NYFOS@North Fork 2022: Day 1

Written by Steven Blier

Artistic Director, NYFOS

In category: Blier's Blog

Published August 23, 2022

Since the pandemic I have come to place a high value on two contradictory things; my alone time, and my musical communion with colleagues. The annual NYFOS@North Fork concert comes at the end of August, just when my need for alone time is at its most intense. I yearn to spend my time reading, napping, and consuming quarts of gazpacho. But it is also the moment when most singers have a gap in their schedule, and when the idea of spending a calm week in the beauty of a seaside town has a special appeal. In addition, the audience out here clamors for these concerts—since 2013 NYFOS@North Fork is one of the big events of the season.

Ah, well. Alone time can wait. Clearly it’s time to make some music. 

Before Covid, I used to invite a quartet of singers out for the show. But after the gap year of 2020, I’ve kept it to two—it allows me a deeper experience with each of the singers. I had my usual trepidations: last year, Nicoletta Berry and Sam Kidd’s concert of French songs killed it, setting a high bar for this year’s venture. Could we ever match that elegance, that musical classiness? I lucked out: I engaged the tenor César Parreño for an all-Latin American program, and he suggested the Bolivian soprano Shelén Hughes as his co-star. They each had one week free—the week I needed—and we sealed the deal. 

There was one catch: I had never met or heard Shelén. I listened to a couple of clips on YouTube in which she sounded just fine, but otherwise she was an unknown quantity. I took her on faith for several reasons: César was enthusiastic, and I trust him implicitly; my communications with Shelén showed her to be a woman of superlative sensitivity and intelligence; and she had passed muster with my colleagues at Juilliard, where she will be starting the high-level Artist Diploma program next month. That audition is one of the most rigorous in the country, and I had every reason to believe Shelén was an artist of interest.

Of course, she is all of that, and more. She’s got a sound I would describe as “adorable,” she’s a fine musician, her tuning is perfect, and she’s a dream colleague. Both of us were a little gingerly with each other today, but she released more and more heat as the afternoon progressed (either fire or warmth as the songs needed)—and I can tell there’s a lot more to come. She’s a beautiful song partner.

As for César, he is turning into a force-of nature, take-no-hostages singer. I’ve known him for four years now, and watched him develop from a promising, somewhat naive neophyte into a powerhouse performer with an irresistiblesound. I have come to count on César for his warm, generous way with a song and his deep intuition about music. After a summer in Aspen, his voice has taken on a bit more size, and when he was singing in close harmony with Shelén in a Cuban duet, he was overpowering her a bit. Her line was low in her range, his somewhat high. I try to exercise tact—it’s the first day and I don’t want to suppress the energy in the room. “César, let Shelén have the melody, ok, queridoI?” We do the song again. Still imbalanced. “César, leave Shelén a little….more space, ok?” Finally, after the third time, I said, “César, don’t sing so damned loud!” “Ohhh, that’s what you meant….! OK!” Subtlety is great, but sometimes you just have to get to the point. 

Can’t wait for tomorrow.

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 contributes frequently to Song of the Day.

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