Dear MSM Community,
It is with heavy hearts that we write to inform you that our brilliant colleague, Marlena Malas, a revered member of the MSM Community since joining the faculty in 1982 and a 2021 recipient of the MSM President’s Medal for Distinguished Service, died last evening at the age of 87. Her supreme warmth and prodigious pedagogical skills have been hailed throughout the classical music world over the decades, and her invaluable contributions to MSM and the Vocal Arts Division have continued right into the current Fall semester, this being her 41st year bringing her light and wisdom to the School.
This news will be particularly difficult for her students, current and former, and for those who knew and loved her best, however, the passing of someone who is so intrinsic to our collective experience at MSM affects us all.
Marlena, an accomplished mezzo-soprano with her own record of superb performances and recordings, had the joy of seeing many of her students go on to careers on the world’s most prestigious stages and in classrooms at esteemed conservatories and universities throughout the world. In addition to her role on the MSM faculty, Marlena taught at the Curtis Institute of Music and The Juilliard School. Notably for all of us, her students over the years included MSM alumna Susan Graham (MM ’87, HonDMA ’08), Precollege alumna and current MSM Board Chair Lorraine Gallard, and MSM President James Gandre.
Although this message is addressed to you from the three of us, the following is a personal reflection from President Gandre, whose experience as a student of Marlena’s runs deep and continues to resonate in his daily life.
From President Gandre:
It is always heartbreaking to lose a long-standing and valued faculty member, but this loss is very personal to me as Marlena was my last teacher. Because of that personal relationship, I wanted to take a moment to share some of my foundational experiences with her.
I met and worked with her in 1984 at the Blossom Music Festival. At that time, I was living in San Francisco where I had completed my master’s degree. In several lessons that summer, I realized I had found the person who would bring to my singing heightened technique, critical skills that I desperately needed. Four months later I was living in NYC and studying with her here at MSM as a non-degree student. Although my life ultimately went in a different direction, that decision to study with her over a longer term changed my life, as my connection with MSM started because of her.
We stayed in touch and became friends over what was to become a 39-year relationship, and when I was later a college dean in Chicago, I brought her to my college annually to teach master classes. More recently, when Neidorff-Karpati Hall was being renovated, Mrs. Neidorff asked that Beethoven’s Choral Fantasy be performed at the Hall’s 2018 re-opening and that I sing. Although I initially resisted the idea – mainly because I hadn’t sung on stage in several years – Mrs. Neidorff persisted. So, the only route I had was to go to Marlena for lessons, this after not having seen her in the studio for more than three decades. We worked together and she got me in shape to sing that concert. It was a joy to once again work with her in that teacher/student relationship.
I would posit that Marlena loved teaching as much or more than anything else in her life. Even as she battled cancer four times, she kept teaching through most of her treatments. The last time I saw her was about three months ago, and we had dinner along with my husband Boris and her long-time and dearest friend Claudia Catania (an MSM alumna and current member of the Musical Theatre voice faculty). We had a lovely time chatting and laughing, but when a performance of one of her long-time students was about to begin at the Aspen Music Festival, she went right to her iPad and listened, analyzing each moment with great clarity and laser focus.
She was an amazing person and extraordinary pedagogue. MSM is that much better because she came here to teach 41 years ago. Personally, I will miss her greatly, but I am also so very thankful that she was part of my life, and that she quite literally brought me to MSM.
In addition to Marlena’s achievements already noted above, she was Chair of the Voice Department at the Chautauqua Institute and a vocal consultant and teacher for the Canadian Opera Company (since 1979), the Metropolitan Opera’s Lindemann Young Artist Program, the English National Opera, the Santa Fe Opera, the Castleton Festival, and the Chicago Lyric Opera Young Artist Program.
Marlena taught master classes (including many at MSM) at the Blossom Music Festival, the San Francisco Opera Center, the Santa Fe Opera, the European Center for Opera and Vocal Studies in Brussels, the Israel Vocal Studies Center, the English National Opera, the Metropolitan Opera National Council, Westminster Choir College, and Rutgers University. In 1993, she taught master classes in collaboration with her mentors Joan Sutherland, Richard Bonynge, and Luigi Alva in association with the Sydney Opera House, at their first Opera Symposium.
A graduate of the Curtis Institute of Music and The Juilliard School, Marlena sang with opera companies including Santa Fe, Boston, Miami, Washington, D.C., Baltimore, San Diego, and Milwaukee, and made appearances with the Marlboro and Casals Festivals as well as concert appearances with the Philadelphia Orchestra and the New York Philharmonic. She is featured on a definitive recording of Brahms’s Liebeslieder Waltzes under the direction of Rudolf Serkin and Leon Fleisher, and few knew she was a soloist on several of P.D.Q. Bach’s original recordings.
We will miss her dearly and move forward with gratitude in our hearts for her magnificent legacy, which can be felt throughout the world of classical singing and which will resonate in MSM’s hallowed halls for years to come.
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