NYFOS logo

Gabriel Kahane: Opera Scene

Orient proved to be the rejuvenating oasis of my dreams. There was no shortage of rolling waters, crisp breezes, ample slices of lemon pie and unforgettable musical moments. The bright toned yippings of dogs were accompanied by rehearsals overflowing with not only beauty but unending laughter. Much of that laughter came from the antics and theatrical genius of the one and only Johnathan McCullough. Innovative in every piece, Johnathan went above and beyond to induce tear jerking laughter in Kahane’s Craigslistlieder selection “Opera Scene” – proclaiming the splendor of his available three story walk up apartment, all utilities included for only $550. We soon learn why the price is so low.

I think every New Yorker, especially those of us cautiously traversing this new age of Gypsy Housing, Tinder dating and LinkedIn job offers, can appreciate the unfiltered, at times sensual, honesty of this East Village weirdo. Confessing that he has a compulsion to put ice cubes down people’s shirts (a problem the new roommate will have to bear the brunt of) no catfishing is to be found here. Ignoring musical boundaries, we are seamlessly pulled through six genre bending sections, influenced by the likes of Purcell, Stravinsky, and contemporary musical theatre. One moment a simple suspended recite supplies us the nitty gritty details of the rental, the next second offers a broad arioso akin to “No Word From Tom”, flushing out the characters inner arctic induced ecstasy. A particularly delightful moment comes in the delicate falsettos as the character reveals that he always keeps ice to use on hand, and the audience can feel the tingling dribble of a hexahedron melting in ones palm with each phrase. As the summer comes to a close but the lingering city heat weighs upon our shoulders, I think back to Johnathan crooning “I may come up to you and put an ice cube down your shirt” and guiltily wish I had my own temporary Craigslist creep to do the same…

Andrew Garland sings “Opera Scene” from Craigslistlieder by Gabriel Kahane


Gabriela Lena Frank: El Nascimento de Cifar

I started this weeks posts talking about the plight of women composers, especially non-white composers, as exemplified by Gabriela Lena Frank. But we haven’t heard her music yet. She is writing a lot for orchestras right now. Her Requiem will be premiered in Houston in a few months, the NY Philharmonic recently presented her new Viola Concerto, and there are more new pieces on the way.

She also knows how to write well for the voice. I’m confident that Gabriela’s example to other young women seeking to become composers, and her advocacy for women and composers of color will have an important influence on the folks who present new music and commission new composers. One of her not-yet-completed cycles already has a dozen or so songs that I am fond of.

Songs of Cifar and the Sweet Sea is the setting of an epic poem by Pablo Antonio Cuadra. The protagonist, a sailor named Cifar is destined to sail the greatest lake in Nicaragua. All his life lessons, challenges, and triumphs are a result of his life on the water. It all begins with Cifar’s birth. Here is “El Nascimento de Cifar” by Gabriela Lena Frank. Andrew Garland is the excellent baritone. Warren Jones is at the piano.

Song of the Day: August 7, 2015

Andrew Garland wraps up his week curating NYFOS Song of the Day:
“So viel Liebe fehlt auf diese Welt” sung by Hermann Prey
The song of the day is about making discoveries: discoveries of greatness in unlikely places, discoveries of different types of voices and new depths of emotional commitment. Today my discovery is that this exists:


I remember when a baritone colleague first played this for me. My first reaction was “that’s funny: a German singing a carefree American pop song.” But this colleague, who is usually quick to point out the faults in all things musical and even quicker to find the humor in any situation – especially at someone else’s expense – said, “This is a man having fun singing.” Yes. Yes he is.

This week I hope you have had fun (maybe even laughed especially at my choice for Monday’s song.) Do what you love, love what you do and we will laugh with you.

Song of the Day: August 6, 2015

(Curator: Andrew Garland)

It’s all relative.
In my first year of undergrad my voice teacher would have me over to his apartment to listen to opera recordings. I remember our first session vivdly: I had just decided to change my major to voice performance and was suddenly ready to listen to as much opera as I could, where previously I had heard almost none. One pair of examples proceeded as follows: he set up this first clip, telling me the name of the singer, (Sam Ramey – of whom I had never heard) with a short summary of the character and plot. *In order for me to tell this story you must, if at all possible listen to both of these examples on some quality speakers. “Le veau d’or” from Gounod’s Faust. (Welsh National Opera, Carlo Rizzi, 1994)

Seeing the expression on my face that I had for the first time heard the voice of Sam Ramey he said “That’s a pretty big voice, right? Well listen to this…” and then he played the same aria sung by Nicolai Ghiarov (London Symphony, Edward Downes, 1968)

Imagine you are just beginning to study vocal technique, just starting to learn precisely how to make a beautiful, projecting and yes, loud tone. Imagine that you had never sat down and critically listened to an opera recording. Imagine that you had never listened to a true bass voice. Imagine that you had never been presented with the difference of a formidable bass-baritone and a hulking, dark true bass. *And imagine that you’re listening on a really good stereo. I know I already told you, but you probably didn’t go listen to these examples on a good stereo*. It was like the difference between hearing a subway car approaching the platform and standing directly underneath a 747 as it takes off. Both strong, formidable, irresistible, but one is undeniably bigger than the other.
This same teacher invited me to his native Chicago over the winter break. There I heard a concert by the Chicago Symphony and a performance of Faust at the Chicago Lyric starring Richard Leech, Renee Flemming, Dimitry Hvorostovsky and, of course, Sam Ramey. It was, as he said, like having ten voice lessons.
In that same listening session he played me a recording of this song: “Charlie Rutlage” by Charles Ives. Sung by Mr. Ramey with Warren Jones on piano. Here it is, a bonus track for today:

Song of the Day: August 5

(Curator: Andrew Garland)

“Urlicht” From Symphony No. 2 Resurrection by Gustav Mahler
Marilyn Horne, mezzo-soprano, Chicago Symphony Orchestra, Claudio Abbado

In 2007 I had the privilege of taking part in Marilyn Horne’s The Song Continues. I attended a masterclass where she coached Jamie Barton on Gustav Mahler’s Urlicht. Ms. Barton’s performance was, of course, unforgettable. Anyone in the room who hadn’t previously heard her voice (myself included) knew she was destined for a greatness. More vividly than the singing, I remember Ms. Horne’s charge : “When you sing these words you have got to believe them…or act like you do.” She then shared how this music brought her comfort when her brother died. She would put this on with headphones and pace around the room.
      That moment brought so many discoveries for me: the symphony, the singer, Ms. Horne’s relationship to the piece and her charge to all those who perform it after her.

Song of the Day: August 4

(Curator: Andrew Garland)

“Ich Habe Genug” Cantata BWV 82 Johann Sebastian Bach
Lorraine Hunt Lieberson, mezzo-soprano, Emmanuel Music Orchestra, Craig Smith, conductor
Lorraine Hunt Lieberson is my hero. Nay, she is my superhero. Much has been said about her, I cannot add to that.
There is not much I can say about this selection either. Many of you are familiar with this piece, the recording and its circumstances.
I never met her.  I only know great musicians who have worked with her and I have recordings like these that transport me. Some great singers are characterized by an undeniable, physically dominating sound, others have an impressive technique, others still have convincing acting communicative abilities and beyond that, a genuine sense of living the music and its message. Lorraine has all of these.
While I have Schubert on the brain (preparing for NYFOS’s Schubert/Beatles) I want to share this recording of Lorraine singing “Erlkӧnig”
There are many recordings of this popular yet daunting song. Again I hear voice, character and communication like from no one else. And kudos to anyone to dares to play this on piano. Bravo, Robert Tweten.

Song of the Day: August 3

This week’s selections are coming to us from frequent NYFOS collaborator, Andrew Garland, a baritone of “commanding intensity” (The New York Times). Be sure to catch him in our December 8th program Schubert/Beatles, alongside soprano Sari Gruber and tenor Paul Appleby. Get your tickets today!

“Burden in My Hand” Soundgarden
Listen to this song, even just the first 30 seconds and answer one question: is this legato singing? (I recommend you ignore the video; the video will not help you detect the legato.)
Yes, this is a grunge band that peaked in popularity in the ’90s, yes the songwriting could be seen as trite, having no message and even inane. But there is at least one quality in Chris Cornell’s singing that we all value: legato. Don’t believe me? Listen to the first 30 seconds again. There are two long phrases of uninterrupted vowel.
In the age of auto-tune, American Idol, and airbrushing many of us feel that the most popular singers today aren’t really singers at all. Some of our past songs of the day have been great examples of pop singers with a strong fundamental technique. I just want to open the discussion amongst the NYFOS audience: who are the great singers of rock worthy of an opera goer’s attention?
Thank you for your indulgence. For the rest of the week we will be playing classical singers. Now, to cleanse your palate, something soft and sophisticated:

Blier’s Blog: February 9, 2012

cast of hooking upMy living room has turned into a hormonal hive of Kinsey-esque creativity, as we work on A Modern Person’s Guide to Hooking Up and Breaking Up. The comic stuff is a riot–no surprises there–but the show is even richer than I had imagined; since almost everyone in the room is either married or engaged (including me), the cast is bringing a depth of experience and emotion to the songs that I was not anticipating. There are some pretty kinetic people in the room, and I’ll probably have to buy my downstairs neighbors some chocolates because of all the choreo….Now, if we just don’t get banned in Boston….

Blier’s Blog: October 26, 2011

I shouldn’t have been surprised at the power of In the Memory Palace—but I was. The quattro staggioni effect of four song cycles, each of them intense and utterly different from one another, worked even more magic than I had expected. The beauty of not being especially confident is that good experiences still fill me with wonder and joy. Tuesday’s concert was such an experience—a wonderful evening where everything worked like gangbusters. Michelle, Becca Jo, Paul, Andy: American originals, brilliantly gifted vocalists, sublime ensemble artists. And Michael played like an angel/demon. Best of all, Gabe Kahane’s cycle swept everyone away; every singer I spoke to afterwards said, “OK, I want those songs.”

Rinse and repeat tomorrow….

memory palace rehearsalMemory Palace cast after the dress at Merkin Hall: Michael, Becca, Andy, Steve, Michelle, and Paul

Blier’s Blog: October 24, 2011

Moving to Merkin from our Washington venue was a bit like going from dating Twiggy to dating Gina Lollabrigida. Our Washington space was a Bombay martini; Merkin is graciously reverberant, and it sure LOVES the piano. We spent a pleasant afternoon adjusting to the new (but by now familiar) acoustics—both its challenges and its possibilities. Everyone is trying to bleach out those last “ring around the collar” moments in the show, the tiny errors that refuse to listen to reason. The quartets sound so beautiful at Merkin, and the cast is starting to take up permanent residence in their solo cycles.

New York Festival of Song • One Penn Plaza • #6108 • New York, NY 10119 • 646-230-8380 • info@nyfos.org