Musical Families in the Studio

(top left to right) Oriana Hawley, Ilaria Hawley (bottom left to right) Conor McMillen, Val Lasser, soprano


Simone Dinnerstein: Hello, I'm Simone Dinnerstein. Tonight, we are going to hear musicians who are the children of musicians and even the grandchildren of musicians all here on the Young Artist Showcase.


Simone Dinnerstein: Tonight on the Young Artist Showcase, which has been generously underwritten since 1978 by the Harold W. McGraw Jr. Family Foundation. We are exploring musical lineages. I'm so happy to have the pianist, Blair McMillan, the violinist, Rebecca Fischer, and the composer Philip Lasser here in the studio today with their talented musical children. Becca, let's start with you. Welcome.

Rebecca Fischer: Thank you so much. Great to be here.

Simone Dinnerstein: I think that it's interesting for you because you grew up in a family of musicians, not just your parents, but uncles, aunts, grandmother, right?

Rebecca Fischer: So many musicians. [laughs]

Simone Dinnerstein: So many musicians. When you had your own children and discovered that they were musical, I'm curious about how you decided to do things differently.

Rebecca Fischer: Well, I'm married to an artist and poet but he's not a musician and so I was a little worried that I would get a little overly involved, and so we made decisions. He would be a little bit more involved in the children's musical lives, going to more lessons and things like that and so I stayed a little bit, perhaps more removed than I might have. Although, as you'll hear, this evening, we do really play music together and enjoy celebrating musical life together no matter what.

Simone Dinnerstein: Ilaria is now 15 and is both a very accomplished composer and flutist. They are the recipient of a 2019 ASCAP Morton Gould Young Composer Award and a composer's now first Commissions prize. As a flutist, they have performed at the Kitchen, LPR and the Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center and were the recipient of the Young Flutist Award and a New York Flute Club Award. In their free time, they enjoy going to metal and punk shows. Now let's listen to a little bit of Ilaria, playing one of their own compositions, Desert Mists.

[MUSIC - Ilaria Hawley: Desert Mist]

Simone Dinnerstein: Wow. That was an incredibly evocative piece of music by our guest, Ilaria Hawley, who composed it. It's called Desert Mist. Ilaria, welcome to the show.

Ilaria Hawley: Hi. Thank you for having me.

Simone Dinnerstein: Ilaria, your mother, Rebecca Fischer, a violinist and a writer. Your father, Anthony Hawley is a poet and an artist. When you were growing up and young and little as opposed to your mature age of 15 at the moment, did you realize how unusual and special an environment you were in?

Ilaria Hawley: You know what, it took me a while. I know that when Oriana was growing up as someone, when she was like in preschool, one of her friends asked, "Oh, what do your parents do?" Then she was like, "Oh, my mom's in a string quartet. What string quartet is your mom in?"

Simone Dinnerstein: [laughs]

Ilaria Hawley: I think that it felt very normal for me growing up, but as I've gotten older, I just got to realize how special that is.

Simone Dinnerstein: Yes. We're going to go on and hear a piece of music that you wrote a few years ago. I understand it's like a third of your lifetime ago, right? You were 10 when you wrote it? Which must seem odd for you to play a piece that you wrote when you were 10. This piece of music that you're going to play next is called Spectrum, right?

Ilaria Hawley: Yes.

Simone Dinnerstein: You wrote this for your family, right?

Ilaria Hawley: I wrote this for Oriana.

Simone Dinnerstein: Your big sister?

Ilaria Hawley: Yes, my big sister for her 15th birthday, I think.

Simone Dinnerstein: Well, I can't wait to hear it. Let's welcome on to the WQXR Studio, Oriana Hawley, and Rebecca Fischer to join Ilaria Hawley in this performance of Spectrum.

[MUSIC - Hawley: Spectrum - Ilaria Hawley, flute; Oriana Hawley, viola; Rebecca Fischer, violin]

Simone Dinnerstein: We just listened to Spectrum by Ilaria Hawley which they composed at the age of 10, 5 years ago. This was a piece of music that won the ASCAP Morton Gould Award and we heard it played here in WQXR studios by Ilaria Hawley on flute, along with their sister Oriana Hawley on viola, and their mother Rebecca Fischer on violin. Oriana, welcome.

Oriana Hawley: Thank you. Thank you so much.

Simone Dinnerstein: I just want to tell the audience a little bit more you, Oriana. Oriana Hawley is currently in the third year of her undergraduate degree at the Columbia University Juilliard Exchange Program, where she majors in viola performance and music.

Oriana Hawley: Yes.

Simone Dinnerstein: Oriana, I have to say, it's a little bit déjà vu that you're doing this because I remember when your mom did the same thing, right?

Oriana Hawley: Yes.

Simone Dinnerstein: She was also Columbia-Juilliard. Your dad went to Columbia.

Oriana Hawley: Yes.

Simone Dinnerstein: How is this a rebellious resistance by you?

Oriana Hawley: Well, I initially said I would never do this program. Then I was accepted into Columbia College after my third year of high school. I went to just Columbia for a year hoping--

Simone Dinnerstein: Which is extraordinary in and of itself.

