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Efraín Solís

Efrain-3212+copyBaritone Efraín Solís answers our questions about self-care, favorite singers, and more in advance of three appearances with NYFOS this season:  García Lorca: Magician and Muse on April 24 at Merkin Hall and Manning the Canon on June 23 in Orient, NY and on June 25 at the LGBT Center in NYC.


You completed the prestigious Adler Fellowship program at San Francisco Opera in 2016 and since then you’ve been singing with opera companies and orchestras across the country. How have you found the transition from the young artist residency to your fully-launched professional career? Any surprises? Particular challenges?

Going through the Adler Fellowship at San Francisco Opera was a challenging but gratifying experience. I learned so much as an Adler about myself and what I was capable of. SF Opera trusted me so much from the get go and I found myself in several high pressure situations during my two years there. Thankfully, there was constant encouragement from the musical and administrative staff at both the Opera Center and SF Opera. I found a lot of comfort in my daily rituals—coffee and exercise every morning. To this day that’s what keeps me sane on the road, which is a major part of transitioning out of the young artist phase. Ultimately, the music is worth the stress of being on the road so much.

You sing a wide variety of repertoire, from the title role in Le Nozze di Figaro to Blitzstein’s The Cradle Will Rock. How do you navigate singing in those different styles?  In what ways do you adjust your technique or your approach?

I enjoy bouncing around different styles; it keeps me on my toes and entertained as well. I don’t think much about changing “technique” but I liken it to driving. When you’re in a big theater you have to give a little more gas, but in a recital hall you can take your foot off the pedal and play with softer tones and colors without worrying about being heard. I also am a big musical theater fan and take any opportunity to stretch that muscle when possible. But even then the breath and sound production doesn’t really change. I simply think in that style and the muscles know what to do. Thomas Hampson said to me once that thinking about color and style had nothing to do with “technique” and everything to do with breathing into the space of that emotion. That theory has stayed with me for years.

If you could sing with any performer from the past, whom would it be? What would you sing?

I’m a Callas fan through and through. If there were one singer I would’ve loved to simply be in the presence of on stage, it would be her. I’d be happy to sing “Per voi” in Traviata to her Violetta. Non-operatic singer, I’d choose Jose Alfredo Jimenez. He is one of the most prolific mariachi composers and singers that ever came out of Mexico.

You are appearing in two very different NYFOS shows this season: Garcia Lorca: Muse and Magician in April and Manning the Canon in June. What do you find most compelling about each program? Which songs are you most excited to perform?

I’m very excited to sing both programs. The Lorca because I studied Spanish and Latin American Literature in my undergrad extensively. His poetry is simple and deep; he loved learning, which effected so much of his writing. I’m enjoying reading his poetry and seeing how composers chose to heighten its emotional landscapes. I’m very excited about the Bolcom “Sonata” we are performing—it has many tricky florid passages which mirror Lorca’s love for Cante Flamenco and el Cantaor (Flamenco Song and Flamenco Singer). I haven’t gotten to sink my teeth into the Manning program, but I’m very excited for the varied program Steven has planned!

Outside of NYFOS, do you have any upcoming projects that you are especially looking forward to?

I am considering a cross country trip for my 30th birthday, so if anyone has any tips let me know!

Since you are our Mr. April, can you share your favorite things about spring? Or tips for surviving spring showers and high pollen counts?

I travel with a lot of allergy relief supplies. Zyrtec, a humidifier, neti-pot. I unfortunately suffer from serious spring allergies, which means I have to be extremely proactive. Years of trial and error have taught me that a humidifier could very well make or break a month long stay in a hotel.

What was the last music you listened to before answering these questions?

It would be the cast of Cruzar la Cara de la Luna by Pepe Martinez, here in El Paso, TX. This commission by Houston Grand Opera is one of my favorite pieces to perform and every sing through with this cast moves me to tears.

When you aren’t making music, what is your favorite way to spend your time?

I enjoy yoga and running daily. Without it I would not be able to survive as a traveling musician. Being from Southern California I find so much happiness at the beach, so you can find me close to the water regularly when I’m home. I also spend as much time with children as I can, especially my close friends’s kids at home. I have so much fun running around and playing with them, and always babysit for free.

NYFOS is devoted to ‘song’ and the wide variety of styles that term encompasses. What is special about ‘song’ to you? Is there anything about this particular form that is significant to you?

Song is so important to me. My grandmother used to sing all the time when I was a kid. Even now I visit her whenever I am home. If I put on a song she loves she has an involuntary response and has to sing. I try to recreate a bit of that when I’m singing songs. It’s a piece of me I can share with the audience.

What is your favorite song? (Qualify your answer to this possibly impossible question as needed.)

At this exact moment it would have to be “Dear someone” which I used for one of my “Song of the Day” entries on the NYFOS blog. So, if you’d like to hear that head on over to the blog.

Kate Soper

Kate SoperComposer/performer Kate Soper talks about her favorite music to sing and the “strange and wonderful world of electronics and the voice” in advance of her NYFOS Next evening on March 28 at the DiMenna Center for Classical Music.


