VOCAL RISING STARS, SIXTH SEASON: Day 5

As Sondheim wrote in Company, “Today is for Amy.” At Caramoor, that meant giving Amy Burton time to have leisurely one-on-one sessions with each cast member. After lunch we worked on the spoken continuity and then we “hit the low spots”—i.e., rehearsed all the numbers that needed special review. The day started at 10:30 and wound down at 7 PM—time well spent.

It is a little bit of an adjustment—and an act of trust—to let someone else come into the rehearsal process at the end of the week and make adjustments to the work you’ve begun. But Amy is family, and she made a tremendous contribution. She has an eagle eye for gesture and stage space, she respects and loves the voice, she hears poetry equally as sound and meaning, and she’s so cultured and experienced that her soul seemed to resonate with every song on this crazy program. As the day went on, Michael and Amy and I started to function as one entity, and by the time everyone limped out of the hall I felt we were simply a community of eight artists—five singer and three pianists—working the material like a team of jewelers.

Theo and Miles have been reveling in good health and good spirits, and the music has been like an artistic aphrodisiac for them. But Annie and Olivia have been fighting various ailments all week—the tail end of colds and flus that seem to have taken up squatter’s rights in their bodies. I too was sick last week and am puzzled to find that I’m still coughing as if I were overplaying the role of Mimí in some regional production of La bohème. Coughing doesn’t affect my piano playing all that much, but it has challenged both of the women in the program. Today we had to change one of Olivia’s numbers. Truth to tell, necessity was the mother of invention: I much prefer the song we’re going to do (by Granados) to the one originally planned (by Turina). It’s far more appropriate to the theme of the program, and it plays into Olivia’s strength. She studied Granados’s songs with the great Spanish mezzo Teresa Berganza a few years ago, and brings a patrician authority to the material—or will, once she sings it for a couple of days!

Annie’s been husbanding her resources with wisdom and calm. When she sings, she gives everything she’s got (and it’s stunning); she also is one of the few singers I’ve known who can have a really useful rehearsal without singing at all. She’s been a great scene partner in all the group numbers, and her oversexed British dowager in Coward’s “A Bar on the Piccola Marina” has only gotten drunker, dirtier, and (somehow) more subtle as the week has progressed.

written by Steven Blier.

1. Our genius guest teacher, Amy Burton

2. The many moods of Theo Hoffman

3. Leann Osterkamp, with the world at her feet

4. The many moods of Theo Hoffman, part duex

5. Les Grands from ages: with two men I adore

Photos by Steven Blier

VOCAL RISING STARS, SIXTH SEASON: Day 4 by Steven Blier


A day of highs and lows. In the morning we had some visitors—a small cadre of Caramoor donors and board members, and also the General Director of Caramoor, Jeff Haydon. He’s the fellow who took over Michael’s old job, and I admit I have a soft spot for him. He’s a very decent guy with wonderful energy, and things always seem to shine a little brighter when he’s around. I like it when Jeff comes to rehearsal because none of us are afraid to do real work (i.e., screw up) in his presence, yet our hearts remain light and buoyant. Jeff always makes me feel talented and worthy and I appreciate that so much. He and the other visitors, including the appropriately named Vivian Song, were a sensational audience and the cast gave some of their best performances so far. Olivia suddenly morphed into a Brazilian sex-kitten in “Nenê,” Theo brilliantly channeled Noël Coward in an amazingly stylish rendition of “Uncle Harry,” Miles poured out vocal gold in his Grieg song, and Annie stopped time with “Calling You.” By the time we went into lunch Michael and I were feeling that all was right in our corner of the world.

The afternoon session took a turn for the worse. We did a run of the whole show and lots of it was really good, but…some of it was suddenly sliding out of place. If God is in the details, he was taking a siesta. I’d played really well in the morning; in the afternoon I felt like a hack. The concert seemed to need some sort of chiropractor to get it back in alignment.

As it turned out, God was not asleep. He sent us  the art-chiropractor we needed: our guest teacher for the week, soprano Amy Burton. She hadn’t worked at Vocal Rising Stars since the first season five years ago, but I remember how sharp she was on every level: language, voice, interpretation, staging. She dispensed some much-needed vocal wisdom to the singers, and she instantly fixed two of the biggest problem spots in the group numbers. My favorite moment? A critique of the Hoagy Carmichael song, which had been absolutely stellar yesterday but which abruptly lost its way this afternoon. “Theo, ‘Hong Kong Blues’ is about opium. You look like you’re strung out on crystal meth…or coke. Anyway, wrong drug. We’ll work on it tomorrow.”

