Saturday, June 23, 2012

Sing me a song

I sat down for an interesting conversation with my friend, 'the other voice teacher', who had visiting her another fine musician. We got on the subject of Lieder recitals and the lack thereof in today's musical world.

The July issue of Opera News treated this very subject, highlighting Gerald Finley, the Canadian bass-baritone, who makes a specialty of singing this type of program. It also contained an article on Elly Ameling, the Dutch soprano, who for years toured the world singing only song recitals. In earlier years singers like Janet Baker, Rise Stevens and many others, were known for their ability to combine careers in opera with one in the song repertoire. My friend told me that she used to sing as many as sixty song recitals each year, in addition to her appearances in opera.
. Elly Ameling

    Rise Stevens

Janet Baker 

Those were the days of Community Concerts, when great performers, singers and instrumentalists, came to small towns all over this country and performed. In Battle Creek, Michigan, I heard the greatest performers in the world. That, unfortunately, has ceased to exist.

I was working yesterday with  a student who is preparing a recital which will include, among other things, a set of songs by Hugo Wolf. She told me she likes to sing songs but really loves to sing operatic arias. I told her that in this day and age, outside of the conservatory, song recitals are becoming like the Brontosaurus: extinct! To have a career as a singer, one really needs to head for the operatic stage. If you are lucky, like Mr. Finley, people may then come to hear you sing songs.

Our visiting friend, who is involved in a summer chamber music festival, said that she thought that she would suggest that they begin to include at least four song recitals in each of their seasons. What a wonderful idea. Would that more venues would think like this.

In the meantime, my students learn a repertoire of songs, as well as of operatic roles and arias. Considering the vast catalogue of song repertoire, it is a crime to let it go unsung.

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Second Fiddle

My friend Sue and I attended a performance of Fiddler on the Roof at Barrington Stage tonight. I first saw this musical in 1964 at the Imperial Theatre in New York. That's a long time ago. Starring were Zero Mostel, Maria Karnilova, Bea Arthur, Austin Pendelton, Bert Convy, and, later in the run, Bette Midler. That's quite a cast.

In the ensuing years I have more or less forgotten the story line. It is based on the short stories of Solomon Rabinovich, whose pen name was Sholem Aleichem. This is a Yiddish expression which translates something like 'How do you do?'.

It follows the life of Tevye, the milkman, his wife, and his five daughters who live in the village of Anatevka, a Schtetl in Russia. They are beset by joys and woes, mostly woes, and are finally forced to leave their village in a pogrom. These were especially vicious between 1881 and 1884, when the Jews were blamed for the assasination of Tsar Alexander II. These riots forced many to leave their native Russian and seek safety elsewhere.

The music is by Jerry Bock, the lyrics by Sheldon Harnick, and the book by Joseph Stein. The production by Barrington Stage was both good and bad, as far as I was concerned. Good in the sense that all of the actors seemed right for their roles, bad in the sense that they all seemed to think that they had to shout both their lines and their songs. Even thought miked to the hilt, the volume from the stage was a roar all through the first act. I would have enjoyed an occasional lull here and there.

Brad Oscar as Tevye has a splendid voice. He uses it to excess much of the time, but he was very good in the part. Joanna Glushak as Golde could sing sweetly at times but opted for the rule: 'When in doubt, belt'.

The rest of the cast had varying success with their roles. Most of the women were pushing their voices out of reason.

A voice teacher should never be allowed to attend a performance like this!

I also realised that I had never particularly liked the musical. The obvious 'hit songs', 'Tradition', Sunrise, Sunset', and 'If I were a richman', stood the test of time fairly well. But, especially in Act 2, the musical inspiration ran out and much of the music is banal.

The play, which is so energetic and loud in Act 1, peters out and, as the story becomes grim, wanders off to nowhere.

There was some sensational dancing, based on the choreography of Jerome Robbins by Gary John La Rosa, who also directed the show.

Sunday, June 10, 2012

Toot Toot!

I know that it is considered gauche to 'toot your own horn', but I can't resist. This afternoon four of my musical grandchildren performed a concert at the Sandisfield Arts Center that brought me to tears. There is nothing more powerful than young talent; and it was on display this afternoon in enormous quantities.

The four, Gabriella Rose Makuc, pianist, Jullian Müller, cellist, Morwenna Boyd, guitarist, and Yevgeny Kutik, violinist, proved that youth is where great talent begins. Young performers seem to have no fear and play where angels fear to tread.

Gabriella, myself, Morwenna and Julian

Gabriella opened the program with Bach's 'Prelude and Fugue in C major, played with clarity and musicality, followed by Liszt's 'Sonetto 104 del Petrarco', which she played with touching sentiment and limpid tone.

Julian played the Allegro movement of the Dvorak 'cello concerto with bravura, marvelous intonation, and passion. He then played a transcription of Chopin's 'Nocturne in C sharp minor' by Gregor Piatigorsky. His timbre  on the instrument is meltingly beautiful. He plays with consummate musicality and emotion. He was accompanied by the excellent pianist Anne Chamberlain.

