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Bob Dylan: Make You Feel My Love

From Ellie Gisler Murphy, Caramoor’s Senior Artist Planning Manager:

Likely one of the most achingly romantic songs I know is Bob Dylan’s “Make You Feel My Love” probably made most famous by Billy Joel and then, of course, Adele.

This song came to prominence in my own life early in my pregnancy when we were still in those first uncertain twelve weeks when losing a pregnancy is common. The words “I know you haven’t made your mind up yet, but I will never do you wrong” still have the ability to bring me to tears. For me, this song always felt less like romantic love and much more like the love of a parent for a child – who among us wouldn’t go hungry for a child? This song brings me through all the stages of her life, the incredible birth, those ever-traumatizing emotional periods of toddler and teenage-hood, and then to the far future, as she is making her dreams come true (perhaps in spite of her parents). We are eager for every minute of it. The ever-raspy, and still soulful Sprechstimme of Bob Dylan:

When the rain is blowing in your face
And the whole world is on your case
I could offer you a warm embrace
To make you feel my love

When the evening shadows and the stars appear
And there is no one there to dry your tears
Oh, I hold you for a million years
To make you feel my love

I know you haven’t made your mind up yet
But I will never do you wrong
I’ve known it from the moment that we met
No doubt in my mind where you belong

I’d go hungry; I’d go black and blue
And I’d go crawling down the avenue
No, there’s nothing that I wouldn’t do
To make you feel my love

The storms are raging on the rolling sea
And on the highway of regret
The winds of change are blowing wild and free
You ain’t seen nothing like me yet

I could make you happy, make your dreams come true
There’s nothing that I wouldn’t do
Go to the ends of this Earth for you
To make you feel my love, oh yes
To make you feel my love

Caramoor’s Senior Artistic Planning Manager, Ellie Gisler Murphy is celebrating five years
working in programming and production in the Artistic department at Caramoor. Ms. Murphy
received her BM in Classical Vocal Performance at the University of Connecticut before
pursuing artistic administration professionally. She worked at the Metropolitan Opera,
Glimmerglass and Castleton Opera Festivals, and Columbia Artists before finding her home at
Caramoor where she enjoys the diversity and innovation of Caramoor’s multi-disciplinary
programming.

NYFOS@Caramoor: Day 1

Today marked the beginning of the tenth season of NYFOS@Caramoor, aka the Vocal Rising Stars Program. Our annual retreat to Caramoor for this residency is a highlight of my year. The unfailing warmth of the people who work there, the calm of the environment, and the feeling of being in a artistic sanctuary feed my soul in a way that few other concert engagements can.

Not that Caramoor doesn’t have its stresses. I hired three singers I knew pretty well, either as students or as recent concert colleagues. I took on a pianist—Adam Rothenberg—with whom I had far less experience, but whom I knew from the hallways of Juilliard. Adam auditioned for me a year ago, and I asked if he’d defer for a season so I could bring Ho Jae Lee to Caramoor in 2017 when I was sure he’d still be in America. Adam was patient and faithful, and so was I.

But I also hired a mezzo I had never met at all. I had been recommended by several people to listen to a young woman named Kayleigh Decker, lately of Glimmerglass Opera and about to enter the prestigious Chicago Lyric Ryan Center. Buoyed by these impeccable credentials, I gave her a modern audition: I listened to her sing Wolf’s “Kennst du das Land” on a YouTube clip. I totally disapprove of YouTube auditions, but I’d be lying if I didn’t admit to doing them occasionally. I liked Kayleigh’s Wolf song very much: straightforward, not artsy, but sung with an even scale, clear words, and a feeling of truthfulness. “I could definitely work with this,” I thought to myself.

Naturally our first encounter was a bit fraught, though neither of us betrayed a flicker of insecurity. It’s important not to flinch. The first thing I heard Kayleigh sing today was “Sound the Trumpet,” a classic duet by Henry Purcell. Great baroque-style coloratura, a clean trill, wonderful breath control, lovely musicianship. I wasn’t the least bit surprised but I admit I was pleased.

