New York Festival of Song
Steven Blier, Artistic Director
Michael Barrett, Co-Founder and Assoc. Artistic Director
Elizabeth Ellis Hurwitt, Executive Director
W. Bradley Rubenstein, Chairman, Board of Directors
The Juilliard School
Songs of Peace and War
Michael Barrett and Steven Blier on piano
Paul Appleby (Tenor), Charlotte Dobbs (Soprano)
Paul LaRosa (Baritone), Alex Mansoori (Tenor)
Sidney Outlaw (Baritone), Faith Sherman (Mezzo-Soprano)
Marc Webster (Bass), Ariana Wyatt (Soprano)
At The Peter Jay Sharp Theater
Press: Cohn Dutcher Associates
Dr. Roberta E. Zlokower
January 17, 2007
“Songs of Peace and War”
Works by: Irish Folksong, Samuel Barber, Marc Blitzstein, George Butterworth, Henri Duparc, Claude Debussy, Francis Poulenc, Kurt Weill, Frank Loesser, Cole Porter, Don Raye/Hughie Prince, Dmitri Shostakovich, Sergei Rachmaninoff, Modest Musorgsky, George Gershwin, Irving Berlin, John Musto, Randy Newman, Bob Dylan, and Jean Ritchie.
With both Steven Blier and Michael Barrett at the piano, taking turns, and, on occasion, playing with four hands, the dedicated NYFOS fans were treated to a timely concert of “Songs of Peace and War” that reminded us that war used to be occasionally for reasons of national security, yet often for pride and honor. There were also resonating themes of “War and Business”, “Blood and Oil”, “Coming Home”, and themes around “France” and “Russia”. The vocalists, and they were in large supply, were all outstanding, and there was theatricality, humor, pathos, and even dancing. New York Festival of Song has become a model of musical virtuosity in an aesthetic culture with so much dissonance, pop fusion, electronic noise, and over-miked singing. In fact, Bob Dylan’s Masters of War was sung tonight by baritone, Paul LaRosa, in the simple straightforward manner, complete with his own guitar, that I had hoped to hear in the over-hyped Dylan fiasco on Broadway, The Times They Are A-Changin’.
In the “Introduction”, tenor, Paul Appleby’s rendition of The Green Fields of France was a cappella and poignant, while Paul LaRosa’s I Hear an Army was resonant, deep, and mournful. In “War and Business”, Alex Mansoori, Faith Sherman, and the Company sang “The Mission Scene” from Marc Blitzstein’s 1936 The Cradle Will Rock, with Michael Barrett on piano, and “Reverend Salvation” kept calling for “Collection!” after “…peace at any cost!” and “I can see the market rising like a beautiful bird!” How à propos.
In “The Result”, bass, Marc Webster sang an A. E. Houseman poem set to music by George Butterworth in 1911 with a sensitive, yet strong, Irish brogue. Soprano, Charlotte Dobbs sang the Claude Debussy, 1915 Christmas Carol of the Children Who Don’t Have Homes Anymore. This atonal, contemporary song was impressionistic and soulful. Francis Poulenc’s 1938 Pray for Peace was persuasively performed by baritone, Sidney Outlaw, with a fleeting, surreal quality, “…Pray for peace, pray for peace, The true treasure of joy”. Jacques Deval’s libretto to Kurt Weill’s music was then sung by the expressive soprano, Ariana Wyatt, in a melodic and graceful interpretation, with perfect pitch, as she hummed the final phrase.
“Blood and Oil” brought out all three female performers for Weill’s 1928 (libretto by Felix Gasbarra) The Petroleum Song, with “Shell of Margate, When you catch a glimpse of it, We’ll all pay the price, In the last decisive hour”. And, today’s Shell Oil Company…..Need I say more. Walter Mehring’s poem, How Much Longer to Weill’s 1944 score was sung solo by Faith Sherman, with Steven Blier’s clear translation, “…. I believed you, caught in the delusion of all your talk, all your vows”. The Cannon Song was sung in German and English by all five male performers, with both Barrett and Blier on four-handed piano. This was a brisk, buoyant, bellicose work, with searing, caustic lyrics, “...But blood is blood and red is red, And the army is still recruiting, Let’s all go barmy, Live off the army…”
“At Ease” included Frank Loesser’s 1944 First Class Private Mary Brown, sung solo by tenor, Alex Mansoori, to mezzo-soprano, Faith Sherman, who then sang Cole Porter’s 1942 I’m in Love with a Soldier Boy, which sounded almost like Mansoori’s song. The 1940’s Boogie-woogie Bugle Boy, with Don Raye’s music and Hughie Prince’s lyrics, was led by the women and backed by the men. The men danced around, played guitar, snapped fingers, and added a boogie-woogie beat to the consistent piano accompaniment. For “Russia”, bass, Marc Webster sang an excerpt from a Robert Burns poem, MacPherson’s Farewell, set to a Shostakovich score. This song, about an inebriated soldier at the gallows, …”May coward shame distain his name, The wretch that dares not die!”, was translated into Russian for effect.
Rachmaninoff’s music for a Taras Shevchenk poem, the 1893 The Soldier’s Wife, was effectively sung by soprano, Charlotte Dobbs, “I fell in love only for grief…” To complete the Russian theme, two more classical scores, Musorgsky’s 1877 The Commander in Chief, sung by baritone, Sidney Outlaw, and Rachmaninoff’s score for the 1906 We Shall Rest, to a passage from Chekhov’s Uncle Vanya, sung by bass, Marc Webster, were poignant and persuasive. Webster first recited the text and then sang it in Russian, “...All our sufferings, will be submerged in mercy…”
The final segment of this concert, “Coming Home”, included six complete songs: Gershwin and Gershwin’s 1927 Homeward Bound from “Strike Up the Band”, sung by Paul Appleby; Irving Berlin’s 1954 Gee I Wish I Were Back in the Army from “White Christmas”, sung by Alex Mansoori; John Musto’s 1996 score to a James Agee poem, How Many Little Children Sleep, sung by Ariana Wyatt; Randy Newman’s 1972 Political Science, sung by Paul Appleby and Alex Mansoori; Dylan’s 1963 Masters of War, sung and played on guitar by Paul LaRosa; and Jean Ritchie’s 1960’s Now is the Cool of the Day, sung by the Company, a cappella. Throughout this eclectic, inspired, and timely concert, Steven Blier and Michael Barrett were the musical foundation, with talent, charisma, and split-second shifts at the keyboard. Steven Blier’s strength as a raconteur enables the audience to better appreciate the programming choices and related musical history.
Kudos to New York Festival of Song, and kudos to tonight’s performers.
Photo courtesy of Dario Acosta