Alumni Spotlight

Alumni Spotlight on Ryan Brandau '03

What inspired you to pursue a career in music?

Many different things, I think. I was fortunate to grow up in a musical family, so I sat at the piano bench with my grandmother and with my father as a little kid. I was also fortunate to grow up in a public school district that supported music, so I was able to sing in ensembles, perform in musicals, and play a bunch of different instruments in the orchestra and band. In high school I joined two youth symphonies and, with my father, the chorus for the regional Symphony. When I arrived at Princeton and started taking courses in the music department, I fell in love with music theory and musicology. Upon graduation, I went off to Cambridge in the UK thinking I’d do musicology, but, while there, I sang nearly every day of the week. That daily interface with high level music making sealed the deal for me. I knew I had to be a conductor. 

Who are the greatest influences on you as a musician?

As corny as it sounds, the greatest influences on me as a musician have been the composers themselves. I love the sense that they had something particular to say through music, wrote it down in a score, and left it for us to bring back to life. I love that feeling of discovery through mediation. With so many pieces, all we have are the lines and dots of ink on the page, but of course the music we create is so much more than that. 

Could you describe your most memorable concert experience?

I’ve loved so many concert experiences that it’s impossible to pick! As for Princeton, I’ll never forget the Katzenjammers’ concert (“jam”) in the fall of 2001 at Richardson, for which I was music director. It was one of my first major experiences as a conductor. My heart was filled with pride for all that the singers and I had accomplished together, musically, and warm with the joy of deep friendship. It was so palpable, that feeling of “yeah, this is what it’s all about."

What is your favorite music to play? And to listen to?

I absolutely love to sing Renaissance polyphony. The natural singability, beautiful rhetorical shape, and sense of dialogue in the polyphonic lines beautifully represent the communicative essence of choral music. 

What are you working on at the moment?

I’ve had a fabulously full plate this season. I just finished a program of music by Dallapiccola, Josquin, Clemens non Papa, and Lassus. In a few days I’ll conduct Rachmaninoff’s All-Night Vigil. Later this month, I’ll conduct a concert that combines Mozart’s Solemn Vespers with selections from Monteverdi’s Vespers of 1610. At this very moment, I’ve got orchestra parts strewn all over my dining room table... 

Where would you like to be in 10 years' time?

Each year, I have the opportunity to explore deeply a group of choral-orchestral masterworks. In some cases, I’m performing them (as a conductor) for the first time. In other cases, when I’m coming back to something, I find new resonances and layers of meaning in the work. I look forward to the breadth and depth that ten years will afford. I also hope, in the next couple of years, to make time for more writing, composing, and arranging, to get on the other side of the musical score, as it were. 

What do you enjoy doing most?

Making music with others. I really do love my job. I get to share beautiful music with hundreds of people each week. When I’m not working, I absolutely love to cook and to bust a gut laughing with my friends.  

What did your time in the Glee Club teach you? Could you give us a favorite memory?

Thanks to Richard Tang Yuk, who was the director during my time in the Glee Club, I learned a huge amount of major repertoire. Bach, Brahms, Beethoven, Mahler, Duruflé, Mendelssohn, Haydn, Vaughan Williams, Palestrina, Byrd, Tallis, and on and on and on. Repeatedly, I got to experience the way that the great choral-orchestral masterworks can completely, ravishingly overwhelm you.