Schwab Vocal Rising Stars

Bel Canto / Can Belto

Sun, March 15, 2015, 4:00pm


Let four young voices take you on an exploration of Italian song from the lyricism of the Romantic era to the drama of the verismo operatic tradition, paired with songs by Italian-Americans. Songs, arias, and ensemble pieces all by Italian composers including Verdi, Pizzetti, Musto, Corigliano, Argento, Busoni, and Harry Warren (the composer of 42nd Street, born Salvatore Guaragna).

Artistic Director Steven Blier selects four promising singers for a week-long residency that includes daily coaching, rehearsals, and workshops, culminating in a performance in the Music Room. Assisted by Michael Barrett, Associate Artistic Director of the New York Festival of Song (NYFOS), and developed in conjunction with NYFOS, this program focuses on art song interpretation and has a lasting impact on the growth, development, and professional practices of young artists.

Since its inception in 2009, the Schwab Vocal Rising Stars have received vital funding from the Terrance W. Schwab Endowment Fund for Young Vocal Artists. Created in memory of former Caramoor Trustee Terrance W. Schwab by his family, the fund is designed to nurture and support the artistic development and careers of young vocalists.

2015 Vocal Rising Stars: 

Chelsea Morris, soprano
Julia Dawson, mezzo-soprano
Alec Carlson, tenor
Shea Owens, baritone
Chris Reynolds, pianoWith Distinguished Artists:

Steven Blier, Artistic Director, coach and piano
Michael Barret, coach and piano
Giuseppe Mentuccia, guest coach and piano
Karen Holvik, guest coachProgram: Catalani In riva al mare
Verdi  Brindisi (2nd version)
Bellini  La ricordanza
Rossini  Bolero (“Mi lagneró tacendo”)
Donaudy  Vaghissima sembianza
Donizetti  A consolarmi affrettisi from Linda di ChamounixAlfano  Non nascondere il segreto
Pizzetti  I pastori
Busoni  Wer hat das erste Lied erdacht?
Tedesco  Ulai laze yihie li ometz
Refice  Ombra di nube
Leoncavallo  Sérénade napolitaine
– Short Pause –Argento  Spring
Joio  There is a lady sweet and kind
Musto  Penelope’s Song
Musto  Some Last Words
Corigliano  Irreverent Heart
Corigliano  As summer brings a wistful breeze from The Ghosts of VersaillesAdamo  This Much is New
Warren  I Only Have Eyes for You
Warren  The Girlfriend of the Whirling Dervish

blierSteven Blier

Steven Blier is the Artistic Director of the New York Festival of Song (NYFOS), which he co-founded in 1988 with Michael Barrett. Since the Festival’s inception, he has programmed, performed, translated and annotated more than 140 vocal recitals with repertoire spanning the entire range of American song, art song from Schubert to Szymanowski, and popular song from early vaudeville to Lennon-McCartney. NYFOS has also made in-depth explorations of music from Spain, Latin America, Scandinavia and Russia. New York Magazine gave NYFOS its award for Best Classical Programming, while Opera News proclaimed Blier “the coolest dude in town.”

Mr. Blier enjoys an eminent career as an accompanist and vocal coach. His recital partners have included Renée Fleming, Cecilia Bartoli, Samuel Ramey, Lorraine Hunt Lieberson, Susan Graham, Jessye Norman, and José van Dam, in venues ranging from Carnegie Hall to La Scala. He is also on the faculty of The Juilliard School and has been active in encouraging young recitalists at summer programs, including the Wolf Trap Opera Company, Santa Fe Opera, and the San Francisco Opera Center. Many of his former students, including Stephanie Blythe, Joseph Kaiser, Sasha Cooke, Paul Appleby, Dina Kuznetsova, Corinne Winters, and Kate Lindsey, have gone on to be valued recital colleagues and sought-after stars on the opera and concert stage.

In keeping the traditions of American music alive, he has brought back to the stage many of the rarely heard songs of George Gershwin, Harold Arlen, Kurt Weill and Cole Porter. He has also played ragtime, blues and stride piano evenings with John Musto. A champion of American art song, he has premiered works of John Corigliano, Paul Moravec, Ned Rorem, William Bolcom, Mark Adamo, John Musto, Richard Danielpour, Tobias Picker, Robert Beaser, Lowell Liebermann, Harold Meltzer, and Lee Hoiby, many of which were commissioned by NYFOS.