It was one of the best opening days I can remember at Caramoor. The cast is, of course, young, but they all seem like old souls. By contrast I feel like a skittish puppy around them, darting off in a million directions. They are grounded, serious, smart, and gifted. We’ll need to make a few decisions about how British we want to sound for this concert. I have trouble hearing words like “earrrrrrth” and “worrrrrrrrrld” pronounced with big ol’ American r’s in this rep. Greg has an admirable command of the British accent, except that occasionally his characters slip into lower-class Londonese, not the King’s English. Today his Strephon in Iolanthe sounded like a sexy blue-collar worker. I kind of loved it, though I know it may not quite echt.

Highlights of the day: Madison Leonard sang Frank Bridge’s “Dweller in My Deathless Dreams” with luminous perfection, every note vibrating like a star, really stunning vocalism. Matt Pearce and Greg Feldmann belted out “Ticket to Ride” with impudence, style, and a shameless amount of beauty. (I got the idea of putting out bowls of panties in the entryway for audience members to take and throw up at the stage during the song.) Adam Rothenberg was worth the wait. What a sensitive, gifted player. I was humbled. And Kayleigh seduced me over and over again with her elegant musicianship.

IMG_0991At tea-time, a longtime Caramoor tradition now more appropriate than ever, I rolled up to the table and saw what looked like a woman standing very still, smiling at me next to the hot-water boiler. She was so motionless that I started to get the creeps. Finally I realized it was a cardboard cutout of Queen Elizabeth. She was happy to pose for pictures with all of us. She didn’t mind that I screamed when I realized that Ellie Gisler and Tim Coffee had planted her there.

 

Danny Schmidt: Company of Friends

From Maggi Landau, Artistic Director, American Roots Music, Caramoor Center for Music and the Arts:

Many songs from the American Roots realm (folk, blues, bluegrass, country, gospel, cajun, string band, traditional, and more genres) are cultural touchstones, songs that just about everyone knows.  Songs like “Blowin’ In the Wind”, “Stand By Your Man”, “He’s Got the Whole World in His Hands”.  But there are hundreds, if not thousands, of lesser known songs being sung in local song circles, small coffee houses, regional festivals that, if given the opportunity, would also find their way into the canon of songs with the power to touch and move any listener.

I first heard the “Company of Friends” around 10 years ago sung and penned by a young Austin, Texas based singer songwriter named Danny Schmidt.  It’s the kind of song where the lyrics pierce your heart.  Where you know exactly what he means. And what you want to embrace for yourself. It’s a universal anthem and a true touchstone. This version from from 2008 is sung by Danny and his now wife Carrie Elkin.

Snarky Puppy: I Asked

From Caramoor’s Artistic Coordinator, Timothy Coffey:

I’ll admit it—I’m a Snarky Puppy addict. They’re ridiculously good. Picking only one song from them is actually easy because there’s no wrong choice. Listening to only one song is not easy, so if you’re reading this, and you haven’t listened to SP, a good starting point are their Family Dinner albums (volume 1 and 2). Both albums feature artists/musicians from across the globe, each taking their own turn with SP for one song. The first track off volume 2 features American singer-songwriter Becca Stevens and Väsen, a Swedish folk music band, performing Stevens’ song “I Asked”. Folk, Jazz, R&B, Funk, Soul—I’m not sure how to label this. Maybe the word “awesome” will suffice.

Snarky Puppy:  I Asked feat. Becca Stevens and Väsen

Hector Berlioz: Les Nuits d’Eté: I. Villanelle

From Caramoor’s Manager of Artistic Planning, Ellie Gisler Murphy:

Hector Berlioz, the French romantic composer more known for his large scale works, symphonies, operas and oratorios, than for his song writing, gave us the infectiously carefree and flirtatious “Villanelle” from his song cycle Les Nuits d’Eté. Berlioz was a prolific diarist and letter writer, but wrote little about this set of six songs that he wrote in installments, however we can make some guesses as it was written between 1840 and 1841, while his marriage to his wife crumbled and he began an affair with the soprano Marie Recio (who would later become his wife). The song cycle itself follows a love affair, from the first whispers of young love in the spring (represented by the ebullient “Villanelle”), through a death and mourning period and ending with the promise of new love.

As a stand-alone, “Villanelle”, the first song of the set is one of the most interesting melodies in song literature and surely (at least for me) one of the most fun to sing—it radiates exuberant joy, mirroring the uncontained wonder of the first real warmth of spring and the first hints of a new love.

