|Joshua Blue onstage at Juilliard
A tenor with a point of view took the stage at Juilliard yesterday in a very personal program filled with passion, as befits his middle name, which is Vaspassion. Mr. Blue is about to be awarded a Master of Music Degree and he chose a theme for his graduation recital--the theme of oppression. Different sets were devoted to political oppression, sexual oppression, and racial oppression.
Mr. Blue has a voice that can caress or strike hard and he always colored his voice to suit the material. He employed the services of a number of different artists which made for a very compelling recital, although we have no doubt that he could have carried the recital on his own.
His collaborative pianist, Amir Farid, opened the program with the oceanic prelude to Rachmaninoff's "Arion", the setting of a text by Pushkin, selected from the composer's 14 Romances. Voice and piano worked together, creating both storm and peace.
Next we heard Sechs Hölderlin Fragments and were surprised at how significantly we preferred Britten's setting of German text over his setting of English. We cannot say whether it was Mr. Blue's powerful presence or the fact that German sings so much better than English. The rhythm of Britten's music seemed to fit the rhythm of the text in far better fashion. Mr. Farid's piano was exceptional in "Hälfte des Lebens".
For Ravel's Chansons madécasses, Mr. Blue and Mr. Farid were joined by cellist Matthew Chen and flutist Jonathan Slade who effectively created the bird song in "Il est doux". The songs related to the oppression produced by colonialism. "Nahandova" speaks of desire for the indigenous and exotic woman whilst "Aoua" speaks of betrayal by the colonializers.
Three art songs by some rather unknown Soviet composers captured our attention with marvelous melodies and texts that often seemed ironic in their praise of life under Communism. Perhaps these works were commissioned by the State but we have no way of knowing.
"Lullaby" sounded suspiciously reassuring. "Times Have Changed" glorified life under Lenin and Mr. Blue amplified his forceful Russian with dramatic gestures.
The final work on the program filled the stage with drama and fellow musicians. Guitarist Jack Gulielmetti, whom we remember from his appearances with New York Festival of Song, was joined by drummer T.J. Reddick and the four artists performed the world premiere of Andrew Seligson's rousing Break Your Chains--the subject of which was the Afro-American experience.
We don't know whether to call it a cantata or a cycle of songs. We don't know what genre to which we can attribute it. Jazz Rock maybe? It doesn't matter. It spoke to us and to the audience that greeted its conclusion with cheers. Although Mr. Blue warned the audience that they might be upset and close their ears to this cry of pain and injustice, he was preaching to the choir. The energy in the room was that of people truly listening, truly hearing, and those willing to be inspired.
Text for this work was provided by Andre Cardine, Epiphany Samuels, Preston Crowder, B.J. Tindal, the composer, and also Mr. Blue. There was a lot of anger and drive behind the words.
The message of the program has remained with us. Every battle needs a battle anthem! There are people all over the world fighting against oppression at this very moment. We see no reason for Mr. Blue to have included oppression of women in his program but our thoughts went toward women fighting to be free from sexual harassment, women in Saudi Arabia who seem to have won the right to drive, and Iranian women who are fighting against a rigid patriarchal dress code. Music is so powerful in mobilizing and inspiring people!
(c) meche kroop