Unexpected Places

by Glen Roven

Glen Roven, Emmy Award winner, is a composer, lyricist, conductor, pianist, translator and CD Producer.

"The classical music scene in New York City is amazing. Not only for the quality, but also for the depth and breadth of the offerings. Yes, there are always the A-list attractions, Netrebko at the Met, Argerich at Carnegie. But on any given night, first class concerts are presented all over town, in churches, bars and even floating barges."


The classical music scene in New York City is amazing. Not only for the quality, but also for the depth and breadth of the offerings. Yes, there are always the A-list attractions, Netrebko at the Met, Argerich at Carnegie. But on any given night, first class concerts are presented all over town, in churches, bars and even floating barges. I remember a remarkableSt. Matthew's Passion, complete with two orchestras, choirs and children's choir at Saint Ignatius. I remember seeing Pretty Yende, the super-nova Soprano from South Africa, perform at Weill, the tiny space at Carnegie. And of course we have the 92nd Street Y, Merkin Hall, on the Lower East Side,SubCulture, and Spectrum, plus BargeMusic, floating on the East River, not to mention the other Brooklyn venues like Roulette and the Old Stone house, often overflowing with concertgoers (and young concertgoers at that ) hungry for the music.

One of my favorite venues has been the Hotel lobby at the Gershwin, now the Evelyn, where I've seen many concerts presented by Operamission, led by its Artistic Director, the indefatigable Jennifer Peterson. Operamission's mission is "to bring the art from the composer to the audience." Ms. Peterson specializes in older music, especially Handel, but her tastes embrace a wide variety of styles: I've seen Kurt Weill and Poulenc cabarets there, and one of my favorite evenings was from her "assembly required" series, where she rehearsed and conducted Mozart's "Cosí Fan Tutte" right in front of us, putting the opera together piece by piece with the artists and orchestra! Plus the singers she enlists are always first class. (This is New York and the talent pool is overflowing. With the demise of City Opera and other companies, far too many incredible singers have gaps in their schedules and are more than happy to take quick, smaller gigs.)

I recently attended another Operamission presentation at America's Opera Center on 28th Street, a concert of Clint Borzoni's music featuring a world premiere Song Cycle and a workshop reading of scenes from his new opera When Adonis Calls. Although Borzoni's not yet 30, he has already finished four operas, (one of them commissioned by Opermission) and his songs are routinely performed in recitals alongside such veterans as Jake Heggie, Stephen Paulus, and Ricky Ian Gordon.

The first piece, Earth, My Likeness was a cycle for Countertenor Daniel Bubeck, who commissioned the piece, based on poems by Cavafy, Whitman, plus two poets who were new to me, May Swenson and Sandra Penns.

After hearing Peterson play many times over the years, I knew she had a "tell," just like a poker player who unknowingly tips her hand with an unconscious gesture or grin. She always accompanies singers brilliantly, but whenever she's particularly vested in the music, she'll give it a little extra: more emotion, a deeper fluidity. (My mother would have said, "a little utz, a little zetz!")

From Borzoni's initial rumbling bass tonal clusters, I could tell Peterson was passionate about this music, music that seemed to resonate from the depths of the earth itself, climaxing with the entrance of the countertenor singing Whitman's

Earth, my likeness,
Though you look so impassive, ample and spheric there,
I now suspect that is not all.

Peterson was on fire!

With the possible exception of Dickinson, Whitman has been set by more composers, especially Americans, than any other poet, and it's a tribute to Borzoni that he was able to make the great gray poet's words reverberate with highly original yet lyrical music, taking familiar poems to unexpected places. Borzoni's natural gift for melody and harmonic structure informed the entire countertnor cycle.

I don't think I've ever heard an entire cycle for countertenor, and frankly, I'm not sure I've ever wanted to. I haven't yet joined the countertenor operatic bandwagon so in fashion today, yet there was a muscular sweetness to Bubeck's singing that was instantly compelling, especially in Whitman's "We Two Boys Together Clinging."