The Schwab Vocal Rising Stars will be at Caramoor on Sunday, March 16.

Vocal Rising Stars, Sixth Season, Day Three - In Pictures!

Image 1: A brief prayer (Hallelujah, Hey nonny-no) at Mrs. Wentworth-Brewster’s funeral.

Image 2: Lothario reels in Mrs. Wentworth-Brewster, to their mutual profit.

Image 3: Mrs. Wentworth-Brewster’s children watch their mother discover the Joy of Sex.

Image 4: Rehearsing Stenhammar, the Caramoor way!

Image 5: A great photographer will put himself in any position to get the right shot! Here’s our very own Gabe Palacio getting familiar with the floor for a photo.

VOCAL RISING STARS, SIXTH SEASON: Day 3 by Steven Blier

The third day is the sweet spot. The pressure of the performance isn’t really upon us yet, the group numbers are on their feet (or, in one case, on its butt, since the cast is seated for it), the guest teacher hasn’t arrived, and it’s just the family, workin’ away on songs. Salient features of the day:

(1)  We had a morning visit from about twenty students from a nearby high school, all of them members of their school chorus. They were amazingly attentive, asked a lot of good questions, and gently kicked all of us into performance mode. Sure, they were watching us rehearse, and we let them see us change keys, talk about vibrato, place vowels, fix problems. But inevitably you don’t rehearse the same way when you have an audience—you have to deliver the song, and that was a good boost to our energy. They also gave us an idea for a dance break in the Hoagy Carmichael piece that had been eluding us—it’s something called the Bernie…? Anyway, it comes from a movie, I think, it rang a bell with Miles and Theo, and it covered sixteen bars we’d been struggling with. I have found with high school students that a tiny, tiny touch of bad language and a soupçon of irreverence go a long way to earning their trust. I was all too happy to oblige.

(2)  Both Olivia and Annie asked for a day of vocal rest. They have been struggling with some fatigue, and Annie is still getting over the same cold I just had. They devoted all their energies to the ensemble numbers, in which they sang lightly but acted with amazing commitment. Annie has to play a dowager in “A Bar in the Piccola Marina,” and she is already channeling Maggie Smith and Patricia Routledge. Today we got her to speak so she’s always straddling her register break—upper crust perfection, slightly crocked. Everyone’s great in that piece—Miles and Olivia as her very strait-laced children, and Theo double-cast as her boring (and soon dead) husband, and also her libidinous Italian boy-toy.

(3)  With the girls pretty much on “mute,” Miles and Theo had breakthrough days. I gave Miles a pretty wide range of songs, from the gentle to the forceful, and he’s rising to the challenge quite beautifully. I always say that song is the great arena for expanding your vocal art, because you can safely go into uncharted waters in the span of a two-minute song. In his Grieg piece Miles is stepping into what I call his Helden-lyric voice, his big-boy sound, and it’s perfect for his juicy Scandinavian Stimme. And Theo is breaking through barriers, sinking into his music, his voice, and his art in the most moving way. The warmth and passion of his music is so satisfying.

(4)  The cast decided they wanted to sing their a capella Stenhammar piece lying under the piano, just as we’d done two years ago rehearsing the Blitzstein quartet “In Twos.” They’d read about it and seen the picture on this blog, and they decided they needed to revive the tradition. This time we made sure Gabe Palacio, the photographer, was around to capture it. And I got a shot of Gabe on the floor with them as he took his pictures.

VOCAL RISING STARS, SIXTH SEASON: Day 2

         The first day is always the honeymoon; and on the second day I can see what the week’s work is going to be about. These singers all have such fertile imaginations that they are sometimes bombarded with thoughts, ideas, images, impulses. They’re gifted and young, and they are still building the wiring to handle their own artistic electricity. Their capabilities are enormous. Some singers would be daunted by the eight languages in “Ports of Call”; others would need to be shown the subtleties of melody and style. At Caramoor, though, everyone has a tremendous instinct for music, and no one has raised a fuss about the languages, not even Danish or Russian or Brazilian Portuguese. But in these early rehearsals, the cast tends to overreact to their material with bursts of passion that can knock them slightly off-kilter.

