The flutist and pianist will perform an adventurous classical program on February 21 through the online Wisconsin Sound Series.
Two adventurous concert musicians, flutist Dr. Iva Ugrčić and pianist Satoko Hayami, will team up on February 21 for the second installation of the Wisconsin Union Theater’s live-streamed Wisconsin Sound Series. Dr. Ugrčić earned her Doctorate of Musical Arts from UW-Madison’s Mead-Witter School of Music doctorate programs, where Hayami is currently a candidate for her DMA, and each has a rich background in modern and contemporary performance. In addition to work by French composer André Jolivet and German Romantic-era composer Carl Reinecke, the duo will be performing a contemporary piece by American composer Valerie Coleman. Coleman’s work, Fanmi Imen—which translates from Haitian Creole to “Human Family”—is a reference to Maya Angelou’s poem of the same name.
Both Ugrčić and Hayami performed Fanmi Imen this summer for the “Human Family” festival, which celebrates Black women in the arts—an offshoot of the LunART festival, which Ugrčić founded in 2018 to promote women composers and artists. The pair’s activities in classical music around town have also included playing in the modern-classical ensemble Sound Out Loud. (Full disclosure: I performed with Sound Out Loud on a couple of occasions while working on my undergraduate degree in music at UW-Madison.)
Ugrčić and Hayami spoke with me ahead of this weekend’s virtual performance. We discussed the pieces featured on the program, and delved into how these two concert musicians have shifted their priorities and taken on new projects in this last year during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Tone Madison: You both had long histories as musicians before coming to Madison. Can you share a bit of your backgrounds?
Dr. Iva Ugrčić: I’m originally from Belgrade, Serbia. So I did my undergraduate in Belgrade, went to Paris for my Master’s Degree, and then after moving around Europe a little bit and performing and working, I decided to do my doctorate. So I moved to Madison, received a fellowship, so that was a huge help for me moving from Europe to the US, and the reason I ended up in Madison. So I did my doctorate here, graduated in May of 2017, and that’s actually the time I started planning for LunART, so that first year [after graduating] was completely devoted to starting this festival to celebrate women’s creativity in the arts. I’ve [also] been performing with local and regional orchestras and touring and playing with chamber ensembles and with Satoko, doing a bunch of recitals and super fun projects.
Satoko Hayami: I’m from Japan. I grew up there and I came to the States in the middle of my college years in Tokyo. I was an exchange student in Wisconsin, at Beloit College, and then I discovered that in the States, music is part of the whole education. It’s not separated from general education, which is the case in Japan most of the time. It was a real shock to me, as I wanted to do music in my life in Japan, but I didn’t see any connection to the rest of the lives of people. But then I discovered that it’s different here and I got introduced to people who had funding, so I decided to quit my university in Tokyo and then transfer here just to get a little deeper into music. It’s amazing how much scholarship is available in the states. After [studying music in Florida, Cleveland, and] Houston, I worked for a year at a local music school and then came [to Madison] because I wanted to connect music to the rest of the society and I still didn’t know what I could do. I needed some more time and [pursuing a] Doctorate in Musical Arts was a way, and scholarship was available. So that’s why I came here!
Tone Madison: That’s interesting, the difference between how music was looked at where you grew up in Tokyo, versus here in the states.
Satoko Hayami: I had a lot to catch up on, I had never studied music theory or anything before studying in Florida.
Dr. Iva Ugrčić: It’s so interesting because my education is so focussed on solfege and analytics and Shenker and music theory from the age of 10. I had to study piano while I [studied] flute. Even in my highschool years, I had to have theory, Italian, acoustics in terms of physics—before undergrad, before you even decide to be a professional musician. And when I came here, I was like, “Oh anyone can come here and play flute, that’s not how things go! You need 15 years of training before you can jump in my studio.” It’s like free for all, come and play! It’s so weird how schools are different.
Tone Madison: How did y’all end up playing together? What were some of your initial collaborative projects?
