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February 20 , 2006
A harmonious friendship
BY Nancy Condon
Friends and collaborators Teresa Hopkin and Deborah Thoreson have been performing together since meeting in 1992, when Hopkin first joined the University’s music faculty as a vocal instructor. Thoreson, a pianist and director of undergraduate and performance studies, had been at Emory since 1978.
“The rest is history,” said Hopkin, now director of vocal studies. “Our friendship is based on great love and respect for each other—as people first and musicians second—so we seem to just think the same after so much time together.”
The pair, who have recorded Messiaen’s Poems pour mi, Book I on the ACA Digital label, will give a free joint recital in the Schwartz Center on Feb. 25 at 8 p.m.
Teresa Hopkin: Soprano
After leaving in 1996 to join the voice faculty at Columbus State University, Hopkin returned to the Emory last year.
“Emory brought me back to Emory,” she said. “I loved before, and love once again, the liberal arts approach to the college years. I love the intelligence and curiosity of the students. I love the intellectual and creative stimulation by my colleagues, both in the music department and in other areas of study.
“I also must mention my great friendship with Deborah Thoreson, who is closer than a sister and with whom I work with much joy,” Hopkin continued. “How could I ask for more?”
Known throughout the Southeast for her operatic performances, Hopkin cites another genre as an early influence. “I grew up listening more to big band singers, like Frank Sinatra, and really felt more at home in that genre,” she said. “But I studied music education as an undergraduate, where I was exposed to art song and opera.”
Hopkin’s critically acclaimed Atlanta Opera performances have included Mimi in La Bohème, the title role in The Merry Widow, the Countess in Le Nozze di Figaro and Liu in Turandot.
But the motivation for Hopkin’s upcoming recital with Thoreson is her students. “They came to me in September with amazing trust, and I want them to see me holding myself to the same high standards I have for them,” she said.
As director of vocal studies, Hopkin is responsible for the non-choral singing aspects of undergraduate and graduate vocal music majors. “That’s a big job,” she said. “I’m fortunate to have two affiliate artists who shoulder a good bit of the work and are really terrific colleagues.”
Primarily responsible for studio work with the students, Hopkin also directs the vocal curriculum, making logistical decisions and guest artist recommendations, and advising vocal music majors.
Hopkin has been singing since she was very young and also studied piano for 10 years. “Much of my musicianship came from that,” she said. “I still dream of cabaret singing at some point.”
She may not have sung cabaret, but Hopkin’s career highlights include singing with the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra under the late Robert Shaw and former associate conductor (now Atlanta Opera director) William Fred Scott. “That was an enormous thrill,” says Hopkin, “and then Fred cast me in four leading roles with Atlanta Opera, offering me a wonderful opportunity.”
In addition, fellow music faculty member Steve Everett composed a group of songs for her, which she has performed several times, “all to very grateful audiences.”
“[That] pushed me in the direction of really contemporary music; premiering contemporary vocal works with the Emory Chamber Music Society has been both challenging and satisfying,” she said. “I’m really lucky to have had opportunities to work with great musicians in such a variety of styles, and to have been given so much support by people whom I really respect.”
Deborah Thoreson: Pianist
As director of undergraduate studies and performance studies, Thoreson also has a full schedule. In addition to advising undergraduate music majors and minors, she works with other faculty to determine course offerings and submission of new courses, and serves as honors coordinator for the music department.
Unlike other non-artistic disciplines, the music department includes performance study, and Thoreson meets with performance faculty to address related issues, supervising the applied music program (which includes 120 undergraduate music majors and 40 artist affiliates) and coordinating undergraduate student-performance requirements.
“Accompanists tend to be among the most organized musicians in the field,” Thoreson said of handling her busy schedule. “However, even though one schedules time for practice and rehearsal, performing music requires a mental focus that is difficult to achieve in our busy lives.”
As for working with Hopkin, Thoreson said she does not know if their friendship makes it easier or harder to collaborate. “But it is definitely more fun,” she said. “Rehearsals are a bit of work and a bit of play.”
As an accompanist, Thoreson said it is important to enjoy responding to words. “The world of solo piano repertoire and other chamber music does not include text,” she said. “When playing for a singer, the words determine all the musical choices one makes. The pianist’s role is often one of sound imagery; the pianist is responsible for ‘ringing as a bell,’ ‘jumping as a fish,’ ‘rocking the cradle’ and ‘surging as the ocean’—
to name a few examples.
Thoreson found her way to the piano at an early age, starting lessons at age 6. “My parents and grandparents were amateur musicians,” she said. “We regularly played music together as a family when I was growing up.
Indeed, Thoreson even married into music—her husband, Thomas Thoreson, is a bassist with the Atlanta Symphony.
An active performer in a variety of musical settings, including chamber music performances, choral presentations, instrumental and vocal recitals, Thoreson’s duets with flutist Carl Hall have been broadcast on National Public Radio. She has performed in England and throughout the United States with the Emory Concert Choir and toured as pianist with The Atlanta Boy Choir to England, Wales and Russia.
Two performers, several languages
Hopkin and Thoreson’s joint recital includes arias by Handel, Samuel Barber’s “Hermit Songs,” Hugo Wolf songs from the “Italienisches Liederbuch” and a group of songs by Duparc, Debussy, Poulenc and Liszt, with selections in English, Italian, French and German.
“The repertoire is almost all music I’ve performed before and just can’t seem to let go,” Hopkin said. “It’s my favorite stuff, and the few new songs are ones I’ve been wanting to sing. It’s such a joy to be able to go back to old material and find something new. That’s the mark of a great composer, in my mind—there’s always more to learn, more to discover, more to communicate.”
The two will have the opportunity to perform the first group of this recital (the Handel arias) a second time on March 4 for the Ancient Song Conference, hosted by Department of Classics at the Carlos Museum. Other future performances include Hopkin’s turn next fall with colleague William Ransom, Mary Emerson Professor of Piano and director of piano studies, and a premier of an Everett composition with the Emory Symphony Orchestra. On March 5 at 4 p.m., Thoreson will perform two of the “Goldberg Variations” at the Schwartz Center (a concert presented by the Emory Chamber Music Society of Atlanta that features the entire Emory piano, organ and harpsichord faculty, the Emory Concert Choir, and a string trio dividing up the “Variations”).
For more information about Hopkin and Thoreson’s joint recital, or any other upcoming performance, call 404-727-5050 or visit www.arts.emory.edu.