Monday, January 26, 2015

Glover- I love 'er

Tonight David and I saw a concert by Music of the Baroque.  It was conducted by Jane Glover. This woman never makes a gesture that does not have musical meaning. It is as if she has completely digested whatever work she is conducting and transmits it through her hands and fingers directly into the minds and instruments of her orchestra. If I didn't know better, I would say it is magic.

Well, maybe it is. I have never seen a conductor express a score as beautifully as this woman. She is the very best.
Image result for jane glover

Tonight she led the orchestra in Concerto Grosso in C Major (Alexander's Feast), and the Symphony No. 34 in C Major by Mozart. The orchestra follows her slightest gesture with apparent delight, producing fabulous music. The music dances in her hands.

The soloist tonight was soprano Susanna Phillips- or 'Diva! Susanna Phillips', as she was billed in the program. 

I don't think so.

Image result for susanna phillips

The voice was not particularly beautiful. Her coloratura worked well in the higher registers but disappeared when she went into the middle and lower parts of her voice. She had high notes, but they were often pushed and sometimes off pitch. She let out one yelp at the end of the Mozart Concert aria that made me jump. The audience seemed to feel that she was wonderful, so I guess I'm just a picky old voice teacher.

She opened with several arias and recitatives from Giulio Cesare of Handel. Then sang the Scena di Berenice by Haydn, ending with the Concert aria "Bella mi fiamma' of Mozart. That's where the yelp happened.

I had worked the Berenice with Lorraine years ago and she performed it with the Boston Symphony. The work was just in too low a tessitura for Ms. Phillips. She couldn't begin to bring it off. Lorraine was a Mezzo-soprano and Ms. Phillips is a soprano. Two very different voices, both in range and musical ability. There was no contest.

I wish I could convince lady singers to stop wearing strapless gowns when then perform. They are very beautiful, but with the corseting required to hold the dress up, they make it impossible to get a low breath. I think that this may have had something to do with her vocal problems tonight. Get a dress that flows and allows you to take a deep singing breath. Trust me, you will sing a lot more easily and beautifully.

She also changed dresses for the second part of the program, both very pretty. Both very tight in the waist. One fuschia and one blue. I thought sopranos only changed gowns in mid-concert when the voice had fled. Oh well...

But the night was really Jane Glover's. She is simply the best!

Sunday, January 25, 2015

An interesting letter

I am just back in Chicago after a wonderful month in Spain. While I was there I got this email from a friend in Holland who has been reading some of my books. I thought that I would answer him in this way in the event that others would be interested in what I have to say.

Here is his email to me:

'Dear Herbert Burtis,

As a present i, again, got a cd of Lorraine Hunt Lieberson, how wonderfull. I always am amazed by her vocal ease. As you were her teacher what, besides being an exceptional musician, was it she did? Was it a technical feature? Did she do everything you write about singing right? What were her strongpoints and did she have any weakness?
Maybe a nice idea for a post.

Your aw-breath has done wonders for my singing, thank you for that.



 Image result for lorraine hunt lieberson

It has been nearly ten years since Lorraine died. July 3, 2006. She had been ill for a long time with the affects of cancer but kept singing wonderfully right up to the last few months of her life. I heard her sing The Neruda Songs by Peter Lieberson, her husband (who died several years after she did) in March 2006 with the Boston Symphony Orchestra. Somehow, she was able, although in poor health, to bring everything together in the performance, as she always did. It was wonderful to hear her sing these magnificent songs, written for her by her husband, who loved her beyond belief.  I believe her very last performance was the Mahler Second Symphony with the Chicago Symphony.

To answer Robert's questions-

1. Yes, she was an amazing musician. In every way. She had also been a professional violist before her singing career took over her life. She said that at one point her viola was stolen and she took that as a sign she'd better stick to singing.

2. Technically she learned to use her amazing instrument with great ease and, of course, incredible musicianship. When she started working with me, twenty years before her death, she had been having trouble with high notes. At that point she was being billed as 'Soprano-Mezzo-Soprano' by Colbert, her then agent. Most of the soprano roles she sang were in Baroque music and were sung at low pitch. After we had worked together for several years, she had to sing a Messiah with the San Francisco Symphony; the soprano role. Singing with her in that performance was Nathaniel Watson, who had sent her to study with me. Nat has also worked with me for many years and has a busy career as a baritone in Canada and the USA. This performance was to be performed at modern pitch, which is almost a half step higher than Baroque pitch. We spent a lot of time working on it so that she could perform it with ease. I did not hear the performance, but she was unhappy with the way it went and Nat agreed that she was not at her best. Shortly after that we had a talk and I told her 'I think you need to decide what you are. I think you are a Mezzo.' She replied 'So do I!'. And that was that. As she matured her voice became larger and darker while still retaining the high C. It was after that time she had her greatest successes.

3. As far as doing everything I have written about, I guess she did. In lessons if she was having a problem, we would stop and I would suggest an easier way to sing the passage. If my first suggestion didn't work, we'd try another one. Once the problem was solved, she would repeat the new method many times in a row immediately. Later, when hearing her sing the passage in a performance, she would sing it exactly the same way. In this way any weakness she was exhibiting would be corrected. She had the ability to try a new technique, a new way of singing something, and make it her own.

As far as I am concerned, there is no other mezzo-soprano of the current generation who can compare to her.

But I may be prejudiced.