Thursday, March 31, 2016

The long-awaited recital debut of soprano Christiane Karg

Not infrequently, Spivey patrons ask me, "Is there some artist you've booked that you think I should really come and hear?" It's akin to being asked, "Which of your children do you really love the best?," and often hard to answer.

However, ladies and gentlemen, kindly take notice: this Saturday there are definitely two artists you should hear. Truly.

Bavarian soprano Christiane Karg makes her North American recital debut at Spivey Hall on Saturday evening, April 2, at 7:30 PM with the incomparable pianist Malcolm Martineau, two seasons later than first expected. But I fully and firmly believe it will be well worth the wait!

Do you have your tickets?

I often joke that my tombstone epitaph (if I have one, which I rather doubt) should read, "Artists and programs subject to change." As another saying goes, life is what happens when you're making other plans. Ms. Karg was due to make her North American recital debut here two seasons ago, but an unfortunate case of laryngitis intervened.  She simply could not sing. Thus her recital had to be rescheduled. Spivey Series booking tends to work 18 to 24 months in advance, and the earliest opportunity proved to be April 2016 -- which happily coincided with our 25th Anniversary Season.

What seems like several summers ago, I ventured up to New York to hear Christiane Karg perform Schumann with the Mostly Mozart Festival Orchestra and conductor Yannick Nézet-Séguin.  (Both artists were new to me; both have since enjoyed extraordinary success in their careers.) So that I could get an immediate sense of her personality, I deliberately chose a seat very close to the stage. Having taken my seat, I discovered I was behind a very tall, very bald patron whose large head totally blocked any view I could get of her unless I squirmed up and down and around in my seat like a child throughout the concert. So much for strategic seat selection!  But it didn't matter. The glory of her singing shone through, and I was convinced that in the superb acoustics of Spivey Hall, she would triumph. 

Subsequent press confirmed my convictions. Noted by Le Figaro for her "crystalline purity and musicality" as well as her "ethereal voice," Christiane Karg remains "at the forefront of lyric sopranos" (The Telegraph). "Karg is the complete package," glowed The Press in York; "She established such immediate and total rapport with her audience that we were eating out of her hand.... She exudes a delightful, unfussy charisma... Lieder recitals should always be like this."

Doesn't this sound enticing? Experiencing singing like this is one of the life's greatest pleasures, n'est-ce pas?

And now, at last, she's here. I'm both pleased and grateful that she and her manager were able to schedule her recital tour such that her Spivey Hall debut will indeed, after all, still be her North American recital debut. I am also tremendously grateful that Richard Tigner again signed on as the Spivey Hall Friends Concert Sponsor of Ms. Karg's recital -- which this time (if the Fates allow) will actually take place (all fingers and toes crossed). Thank you, Rick, for your loyal support, and for placing your trust in this debut a second time!

Ms. Karg's original recital debut program focused on Germanic repertoire, including songs of Richard Strauss, which I would have loved to hear (and if you know any of her excellent recordings, you'll appreciate why). But this weekend, she happens to have chosen some of my all-time favorites in a mixed program of songs in German, Spanish and French. This only heightens my eagerness to hear her, because I expect the range and variety of these songs will reveal even more fully the many aspects of her artistry as both vocalist and interpreter. Her extraordinary collaborator, pianist Malcolm Martineau, is a gift to any vocalist in recital, and an artist we welcome frequently and warmly to Spivey Hall (he's actually here twice next season).

So, Saturday's program is titled Nostalgia -- European Dreams.  It opens with Hugo Wolf's setting of Goethe's "Kennst Du das Land?" ("Do you know the land where citrons bloom?"), beckoning us with barely restrained ecstasy through descriptions of places wild and wonderful, places where nature's might is palpable -- "It is there -- there that I would go with you!" This leads us to Lieder from Wolf's Italian Song Book and Spanish Song Book, equally evocative and colorful, ardent and expressive. The first half closes with Six Castilian Songs by Jesús Guridi, with texts from folk poetry. These I do not know, but of course a good program should contain aspects of discovery; Malcolm Martineau has recorded them to high critical praise; he and Ms. Karg know these places, and will guide us there.

The second half opens and closes with sumptuous French songs by Henri Duparc -- first, "L'invitation au voyage" ("Invitation to the voyage").  This is a truly rapturous song, with gorgeous climaxes reaching heights of supreme joy, then easing back into a heavenly vision of soulful serenity, a place you want to be: "There, all is harmony and beauty, / Luxury, calm and delight."  (These moments alone are worth coming to hear.) The closing Duparc song, "Romance de Mignon," is about another ideal, beloved place ("Do you know that radiant land / Where fruit glints among branches of gold?"), though tinged in the second stanza with suggestions of love lost...and yet, in both instances, a cherished destination: "Do you know it, do you know it? To that place, my beloved, / Let us run, let us go."

Nestled between the Duparc bookends, we'll hear Ravel's Five Greek Folk Songs which audiences always enjoy, a trio of songs from Reynaldo Hahn's Latin Studies (two of which dwell as much on wine as on distinctive natural imagery), three songs by Charles Koechlin based on Shéhérazade poems, with texts by Tristan Klingsor, and a group of songs by Francis Poulenc.  All vividly conjure up a special sense of place, all are rich with descriptive detail, all combine words and music in imaginative and artful ways. These are the ingredients of a great recital program that these masterful artists have prepared for us. A rare opportunity. You should be here to experience it.