The whole song cycle is sung here by the lovely Dutch soprano, Elly Ameling

Edvard Grieg: Våren

From Caramoor’s Manager of Artistic Planning, Ellie Gisler Murphy:

I spent the school breaks of my college years in Norway, while my parents lived there for a work assignment. It was impressed upon me during that time that the Norwegians are an entirely proud bunch, and nothing makes them more proud than their stunning landscape of rugged coastlines, vast mountain-scapes, and steep fjords.  To be Norwegian is to understand that participation in the outdoors, regardless of the weather, is compulsory. (Perhaps made evident than their obvious and consistent domination in the Winter Olympics, and with their famous saying “There is no bad weather, only bad clothing”).

Though known for those dark and long winters, perhaps no season is more special to the Norwegians than their springtime, a brief and late season where 18 hours of darkness, thick snow and ice gives way to flowers, greenery and sunlight.  Those who live in the Northeast can perhaps relate to a certain extent, especially so in late February.  The notable Norwegian composer, Edvard Grieg captured the approaching season in his song “Våren” (“The Spring”).  The poem, written by Aasmund Vinje, wistfully recalls the emerald meadows, butterflies dancing in blossoms, and spring-gladdened vales.  Among all the songs of spring, it is one of the more solemn, as the speaker imagines this spring to be their last on earth, but to me,  it makes the song all the more exquisite.

You can’t beat it in the original Norwegian dialect Landsmål, here sung by Barbara Bonney:

Reynaldo Hahn: À Chloris

From Caramoor’s Vice-President of Programming, Kathy Schuman:

I can’t say for sure the first time I heard this song, but I remember distinctly when it first made a serious impression—as an encore at Susan Graham’s recital at Carnegie Hall in 2003. I was absolutely swept away by the beauty of it.  Up until then I didn’t really know anything about Reynaldo Hahn (1875-1947), a Venezuelan-born composer who lived in France. Now I see his songs pop up on recital programs frequently. Whenever I see “À Chloris” listed on a program, or announced as an encore, I heave a deep sigh and settle back in my chair and let this simple beautiful song wash over me. From the first notes of the piano introduction, I am transported to another realm. His songs are a bit old-fashioned compared to contemporaries like Ravel, and it may lack the depth and intensity of Schubert lieder, but for me it captures perfectly the rhapsodic feeling of a newly discovered love.

Over the years I’ve heard it sung by Anne Sofie von Otter, Sarah Connolly, Philippe Jaroussky, David Daniels and others. It’s hard to beat Susan Graham’s version here.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2UyKVFM-eLY

NYFOS@Caramoor: Day 3

Thursday is usually the most intense day—it’s the designated time for everyone to be off book, i.e., memorized. But today—Wednesday, usually a frolic in the sandbox—turned out to be a strenuous day of contact sports. Some of this had to do with the schedule: Marco was to join us in the afternoon, but he could only get there at 3:40. It was our last coaching day with him—yes, he’ll be back for more rehearsals and he’ll play the performances with us, but then he’ll be in his role purely as flautist. So we had a lot to cover in a short period, and that meant the day ended with three hours of extremely concentrated work on all the flute stuff and all the Spanish stuff.

Christine created a bit of magic today, the kind of thing that can only happen at a place like Caramoor. We were working on her Lecuona song, “Quiero ser hombre.” It is somewhere midway between a cabaret song and an art song, with a poem by the Uruguayan feminist Juana de Ibarbourou. She talks of how she’d like to be a man—so that she could have any kind of career she wanted, she could go out walking on her own, she could wander the earth as she pleased. Latin American women did not have a lot of choices in the 1940s, and very little freedom of movement in those pre-liberation days.

unnamed-6Christine has known the song for a little while now, and it was sounding good. She understood what it meant, her Spanish was very clear and amazingly authentic—good, solid work. But Michael was not sold. “Christine, the song has this descending figure, three-note groups that snake down after an upward phrase. There’s something…what’s the word for it…it has a name…oh, I don’t know. There’s something about that kind of writing…” I was a little puzzled. So was Christine. What was he getting at? “How should I do it?” Christine asked. Michael paused. “Actually, I don’t know. But you do. Figure it out—there is something to dig out of that phrase. You have the answer, not me. Go find it.” Another pause. Then Christine said something I wasn’t expecting: “Thank you.” What did she mean, I wondered? Thank you, I guessed, for not condescending to me, for trusting that I have a musical brain, that I have instincts and sensitivities of my own. It was International Women’s Day, and we were celebrating in our way.