         So today was all about simplicity, legato, bel canto. “Just sing the notes, everyone,” I finally told them. “It’ll ALL be there, just sing. Especially the little notes—make ‘em long and fat.” It’s the kind of advice you can only give to people who are natural stylists. The song is in there already, it just needs to be allowed to emerge.

         I am glad there is such a range of music on the program, because everyone finds songs where they instinctively relax into their voices—often the American popular stuff. “AHA! There’s your voice—sing your art songs like THAT!”

         Highlights? Miles stopped time with his “Song of the Indian Merchant” from “Sadko.” Annie has amazing command of Bill Bolcom’s “To My Old Addresses”—so does Leann, who hops through the piano writing as if it were child’s play, which it definitely is not. Theo is devastating in Guastavino’s “Pampamapa” and naughtily dapper in Noël Coward’s “Uncle Harry.” And Olivia is making a beautiful thing of the Brazilian tango “Nenê,” her first foray into Portuguese. She got a language lesson from Portugal-native Merceds Santos-Miller during which I quietly freaked out—oh lord, the Portuguese accent and the Brazilian one are even more different than I thought. But God is good. Merceds approved of the way Olivia learned the poem under my guidance…

        As if to reward us, the sun came out after lunch. I was outside for about three minutes and I felt something I had not experienced since October: warmth. I’ll never forget that feeling—nor the music that came afterwards, equally warm.

        Catch the Schwab Vocal Rising Stars at Caramoor on March 16. Tickets here: https://tickets.caramoor.org/public/loader.asp?target=show.asp?shCode=1708

Day One of the Schwab Vocal Rising Stars Residency by Steven Blier, Artistic Director, mentor and pianist

image

March 10, 2014
Today was the first day of the 2014 Vocal Rising Stars program at Caramoor—the sixth season NYFOS and Caramoor have collaborated on this project. Every year has its own distinctive atmosphere, like the unique timbre of an instrument or the tantalizing aroma of a something in the oven. Our cast is a bit younger than usual—just a few years, really, but for people in their twenties the age difference is significant. One of our singers, Annie Rosen, has sung in opera houses overseas, but the other three—soprano Olivia Betzen, tenor Miles Mykkanen, and baritone Theo Hoffman—are just entering the professional world. Theo is still an undergraduate (he’s the youngest we’ve ever had in the program), and Olivia is fresh off the boat—she moved to New York about six weeks ago after finishing the Masters program at Ann Arbor. All of them are superb musicians and total stage animals. I am reveling in their freshness and their sense of freedom. Sometimes the first day of rehearsal can be stressful as each singer endeavors to impress his colleagues. Today we saw no grandstanding; Michael and I were struck with how everyone was easing into the songs by exploring them, sinking into the words and music, letting the beginning be a true beginning—the bud, not yet the flower, of the song.

Caramoor asked me (gently but repeatedly) to add a young pianist into the mix of artists, and I (gently but repeatedly) demurred. I felt it was like having another mouth to feed, and I admit that I was feeling selfish and proprietary about the songs. I’d created this program last summer at Wolf Trap and played it on my own; now I was already flipping out about splitting the repertoire with Michael—how could I add another person at the keyboard? But when Michael not only leaned on me to acquiesce but suggested Leann Osterkamp to fill the role, I had no trouble saying yes. Leann had helped me get the Juilliard show ready this January, and she is a dream colleague: prepared, attentive, flexible, and generous. I let her wear my hat all day as a gesture of inclusion. 

One thing is certain: all of us are in need of something restorative, an Art Retreat, and I cannot remember a group of singers who were more grateful for the peace and quiet of Caramoor. It’s like being in the eye of a storm for seven days. You know there is a lot of turbulence around you, but you are safe in a cocoon, a temple of music, a private clubhouse with a well-stocked DVD player. It’s a conservatory with only four students—and three pianists at their beck and call. 

