Thursday, February 05, 2009

Singers' Corner

Tenor Lawrence Brownlee sang superbly in his January Spivey Hall recital debut. He had a great night, as did we in the audience! Next up among our singers: this Saturday, February 7, Dutch mezzo Christianne Stotijn gives us jewels from the song literature, with an abundance of Brahms in the first half of her program, which ends with what is probably my favorite Brahms song, "Die Mainacht" (May Night). This song, like others in this program, invokes the singing of the nightingale, beloved of Romantic poets. It makes me wish I were a mezzo (in my next life, I want to come back as Erda). The closing measures of the song, for piano alone, is more proof of Brahms' musical genius. Ms. Stotijn is joined by distinguished pianist Joseph Breinl. The second half opens with six gorgeous songs by Grieg (Op. 48) set to German poetry, and closes with a selection of Tchaikovsky songs (a recording project for Ms. Stotijn), including "None But the Lonely Heart" and others whose soulful tunes will tug with sentiment and wistful melancholy at heartstrings in the true Russian fashion.

Christianne Stotijn would seem to be conductor Bernard Haitink's favorite Mahler mezzo at the moment (artistically, that says a great deal) -- and hearing her Brahms Alto Rhapsody in a freebie CD that arrived with one of the British music magazines in the fall, I can safely predict this will be one of those Spivey Hall recitals after which people tell me, "I didn't know her at all, but she's fabulous!" -- and those people who didn't attend, but heard about it later, will chastise me, "Why didn't you tell me she would be that good?!?"

There are still tickets for her Saturday recital, so don't hesitate...treat yourself. (Go hear Christine Brewer sing Strauss opera arias with Donald Runnicles and the Atlanta Symphony TONIGHT, so you can savor both! I'm heading out the door myself to Symphony Hall shortly....) Another Saturday singing pleasure will be the Met Opera's HD broadcast of Lucia di Lammermoor by Donizetti. The incomparable Anna Netrebko sings Lucia, but -- this just in -- her tenor will NOT be Rolando Villazon, as planned -- he's ill and has pulled out, which of course saddens many...we at Spivey Hall (who have heard him sing resplendently in recital) can feel the disappointment acutely.

However, the tenor who WILL sing Edgardo amazed me at Marilyn Horne's 75th Birthday Celebration at Carnegie Hall a few weeks ago -- a Polish tenor by the name of Piotr Beczala, who sang Donizetti's "Una furtiva lagrima" from L'elisir d'amore, splendidly, with warm tone, excellent intonation, big round stylish expressive phrases, and a very attractive personality that reached across the footlights. Beczala is also singing Lensky in the Met's Eugene Onegin at the moment, and is slated for even bigger roles in future seasons. So, Met HD fans, I believe you're in for a real treat, if Mr. Beczala rises to the occasion -- and I expect he will.

The Horne birthday bash was a concert I'll remember for years to come. Such a line-up of incredible talent. There was a fairly comprehensive New York Times review, so I won't rehash everything, but suffice it to say that the singers who performed who also have given recitals at Spivey Hall -- Nicole Cabell, Isabel Leonard, Susan Graham, David Daniels, Dmitri Hvorostovsky, Thomas Quasthoff, Karita Mattila, Thomas Hampson, Samuel Ramey, Frederica von Stade, and Joyce DiDonato -- were all magnificent, each in his or her uniquely personal way. The pianists -- Carrie-Ann Matheson, Martin Katz, Brian Zeger, and Warren Jones (all Spivey Hall artists except, I think, for Carrie-Ann, but I hope that won't be for long) -- brought their invaluable support and inspiring musicianship to this party as well, yielding consistently gratifying results.

There were so many highlights to these memorable performances. Each of these superb artists is deservedly celebrated and commands huge respect. Still, there were some especially notable moments. Martin Katz, in addition to collaborating with so many of these stars, also joined composer William Bolcom for four-hand piano accompaniment of "A Song of Praise" which Bill wrote for Marilyn (musically very clever, and good fun); plus, as a special tribute to a song near and dear to the honoree, he played a solo rendition of Stephen Foster's "I Dream of Jeannie," which was truly touching. Hvorostovsky was his elegant, charismatic self; Mattila projected her aura of incredible artistry; Graham sounded fantastic, luxuriating in her French aria, and was utterly delightful; Quasthoff never fails to amaze me for his humanity and spirit as a singer and a human being; Daniels radiated irresistibly stylish coloratura and virile charm; Hampson confirmed his ability to summon the spirit of Mahler like few singers can, with Warren Jones extracting all possible expression from the piano in a truly profound interpretation (playing all selections from memory); and DiDonato joyously nailed "Tanti affetti" from Rossini's La donna del lago, which took pride of place to close the program ingeniously devised by Marty Katz and Matthew Epstein, both close personal friends and professional colleagues of Marilyn Horne.

Having Marilyn Horne in the house, these singers put their best foot forward to honor a living legend who knows a thing or two (or two million) about great singing. It brought out the best from everyone, which was exhilarating. There was a lot of love coming from the stage, in addition to exceptionally beautiful music-making.

One of the great pleasures of my life was working two summers in California with Marilyn Horne at the Music Academy of the West. Jackie, as she is lovingly known by her family, colleagues, and the untold number of young singers she continues to mentor, support and develop through the Marilyn Horne Foundation (dedicated to sustaining the art of song), is truly one of my idols. The consummate professional, the supreme artist, the inspiring teacher, the dedicated mentor, she also has one of the biggest and most giving hearts of anyone I've had the privilege to know, combined with a robust sense of humor and phenomenal strength of spirit. As you can imagine, when she finally took the stage of Carnegie Hall, the audience roared with love and praise. She gave (as the Times reported) "motherly hugs" to all the celebrated artists gathered to honor her. She reminds me why I love music, why I love the music business, why music matters, and what incredibly precious gifts musicians make to enrich our lives. Happy 75th, Jackie, and many, many more. I'm among your millions of fans around the world who revere you, thank you, and wish you only the best.


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