NYFOS@Caramoor 2024: Day 5

Written by Steven Blier

Artistic Director, NYFOS

In category: Blier's Blog

Published March 16, 2024

During a five-day residency, Friday can feel a bit sad (“It’s almost over”); it can feel unsettling (“Some things just aren’t ready”); it can be anxiety-producing (“We have four hours to knock this show into shape”). This year we managed to avoid all those negative feelings. We’ve worked methodically, everything has progressed well, and today Realpolitik was our guiding principal at rehearsal. We went through the show top to tail, repeated a few songs, ran a DustBuster over some others, and broke an hour early.  

We started and ended the day with our encore. My plan had always been to use “Stupid Cupid” in that spot, but about a week before we started rehearsals I realized that after high-energy tunes by Sam Cooke, Cole Porter, and John Dankworth we needed something quiet and beautiful to cap the evening. I thought of “Eco,” a heartbreakingly lovely quartet by the Spanish composer Manuel Oltra, but it’s a piece I have programmed often and I couldn’t imagine getting away with it so soon after its most recent outing. Then I thought: Oltra must have written other beautiful vocal quartets, right? An online search revealed that “Eco” had two companion pieces, all with Lorca texts. One of them, “Madrigalillo,” was perfect for us. It uses the voices beautifully, the poem was on-target, and it brought the subject of love back to the essence with a gorgeous drone of “corazón, corazón, corazón”—my heart, my heart, my heart. 

Some of our cast members have had a fair amount of choral experience, others are, shall we say, more personal and creative in their approach to rhythm. The a cappella “Madrigalillo” was mostly fine until the last two pages, at which point it got wobbly. We resolved to come back to it in the afternoon.

And we did, but not in the hall. We take a tea break every day around 4, and before heading back in to finish our work Béné had the cast sing the Oltra quartet on the patio where we have lunch. They were seated around a table where they could see and hear each other with great intimacy. We had an audience of one: Tim Coffey, Caramoor’s artistic coordinator and a guy beloved by every single one of us. For the first time, “Madrigalillo” landed safely at the double bar. We repeated the ending to make sure it was solid, and it still seemed to be holding together. It got the Tim Coffey stamp of approval. 

Béné and I tacitly understood that giving notes at the end of a rehearsal period is a matter of some delicacy. “First, do no harm” is an obvious rule of thumb, but it’s just the beginning. Even more important, anything we say must be (1) useful, (2) unimpeachably true, (3) supportive, and (4) easy to implement. We have to squelch the desire to go into anything that falls outside these guidelines. Once you understand this, you can actually give a fair amount of guidance. But it can’t be abstract, big-issue stuff. It has to break down to, “You did this, and of course it’s fine” (see guideline #3) “but it might be better if you did this instead at this particular spot in this particular song” (see guideline #4). A lot of what we did today was follow-up on various things we’d been putting into place in the last few days, reminders of what they’d accomplished in previous rehearsals. “Take out the portamento in bar 17.” “Sing the top of page four more gently.” “More umlaut on the F-sharp.” 

It was heartening how quickly everything improved today after we weighed in on the songs. This isn’t always the case: some groups in the past have wanted to freeze their performances after Thursday night and do what they were used to. This year we are blessed with a very talented cast, they are serious and hard-working—always looking to up their game— and they are knocking it out of the park. 

Caramoor has asked me in recent years to make sure each of the artists participates in the spoken continuity at the performance. I got the idea of using poetry and aphorism to introduce the songs, and asked all the performers to look for quotes about Cupid, Venus, and love. They came up with some wonderful material, and we finally trotted it out today. Our pianist, Amber Scherer, organized it after we brainstormed at Thursday’s tea-time. I hoped we’d gotten it right, and the muse of poetry granted my wish. Thanks, Erato! And double-thanks to Amber Scherer, who clearly had more functioning brains cells at 10 PM Thursday night than I did. She got it together and it ran like clockwork. 

PICTURED: The Men Of Caramoor: Tim Coffey, Scott Rubén La Marca, and Michael Hawk

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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