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Rice alumna wins Grammy

By Nicole Zhao     3/7/12 6:00pm

Sasha Cooke (Baker '04) received a 2011 Grammy Award for Best Opera Recording for her performance as a cast member in the Metropolitan Opera premiere of Dr. Atomic. The 54th Annual Grammy Awards ceremony was held on Feb. 12.

A review from The New York Times said the mezzo-soprano singer "sung with aching, wistful intensity" in her portrayal of Kitty Oppenheimer and called her scenes "beautifully rendered."

Dr. Atomic, composed by John Adams, attempts to capture the anxiety of those living in New Mexico at the time scientists were developing tests for the first atomic bomb.

Cooke said the night of the awards ceremony was so hectic that she was not fully prepared to receive the award.

"I don't think it occurred to me," Cooke said. "It suddenly hit me that if we were to win, we would have to walk up on stage. I hadn't really put that together and formed a speech. It was very surreal and exciting."

Cooke said she was glad the composer and opera were being recognized.

"They say it's harder to get nominated than to win, so that was already a huge gift," she said. "The opera itself is really truly unique."

Cooke studied at the Shepherd School of Music for her bachelor's in vocal performance before going on to study at the Juilliard School for her master's degree.

She has performed in venues across the country such as Carnegie Hall and the Kennedy Center and has received distinctions such as first place and the American Prize in the 2010 Jose Iturbi International Music Competition and Top Prize in the 2010 Gerda Lissner competition.

While at Rice, Cooke was involved in campus groups and activities such as Spontaneous Combustion, theater, gospel choir and O-Week advising.

"I absolutely adore my time at Rice," Cooke said. "It was so special. I devote a lot of my individuality as a musical artist to what I experienced at Rice because I was surrounded by people of all kinds of majors and all kinds of interests. It was not a conservatory environment where music was everything. I had friends in every field."

Cooke also commended the Shepherd School for cultivating her vocal talents from a young age.

"There was an unabashed, very encouraging support from the vocal program," she said. "I haven't had such incredible support ever since."

Shepherd School of Music Voice Professor Kathleen Kaun said Cooke's Grammy win was well-deserved.

"Sasha exhibited incredible talent right from the beginning," Kaun said. "Her performance was stunning by any standard, and that she pulled that off as a young singer was phenomenal."

Kaun, who worked one-on-one with Cooke for four years, said her experience mentoring Cooke was a positive one.

"She is one the most interesting graduates that we've ever had," Kaun said. "She's not only incredibly talented musically, but she's a remarkable citizen of the world. She's very interested in a lot of things besides music."

Cooke's advice to young musicians is to be prepared in trying to accomplish set goals, but to also be open-minded about opportunities not previously considered.

"Even with [my music career], I didn't know it would go as well as it has been," Cooke said. "A lot of it wasn't because I said, ‘I must do this, I must do that,' but a composer would say ‘Can you look at this song?' or a friend would say ‘Why don't you try this?' I wouldn't even have thought of it, but I would consider it."

Cooke said she would have never expected to be where she is today.

"I never would have thought in my wildest dreams that I would be good at or end up loving contemporary music so much. I did not think I would be an opera singer when I first came to Rice," Cooke said. "You surprise yourself, and it always ends up the right way. It always ends up as it should."

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