David Becker

Tag: David Becker

Retiring Faculty Becker, Blackwell and Ternes Honored at June 10 Lawrence University Commencement

David Becker’s “fans” said their goodbye May 26 by way of an extended standing ovation after Lawrence University’s director of orchestral studies conducted the Lawrence Symphony Orchestra in concert for the final time.

The college says its farewell to the talented maestro Sunday, June 10 at its 163rd commencement in the form of an honorary degree.

Becker, along with Associate Professor of Chemistry Mary Blackwell and Professor of German Hans Ternes — and their collective 78 years of teaching experience — will be recognized as retiring faculty with professor emeritus status and presented honorary master of arts degrees, ad eundem, as part of the graduation ceremonies that begin at 10:30 a.m. on the Main Hall green. Blackwell and Ternes will be honored in absentia.

Director of Orchestral Studies David Becker

Becker spent 11 years conducting the Lawrence Symphony Orchestra in two separate stints — early in his career (1976-80) and late, returning in 2005 after 21 years as director of orchestras and professor of the graduate orchestral conducting program at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.

He credits distinguished faculty colleagues, outstanding students and a supportive administration for luring him back to Lawrence.

“I believe in the quality and integrity of this institution and I sincerely have been proud to be part of it for a second time around,” said Becker, who was recognized with Lawrence’s Award for Excellence in Teaching at the college’s 2010 commencement.

Like all exceptional teachers, Becker left a profound imprint on his students.

“Professor Becker has been the core of my Lawrence experience for the past five years,” said graduating senior Louis Steptoe, a violinist in the orchestra. “I have known him to be a man of surpassing integrity, respect, empathy and a true and tireless servant of the orchestra. Over the years I have seen his teaching continue to adapt, yet his commitment to his students and their professional education has never wavered.”

A “gift to Lawrence”

Fred Sturm ’73, director of jazz studies, hailed Becker as “a rare combination of true gentleman, loyal friend, committed colleague, inspirational mentor and world class musician.”

“The performances and projects I’ve shared with him stand among my most cherished Lawrence memories,” said Sturm. “Dave’s a giant — in both physical stature and artistry — and he’s been a great gift to Lawrence.”

Fellow conductor Andy Mast, who directs the Lawrence Wind Ensemble and Symphonic Band, said Becker’s “professional excellence, pedagogical mastery and personal graciousness have made Lawrence University a better place to teach and make music.”

While he may be retiring from Lawrence, his baton won’t be collecting dust anytime soon. His immediate future includes a bevy of guest conducting gigs, among them the Madison Symphony Orchestra, the NAfME All-National Honors Orchestra at the Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C., the University of Wisconsin music clinic honors orchestra, as well as all-state honors orchestras in South Carolina and New York.

A ChemLinks Coalition Pioneer

Associate Professor of Chemistry Mary Blackwell

Blackwell came to Lawrence in 1989 with a strong background in physical and biophysical chemistry, having previously worked for the U.S. Department of Agriculture at the University of Illinois and as U.S. National Institutes of Health Fellow at London’s Imperial College.

One of the immediate impacts upon her arrival was a significant step up in research activity, supported in part by several grants she received for important new instruments.

“Mary provided productive research opportunities for a number of our best students, several of whom have gone on to productive careers of their own,” said professor emeritus of chemistry Jerrold Lokensgard, a colleague of Blackwell’s her entire Lawrence career. “Over the years, Mary has contributed in important ways to the development of the chemistry curriculum, especially in our introductory courses and in physical chemistry. In at least half her years here, she has taught the course through which our best-prepared students have entered the chemistry curriculum.”

Blackwell was an original member of the ChemLinks Coalition team, a $2.7 million multi-institutional initiative funded by the National Science Foundation. The program sought to revolutionize the teaching of chemistry by creating modules that featured student-centered active and collaborative classroom activities and inquiry-based laboratory and media projects, rather than traditional lectures.

Her impact extended beyond the chemistry department through her involvement in the development of one of Lawrence’s earliest environmental studies courses and most recently, she developed and introduced a very well-received introductory course focused on chemistry and art.

She was recognized with Lawrence’s Freshman Studies Teaching Award for 2000-01, which cited her for “the excitement, enthusiasm and intellectual curiosity” she brings to the course.

Weaving Language with Music

Ternes, who traces his roots to a family of refugees from a German-speaking enclave in Romania, taught German at Lawrence for 44 years. His scholarly interests extended to languages other than German, including Italian, Portuguese and Spanish, as well as the literature and culture of the ethnic German communities that were under stress in the post-World War II era, leading to a course entitled “The History of the Romance Languages.”