As you are especially known for performing your own work, I imagine that you have very specific ideas of what you’d like from other singers. How do you react when you hear others’ interpretations of pieces so intimately connected to your own voice? 

I’m absolutely thrilled that other singers have begun to perform my work, although it can occasionally be disorienting to hear it, especially if it’s a piece I’ve done myself many times!  (I recall a sort of embarrassing early experience where I unintentionally traumatized a singer by mouthing all the words from the front row while she performed, without even realizing I was doing it.)  My vocal music can be idiosyncratic, with elements of improvisation and extended techniques along with plain speech, which I hope encourages every new take to be extremely personalized not just in terms of vocal sound, but in terms of a singer’s background and style and way of communicating in general. Sometimes another person’s performance will reveal things about a work that I didn’t even know were there as the composer, which is always exciting. Ultimately, my interpretation is only one interpretation.

What is your favorite music to sing that isn’t your own?  

I like singing the works of my fellow composers in the Wet Ink ensemble (Alex Mincek, Sam Pluta, and Eric Wubbels) because they take such a different approach to the voice than I do: it’s very instrumental and not “expressive” in the way we normally think of vocal music, so it keeps my chops up and lets me focus on ensemble work without having to carry the foregrounded.  I also adore singing older music: I’ve done a couple of Machaut arrangements with friends, and I recently sang an arrangement of a piece by the 12th century composer Hildegard of Bingen with the Longleash trio.  On that program we also did a little Caccini, and it was really fun for me to play around with the language of vocal ornamentation that was developing in the early 17th century.

You are curating and performing on our NYFOS Next evening on March 28; how did you decide what to feature?

When I was asked to curate a NYFOS show, my mind immediately went to the strange and wonderful world of electronics and the voice. This is probably because I’m currently deep in the process of writing a new opera, and have been loving the protean possibilities for storytelling, character creation, and spectacle that electronics have opened up to me as a composer and librettist. Electronics have so much to offer to the singing voice, whether it’s to bump up its sensual beauty, to provide a surreal landscape for it to play in, or to catapult it into the realm of pure, bewitching noise. I wanted to showcase the aesthetic and stylistic range of this combination, so we’ll have some concert pieces for voice and fixed media by established and young composers like Natacha Diehls, Alvin Lucier, and Kaija Saariaho (performed by the fantastic Charlotte Mundy) as well as a set of improvisations by the magnificent Charmaine Lee and Sam Pluta, who use realtime manipulation to push the limits of what vocal sounds can be. Finally, I’m excited to premiere a couple of excerpts from my aforementioned opera-in-progress, featuring two allegorical characters and their respective electronic manipulations!

What is the last music you sang before answering these questions?

The last music I sang was a work by Anthony Braxton, which I performed with three other members of Wet Ink as part of a residency at the Boston Conservatory. Braxton has an extensive collection of structured improvisations for open instrumentation that can be collaged and layered together in many ways to form all kinds of fascinating sets. Performers of these works have a lot of freedom to make collective decisions about creating shapes and structures from the material, decisions that can be made both in rehearsal and during the actual performance. I find it a really interesting challenge to fit into this world as a vocalist—it encourages me to be open, receptive and flexible onstage, and gives me the opportunity to really listen to and enjoy what my fellow performers are doing.

NYFOS is devoted to ‘song’ and the wide variety of styles that term encompasses. Is there anything about this particular form that is significant to you?

I think the thing I like best about ‘song’ as a form is some idea of storytelling.  Storytelling has always been an essential element of my creative life, and I find that song in all its guises is the best ways to tell a story—because of its infinite expressive possibilities, the ease at which it enraptures, and its prismlike ability to simultaneously present many points of view.

Leann Osterkamp

osterkamp_8552cPassionate educator, solo/collaborative pianist, and recording artist Leann Osterkamp talks about her time in NYFOS’s Emerging Artist program and reveals her (crazy) solution to winter weather’s wear on her fingers. Leann will return to NYFOS’s Mainstage in Hyphenated-Americans on February 20, 2019 at Merkin Hall.


You were the first pianist to participate in NYFOS’s Emerging Artist program at Caramoor. What was your experience in that program originally designed with singers in mind? How did it impact your playing at the time?  Is there anything particular from that residency that has stayed with you?

Caramoor was one of my first times getting to work extensively with Steve and Michael. I remember feeling star-struck every rehearsal. I would stare at Steve’s fingers for hours each day, trying to frantically absorb every bit of wisdom that I could. Steve’s way of improvising stayed with me and completely transformed how I approach American Songbook. I remember how infectious Michael’s coaching style was. His way of coaching and teaching has played a huge role in how I teach and conduct today.

You’ll be appearing with NYFOS in February 2019 in Hyphenated-Americans, which will feature primarily contemporary music, including the Daniel Sabzghabaei piece you premiered to rapturous audience response last December. How do you approach music that you are premiering? Is it different from how you would approach learning a piece with a long performance history or one that you might have become familiar with as a listener before performing it? 

