, it’s on the singer to make a choice, in addition to all of it being 50% mental. “If you don’t have the confidence, if you’re so nervous that you can’t even access the breath, if you’re not able to pay attention to what your teacher is saying and then execute, it doesn’t matter how great your teacher might be. They won’t be able to help you.”

Changing gears, Asawa speaks to his recent Orange County School of the Arts Master Class experience. “It was such a thrill. I love being able to combine solid vocal technique in the form of breath and vowel, with a mastery of the Baroque style, and a strong sense of all other Classical genres through my years of operatic productions and concerts. Being able to boast a successful career in not only standard countertenor repertoire, but also the Classical, Romantic and Contemporary repertoires, is, well, wonderful. It allows me to offer comprehensive training to all vocal categories, especially in the master class setting. At OCSA, it was such an honor to impart some of the things I’ve been fortunate enough to gain over the years; the musicianship and finer details such as phrasing, diction, and coaching in foreign languages, keeping a focus on vocal health. I hope to repeat these kinds of experiences as often as possible.”

Learn more about Orange County School of the Arts Classical Voice Conservatory here.

Brian Asawa performs at the San Francisco Renaissance Voices’ Annual Boar’s Head Winter Gala on January 3rd and 4th, 2015.  San Francisco and Menlo Park, CA. Information and Tickets.

Brian Asawa performs at the Oxford Handbook of Voice Studies Gala Concert and Conference on January 29, 2015 at 7:30PM. Schoenberg Hall, UCLA.  Los Angeles, CA.

 

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INTERVIEW: Brian Asawa and Diana Tash ready to fly with ‘Spirits of the Air’

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Los Angeles - Brian Asawa and Diana Tash are ready for their FaceTime.

It’s a Sunday afternoon and both appear relaxed yet excited to talk about their new album, Spirits of the Air, released September 30th via Amazon and LMLMusic.com and iTunes on October 14th. A 50/50 collaboration between longtime friends and colleagues, Spirits of the Air is the result of 5 years of hard work, conceptualizing, pivoting and recording.

Although Asawa and Tash first worked together in a 1995 LA Opera production of Xerxes, it wasn’t until a 2009 concert collaboration that the Spirits of the Air ball really started rolling. Asawa explains: “I was doing a recital at the West LA United Methodist Church and Diana came on board to do a couple of sets of songs. When we started working on ‘Pur Ti Miro’, we immediately realized what a beautiful blend (of our voices) it was.  We started with baroque, so Diana and I came up with this idea of doing an all-baroque concert. Of course, it was an obvious choice for me because of my vocal category.  I didn’t choose it, it chose me,” he says with an ominous, comic tone.  Tash continues: “In 2011, we started with one continuo group, doing a kickstarter campaign in order to bring out a particular cellist from abroad. Sadly, the first continuo group didn’t work out. We arranged a second  group, and they were excellent but our schedules didn’t gel. They were very busy and it became difficult to coordinate. So (Tash laughs), we arrived at a third continuo group, with whom we recorded Spirits of the Air and thankfully it’s gelled in every way.  Musically, everything. They’ve become the ‘A-Team’.  Awesome as people, fun to work with, amusing, super smart and so very talented.”  Asawa concurs: “Yes, our third group was actually recommended by our previous continuo musicians (Ian Pritchard and Leif Woodward) as ‘young, up and coming’ types. At the time, Fred (Frédéric Rosselet, cellist) was doing his doctorate at USC while Arthur (Omura on harpsichord) is a graduate of the USC Early Music program. Once our group solidified, this is when things really started to happen for us.”

Speaking to ‘Spirits of the Air’, what are your individual strengths? Combined strengths? How did they work together to produce a solid effort?

Brian: “Purity of tone is very important. I believe we each succeeded in finding our own pure sound in this recording. With a harpsichord, baroque cello and two voices, it’s critical to have this purity because all four of us (in the continuo) are performing different functions. Diana, of course, is taking the top line and I’m taking the lower line and sometimes we overlap…the baroque cello is the grounding factor (in the quartet) and the harpsichord is essentially our orchestra, so the purity of both of our voices is key to the success of this recording. Adaptability and the inherent gift of pure sound are necessary for this type of baroque recording to work.”

Diana: ”When compared to myself, Brian has sung more baroque repertoire. I’ve sung in two baroque operas, Xerxes and Orlando.  So, Brian’s sense of style and ‘know-how’ were so important. He took me back to baroque school. It was hard work but delightful.”

Brian (to Diana): “Your musicianship, your skill and the fact that you’re such a wonderful technician and have such a strong sense of musicality counts whether it’s Rossini, which is one of your fortes or baroque.”