Professor of German Hans Ternes

He also was involved with the Lawrence men’s soccer program for several years, serving as the team’s head coach for four seasons in the mid-1980s and guiding the Vikings to their first Midwest Conference championship in 1985.

“What I treasure most of all was the freedom and the opportunity Lawrence offered me to explore some of my interests and talents,” said Ternes.

He says he takes particular pride in his work and cooperation with music majors who also happened to be German majors.

“I guided many honors and senior projects on topics relating to German literature and music and had the pleasure to perform some popular music pieces with voice and instrument majors,” said Ternes, who organized a number of Liederabend (Evening of Song) during his tenure.  “I’m also proud of our majors who have become teachers and professors of German themselves.”

Long-time department colleague Dorrit Friedlander, professor emerita of German, said Ternes “was particularly well suited for Lawrence because of his enthusiasm for German and music. He was well known for weaving the two disciplines together.”

Denise Haight of Oconomowoc, a 1970 Lawrence graduate, remembers Ternes as “cerebral, proficient and passionate about his area of expertise.”

“He struck fear in the heart of this student in that he demanded unwavering dedication and scholarship,” said Haight. “However, he was consistently nurturing of his students’ abilities.”

One of Ternes’ most popular courses, as well as a personal favorite, was his “Comparative Fairy Tales” class, which was invariably oversubscribed to by students.

“I think I succeeded in turning many Lawrence students into enthusiastic story tellers,” said Ternes. “Judging from the reactions of students, this course has had the most lasting influence upon them.”

About Lawrence University
Founded in 1847, Lawrence University uniquely integrates a college of liberal arts and sciences with a world-class conservatory of music, both devoted exclusively to undergraduate education. Ranked among America’s best colleges by Forbes, it was selected for inclusion in the book “Colleges That Change Lives: 40 Schools That Will Change the Way You Think About College.” Individualized learning, the development of multiple interests and community engagement are central to the Lawrence experience. Lawrence draws its 1,445 students from 44 states and 35 countries. Follow us on Facebook.

Conductor David Becker Leads Lawrence Symphony Orchestra Final Time Saturday May 26

Professor of Music David Becker works his baton for the last time as conductor of the 102-member Lawrence Symphony Orchestra at its concert Saturday, May 26 at 8 p.m. in the Lawrence Memorial Chapel.  The concert is free and open to the public.

Becker, who has served as director of orchestral studies at Lawrence since 2005, is retiring at the end of the current academic year.

Director of Orchestral Studies David Becker

“The time has arrived in my life for my personal and professional journeys to head in a new direction,” said Becker, who is in his second stint at conductor of the orchestra, having spent four years at Lawrence early in his career in the mid-1970s. “The distinguished faculty, administration, cherished friends and exceptional students have all made my tenure at Lawrence a most cherished highlight in my professional career.”

Becker says each time he’s taken the stage with the orchestra over the past seven years has been a career highlight for him.

“Whatever repertoire we’re doing at the moment, to me is the pinnacle and the high point, so this next concert is the pinnacle and the high point. I don’t live very much in the past. They are all very important memories, but I’m totally absorbed right now in this group and this repertoire and what we can share together. So the pinnacle for me is to share this concert with these students. It’s going to be a tremendously emotional time. I have a suspicion that I’m going to see a number of these students in the future in various places.”

Becker, recipient of Lawrence’s Award for Excellence in Teaching at the college’s 2010 commencement, plans to dedicate his post-Lawrence time to guest conducting, workshops and clinics around the country, including leading the NAfME All-International Honors Orchestra in the Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C. in June.

Saturday evening’s concert program will feature works by Debussy, Paulus and Tchaikovsky. Senior Daniel O’Connor, organ, the co-winner of the LSO 2011-12 Student Concerto Competition, will be the concert’s guest artist.

About Lawrence University
Founded in 1847, Lawrence University uniquely integrates a college of liberal arts and sciences with a world-class conservatory of music, both devoted exclusively to undergraduate education. Ranked among America’s best colleges by Forbes, it was selected for inclusion in the book “Colleges That Change Lives: 40 Schools That Will Change the Way You Think About College.” Individualized learning, the development of multiple interests and community engagement are central to the Lawrence experience. Lawrence draws its 1,445 students from 44 states and 35 countries. Follow us on Facebook.

Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra Salutes Russian Composers in Lawrence Artist Series Concert

The critically acclaimed Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra, under the direction of conductor Stuart Chafetz, performs Friday, April 1 at 8 p.m. in the Lawrence Memorial Chapel as part of the 2010-11 Lawrence University Artist Series.

Tickets, at $30 for adults and $15 for students, are available through the Lawrence Box Office in the Music-Drama Center, 420 E. College Ave., Appleton or by calling 920-832-6749.

The orchestra’s seven-piece, all-Russian program will include Shostakovich’s “Symphony No. 9” and Tchaikovsky’s Waltz from the ballet “The Sleeping Beauty” as well as works by Gliere, Glinka and Prokofiev.

MSO Conductor Stuart Chafetz

Hailed by the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel for their performances that “crackle with energy,” the 88-member Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra is recognized as one of the finest orchestras in the country, performing more than 140 concerts each season. The MSO has toured Europe, Japan and in 1999 became the first American orchestra to perform in Cuba since the late 1950s.

“This is truly an outstanding opportunity for the Lawrence and Fox Valley audiences to enjoy one of the country’s premiere professional orchestras,” said David Becker, director of orchestral studies at Lawrence. “Hearing these great Russian masterworks in a live performance will be a unique and very special experience for all concert goers.”

Chafetz, known for his ability to engage audiences, is increasingly in demand with orchestras nationwide. His guest conducting appearances include The Buffalo Philharmonic, Chicago Symphony, Detroit Symphony, Florida Orchestra, Honolulu Symphony, Louisiana Philharmonic, Louisville Orchestra and Toronto Symphony, among others.

His work also includes collaborations with a variety of classical and pop artists, among them George Benson, Regina Carter, Natalie Cole, Jean Phillipe Collard, Marvin Hamlisch, Thomas Hampson, Jason Scott Lee, Randy Newman, Jon Kimura Parker, Bernadette Peters, Preservation Hall Jazz Band and Chee Yun.

A graduate of the Eastman School of Music and the University of Cincinnati-College Conservatory of Music, Chafetz was principal timpanist of the Honolulu Symphony for 20 years and served as music director of the Maui Symphony and Maui Pops Orchestra from 1999-2009 before joining the MSO.

Well-known for its ventures into new technologies, the MSO has been doing national radio broadcasts for more than 30 years. In 2005, the MSO became the first orchestra in the country to offer their live recordings for download through online music stores.

Classic Czech Opera “The Bartered Bride” Comes to Stansbury Theatre

Four performances of Czech composer Bedrich Smetana’s classic opera “The Bartered Bride” will be staged Feb. 17-20 at Lawrence University.   The comedic tale of match making and marriage will be performed Feb. 17-19 at 8 p.m. and Feb. 20 at 3 p.m. in Stansbury Theatre of the Music-Drama Center.

Tickets, at $10 for adults and $5 for senior citizens and students, are available through the Lawrence University Box Office, 920-832-6749.

Set in a 19th-century Bohemian village, the opera follows the relationship between Mařenka and Jenik. The two are in love, but Mařenka’s father owes a debt to Micha, a wealthy, older man. Micha wants Mařenka to marry his son, Vašek, and he’s coming to town to seal the deal.

“Smetana and librettist Karel Sabina teamed together to craft a romantic comedy filled with plot twists and sibling rivalry,” said Timothy X. Troy, professor of theatre arts and J. Thomas and Julie Esch Hurvis Professor of Theatre and Drama, who is directing the production. “The story reveals that unflappable loyalty and cleverness can overcome even the most intractable adversity. Mařenka’s inner strength and patience prove the perfect complement to Jenik’s quiet but confident ability to trick his superiors into giving the young couple exactly what they want and deserve.”

The second opera written by Smetana, “The Bartered Bride” premiered in 1866. By the mid-1870s, it was arguably the most popular Czech opera of all time — and many would say it still is. Smetana’s operas established him as a founding father of Czech classical music and this brilliant comedy has become a standard in opera houses around the world.

Smetana’s music is rooted in the traditions of Czech folk music, though the appeal of his melodies is universal,” said Bonnie Koestner, associate professor of music and vocal coach for the production. “We will be performing ‘The Bartered Bride’ in an English translation, so that our audience can directly enjoy the wit and emotion of the opera.”

The production also features a lively dance section in each of its three acts.  The dances are choreographed by Monica Rodero, a member of the Milwaukee-based Wild Space Dance Company, which has an artist-in-residency agreement with Lawrence.