It was beautiful hearing everyone sing today—what a program, if I do say so myself. If there was one single highlight, it was playing Kurt Weill’s “J’attends un navire” for Annie. I felt something at the piano that I hadn’t experienced in a few years, something I’d been missing: the feeling of riding on a rocket. The music is so powerful and it seemed to lead me back to the kind of uninhibited, spontaneous music-making I remember from my twenties, when I was the age of this cast. After we were done, Annie looked at me wide-eyed. “That’s how it’s going to go,” I said—“you up to it?” “Oh, YES!” she answered. 

Catch the Schwab Vocal Rising Stars at Caramoor on March 16.

Pictured above, Steve Blier and Olivia Betzen.

Q&A with 2014 Schwab Vocal Rising Star Miles Mykkanen who will be appearing at Caramoor on March 16.1. You’ll be living with and studying these songs for an entire week straight in preparation for the public concerts on March 16 (at Caramoor) and March 17 & 18 (NYC). Which piece are you most excited to obsess over?  Are there any that you afraid to get to know on an intimate level?
The music in “Ports of Call: An Itinerary of Song” is all incredibly diverse.  The program features songs that will be familiar to regular concertgoers in addition to a handful of rarities.  But no matter new or familiar, each of these songs are gems and will be undoubtedly entertaining for all.Until last October, I had never looked at a Russian song or attempted the daunting task of reading Cyrillic.  However, I was offered Lensky in Juilliard’s recent production of Eugene Onegin and had to face my fears.  Over the last five months I have been immersed in Tchaikovsky’s music and the beautiful Russian language.  Russian has become my favorite language to sing; the Italianate vowels and the luscious liquid consonants produce a sensuality that lends itself perfectly to music.  When Steve asked me to sing “The Song of the Indian Merchant” from Rimsky-Korskov’s Sadko, I immediately started jumping up and down and squealing (the prospect of working on new music—especially gorgeous music—always excites me).  Rimsky-Korskov’s beautiful melody has been haunting me and I am thrilled to be performing it on the program!
I am not afraid to get to know any of my songs on an intimate level, however I am extremely afraid of the technicality of Grieg’s Tak for dit Råd!  There is a lot of Scandinavian blood running through me (I am Finnish-American), but Norwegian is not a language singers often encounter.  To top off this tour-de-force song, the words come at a lightning-fast pace and the whole thing climaxes on a big ol’ high A.  May the Norse Gods and the spirit of Jussi Björling be ever in my favor!
2. Best dessert you ever had. Go! (I will accept up to two answers)
I get two answers!  This is difficult because I am a huge dessert lover with quite the sweet tooth…  The first one that comes to mind is from an Italian restaurant on the Upper West Side.  The dish is three scoops of strawberry and mango sorbet each dipped in white chocolate and drizzled with a tad of milk chocolate sauce.  It doesn’t matter how much I ate, I will always have room for that treat.My second answer is my favorite after-dinner cocktail: a pear martini.  I had my first pear martini with my dad at a bar in the Northwoods of Wisconsin (where I grew up).  Even though they technically are “anytime-cocktails”, there is truly nothing else like sipping on a pear martini on a warm July night watching the sunset over a lake with your dad!
 

Q&A with 2014 Schwab Vocal Rising Star Miles Mykkanen who will be appearing at Caramoor on March 16.

1. You’ll be living with and studying these songs for an entire week straight in preparation for the public concerts on March 16 (at Caramoor) and March 17 & 18 (NYC). Which piece are you most excited to obsess over?  Are there any that you afraid to get to know on an intimate level?

The music in “Ports of Call: An Itinerary of Song” is all incredibly diverse.  The program features songs that will be familiar to regular concertgoers in addition to a handful of rarities.  But no matter new or familiar, each of these songs are gems and will be undoubtedly entertaining for all.

Until last October, I had never looked at a Russian song or attempted the daunting task of reading Cyrillic. 
However, I was offered Lensky in Juilliard’s recent production of Eugene Onegin and had to face my fears.  Over the last five months I have been immersed in Tchaikovsky’s music and the beautiful Russian language.  Russian has become my favorite language to sing; the Italianate vowels and the luscious liquid consonants produce a sensuality that lends itself perfectly to music.  When Steve asked me to sing “The Song of the Indian Merchant” from Rimsky-Korskov’s Sadko, I immediately started jumping up and down and squealing (the prospect of working on new music—especially gorgeous music—always excites me).  Rimsky-Korskov’s beautiful melody has been haunting me and I am thrilled to be performing it on the program!

