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, December 9, 2015


Paul Appleby, Michael Barrett, Sari Gruber, Steven Blier, Andrew Garland, Theo Hoffman, and Charles Yang
"No song is safe from us" is the motto of the New York Festival of Song, hereinafter referred to as NYFOS. Spending an evening with Steven Blier and his crew is always an adventure and invariably draws a crowd bursting with enthusiasm.  Last night's recital of songs by Schubert paired with those by The Beatles was totally in that mold.

Schubert's songs have the power to touch us deeply even after nearly two centuries.  Songs by the Beatles have endured for half a century and also touch us deeply. But there are important differences. What Schubert wrote is "on the page".  Any singer/pianist combination could perform what's on the page and we would instantly recognize the song; the differences would lie only in how well they performed it. One cannot "cover" a Schubert song.

In the case of The Beatles, one thinks more about their performances, recorded or live (if you were lucky enough and old enough to witness)--the total gestalt--not just the words and melody, but the arrangements, orchestration, electronic effects, and percussion.  But, above all, the recognizable timbre of their voices. You can "cover" a Beatles song but you cannot duplicate it.

The idea for last night's program at Merkin Hall came from Theo Hoffman and publicist Aleba Gartner; Mr. Blier picked it up and ran with it, arranging the songs of The Beatles to be paired on the program with lieder by Schubert based on a corresponding theme. Apparently the entire crew contributed to the design and execution.

Each song by The Beatles sounded new and fresh--in some cases nearly unrecognizable; it is amazing what happens when focus is shifted to the melody and the lyrics, with Mr. Blier's jazzy arrangements underneath. For example, in a pairing whose theme was "a missing woman", outstanding tenor Paul Appleby sang a dramatically interesting rendition of Schubert's "Alinde", giving various colors to the uneasy young man, the reaper, the fisherman, and the hunter.  Following was John Lennon's "Julia" with piano and Mr. Yang's plucked violin as the sole accompaniments.

Sensational soprano Sari Gruber performed Schubert's "Im Frühling" which was paired with "Yesterday", movingly sung by Mr. Appleby. The theme appeared to be that of lost love. Our opinion is that ballads by The Beatles best lend themselves to adaptation as pure song.

The theme of art as a comfort in times of turmoil was well addressed by multi-talented baritone Theo Hoffman accompanying himself on the guitar in Schubert's "Du bist die Ruh" which was paired with George Harrison's "While My Guitar Gently Weeps", performed by Ms. Gruber accompanied by guitar and Mr. Yang's violin.

The theme of wandering was explored with Schubert's lilting "Der Wanderer an den Mond" sung by the talented baritone Andrew Garland; this was paired with "She's Leaving Home", performed by Mr. Garland and Ms. Gruber.

There were several other interesting pairings and a very special duet--"If I Fell in Love with You" performed by Mr. Appleby and Mr. Garland.  It wouldn't be a NYFOS show if there weren't something with a homosexual twist.  This added an interesting new layer and delighted the audience.

There was not supposed to be an encore--but there was.  And perhaps it was the best part of the program.  In honor of Mr. Blier's recent birthday the entire cast joined forces for "When I'm 64" with Mr. Garland taking over the piano and inserting multiple riffs of some of Schubert's most famous and beloved lieder. It ended the evening on a joyful note.

It scarcely needs to be said that all the singers sang magnificently and did justice to the material; similarly it is redundant to comment on Mr. Blier's charming narration and the excellent piano playing of himself and Michael Barrett.  Charles Yang and his creativity on the violin and the surprising things he did with his electric violin (what unearthly sounds we heard!) added greatly to the success of the program.

(c) meche kroop

No comments:

Post a Comment