‘Visionary’ voice professor solos on chart-topping album

Bryan Pinkall, assistant professor of music, who sings in the Grammy-winning Kansas City Chorale, recently released an album of Russian Late Romantic composer Rachmaninoff's "All-Night Vigil" that is topping the iTunes and Billboard classical music charts with the Chorale. Pinkall was also the art director for the 2014 Winter Olympics opening ceremony in Sochi, Russia. (Parker Robb | The Collegian)

Bryan Pinkall’s career has focused on reaching for the high notes, and now his performances are hitting the top of the charts.

Pinkall, assistant professor of music, released an album March 10 with two multi-Grammy-winning ensembles, the Kansas City Chorale and Phoenix Chorale. The album is a recording of Russian composer Sergei Rachmaninov’s “All-Night Vigil,” and they released it on the 100th anniversary of its premiere.

“It is daunting to record a really famous piece of music,” Pinkall said. “You could mess up an unheard of piece and no one would know.”

Pinkall said the group was told about the project a year before the recording so they could get familiar with it, which included listening to every recording ever made of the song. Once recording began, Pinkall said they had weekly rehearsals, and then sound engineers spent six months making it as perfect as they wanted.

Pinkall said he is shocked at the interest the album is receiving. It is only the second classical album ever featured on iTunes First Play, and the album debuted at number one on the Top Classical Albums and Tradition Classical Albums charts on Billboard.

Classical music doesn’t have the attraction of pop music, Pinkall said, so he’s really happy that people are enjoying it because the attention it’s getting has so much to do with the listeners.

“Music is constantly building on what has been done in the past, and great recordings allow future generations to enjoy and study that level of quality,” said Gary Mortenson, director of the School of Music, Theatre and Dance.

He said the recording will stand the test of time and serve as a model for future interpretations. Mortenson said he loves listening to the incredible blend, balance, style and nuance present in this piece.

“It makes my heart swell to hear such a perfect blend of fantastic voices,” Mortenson said.

Pinkall said creating the recording was really emotional for him as well. All the performers were giving it their all, and at times they had to stop and take it all in.

“It’s really emotional,” Pinkall said. “If people listen to it, they can tell.”

Pinkall said the difficulty of recording was the physical aspect; there are long phrases where the performers couldn’t breathe.

Pinkall balances performing with teaching at K-State. He said he designates days for teaching only and doesn’t allow his professional career to interfere on those days. He also does the same for setting aside days to perform.

“The perception that people have of me is that I work too much, but it’s not really the case,” Pinkall said. “I’m really good at finding free time.”

Pinkall said performing helps him be a better teacher in the long run, because it gives him a lot of insight and keeps his ear fresh and brain engaged.

“(Pinkall) has so much experience, so early in his career, that it is incredible to see what he can do as far as dreaming big and seeing things through,” Mortenson said.

Mortenson said if there were one word to describe Pinkall, it would be “visionary.”

“(Pinkall) is simply fearless in visioning what he wants to do in life,” Mortenson said. “I so admire his ability to expand his horizons through his many and varied professional activities.”

Leah Watts, senior in music education, said Pinkall’s ability to bring real life experiences into the classroom is one of the many things that make him a great teacher.

“When talking to students about a performing career, he is giving advice from his own personal experience, which is incredibly valuable information,” Watts said.

Watts said Pinkall is supportive of all students following their dreams. As a singer and songwriter, Watts is encouraged by Pinkall to sing songs from her heart, and he uses his professional career to help her grow hers.

To add to the list of his professional accolades, Pinkall was the art director of the Emmy-winning production of the 2014 Olympic Opening Ceremony in Russia.

“It was a big Russian time in my life,” Pinkall said. “I had just gotten back from the Olympics and most of this piece is in Russian.”

Pinkall said he saw the Olympics opportunity as both performing and teaching, because it’s someone wanting your ideas. According to Pinkall, musicians are musicians because they want to make music – so whether he is producing or performing, he said he believes he is making music either way.

Next, Pinkall will be involved in the theater production and showcase event, “Rhapsody II,” at the Kauffman Center for Performing Arts in Kansas City, Missouri on May 9-10. All proceeds support scholarships and performing opportunities for K-State students. Tickets begin at $10 and can be purchased online at kauffmancenter.org.

One hundred and fifty K-State students will be performing in “Rhapsody II,” and Pinkall said he is excited and encourages Manhattan residents to attend.