I am not afraid to get to know any of my songs on an intimate level, however I am extremely afraid of the technicality of Grieg’s Tak for dit Råd!  There is a lot of Scandinavian blood running through me (I am Finnish-American), but Norwegian is not a language singers often encounter.  To top off this tour-de-force song, the words come at a lightning-fast pace and the whole thing climaxes on a big ol’ high A.  May the Norse Gods and the spirit of Jussi Björling be ever in my favor!

2. Best dessert you ever had. Go! (I will accept up to two answers)

I get two answers!  This is difficult because I am a huge dessert lover with quite the sweet tooth…  The first one that comes to mind is from an Italian restaurant on the Upper West Side.  The dish is three scoops of strawberry and mango sorbet each dipped in white chocolate and drizzled with a tad of milk chocolate sauce.  It doesn’t matter how much I ate, I will always have room for that treat.

My second answer is my favorite after-dinner cocktail: a pear martini.  I had my first pear martini with my dad at a bar in the Northwoods of Wisconsin (where I grew up).  Even though they technically are “anytime-cocktails”, there is truly nothing else like sipping on a pear martini on a warm July night watching the sunset over a lake with your dad!

 

A Q&A with 2014 Schwab Vocal Rising Star Olivia Betzen who will be appearing at Caramoor on March 16th.1. Our 2014 Vocal Rising Stars program, Ports of Call: An Itinerary of Song takes us from port-to-port on a journey through some of the most musically-inspiring locales. What is the most enchanting place you have traveled to for a performance or for study?
Moravia is one of the most enchanting places I have traveled. Two summers ago I went to the Czech Republic to study Czech diction for several weeks.  We stayed in a 15th c. castle in a very small town called Namest nad Oslavou.  The rolling hills, castles and churches in these small towns where little to few people speak English gave me the greatest taste of Moravian life and what some of the greatest Czech composers like Antonín  Dvorak wrote about in his music.  I love going places where English is rarely spoken.  The rustic realness of Moravia, the history of this area, a country overrun by wars and under different rule do you not only feel in the cobble stones beneath your feet world hung in the air, like a quiet reminder, a reverence for all those generations before who suffered for their freedom.  Still today, the Czech Republic is country fighting to leave the impoverished state it was in over past century, towns slowly being brought to the 21st century.  The truth of their struggle was evident.  It was authentic.  It was real.  And I loved every minute of it.
On this trip I had the opportunity to visit Praha as well. An amazing European city, that in it’s day was on the forefront of Astrology, Science and Music. It was absolutely spectacular to see Praha’s art relatively unaffected by World War, unlike other big cities in other countries. Praha was the seat of so many fabulous musical compositions such as Mozart’s Don Giovanni. Getting to step into the opera house that Mozart once premiered this master work in, conducting it himself, understanding the size of their theaters at the time was inspiring for me to understand Mozart’s times and appreciate one of his most beloved masterworks still performed today. Prague is a must see city for all.
2. Favorite thing to do on a lazy day off?Staying in my PJs, making a cup of coffee and pulling out the latest book, reading almost all day or until the book is finished.  I love being carried away with the lives of others in a novel or biography.  Stealing away to a different time or situation, engulfing myself in other peoples experiences, loves, tragedies, triumphs and disappointments is inspiring, humbling and reinvigorating for me. They inspire my music making, my views on relationships and how I see others in my daily life. Getting to read while in the comfort of my home, with coffee in hand, a soft blanket laying across my legs, and hopefully an animal napping next to me is the best kind of lazy day I could ever ask for…

A Q&A with 2014 Schwab Vocal Rising Star Olivia Betzen who will be appearing at Caramoor on March 16th.

1. Our 2014 Vocal Rising Stars program, Ports of Call: An Itinerary of Song takes us from port-to-port on a journey through some of the most musically-inspiring locales. What is the most enchanting place you have traveled to for a performance or for study?

