In the Artist's Own Words
As a brief introduction to tonight's recital, I would like to share some of my thinking behind the creation of this program. When selecting songs for a recital, I often categorize the music I am interested in performing into three groups: well-known and often-performed songs (the Schubert, Tchaikovsky, and Fauré tonight) lesser-known and lesser-performed songs (the Bridge and Argentine songs), and new songs. I usually aim to employ all three types of song in recital so that I may explore the greatness of and participate in the performance tradition of canonical works, provide exposure to some pieces that I love but which may be unfamiliar to the typical art song audience, and play a part in the creation of new works and lend a voice to contemporary composers in whose music I believe. I had planned to give the premiere of a new song cycle tonight by the immensely gifted song composer Harold Meltzer, but we recently agreed to postpone his new work so as not to unduly rush to the stage his composition or my performance of it. Of the sets of songs I have chosen for this program, I have not intended to make a comparative study of any musical or poetic aspect among them. I selected these songs mostly because I simply love them, but I have discovered that they nonetheless find ways of resonating with each other in unexpected ways that create an unplanned yet cohesive structure to this program.
My love of Schubert lieder is highly unoriginal, but I do hope to offer some small insight into the four selected songs by exploring a poetic theme that runs through each of them. All capture in distinct ways the quintessence of German Romanticism in their expression of longing and nostalgia that constitute Sehnsucht. "Im Frühling" explicitly enacts a looking back on lost love that is by turns restrained, roiling, and mournful. The elegiac musical character of "Des Fischers Liebesglück" indicates—to my imagination, anyway—that the charming and moving description of a young lovers' tryst is in fact the narrator's memory of a youthful romance long ago. "Sehnsucht" evokes the crisis of separation and loss, while "Die Taubenpost" expresses the achievement of some kind of peace mixed with sadness and longing that the voices in all these songs are seeking.
2013 is Benjamin Britten's centennial year, and his music will be celebrated and performed extensively—rightly so. Today, Frank Bridge is often identified primarily as Britten's teacher, and I am interested in exploring Bridge's music in order to better understand Britten's musical upbringing as we turn our attention to his oeuvre this year. But these songs also illustrate Bridge's merits as a composer in his own right. In these songs, I most admire his mastery in evoking the mood and tone of a poem though his ingenious piano writing.
I have not sung a great deal of Russian song before this recital, but when you are performing with a formidable Muscovite pianist who also happens to be a brilliant Russian diction coach, it's difficult to put it off. In preparing these three Tchaikovsky songs, I have availed myself of Natalia Katyukova's linguistic and stylistic expertise. I chose them because I love them and love singing them, but also because I wanted to give the audience the opportunity to hear Natalia let loose her brilliant pianism and beautiful Russian-ness.
Unlike in opera where a singer has a certain responsibility to sound and look the part, a recitalist is far less limited by vocal fach or physical appearance in his or her choice of repertoire. Since I generally don't have to choose songs based on age-appropriateness, I do occasionally try to choose them with regard to their relevance to my own life. I don't have much original to say about this Fauré masterpiece, but I will share that the reason I programmed La bonne chanson this year is that this is the year I got married. Both Fauré's music and Verlaine's words brim with the vivid euphoria and trepidation of taking that plunge. At any point in life, one can appreciate the immense hope and hesitation that attend the prospect of marriage—I certainly plan to revisit this cycle at a date further removed from my own nuptials—but I felt that my personal experience overlapped with the point of view of these songs right now in a way that I will never be able to recreate in the future.
The Argentine songs of the final set are intended to serve as a kind of dessert course, but that is not to say that they are not substantive. All four employ traditional Argentine musical idioms. The structural and harmonic refinement found in these deceptively simple songs, however, demonstrates the compositional bona fides of all three composers. Alberto Ginastera, who is as well known for his dodecaphonic operas as his canciones, was a significant academic leader as a composer and teacher in Argentina. Carlos López Buchardo, also regarded for his operas, studied composition in Paris under a great author of mélodie in his own right, Albert Roussel. As a composer, Carlos Guastavino did not venture a great deal beyond art song, but his substantial output of elegant and masterfully crafted canciones earned him the nickname "Schubert of the Pampas."
Although I may organize pieces into categories of known, unknown, and new when selecting repertoire for a recital, the significance of these distinctions becomes much less important once a program takes shape. The one thing that ultimately matters is that they are great songs. Happily, great songs come from many places and manage to speak to us whether they are contemporary, local, ancient, or foreign. I am grateful to share this diverse collection of songs with you tonight with the hope that they speak to you as powerfully and movingly as they have to me.