NYFOS@Caramoor 2024: Day 1

Written by Steven Blier

Artistic Director, NYFOS

In category: Blier's Blog

Published March 12, 2024

I rolled into the Music Room at Caramoor, after spending an hour riding up to Katonah with my confidante and co-director Bénédicte Jourdois, and I thought of that silly kid’s song, “If you’re happy and you know it, clap your hands [clap clap].” I know that it’s light years away from the sophisticated program of Spanish, American, English, French, German, Austrian, and Argentine songs we’re preparing for concerts on Sunday and Tuesday, but at the time it seemed completely appropriate. I don’t always realize those moments of happiness as they are taking place. They tend to flood my senses, and I usually enjoy them in retrospect. But today, the bliss of being back at Caramoor with Béné, greeting my beloved friends Ellie Murphy and Tim Coffee (administrators for the project), and seeing the faces of the five artists we chose for this year’s Vocal Rising Stars gave me a hit of euphoria. And I was wise enough to know it. (Though I did not clap my hands in rhythm to show it.)
Choosing singers for this project is a delicate operation. Béné and I gravitate to artists whose work has intrigued us during recent seasons, or singers and pianists recommended by colleagues. Even if we’ve never made music with them before, we prefer to know a bit about everyone in advance—Caramoor is an intense experience, at the end of which we’re presenting them in a New York recital. We have to know they’ll be ready for that kind of scrutiny.
This year, my ties to each of the singers combine intimacy and collegial formality in varying proportions. I’m probably closest to Sophia Baete, who has done three other projects with me recently, and with whom I have shared some great musical moments and some great laughs too. Tenor Scott Rubén La Marca is fairly new in my life; his late voice teacher, Marlena Malas, introduced us, and we appear to be at the beginning of a very interesting friendship. This is our first time working together, and we’re getting a crash course in our shared enthusiasms and our shared anxieties. First time, too, working with soprano Shan Hai. Having met her through her boyfriend, Philip Stoddard, one of my dearest friends, we are now embarked on forging an artistic partnership of our own—though Philip’s spirit still hovers around us.
I had not seen our baritone, Michael Hawk, since June of 2017, when he was in one of my favorite concerts at Wolf Trap. He was a big part of the magic of that project. Since then our contact has been extremely sporadic, but we have always opened our hearts to one another—lightning flashes of intimate communion. Today, in the space of a 90-second walk from the Music Room to the lunchroom, I got quite an earful about the last seven years of his life. Let’s say a lot has gone on, and let’s add that I have missed Michael.
You’d think that I would have had the strongest contact with our student pianist, Amber Scherer, but she floated in and out of her perch at the second Steinway today so often that I couldn’t quite lock into her energy. Well, we have the rest of the week.
Did the euphoria last all day? Don’t be silly—of course not. Getting a song from its first reading to where it needs to be by performance day is hard  work. Sometimes Béné and I can explain what we want, but words aren’t always enough for stylistic issues, creating atmosphere, releasing the magic of a song. These are matters of the soul. Thank God for all the beautiful souls in the room.

PICTURED: Soprano Shan Hai, with Tim Coffey (aka Mr. Coffee) in the background. At teatime. 

author: Steven Blier

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Called “the coolest dude in town” by Opera News, master collaborative pianist and coach Steven Blier is the co-founder and artistic director of New York Festival of Song. Here on No Song is Safe From Us, Steven blogs about the NYFOS Emerging Artist residencies, writes the engaging and erudite program notes for our Mainstage concerts, and has contributed many Song of the Day entries.


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