Saturday, March 19, 2011

Tiger, Tiger!

About seven years ago when John Ferris and I first heard Yevgeny Kutik audition for the Ferris-Burtis Scholarship in the studio at Rood Hill Farm, we realised that in choosing him as the winner, we had a tiger by the tail.

Yevgeny has gone from a brilliant career as a music student-performer to a sensational career as an international concert artist, proving that our judgement of him was right on the money.

So what could have been a happier eighty-first birthday present today, than attending a private recital by Yevgeny tonight in Lenox? This was serendipity at its finest!

In a recent blog I wrote about a conversation I had had with a good friend who is a fine musician and extraordinary voice teacher. We spoke about where you go, as a performer, when you are out there on that stage by yourself. When asked, she said that she sings to eternity. Rene Pape said that he enters into whatever character he is portraying, leaving himself behind.

I know without asking that Yevgeny goes to a very special place when he performs, a place no one else will ever find, but a place where he and the music become one. It is obvious watching him play that he has left the rest of us poor mortals behind and gone among the gods- eternity.

I am always reminded of hearing a mezzo-soprano singing the first aria from Honegger's King David at the National Cathedral in Washington, D.C. years ago. I was there to play an organ concert the next day in the Cathedral, and decided to hear the oratorio. Some radical set off a bomb in one of the high balconies while she was singing 'God shall be my shepherd kind, He protects me from the wind.' After about ten bars, the bomb exploded in that incredibly reverberant space, booming on and on. She never blinked an eye, but calmly finished singing the very quiet aria as if nothing had happened. She, too, had gone to that special place we all, as performing artists, must find.

Yevgeny finds it in every concert and stays there through the entire program. This is but one of the qualities that makes him the exceptional artist he has become.

In tonight's program at Kimble Farms, a retirement community in Lenox, MA where Yevgeny has performed every year since he was nine years old, he blew everyone away with his performance. He has at his finger tips a multitude of sounds, silky, steel-like, sensuous, aggressive: the works!

Timothy Bozarth, his long-time performance partner, produced the same kind of excitement at the piano.

The program opened with a Brahms Scherzo that set the excitement level for the whole evening. This was followed by the lovely Schumann Sonata in A minor, and the Tchaikovsky Solo and Russian Dance from Swan Lake. After the Intermission they performed Beau Soir, an arrangement of the song by Claude Debussy, the Ravel Sonate in G, and the Wieniawski Polonaise No. 1.

Yevgeny produces sparks which fly from the fingerboard with his amazing technique. It was a wonderful concert.

I drove home under the fullest full moon ever. Tonight was the night the moon was at Perigee, when it is closest to the earth once in a zillion years. With that, and the magnificent concert, I felt that both Heaven and Earth were celebrating my eighty-first birthday!

Yevgeny and the Elektra Ensemble will be performing a benefit concert for the Ferris-Burtis Music Foundation on Sunday, May 22, at 4:00 p.m. at the Sandisfield Arts Center. For more information see:

Saturday, March 12, 2011

Where to?

It's dangerous to allow two voice teachers to sit down to chat a spell.They come up with the most wonderful ideas! Today my friend and I started talking about nothing in particular and got into the most wonderful conversation about words and music and direction and lots of other issues having to do with vocal performance. I had asked her opinion of a very well-known singer who is famous for her machine-gun like style of singing runs, and I was happy to find out that my friend detests her singing as much as I do. While it is mind boggling how anyone can sing that many notes that fast, it really boils down to: 'Who cares?' It is so un-musical and un-interesting that speed is beside the point.

We went on to discuss another soprano who has one of the most beautiful voices on stage today but who fails to move either one of us with her singing. My friend said that what this woman does are 'vocal effects', rather than becoming involved with the text and character and emotion of whatever she is singing. As our mutual former voice teacher, Olga Averino, used to say when hearing this kind of singing, 'Now, what else can you do?'

We decided that when someone is born with this amazing type of natural instrument, it is easy to fall into the trap of falling in love with your beautiful voice and leaving characterization and emotion in the other room. What a pity.

My friend said that she was once asked by the writer Charles Michener 'when you are singing, to whom do you sing?' She answered, 'I sing to the Universe.'

What a great concept. Interestingly enough, Jose van Dam, on being asked that same question, gave the identical reply. Singers take note! Aim for Infinity!

Charles Michener did  an article for the New Yorker on Lorraine some years ago and got an in-depth look into her soul. Lorraine always sang for the Universe, and often, I believe, the Universe sang right back to her.

Driving home from my friend's house today, I was listening to the Met broadcast of Boris and Rene Pape was being interviewed. He was asked where he goes mentally and emotionally when he is on stage in any given role. His answer was similar to the others. He said that when you are on stage you enter a different world from reality. You make your own reality within what ever role or song you are singing.

Maybe this is all about a sort of 'Out of body' experience to which we must open ourselves if we wish to be really fine, complete performers. We need to give up a part of ourself to become Boris or Violetta or whom so ever.

This is undoubtedly the reason why there are lots of very good singers about, with beautiful voices, but only a few complete artists who have somehow given themselves up to the emotional, dramatic and musical components that allow us to 'become the song.