Mr. Blier’s extensive discography includes the premiere recording of Leonard Bernstein’s Arias and Barcarolles (Koch International), which won a Grammy Award; Spanish Love Songs (Bridge Records), recorded live at the Caramoor International Music Festival with Lorraine Hunt Lieberson, Joseph Kaiser, and Michael Barrett; the world premiere recording of Bastianello (John Musto) and Lucrezia (William Bolcom), a double bill of one-act comic operas set to librettos by Mark Campbell; and Quiet Please, an album of jazz standards with vocalist Darius de Haas. His latest release is Canción amorosa, a CD of Spanish songs with soprano Corinne Winters on the GRP label.

His writings on opera have been featured in Opera News and the Yale Review. A native New Yorker, he received a Bachelor’s Degree with Honors in English Literature at Yale University, where he studied piano with Alexander Farkas. He completed his musical studies in New York with Martin Isepp and Paul Jacobs.


michael_barrett_20060812aMichael Barrett

Associate Artistic Director Michael Barrett started NYFOS in 1988 with his friend and colleague Steven Blier. Mr. Barrett was Chief Executive and General Director of the Caramoor Center for Music and the Arts from 2003-2012. In 1992, he co-founded the Moab Music Festival with his wife, violist Leslie Tomkins. From 1994 to 1997, he was the Director of the Tisch Center for the Arts at the 92nd Street Y in New York.

A protégé of Leonard Bernstein, Mr. Barrett began his long association with the renowned conductor and composer as a student in 1982. He is currently the Artistic Advisor for the estate of Leonard Bernstein. He has been a guest conductor with the Orchestra of St. Luke’s, the New York Philharmonic, the London Symphony, the Israel Philharmonic and the Orchestre National de France, among others. He also has served variously as conductor, producer, and music director of numerous special projects, including dozens of world premieres by Bernstein, Musto, Bolcom, Rorem, and D’Rivera.

Mr. Barrett’s discography includes: Spanish Love Songs, recorded live at Caramoor with Lorraine Hunt Lieberson, Steven Blier, and Joseph Kaiser; Live from the Moab Music Festival; the Grammy-nominated Evidence of Things Not Seen (New World Records); Aaron Kernis: 100 Greatest Dance Hits (New Albion); On the Town (Deutsche Grammophon); Kaballah (Koch Classics) by Stewart Wallace and Michael Korie; Schumann Lieder with Lorraine Hunt and Kurt Ollmann (Koch); and Arias and Barcarolles (Koch) by Leonard Bernstein (Grammy Award).


CHELSEA 8066web180x295

Chelsea Morris

Chelsea Morris, soprano, has recently been praised by the Chicago Tribune for her “luscious soprano voice,” while other critics make note of her “impressive power” (Chicago Classical Review) and her “ability to command the stage with grace and poise” (Hyde Park Herald). Ms. Morris’ operatic repertoire includes Pamina/Die Zauberflöte, Susanna/Le nozze di Figaro, Clorinda/La Cenerentola, Lauretta/Gianni Schicchi, Lisa/The Land of Smiles, Emily Webb/Our Town, and the title role/L’incoronazione di Poppea with companies such as Green Mountain Opera Festival, Chicago Folks Operetta, Candid Concert Opera and Main Street Opera. This season, Ms. Morris appears as a Studio Artist with Madison Oprea.

A winner of numerous competition prizes, Ms. Morris was awarded First Place in the Handel Aria Competition (2014), The Schubert Club Bruce P. Carlson Competition (2013), and in the National Opera Association (2011). Ms. Morris also appeared as a Finalist in 2013 The Union League Civic & Arts Club of Chicago and has further been championed by the Bel Canto Foundation of Chicago.