It is actually not very different in approach for me, personally. Even with music in the standard repertoire, I try to never listen to or have a pre-formulated approach to a piece before I work on it and perform it. I try to approach every Chopin Nocturne and Beethoven Sonata as though it is a premiere. The fun in music comes from reading and interpreting what is on the page, not from trying to uphold a performance tradition. 

What advice would you give to prospective listeners who might feel like they don’t understand new music or know how to approach it as audience members?

Music is a soundtrack for emotions and life. It can really help, when you are baffled by a piece of art or music, to close your eyes and see what images and emotions appear to you. Instead of trying to understand the score itself, it can be more engaging to try to understand your own response towards the music. Learning about the historical and personal context behind a piece of music can also help as an entry point. 

Are there any upcoming projects on your calendar that you are particularly excited about? (Other than Hyphenated-Americans, of course.)

I will be doing a solo recital for Steinway in Denver in March. It will be my first solo appearance in Denver since the move! 

Both Colorado and NYC have cold and often snowy winters. What are your cold weather must-haves that keep you and your fingers in playing shape? Any favorite gear?

I keep myself in shape mostly through martial arts, running, and weight-lifting…. So, luckily, all of those can be done indoors yearlong. For my fingers, my secret is Krazy Glue. Yes, I know it is a wood glue. During seasons like last year, when I had a series of solo concerts that had a lot of technically demanding repertoire, my fingertips split with the cold weather (gross, I know). Over the years, I learned bandaids just get in the way, so I, desperately, put wood glue under my nails to try to repair my fingers. It is a miracle glue.  I would usually put it on before the concert and then spend intermission putting on another coat. 

What was the last music you listened to before answering these questions?

I just finished rehearsing Jerome Kern songs with my Boys Choir. In fact, it was music that I was introduced to by Michael and Steve when I was in school. It has been an amazing experience to carry on the Jerome Kern legacy to upcoming singers. 

When you aren’t making music, what is your favorite way to spend your time?

I am a big fan of cooking, hiking, and Krav Maga and Jiu Jitsu. I love finding correlations between martial arts and musical arts. My new cooking discovery was learning to make ravioli from scratch! I also have started learning about motorcycles and am trying to learn how to ride so that I can go riding with family. I also have an amazing puppy named Rio that I spend a lot of time spoiling. 

NYFOS is devoted to ‘song’ and the wide variety of styles that term encompasses. What is special about ‘song’ to you? Is there anything about this particular form that is significant to you?

This question is almost impossible to answer from a listener’s standpoint. Song has meant so many different things to me throughout my life. As a performer, however, song provides you with some of the most incredible personal performance/rehearsal experiences. The process of rehearsing and performing lieder with someone creates a very special and unique type of friendship that is impossible to describe. I met some of my best friends through song and we shared some incredible unspoken (though sung) moments together as we learned the repertoire. Perhaps that is why the NYFOS family is so uniquely connected and wonderful. 

Corinne Winters

Soprano Corinne Winters

photo by Fay Fox

“An outstanding actress as well as a singer of extraordinary grace and finesse” (The New York Times), soprano Corinne Winters talks about self-care and favorite rep in our Artist of the Month interview. Corinne will return to NYFOS’s Mainstage series in García Lorca:  Muse and Magician on April 24, 2019.


You are especially known for your performances of Violetta in La traviata, which you have sung in opera houses around the world. How do you keep the role fresh when you return to it? What are the particular challenges of singing such an iconic role, one that is so familiar even to casual fans of opera?

Creating Violetta is like peeling back the layers of an onion. Each production reveals something new, whether it be through my own growth and experience, or through the interpretations of each cast and team. Daring to be flexible in my interpretation keeps the role fresh. There’s nothing worse than seeing a stock performance, especially when it comes to iconic roles more prone to cliché. While I have a deep reverence for the great interpreters of the past, the biggest challenge of performing Violetta is trusting my own interpretation. When I’m working from an authentic place, the vocal and dramatic challenges tend to sort themselves out.

Like many singers, you are very thoughtful about how you take care of your body. What elements of your routine do you feel contribute the most to your health and stamina as a singer?

Sleep is my number one self-care practice. I insist on my eight hours—no exceptions! When I’m rested, everything else is flexible. I eat a mostly vegan diet, which keeps me feeling light and energetic, and I move my body daily. I don’t subscribe to any particular exercise regimen, but my favorites are long walks and yoga. I meditate most days, but any activity that gets me off my devices and into the present moment works. I also vocalize at least five days a week, which, for me, is necessary. The vocal folds are muscles, and like any type of physical training, they need to be in shape before any art can happen.

You’ll be appearing with NYFOS in April 2019 in García Lorca: Muse and Magician, continuing your streak of singing primarily Spanish music with NYFOS. What is it about this repertoire that suits you so well as a performer?

Steve Blier introduced me to this repertoire and I’ve been in love ever since. Romance languages come naturally to me and fit well with my vocal aesthetic. Spanish music, in particular, has a certain uninhibited passion that makes me feel totally alive. I’m lucky to revisit Spanish repertoire twice this season, with NYFOS and the Tucson Desert Song Festival.

You work as a mentor with the organization Turn the Spotlight. What brought you to that organization and what do you tend to focus on with your mentees?

