SFCM Alumni on Forging Their Own Paths in Music
Three alumni prove there's no "right" way to make a life in music, from the opera orchestra to Off-Broadway to playing with Ed Sheeran.
For these alumni, their time at SFCM took them in three unique different directions: the SF Opera Orchestra, the world of New York cabaret, and quite literally up in the air.
Cellist Evan Kahn ('18), won the Principal Cello position with San Francisco Opera Orchestra this year, and is serving as their first new principal cellist in nearly five decades; Carolyn Bacon and Brian Fitzsousa ('14 and '16) perform in New York and nationwide; while Anna Nordmoe took to the air with Teatro Zinzanni to perform both on violin and on aerial silks.
Kahn, who studied with Jennifer Culp while at SFCM, has glowing words for her: "I couldn’t have asked for a better mentor, and the three years I worked with her were so, so formative." He also singled out the Conservatory's chamber music master's program as "one of the best educational experiences around—not just for chamber music, but also for leadership positions in orchestras," adding, "I owe a lot of my ability to lead and listen to my time in SFCM’s chamber program."
Kahn received plaudits before even graduating from SFCM: In spring 2018, he served as Artist-in-Residence with Performance Today at NPR, while just under a year later, in February of 2019, he was named Musical America's New Artist of the Month.
Bacon and Fitzsousa, who met at SFCM and are now married, have established themselves in New York, where they moved in January 2019. Fitzsousa works as staff pianist with the dance department at the Metropolitan Opera—a role he also held at the San Francisco Opera—in addition to composing and making the rounds in the city's cabaret scene. Bacon has served as a "swing" (a musical theater role that essentially involves being ready to take over multiple roles should their actors fall ill) on a recent national tour of CATS and just completed a run as Rachel in the Off-Broadway Friends: The Musical Parody. She also starred in her first solo cabaret show, What You Don't Know About Women and had her debut short film, The Diagnosis, screened at the Oregon Short Film Festival in February. (That's all aside from her bachelor's in neuroscience, as well.)
Her former teachers at SFCM Michael Mohammad and Heather Mathews, Bacon says, "were both artists who I admired because they had their feet in opera and musicals, they were really interested in music across the board." She adds, "SFCM was such a supportive environment, and music school isn't always like that. people really have their eye on what's next and at SFCM I really felt like all of my teachers were encouraging me to embrace what was happening in the now. It was a very holistic experience, and I think you need that, because once you get out of school, you'll have plenty of competitions and auditions, so to have this base that is so supportive and is invested in you as a whole artist helped me to get my armor on for the real world."
For Fitzsousa, a composition major who studied with David Conte, one of his strongest memories of SFCM was being at the center of the arts scene in San Francisco. "Aside from Lincoln Center in New York, I can't really think of another place other than SFCM that has a conservatory, a symphony, an opera company, and a ballet company ballet—all operating at the highest level of their fields—within three blocks of each other," Fitzsousa says. "Having that environment, that complete immersion, really opened my eyes to all the possibilities of what I could do after graduation."
Anna Nordmoe, who studied with Simon James while at SFCM, is another impressively-credentialed multi-hyphenate. She double-majored in music and Industrial & Operations Engineering as an undergrad, and one of her current gigs is working for Amazon on their Alexa Smart Home team. Rather than pursue a purely classical track as a violinist, she says she fell in love with musical theatre, and via SFCM faculty Michael Horsely, was able to notch some impressive gigs after graduating, including Hadestown on Broadway. It was through James, though, that she got connected to Teatro Zinzanni in Seattle, and, having a background in aerial silk work, pitched their musical director Hans Teuber on the idea of having her combine them for the show.
"What I learned from that gig was that you want to do whatever you can to make yourself as marketable of an artist as you can. It's not just about being able to play, that's only one thing. But there's so many other skills that determine if you get a job and if you'll get hired that are not only your ability to play the violin." Ultimately, she recommends "being as marketable of a person as you possibly can, picking up a bunch of different skills that may not seem super-helpful in the moment." Nordmoe's resume at this point, which includes gigs with Lauryn Hill and playing in the Nintendo Live series, speaks for itself on that front.