Julia Dawson-VRS 2015Julia Dawson

A singer who “can release roulades of coloratura with a shimmering sound”, Canadian mezzo­soprano Julia Dawson has enjoyed increasing exposure both on the opera stage and in the concert hall (Los Angeles Times). Recent performances include those with the Santa Fe Opera’s Apprentice Showcase, Opera Philadelphia’s Double Exposure, and multiple principle roles at the Academy of Vocal Arts. This season she will be featured in concert with the Symphony in C, in recital at The Kennedy Center in Washington DC and at the Glimmerglass Festival where she will cover the roles of Emilia and Arbace in Vivialdi’s “Cato in Utica”. In 2014, she was recognized with an encouragement award from the George London Foundation as well as first place in the district division of the Metropolitan Opera National Council Auditions. She has received fellowships from the Aspen Music Festival and the Music Academy of the West, and sung in masterclass with James Levine at Carnegie Hall under the auspices of Marilyn Horne’s The Song Continues festival. Julia received her BM from Oberlin Conservatory and her MM from Rice University’s Shepherd School of Music. She is currently a second­year resident artist at the Academy of Vocal Arts. She lives in Philadelphia.


4624 Alec Carlson 180x295

Alec Carlson

Alec Carlson, tenor, is from Red Oak, IA. He is currently a second year Masters of Music student in Voice performance at the University of Cincinnati College Conservatory of Music. In the summer of 2014, Alec was a part of Santa Fe Opera’s Apprentice Artist program. He has also participated in Houston Grand Opera’s Young Artist Vocal Academy and was a Studio Artist at Wolf Trap Opera Company in 2013. In his time at CCM, Alec has sung the role of Ernesto in Donizetti’s Don Pasquale and was the tenor soloist in a staged production of J.S. Bach’s St. John Passion. Upcoming engagements include performing as part of Caramoor’s Vocal Rising Stars in March, Ferrando in CCM’s Mainstage production of Mozart’s Cosi fan tutte and will also start his residency as a young artist at the Lyric Opera of Chicago’s Ryan Opera Center for the 2015/2016 season in April. Alec currently studies with Kenneth Shaw.




Shea Owens 2015 VRS Shea Owens-180x295

Described as “vocally superb” with an “attractive, youthful bloom,” baritone Shea Owens is quickly establishing himself as an emerging artist. A versatile performer with “canny stage presence,” he is well-suited for a wide variety of music and roles. He was most recently seen at the Santa Fe Opera as an Apprentice Artist, and will appear again this coming summer as the 2nd Nazarene in Salome. He will also appear in upcoming performances with the New York Festival of Song and in the regional tour of the Santa Fe Opera.

Mr. Owens has made past appearances at the Tanglewood Music Center, Wolf Trap Opera, Utah Festival Opera, Utah Lyric Opera, Phoenix Opera, Central City Opera, Utah Opera, and the Utah Symphony. He enjoys performing on a regular basis with his wife, soprano Amy Owens.

Mr. Owens earned his Bachelor of Music degree from Brigham Young University and his Master of Music degree from Rice University. Awards received include career grants from the Schuyler Foundation for Career Bridges and the Oscarson Discovery Grant Endowment, and a Second Prize Award in the Gerda Lissner International Vocal Competition.


Chris-Reynolds-VRS2015Chris Reynolds

American pianist Chris Reynolds has performed across the country in recitals, chamber concerts, and with orchestra as well as winning top prizes in regional, national, and international competitions. He is currently pursuing his undergraduate degree at the Juilliard School in New York as a student of Julian Martin and Margo Garrett.  As a soloist, he has won major awards at competitions including the American Fine Arts Festival, the MTNA, the Luzerne Music Center Concerto Competition, the Louise deFeo Parillo Piano Concerto Competition, the Heddy Kilian Competition, the BVMC Chopin Competition, and the Tchaikovsky Competition of Albany. Recent performances include those at Carnegie Hall, Tanglewood, the Aspen Music Festival, the Manhattan School of Music, The Colburn School, Union College, and Ithaca College. At Juilliard he has taken part in both ChamberFest 2015 and PianoScope 2013. This season includes solo engagements around New York as well as a performance of the Grieg Piano Concerto with the Schenectady Symphony Orchestra. As a collaborator, he is on staff at Juilliard as an accompanist, specializing in vocal work. This summer he is the recipient of the 2015 Margo Garrett Fellowship at SongFest. In addition, he will be attending the Aspen Music Festival for the third summer in a row, this time as a vocal collaborative piano fellow.  

