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Baroque opera: Handel and Purcell

In our musical household, there’s often a race to see who gets to the “turntable” first.  So rather than argue over who got to do which day and which song to pick, we decided to offer song pairings, some linked by theme, time, or place, others by whim. Today it’s Baroque opera favorites.

Phil’s pick – Purcell, King Arthur: What power art thou

For me, the music of Henry Purcell was pretty much love at first hearing. “Dido’s Lament” can do that to you, but the further I explored, the more I loved. As evidenced by the “Lament”, the song “Music for a While”, or the stately and haunting “Chacony” for viol consort, few composers could do so much with a repeated bass line. “What power art thou”, from the semi-opera King Arthur, is an almost one-note song with a repeated progression and an inexorable tread. Part of a masque known as the Frost Scene in Act III, this air is sung by the Cold Genius, who grumpily awakes to Cupid’s call and asks to be allowed to go back underground to sleep and freeze to death. The shivering effects in both voice and strings grab your attention, but it is Purcell’s grave and gorgeous chromatic harmony that holds it.

Aleba’s pick  Handel, Orlando: Amor e qual vento

This week is the two-year anniversary of director R.B. Schlather’s radical staging of Handel’s opera seria masterpiece Orlando, which I had the good fortune to promote. For weeks, RB, his cast and musicians inhabited the very plain storefront Whitebox Gallery on Broome Street. Everything was open to the public. Throughout the afternoons a wide variety of people—music lovers, friends, and strangers who happened to pass by—dropped in, stayed for a while, and then went back to whatever they were doing. It was all quite low key, but as the days progressed the line between rehearsal and performance, and even the line between life and art began to disappear. It was magical. One of the regular onlookers was our daughter Clementine, who was seven at the time. She showed her emerging baroque soul by choosing this aria as her favorite. It’s mine, too.

Shara Nova: An Unknown Distance Yet To Run (from The Colorado Project)

I am beyond thrilled to be part of this project from the ground up, four years in the making. However, I wanted to bring forth this project with the NYFOS family as it illustrates the shared belief that song is the most powerful tool to effectively connect with each other. A powerful film that documents the Colorado River with 9 commissioned new songs (by John Luther Adams, William Brittelle, Glenn Kotche, Shara Nova and Paola Prestini), sung by Roomful of Teeth and performed by percussionist Glenn Kotche and cellist Jeffrey Zeigler, with text created by leading Colorado Conservationist William DeBuys. It doesn’t hurt that the songs are pretty darn good, too.

The Colorado Project
Selection by Shara Nova—“An Unknown Distance Yet To Run”, text by William DeBuys
Released on VIA Records
(Be sure to listen soon!  We only have permission to post this recording for one week.)


Alicia Hall Moran: Heavy Blue

Buy this record. Again, through my incredible work as Director of Artistic Planning at National Sawdust, I have been fortunate to meet new artists. Alicia was our Artist in Residence last year and she launched this powerful record as a starting point for her residency. This entire album inspires me to get up in the morning, go to work, and find ways to support artists, every day. Thank you Alicia!

Alicia Hall Moran: Heavy Blue
(this isn’t available unless you purchase it, which you should)

Franz Schubert: Gute Nacht

Winterreise is an epic song cycle that has been recorded, discussed and performed millions of times. There is a reason why. However, this particular singer and his work with William Kentridge served a catalyst for me as a programmer to dare to hear standard repertoire with a visual lens. Their version, performed at Lincoln Center in 2014, inspired me to see and search for artists who can successfully take master works of genius from the past and create living connections to today. Now, National Sawdust is in our second season with our annual Winterreise Festival, where we dare to look at this seminal work and works inspired from it.

Gute Nacht, Winterreise by Franz Schubert, performed by baritone Mattias Goerne, pianist Alfred Brendel

Paola Prestini: Union

As a “recovering” opera singer myself, I am immediately drawn to Paola Prestini’s incredible capacity to write gorgeous music for singers. Through getting to know her through our work together at VisionIntoArt and National Sawdust* where we commissioned over 10 world premieres and umpteen artists together since 2012, I now know her incredible capacity to write beautiful music is a simple extension of her beautiful spirit.

Paola Prestini’s Union with Isabel Leonard
Released on Roven Records


*Paola is also the Creative and Executive Director of both organizations as well as an accomplished composer.

Lou Reed: Perfect Day (sung by Helga Davis)

I first heard Helga at Philip Glass/Robert Wilson’s Einstein on The Beach during BAM’s Next Wave Festival in 2012. I didn’t know her personally and was incredibly fortunate to meet her a few months later. Helga is a beacon and this song captures her incredible artistry and vocal intensity.  I am very excited that Helga is a National Sawdust Artist in Residency this year and will perform in our opening night on October 1st.

The original song, sung and composed by the late great Lou Reed, was on my “mix tape” (remember those—the ones on cassettes!) when I was studying abroad in Rome and when one could have a Perfect Day. With this version it’s as if past and present combine into a perfect…

Helga Davis sings Lou Reed’s Perfect Day

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