7 Questions with Rachel Calloway

Internationally recognized mezzo-soprano Rachel Calloway has been praised by the New York Times for her “penetrating clarity” and “considerable depth of expression” as well as by Opera News for her “adept musicianship and dramatic flair.” She talks with us about growing up in a musical family, her jet-setting career, and the Bay Area connections that lead her to make her California Symphony debut in the 2019-2020 season opener ICONIC BEETHOVEN.

Calloway Then and Now

Left: Family picture of Calloway Right: Calloway, Jose Otayza

1. Can you tell us a little about yourself? Where did you grow up, and how did you choose this path to becoming a singer?

I grew up in the suburbs of Philadelphia in a musical family. My Mom and Dad both pursued Masters degrees in voice before becoming a music teacher and businessman and sometimes conductor respectively. My older brother Jason Calloway is a professional cellist, now living in Miami where he plays in the Amernet Quartet and teaches at Florida International University.

Music was a normalized and well supported pursuit in our house! I always loved to sing, (as you can see in the photo), dance, and act, and as my voice naturally developed and matured, classical singing and opera were the perfect fit. After 16 years in New York City, I now live in Columbia, South Carolina where my husband Ari Streisfeld, a violinist, and I both teach at the University of South Carolina.

2. You’ve performed around the world, including in Europe and at Carnegie Hall. What has been your most memorable performance to date?

Perhaps one of the most memorable was singing Alban Berg Der Wein with Ensemble Modern and Brad Lubman conducting. The scheduled singer was indisposed, and I flew to Germany on about 10 hours notice, while 6 months pregnant with my daughter, and learned the piece on the plane! It was a thrilling whirlwind.

3. You are a founding member of Shir Ami, an ensemble that’s dedicated to the preservation and performance of lost and unknown Jewish art music. Can you tell us more about that?

Yes there is a rich and vast repertoire of Jewish music which is unknown or rarely performed. Through this ensemble we find ways to share this repertoire with audiences in light of all the incredible and defying historical circumstances which surrounded its creation.

4. Your connection with Music Director Donato Cabrera came about through another connection with the California Symphony, former Young American Composer-in-Residence Mason Bates, and a performance at the Kennedy Center. Can you tell us more?

Yes – Donato and I performed a wonderful piece of Donnacha Dennehy’s at the Kennedy Center – we have many mutual connections through friends and colleagues, and this was a thrilling performance of a marvelous work. We were both eager to collaborate once more and have remained in touch waiting for the right time.

5. “La Centinela y la Paloma” was composed by Bay Area composer Gabriela Lena Frank and the piece was inspired by artist Frida Kahlo. We understand she adapted the piece specifically for you. Can you tell us about your connection with Ms. Frank and about the piece?

Gabriela is one of my dearest friends and collaborators. I premiered another piece of hers which I feel launched me professionally with the Los Angeles Philharmonic New Music Group. We had a meeting of the minds and spirits, alongside two other stellar female musicians – soprano Tony Arnold and conductor Joana Carneiro. Since then, we have relished many opportunities to collaborate and now even teach together, as my ensemble Duo Cortona (mezzo and violin) participated as a mentor group for her Gabriela Lena Frank Creative Academy of Music last season.

6. Just for fun… Live performance can be unpredictable. What’s the craziest thing that’s ever happened to you on stage?

Hmm – not in a live performance but I did FALL OFF the stage just two years ago in a dress rehearsal. And all I was doing was walking out to my car. That was, ahem, the craziest of all!

7. Any connections you have with California, or a message for our patrons, or anything else you’d like to share?

I am so looking forward to this performance!

Rachel Calloway performs La Centinela y la Paloma (The Keeper and the Dove) by Gabriela Lena Frank as well as Mahler’s Lieder (Songs) at the California Symphony’s season opener ICONIC BEETHOVEN September 14th and 15th at the Lesher Center for the Arts in Walnut Creek. Tickets are $42-$72 ($20 for students 25 and under), available online or through the Lesher Center Box Office at 925.934.7469.


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