Morwenna played several guitar pieces with delicacy or furor, as needed, beginning with 'Asturias' of Albeniz, followed by 'Prelude #4 in E minor' by Villa-Lobos, Baila de Gato Rojo, which she wrote. and ending with 'Estudios Secillos' by Leo Brouwer.

Kathleen Callahan, performing as a guest artist on the program,  sang 'Come scolio' from Cosi fan tutti, of Mozart, 'Ain't it a pretty night' from Carlisle Floyd's Susanna and 'Vissi d'arte' from Puccini's Tosca.  Her impassioned performance led to an ovation.

After the Intermission, Yevgeny Kutik took the stage- in every sense of the word. This incredible young violinist has been conquering the world of music every since John Ferris and I first heard him nine years ago. Accompanied by the estimable pianist, Timothy Bozarth, he performed a Beethoven Sonata and a Lutoslavski work that was dazzling in its scope and technical bravura.Yevgeny is the nearest thing to Heifetz I have heard in my many years of listening to violinists. He recently returned from concerts in Rostock, Germany with the Norddeutsche Philharmonic and at the Lobkowicz palace in Prague. On Friday evening he played to a sold-out house at the Embassy Series in Washington, DC. Words fail me when trying to detail the power and scope of his performance. He wipes me out!!
Yevgeny, myself, Tim

These wonderful young artists are all under the wing of the Ferris Burtis Music Foundation, which benefited from the proceeds of this concert. It has been our aim to help young classical musicians in their education and careers.
I think we have made remarkable choices with our performers. Bravi a tutti!

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Take a Deep Breath

Tonight my neighbor and I saw Barrington Stage 2's presentation of Duncan Macmillan's one act play Lungs. It is quite an emotional roller coaster ride. The two actors are amazing- acting with a truth and reality that leaves the audience drained by the end of the 90 minutes.

Brooke Bloom and Ryan King play W and M (guess what the initials stand for). W and M live together and spend a lot of time talking about whether they should have a baby, get married, worry about ecology, global warming and all sorts of topics on which neither of them always agrees. This leads to a lot of emotional interplay, cut-off sentences, interruptions, unfinished thoughts and unspent emotions. There is a lot of screaming and accusing one another of not being there. It must have been a difficult script to memorize. But they do it as if they have been doing it for years, which in a sense, they have. They were both in the original cast at the Studio Theatre in Washington, DC.  They do their parts with an incredible sense of reality.

The play was directed by Aaron Posner and set on a stark stage- no set, no props, just two people loving and hating each other at various times.

They decide to have a baby; she has a miscarriage; they part; see each other briefly; conceive a child; and finally marry after much Sturm und Drang.

My friend and I were completely engrossed in the action but felt the play could be effectively cut by ten or fifteen minutes to its benefit. The intensity coming off the stage is palpable. We were both emotionally exhausted by the end.

These are two extraordinary actors. I would love to see more of them. Barrington Stage please take note!

Monday, June 4, 2012

A Trip to the Stars

'A trip to the stars, to Venus and Mars'...

Well I didn't get to Venus and Mars last night, but I was surrounded by Stars. My dear friend, Nancy Ford, invited me to be present at her table at the 50th Anniversary Celebration of the Dramatists Guild Fund at the Mandarin Oriental Hotel in Columbus Circle. Nancy was a patron of the event and her writing partner for their numerous Broadway shows, Gretchen Cryer, is the President of the Fund. The evening was honoring John Kander, half of the team of Kander and Ebb who wrote many musicals including Chicago and The Kiss of the Spider Woman.

Gretchen started the proceedings by introducing her son, Jon Cryer, as the evening's emcee. Jon is the star of the television series Two and a Half Men.

After a cocktail hour and a sumptuous dinner, the show began.

Lots of candles and wine glasses!

The first to perform was Joel Grey who sang 'Willkommen' from Cabaret. Stephen Schwartz, the President of the Dramatists Guild spoke in glowing terms about the honoree. Karen Mason sang 'Colored Lights' from The Rink, Rita Gardner sang 'There's a room in my house' from A Family Affair and 'You would never shame me' from Kiss of the Spider Woman.

Paul Bogaev, in addition to being the pianist for much of the evening, sang 'The First Time' from Zorba, Howard McGillin sang 'I miss the Music' from Curtains, and Debra Monk stopped the show with 'Everybody's Girl' from Steel Pier.

Christie Brinkley introduced Bebe Neuwirth and Karen Ziemba who recreated 'Nowadays' from Chicago, followed by Stockard Channing who sang 'A Quiet Thing' from Flora the Red Menace. Terrence McNally introduced Chita Rivera who did a medley from Kiss of the Spider Woman.

       After a presentation to John Kander of the Guild award, Liza Minnelli wound things up with four numbers ending with 'New York, New York'. She then got Chita back onstage and eventually the entire case gave a rousing finale.

Liza is 66 and Chita is 79! The last time I heard Liza sing I thought her vocal cords were shredded. Somehow, last night, they worked. Chita did well, too. After years of eight shows a week, it's a wonder that any of these actors has any voice left. But that problem is for another blog.

Needless to say, it was a heady evening for this country boy. I apologise for the condition of some of the pictures. My camera doesn't do well when there are lot of stage lights being used.