Alive and well

Last evening a group of friends treated me to a nice Italian dinner and the local high school's Spring Concert as a pre-eighty-first Birthday Bash. Having heard an excellent performance of The Wizard of Oz at this same school several years ago, I should not have been surprised at the quality of the program, which was excellent.

It opened with a small chorus singing a capella versions of a number of songs I had never heard, but which were sung with sweet, light voices in tune. Various members of the group sang brief solo lines, including the daughter/grand daughter of my friends. It was good to hear these light, young voices singing with ease. Only one young woman felt the need to 'belt', but everyone else did a very nice job with their brief moment in the spotlight.

Their conductor was a young woman who obviously knew what she was doing. Apparently, these kids show up early at school several mornings a week to participate in this group before regular classes commence. My only suggestion to the conductor would be that she wear a longer jacket on stage. Keeping time with her right foot, the gyrations of her read end were a sight to behold. Not since Lenny went to his reward has a conductor's butt made such an impression on me!

Their finale was a medley of songs from Guys and Dolls, a show that none of these young people could have had any idea about. It brought back memories of seeing Vivian Blaine and Robert Alda sing the leads in this show on Broadway in the fifties, Being eighty-one lends one a certain perspective, doesn't it?

The chorus was followed by the Jazz Band, a sizable group led by a fellow who obviously knows his fachs of life. (Sorry!) They played with excellent technique and verve. He would mostly get them started with the traditional 'And-a-one-and-a-two', and they would take off and soar! The fact that this whole genre of music was more from my generation than theirs didn't seem to bother them in the least. They got it! The instrumental soloists had a real opportunity to perform, unlike the singers who barely got to sing one line of the song by themselves. And whereas Zoot Sims and Miles Davis would have improvised their 'licks', these kids played their written-out variations as if they were making them up. They were terrific!

It is very good for an old fogey like me to show up at a high school concert like this once in a while to be reminded that in a few public schools, at least, music is alive and well. There was even dancing in the aisles during one of the band numbers. It's almost like living in Greece!

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Our name is MUD

'Mud, glorious mud!' are the lyrics that used to be caroled by the comedy team of Flanders and Swann back in the day. It was an amusing song about the salubrious effects of this yucky substance. Well, Flanders and Swann, thou shouldst be living at this hour. And living on Rood Hill Road!

Following the snowiest winter on record we have just had the rainiest couple of days up here on Rood Hill Road since the biblical flood, turning our picturesque retreat into an oozy, goozy mess.

Rood Hill Farm has stood on the south side of this hill since 1780 on very solid ground. Only last summer I had my circular driveway topped with what is known in the trade as  'Airport Mix' to further strengthen its resistance to weather. But this recent display of flowing water and melting snow by Mother Nature took the cake- or at least part of the driveway.

The road descends a hill just beside my home in what is, in dry weather, a charmingly scenic manner. For the past several days it has been turned into a lava-like sea of mud. Fortunately for me, the other end of my driveway has been able to hold its own so I can come and go with only minor wallowing in the muck.

Seeing pictures on TV of homes that are in water up to the windows, I feel fortunate that I live on the side of a hill where the water, however furious,at least runs downhill, taking only part of the roadway with it, leaving this old house standing high and fairly dry. That John Rood was a crafty old man when he built on the south side of this hill all those years ago. It's as if he knew that in 2011, Aprés moi le déluge would require true grit!

Friday, March 4, 2011

Gala Benefit Concert for Ferris Burtis Foundation

On Sunday afternoon, May 22, at 4:00 p.m., the Ferris-Burtis Foundation, The Berkshire-Taconic Foundation, and the Sandisfield Arts Center will present a Gala Benefit Concert for the Ferris-Burtis Music Foundation at the Arts Center on Hammertown Road in Sandisfield, MA.

Performing will be Yevgeny Kutik, violin and Timothy Bozarth, piano-  and the Elektra Ensemble, Brunlida Myftaraj, violin, Melissa Morgan, 'cello, and Igor Lovchinsky, piano-  These brilliant young musicians have been aided in their education and careers by the Foundation and are donating their considerable talents to this event.

The Ferris-Burtis Foundation was founded by my late spouse, John Ferris, and myself in 1987 through the Berkshire-Taconic Foundation in Sheffield, MA, to aid young classical musicians in their education and careers.

If you would like to make reservations for this concert and/or make a special tax-deductible gift to the Foundation, you should send a check made out to Ferris-Burtis Foundation to Herbert Burtis, 53 Rood Hill Road, Sandisfield, MA 01255. Reservations are $20.00 each. Include your email address for confirmation.  If you wish to make an additional gift to the Foundation you may choose from one of the following categories to help keep classical music alive, even in small towns like Sandisfield. You will receive two reservations and your name will be listed in the program. Portions of your gift over the cost of the reservation are tax-deductible.

Friend- $100.00-$299.00
Sponsor- $300.00-$499.00
Benefactor- $500.00-$699.00
Angel- $700.00-$999.00
Founder- $1000.00 or more

Any gift will be appreciated and well-used to keep classical music alive and well.
Thank you, Herbert Burtis