Notes on the program by Steven Blier

No classical singers—or collaborative pianist—can remain a stranger to Italian vocal music for long. Vocalists are weaned on the 24 Early Italian Songs, paving their way to the Mount Everest of Verdi and Puccini arias. Italian opera from Aïda to Zazà virtually colonizes the vocal chords of every conservatory-trained singer.

But Italy also has a repertoire of art song that began in the beginning of the nineteenth century and gathered steam after the country was unified in 1871. Overshadowed by German, French, and Russian art song, it has remained largely unknown on the international scene. Even in Italy native singers and audiences are so deeply conditioned to the broad musical gestures of the opera house that the delicacy of this medium seems alien and unfamiliar. In the last fifty years, only a few Italian singers explored the piano-and-voice repertoire of their own country—recitalists like Cesare Valletti, Renata Scotto, Cecilia Bartoli, and Anna Maria Antonacci. But there are musical treasures to be mined for enterprising singers and adventurous audiences. The lirica da camera bids any virtuoso farewell to the Romantic era and puts a gentle stamp on Modernism.

Admittedly it takes a bit of dedication to find the best songs, but the rewards are great. Case in point: the opening song, a languid barcarolle called “In riva al mare” by Alfredo Catalani (1854-1893). Everyone who saw the movie Diva fell in love with this the aria “Ebben, ne andró lontano” from Catalani’s opera La Wally and briefly made him a musical superstar a hundred years after his death.

Catalani’s effortless melody and simple piano writing evoke the bel canto era that flourished in the early part of the nineteenth century. Gioacchino Rossini was one of its exemplars, with a meteoric career that spanned from 1810 till 1829. In those nineteen years, his 39 operas took the world by storm and set off frenzies in every European capital, as well as in Russia, America, and Mexico. His last opera was William Tell. After its premiere in Paris, Rossini renounced the world of opera at the age of 37 and spent the remaining 39 years of his life as a sometime bon vivant, occasional recluse, and constant gourmet—what we would call a “foodie.” He did not stop composing altogether; he continued to toss off piano pieces, choral works, and songs, which he called “pêchés de vieillesse”—sins of old age. Among them are at least fifty settings of the short poem “Mi lagneró tacendo” including the brilliant “Bolero” version we chose for this program.

The career of Giuseppe Verdi (1813-1901) had the opposite trajectory: his slow takeoff led to a long career during which the composer never stopped developing new colors and dramatic gestures. Song was an early calling-card for Verdi, a way to introduce opera companies to his music. Indeed, Milan knew him first for his broadly theatrical piano and voice compositions, and only later as a man of the theater. The light-hearted, Donizettian “Brindisi” appeared in 1845, around the La Scala premiere of Verdi’s seventh opera, Giovanna d’Arco.

To honor another bel canto master, Gaetano Donizetti (1797-1848), we’ve chosen a duet from one of his less-often performed operas, Linda di Chamounix (1842). The work has had a number of revivals but it has never been able to gain a lasting foothold in the canon the way Don Pasquale, Lucia di Lammermoor, or L’Elisir d’amore have. The libretto, in the style known as semi-seria, mixes comedy and high drama in a way that can bewilder modern audiences. And Donizetti’s musical inspiration doesn’t maintain the string-of-hits consistency of his best operas. But the love duet for the title character and her paramour Carlo is a celestial moment, a Donizetti classic.

Vincenzo Bellini (1801-1835), the composer of I puritani, La sonnambula, and Norma, was the famous other member of the bel canto trifecta. He acknowledged the operatic quality of his art songs by calling them “ariette”—little arias—rather than canzone. Bellini bestowed on these intimate pieces the same long melodic arc that crowns his iconic arias. The surging, Technicolor music of “La ricordanza,” which he wrote in 1834 with the left-wing political exile Count Pepoli in Paris, was so exquisite that Bellini lifted it for his final opera, I puritani, transforming it into Elvira’s famous mad scene, “Qui la voce.” Dare I suggest that the song version is even more beautifully realized than the operatic one?

