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New York Festival of Song Presents "Love at the Crossroads" at Merkin Concert Hall
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New York Festival of Song Presents "Love at the Crossroads" at Merkin Concert Hall

- Jazz and Cabaret Corner: Arts and Education

On Restaurant Row
344 West 46th Street
New York, NY 10036
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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

Love at the Crossroads

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

Danny Zelibor, Piano

Soprano: Devony Smith
Mezzo-Soprano: Gina Perregrino
Tenor: Philippe L’Espérance
Baritone: Erik Van Heyningen

At Merkin Concert Hall

Press: Aleba Gartner:

Dr. Roberta E. Zlokower
March 19, 2019

Once again New York Festival of Song (NYFOS), under the masterful guidance of its Artistic Director, pianist, arranger, host, narrator, translator, and true Renaissance man, Steven Blier, presented a fantastic event at Merkin Hall. On stage tonight were soprano, Devony Smith, mezzo-soprano, Gina Perregrino, tenor, Philippe L’Espérance, and baritone, Erik Van Heyningen, plus Danny Zelibor on a second piano. Love at the Crossroads was tonight’s theme, another splendid concept by Mr. Blier, and, as always, the NYFOS fans were out in full force and full spirit. At some point, Mr. Blier should write a book of his onstage anecdotes, which I am too busy enjoying and rarely annotate. What I certainly can note is his resplendent stage presence and masterful command of the historical and cultural roots of the twenty-one chosen songs (tonight’s total tunes) that develop the theme of the night. The ensemble is always ebullient, dramatic, and ever so talented. The voices we are treated to could fill a Broadway theater or opera house and then some. The youthful NYFOS vocalists are all developing robust careers regionally and beyond and many have already received notable accolades.

Among tonight’s vocal quartet, Devony Smith, soprano, stunned the audience in her solo, “Just Like a Man”, heard in “Two’s Company”, 1946, music by Vernon Duke, lyrics by Ogden Nash, with an incredible retro vocal style and outstanding resonance. “Just like a man, He was sugar when our thing began, Just like a man, When the going got rough, he ran…” Baritone, Erik Van Heyningen’s solo, “A Miracle would Happen”, from “The Last Five Years”, 2001, music and lyrics by Jason Robert Brown, was tongue in cheek humor, about a man with remorse and longing, sung with deep earthiness and performed with honest emotionality. “Everyone tells you that the minute you get married, Every other woman in the world suddenly finds you attractive. Well, that’s not true…”

Mezzo-soprano, Gina Perregrino’s brief solo, “I Will Walk with My Love”, a traditional Irish ballad, arranged by Gerald Moore, brought out a fully rounded series of glowing vocals and wistful dramatization. Tenor, Philippe L’Espérance’s solo, “Freundliche Vision, Op. 48, No. 1”, 1900, music by Richard Strauss, poem by Otto Julius Bierbaum, sung in German, exuded maturity and dynamism in impassioned tones. “This did not come to me in a dream, But I saw it clearly in the full light of day, A meadow filled with daisies…” As always, Mr. Blier included translations for all German, French, and Spanish lyrics.

Duets, trios, and quartets gathered, according to Mr. Blier’s theatrical renditions of chosen works, and each was entertaining and musically impressive. For the two men, the program had opened with Camille Saint-Saëns’ “Vénus”, 1896, sung in French. The composer also wrote the poem. “Venus, pure torch of love! Sun, hasten your descent, sink into the horizon!…” For the two women, the second song, also sung in French, was Ernest Chausson’s “Réveil, Op. 11, No. 2”, 1883, from “Deux Duos”. “Sleep no more, my heart, for the violet lifts the incense of its awakening up to God…” The quartet ensemble performed Benjamin Britten’s “Underneath the Abject Willow”, 1937, poem by W. H. Auden. “Underneath the abject willow, Lover, sulk no more: Act from thought should quickly follow. What is thinking for?...” The pure tones of atonality were mesmerizing.

Among the remaining works in this charming program were a song by Gabriel Fauré for a poem by Victor Hugo, a song by Édouard Lalo for a poem by André Theuriet, another song by Fauré for a poem by Armand Silvestre (with two couples romancing with chemistry and panache), two songs by Stephen Sondheim, with his lyrics, one for the ensemble (“Two Fairy Tales”, 1973), and one for Ms. Smith and Mr. L’Espérance (“Country House”, 1987), a song by Irving Berlin, his lyrics, for the ensemble (“Outside of That, I love you”, 1940), a song by Edward Kleban, his lyrics, for the ensemble (“Do It Yourself”, 1970’s), a song by Marc Blitzstein, his words, for the two women (“Modest Maid”, 1943), a song by Cy Coleman, lyrics by David Zippel, for the two men (“The Tennis Song”, 1989), two songs by Franz Schubert, one for a poem by Matthäus von Collin, for Ms. Smith and Mr. L’Espérance (“Licht und Liebe, Nachtgesang”, 1822), and one for a poem by Johann Karl Unger, for the ensemble (“Die Geselligkeit, D. 609”, 1818), a song by Brahms, for a poem by Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, for Ms. Perregrino and Mr. Van Heyningen (“Es rauschet das Wasser, Op. 28, No. 3”, 1862), and the finale, sung in Spanish, a song by Manuel Oltra, for a poem by Federico Garcia Lorca, for the ensemble (“Eco”, 1965).

It should be noted that Mr. Blier’s piano accompaniment in solo interludes and tonal harmonies was, as always, incomparable. Sometimes he played in piano duets with Danny Zelibor, and occasionally Mr. Zelibor played on his own, with accomplished flair. Kudos to New York Festival of Song, and kudos to Steven Blier, Danny Zelibor, and tonight’s four vocalists for this extraordinary performance of songs of love, almost love, unrequited love, long-lasting love, and the uncountable complications of love.

Steven Blier, Piano, Devony Smith, Soprano,
Erik Van Heyningen, Baritone, Gina Perregrino, Mezzo-Soprano,
Philippe L'Espérance, Tenor, Danny Zelibor, Piano.
Courtesy of Cherylynn Tsushima

Gina Perregrino, Devony Smith, Erik Van Heyningen,
Steven Blier, Danny Zelibor, Philippe L'Espérance.
Courtesy of Cherylynn Tsushima

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