Michael’s request was not the kind of direction I would have given a singer. But something happened: the whole song opened up. All of a sudden Christine was singing about life, and freedom, and being a woman, and wanting something. What sounded to me like musical nit-picking led straight to the Holy Grail. Everyone felt it. Hannah actually leapt to her feet and applauded. I thought I saw tears in Christine’s eyes.

Everyone, in fact, rehearsed as if their lives depended on it. I took the day to get closer to pianist Ho Jae Kim, pulling him in to play four-hand piano with me, molding his phrasing, balancing the sonorities of his two hands. He is such a surprising musician. I imagine all this material is pretty new for him, but I nicknamed him Ho Jae O’Lee after he played his Irish song with the eloquence of an old bard. He’s come up with some fabulous results in Cuban music too. Ho Jae has a tremendous musical instinct, and when his ear, nervous system, and hands coalesce—when he grasps what the music is, what it needs—the results take my breath away.

Get your tickets to Four Islands today!  Sunday, March 12, 3pm at Caramoor (Katonah, NY) or Tuesday, March 14, 8pm at Merkin Concert Hall (NYC)

NYFOS@Caramoor: Day 2

Tuesday is traditionally the most carefree play-day at Caramoor. The Sunday concert still seems a long way off, memorization is not making everyone into zombies, and we can still do some real exploration with the singers and the songs. Michael and I have a sense of what we’d like our cast to get out of the week’s project, and there seems to be just enough time. It’s like working with plaster of Paris: there is a certain window when the materials are malleable before they harden for good. We seized the day, all of us.

Our second guest coach was with us, the Venezuelan flautist Marco Granados. As Michael said to me, “Marco has to be the sweetest man on the planet. After your husband Jimmy, of course.” It is true: Marco radiates warmth and generosity even when a patron seated next to him at lunch is saying, “I think Trump has some awfully good ideas, don’t you?” I dropped my head into my lunch plate and studied my roasted potatoes very, very hard, but Marco remained gentle and pliant. I was so glad he fielded that question. I believe his answer was some vowel-less murmur (“Mmnnh!”) that could be interpreted anyway you liked.

Marco is doing double duty with us, playing in the Ravel cycle “Chansons madécasses” and some of the Irish songs, while also stepping up to the plate as our Spanish coach. No one in our cast speaks Spanish, and most classical singers don’t have to deal with Iberian, South American, or Caribbean music until they get a gig with NYFOS. The Cuban scores are badly printed, with arcane handwritten lyrics that make “adorable” look like “adorabla” and “sabe” look like “saba,” while turning poetic lines into traffic jams of cluttered letters. For some reason I was most concerned about Ben Dickerson, to whom I gave anAfro-Cuban piece written in street slang. Ben is very cultured and internal, the kind of guy you want to hear in Vaughan Williams or Poulenc or Pizzetti. I didn’t know if he could ace the piece but I thought, well, it’s just one song and it’ll be good for him.

That turned out to be the understatement of the day. Ben is such a strong musician and so smart that he got the essence of “Tú no sab’ ingle” pretty much on the first reading. He needs a little encouragement to realize the full brattiness, the cojones, of the song. He may not lead with his hips like a Cuban, but that Vermont boy can definitely swing with the best of them.

