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
Beginner’s Luck: The Passion and Promise of Youth
Sasha Cooke, Mezzo-Soprano
Paul Appleby, Tenor
Steven Blier and Michael Barrett, Piano
At Merkin Concert Hall
(Merkin Hall Website)
Press: Aleba Gartner Associates: 212.206.1450
Dr. Roberta E. Zlokower
October 21, 2010
“Beginner’s Luck: The Passion and Promise of Youth”
Works by: Rorem, Schubert, Schumann, Grieg, Berg, Sondheim, Vaughn Williams, Fauré, Ives, Moravec, Bolcom, Gershwin, Guettel, Jones, Dylan, and others
Once again, the New York Festival of Song (NYFOS) 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. Mr. Blier and Michael Barrett sat at both Steinways, taking turns as the eloquent songs filled Merkin Hall. The theme tonight, “Beginner’s Luck”, according to Mr. Blier, refers to youthful romanticists and adventurous souls, who have dreams and energy as they forge their paths into the world. Mr. Blier’s vocal coaching, administration, and teaching has brought into contact with a multitude of such souls, and thus the inspiration for tonight’s program.
In contrast to past NYFOS events, the vocal ensemble was replaced by a vocal duo, two of NYFOS’ finest, Sasha Cooke, mezzo-soprano, and Paul Appleby, tenor. Their talent is astounding, and the audience was demonstratively thrilled. Ms. Cooke opened the evening with Ned Rorem’s “A Journey”, before being joined by Mr. Appleby in Fauré’s “Mai”. Their vocals were full and rich, with Mr. Appleby taking the second two songs by Busoni and Schubert, in this trio, called “First Songs”. Duo pianos enhanced Mr. Appleby’s stunning reach across a wide musical scale. He expanded on the lofty lyrics with natural gestures and refined stage presence. Ms. Cooke took the next segment, called “First Love”, with songs by Schumann, Grieg, Hugo Wolf, and Alban Berg. The songs were about relationships, all in German, with English titles of “The Walnut Tree”, “The Silent Nightingale”, “Encounter”, and “The Nightingale”. Lyrics translated to innocent bliss, “…How the sweet man Embraced me, let no one Discover except him and me…”
“First Days in New York” followed, represented by Christopher Berg, Sondheim, Fauré, and Vaughn Williams. Coincidentally, Sondheim’s Evening Primrose would be mounted next week by St. George’s Society of New York, in a rare benefit production, so tonight I got to preview “Take Me to the World”. This song was also sung last season by Barbara Cook in Sondheim on Sondheim on Broadway. Ms. (Sasha) Cooke, tonight, gave the song exquisite meaning, with persuasive rapture and wanderlust. Her rendition of “Pàradis, from La Chanson d’Ève, was sung in French with dramatic flair, expressive urgency, and tonal perfection. It should be noted that most songs were sung in English tonight, another variation from NYFOS’ usual format. Mr. Appleby’s renditions of Berg’s “Song (I’m Going to New York)” and Vaughn Williams’ “Silent Noon” from The House of Life were exemplary, as he would hold a note endlessly, dropping its tone slightly for effect within the moment.
The second half of the program included a pair of songs called “Memories”, by Charles Ives, shared by both Ms. Cooke and Mr. Appleby. Their strong chemistry came into view here, as their voices and gestures contrasted and connected in artistic ways. The following segment was called “From Boyhood to Manhood”, and Mr. Appleby capably handled all four songs, by Moravec, Bolcom, and Blitzstein. Bolcom’s lyrics, all from his Open House, included “…Ah, when she moved, she moved more ways than one: The shapes a bright container can contain!...” Mr. Appleby moved about a small circle of stage space, from one song to the next, with consistent vocal force, certainty, and polish.
“Beginner’s Luck”, the final segment, brought out both vocalists in duos and solos. Gershwin’s (I’ve Got) “Beginner’s Luck” from Shall We Dance was sung in duo, and both performers were radiant and resonant. Ms. Cooke took two, the audition sequence “I’m Climbin’ Uphill” from Jason Robert Brown’s The Last Five Years and “A Child Is Born” by Thad Jones. She sung the latter with poignant expression and soprano tremolo, reaching some very high notes with ease. Between Ms. Cooke’s solos, Mr. Appleby sang Adam Guettel’s “Awaiting You” from Myths and Hymns. He pulled out all the stops, with virtuosic pitch and theatrical manner. Together they sang Bob Dylan’s “Forever Young”. Encores included a full Hall collaboration of “Happy Birthday” for Steven Blier’s brother, who surprised him by showing up in the audience. Michael Barrett took piano honors for this unplanned number, while Mr. Blier whistled and beamed. Mr. Blier’s piano artistry remains incomparable in the genre, and his many fans adore him. Cheers were aplenty tonight, and I add kudos to all. I can’t wait for the next NYFOS event.
Photo courtesy of Dario Acosta