Of course, there were Italian composers who specialized in song—among them the Palermo-born Stefano Donaudy (1879-1925) whose collection of Arie di Stile Antico (“Songs written in the style of the past”) used to be a recital staple. Donaudy’s musical talent asserted itself early on—he wrote “Vaghissima sembianza” when he was just thirteen years old. But it seems he never mastered the bigger forms of opera or oratorio, and his final operatic venture had such a disastrous premiere that he gave up composition altogether. He died just a few years later at the age of 46. Donaudy might not have been a musical giant, but he had a gift for melody that more accomplished composers might envy.

Licinio Refice (1883-1954) was Italy’s premiere composer of oratorio. He devoted most of his creative life to church music, and his most famous work is probably the religious cantata Cecilia (1923), popularized first by its creator Claudio Muzio, and later by those twin peaks of Italian style, Renatas Tebaldi and Scotto. Refice also wrote “Ombra di nube” for Muzio, one of his close friends. Refice’s short, intense song is a like musical portrait of this great singer, whose eloquence prefigured the intensity and musicianship of Maria Callas.

When I told one friend I was including Ferruccio Busoni (1866-1924) on tonight’s offering, he murmured, “Well, it’s hard for me to think of Busoni as Italian.” That is because Busoni’s mother was German, and he spent most of his adult life based in Berlin. Most of his famous works are in German (like his opera, Doktor Faustus), and you can hear his strict Leipzig schooling in every measure he wrote. But Busoni was actually born in Tuscany, and he always longed to reconcile his Italian and German heritages. In 1913, he accepted a job as the director of the Liceo di Rossini in Bologna and worked assiduously to elevate Italian musical education, which was in serious need of an upgrade. Ultimately, Italy was not quite ready for Busoni’s brand of intellectual progressivism, and after two seasons the composer returned to Zurich and Berlin. Still, Busoni’s passion for his fatherland remained integral to his psyche, and his vision of music as a liberation of the spirit had a great deal to do with his Latin nature. Busoni did write some lovely songs in Italian, but we chose an early German Lied to represent him tonight: “Wer hat das erste Lied erdacht,” which Busoni wrote when he was just thirteen years old. As a teenager, Busoni was already able to conflate the freshness of Schubert with the long-lined spin of bel canto, and he had an adult’s grasp of compositional form.

Busoni may not have had the immediate galvanizing effect on Italian music that he desired, but his brief presence in Bologna did fire the creative energies of many native composers who followed him. Notable among them was Ildebrando Pizzetti (1880-1968), who sustained an important career in the conservatories of Florence, Milan, and Rome. From these vantage points he was able to promote his musical ideal: a deep respect for Italy’s musical roots, from Gregorian chant and the Florentine camerata to the music of the early Baroque era. Out of these sources he forged a modern idiom, neo-classicism filtered through a late-Romantic sensibility. Demonstrating a contemplative spirituality utterly at odds with the firecracker vehemence of Italy’s verismo composers, Pizzetti’s best songs have an orchestral elegance and a beautifully sustained arc. He is also one of the few Italian composers who exploited the coloristic possibilities of the piano. Pizzetti’s effects are subtle and diaphanous—a sensuous use of church modes, culminating in gentle but deeply felt climaxes.

While Franco Alfano (1875-1954) was not a direct disciple of Busoni, their paths ran parallel courses: Alfano also studied in Germany, and began his career as a pianist in Berlin. Later on, in 1918, he became director of the Bologna Conservatory where Busoni had recently spent two frustrating seasons. During his lifetime, Alfano’s works were well received, especially his operas Resurrezione and La leggenda di Sakúntala. Like Busoni, he scored his operas on symphonic principles, relying on counterpoint and more complex textures than had been heard in the popular works of Mascagni or Giordano. Nowadays, of course, he is remembered (and not usually fondly) as the man who “tacked an ending” onto Puccini’s final, unfinished opera Turandot. It is a disservice to Alfano, who made an important contribution to Italian music by improving the orchestral playing in his country. He devoted his talents to the emerging field of Italian art song as well, with over fifty liriche. More than half of them are set to poems by the rapt, spiritual poetry of Indian writer Rabindranath Tagore.

