Raised in Conway Springs, Kansas — 30 miles south of Wichita — Alicia N. Brozovich demonstrates that there is still plenty of heart in the Heartland.
Her passion for music brought her to Westminster Choir College to pursue a master’s degree in choral conducting in 2013. Following her graduation, she joined the faculty of Westminster Conservatory.
Now she is about to lead her first public concert as conductor of the conservatory’s Westminster Community Chorus at Westminster Choir College’s Bristol Chapel on Friday, November 22, at 7:30 p.m.
The program, “Vespers by the Sea,” is designed to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the Apollo 11 mission.
“This past summer NASA launched its 50th anniversary campaign for the moon landing, which is something I was always really fascinated with,” Brozovich says. “And when I started my tenure at Westminster I found out that it’s also the 50th anniversary of the Conservatory. I wanted to bring in some media from NASA and use some of their transmissions from the moon landing and incorporate it into the concert. So I looked for some high-quality repertoire that would still be singable by the group within a matter of months, but also challenge them and be something that the audience could really connect with.”
Her search led her to Ola Gjeilo, whose “Sunrise Mass” was composed in 2008. Gjeilo, born in Norway, currently makes his home in New York City.
“It is a pretty cinematic piece,” Brozovich says. “The soundscape and the music itself actually suggest looking up at the night sky. It starts with a movement called ‘The Spheres.’ Then the next movement is called ‘The Sunrise.’ And then ‘The City.’ And then ‘Identity.’ The Mass is meant to reflect the journey of the human person as they come into their own identity. So I thought it was really fitting for something like the moon landing. We chose to do it because it was hard. And a lot of things about being a human being are hard.
“There are a lot of different moving parts to it, but it all seemed to come together under this umbrella of going to the stars through difficulty, which is actually the Kansas state motto, ‘Ad astra per aspera.’ So it all just really fit together and seemed to be a pretty inspiring program for everybody.”
In itself, the work spans approximately 35 minutes, but Brozovich plans to incorporate other elements.
“I called the concert ‘Vespers by the Sea,’ the sea in this case being the Sea of Tranquility,” she says. “A traditional Vespers service has a combination of hymns and reflections and ancient prayers. In the ‘Sunrise Mass’ the composer uses the traditional Latin Mass that composers over centuries have set to music. So those serve as our prayers. And then the reflections are going to be found in the transmissions from the moon landing. For the hymns themselves, we’ve incorporated a few French pieces, because this year the Conservatory is highlighting French music, and those will serve as our responses.
“The program is not going to have an intermission. It’s going to run, start to finish, almost exactly an hour.” For the performance the chorus will be joined by an ensemble of professional string players.
“Sunrise Mass” already enjoys a special connection to Westminster, as it was recorded by conductor and Westminster faculty member James Jordan and his Grammy-nominated Westminster Williamson Voices.
“That was another factor in programming it,” Brozovich says. “We wanted to do our small part to highlight the incredible choral tradition and choral heritage of this campus that’s been going through a lot of turmoil. Part of the selection of this repertoire was to touch a little bit on the excellent choral programming that these legendary choirs have done.”
She says she is hoping to have Jordan and Westminster Williamson Voices in for a workshop with the Community Chorus sometime during the spring semester.
Also in the spring, she will take her choir to Carnegie Hall, where they will participate in a concert led by choral music luminary John Rutter.
“He recently published his own anthology of great choruses from Bach to Mozart, Handel, Haydn — all of the standards from the common practice period,” she says. “He did his own edition of them. He’s going to be selecting pieces from that anthology for us to perform. It’s an incredible opportunity. The concert is through Mid-America Productions, and it’s going to take place over Memorial Day weekend.”
Open to amateur singers from beginning to advanced, the Westminster Community Chorus provides an opportunity for community members of all ages to share the pleasure of choral singing.
Typically the Community Chorus participates in two concerts a year. Under normal circumstances, auditions are held in the fall, but Brozovich says she is going to open it up again in January, prior to starting in on the Carnegie Hall repertoire. Candidates will need to register through the Conservatory, but inquiries may be directed to her at email@example.com.
Brozovich herself has sung at Carnegie Hall in the Westminster Symphonic Choir, in Beethoven’s Symphony No. 9 with the Berlin Philharmonic and Sir Simon Rattle. As a conducting fellow, she has been involved in the preparation of ensembles from Westminster and the Continuo Arts Foundation, prior to their Carnegie Hall appearances.
In addition she serves as assistant conductor for New York’s Urban Playground Chamber Orchestra, whose artistic director is fellow Westminster alumnus Thomas Cunningham.
“He’s doing incredible work with this group,” she says. “They specialize in doing music by women and people of color. Their whole mission is to put themselves out of business. They want to highlight all of this important repertoire that’s underperformed and get it out there to the point where they’re no longer needed, because it’s become so ingrained in the standard repertoire.