When Adonis Calls, the opera in progress, is based on "homo-romantic poetry" by Gavin Geoffrey Dillard. A former porn-star, now a very serious and well-published poet, Dillard is known to virtually every classical singer in America as the lyricist to Jake Heggie's oft-performed cycle, "Of Cats and Gods,' though I wonder how many performers know about his "oft-performed" early career.

Dillard's poetry was fashioned into an opera libretto by the director/choreographer John De Los Santos and arranged into the story of an older "Poet," sung by baritone Grant Youngblood, who is seduced by a younger poet called "The Muse," sung by baritone Michael Weyant. It is unusual to have two baritones in the same piece, as composers traditionally employ different-ranged singers to delineate character, but Borzoni's music easily defines both the "Poet" and his "Muse." I didn't know the work of either performer, though both had major credits; they sang rather difficult music with great ease and intensity, Youngblood's voice commanding the small theater and Weyant's lighter baritone floating through the air. Their voices caressed some of Borzoni's loveliest melodies, accompanied this time by a string quartet and percussion, and I look forward to seeing the entire work staged with sets and a few costumes (or no costumes!) It was fun to hear the sold-out audience get its unexpected kicks from Dillard's masterful poems, especially the naughty bits. Naughty words in opera seem to work every time.

My next off-the-beaten-path musical adventure took me to St. Ignatius of Antioch on West End Avenue to hear a concert presented by the New York Chamber Choir, which, as far as I could tell, is the only Chamber Choir performing in the city. I lived in England for many years, where there is a great tradition of Chamber Choirs (a small group of singers, usually two or three on a part.) With a Chamber Choir, the sound tends to be more ethereal than with larger choirs and more precise because of the few members, and I was looking forward to this concert. Reading in the program, I learned that Alistair Hamilton, founder and Artistic Director, is from London, by way of Scotland. No surprise. It's his mission to bring the tradition over to the Big Apple, as well as to start a free music-education program with a newly created Children's Chamber Choir culled from schools in the tri-state area. Quite an ambitious young man.

But the real reason I went to this particular concert was to hear the guest soloist, the great mezzo Isobel Leonard. If this young organization was able to enlist Ms. Leonard, one of the superstars of the Met and perhaps her generation's definitive "Cenerentola" and "Rosina," something magical was bound to happen.


I was not disappointed. In this ornate little church, the Chamber Choir of New York's sound was simply radiant, and Ms. Leonard, looking lovely in a deep purple gown, sang with the sound she is world famous for: gorgeous legatos, sensual, long phrases, and a warmth that is beyond compare. Hearing an artist of her stature perform in an intimate church is thrilling. And hearing her sing with this well-rehearsed choir raised me to heaven. Glad I was in a church.


Another interesting thing about this group is the repertoire. The title of this concert was "The Music of Royal Composers" and besides the usual suspects of English music--Byrd, Tavener, Purcell--Hamilton programmed music by Paul Mealor, the most successful choral composer in Britain but virtually unknown here. Leonard and the choir performed the 2nd movement of his Stabat Mater, and the results were sheer bliss. Mealor himself will be a guest at their next concert, and with the help of this choir, I'm hoping we can hear more of this man's music, here, across the pond, as they say.

In addition to these gems, this was the first performance of the Children's Chamber Choir, singing music by Holst and Henry VIII. Quite a challenge for a newly formed group. I have no idea how they were able to sound so polished, so professional, in this, their first concert. If this is the future of Chamber Choirs in New York, I'm glad I got to hear them at the beginning.

To follow what's new on Facts & Arts please click here.




 


This article is brought to you by the author who owns the copyright to the text.

Should you want to support the author’s creative work you can use the PayPal “Donate” button below.

Your donation is a transaction between you and the author. The proceeds go directly to the author’s PayPal account in full less PayPal’s commission.

Facts & Arts neither receives information about you, nor of your donation, nor does Facts & Arts receive a commission.

Facts & Arts does not pay the author, nor takes paid by the author, for the posting of the author's material on Facts & Arts. Facts & Arts finances its operations by selling advertising space.

 

 

 


This article is brought to you by the author who owns the copyright to the text.

Should you want to support the author’s creative work you can use the PayPal “Donate” button below.

