Today’s entry is from NYFOS@Juilliard cast member and pianist Christopher Reynolds.
Gabriel Kahane is somewhat of an inspiration to me – here we have a genius from a more traditional musical family who has paved a way for himself in a manner that seems to defy any traditional route of either classical or popular music, yet has found massive success in both fields while bridging the gap between the two. He has even written for NYFOS if I am not mistaken. This song cycle/album entitled “The Ambassador” is one of my favorite works of the last century – each of the 10 songs are imagined perspectives from different buildings in Los Angeles, and contain a variety of poetic verse, epic-style narratives, or re-imaginings of traditional material, as is the case in this song. The Bradbury Building is most famously featured in one of my favorite films, Blade Runner. The climax of Blade Runner occurs when (SPOILER ALERT) Roy Batty, the “villain” of the film (as well as an android) delivers one of the most beautiful monologues in the history of western civilization to Harrison Ford’s character. Harrison Ford at this point is clinging to the edge of the building while Batty holds a dove. Neon light surrounds them, and as he concludes his speech “All those memories will be lost in time, like tears…in….rain,” he releases the dove. This song takes this monologue as well as the imagery and plot points of Blade Runner and constructs a static portrait, sensuous in quality, of Kahane’s experience of the film and the building. There is nothing better for a rainy day.
A few years ago I had the brilliant inspiration to take another pianist on board to help me with the Juilliard rehearsals. We work six hours a day, seven days in a row, and in previous years I found myself morphing into a rehearsal pianist, exhausted, taking short cuts, husbanding resources, fighting for survival. By the performances, I felt as if I had nothing left—every inspiration seemed to have dried up during the process of getting the songs ready. All of this changed when Leann Osterkamp became my right-hand (and left-hand) person for the past two shows—an ace pianist and a deeply generous, caring person. When she graduated, I began to despair…until I reached out to Christopher Reynolds, a current Juilliard pianist who had done such stellar work at our Caramoor program, a year after Leann had been there.
Chris said yes, and I knew it would be smooth sailing. He’s scary-smart, quick to learn, and so responsible that I feel he’s teaching me how to be a professional. Like Leann, he showed up knowing all the songs cold, in their transposed keys. Neither he nor Leann had done huge amounts of popular music before—they’re virtuoso classical pianists “paper-trained,” as I call it. But both of them feel the beauty of the Great American Songbook, and watch me like a hawk. This is a style you learn by listening and observing and absorbing, and I’ve been charmed to see the way Chris is starting to imitate my voicings at the piano. Yesterday he even was sitting like me (I have, perforce, an unconventional way of positioning myself in the piano chair). And when 4 PM arrives, he’s there with my daily cup of tea. I’ve chosen to let myself be pampered.
Two days ago I came back from rehearsing in another room, and found that the two pianos in our rehearsal room had gotten switched. Chris approached me with a rueful expression. “I…did a really forceful glissando, I guess, and…broke a key.” “You broke a string?” No! I broke a KEY.” And he opened his palm to reveal a piece of black wood, which used to be a C# at the top of the keyboard. We pianists carry our strength in odd places, so don’t approach us in a dark alley. You’ll be sorry—remember that C#.
Christopher Reynolds‘ final pick of the week for August 14.
If there’s anything Jessye Norman is known for, it’s taking things slow. The breath control this woman has could probably supply power to a small village for a week. While sometimes it can be overbearing, at can also elevate trivial moments in music to something profound. Take this cabaret song by Poulenc – usually nothing more than a sweet fleeting moment in time, elevated to something mystical and profound. Jessye milks every phrase, scoops and swoops to no end, and takes every advantage of the French language’s sensuous qualities. This is something that if done by anyone else would be bizarre, but somehow in the hands of this artist is incredible.
Next week: Steven Blier is back with his behind the scenes blog from the NYFOS@North Fork residency.
(Curator: Christopher Reynolds)
This song has been covered by many an artist including Duke Ellington and Stanley Worth. There is something about k.d. lang’s rendition here that resonates with me. Her voice here is delirious, drunk on the fumes of love. She slips in and out of consciousness, sometimes singing as though half-asleep, sometimes completely present. Her voice is velvet, ethereal. She recorded this on her album Drag, which is entirely covers of songs about smoking. While the whole album is a fascinating study in reinvention, this track has always been my favorite. The refrain is so cleverly thought out, it straddles the border between humorous and tragic:
Love is like a cigarette
You know you had my heart aglow
Between your fingertips
And just like a cigarette
I never knew the thrill of life
Until you touched my lips
Then just like a cigarette
Love seemed to fade away and leave behind
Ashes of regret
And with a flick of your fingertips
It was easy for you to forget
(Curator: Christopher Reynolds)
Leontyne Price is the love of my life. I find myself coming back to her in times of trouble, in times of happiness, in times of doubt. Price and the German language are not two things usually thought of as going together, as she made her career out of singing Puccini, Verdi, and Samuel Barber. Here we find her out of her element, yet at the same time completely in her element. This is one of my favorite songs – Strauss sets a poem told from the male perspective – a husband speaks to his wife as she dies – thanking her for everything she has done, comforting her, telling her that she will visit him in dreams. Such a sad song is full of utterances of “Oh Glück” (oh, happiness). It seems strange at first that this is part of an otherwise morbid subject, however the way Leontyne delivers it is anywhere from cheerful. I think one of the greatest moments in musical performance comes towards the end when, on “weinen” (cry), she drops suddenly to the quietest possible dynamic before delivering one of the greatest crescendos in the history of music. This live performance is a rare treat, and contrary to popular belief Leontyne Price delivers one of the greatest performances of a Strauss song.
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