Among the most fascinating of tonight’s composers is Mario Castelnuovo-Tedesco (1895-1968). Born in Florence of Jewish parents, he studied composition with Pizzetti. In 1939, when it became too dangerous for Jewish families to stay in Italy, Castelnuovo-Tedesco fled to the United States—living first in Larchmont, and relocating soon after to Los Angeles. There he became an American citizen and accepted a position at the Los Angeles Conservatory. As a Los Angeles resident, he did what came naturally: he wrote film scores, though often under a pseudonym. He was chosen by the great director René Clair for the soundtracks of three of his movies, including And Then There Were None. Castelnuovo-Tedesco also became the musical mentor of many of America’s best-known film composers and arrangers, including Henry Mancini, André Previn, Nelson Riddle, and John Williams. His passions were multifarious: the works of Shakespeare, including an opera (The Merchant of Venice) and thirty-three songs; Jewish music, including a beautiful set of Sephardic melodies and several biblical oratorios; and Tuscan folk poetry. He also wrote art songs in English and orchestral works in celebration of his adopted homeland. Much of his music still remains unpublished. Judging from what I have heard, he is an artist who deserves to be celebrated and heard with greater frequency.

Today Ruggiero Leoncavallo (1857-1919) is a one-hit wonder—everyone has heard the great aria from I pagliacci, “Vesti la giubba,” whether belted out by Plácido Domingo or blubbered by some cartoon character. Leoncavallo’s other operas have never caught on, and it’s a shame that he had the temerity to write another setting of La bohème at the same time as Puccini. The “other” Bohème is an interesting piece, but it is no match for the Puccini classic. Still, Leoncavallo could spin out a tune with the best of them, and his songs often have the goofy bounce of Tin Pan Alley tunes. Case in point: the rollicking “Sérénade napolitaine” (set, improbably, to a French text).

The second half of our program follows Castelnuovo-Tedesco’s path, and emigrates to the United States: we’re complementing the music of Italian-born composers with a smorgasbord of songs by Italian-American musicians. Heard in the context of the music of their forbears, one often recognizes the inherent Latin warmth of their songs. Certainly this is the case of New York-born Norman Dello Joio ( 1913-2008), who was counseled by his teacher, Paul Hindemith, to stay true to the natural lyricism of his musical gift. Dello Joio grew up listening to Italian opera and the popular music of the jazz age; he also was indoctrinated into Catholic church music by his uncle, the organist Pietro Yon.  These early influences remained the essential elements of Dello Joio’s composition throughout his life. The piano voicing in “There is a lady sweet and kind” reminds me of liturgical modes, while the grace of the melody would have suited Jerome Kern just fine. Dello Joio wrote the song in 1948, and dedicated it to his wife; it became a specialty of the beloved Italian tenor Cesare Valletti.

Dominick Argento (b. 1927) was awakened to his muse when he heard George Gershwin’s songs as a child. His parents were Sicilian immigrants, but Argento’s music is that of a citizen of the world, freely mixing many sounds and styles. He had many American musical mentors, including Alan Hovhaness and Hugo Weisgall, but his studies eventually led him to Florence where he worked with Luigi Dallapiccola. Argento’s early connection to that city has remained an anchor for him during his life—for study, for composition, and as a locus classicus for many of his works—the song cycle Casa Guidi, and the operas Casanova’s Homecoming, The Dream of Valentino, and The Aspern Papers. Argento’s early, sweet-tempered Elizabethan Songs show this complex composer at his most charming.

How do you like your John Corigliano (b.1938): angry (Symphony # 1, “Of Rage and Remembrance”), popular (the soundtrack for the movie The Red Violin), playful (Act One of his opera The Ghosts of Versailles), brooding (Act Two of his opera The Ghosts of Versailles)? There are still more John Coriglianos for that list—the witty cabaret song composer, in partnership with his husband Mark Adamo; the far-out experimenter who wrote The Pied Piper Fantasy for flute and orchestra; the aleatoric note-cruncher who composed the score for Altered States. Clearly, Corigliano’s music runs the gamut, but in the midst of even the most complicated passages there often is a sweet lyricism waiting in the wings. That lyricism leads the way in both of our songs tonight, “Irreverent Heart” and the beautiful duet from Ghosts, my favorite of all modern operas.