Diana: “Brian’s right. You need to have the adaptability to sing this type of music. You must be able to sing straight tone and you need to apply it, and then be able to blend and to match. That’s not easy, but it was easy to match Brian because he has such a specific voice. It was never ‘hmmm, wonder what he’s going to do here’. I’d say (Brian’s voice is) predictable, but in the very best way. We had an intuitive back and forth. And many times Brian would say ‘try this here’. For example, I sing a lot of Mozart, which has some good things that apply to baroque and other things that don’t. Brian would suggest new things to me, which was very helpful.”

Brian: “For us, the matching of vowels was so important. Two voices is more difficult than one. We had to match the vowels, the syllables, the words, the affect, and obviously the pitch. This is the finely crafted art of matching (each other vocally). Baroque music has evolved substantially since its resurgence in the 60s and 70s.  It’s such a different style now. Now, baroque singers on the circuit today often have more operatic and dramatic voices than their predecessors. The early music superstars often had one beautiful sound but now you hear singers like Bartoli, Anne-Sophie von Otter, and Joyce Didonato. These are singers who have loads of character and probably a lot more grit and depth of tone than previous early music singers with straight tone. This was still very beautiful but the style and the evolving  trend has lent itself to people enjoying the sound of singers with a broader palette of colors and richer sound. It’s all a balancing act.”

Diana: “Lorraine Hunt was in Xerxes with us at LA Opera, in the title role. For me, she was the most amazing singer I ever heard live…one of the most organic singers I’ve ever watched in my life. I so think she’s responsible for Handel’s pieces getting life breathed back into them and why Handel is performed more today than in previous decades.”

Brian: “Lorraine paved the way for other mezzo-sopranos and their success.”

Diana: ”Brian’s probably one of the top ten countertenors in the world. And (countertenors) weren’t falling off trees in the 1990s (laughing)! When I was singing Orlando with Sacramento Opera, I mentioned to Randall Scotting, the countertenor in the title role, that I was just talking to Brian on the phone. He stopped in his tracks saying, ‘That’s who I constantly listened to in school!’ I started laughing and all I could say was ‘yes, I believe it!’ Brian’s the guy that young, aspiring countertenors were and are listening to…and often want to be like.”

Brian: ”I just don’t know what to say about that (theatrically blotting his brow with a handkerchief while making a Zoolander-face and then grinning, Diana laughing). “I have to say that my (countertenor) forefathers also paved the way for us. Their approach to vocal production was less focused on an operatic sound, opting for a more intimate vocal production.”

Bios for all ‘Spirits of the Air’ composers are included in the liner notes. For the layman listener, could is this an introduction to baroque? Is SOTA a sort of baroque 101? Why or why not?

Together: “Yes and no.”

Brian: “’Pur Ti Miro’, the Purcell duets, a few of the Monteverdi solos which Diana sings so beautifully, some of my Scarlatti solos…those would be considered top 10 or top 20 early music 101 pieces but then you have the more complex Handel pieces, which have a bit more nail biting and are…”

Diana (interjecting): “Scary!”

Brian (laughing): “…rollercoaster rides through the baroque compositional style where all the lines are intermeshing with each other and overlapping. Diana goes under while I go above and then reversed while the cello is just banging crazy basso continuo lines while the harpsichord plunks away. So, some of Spirits will be easily accessible for non-baroque aficionados. The album is a combination, a juxtaposition, if you will (smiling, with an intentionally over-dramatic tone).”

 WATCH: The ‘Spirits of the Air’ Promotional Film by Filmmaker John Putch at PutchFilms.com.   

How did Lee Lessack at LML Music come into the mix?

Diana: “In 2009, I recorded and released a solo album with Lee and LML. I went with Lee because I appreciated his business sense. LML’s distribution is also so vast. Lee’s a great businessman whom I greatly respect, but he’s also a singer who understands both sides of the business equation. He came to me highly recommended, so it was the easy solution for us and Spirits. We knew that LML Music wasn’t a classical label, per se, and his artists are mostly from Broadway, cabaret, jazz and other genres. However, he already had one classical pianist on his roster and I was his first classical singer. Now (smiling and hugging Brian) he’s got two!”

‘Spirits of the Air’ is the shiny, new thing in your respective, professional tool belts. What opportunities do you envision?

Diana: ”More gigs (laughing)! At this point, as an ensemble, we’re a well-oiled machine. Let’s take it on the road. We’re good to go.”

Brian: ”Yes, now that we’ve performed the entire CD and additional pieces in Guadalajara (this past May), I think we’re ready to go forward with more touring. Hopefully the release will lead to more opportunities as a group and as soloists. We’re looking forward to Spirits of the Air being a springboard for us.”