Satoko Hayami: When I got here, Iva was a year ahead of me and she’s so recognizable, she’s tall and really cool with the flute. I thought, “Oh wow, she’s shining! I’ve got to approach her somehow.” And she was doing stuff that was cool, the music she was playing was not just pretty pieces, but super-difficult pieces. So I thought it would be so cool to get to know her and to play together. So the first thing that we did was [contemporary chamber music ensemble], Sound Out Loud, right?
Dr. Iva Ugrčić: I believe so. It’s blurred, but my distinct moment was I was preparing for my final DMA recital and I desperately wanted to play André Jolivet [who is featured on the Wisconsin Union Theater program], and no one would play it, even the pianist I worked with before. And then there’s Satoko—we had just met and were getting to know each other, starting this Sound Out Loud group together. The pianists I played with before, when I mentioned that piece they were like “nope, that’s a suicide piece.” No one wants to do it. So I remember exactly where Satoko and I met, and I approached her and was like, “Hey, can you just take a look at the music before you say no?” And she was like, “Hell yeah I’m going to do it!” It was that easy. She was so enthusiastic about playing this insane piece that’s so difficult for piano. You need a super solid pianist who can just nail it down but also has this passion for this type of music and energy. And Satoko was the perfect fit. And I think that was the moment where we clicked, even before the first rehearsal. And then we started playing and it was awesome, playing this crazy stuff.
Tone Madison: That’s awesome, you both saw each other as folks who were into pretty adventurous music! I remember hearing you play Jolivet—is that the same piece that’s on the program for the February 21 show?
Dr. Iva Ugrčić: Yeah, that’s the same piece. It’s still in our repertoire, we still love playing it, still are sweating doing it. We would play it and then put it aside and then come back to it and it would feel like…not like you never played it, but that it’s still as difficult as the first day.
Satoko Hayami: It’s a journey!
Tone Madison: It’s cool that you can circle back to that piece for this program. I’d love to hear more about some of the pieces on the program, like the Carl Reinecke Flute Sonata.
Satoko Hayami: The Reinecke is such a standout piece, commonly played in flute-piano repertoire. It’s beautiful, it’s based on the Undine myth and folklore. It’s out there, and I’ve known of it for a long time but we’ve never played it until this concert. It’s so backwards, I thought, that we started with Jolivet—which is like a culmination of every kind of repertoire—and then now after three or four years of playing together, we’re playing Reinicke, super standard repertoire. We were talking about playing Reinecke before the pandemic started, just as a kind of break…it’s such a romantic, standard piece, that might be comforting for us, because most of our repertoire is modern and contemporary. But with the length of the program that the Union Theater was requesting, this just matched well. It showcases both of the instruments very well.
Dr. Iva Ugrčić: Like Satoko said, it was all backwards. Usually people start with those smaller pieces like the Reinicke—in terms of ensemble, it’s very basic. But we also need to remember that we’re in the middle of a pandemic, so we want to cut our rehearsal time as much as possible. So what are the pieces that we want to play and explore, and that we can put together relatively easy? They booked us at the end of December, so we basically had four weeks to decide on a program to rehearse and record. So we put this program together in less than four weeks—we had already played these other two pieces, and then wanted something that would give us, like Satoko said, this comfort, this nice pretty feeling, while also giving us a challenge of having not ever played this piece together.
Tone Madison: How else, as concert musicians, has this pandemic changed your logistical and rehearsal planning? What are some other hurdles or adjustments—besides planning repertoire with minimal rehearsal times—that you both have had to make during the pandemic?
Dr. Iva Ugrčić: I can just say that considering Satoko and I have a very similar playing style and we know each other so well—we’ve been playing together for three or four years—I know that I can put together a program with her together in a week. We can put a brand-new program into two or three rehearsals, and are confident with how much we can do in a very limited amount of time. I would probably feel very differently if [a different pianist] was there, but I know what Satoko can do and I know how relaxed I can be… I think I could perform with her without ever rehearsing.
Satoko Hayami: I’m glad you feel that way!
Dr. Iva Ugrčić: Rehearsals are there to tighten things up, but we ran through Reinicke without stopping the first run through.
