Hillman Opera conductor Andrew Bisantz returns to his roots | News, Sports, Jobs
Conductor Andrew Bisantz has many memorable operatic credits to his credit. Currently Artistic Director and Conductor of the Eugene Opera, he has conducted more than 60 productions for companies across the United States and has won awards from publications such as The New York Times, The Boston Globe and The Washington Post.
However, his upcoming engagement as conductor and musical director of the Hillman Opera production “Summer and Smoke” at the State University of New York at Fredonia is of particular significance. Bisantz graduated in 1995 from Fredonia, where the seeds of his career were planted.
“I really think it’s a wonderful homecoming” Bisantz said. ” The circle is complete. I have accumulated experience in some of the best opera companies in the United States. I am now able to bring that experience to this production to help students find what I found in Fredonia.
Bisantz came to Fredonia in 1991 as a piano performance major, studying with Robert Jordan.
In her first year of majoring, a counselor suggested Bisantz consider vocal conducting classes as a natural addition to her major. However, Bisantz was more interested in instrumental conducting and chose that path instead. It was a serendipitous decision, as the teacher in his first conducting class told Bisantz he had a natural gift.
This led to an independent study of his second year with faculty member Grant Cooper, who is perhaps best known locally for his 16-year stint as bandleader of the Fredonia Chamber Players.
“I found what I wanted to do as a career” Bisantz said from experience.
After graduating from Fredonia, Bisantz earned her master’s degree at the Cleveland Institute of Music. There, Bisantz served as assistant conductor of operas and made the decision to pursue a career as an opera conductor.
His experiences at Fredonia played a major role in the decision. Bisantz had participated in Hillman Opera as a student, beginning with the 1991 production of Mozart “The Magic Flute.”
“It was my first time in an opera production and I was hooked,” Bisantz said. “I remember hearing the orchestra play with those unamplified voices – it was a universe-warping moment.”
More than two decades into his professional career, Bisantz remains committed to staying in touch with today’s music students.
“I try to have at least one university production on my schedule,” he said, which is in addition to teaching master classes at various universities.
And his bond with Fredonia has remained strong over the years.
“In 2000, I conducted Gershwin’s ‘Rhapsody in Blue’ with the Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra,” Bisantz called back. “When the production came to the Fredonia Opera, the entire piano faculty came to see it. I was so flattered that they were interested in my career.
Likewise, Bisantz became interested in his alma mater.
In 2011, he returned to campus for a teaching residency and during the pandemic-hit 2020 season, Bisantz served as an online coach for the Hillman production of “Beatrice and Benedict.”
He has also conducted masterclasses with the Fredonia Student Opera Theater Association.
Then came the opportunity to direct “Summer and Smoke” this season.
“When (School of Music faculty member) Joe Dan Harper called, I was thrilled,” Bisantz said. “I finally had the opportunity to come back and direct the opera.”
Bisantz is also excited about the work he will be leading. Lee Hoiby’s “Summer and Smoke” is based on the 1946 Tennessee Williams play of the same title.
“Summer and Smoke is considered by some to be a forgotten masterpiece and I’m thrilled audiences in Western New York will have the chance to hear it live,” Bisantz said. “It has a very romantic score that people will appreciate.”
The Hillman Opera runs November 10-13 at the Marvel Theater on the Fredonia campus. Performance times are at 7:30 p.m. on Thursday, Friday and Saturday with a matinee at 2 p.m. on Sunday. It is presented by the Fredonia School of Music in conjunction with the Department of Theater and Dance.
Tickets are available through the Williams Center campus box office, online at https://fredonia.edu/tickets, and by phone at 716-673-3501.
“Summer and Smoke” is sponsored by Gugino and Ryel Financial as part of Lake Shore Savings Season.