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New York Festival of Song Presents Songs of "Protest", at Merkin Hall
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New York Festival of Song Presents Songs of "Protest", at Merkin Hall

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Kaufman Music Center
New York Festival of Song
Steven Blier, Artistic Director, Co-Founder
Michael Barrett, Assoc. Artistic Director, Co-Founder


Originally Staged by Mary Birnbaum
Directed by Mo Zhou

Steven Blier, Piano, Texts, Arrangements,
Translations, Program Notes, Commentary

Sopranos: Shereen Pimentel, Christine Taylor Price
Mezzo-Soprano: Rihab Chaieb
Tenor: Joshua Blue
Baritones: Dimitri Katotakis, Jacob Scharfman
Bass: Andrew Munn
Asst. Pianist: Chris Reynolds
Guitar: Jack Gulielmetti

At Merkin Concert Hall

Press: Aleba Gartner:

Dr. Roberta E. Zlokower
February 27, 2018

After the 2016 presidential election, Steven Blier, an artist imbued with social conscience and an ardent voice for artistic freedom and expression, met with his colleague, Mary Birnbaum, and changed tonight’s New York Festival of Song program to a vibrant and fervent presentation of protest songs. During the course of American political events and news, the program was fine-tuned. I am pleased to write that Mr. Blier’s thoughts, efforts, and professional dedication were all successful, as tonight’s vocalists, guitarist, and Mr. Blier, as always, were awarded with vocal accolades throughout, and especially at the finale. The program’s composers ranged from Stevie Wonder, Fats Waller, and Woody Guthrie to Enrique Santos Discépolo, Leonard Bernstein, and Mohammed Fairouz. As is the custom, the audience was treated to a full booklet of written verses, including translations, to follow along. This, in itself, is so commendable, considering the extra effort, and visualizing the lyrics enhances the thematic tunes.

Solos, duets, and full ensemble vocals abounded with tonal luminosity and compelling theatricality. Soprano, Shereen Pimentel enthusiastically started the evening with the 1976 Stevie Wonder piece, “If It’s Magic” (“If it’s magic, Then why can’t it be everlasting…”) with soaring soprano strength. A c. 1942 traditional Italian tune followed, sung by the deeply resonant bass, Andrew Munn, “Bella Ciao” (“The world is waking outside my window, Bella ciao, bella ciao, bella ciao ciao ciao…”). Carlos Gustavino’s song to Hamlet Lima Quintana’s 1968 “Pampamapa”, “Map of the Pampas” (“I’m not from around here, But it’s all the same…”), was sung by the lush baritone, Dimitri Katotakis. The yearning Spanish vocals were performed in perfected affect and accent. Also sung in eloquent Spanish, by soprano, Christine Taylor Price and mezzo, Rihab Chaieb, was a 1972 tune, “Como la cigarra”, “Like the cicada”, by Maria Elena Walsh (“So many times they killed me, So many times I died, “Yet I am here…”).

The 1972 Randy Newman combustive piece, “Political Science” (“No one likes us. I don’t know why. We may not be perfect, But heaven knows we try…”), was sung by Mr. Katotakis and Ms. Price. Tremendous dramatization, gestures, and emotional energy were apparent throughout the concert, especially as the evening progressed, with youthful lyrics of communal hope and desire for societal change. Fats Waller’s, with Andy Razaf, 1929 “Black and Blue” (“Cold, empty bed, springs hard as lead, Pains in my head, feel like old Ned, What did I do to be so black and blue?...”) brought down the house, sung by the powerful tenor, Joshua Blue. Mischa Spoliansky’s 1920 “The Lavender Song” (“What makes them think they have the right, To say what God considers vice. What makes them think they have the right, To keep us out of Paradise?...”), words by Kurt Schwabach, brought out baritone, Jacob Scharfman, with dramatic persuasiveness.

Mohammed Fairouz’ 2012 song, to a poem by Fadwa Yuqan, “From ‘A Prayer to the New Year’ ” (“Give us love, so we may build the collapsed universe within us anew and restore the joy of fertility to our barren world”) was reverently sung by Ms. Chaieb. This was followed by a 1943 traditional Yiddish song, “Zog nit keynmol”, words by Hirsch Glick, sung by Jacob Scharfman and the ensemble, in a stunningly eloquent performance. Once again, Mr. Blier provided the program translation (“Never say this is your final road, no matter how dark the skies look. Our long-awaited moment is coming, and our footsteps beat out the message: WE ARE HERE…”). Ironically, this stunning moment was followed with Woody Guthrie’s 1951 angry musical response to “enemy is my landlord”, called “Old Man Trump” (“Now gather around people, This story I will tell, of a hateful landlord, With a name you all know well…”), sung by Mr. Katotakis. The audience loved it.

The final four songs were the 1938 “El Cambalache”, “The Junkshop of Our Times” (“You know the world we live in’s, Really rotten to the core…”), by Enrique Santos Discépolo, translated by William Bolcom and sung by Mr. Scharfman, the 1936 “Joe Hill” (“I dreamed I saw Joe Hill last night, Alive as you or me, Says I, ‘But Joe, you’re ten years dead’, ‘I never died’, says he…”), by Alfred Hayes and Earl Robinson, sung by Mr. Munn, Stevie Wonder’s 1972 “Big Brother” (“Your name is big brother, You say that you’re watching me on the tele, Seeing me go nowhere…”), sung by Mr. Blue, and Joni Mitchell’s 1970 “Big Yellow Taxi” (“They paved paradise, And put up a parking lot, With a pink hotel, a boutique, And a swinging hot spot…”), sung by Ms. Pimentel. The full ensemble returned for an expressive, harmonic encore. It should be noted that the guitar accompaniment by Jack Gulielmetti expanded the folkloric fabric of many of tonight’s tunes. Kudos to all, and kudos especially to Steven Blier, a true man for all seasons.

Steven Blier at the Piano
and the NYFOS Cast of "Protest"
Courtesy of Cherylynn Tsushima

Steven Blier with Joshua Blue, Tenor
Courtesy of Cherylynn Tsushima

Steven Blier and Chris Reynolds
with the NYFOS Cast of "Protest"
Courtesy of Cherylynn Tsushima

The NYFOS Cast of "Protest"
Courtesy of Cherylynn Tsushima

l-r: Dimitri Katotakis, Shereen Pimentel, Joshua Blue,
Jacob Scharfman, Andrew Munn, Christine Taylor Price, Jack Gulielmetti,
Rihab Chaieb, and seated: Chris Reynolds, Steven Blier
Courtesy of Cherylynn Tsushima

For more information, contact Dr. Roberta E. Zlokower at