Brooklyn-born John Musto (b. 1954) has been a close friend for over two decades. It has been very gratifying to watch his steady progression as a composer. Like many classical musicians, he burst onto the scene with small-scale works: some exquisite piano rags and a couple of song cycles (Shadow of the Blues and Recuerdo) that became instant classics. Soon everyone was including John’s songs on their programs, and my Juilliard students would show up asking if they could coach “the Musto” with me. (Composers know they have made it when people begin to attach a definite article to their names.) John has gradually moved into larger forms, including some notable chamber works and orchestral song cycles, a series of operas (Volpone, Later the Same Evening, The Inspector) and a dazzling piano concerto. John’s early musical influences are not very different from those of Norman Dello Joio and Dominic Argento: American popular song and Italian music of all kinds, from “Mambo Italiano” to Cavalleria rusticana, plus a ravenous appetite for the entire classical canon. His music melds the lyricism of Italian song with the ache of blues and ragtime, in tandem with an abiding passion for counterpoint and a broad range of musical structures. He brings his virtuoso piano technique, his understanding of the human voice, and his deep love of poetry to his songwriting, sampled tonight in a solo piece and a devilishly clever quartet.

I wanted to include a song by Mark Adamo (b. 1962), whose cycle The Racer’s Widow had given mezzo-soprano Sasha Cooke, the NYFOS audience, and me so much pleasure in 2012 when we premiered it. Mark is no stranger to the human voice, with many choral works and three operas to his credit including the wildly successful Little Women (1998). But when I asked him what other songs he’d written, Mark grew uncharacteristically silent. “Not…much, frankly.” Silence. Then he said, “Wait. There’s that song I wrote with Mark Campbell for your wedding.” The memory flooded me: the two Marks gave my partner and me the gift of an original song, sung at my wedding reception three years ago by Matt Boehler. I am proud to have such distinguished men as friends. Librettist Mark Campbell (b. 1953) has had a spectacular decade, collaborating with William Bolcom, Ricky Ian Gordon, John Musto, and Paul Moravec on a series of wildly diverse operas. His Pulitzer Prize-winning opera Silent Night (music by Kevin Puts) has been produced in eight different places since its debut in 2011; his most recent piece, The Manchurian Candidate (with Puts) premiered just a week ago at Minnesota Opera.

If you’re wondering, “Who is Harry Warren, and what in God’s name is he doing on this program?,” you’re not alone. The great Brooklyn-born songwriter was cursed throughout his life with an odd anonymity. “Even my friends don’t know who I am,” he used to say. Yet his music has virtually become part of the DNA of almost every American who has ever gone to the movies: “I Only Have Eyes For You,” “Chattanooga Choo-Choo,” “Lullaby of Broadway,” “Jeepers Creepers,” and Carmen Miranda’s entire Hollywood repertoire came from the fertile imagination of this self-taught composer. His parents were Italian immigrants; it was his sisters who changed his original name, Salvatore Guaragna, to the American-sounding Harry Warren when he started school. Warren quickly went from humble song-plugger to sought-after hit songwriter during the 1920s. On Broadway, Fanny Brice, Al Jolson, and Ed Wynn were all clamoring for his songs. Soon Hollywood heard about this young man and beckoned him out west to write for the talkies, the latest revolution in the film industry. Warren’s breakthrough came early, with Busby Berkeley’s 42nd Street in 1932. Decades of movie success followed, along with Academy Awards and records that sold by the millions. But Hollywood has never been as generous to its composers as Broadway, and Harry Warren never became a household name like Gershwin, Berlin, or Porter. Warren gave himself his own nickname—“Harry Who.” Even when Warren finally made it back to Broadway in the early 1970s with the stage production of 42nd Street, his name was not listed on the poster: that honor went to the producer, David Merrick, who cruelly saw to it that “Harry Who” would retain his relative anonymity until his death. Song mavens, however, have long appreciated this wonderful composer whose humor and lyricism link him to his Italian-American colleagues Musto, Corigliano, and Dello Joio.

Starting work on this program, I thought I’d be presenting an evening of high drama and broad melody. We’re not short on either of those things. But the breadth and variety of Italian culture was a lovely discovery: erotic Hebrew poetry, delicate impressionism, and German Lieder became welcome companions for a wide range of American voices. Evviva Italia!