Diana: “As we do more Spirits performances, it will continue to get better. Singing this music with Brian in Guadalajara was incredible. Everything was just great…the people, the audiences…all so perfect. Anne Delécole Silberling did an excellent job. She made sure everything happened when it was supposed to happen. We’d love to work with her again in Mexico. So, back to the question. I could see us performing baroque music with the LA Chamber Orchestra as well as working with various baroque orchestras.”

Brian: Agreed. We’d love to work with high-caliber baroque orchestras, such as The Philharmonia Baroque Orchestra and The American Bach Soloists. We envision singing not only the Spirits of the Air repertoire, but also operatic arias which require full baroque orchestras. Of course, it’s all very exciting to paint broad strokes, to set new goals and to aim high. We’re both ready to fly.

Diana Tash and Brian Asawa were interviewed via FaceTime on September 28, 2014 by James Mowdy of b|spoke – a brand consultancy.

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The ‘Spirits of the Air’ CD is available NOW on Amazon.com and LMLMusic.com.

‘Spirits of the Air’ iTunes Preview and Pre-order (digital download released October 14th, 2014).

On October 13, 2014, Brian and Diana will be interviewed live on KXLU FM 88.9 by host Bruce Teter from 7pm until 9pm. Both artists will discuss the recording process and “Spirits of the Air” repertoire with Bruce Teter, who will broadcast excerpts from the CD. 

On Friday, November 7th, San Francisco Opera’s Merola Opera Program hosts a ‘Spirits of the Air’ CD Release Celebration for Diana Tash and Merola Alum Brian Asawa at Salle Pianos, San Francisco. Details and tickets here.

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Brian Asawa’s starring role in filmmaker’s “Maps of Emotion”

BrianVenicePhotoHeaderLos Angeles - German filmmaker Lutz Gregor describes his Maps of Emotion 2 – Venezia as an “opera-movie-dance-installation.” Filmed and recorded in 2012, the Cologne-based filmmaker and dance film producer marries three dramatically different projections into one film. Choreographers and dancers Sara Simeoni and Karl Schriener roam Venice in the left and right fames, becoming, per Gregor, “living, breathing organisms pushed by their desires, energies and erotic fantasies.”  These frames are connected by the central projection, character and voice of countertenor Brian Asawa, who sings two classical pieces and a contemporary composition by James Reynolds in a triptych of vignettes filmed at the spectacular Palazzo Merati.

Via email, Gregor says, “Brian should have an apartment with a balcony in Venice and give performances each night! After the (Teatro La) Fenice!” He continues: “I’m so very grateful. I personally appreciated Brian’s openness and passion for an experimental approach to opera in media and through my film…this is not often the case with opera singers of his calibre, importance and reputation.” Gregor added that he hopes “more attention through social media” will bring his unique film to the forefront of the global arts community.

WATCH: Brian Asawa performs “Annabelle Lee” (James Reynolds, Fortuna, 2011) in this excerpt from Lutz Gregor’s film “Maps of Emotion 2 – Venezia” (2012). 

By telephone from Los Angeles, Asawa recalled how his collaboration with Gregor came together: “Lutz is a longtime lover of the countertenor voice, and, I’m so happy to say, my voice and artistry in particular. Introductions were initially made in 2009 through my friend, dancer Karl Schreiner, with whom I’d worked in a Hamburg State Opera production. Karl got in touch with me, mentioning that his filmmaker friend (Gregor) wanted to collaborate. I was intrigued. At the time, I was in Brussels rehearsing and performing as Prince Go-Go in Le Grand Macabre, so we met there, which ended up being great fun (laughs). He actually filmed me dancing to Shannon at my rented flat, as well as warming up and preparing for the (Le Grand Macabre) dress. From that point forward, our friendship was established…he later invited me to do a film with him in Venice in 2012 with the studio taping in Cologne later that year. This became Maps of Emotion 2 – Venezia.”  Asawa continues: “As life is life, Maps of Emotion happened during a difficult period for my voice, but I adore Lutz’s film for its great originality, innovation and the transformation of household chores into something so beautifully watchable, with no small credit to his skills as a filmmaker and the beautiful (dancers) Sara and Karl.”

Maps of Emotion 2 – Venezia premiered on January 10, 2013 at Le Festival Temps d’Images at Tanzhaus NRW in Düsseldorf, Germany. Maps of Emotion 2 – Venezia may be viewed in its entirety here, which features the aforementioned Reynolds aria as well as the following pieces:  Alto Giove (Porpora, Polifermo, 1735); Dido’s Lament (Purcell, Dido & Aeneas, 1685).

WATCH: Brian Asawa tours Palazzo Merati with art historian Rosella Mamoli in an excerpt from Lutz Gregor’s documentary “VERBORGENES VENEDIG” (Hidden Venice), which premiered January 19, 2013 on Arte Television Germany. “Hidden Venice” may be viewed in its entirety here

 

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