Originally published in Caramoor’s Fall 2017 – Spring 2018 Program Book
In celebration of the tenth year of Caramoor’s Schwab Vocal Rising Stars mentoring program, Artistic Director Steven Blier looks back on some of the most memorable performances and breakthroughs as well as what it take to construct a successful program.
The Schwab Vocal Rising Stars mentoring program focuses on art song interpretation and has a lasting impact on the development and professional practices of young artists. Since its inception in 2009, it has received vital funding from the Terrance W. Schwab Endowment Fund for Young Vocal Artists, established to nurture and support the artistic development and careers of young vocalists.
Assisted by Michael Barrett and developed in conjunction with the New York Festival of Song, Artistic Director Steven Blier selects four promising singers and one pianist for the week-long residency at Caramoor that includes daily coaching and workshops, culminating in a concert in the Music Room.
Blier talked about his tenth year as Artistic Director and how he chooses a unique theme for the program each year.
“I have a few guideposts for choosing the Caramoor shows,” he said. “I want a contrast from the year before, so if I’ve done something very theatrical I might gravitate to a purer recital-type of presentation. If I’ve done Latin music, I will do a ‘180’ to a Northern culture. Of course, I am looking for something that will stimulate a cast of young singers. I want to give them the most opportunities for depth, for comedy, and for a wide range of songs and moods. As for my own artistic needs, I like to revisit old NYFOS programs at Caramoor and rework them, lift them to a higher level. This is a special pleasure for me, since I am under pressure elsewhere to keep coming up with new ideas. At Caramoor I have a different audience, and the cast might not have even been born when I first devised the show they’re working on.”
To select the Rising Stars each year, Blier said he looks for qualities shared by all great song performers — opera singers included: a unique timbre, the capacity for emotional depth and openness, and the technique to expressively mold phrases.
“You need other things on the recital stage that are not deal-breakers in opera,” he adds. “Delicacy, and the ability to sustain the voice at lower dynamics, verbal imagination, a knack for story-telling, and a charismatic inner-life that can draw an audience in. Opera singers are chastised if they sing flat, but no one seems to mind if they sing sharp. In song, there is nowhere to hide; with just voice and piano, your intonation has to be that of a first-class string player.”
Other qualities important to a great recital singer? “Comic timing. Eloquence. A farranging sense of style (especially in my concerts, which can include both Grieg and Noël Coward in the same program) and a fearless appetite for foreign languages.
Although there are several vocal mentoring programs throughout the country, Blier says there are none similar to Vocal Rising Stars. “The unique quality at Caramoor is … Caramoor itself. The quiet and calm of the environment, the lack of distractions from the outer world, the quality of being on a retreat in a Zen garden of song: these things separate Vocal Rising Stars from any other experience. The fact that it takes place during the hurly-burly of a school year makes the beauty of the Music Room and the landscape even more precious.”
In the past ten years, Blier has seen many outstanding performances from the Rising Stars. “Theo Lebow maturing into a powerful, confident stage performer over the course of a single week, thanks to intensive coaching from Karen Holvik (Song of the Midnight Sun, 2014); Andrew Owens and Corinne Winters morphing into zarzuela aces and Catalan experts under the guidance of Michael Barrett, Pablo Zinger, and me (Spanish Gold, 2011); Paul Appleby and Joélle Harvey mining both the beauty and the campy delights of Balfe’s The Bohemian Girl (Songs of the Irish Poets, 2009); Chris Reynolds not only playing the piano like a young god, but also doing a surprise tap dance in Harry Warren’s “The Girlfriend of the Whirling Dervish” (Bel Canto/Can Belto, 2015) — not to mention the intense beauty of working with artists like Chelsea Shephard, Matthew Peña, HoJae Lee, Julia Bullock, Christine Price, and John Brancy.
“Did I mention cantor Joshua Breitzer giving an unforgettable class in Sephardic Spanish (Ladino) to our Spanish Gold cast? Or Scandinavian-song guru John Lidal cutting through the thickets of Danish pronunciation, and then revealing the hidden mysteries of a Henrik Ibsen poem? The delight — and chutzpah — of programming a song in Zulu in Four Islands (2017), and watching the cast figure out how to make it work? I am already feeling guilty about everyone I have left out. Each person has been precious and so has each song.”
This year’s Vocal Rising Stars Residency culminates in From Lute Song to the Beatles: Songs of the British Isles. Please join us Sunday, March 11, 2018 at 3:00pm in the Music Room.