Artistic Director Steven Blier recaps each day of intensive rehearsal and coaching with the 2019 Schwab Vocal Rising Stars — four vocalists and one pianist at the beginning of their professional careers. Day six was full of preparation and reflection on the week’s accomplishments.
March 16, 2019
I’m rarely cheerful the day before a show. I wish I had a bit of Yannick Nézet-Séguin’s infectious, nitrous oxide enthusiasm to lift everyone’s morale — especially mine. But I always feel as if I am being led in front of a firing squad, and I seem to give birth to concerts only after a lot of labor pains. Today’s pains weren’t only metaphorical. On the car trip from Manhattan to Katonah, there was a four-car traffic accident that could easily have turned into a five-car one, were it not for Michael Barrett’s quick reflexes and presence of mind. I’m not clear on exactly what happened, but it seems that one car sliced into another one which sent it careening across 684 directly in front of us. The previously clear road was suddenly filled with a vehicle, and we were speeding right into it. Mikey slammed on the brakes and drove our van onto the shoulder, which blessedly had a patch of grass and not a concrete wall. We emerged without a scratch, but the car in front of us was seriously damaged. I got knocked around a bit and survived the afternoon on a couple of Advil, but I’m ok. Once again Michael Barrett has saved my life.
Caramoor’s beautiful Music Room is under renovation, so our Sunday performance is at the arts facility of a posh Katonah high school — The Harvey School. Their theater is a black box space with a surprisingly-OK Yamaha piano and decent lighting. But I admit there’s a gulf between an atmospheric historical landmark filled with Renaissance art, and an unadorned cube that takes the idea of “black box” quite literally. Still, we soldiered on and put the show on its feet. I had enjoyed Love at the Crossroads the first time around 10 years ago, and had a first-rate cast: Sari Gruber, Paula Murrihy, Hal Cazalet, and Matt Worth. But this iteration takes the program a little farther. Working with our director, Stephen Barker Turner, we’ve gently created a theatrical through-line that allows each singer to build a character from the beginning to the of the show. The repertoire ranges from the elegant (Fauré and Brahms) to the outré (Ed Kleban and Jason Robert Brown), and I had been concerned that the classical music might seem stuffy, or the popular songs a bit vulgar. But romance, comedy, and philosophy each get their due and deliver the necessary message. Every composer and every lyricist sheds the perfect light on the battle of Mars and Venus.
Dress rehearsals, especially when they are the only time you get to work in the concert hall, tend to focus on physical spacing, details of movement, accuracy of stage business. I would have loved to work some more on the musical performances, but I knew that was not going to be on the agenda. So I decided to start the day by talking to each cast member about what I’d seen them accomplish during the week, and what I wanted them to work on in the last days of our project. I also wanted to say something helpful and supportive. Most of all, I wanted all four singers — Devony Smith, Gina Perregino, Philippe L’Espérance, and Erik van Heyningen — to know how much I valued them. It was the last time I could really act as any kind of teacher for the vocalists. I kept it simple and short, but it was very significant for me — and perhaps for them too.
Since we’re sharing a Yamaha at the Harvey School, I spent the day sitting next to our pianist, Danny Zelibor, and was able to give him some guidance over the course of the five-hour session. Somehow we haven’t had enough chances to work on the music together during the week — Michael had taken Danny under his wing, and I didn’t want to overload him. But this afternoon we were left to our devices. The benign neglect paid off big-time, and we had an amazingly good meeting of the minds.
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.