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After receiving a liberal arts degree at Columbia University, Stephen Francis Vasta has spent much of the last twenty years as a conductor, vocal coach, and keyboardist, both with companies in and around his native New York and with prominent regional performing arts organizations. In New York, he conducted The Accomplish'd Maid - a contemporaneous English-language version of Niccolò Piccinni's La buona figliuola - and Cimarosa's Il matrimonio segreto with the Vineyard Theatre Opera, subsequently bringing the latter production to Berkshire Opera in Massachusetts. Other conducting credits include Die Fledermaus, The Merry Widow, and The Mikado for the touring company Opera Northeast; Orpheus in the Underworld at Indiana's Ball State University, during a one-semester stint as Assistant Professor of Theatre; Handel's Rinaldo at the University of Arkansas, Fayetteville; Così fan tutte, Fidelio, and Un ballo in maschera for the Brooklyn Repertory Opera; and Trial by Jury and H M S Pinafore for Opera Naples (FL). He was also chorus master for the New Jersey Association for Verismo Opera for two seasons, and has served as assistant to Sarah Caldwell, Cal Stewart Kellogg, Anton Coppola, and Gunther Bauer-Schenk. On the concert platform, he has made guest appearances with the Filharmonie Hradec Kralove, Czech Republic.
Mr Vasta is equally adept as a conductor of musical theatre, with extensive credits including Damn Yankees with Jamie Farr at the Cape Playhouse, Massachusetts; Godspell at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival; Camelot at Alabama Shakespeare Festival; The Best Little W****house in Texas at Ball State University; Oh! Coward off-Broadway in New York; and the 1992-3 international tour of Peter Pan which played throughout the US, Canada and East Asia.
An accomplished classical accompanist, Mr Vasta has appeared in that capacity at venues including New York's Weill Recital Hall and the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, DC. In his capacity as guest coach, he has given vocal master classes for the Arkansas chapter of the National Association of Teachers of Singing (NATS), and was the staff pianist for the International Workshop for Conductors for two years. He also has supplied harpsichord continuo for Vineyard Theatre Opera, the Bronx Opera, and the North Arkansas Symphony.
He has been reviewing professionally since 1993, when Stereophile magazine tapped him for a repertoire survey (Mahler's Second Symphony) on six weeks' notice. After three years as a contributing editor there, he served in the same capacity at Listener magazine, and is currently a regular contributor to Opera News as well as to several websites. His feature-length discussion of the Symphony in E by Hans Rott, a classmate of Gustav Mahler's, appears on the Hans Rott website.
Currently Mr Vasta is musical director for the Light Opera of New York's all-Victor Herbert season at the Players Club in Manhattan.
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Stephen Francis Vasta listens to Susanna Mälkki conducting Bartók
Stephen Francis Vasta is impressed by Dmitrij Kitajenko's recordings of Rachmaninov and Taneyev
Stephen Francis Vasta listens to Latvian conductor Mariss Jansons' last concert
Stephen Francis Vasta feels vaguely let down by Mami Shikimori and the Wihan Quartet's performances of Fauré and Franck
Stephen Francis Vasta has mixed feelings about Mariss Jansons' 2008 recording of Bruckner's 'Romantic' Symphony
Stephen Francis Vasta listens to Donizetti's 'La favorite'
Stephen Francis Vasta listens to music by Erich Wolfgang Korngold. 'Even the Violin Concerto ends with a downward chordal scale that 'resolves' to a dissonance, "à la" Charles Ives!'
Hans Rosbaud conducts Tchaikovsky. '... for veteran Tchaikovsky devotees, ... interesting listening.'
Dmitrij Kitajenko conducts Mussorgsky and Prokofiev. 'Vladislav Sulimsky sings with feeling in a compact, reasonably firm baritone ...'
String Quartets by Elgar and Delius. 'From the soft yet unified opening attack, we know that the Villiers Quartet will serve the score well.'
The three big Tchaikovsky ballets. 'Järvi always maintains the right lightness ...'
Karl Goldmark's Rustic Wedding Symphony. 'Conductor Frank Beermann displays a nice feel for the sonorities: the overture's slow introduction is nicely layered, and clear textures render the lyric passages even more fetching.'
Glazunov and Taneyev String Quintets. '... the Gringolts ensemble plays expertly, projecting the music's sense of "symphonic" weight and importance while maintaining the vivid interplay among the parts.'
Mariss Jansons conducts Prokofiev. '... round and solidly grounded ...'
Lance Friedel conducts Bruckner's Fifth. 'The final perorations are resplendent ...'
Janácek from the Czech Philharmonic. 'It's good to hear Neumann in such fine form.'
Mravinsky conducts Tchaikovsky's Pathétique. '... the conductor seems unwilling to give himself over wholeheartedly to the music's affect.'
Carl Nielsen concerti. '... an essential acquisition, and not just for Nielsen collectors.'
Orchestral music by Georges Bizet. 'Tingaud's "Roma" easily outclasses the last version I'd heard ...'
The Carducci Quartet plays Shostakovich. '... you really couldn't improve on this issue as an introduction.'
Berlioz's 'Harold in Italy'. '... sweet, plangent tone ...'
Richard Strauss orchestral music. '... Weigle has his moments.'
Dvorák from the Lucerne Symphony Orchestra. '... I'm looking forward to hearing and seeing more of Gaffigan's work ...'
Orchestral music by Ottorino Respighi. '... first-class performances ... in excellent sound.'
Orchestral music by Richard Strauss. '... sensitivity and tenderness ...'
Claudio Abbado at the Lucerne Festival. '... natural, extroverted musicality ...'
Obscure Polish piano concertos. '... power, fluency, and dynamic control ...'
Orchestral music by Louis Théodore Gouvy. '... definitely worth your attention.'
Neeme Järvi conducts Chabrier. 'Rhythms could often be more strongly marked and firmly grounded ...'
Smetana's 'The Bartered Bride'. '... a fine performance ...'
Schubert's String Quintet in C pleases Stephen Francis Vasta. '... unusually sensitive, freshly considered ...'
Messiaen's 'Turangalîla-Symphonie'. '... vibrant, almost hesitant strings ...'
Dvorák string quartets. 'I enjoyed these flavorful performances when listening more casually ...'
Dvorák's Cello and Piano Concertos. '... it's a pleasure to hear Mstislav Rostropovich at this early stage of his career ...'
Orchestral music by Donald Tovey. '... the Malmö Opera Orchestra plays handsomely for George Vass.'
Violin concerti by Vieuxtemps. '... crisp ensemble and warm, full tone ...'
Antonín Dvorák's Piano Concerto. '... commendable, as far as it goes.'