“Monica’s setting of the polka in the first act and a furiant in the second act makes a delight for the eye as well as the ear,” said Troy.

The production features a double cast of 50 performers.  Junior Julia Steiner (Thur./Sat.) and senior Cassie Glasser (Fri./Sun.) portray Mařenka while seniors Nik Ross (Thurs./Sat.) and Justin Berkowitz (Fri./Sun.) play Jeník.  Vašek is portrayed by seniors Pat MacDevitt (Thurs./Sun.) and Alex Gmeinder (Fri./Sun.).

Professor of Music David Becker conducts the Lawrence Symphony Orchestra for the performances.

Senior Rodrigo Ruiz Conducts Professional Orchestra in Mexico City

It’s perfectly understandable if Rodrigo Ruiz is just a tad nervous these days.  After all, it’s not every day someone makes their professional conducting debut while still a student.

The Lawrence University senior will lead the Mexican Orchestra of the Arts Sunday, Feb. 6 in an all-Beethoven symphonic concert in Mexico City’s most prestigious concert hall, the 2,300-seat Sala Nezahualcóyotl.

Rodrigo Ruiz '11

Ruiz, who grew up in Baja California and now makes his home in San Diego, will conduct the professional orchestra in performances of Beethoven’s Leonore III Overture, the Emperor Piano Concerto, with guest pianist Mauricio Náder, and the Fifth Symphony.

A piano performance major, Ruiz has taken conducting tutorials with David Becker, Lawrence director of orchestral studies, since his sophomore year. He spent the 2009-10 academic year as the student assistant conductor of the Lawrence Symphony Orchestra.

“There are many things I enjoy about conducting the LSO, but this is going to be very different,” said Ruiz, who is currently on leave, but plans to return to campus for commencement exercises in June. “This is an older, professional orchestra and the musicians all feel they know what they’re doing already. But if I can get them to open up and really work with me, then they will realize that even if I’m only 22, I still have something to say. If they’re receptive, we can do something great together.”

Ruiz was chosen for the guest conducting position through a cultural program run by the state of Baja California based in part on video footage he submitted. The program is designed to assist talented young artists with their career development and is modeled on Venezuela’s “El Sistema” program, which has produced such talents as Gustavo Dudamel, currently the principal conductor of the Los Angeles Philharmonic.

Becker hailed Ruiz as “a most talented young conductor with great potential.”

“His musical  gifts and dedicated commitment combined with his sincere love of humanity and the music will properly  guide him through this outstanding professional conducting opportunity. I wish him only the best with his very bright future.”

Ruiz is approaching the concert with the goal of making a meaningful connection with his audience, which will include his parents.

“My job as a conductor is to present myself just as a metal would conduct electricity so that this beautiful music written by these great composers can flow through me and reach the essence of the audience,” said Ruiz, who began rehearsals with the orchestra on Tuesday in preparation for Sunday’s concert.

Mexico City's Sala Nezahualcóyotl concert hall features seating behind the orchestra as well as in front.

“It is a huge thrill to work with a orchestra like this, especially in the Sala Nezahualcóyotl, which is the most important hall in Mexico. Some people consider it the most important concert hall in all of Latin America. It’s a little shocking to think I will be standing in this magnificent hall making my professional conducting debut. It is a little bit daunting, but very exciting, too.”

Four Faculty Honored for Excellence at Commencement

Four members of the Lawrence University faculty were recognized for teaching excellence, scholarship and creative activity Sunday, June 13 during the college’s 161st commencement.

David Becker

David Becker, professor of music and director of orchestral studies, received Lawrence’s Award for Excellence in Teaching, which recognizes outstanding performance in the teaching process, including the quest to ensure students reach their full development as individuals, human beings and future leaders of society.

Becker returned to the Lawrence conservatory in 2005 as director of orchestral studies after serving in the same capacity for four years early in his career in the mid-1970s. In between he held teaching positions at Oberlin College, the University of Miami and UW-Madison, where he spent 21 years as director of orchestras and professor of the graduate orchestral conducting program.

In presenting Becker his award, Lawrence President Jill Beck praised his “great skill as a master teacher.”

“Your marvelous direction of the Lawrence University Symphony Orchestra, your work with student productions such as opera and your involvement in every aspect of musical performance have had a profound effect on students, faculty and staff and the countless members of the community who have been present for the inspiring music events performed under your guidance,” said Beck. “Anyone who has attended a Lawrence Symphony Orchestra performance can sense the pride of the students and the love and respect they feel for you.”