Satoko Hayami: That’s true, we’ve done that a lot in many situations before!
Tone Madison: That’s beautiful, just having that trust—trusting yourself and the other as a good musician, but also having that connection with your collaborator. It’s an unbeatable feeling.
Satoko Hayami: It would be nice to have a lot of rehearsal time, just because it’s fun, but yeah I think it’s common during the pandemic to adjust your schedules because you never know when you have a COVID scare, so you have to be flexible.
Tone Madison: What are some of the other pandemic specific projects that y’all have gotten involved in during this time? Iva, I’m reminded of the Lou Harrison piece you and percussionist Dave Alcorn recorded using household objects.
Dr. Iva Ugrčić: Dave knows this [Lou Harrison] Concerto very well and loves it, and we really wanted to record it in our house. So he started recording and I thought, because it’s originally for violin, I could do something on flute. We recorded up both of the movements but just didn’t have time to edit them, so hopefully they will be coming out sometime! Since the pandemic started, in order to keep in shape and keep myself in a playing mindset, but also going really back to basics—because, like Satoko said, we’ve been playing these crazy pieces, and contemporary music—I really wanted to go back to playing simple stuff. I started recording and playing various Etude books, so every Sunday, since March, I’ll record a new Etude and I post it on my YouTube channel. It feels nice, playing these romantic etudes and thinking again about technique and sound and projection, and trills—Romantic trills, not extended technique! So that was my way of keeping me in shape without any restrictions or deadlines or stress and excitement that comes with a performance, but to do by myself in the studio.
Tone Madison: And it sounds like something you might not have done, at least immediately, had it not been the pandemic. I’m sure you had other programs to prepare.
Dr. Iva Ugrčić: I had not played etudes since…I think in undergrad!
Tone Madison: Sounds like a fun challenge!
Satoko Hayami: because of the pandemic, my schedule had opened up like never before. I was feeling very overwhelmed before the pandemic, so for [the first] three weeks I was really in a good place. Like wow, I have all this time to explore! All the things that I was stressed about were canceled, so I don’t have anything to practice! I had this space and enjoyed that. I was alone, and as a collaborative pianist, I was used to playing with other people all the time. So I looked at all the messengers that I had gotten from all my composer friends in these past five years or so. Some of them sent me their sample compositions that they thought I might like. So I started playing those pieces, recording myself, and sent them to [the composers] for their review. So that was really nice actually, I got reconnected with some of the friends that I didn’t keep in touch with for a while. And they’re all over the place! One is in Argentina, one is in New Zealand. And it’s just kind of reconnecting in a way that is not geographically not bound.
Tone Madison: And you would have maybe not reconnected with them under usual circumstances, at least not at that time.
Satoko Hayami: Yeah, because I would be so busy locally!
Tone Madison: I’d love to get back to the rest of the upcoming Union Theater program. Can you tell me about the Valerie Coleman piece, Fanmi Imen?
Dr. Iva Ugrčić: Well, in celebration of Black History Month—we knew our concert would be live streaming in February—we really wanted to have an African American composer represented. We had just performed for the first time, Valerie Coleman’s piece during the Human Family Festival. We love the piece and thought we should totally do it again because we want that to be part of our standard repertoire—something to share with a wider audience when we get back to live performances. And then also, Valerie was our composer-in-residence for LunART in 2019. That piece is inspired by Maya Angelou’s “Human Family” poem, that kind of triggered the entire festival. There is a lot of meaning and beautiful message in that piece. It has so many melodic materials for so many different parts of the world. Middle Eastern music, African traditions, classical French flute music all kind of mixed together and represents the beautiful diversity of the human race and thought that in this time, especially during this month, we need to bring that message to the front. And it tied in really beautifully with the other pieces in the program because both the Reinecke and Jolivet are based on myth and fairy tales, and mythology had been the way for communities to connect to each other for generations.
