Steven Blier, Artistic Director of the Terrance W. Schwab Vocal Rising Stars (VRS), shares his impressions in this annual blog series. VRS is a week-long mentoring intensive for aspiring vocalists at Caramoor.
The day started with the usual drive from Manhattan up to Caramoor with Michael. Uncharacteristically he’d kept radio on: WKCR, the Columbia University station, was doing its annual birthday tribute to jazz cornet legend Bix Beiderbecke and he wanted to share the music with me. The KCR morning host was one of those wonderful jazz nerds who announced every single player on every single song. What celestial, sweet recordings Bix left us before he died at the age of 28. The DJ read what must be a famous quote by Eddie Condon about this jazz legend: “When Beiderbecke played his silver cornet, the sound came out like a girl saying ‘yes.’”
I felt so soothed and inspired by hearing Bix, as well as the old-fashioned crooners who still rolled their r’s when they sang with the big bands. I decided that I too wanted to sound like a girl saying “yes” when I made music. It seemed like the only sensible goal.
Today we welcomed our first guest coach, Giuseppe Mentuccia. He came very highly recommended by Corradina Caporello, the Italian teacher at Juilliard; he is also close friends with people I know and respect. Chris Reynolds, our young pianist, thought he would be a great idea for us. So I met Giuseppe, liked him, and took him on. Our program includes many languages—English, French, German, and Hebrew—but I felt sure that we would benefit the most from having some expert ears for the nine Italian songs. Adding one more keyboard player to the mix would mean that for two days we’d have as many singers as pianists, an embarrassment of instrumentalists (all with their own opinions). I worried that the delicate pH might go awry.
But I had a sense that Giuseppe would be a force for the good, and I was right. He hails from Rome, and came to Juilliard about five years ago. He’s working on a doctorate in piano, but he’s also begun to branch out into other musical passions—coaching song and opera, delving into conducting, writing a thesis about the mystical conductor Sergiu Celibidache. He’s a pure musician, one of those guys whose very presence leads you in the right direction, and his ears are as sharp as the enchanter’s sword. He wore a spiffy burgundy sports coat (which I assumed came from a fancy Roman boutique, but was actually purchased at H&M) and I decided that life should definitely be lived in a series of dark-hued blazers.
The musical work continued strong today. Shea rehearsed the song by Mark Adamo, written to a lyric by Mark Campbell; the two Marks had given me the song for my wedding., where it was sung by Matt Boehler. It’s called “This Much Is New,” and Sunday will be the official world premiere of this gem. When I practiced the song at home I invariably broke down crying on page 3—not just tearing up, but the real boo-hoo stuff, sobbing uncontrollably. Jim would find me weeping at the piano and quietly say, “Oh honey, are you working on Mark’s song again?” I’d been nervous about rehearsing “This Much Is New,” but I got through it without embarrassment—though Shea is one of the very few human beings in front of whom I could comfortably cry. He’ll do this special piece justice–he has a beautiful heart.
On other fronts, Julia found the sabra soul of her Castelnuovo-Tedesco song (in Hebrew). Things cleared up for her definitively when I told her I thought the narrator of the song was a shiksa–a non-Jewish woman, I explained–in love with a Jewish guy. “Ohhh. A shiksa. That…is something I understand,” she said, tossing her blonde mane. I worried that the virtuoso Rossini piece I assigned her might be a bit much for a young singer, but she apparently tore up the rehearsal room with the bravura ending. “O mai gohd, Stiv, it wahz fahntahstic,” confided Giuseppe. Chelsea dug very deep into her soul today and stunned everyone in the room, including herself, with “Ombra di nube.” “I want to work on the Bellini,” she told me right after, “but first I need to go somewhere and cry for fifteen minutes.” And Alec’s voice is just like his smile, radiating light into the world. When he sings “I Only Have Eyes for You,” I wish Bix Beiderbecke could have heard him, and echoed that beautiful tenor voice with a sweet answer on the silver cornet.
The Schwab Vocal Rising Stars will conclude their week at Caramoor with a performance on Sunday, March 15.