Saturday, October 13, 2012

Simon Keenlyside & Pedja Muzijevic tonight

Tonight (Saturday, October 13) at 8:15 PM, the internationally renowned British baritone SIMON KEENLYSIDE makes his Atlanta recital debut at Spivey Hall with pianist PEDJA MUZIJEVIC.  Keenlyside is perhaps best known to most Atlanta audiences for his performances with the Metropolitan Opera, including his great success in the title role of Ambroise Thomas's HAMLET in Spring 2010 (a work the Met hadn't staged since 1897), and, in just a few days, the highly anticipated Met premiere of Thomas Ades' THE TEMPEST, which The New York Times says "should be the most significant artistic statement of the Met season," also citing visionary director Robert Lepage‚Äôs production, which it calls "a dazzling concoction."  (Also starring in the THE TEMPEST is mezzo-soprano Isabel Leonard, who returns to Spivey Hall for her second recital this spring, and tenor Alek Shrader, who made his Spivey Hall debut a few seasons ago.  Once again, the stars align at the Metropolitan Opera and Spivey Hall.)  Keenlyside was Musical America's 2011 "Vocalist of the Year" and has won many other impressive awards, including "Best Solo Vocal Award" at the 2012 Gramophone Awards for his recording SONGS OF WAR (more on this below).

I was mesmerized when in London I heard Simon Keenlyside give a Wigmore Hall recital in a few years ago, which was recorded in two live performances (I heard the second) and released on Wigmore's own label, and I tend to agree with Opera News: "The most distinctive element of Keenlyside's voice is something that is discernible only in live performances."  That is because his stage presence is strongly palpable, and the listener's experience is so deeply informed by how his physical presence enhances the meaning of what he sings.  This combination is what makes the experience of hearing great singers live in concert almost addictive, because it is so profoundly personal and therefore so incredibly rewarding.

One of my "must-haves" when deciding to engage a vocalist in recital is that the singer must have an extraordinary relationship with words, as well as a command of sound that conveys the meaning of what is being sung.  This Simon Keenlyside has in abundance.  An artist manager friend of mine told me that she revels not just in the singing, but even in how Keenlyside breathes while performing.  I know what she means -- again, all the subleties of the singer's physical presence have meaning.  Keenlyside is living proof that no matter how great the sound by itself, the psychology of human beings is deeply influenced by what we see when we listen, and that the art of giving a recital is as much as for the eye as the ear when a great artist brings a composer's creation to life.

Keenlyside's pianist this evening, Pedja Muzijevic, is no stranger to Atlanta, having appeared several times as soloist with the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra in recent years; he is also an active chamber musician and collaborative pianist who draws accolades wherever he performs, be it Europe, Australia, the U.S., or South America, with numerous impressive recordings to his credit.

The first half of their Spivey Hall recital features selections from Keenlyside's 2011 SONY Classics CD, SONGS OF WAR, all of which are in English, and all inspired by the work of poets including
A.E. Housman, Robert Louis Stevenson, John Masefield, and (from across the Atlantic) Walt Whitman.  These are compelling songs, and Simon has kindly given us permission to reprint relevant sections of the emotionally insightful (and, I must say, powerful) CD liner notes that he wrote, explaining how he was drawn to the obituaries of war veterans, and their amazing stories of valor, courage, and sacrifice.  Also he observes that so much of the poetry that emanates from the experience of war is as much about life --  longing for home, concern for the welfare of those left behind, and the persistent restlessness soldiers feel when no longer at war -- as it is about death.  All are topics of inspiration to poets and composers alike.

These songs encompass a vast emotional range.  As Opera News would remind us, the opportunity to hear and SEE Keenlyside -- in a space as intimate as Spivey Hall, and with the immediacy our superb acoustics afford listeners -- is a very rare one indeed, and one that no lover of great singing should miss.

The second half of the program features two sets of Lieder by Hugo Wolf and Franz Schubert, composers whose works Keenlyside has regularly included in his recital programs.  Clayton State's Director of Vocal Studies and Opera, Dr. Kurt-Alexander Zeller, will give a free pre-concert talk at 7:15 PM about the program, which will illuminate anyone's understanding of what will follow this evening in the recital hall.

I am personally grateful to a special Friend of Spivey Hall, Mr. Richard F. Tigner, for sponsoring this auspicious recital debut.  Rick is among Spivey Hall's passionately devoted followers of great singing, and his generosity -- as well as that of our many other Friends -- makes it possible me to engage and present outstanding musicians such as Simon Keenlyside and Pedja Muzijevic at Spivey Hall, whose artistry truly enriches our lives.  Mr. Keenlyside was able to secure a release from the Metropolitan Opera to be with us tonight, and I am tremendously grateful for his willingness to perform for us in the midst of his preparations for THE TEMPEST.

Complete program details are available at Spivey Hall's website.  Good seats are still available, both online and through the Spivey Hall Box Office at (678) 466-4200.  Don't think twice about coming -- show up, there will be tickets, and you may remember this recital for a long, long time to come.


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