My publicist Beth Stewart is the founder of Turn the Spotlight, and when she shared her vision with me, I was so inspired that I immediately signed on as a mentor. Our mission is to “identify, nurture, and empower leaders—and in turn, to illuminate the path to a more equitable future in the arts.” Turn the Spotlight embodies its mission from the ground up through its mentorship program, which is by and for women, people of color, and other marginalized groups in the arts who are interested in service and social justice. My mentee, soprano Anush Avetisyan, is creating opportunities to perform music from her Armenian heritage. I’m honored to support her in building her career while she simultaneously uses her art to connect with immigrant communities.

When you aren’t making music, what is your favorite way to spend your time?

Doing anything simple and grounding! Reading in coffeeshops, watching Netflix with my husband, connecting with loved ones, cooking, and exploring cities by foot are some of my favorite pastimes.

NYFOS is devoted to ‘song’ and the wide variety of styles that term encompasses. What is special about ‘song’ to you? Is there anything about this particular form that is significant to you?

Unlike opera, which is almost always set to a narrative libretto, song is poetic. I love the challenge of coloring the poetry and using my voice in a delicate, spoken way. In opera, I’m often unable to use extreme colors because of the limitations of a large acoustic. The intimate nature of song brings out the subtlety in my artistry and allows me to connect on a more personal level with the audience.

What is your favorite song? (Qualify your answer to this possibly impossible question as needed.)

My favorite art songs are “Beim Schlafengehen” by Richard Strauss, “Le Spectre de la rose” by Berlioz, and “Maig” by Eduard Toldrà, which is featured on my album with Steve Blier, Canción Amorosa. I also love the songs of Tchaikovsky, Rimsky-Korsakov, and Rachmaninoff. The Russian repertoire speaks to my soul! My taste in pop music has changed a lot over the years, but songs by The Beatles, Joni Mitchell, and Amy Winehouse consistently rank among my faves.

Clarice Assad

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May’s Artist of the Month is the dynamic composer, pianist and vocalist Clarice Assad. Join her on Friday, May 4, when she curates and hosts a NYFOS Next evening focused on Brazilian song.


You are very active as both a composer and a performer. How do you balance those different disciplines as you move through your career? 

I am 100% musically obsessed and I love sharing this passion with people both as a creator of music and as an interpreter.

Do you approach composing any differently when you write for yourself versus composing for other musicians?

When I write for myself, I am aware of my own qualities and limitations as a performer.  Also, I know what makes my heart soar when I listen to a piece of music. When writing for other musicians, I want to learn everything I can about them, to find what they love, and what comes naturally to them.

You are particularly known for composing for voice. How do you approach vocal writing?  How does it differ from how you write for other instruments?

Being from Brazil—a country with such a vast history of songwriting, has influenced my writing from the beginning. Melody and song are a vital part of me, and these show up on my writing everywhere, even symphonic works, which I think of as a series of abstract, thematically integrated symphonic songs.

You come from a family of remarkable musicians. How has that influenced your development as an artist?

My family has been such an inspiration to me. My father and uncle for their amazing chops and interpretative genius; my father’s arrangements and compositions never ceased to amaze me—and my aunt’s rebellious, unapologetic musical persona has always lifted up my spirit.  I have naturally absorbed quite a bit from all of them over the years, though always keeping in mind (and being encouraged by them) to always keep an eye on developing a musical character of my own.

Your NYFOS Next evening on May 4 is particularly focused on Brazilian song and its diversity of styles across the country; how did you choose what to include in your program?

Brazilian music is so rich, I spent months thinking about how to approach it for this one special concert. In crafting the program, I thought about two main elements: pioneers & legacy. Pioneers like Luiz Gonzaga who popularized musical styles such as forró and baião; Gilberto Gil, one of the first songwriters to set forth a musical style blending songs with traditional African, like afoxé.  Regarding legacy: All the women composers in the program have been somewhat influenced by the female composers who preceded them;  women who had to fight to break free from certain rules of their times in order to be recognized as ‘composers.’  Chiquinha Gonzaga (early 20th century), influenced Dolores Duran (40’s-50’s), who influenced Sueli Costa, Joyce and Ana Terra (70s – present) who influenced composers from my generation and beyond.

Are there any popular musicians of today that you listen to or who you think are doing interesting work?

There are many of them, and one in particular who is in the program. His name is Thiago Amud, a fantastic songwriter, singer and guitarist who has a very unique, fresh composing language. This is not the first time I am playing his music, we have also performed other works of his. What a talent.

What was the last music you listened to before answering these questions?

I was listening to a beautiful song by a Brazilian singer-songwriter called Ilessi. The song is called ENIGMA. She is also another huge emerging talent in the Brazilian music scene.

When you aren’t making music, what is your favorite way to spend your time?

So many things… I love eating out, going to movies, take long walks listening to music or audiobooks and every summer I try a something for fun, this year will be skating around Chicago when the weather is nice enough.

NYFOS is devoted to ‘song’ and the wide variety of styles that term encompasses. What is special about ‘song’ to you? Is there anything about this particular form that is significant to you?