Moravia is one of the most enchanting places I have traveled. Two summers ago I went to the Czech Republic to study Czech diction for several weeks.  We stayed in a 15th c. castle in a very small town called Namest nad Oslavou.  The rolling hills, castles and churches in these small towns where little to few people speak English gave me the greatest taste of Moravian life and what some of the greatest Czech composers like Antonín  Dvorak wrote about in his music.  I love going places where English is rarely spoken.  The rustic realness of Moravia, the history of this area, a country overrun by wars and under different rule do you not only feel in the cobble stones beneath your feet world hung in the air, like a quiet reminder, a reverence for all those generations before who suffered for their freedom.  Still today, the Czech Republic is country fighting to leave the impoverished state it was in over past century, towns slowly being brought to the 21st century.  The truth of their struggle was evident.  It was authentic.  It was real.  And I loved every minute of it.

On this trip I had the opportunity to visit Praha as well. An amazing European city, that in it’s day was on the forefront of Astrology, Science and Music. It was absolutely spectacular to see Praha’s art relatively unaffected by World War, unlike other big cities in other countries. Praha was the seat of so many fabulous musical compositions such as Mozart’s Don Giovanni. Getting to step into the opera house that Mozart once premiered this master work in, conducting it himself, understanding the size of their theaters at the time was inspiring for me to understand Mozart’s times and appreciate one of his most beloved masterworks still performed today. Prague is a must see city for all.

2. Favorite thing to do on a lazy day off?

Staying in my PJs, making a cup of coffee and pulling out the latest book, reading almost all day or until the book is finished.  I love being carried away with the lives of others in a novel or biography.  Stealing away to a different time or situation, engulfing myself in other peoples experiences, loves, tragedies, triumphs and disappointments is inspiring, humbling and reinvigorating for me. They inspire my music making, my views on relationships and how I see others in my daily life. Getting to read while in the comfort of my home, with coffee in hand, a soft blanket laying across my legs, and hopefully an animal napping next to me is the best kind of lazy day I could ever ask for…

A Q&A with 2014 Schwab Vocal RIsing Star Annie Rosen who will be appearing at Caramoor on March 16th.
1. As an interpreter of song, I imagine you need to interpret in a multitude of languages! Is there a language that is particularly challenging to sing in? What is your favorite language to sing in? 
It’s true, at conservatory in the USA you learn the diction of at least four (French, German, Italian, and English), and I actually love exploring as many different languages as I can - it’s a big reason song is so fascinating to me! In a recent concert I sang in ten different languages and dialects, mostly thanks to the Berio Folk Songs. So far the trickiest for me has been Polish - the phonetics are tricky for a native English speaker, and I gather the grammar itself is also pretty complicated. This summer I’m tackling an opera in Mandarin at Santa Fe, so I’ll let you know if that’s harder! My favorite non-traditional singing languages have been Romanian (beautiful! Like Italian!) and Hungarian (fun!), but my top favorite is singing in English to an English-speaking audience. 
2. Let’s assume you are starting a heavy metal band. What is the name of your band and/or your new stage name?
This is a great question. My heavy metal band would perform hard-hitting covers of our favorite art songs, probably mostly German Lieder. With that in mind, the best band name I’ve come up with so far is “Frauenscreamer und ragin’.” But I’m open to suggestions.

A Q&A with 2014 Schwab Vocal RIsing Star Annie Rosen who will be appearing at Caramoor on March 16th.

1. As an interpreter of song, I imagine you need to interpret in a multitude of languages! Is there a language that is particularly challenging to sing in? What is your favorite language to sing in?

It’s true, at conservatory in the USA you learn the diction of at least four (French, German, Italian, and English), and I actually love exploring as many different languages as I can - it’s a big reason song is so fascinating to me! In a recent concert I sang in ten different languages and dialects, mostly thanks to the Berio Folk Songs. So far the trickiest for me has been Polish - the phonetics are tricky for a native English speaker, and I gather the grammar itself is also pretty complicated. This summer I’m tackling an opera in Mandarin at Santa Fe, so I’ll let you know if that’s harder! My favorite non-traditional singing languages have been Romanian (beautiful! Like Italian!) and Hungarian (fun!), but my top favorite is singing in English to an English-speaking audience. 

2. Let’s assume you are starting a heavy metal band. What is the name of your band and/or your new stage name?

This is a great question. My heavy metal band would perform hard-hitting covers of our favorite art songs, probably mostly German Lieder. With that in mind, the best band name I’ve come up with so far is “Frauenscreamer und ragin’.” But I’m open to suggestions.