I'm particularly fond of Poulenc's "Voyage à Paris" and (especially) "Hôtel," both from his Banalités, inspired music set to poems by Guillaume Apollinaire.  They are short, succinct, but not small, and instantly create a complete mood, a full slice of life. There's a somewhat crazy, extroverted, high-spirited, escape-from-the-mundane glee to "Voyage à Paris" ("Beautiful Paris, which one day Love had to create!") -- all of which transpires more in seconds than in minutes, yet nothing is wanting.

"Hôtel" perfectly summons a pervasive sense of weary languor, with rays of sun weakly reaching through shuttered windows into a dusky room that contains a chaise longue or an unmade bed. Laziness prevails. The musical phrases pensively breathe in and out, rise a bit and think about getting up...but then they heave their sighs and sink back into the pillows. In the final harmonic resolution that renders the line "Je veux ne pas travailler -- je veux fumer" ("I don't want to work -- I want to smoke"), all succumbs to inertia. It's marvelous. If someone would please give me a production budget to shoot a music video of "Hôtel" (a friend in Florida has known of this ambition for decades -- you know who you are!), one of my life's dreams would be complete -- this magical combination of music and text already defines every detail, it just needs to be filmed.

These are admittedly very personal responses to this program. They nonetheless further spark my interest and increase my desire to finally hear Christiane Karg and Malcolm Martineau perform on stage at Spivey Hall. YES, this is one you should hear. DO NOT MISS THIS RECITAL.

Music professor Dr. Kurt-Alexander Zeller, Clayton State's Director of Vocal Activities and Opera, will have insights of his own to offer, augmented by his superior scholarship and extensive experience as a singer, that are sure to explain the inner life of the songs that he discusses in his 6:30 PM pre-concert talk (free for ticket holders), given in the Music Education Building immediately adjacent to Spivey Hall, one hour before the 7:30 PM recital.  There will also be a post-concert reception in the lobby, hosted by the Spivey Hall Friends in honor of the artists and our concert sponsor, to which the entire audience is cordially invited, where you can meet and greet Ms. Karg and Mr. Martineau.

Good seats are still available, so please join us. You'll be glad you did. Call (678) 466-4200 Monday through Friday, 9 AM to 5 PM, to get your tickets -- there is never a fee to purchase your ticket by talking with one of our Patron Services colleagues, and of course Spivey Hall has plenty of free, convenient parking. Educators and students with ID get 50% off their tickets and Clayton State students are admitted for just $10; CSU music majors and music appreciation students attend for free. Or click here to buy online.  Or just show up at the Box Office beginning at 6:30 PM. There will be tickets, and you shall be rewarded by what you hear.

Tuesday, March 01, 2016

Go vote! Also, BUY A BUS!

It's Super Tuesday and Georgia voters are going to the polls to cast their ballots for the presidential primaries. In this year of all election years, it seems especially important that people's voices be heard, expressed through their votes. I just voted in my district, and the whole process took no more than 5 minutes.  If you can, please vote! If you have already, thank you for exercising one of the greatest privileges of living in a country where democracy and rule of law hold strong.

It's also #GIVE4DREAMS at Clayton State University -- our first-ever DAY OF GIVING with a live webcast.

Everybody has a dream.  All kids have the dream of discovery.  Who I am? What do I like? Who will I be when I grow up?

With or without words, music can reach us in its own language and speak to us.  Music tells us who we are.  It's no mystery that kids who are actively involved in learning and performing music score (on average) more highly on standardized tests. Music stimulates cognitive development at all ages, especially the critical Pre-K-12 years, when, as Yo-Yo Ma says (and I paraphrase), kids accumulate experiences that sustain and inspire them for the rest of their lives.

Music helps kids learn in other ways, too.  An understanding of music of different traditions and styles can help kids with their classroom learning in a wide range of subjects, including science, history, geography, mathematics, and language arts.

That's why Spivey Hall's #GIVE4DREAMS project is called BUY A BUS.  Why?  Because Spivey Hall presents some 30 high-quality Young People's Concerts each season for PreK-12 children in the glorious acoustics of our wonderful hall.  Each of the programs is designed to support classroom learning, with curricular ties and free online study guides that help teachers prepare their students to make the most of their experience at Spivey Hall.

Why BUY A BUS?  Teachers want to bring their kids to YPCs, but sadly, with years of budget cuts to public education, they can't always find the funds for the school buses to get them out of their classrooms and to Spivey Hall.  Admission is just $2 per child, but a bus can cost up to $150.

So we're not actually asking anyone to buy a bus...but to provide a tax-deductible gift to the Clayton State University Foundation at between now and 8 AM tomorrow (March 2).  The webcast you'll see at this giving site will explain more. And if you want to know more, or need help making your gift, just call the Spivey Hall Box Office at (678) 466-4200.

A $150 gift enables Spivey Hall reimburse a deserving Title I school to pay for a bus that will bring up to 55 students to a Young People's Concert -- and back to their school, having been enthralled and enlightened by a live, high-quality music performance that relates to what they're learning in school -- from bluegrass and jazz and musical theatre to choral music, opera, and African drumming.

In the 12 to 1 PM hour today, Spivey Hall gets the spotlight.  If you make a gift of any amount during this one-hour period, you'll help us become eligible for special matching gifts.  What  matters with this match is NUMBERS of donors, not necessarily the size of your gift.  Any gift helps!

I'm off to the University Center now, to take part in the live webcast for about 15 minutes during the 12 to 1 PM Spivey Hall "prime time" hour.   So please, if you have a minute and $2 or more to help kids experience excellent live music at Spivey Hall, your gift in ANY amount will be greatly appreciated!