Satoko Hayami: Reinicke’s piece is basically [connected to] the Undine fairy tale. Undine is a water spirit that marries a knight to gain immortality. She’s very seductive, attractive, sometimes playful. I think it’s a commonly known fairy tale, but it was very famous and popular when Reinicke was alive, and so many artists were inspired by that novella. It’s a love story, but she’s going to kill you at the end, so it’s really haunting and beautiful, but then dangerous! It’s so confusing and very attractive.
Dr. Iva Ugrčić: And then Jolivet—he was a French composer, and was inspired by and intrigued by Greek mythology, rituals, and Paganism. That was kind of his whole vibe and he loved Flute because it was really…the flute has this association with the origins of music in general, flute being one of the oldest instruments with voice and drums. This particular piece, Chant de Linos, in Greek mythology that means “songs for the dead.” So there are various incantations and lamentation songs that are interrupted by cries and screams and kind of ritual dance. It really reminds you of Paganism, of old funeral rituals. It’s very dark! I can relate in a way to this, because in Serbia, [a funeral] is a huge ritual. The dead body is first in the house for a couple of days for everyone to see. You have this final march where people carry the coffin of the dead person throughout the city for a last walk and so everyone in the community can say their last goodbye to the person. And then you go to a cemetery and there are actually women that cry at the cemetery—that’s their job. They have these traditional songs that they would be screaming and crying and singing and creating this whole paganic ritual around leaving the dead, bringing the dead back to the earth. So I can relate to that [experience]. You can hear [in the piece] this sad lamentation and then suddenly, big chords and crazy movement in both parts that are really like screams and like cries—an uncontrollable energy coming from a person, mourning a lost one.
Tone Madison: Other than this performance coming up, what else is on your radar in for the near future?
Satoko Hayami: I’m excited about the Women Composers Association in Japan. I started to reach out to them, and it’s just so exciting to see that happening in Japan, because it is so conservative in my opinion. I’m starting to talk to them and figure out what I can do to help.
Tone Madison: So is that organization just starting, or are you just now getting involved with it?
Satoko Hayami: I think they just got started a few years ago and it’s still very small. But the fact that something is starting, I never thought it would.
Tone Madison: I’ll be excited to hear what your involvement ends up looking like, however that gets connected back to Madison.
Satoko Hayami: It would be so cool to connect the association with LunART.
Tone Madison: And Iva, what else do you have on your radar?
Dr. Iva Ugrčić: I am most excited about going back to Serbia! It’s not really work related, but I’m going to use the opportunity to spend some time with my parents and my sister and baby nephew. That’s the number one reason I’m going, but I’m also really hoping to branch LunART and start something in Belgrade to find some women who would be interested. We don’t have as much support from Serbia right now but I am determined!
Tone Madison: Iva, you’ve been working on setting up this Youth Art Celebration through LunART. Can you tell me a bit about that?
Dr. Iva Ugrčić: We planned on opening this virtual exhibition, which would be like this flip book online for the month of March, for Women’s History Month. And we will actually have an exhibition at the UW Children’s Hospital in August through October. Kids’ art is so honest and so unique and so full of love and we just wanted to bring that to places that needed it the most, such as hospitals, hospices, retirement homes, especially in this time of total isolation.
Tone Madison: I’ve seen some of the programming online—different conversations, lectures with various folks. Would you mind elaborating on any LunART online event?
Dr. Iva Ugrčić: Well just to start, for LunART when the pandemic hit, we were brainstorming ways that we could stay connected to our audiences but also stay connected to our artists because the big mission for me, the big part is that LunART is creating a platform where women can meet each other and share their voices. We have a monthly series where every last Friday of the month at noon we meet for 45 minutes and we have a discussion and guest artist. So upcoming we will have a flute duo called Flutronix, scheduled for Friday, February 26 at noon through Facebook, YouTube, and our website. Then in March we’ll have Seroff Brass ensemble, an all women brass ensemble. It’s fun—brass is usually pretty male dominated. This season, I’m really trying to bring women from outside Madison, from all over the country and world. However, there is the problem of funding resources. Everything is volunteer-based, so it’s hard to think so big while you are really trying to build a basis. And I think that for what I’m trying to do, this process will be slower, but the impact will be bigger.