Artistic Director Steven Blier recaps each day of intensive rehearsal and coaching with the 2018 Schwab Vocal Rising Stars — four vocalists and one pianist at the beginning of their professional careers. Day one features introductions and a surprise visit from the Queen.
March 5, 2018
Today marked the beginning of the tenth season of NYFOS@Caramoor, aka the Vocal Rising Stars Program. I have always resisted the idea of “rising stars” — it goes against everything I feel about making satisfying, essential music. What I cannot resist is our annual retreat to Caramoor. The unfailing warmth of the people who work there, the calm of the environment, and the feeling of being in an artistic sanctuary feed my soul in a way that few other concert engagements can.
Not that Caramoor doesn’t have its stresses. I hired three singers I knew pretty well, either as students or as recent concert colleagues. I took on a pianist — Adam Rothenberg — with whom I had far less experience, but whom I knew from the hallways of Juilliard. Adam auditioned for me a year ago, and I asked if he’d defer for a season so I could bring Ho Jae Lee to Caramoor in 2017 when I was sure he’d still be in America. Adam was patient and faithful, and so was I.
But I also hired a mezzo I had never met at all. I had been recommended by several people to listen to a young woman named Kayleigh Decker, lately of Glimmerglass Opera and about to enter the prestigious Chicago Lyric Ryan Center. Buoyed by these impeccable credentials, I gave her a modern audition: I listened to her sing Wolf’s “Kennst du das Land” on a YouTube clip. I totally disapprove of YouTube auditions, but I’d be lying if I didn’t admit to doing them occasionally. I liked Kayleigh’s Wolf song very much: straightforward, not artsy, but sung with an even scale, clear words, and a feeling of truthfulness. “I could definitely work with this,” I thought to myself.
Naturally, our first encounter was a bit fraught, though neither of us betrayed a flicker of insecurity. It’s important not to flinch. The first thing I heard Kayleigh sing today was “Sound the Trumpet,” a classic duet by Henry Purcell. Great baroque-style coloratura, a clean trill, wonderful breath control, lovely musicianship. I wasn’t the least bit surprised but I admit I was pleased.
It was one of the best opening days I can remember at Caramoor. The cast is, of course, young, but they all seem like old souls. By contrast, I feel like a skittish puppy around them, darting off in a million directions. They are grounded, serious, smart, and gifted. We’ll need to make a few decisions about how British we want to sound for this concert. I have trouble hearing words like “earrrrrrth” and “worrrrrrrrrld” pronounced with big ol’ American r’s in this rep. Greg has an admirable command of the British accent, except that occasionally his characters slip into lower-class Londonese, not the King’s English. Today his Strephon in Iolanthe sounded like a sexy blue-collar worker. I kind of loved it, though I know it may not quite echt.
Highlights of the day: Madison Leonard sang Frank Bridge’s “Dweller in My Deathless Dreams” with luminous perfection, every note vibrating like a star, really stunning vocalism. Matt Pearce and Greg Feldmann belted out “Ticket to Ride” with impudence, style, and a shameless amount of beauty. (I got the idea of putting out bowls of panties in the entryway for audience members to take and throw up at the stage during the song.) Adam Rothenberg was worth the wait. What a sensitive, gifted player. I was humbled. And Kayleigh seduced me over and over again with her elegant musicianship.
At tea-time, a longtime Caramoor tradition now more appropriate than ever, I rolled up to the table and saw what looked like a woman standing very still, smiling at me next to the hot-water boiler. She was so motionless that I started to get the creeps. Finally, I realized it was a cardboard cutout of Queen Elizabeth. She was happy to pose for pictures with all of us. She didn’t mind that I screamed when I realized that Ellie Gisler and Tim Coffee had planted her there.
Inaugurated in the spring of 2009, Vocal Rising Stars is Caramoor’s newest mentoring program, focusing on vocal chamber music and the art of song in recital. Singers at the advanced student and the beginning professional level participate in an intensive week-long residency of daily coaching, rehearsals, and workshops with mentors Steven Blier, Artistic Director for Vocal Rising Stars; Michael Barrett; and guest teaching artists; culminating in public performances.