New York Festival of Song
Steven Blier, Artistic Director
Michael Barrett, Assoc. Artistic Director
Elizabeth Ellis Hurwitt, Executive Director
W. Bradley Rubenstein, Chairman, Board of Directors
Where We Come From
Amy Burton, Sari Gruber, Dina Kuznetsova, Sopranos
Sasha Cooke and Kate Lindsey, Mezzo-Sopranos
Paul Appleby and Benjamin Sosland, Tenors
Carlton Ford and William Sharp, Baritones
Matt Boehler, Bass
Steven Blier and Michael Barrett, Piano
At Merkin Concert Hall
(Merkin Hall Website)
Press: Reva Cooper: firstname.lastname@example.org
Dr. Roberta E. Zlokower
October 13, 2009
“Where We Come from”
Works by: Samuel Barber, Stephen Sondheim, Charles Strouse, George Gershwin, Francis Poulenc, Heitor Villalobos, Ernesto Lecuona, Kurt Weill, Franz Schubert, Johannes Brahms, Paul Simon, Edward Elgar, P.I. Tchaikovsky, and others
Once again, the New York Festival of Song bathed its fans in musical sunlight. Merkin Hall was packed with those savvy New Yorkers and visitors, who have come to expect warmth, sparkling musicality, humor, fascination, and educational enlightenment from Steven Blier, the Festival’s Artistic Director. As always, Mr. Blier introduced the theme and then each song with his background research, impassioned details, and unbounded enthusiasm. “Where We Come From” has at its roots the various ethnicities from which we the audience, the Festival singers and Directors, and tonight’s featured composers emanate, through the generations. Examples are Ireland, Brazil, Spain, Cuba, Russia, Germany, England, and, naturally, Manhattan.
The program began with Samuel Barber’s “Sure On This Shining Night” (1938), on a James Agee poem, sung by the ensemble. It was eloquent, fully choral, and whispering in mood. “Manhattan Hometown”, from Peg (1984), with music and lyrics by David Heneker, also sung by the ensemble, had Broadway pizzazz, with two couples at a time performing. It’s a romantic love song about New York, one I didn’t know, and I wish someone would re-stage this show. “Take Me to the World”, from Evening Primrose (1966), with music by Stephen Sondheim, was sung by Sasha Cooke, mezzo-soprano, in glowing, mystical exhilaration. “Night Song”, from Golden Boy (1964), with music by Charles Strouse and lyrics by Lee Adams, was sung by Carlton Ford, a baritone with introspective emotionality.
“Our Little Kichenette” intended for La-La Lucille! (1938), with music by George Gershwin, lyrics by Arthur J. Jackson and B. G. DeSylva, was sung by Amy Burton and William sharp, soprano and baritone. Michael Barrett, Assoc. Artistic Director of New York Festival of Song, joined Mr. Blier at the piano, for a four-hand accompaniment. Mr. Sharp and Ms. Burton exuded tremendous chemistry, using theatricality and gesture, with lyrics like, “Life will be so joyous and serene, while I grind the coffee bean”. The Poulenc song, sung in French by Amy Burton, “Les chemins de l’amour (Valse Chantée)” (1940), was set on a poem by Jean Anouilh. This piece was presented with gentility and refined polish. It should be noted that Mr. Blier includes translations to each non-English song in the program, plus all the English lyrics, as well. These programs naturally enhance the listener’s experience.
“Samba classico” (1940), by Heitor Villa-Lobos, was scored on a poem by E. Villaba Filho and sung by tenor, Paul Appleby. Mr. Appleby has certainly mastered the Portuguese lyrics, and he exudes full operatic potential. “Mira que soy niña”, from Canciones amatorias (1915), by Enrique Granados, with lyrics of an unknown poet, was sung by soprano, Dina Kuznetsova, who followed with “No lloréis, ojuelos”, also from Granados’ Canciones amatorias (1915), on a poem by Lope de Vega. Ms. Kuznetsova sings like a canary and has porcelain features as well. She, like the other members of tonight’s ensemble, truly has a bright future on great stages. Paul Appleby and Carlton Ford next teamed up for “Como al arrullo de palmas”, with music and words by Cuban composer, Ernesto Lecuona. This song translates as “Like the lullaby of the palm trees”, and it was performed by this duo with perfectly rhythmic accents.