Everyone shone today—Hannah Dishman radiated feisty heat as both an Irish country lass and a frustrated music theater wannabe; Jack Swanson figured out how to be a narcissistic Latin lover in one piece and a creepy Manhattan voyeur in another; and Christine Price raised the roof with Kurt Weill and seduced everyone in sight with her Corigliano songs. Ho Jae Lee and I improvised four-hand arrangements (that guy is a trip!). But the highlight for me was the Zulu folk song, which I had been avoiding for no real reason. It’s short—two pages—and not complicated. But I feel irrationally daunted when I have to make vocal arrangements, even though I do it all the time and usually come up with something good. After lunch we plunged in—Jack, Christine, Hannah, Marco, and I—and I think we came up with something exotic and haunting. We can keep developing it, but the bones are there—one voice leading to harmony and finally erupting with Marcos’ bird calls on his flute. Are we ready for the soundtrack of a documentary about Madagascar? Ask me tomorrow.

unnamed-5 In the photo: Jack Swanson and Marco Granados search for the “fuego sagrado.”

Get your tickets to Four Islands today!  Sunday, March 12, 3pm at Caramoor (Katonah, NY) or Tuesday, March 14, 8pm at Merkin Concert Hall (NYC)

NYFOS@Caramoor: Day 1

I always look forward to the first day of Caramoor rehearsal, but I also fear the first day of Caramoor rehearsal. This year’s outing, Four Islands, is a complicated show with songs from Ireland, Cuba, Madagascar, and Manhattan in five languages (including Gaelic and Zulu). It has music hall, vocal chamber music, Afro-Cuban heat and contemporary cool. I knew one of my cast members well, and another was a singer with whom I had a short but fruitful acquaintance. The other two were people I believed in but actually knew very little. So was my pianist.

unnamed-4My instincts led me right: this is an adventurous and gifted cast, and they seem ready to take it all on. There was a moment this morning when I asked pianist Ho Jae Lee if he wanted to take over for a bit. At that point we were working on a Cuban piece called “Guarina,” and we’d just decided to perform it a half-step higher. Ho Jae ploughed into the song with grace and assurance, embellishing the printed page with his own touches, and soon playing with a combination of fire and subtlety that made my flesh tingle. Christine Price, my soprano, caught my eye and nodded her head with a smile that said, “Yup, he’s our guy.” Then a charming thing happened—Ho Jae got a little carried away and lost control of the transposition for about a measure before righting himself. It’s exactly the kind of thing that happens to me when I am on a roll that turns into a skid, and it endeared him to me forever. I later realized: we were hearing Ho Jae’s first-ever Cuban song. It’s also his first-ever Irish music, his first-ever American musical theater, and his first-ever Chansons madécasses. I described him as “an ocean of music,” and I am thrilled to lead him into uncharted waters.

I wanted Naomi O’Connell to come and coach the Gaelic song, and also to check in on the rest of the Irish material. Normally I prefer to have our guest teachers up a little later in the week after we’ve gotten to know one another and put things in place. But Naomi’s schedule dictated that she had to be with us today. I needn’t have worried: Naomi, who was my student at Juilliard, is a magnificent teacher. I’d never seen her in this role before, but she is sharp about the details, full of useful rehearsal techniques, and a laser surgeon when it comes to vocal, dramatic, and muscular first-aid. I have found that singers like to have another singer helping them. No matter how smart, how caring, or how intuitive I am, I shall never quite attain the level of trust that vocalists accord to one of their own. Naomi had my trust too, and she set us up for the week. I hope I can keep the vibration going. My favorite moment: getting Jack Swanson to say “I know a girl that could knock you into fits” with perfect Irish intonation. “Gir-ell!” “Girl!” Noooh, Jack, tooh syllables: gir-ell!” “Gir-ell!” “Good. Knock ya into FITS!” “KNOCK you into fits.” “No! Jack! Imitate me: knock yuh inta FITTTS!” “Knock yuh inta FITTTS!” “That’s it. [Turning to me] This one’s a good mimic!”

It was something of a miracle that I got to rehearsal at all. Michael was determined to be at Caramoor for the first day, and he is the designated driver of the wheelchair van that takes me back and forth. He had just flown in from Hong Kong, after a 22-hour trip that landed him at JFK at 6 AM this morning. But there he was at my door, right on time, focused and coherent and full of his usual sweet energy. It was a day of heroism and bravery, with everyone stepping into uncharted terrain. But Michael Barrett walked off with the prize: Hong Kong one day, Katonah the next, without missing a beat.

Get your tickets to Four Islands today!  Sunday, March 12, 3pm at Caramoor (Katonah, NY) or Tuesday, March 14, 8pm at Merkin Concert Hall (NYC)

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