Oriana Hawley: Thank you. I went to just Columbia for a year hoping to do creative writing, maybe film studies. Then during that time, I realized how much I loved music. I started doing some jazz singing at Columbia, studying that, studying improvisation. Along with that I realized that I wanted to make my viola performance as good as I could make it as well alongside that. I applied for Juilliard and was accepted into the exchange program.

Simone Dinnerstein: You're going to play, The First Movement of Brahms Sonata in Eb flat for viola and piano. You're bringing in a pianist to play with you. It's funny. You're bringing in Jarod Yap who is a colleague of yours at Juilliard, I understand but also has the family connection.

Oriana Hawley: Yes.

Simone Dinnerstein: Right, because he studied with your grandmother-

Oriana Hawley: Yes. At Rice.

Simone Dinnerstein: -at Rice. There you go. Can't get away from the Fischers.

Oriana Hawley: No.

Simone Dinnerstein: All right. Let's welcome you into the studio-

Oriana Hawley: Thank you

Simone Dinnerstein: -to play the Brahms.

[MUSIC - Brahms: First Movement of Sonata in Eb for Viola and Piano, Op 120 No 2 - Oriana Hawley, viola; Jarod Yap, piano]

Simone Dinnerstein: Oriana, that was a gorgeous performance of-

Oriana Hawley: Thank you so much.

Simone Dinnerstein: -the First Movement of Brahms's Sonata in Eb for Viola and Piano, and also, what incredibly sensitive playing by the pianist Jarod Yap. Really beautiful, two of you. The next piece of music that you're going to play is Lisa Bielawa's Insomnia Etude: 4 am. Well, let's listen to it now.

[MUSIC - Bielawa: Insomnia Etude: 4 am - Oriana Hawley, viola]

Simone Dinnerstein: You just heard Oriana Hawley playing here in WQXR studio Lisa Bielawa's Insomnia Etude: 4 am. Thank you so much, Oriana, that was really beautiful. It's time for a quick break now, then I'll be back with more performances by these musical heirs here on The McGraw Family's Young Artists Showcase.

Welcome back. Tonight we are listening to musicians whose parents are musicians. Our next guest is the Violinist Conor McMillen, whose dad is the excellent pianist Blair McMillen. Blair and I went to Juilliard years ago, and now we are colleagues at the Mannes School of Music. I've been watching Conor's development as a violinist on Blair's Instagram, and I'm so excited to have him and Blair on the program. Welcome.

Conor McMillen: Thank you.

Blair McMillen: Thank you.

Simone Dinnerstein: Conor, I know that you're a sophomore at St. Anne's School, which I'm familiar with because I went to high school there too. You're also studying jazz violin with Ben Sutton at the Manhattan School of Music precollege. Are you only studying jazz violin, or do you study classical violin there as well?

Conor McMillen: What I do at the Manhattan School of Music is entirely jazz violin. I'll occasionally have lessons with my former classical teacher, Krzysztof Kuznik, but it's mostly jazz.

Simone Dinnerstein: What first got you interested in jazz violin?

Conor McMillen: Definitely the freedom that the genre gives you when it comes to improvisation and expressing yourself. I feel like I wasn't finding that as much in classical music, and so that's what initially drew me to jazz. That and the collaborative aspect of the genre.

Simone Dinnerstein: That's nice. Blair, did you grew up playing jazz too?

Blair McMillen: I did, although I didn't start as young as Conor. My first experiences with improvisation were just listening to rock and pop on the radio and trying to pick out tunes and trying to improvise over them. I didn't really start studying jazz formally until my junior year of high school.

Simone Dinnerstein: Okay.

Blair McMillen: Then I took it for a couple of years and then have just dabbled in it ever since.

Simone Dinnerstein: Well, we're going to start by hearing the two of you play some Brahms, which is definitely not jazz, but I have always thought that Brahms's harmonic language lead to jazz. The two of you are going to play the FAE, Sonatensatz Sonata following it with After You’ve Gone by Turner Layton. Looking forward to it.

[MUSIC - Brahms: FAE, Sonatensatz - Conor McMillen, violin; Blair McMillen, piano] [MUSIC - Turner Layton: After You’ve Gone - Conor McMillen, violin; Blair McMillen, piano]

Simone Dinnerstein: Wonderful. That was After You’ve Gone by Turner Layton, an improvisation on that by Conor McMillen on violin with his dad Blair McMillen on piano. Before that, Brahms' F-A-E Sonatensatz Sonata.

Our final guest Val Lasser is a composer and soprano and the child of the composer Philip Lasser. Philip is one of my close friends and has written beautiful music for me over the years. The language of Bach and the pedagogical tradition of Nadia Boulanger is all part of his DNA.

Over the years, I've seen Val become more and more interested in singing, but I've only recently become acquainted with their compositions as well. They're currently in their senior year at Binghamton University, pursuing a BM in Vocal Performance and a BA in Composition. Val, there are aspects of your composition that do remind me of your dad's, but then there are others that seem very different. I hear the influence of contemporary genres in your music. I'm curious about how you feel about your own music and where it separates from your father and where it seems to cross paths with his music.