“He’s Goin’ Away” (1951), sung by Kate Lindsey, has music and poem adaptation by John Jacob Niles. Ms. Lindsey sang with an unassuming, understated eloquence, with exceptional clarity and poise. “Shenandoah” is one of my favorite American folk songs, and tonight’s version was arranged by Celius Dougherty. Matt Boehler sang this traditional work with full bass bravura. “At the Mardi Gras” from Inside USA (1948), with music by Howard Dietz and lyrics by Arthur Schwartz, was sung by Kate Lindsey and four men from the ensemble. The men provided a scat choral effect, and Ms. Lindsey was effusively charming, singing such lines as, “”I was the femme they were cherchez-ing”.
After intermission, there were still 12 more songs to be sung. “Alabama-Song”, from The Rise and Fall of the City of Mahagonny (1930), was composed by Kurt Weill, to Bertolt Brecht’s libretto, and was sung by soprano, Sari Gruber. The ensemble backed her up, and she sang with precise, sharp, scintillating vocals. Ms. Gruber also sang another Kurt Weill piece, “Stay Well”, from Lost in the Stars (1949), with lyrics by Maxwell Anderson. Ms. Gruber’s natural German roots enhanced these German melodies. Ms. Kuznetsova returned for two Tchaikovsky songs in her native Russian, “Ja li v pole da ne travushka byla” (1884), on a poem by Ivan Surikov, and “Minula Strast” (1880), on a poem by Alexander Tolstoy, with Sasha Cooke in duo on this second piece. Ms. Kuznetsova reaches into the audience vocally and engagingly, grabbing its focus. In the duo, the harmonies about unrequited love were performed poignantly.
Paul Appleby and Sari Gruber teamed up for the next duo, “Licht und Liebe (Nachtgesang)” (1816), composed by Franz Schubert, on a poem by Mattäus von Collin. Mr. Appleby opened this song like a lullaby, before Ms. Gruber joined him in flowing, quiet rapture. Michael Barrett took the keyboard for this and the next German song. “Wie froh und Frisch mein Sinn sich hebt”, from Romanza aus L. Tiecks Magelone (1861-69), composed by Johannes Brahms, on a poem by Ludwig Tieck, was sung by William Sharp. Mr. Sharp’s mature, deep, German accent was powerfully enunciated and sung with tenacity. Also sung in German, “Ich bin der Welt abhanden gekommen”, from Fünf Rückertlieder (1901-02), composed by Gustav Mahler, on a poem by Friedrich Rückert, was sung mellifluously, mesmerizingly, and masterfully by Sasha Cooke. She stood straight, arms by her side, wrapping the audience in lyrics that translated into lines such as, “”I live alone in my heaven, In my love, in my song!”
“Strike Up the Band”, by George and Ira Gershwin (1927), was sung by William Sharp. Mr. Blier had told us that an early version of this song was found in a warehouse in Secaucus; who would have known? In fact, throughout tonight’s concert, Mr. Blier was brimming with fanciful anecdotes and insights. Mr. Sharp sang in his buoyantly brisk baritone. Next, Amy Burton sang “Don’t Hurry Home, Love”, from Penelope (2000), composed by John Musto, on a poem by Denise Lanctot. Mr. Blier’s warning, that this was the opposite of “Tie a Yellow Ribbon” was true, with lyrics, such as ”While you’re away, I will travel the Earth’s Endless end”. Paul Simon’s “American Tune” (1973), based on a German hymn tune, was eloquently sung by Paul Appleby. “Guiding Me Back Home” (1928), by Harry Revel, on lyrics by Noble Sissle, was sung by Paul Appleby and Carlton Ford with fervor and gusto. The final song on the program, “There Is Sweet Music” (1908), composed by Edward Elgar on a poem by Alfred Lord Tennyson, was performed by the full ensemble, in whispering propriety. As an encore, we were treated to a bit of Gilbert and Sullivan. Kudos to Steven Blier, Michael Barrett, and tonight’s New York Festival of Song ensemble. What a refreshing treat.
Photo courtesy of Dario Acosta