When I think of songs I think of many things. I feel its melody, harmony, I think of singers, faces and voices. I also think of them as these short, memorable, concise pieces of music that are self-contained, where two worlds come together to become one. It’s the perfect marriage of words and music.

What is your favorite song?  (Qualify your answer to this possibly impossible question as needed.)

I have many favorite songs! I think I might have a favorite song every week. My current favorite song is Red soil in my eyes, by Somi.

Mary Testa

testaArtist of the Month features Broadway veteran Mary Testa. She is a two-time Tony Award nominee, for performances in revivals of Leonard Bernstein’s On the Town (1998) and 42nd Street (2001). Ms. Testa will appear in NYFOS’s upcoming gala 30! on March 26 at Carnegie Hall.


You’ve been singing with NYFOS for over ten years. How did you first get involved with the organization?

I think Steven Blier asked me to do a gala. I think that is how I started.

You’ve been performing on Broadway for almost 4 decades. How has the industry changed since you began your career?  What’s remained consistent?  

I don’t really think it has changed too much. What has changed is the pay scale. It has gone down. What has remained consistent is the fact that an actor is always out of a job, and always has to get another one when a show is over.

To what do you credit your ability to sustain your career over the years? How do you take care of yourself to ensure that you are able to perform at your best night after night?

I enjoy doing all kinds of things, and I am constantly involved in readings, benefits, etc, so I am always working my craft. And I really enjoy working in different mediums, concert, television, film, plays and musicals, so that keeps one very fresh.  I have had to perform many times when I am very ill, so I am not always 100%.  But you just do the best you can in any situation.

You’ve appeared in revivals as well as originated roles in new musicals. Is there anything different about your approach to material with a history versus brand new projects?

I don’t think there is. I think I approach everything the same. I work from the inside out. I find the similarities between me and a character, then I build from there.

Do you seek inspiration from past performances of certain roles or actively avoid their influence as you craft your interpretation?

I never watch someone else do a role that I am doing. I don’t find that helpful at all.

What projects are you most excited about at the moment and why?

I am very excited about the fall. I cannot say what I am doing, because casting has not been announced yet, but it is a project I have been involved with for 3 years.

Are there any popular musicians of today that you listen to or who you think are doing interesting work?

I am a very big fan of Michael John La Chiusa, and have been very fortunate to do 5 of his shows. I love working with him, and his music to me is genius. And I love and miss Prince. And I must admit, I love everything that Missy Elliot does.

What was the last music you listened to before answering these questions?

Television music. Sorry.

When you aren’t making music, what is your favorite way to spend your time?

Hanging with my dog, hanging with friends, shopping, etc. regular stuff.

NYFOS is devoted to ‘song’ and the wide variety of styles that term encompasses. What is special about ‘song’ to you? Is there anything about this particular form that is significant to you?

Song to me is monologue. You must be able to make sense, and make music at the same time. Love it.

What is your favorite song?  (Qualify your answer to this possibly impossible question as needed.)

Right now, it is “Lush Life”.

Joshua Blue

1438023471Artist of the Month features British-American tenor Joshua Blue. A current Masters degree student at The Juilliard School, Joshua received the Ellen Lopin Blair award for First Place in the Lyndon Woodside Oratorio-Solo Competition held annual by the Oratorio Society of New York last spring, as well as an Emerging Artist Award in the 2017 Opera Index Competition in New York City. A NYFOS Emerging Artist program alum, Mr. Blue will return to NYFOS at the end of the month in our Protest program in NYC and Hudson, NY.


In addition to being a fantastic tenor, you are also known for your dedication to activism. How did this become a part of your life?

I think it’s difficult to be a minority in today’s society and not be an activist in some way shape or form. As a black man, simply waking up and going outside to work on my art, or to sing a concert, or to do outreach, is a form of protest against a system that doesn’t always want to see me succeed. I think once I realized that, I realized that I can take it farther, and go from just being a singer, to being a singer with a specific voice for very specific things.

How do you combine activism with your work as an artist?

The classical arts have always been a platform for protest from the very beginning. As a singer, I have the luxury of having “x” amount of ears listening to what comes out of my mouth. I figured if people are already listing to me, why not say something worth hearing. I try to be an advocate for people of color in the arts, not because there aren’t any others, but there aren’t enough of us out in the spotlight. I try to keep my hair long in its natural Afro to normalize black hair on the classical stage. I work with people of color or with allies to people of color every chance I get, because when one of us advances, we all advance, you know? Ultimately I want what I have to say to be worth hearing, and to hopefully change someone’s mindset on what it means to be a person of color not just in the arts, or the United States, but in the world.

Are there any artists or activists who have served as particular inspirations or role models?

Every black classical singer is an inspiration to me. It sounds cliche, I know, but seeing people of color take on some of the worlds greatest stages inspires me to do better every day. Outside of the “classical” genre however, I would say I’m inspired by artists like Logic, Kendrick Lamar, Lauryn Hill, people who aren’t afraid to use their immense power and wide reaching platform to speak out against injustice.

