Pianist and conductor Agata Sorotokin ’19 is a morning person; she enjoys practicing piano in the early hours before class. In the evenings, she lets herself take a more “creative and experimental” direction with another mode of musical expression: composition.
Sorotokin began playing the piano when she was just four-and-a-half-years-old. Though her family members were not musicians, they attended performances together that sparked her interest in classical music, Sorotokin said. When she was young, she also sang in an amateur Russian theater group that performed operas translated into Russian.
During her sophomore year of high school, Sorotokin joined the San Francisco Symphony Youth Orchestra as a keyboard specialist. Though not all the music the ensemble performed required her instruments, she always studied the full scores of the works, including Berlioz’s “Symphonie Fantastique” and Mahler’s Symphony No. 5. The music director noticed her interest and offered his mentorship. By Sorotokin’s senior year, she was up on the podium, conducting Mendelssohn’s Symphony No. 5, known as the “Reformation.”
At Yale, Sorotokin has continued playing piano and conducting, even while enrolled in Directed Studies as a first year. She studies piano with Melvin Chen ’91, deputy dean and adjunct associate professor of piano at the Yale School of Music, and organizes and works on various musical projects.
In the past, Sorotokin has worked as an assistant artistic director for the Opera Theatre of Yale College. Opera, she said, appeals to her interests in both music and the humanities because it is often “very connected with the text” — an aspect of the musical form that appeals to the literature major.
Along with Yale School of Music Doctor of Musical Arts candidate Liliya Ugay ’22, Sorotokin recently worked on a concert series titled “Silenced Voices” dedicated to the 100-year anniversary of the Russian Revolution. The series aimed to showcase works by Russian composers who faced political oppression and could not compose freely — rather, she said, these composers had to “keep [the music] they wanted to write undercover in their desks, so to speak.”
Though many people are familiar with some 20th-century Russian composers such as Shostakovich, Prokofiev and Stravinsky, Sorotokin said, many others have been “lost in translation” or never discovered due to the past political barriers between the Soviet Union and the U.S.
Sorotokin’s work on this project also integrated her academic interest in the humanities. Though she described the works she shared in the “Silenced Voices” series as “brilliant” on their own, she also emphasized the importance of the music’s historical context as an additional lens through which to view the pieces on her programs.
“A large component of the project was doing research,” Sorotokin said. “It felt very natural to bring what I was studying in with the music.”
She found works by Russian poets who wrote at the same time as the composers on the programs, and even included a poem recitation by members of the choir that she organized to participate in the third installment of “Silenced Voices.”
Ugay said that coordinating such a choir was no easy feat, but Sorotokin’s “enthusiasm was so sincere that it became simply contagious.”
School of Music and Yale College Music Department professor Michael Friedmann, one of Sorotokin’s professors and mentors, echoed this idea, noting that Sorotokin’s participation in this project “illustrates the passion which infects all of her music-making.”
Sorotokin said that although she seriously considered attending a conservatory for college instead of studying at a university, she was struck by the way that music and humanities are “so naturally intertwined” at Yale. The Adams Center for the Musical Arts and Leigh Hall — two of Yale’s music facilities — neighbor the Department of Comparative Literature on College Street. Most importantly, Sorotokin said she could “grow as both a scholar and a musician” at Yale.
“It would be hard to give up reading books and discussing literature and learning about history, but all those things and music were much more possible in an environment like this,” she said.
Sorotokin sees a future in music for herself. Next year, when she is a senior, she plans to take music graduate school auditions on the piano.
“It’s wonderful to have a space with different kinds of musicians and thinkers and philosophers and literature people coming together at Yale,” she said. “That has been a huge force in the way we shape as artists.”
Julia Carabatsos | firstname.lastname@example.org