“One of their current projects is having members of the orchestra mentor children who are in orchestral ensembles. Our most recent performance was in Harlem with the Catskill Jazz Factory. There’s a lot of exciting stuff that they’re doing right now.”
She has led choirs from the Midwest to Florence, Italy, and Oxford, UK. She has also assisted in collaborations with the Juilliard Orchestra, Juilliard415, and members of the Princeton Symphony Orchestra.
In Pennington she directs the adult choir at St. James Roman Catholic Church. She is also a member of the Theoria Chamber Choir, an ensemble that specializes in performing Slavic choral music. The choir serves as the primary liturgical choir at the Assumption of the Virgin Mary Byzantine Ruthenian Catholic Church in Trenton. The group was founded by Andrew Skitko, another Westminster graduate.
As a soprano, Brozovich performs regularly with the Philadelphia Symphony Chorus. She has also appeared at the Boston Early Music Festival, the Spoleto Festival in Charleston, SC, and the World Symposium on Choral Music in Spain.
As a student she sang with Westminster Choir, Westminster Symphonic Choir, and Westminster Kantorei. She received her master’s degree in choral conducting in 2017. She then served as assistant conductor for the Westminster Community Chorus before taking over as principal conductor from Sinhaeng Lee.
It was during her undergraduate work at Benedictine College that a chance pairing with a certain counselor changed her life.
“I actually originally intended to major in criminology,” she says, “but there were no criminology classes available my first semester. I happened to have a music teacher who was helping me get into my classes, and she asked, what else do you like? And I said, well, I like music. She put me in all these music classes. I was kind of annoyed. But then, after my first theory course, I was completely hooked, and I completely forgot about criminology. My fate was determined.”
In the spring semester of her senior year she studied abroad in Florence, Italy. It was there that her classmates encouraged her to lead a choir. This was the first time she had done so. “Seeing the difference it made for people’s experience was a treasure and a joy for me,” she says. “I wanted to continue bringing that to people. That’s part of the reason I’m so thrilled about this Carnegie Hall experience for the Community Chorus. Through Westminster I myself have had the privilege and opportunity of performing there, and now I get to share that experience with the people I am serving.”
After Benedictine College, further studies at Westminster seemed an inevitability.
“As I was pursuing graduate programs, all along the way I was meeting alumni from Westminster,” she says. “The programs I was interested in, the people I was studying with, all had some connection to Westminster Choir College.” These included teachers and directors of some of the nation’s top choral music programs. Brozovich learned that many of them had actually studied with James Jordan.
“Then I came and visited the school and just saw the caliber of musicianship. I had grown up believing that there was a divide — orchestras were musical and choirs just sing — and that was completely blown apart when I came to Westminster. When I realized how musical the human voice can be, and how raw and vulnerable and artistic it can be, it seemed like a great fit. Joe Miller and all of his colleagues in the program, they don’t just train us to be great choral directors; they train us to be excellent musicians. That combined with the incredible performance opportunities you get at the school, it was a no-brainer.”
Westminster’s influence also extends to Trenton Children’s Chorus, for which Brozovich serves as director of development. She points out that the organization’s artistic director is Patricia Thel, who founded the Conservatory’s children’s choirs, and its executive director is Kate Mulligan, also a Westminster alumna.
Brozovich, on top of everything else, gives voice lessons and teaches beginning and intermediate piano at Cornerstone Music Studios in Millstone. She says her husband, Colton Martin, is the advanced pianist. He is also the organist and full-time director of sacred music at the Roman Catholic parish of St. Dominic in Brick. The couple married after they completed the graduate program together at Westminster. (Martin sang in James Jordan’s Williamson Voices.) They now make their home in Morrisville with their 15-month-old son.
When asked about her dream repertoire, Brozovich singles out Benjamin Britten’s “War Requiem.” She says she feels a particular affinity with music of the 20th and 21st centuries.
“There’s something really meaningful about being a part of an ensemble or a group that’s taking what’s going on now and making it happen and making it real,” she says. “This concert that we’re doing now is largely music from a living composer. In an ideal world we’d be singing it in a planetarium. Bringing new music to audiences in new ways, that’s my dream ensemble.”
Prior to being bitten by the music bug in college, she sang as a child in the local Catholic church and participated in the high school choir. Her contractor father and brother play the guitar. Her sister also sings, but Brozovich says she is the only one in the family who has pursued music professionally. Even so, one of her sister’s focuses when she attended Kansas State University was on music education. But that interest has since been superseded by other obligations. Brozovich’s sister is now mayor of Conway Springs.
“I am proud of where I came from,” Brozovich says. “I remember being a young child and learning about our state and being really inspired by the motto of ‘to the stars through difficulties.’ The fact that it is something I can incorporate into this concert is meaningful to me personally. It’s a great little nod to my heritage.”
Westminster Community Chorus, Bristol Chapel, Westminster Choir College, 101 Walnut Lane Princeton. Friday, November 22, 7:30 p.m. $10 to $15. 609-921-2663 or www.rider.edu/events/westminster-community-chorus-vespers-sea.