You are at the beginning of your career as a singer. Have there been any experiences or aspects of the business so far that have particularly surprised you?

I don’t think I’ve been particularly surprised by many aspects of the business so far. Of course, I only have a few years of “professional” experience under my belt, and I have no doubt that there are plenty of surprises in store for me in the future!

What projects are you most excited about at the moment and why?

I’m currently working on a project that is very close to my heart with a dear friend and phenomenal composer, Andrew Seligson. We are working to create a through-composed song cycle called Break Your Chains. The piece is an exploration of the history of the Black man in America, from the slavery era, through to modern day police brutality and racial divide. This is so exciting for me, because it’s the first time I will sing something not only written for my voice, but written for me entirely: for my experiences, and my people. I’m thrilled to get the opportunity to share it with the world this May 10th at my Juilliard graduate recital in Paul Hall!

Are there any popular musicians of today that you listen to or who you think are doing interesting work?

The artists I mentioned earlier are all artists I constantly listen to. On top of that I also enjoy Childish Gambino, Snarky Puppy, Haius Kaiyote, Andrew Bird, and Jacob Collier to name a few. They’ve all got such incredibly unique styles that make them intrinsically, well, them. I love music that fights against the grain of modern society. Whether it is because it tackles heavy, “taboo” subject matter, or approaches harmony and rhythms with a particularly non-western style, anything that sets an artist apart from the pack catches my ear every time.

What was the last music you listened to before answering these questions?

The album Awaken My Love by Childish Gambino

When you aren’t making music, what is your favorite way to spend your time?

Those that know me, know that the three things I’m most likely doing when I’m not singing are eating something new, playing videogames, or acting as the Dungeon Master for tabletop role playing games like Dungeons & Dragons. They are all wonderful escapes from the stage that I couldn’t live without!

NYFOS is devoted to ‘song’ and the wide variety of styles that term encompasses. What is special about ‘song’ to you? Is there anything about this particular form that is significant to you?

Song is such a unique method of music making. While I will always love opera dearly, there is something that song can do which is not always possible with opera. Tell a thousand different stories. You are more or less constrained to a few lines of thought when tackling a character in an opera production. This is not to say that you can’t evoke natural emotion, in relation to you the individual taking on the role, but at the end of the day, Mimi is still going to die, Faust is still going to make a deal with the devil, and Ariadne is still going to have to take the stage with Zerbinetta and her crazy comedians. With song though, every single piece has the opportunity to harbor a thousand messages, to encompass hundreds of different emotions, to tell a new story every single time. When someone sings song, they are given an opportunity to bare their soul to the world, to behold the divine, to create new meaning. I think that if opera is the force that keeps world spinning, song is the force that pushes the world around the sun. Both equally important, but vastly different.

What is your favorite song?  (Qualify your answer to this possibly impossible question as needed.)

Right now my favorite song is “Everbody” from the album of the same title by Logic. This whole album means a lot to me, but this track in particular focuses on Logic’s struggle of being both black and white. While I am proud to represent all my beautiful Black brothers and sisters, I am still a biracial human being. And sometimes that part of my identity gets swept under the rug when people look at me or work with me. I’m proud to be both black and white, and to see someone like Logic take pride in his biracialness, I can’t help but smile. I can’t recommend this album enough. Even if you aren’t a fan of rap music, I would implore you to take a moment and sit down with the words, even if you’re just reading them rather than listening to them. He talks about being mixed race, about being below the poverty line, about living with anxiety, about the value of life and suicide prevention, about the state of the nation and the current political climate. It’s all genius. Plus if you listen to it, you get to hear Neil deGrasse Tyson speak in a bunch of the tracks, which is definitely an added bonus.

Rebecca Jo Loeb

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Artist of the Month rings in 2018 with mezzo-soprano Rebecca Jo Loeb. Hailed as “a theatrical performer whose rise to watch” (Opera News), Ms. Loeb is based in Germany and sings throughout Europe and in the US. She recently made a “notable Met debut” (New York Times) as Flora in La Traviata at the Metropoitan Opera. A NYFOS Emerging Artist program alum, who has performed in our Mainstage and gala evenings, Ms. Loeb will return to NYFOS at the end of the month in our tour programs celebrating Leonard Bernstein. 


You are an American singer who is now based in Germany. How has this affected your career? How have you adjusted to being an ex-patriot?  Do you feel this is likely to be your permanent home base or do you expect to return to the States at some point? 

Unbeknownst to me at the time, beginning my career in Germany was one of the best things I could have done. The transition from Young Artist directly out of school or Young Artist Program remains curiously vague to most. No one talks about it. Either you’re swept up by a manager and slathered in opportunities or you somehow, and often for no particular reason, fall flat. Moving to Germany I managed to get a fest job at the Hamburg State Opera quite quickly where I built my stagecraft, my ability to prepare quickly, and technique to sing in larger spaces. Within four years I had more roles than most young signers would dream of under their belt, and thankfully out of the eye of major reviewers. Luckily I managed to keep my contacts in America fairly strong and so every season came back to the US for at least a few concerts. To be honest, I love Germany and my home in Berlin… And especially in this political climate I plan on staying here. My dream is to call both countries my home.