Val Lasser: I think when I write something, I listen back to what I've written and then I realize what influenced it. Sometimes it's being close to my father and listening to a lot of Bach and working on harmony, and then I suddenly have written a Bach style choral, or listening to a lot of more contemporary music, I listen to a lot of rap and pop and indie stuff. I have a lot of inspiration from certain artists that translate through my music, depending on what kind of artist I'm feeling at the moment, so a lot of different influences from everywhere. I love listening to just a bunch of different genres, and they cycle randomly.

Simone Dinnerstein: What do you think, Philip? It's interesting for you to have a child who is also composing. Do you find yourself having influenced Val in certain ways, or how do you feel about that?

Philip Lasser: There is a tremendous genetic link between what I do and what they do. They have opened my ears to a wide variety of music that I wouldn't have known. I appreciate enormously the eclecticism of their choice and their taste, but there's something very organic in their writing. I note the same sensitivity to detail, emotional power, even in very, very simple accompaniments, very simple melodic line. Val is really able to touch upon something that's so important to me, which is the heart.

Simone Dinnerstein: How wonderful. You're going to be doing two songs in a row to begin with, and the first song is written by you, Val, and the second song is written by Philip. Let's listen To Regard This Weather With Claim and Wonder, and the second, Yes Is a Pleasant Country.

[MUSIC - Val Lasser: To Regard This Weather With Claim and Wonder - Val Lasser, soprano; Philip Lasser, piano]

[MUSIC - Philip Lasser: Yes Is a Pleasant Country - Val Lasser, soprano; Philip Lasser, piano]

Simone Dinnerstein: Those were two beautiful songs that we just heard. The first one was by composer Val Lasser. It is called To Regard This Weather With Claim and Wonder. The second was by Val Lasser's father, Philip Lasser, and is called Yes Is a Pleasant Country. We heard Val Lasser singing soprano and Philip Lasser playing piano for that with Simone Dinnerstein page turning. I was struck, Val, by a little detail in your song. The very last note in the piano part, you add, I think it's an F?

Val Lasser: I think so, yes.

Simone Dinnerstein: It was just a little detail that did very much remind me of things I've played in your father's music, so that was really nice. It was like a tiny one note tribute, and then in Philip's song, the last note has this-

Val Lasser: It's also-- [crosstalk]

Simone Dinnerstein: -one little F sharp. [laughs]

Philip Lasser: Leave it to Simone to notice that.


Simone Dinnerstein: Tell us about the next piece that you're going to share with us, For What.

Val Lasser: Yes. This one is a short song that I want to release with an EP called A Little Something where each song is kind of a little vignette of just a little moment in time. This one is really just being tired of life kind of hitting you like a bus, if I may say that. It's just kind of that ugh, feeling. Why am I doing this? What's the point? For what?

Simone Dinnerstein: For what?

Val Lasser: I repeat it a lot in the song, and it's a lot of wailing. A lot of my songs that aren't on the classical side are a lot of wailing and me just doing a lot of harmonies on top of myself, and there's a really meditative guitar under the vocals that's quite low and unchanging. It's just a short little song that I really like.

Simone Dinnerstein: Wonderful. Let's listen.

[MUSIC - Val Lasser: For What - Val Lasser, soprano; Philip Lasser, piano]

Simone Dinnerstein: That was For What by composer and singer Val Lasser. To end the program, we're going to bring back Philip Lasser to the piano to play with you for this final song that you composed called Death in Green.

[MUSIC - Val Lasser: Death in Green - Val Lasser, soprano; Philip Lasser, piano]

Simone Dinnerstein: What a beautiful song. That was Death in Green by composer Val Lasser, performed here by Val Lasser with their father, Phillip Lasser, at the piano. What a wonderful time it was talking with the two of you and hearing your music.

Val Lasser: Thank you so much.

Phillip Lasser: It was so wonderful to talk with you. Thank you so much.

Simone Dinnerstein: You've been listening to young musicians who are the children of musicians. Thank you to Ilaria and Oriana Hawley and their mom, Rebecca Fischer, to Conor McMillen and his dad, Blair McMillen, and to Val Lasser and their dad, Phillip Lasser. That completes this week's edition of the McGraw family's Young Artists Showcase, which is generously underwritten on WQXR by The Harold W. McGraw, Jr. Family Foundation. Here's Terry McGraw with more.

Terry McGraw: The arts don't know what borders are, and talent doesn't know what borders are. The world is rich, and as we tap into these young people wherever they are, wherever they reside, and the arts is such a beautiful way to get involved. It is so much fun being a part of Young Artists Showcase and being able to present these people wherever they are.

Simone Dinnerstein: Thank you, Terry. Special thanks to our WQXR program producers Laura Boyman and Max Fine. Our session engineer is George Wellington, and our generous program underwriter is The Harold W. McGraw, Jr. Family Foundation. I'm Simone Dinnerstein. Good night.

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