A native of Pennsylvania, Becker earned a bachelor of music degree in viola performance and music education at Ithaca College School of Music and a master of music degree in viola performance and conducting from the University of Louisville School of Music.

Jerald Podair

Jerald Podair, professor of history and Robert S. French Professor of American Studies, received the Award for Excellence in Scholarship, which honors a faculty member who has demonstrated sustained scholarly excellence for a number of years and whose work exemplifies the ideals of the teacher-scholar.

A specialist on 20th-century American history and American race relations, Podair joined the Lawrence faculty in 1998 as the winner of that year’s Allan Nevins Prize, an award conferred by the Society of American Historians for the best Ph.D. dissertation in history written in the country that year.

He is the author of two books, “The Strike That Changed New York: Blacks, Whites, and the Ocean Hill-Brownsville Crisis,” which examines a bitter racial controversy in New York City and “Bayard Rustin: American Dreamer,” a widely praised biography of the civil rights activist who organized Martin Luther King’s 1963 March on Washington. Other recent projects include an essay on Rudolph Giuliani and New York’s racial politics and an introduction to a new edition of the classic book about the sinking of the Titanic, “A Night to Remember.”

“Your scholarly contributions to Lawrence have been outstanding,” said Beck in presenting Podair his award. “You have published two books while at Lawrence and are working on no less than three other books. Your work has been published in several important journals and has led to many awards and honors. If there is something more that you might be expected to do right now, I have no idea what that could be.”

His current scholarship includes a baseball-themed book on the cultural implications of the Brooklyn Dodgers move to Los Angeles, a book that looks at the United States from 1877 to the present entitled “American Conversations” and a collection of essays on the ways Americans have sought to define the concept of equality.

A native of New York City, Podair serves as a member of the Wisconsin Abraham Lincoln Bicentennial Commission and was named a fellow of the New York Academy of History in 2009. He earned a bachelor’s degree at New York University, a law degree from Columbia University and his Ph.D. from Princeton University.

Patrice Michaels, professor of music, received the Award for Excellence in Creative Activity. Established in 2006, the award recognizes outstanding creative work for advancing Lawrence’s mission.

Patrice Michaels

An award-winning soprano, Michaels has taught vocal performance and music theatre in the Lawrence conservatory since 1994. A specialist in the works of Mozart, Michaels has performed at prestigious concert venues throughout the world, including Salzburg, Austria in 2006 for the 250th anniversary celebration of Mozart’s birth.

She is well known for her performance of “The Divas of Mozart’s Day,” a tour de force theatrical production that celebrates the divas of late 18th-century Vienna. She has released 20 commercial recordings, among them the disc “American Songs,” which included eight world premiere recordings.

“You have been a powerful force for creative activity, both through your own work and through the inspiration you have provided to others,” said Provost David Burrows in presenting Michaels her award. “Your presence has helped many students develop their own creative abilities, helped by your supportive and friendly attention.”

In a career that has taken her to opera stages around the world, Michaels also has performed for the U.S. Supreme Court and Cuban President Fidel Castro. Most recently she has remounted an original program she first developed while at the Banff Centre for the Arts. “A Song for Harmonica,” featuring a 4-foot tall bib overall-clad puppet worked by Michaels, is a program designed for elementary school students to explore the nature of inspiration through operatic excerpts and original songs.

Michaels earned a bachelor’s degree in music and theatre from Pomona College and a master of fine arts degree from the University of Minnesota.

Dominica Chang, assistant professor of French and Francophone studies, received Lawrence’s Young Teacher Award in recognition of demonstrated excellence in the classroom and the promise of continued growth.

Dominica Chang

A member of the Lawrence faculty since 2007, Chang’s research interests include 19th-century French studies, literary history and historiography, print culture, film studies and language pedagogy.

In presenting her award, Burrows praised Chang for her “extraordinary success” in the classroom and for being a “wonderful example of the concept of individualized learning.”

“Students speak with enthusiasm about your ability to inspire everyone to learn and reach the highest levels of achievement,” said Burrows. “Your patience and warmth help students conquer their anxieties about writing and speaking and produce work of outstanding quality. Your feedback is frequent and helpful.

“Students say they strive to do well because they want to repay the trust you show in them and many give you the ultimate praise: you are the best professor they have ever had,” he added.

Chang earned a bachelor’s degree in French language and literature from UW-Madison, a master’s degree in French studies from Middlebury College and a Ph.D. in Romance languages and literatures from the University of Michigan. She also spent a year studying at the University of Paris.