You are known for your acting as well as your singing. Can you outline how you approach this when working on new rep? 

I probably couldn’t have answered this question a year or two ago, but last summer I taught at an opera program in Berlin and focused primarily on “How to prepare an aria theatrically” and in doing so really laid out what I tended to do naturally. In school for Opera we’re not really given the tools for how to prepare things theatrically. We take acting  (but we essentially do scenes and mologues which are another beast entirely) and then are thrown into some sort of opera studio where a teacher critiques our arias to make them better. But no one ever tells us from the get go how to prepare them theatrically in the first place!

So of course I need to translate, know the text well (now that I speak Italian, French and German this helps) and the situation. Then I ask myself where does the aria begin and where does it end? As in, where do I start emotionally and where do I end emotionally. I can’t begin and end in the same place and make the aria compelling, I believe. Then I ask what do I want? Or, in other words, why do I sing the aria? I always told my students, “expressing yourself” is not an option. Maybe I want to convince someone of something, I want to change my fate, I want to discover what to do, etc. Then I separate each section of the aria into actions (one to three words ideally) of how I get that goal. Pleading, begging, flirting, threatening. Then I decide who I’m talking to. Where I am. Etc. Etc. If I lose focus in the aria it means my choice wasn’t interesting enough. If there’s a passage where I need to think about technique, I pick an action that helps me do that without looking like I popped out of character.

When I’m in an opera it’s naturally much easier. All those things are laid out for you. There the hardest bit is making sure you know what everyone ELSE is saying so you stay honest and continually trying to stay as IN THE MOMENT as possible.

You’ve had some family emergencies and difficult losses during your career. How have you managed performing throughout painful times? 

I don’t think it’s easy for anyone in any profession to go through hard times. That being said, as a performer you ideally bring your soul to the table each time you get on stage, and that naturally complicates things. I think the most difficult thing for me was handling my stress. Grief, I once read, keeps odd hours. Not only that, I’d add that it sits dormant inside you even when it’s not actively expressing itself. Performing also heightens ones emotions, stress, and anxiety. The emotional (and physical) difficulties I went through manifested themselves in me as a heightened state of anxiety and feeling , even when I felt supposedly normal. So add the even minor stress of performing and my cup boiled over. Every time. One solution I found was that I actually had to make myself cry before a performance. I had to let some of that latent emotion out in order to have some sort of homeostasis before performing. Worked quite well, actually. And although it was and is difficult,  it gave me some interesting insight into how we as humans process emotion.

What projects are you most excited about at the moment and why?

Right now I’m really excited about the show LOVE LIFE that I’m doing in Freiburg, Germany. It’s one of Kurt Weill’s lesser known works and it’s the first proper musical I’ve done in a long while. The part is very well rounded vocally, emotionally, and physically. I get to dance, sing, do hilarious scenes and wear a myriad of fabulous costumes. After normally playing the side character, countless maids, and countless boys, it’s fun to be a leading lady again!

What was the last music you listened to before answering these questions?

Currently I’m listening to a lot of folk music. I recently picked up guitar again (I used to play a bit of classical guitar) and I’ve been relearning old tunes, learning new ones, and arranging some of my own. I’m really into Eva Cassidy, Bob Dylan, and Nick Drake at the moment. Moving forward I wanna bring some more Blues tunes into my repertoire…working right now on a Jazz/Blues verison of GEORGIA ON MY MIND.

NYFOS is devoted to ‘song’ and the wide variety of styles that term encompasses. What is special about ‘song’ to you? Is there anything about this particular form that is significant to you?

When I was in school I sang a LOT of song. We all did. Then after I left school it was basically opera, opera, opera. And because we’re currently in the age of the director (especially in Europe) and there’s sadly just never enough time to rehearse musically you often end up just kind of “making it work”. We make tons of plans with the conductor but once you’re on stage tempos are different, the space makes you often sing differently, and you have staging to worry about, and often the conductor is so (understandably) worried about the orchestra that you end up just making it work. I personally have had fewer truly collaborative moments in performance in opera than I’d like.

In song, however, what you do in rehearsal is more or less the same as what you do on stage. Maybe you have different acoustics to deal with, but that’s about it. You can make magic in the rehearsal and then bring that directly to the stage. A few years ago I did the WIGMORE HALL competition with a wonderful collaborator and friend who I know from MSM and Juilliard. She had been busy for years coaching singers for musicals and auditions and I had been busy in opera. We had so much freakin fun planning a program, rehearsing (in three different countries no less!) and finally bringing it to life on stage. Although we didn’t make it to the finals we did make it to London and then through the next two rounds. Before we went to London, however, we got to perform all of the songs at my apartment in Berlin for a group of friends. It was a real salon moment. And by the end of our three rounds of repertoire we had many of our friends in tears. We had made something magical because we both had created it ourselves from the ground up. You really can’t get that exact feeling in opera.

