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.

Thursday, February 22, 2024


 Daniel McGrew, Erin Wagner, Chelsea Guo, Megan Moore, Joseph Parrish, and Francesco Barfoed

What a fortuitous collaboration it was at Merkin Hall last night when New York Festival of Song joined forces with Young Concert Artists for an evening of ensemble singing. Five fantastic singers gifted a most delighted audience songs from five hundred years of music history. It would have been a great thrill to spend an evening with any one of those gifted artists, but five at once? It was like winning a trifecta, or to coin a phrase, a "pentecta". Both NYFOS and YCA share the same mission which just so happens to coincide with ours--fostering gifted young singers. It is no coincidence that there is overlap between NYFOS performers and YCA winners.

Regular readers know how fond we are of duets but we rarely get to write about ensembles with the exception of a few reviews of Brahms' Liebeslieder, which would have been right at home on last night's program; however our dear Steven Blier loves to introduce his NYFOS audience to works they likely have not heard before.

Although we loved the accompanying piano of Mr. Blier and Francesco Barfoed, we must say that there is something even more special when voices are heard a cappella. Take for example the opening number which just happens to be the oldest and also our favorite of the night. The song by Clément Janequin, a famous French composer of the 16th c., entitled "Les cris de Paris," was thrilling in its harmonies and surprisingly contemporary in its text. One could imagine it describing a marketplace in any populous town.

From Mozart we heard two of his Sei Notturni, one of which might have been a sketch for his soon-to-be-penned Cosi fan Tutte.  Schubert has written more than one serenade but the "Ständchen" we heard was a group effort which, we imagine, occurred when a man gathered his friends together to bolster his self-confidence as he went to woo his beloved.

We never thought of Beethoven as a composer of songs but he did set 12 Irish Songs--folk songs by nature. We were completely distracted by the density of the piano accompaniment, so well played by Francesco Barfoed that our ears were teased by a recurrent phrase that must have inspired Mendelssohn. Discussing it afterward with a couple singer friends, no one was able to identify it but it did make us think of the music for Midsummer Night's Dream and a fairyland scene. Or could it have been a Schubert lied about a supernatural creature? Dear Reader, if you heard it too and could possibly set our mind to rest, please write your thoughts in the comment section below. Otherwise, your reviewer will lose a lot of sleep!

Brahms' lovely "Die Meere" was written in 3/4 time signature and, like any barcarolle, had us swaying in our seats. The French also had their voices heard, namely Camille Saint-Saëns' "Pastorale" and Gabriel Fauré's "Pleurs d'or", the text of which was so lovely that we want to read Albert Samain's text aloud.

We never knew that Shostakovich set Jewish Folk Poetry, and in Yiddish no less. His mid 20th c. compositions have never tickled our ear  but we appreciated his evocative setting of "Winter" which actually gave us a chill.

Not all music of the last hundred years is distasteful to us. We actually enjoyed Libby Larsen's very funny "Jack's Valentine" in which each singer's lines overlapped another's with the repetition of "I love you. A whole lot. Very very much. A whole bunch. Forever." No piano accompaniment was needed. One could enjoy the vocal lines weaving together in a humorous tapestry.

A special treat was the New York premiere of Matt Boehler's setting of Robert Louis Stevenson' "Let Beauty Awake". We knew of Mr. Boehler as a singer and we have always said that vocal music should be written by singers and this proved our point. Mr. McGrew and Mr. Parrish did it justice.

Was there anyone in the audience who remembers The Beach Boys? Leave it to Mr. Blier to arrange Owen Wilson's "In My Room", a popular song from the 1960's, for the five voices. We looked it up online and, well, it was as different as day is from night. We loved the harmonies although the text sounded like teenage angst.

But wait! The closing number was even more radical. We admit that we had never heard of The Bobs, an 80's pop band, let alone the song "Trash" written by Gunnar Madsen and Richard Greene. We couldn't wait to get home to look for it online. Well, Mr. Blier always says "No song is safe from us" and in this case, his arrangement made a proverbial silk purse out of a sow's ear. The five singers grabbed microphones and had the audience in stitches, singing about a slovenly man whose presumably female companion couldn't deal with his trash.

We have avoided listing who sang what (with one exception) because this was truly an ensemble effort by soprano Chelsea Guo, mezzo-soprano Megan Moore, mezzo-soprano Erin Wagner, tenor Daniel McGrew, and bass-baritone Joseph Parrish. We have reviewed all of them except for Ms. Guo who is still an undergraduate and plays piano as brilliantly as she sings. In the final number, the group used microphones and she appeared to have just the right style and flair.  What a fine group of singers!  All seem well on their way to stardom and we feel privileged to have heard them as they launch.

© meche kroop

No comments:

Post a Comment