Your donation is a transaction between you and the author. The proceeds go directly to the author’s PayPal account in full less PayPal’s commission.

Facts & Arts neither receives information about you, nor of your donation, nor does Facts & Arts receive a commission.

Facts & Arts does not pay the author, nor takes paid by the author, for the posting of the author's material on Facts & Arts. Facts & Arts finances its operations by selling advertising space.

 

 

Browse articles by author

More Music Reviews

Added 26.03.2018

Johann Sebastian Bach’s B Minor Mass, performed at Symphony Hall on Friday (March 23) and again on Sunday (March 25), was delivered in impressive Baroque style by the Handel+Haydn Society orchestra and chorus.

Added 15.03.2018

The Brahms Scherzo Op. 4 opens with a delicate and playful theme, then carries us along on waves of emotion swinging from the filigree, to the lyrical, the thunderous, and back to the delicate.

Added 09.03.2018

Perhaps enough time has passed since the death of the famous French pedagogue Nadia Boulanger to step back and question her musical sainthood. After all, she was only human. 

Added 21.02.2018

A new “electronic opera” from Ireland, “Heresy”, broke new ground in contemporary opera a couple of years ago, bringing together Irish vocal talent and the synthesized music of much-decorated composer Roger Doyle.

Added 04.02.2018

Elegant, poised and deeply musical Ran Jia has brought a new freshness to the Franz Schubert piano sonatas, a phenomenal achievement considering how often they have been performed by the greatest pianists of the past 75 years.

Added 31.01.2018

American expat pianist David Lively found happiness in Paris as a teen-aged piano prodigy and got so busy performing and studying  -- with an Alfred  Cortot associate -- that he ended up making his life in France, a “different planet” culturally, he says, compared to that of his native land. 

Added 26.01.2018

When young French pianist François Dumont appeared at the Salle Gaveau in Paris recently, the critics embraced him without reserve. One wrote that his recital “confirmed his place in the family of the best musicians in France”.

Added 13.01.2018

Nearly two hours of Debussy’s solo piano music at one sitting can be, for some, too much impressionistic color to digest. And indeed a woman beside me fell asleep during the twelve Préludes, Book One.

Added 30.12.2017

If I were to help a new listener grapple with Charles Ives’s Piano Sonata No. 2, “Concord, Mass., 1840-1860”, I would share my story of first seeing the score’s opening page.

Added 29.11.2017

Piano practice is like having a dog. If one has lived long enough with such an unnecessary but at the same time critical circumstance, one wonders how others live without it.

Added 29.11.2017

In the world of classical music trios, there are few combinations as natural as the cello, guitar and piano. Operating mostly in the same register, attacking and retreating equally, the instruments can blend beautifully if played with discipline and heart. 

Added 03.11.2017

A California polymath has electrified the music world with his images of classical music in visual form, capturing more than 165 million hits on his Internet postings in just a few years.  Only pop singers or weird videos do better. 

Added 30.10.2017

Ukrainian-born Evgeny Ukhanov, based in Australia for the past 20 years, is an established performer of new music originating in his adopted homeland. Now he has teamed up with friend and Melbourne composer Alan Griffiths on a new CD of selections regrouped under the title “Introspection”. 

Added 09.09.2017
 

If music makes you happy or sad, you are probably an average listener. If it leaves you indifferent, you might be considered insensitive. But if it gives you goosebumps you are in a very special group with connections in your brain anatomy that others may never feel.

Added 31.08.2017

Lake Como, known as the “magic lake” of Italy, has inspired writers and composers for centuries with natural surroundings so conducive to creative expression.

Added 16.08.2017
File 20170815 15219 g8geue

Much of the mythology that surrounds Elvis Presley, who died 40 yea

Added 02.08.2017

Katia and Marielle Labèque -- the glamorous French keyboard siblings -- have achieved a solid legacy of exuberant performances in the two-piano repertoire, ranging from experimental contemporary works to traditional classical-romantic composers.

Added 24.06.2017

I was flipping through my copy of Prokofiev’s Piano Sonata No. 6 recently and spotted his two “col pugno” markings. My memory took me back many years to the day I first encountered these violent directions. At the time, I didn’t know what to think.