What is your favorite song? (The Impossible Question) 

One of my favorite songs is Ravel’s “Kaddisch”. The text is, naturally, the text of the Mourner’s Kaddisch in Hebrew. Ravel’s setting of the song, I think is just sheer perfection. Additionally, this song has followed me for many years. I learned it in undergrad, but didn’t have the technical facility to really sing it properly. I sang it on my graduate recital at Manhattan School of Music where my mother heard that setting for the first time and it moved her deeply. Many years later, after she died and we were planning the program of her memorial service, my mother’s good friend, who is also a cantor and was to lead the service, asked me if I wanted to recite the Mourners Kaddisch. I remember the idea popped into my head to sing the Ravel; my mom had loved it so much. I said I would wing it and if I wasn’t a blubbering mess then I’d sing it a cappella. Well, I was a blubbering mess. But somehow at that moment a strange calm came over me. I knew I just had to sing it. Funny how important moments like that seem to just happen, as if they always were so. Later my mom’s friend, who had planned the service with my mother before she died, told me that my mom had actually requested that I sing that song, but hadn’t asked because she thought it might be too much. That was a pretty special moment.

What is your ultimate goal as a singer?

I know many singers dream to sing at a certain opera house or to sing a certain role. My goal is a little more internal. I just want to be proud of what I do. Like many artists I’m never satisfied with what I do. Very rarely do I leave the stage and think WOW, THAT WAS GREAT. In some ways this is good – keeps me moving forward. But on the other hand, never being satisfied really sucks! So lately I’ve been giving myself mini goals: One phrase that I’m working on; calm the voice in my head while I sing; stay in character 60 percent of the time. I focus on this one goal during THAT performance THAT day… and if I do that, then I’m satisfied. Maybe if that starts becoming easier then I’ll be able to let those little micro goals go and just learn to be satisfied with what I’ve done. I’d like to sing a performance, know objectively that there is more to work on and yet STILL say, “You done good, Becca.”

William Bolcom, composer

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Our very first Artist of the Month is a longtime friend of NYFOS:  Pulitzer Prize-winning composer William Bolcom. He answers our questions about song, singers, and his history with Steve in advance of our NYFOS@Juilliard concert in celebration of his 80th birthday. 


Steven Blier has mentioned you and Joan as one of his inspirations when he founded NYFOS. Can you tell us about your first experiences working with Steve?  

In the late 70s Joan was hired to play Polly in a Guthrie Theatre production of A Beggars’ Opera, done while Alvin Epstein ran the place and they were together in Minneapolis. About that time I had been working with Alvin and Martha Schlamme doing a Kurt Weill evening, and Steve inherited the job and went much further with it than I had. We’ve been close ever since. He coached my wife Joan Morris in my 4th Symphony on Roethke’s “The Rose” in 1987.

You had a very diverse musical education, both formal and informal.

I take it you mean conservatory-style and outside, and I was always interested in everything

Is there any particular experience that had an outsize impact on your life; that was a greater influence on your work than you had expected?

In 1966 I taught briefly at the University of Washington School of music, where I’d been as a young 11-year-old and didn’t want to be there as an oldster of 28 — but I needed the job. I used to go to hear him whenever John Cage came back to Seattle, where he had been booted out from Cornish College. The regular profs at U-W loved to walk out in a huff whenever he came, and I was sometimes the only one left (at age 13) in the audience. Finally as a young prof in 1965 I was asked to interview him for a local Pacifica station, and as I left to go, an old colleague said “now you go out there and demolish him!” We talked for three hours. I was conflicted then: was I going to be an avant-garde hardliner (which was the thing to do) or was I going to be more comprehensive in my stylistic outlook? In the midst of the third hour he asked me about my problems as a composer and I mentioned my conflict. He said, “some people divide the world into things that are good and things that are bad. Others take it all in and let the inner organism decide.” That opened my eyes and heart. It was probably my landmark experience. Meeting and working with Eubie Blake was another, and I’m grateful for my long association with Darius Milhaud.

You are known for working closely with certain singers:  Joan Morris, of course, and others like Catherine Malfitano. How has that influenced your compositional process?

Very much. I love singers most of all, possibly because I can’t sing.

Who are some of your favorite singers (of the past or present day) that you wish you had the opportunity to write for or to work with?

I loved Di Stefano, and Fred Astaire, and Mabel Mercer, and Catherine and and and…  where shall I begin?   Joan Morris is for me the ultimate singing actress (I’m prejudiced a little of course) because she balances word and note better than anyone.

Are there any popular musicians of today that you listen to or who you think are doing interesting work?

I’m not really up on them now. Most strike me as personalities rather than artists. Too much self-promotion now, and it is even being taught in music schools — ugh!

What was the last music you listened to before answering these questions?

The last performance of my latest opera Dinner at Eight, just done here at the University of Michigan four times, and well done too.

When you aren’t making music, what is your favorite way to spend your time?

Reading

NYFOS is devoted to ‘song’ and the wide variety of styles that term encompasses. What is special about ‘song’ to you? Is there anything about this particular form that is significant to you?  

What isn’t?  If it’s alive I’m on it.

What is your favorite song?  (Qualify your answer to this possibly impossible question as needed.)

It is impossible. Forgive me if I don’t answer.

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