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 seven and eight saw those close of this year’s residency and reflection on two performances.
Day Seven and Eight…
March 22, 2019
A quick post-concert report as I bid farewell to this beautiful week. Overview: both shows went extremely well for the cast, who delivered the goods. The Sunday run took place in a black box theater that needed to be borrowed for the occasion due to renovations at Caramoor. It was an especially dry hall, a challenge to be overcome. Yet the show went smoothly and faultlessly. The in-depth work we’d done on the songs gave the concert the kind of strength and subtlety I had hoped for. “Crossroads,” which covers the gamut from the arty to the off-color, runs the risk of coming off as either over-refined or vulgar or both. I was happy to see that the program played with sure-footed elegance in Katonah. The big winners of the night were the German art songs, whose depth gave a warm conclusion to the free-wheeling playlist. Even people who don’t normally respond to Lieder told me that the Brahms, Strauss, and Schubert were especially moving. (Could it be that this rep should always be sung after songs about masturbation and gay cruising?)
Danny and I could barely hear the singers, an occupational hazard in our profession. He rolled with it and played with superb elegance that afternoon, but I struggled. I wish I could add “and overcame it,” but not to my mind. This happens, too; one can’t always get the stars to align.
I couldn’t tell if the audience was on board with us or not — from where I sat I heard very little response, another hazard of spaces not designed for acoustic music. My heart goes out to the high schoolers who have to perform in that space all the time. Quiet as the audience seemed, they had a very good afternoon and gave us an ovation-ette after the last song, i.e., a significant number of people stood up to clap, and they brought the cast back to the stage for an extra bow or two. In this context, that simple gesture indicated a triumph.
Tuesday at Merkin Hall was a more comfortable experience. The acoustic is warm, we had a pleasingly full hall, and the Manhattan public is always more vociferous than the more reserved Westchester crowd. I had had a day to get my act together, and I was saying my little mantras of positive thinking every time I heard my Inner Voice of Shame.
The show went quite well — the highs were even higher, though the cast made a few tiny mistakes in the rapid-fire numbers that they had never made. A few of them tried out some new ad-libs that I would have axed if I’d known about them in advance. But all in all it was an even finer performance: more musical flow in the French songs, more precision in the comedy, more shimmer in the German. We made a couple of crucial improvements in the staging and the song order. And everyone seemed to be in good voice, happy to be sinking into the comedy, drama, and sentiment of their songs in front of a very responsive audience. I’ll never forget the way the four voices joined at the end of the Fauré quartet, rising and falling with those beautiful harmonies like angels.
It was important to me to have at least a decent night at the Steinway. That is not always so easy at Merkin, where my primary challenge is a piano of voice-drowning loudness with an action so light that you can play wrong notes just looking at the keys too hard. I mustered every bit of technique, savvy, and juju I had. It didn’t exactly feel easy, but people told me I sounded good and I have chosen to believe them. Danny sailed through again with flying colors, of course.
Every residency is intense. Some are also rewarding. A few are pleasurable. This one was all three. I’ll miss the daily companionship of Devony Smith, Gina Perregrino, Philippe L’Espérance, Erik van Heyningen, and Danny Zelibor. But not for long. These are bonds that will last.
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.