We are here to encourage the development of gifted young singers and to stimulate the growth of New York City's invaluable chamber opera companies. But we will not neglect the Metropolitan Opera either. Get ready for bouquets and brickbats.

Wednesday, November 6, 2013


Ned Rorem, Michael Barrett, Andrew Garland, Steven Blier, Kate Lindsey
There is music that we adored on first hearing and there is music that we had to get to know in order to appreciate.  Tchaikovsky is in the first category; Mahler is in the second.  Likewise with songs. Schubert thrilled us on first hearing, rooted as we are in the 19th c. Twentieth century songs in English have never been our favorites but, under the guidance of Steven Blier and the New York Festival of Song, we have been broadening our horizons over the past year.  Last night's tribute to Ned Rorem on his 90th birthday offered many delights; we were surprised to have enjoyed the evening so thoroughly.  Most of the songs were composed by Mr. Rorem, but some were by his teachers and colleagues.

Mr. Blier's enthusiastic narration and fascinating anecdotes added immeasurably to our experience but the songs themselves offered interesting harmonies and singable melodies.  The superb singers, mezzo-soprano Kate Lindsey and baritone Andrew Garland, made wonderful sense of the lyrics and their enthusiasm was infectious. Mr. Blier's and Michael Barrett's accompaniments contributed equally.  Mr. Blier and Mr. Rorem have a long and profound association and both are Francophiles; Mr. Rorem was inspired by Ravel and Poulenc among others.  In every song, the language is clear and the text well served by the vocal line.

We are particularly fond of duets and the opening one "From whence cometh song?", a setting of a text by Theodore Roethke was a fine introduction and a moving one.   For us, the most interesting duet was a unique setting of Robert Browning's "Life in a Love" with its overlapping voices.  Or was it the final song of the evening "A birthday" with text by Christina Georgina Rossetti?

Mr. Garland was especially memorable in "The Lordly Hudson" (text by Paul Goodman) and concluded the song with a beautifully controlled crescendo.  In Barber's "I hear an army", with text by James Joyce, he let loose his powerful baritone.  But he was ever so gentle in Marc Blitzstein's "Emily", which may have been the most moving song of the evening.

Ms. Lindsey was adorable in Virgil Thomson's "Sigh no more, ladies" from Five Shakespeare Songs, singing through slowly and meaningfully the first time and friskily the second.  She was equally charming in Emily Dickinson's "Dear March, come in!" from Twelve Poems of Emily Dickinson, set by Aaron Copland.  In "Rain in Spring", setting of a text by Paul Goodman, the final line sung by Ms. Lindsey "Falling without haste or strain" was a perfect description of her singing.  But my favorite song in that set was a setting of Gertrude Stein's "I am Rose" which she imbued with scintillating personality.

Mr. Blier and Mr. Barrett shared accompanying duties.  We especially enjoyed the syncopated jazzy piano in Mr. Rorem's "Alleluia", played by Mr. Barrett and the achingly simple pianism of Mr. Blier in Rorem's "Little Elegy".  It needs scarcely be mentioned that the youthful Mr. Rorem (still going strong) composes all kinds of music, not just song--but it does need to be mentioned that he has written several books which Mr. Blier, in his own inimitable manner, assures us are quite racy.  Mr. Rorem once admitted to being a "pretty thing" in his youth.  He still is.

We left with an enhanced appreciation of the songs of Mr. Rorem and his associates, thanks to Mr. Blier's astute curating.  We doubt, however, that we can persuade him to love Schubert's lieder as much as we do, since he confessed that they do not thrill him.  Oh well.

© meche kroop

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