Vocal Rising Stars at Caramoor, fifth season, day one: RELIEF
I work very hard in advance of our annual week-long residency at Caramoor to get everything just right. I need a sweet-tempered, housebroken quartet who also happen to be great singers; a worthy program; inspiring guest teachers. It’s good if I also get a chance to practice the music and work on the poems before I start rehearsing (just to keep up appearances), and it’s a plus if I’ve finished the notes and translations by Sunday night (which I did). On top of my usual knee-jerk anxieties I was dealing with a few unpredictable wild-cards. You see, the program is devoted to Scandinavian song and while I have some experience with Norwegian, Swedish, and Danish I do not speak them. Nor does my cast. Two of my singers are New York-based, and I knew they’d done some prep work in February, but the other two were coming in from Seattle and I didn’t really know what they’d be bringing to the table.
So I hired one of the world’s pre-eminent experts in Nordic song to help us at the beginning of the week—a guy named John Lidal to whom I have sent singers in the past, but never met face to face. He was lovely to deal with by email but I irrationally feared he might be a diva to work with.
I needn’t have been so nervous about it all. All the singers had studied hard; Michael Barrett and I were bowled over by the sheer power and beauty of their voices. Julia Bullock, Sarah Larsen, Theo Lebow, and Toby Greenhalgh made good on the title of the Caramoor program—Vocal Rising Stars—and broke my heart at seven-minute intervals. I can’t wait to get back to work with them tomorrow. (Just for the record: Sarah and Theo knew their stuff cold.)
But I already knew my cast. The discovery of the day was John Lidal, a tall, gentle, handsome Norwegian man who brought an undreamt-of expertise, sensitivity, patience, and intelligence to the rehearsal. It’s always daunting to hand your songs over to another guy—frankly, it feels a bit illicit. John gained my trust instantly—our very first conversation involved a passionate analysis of the Danish “D”—“Oh, that terrible sound—no, you’re right, you absolutely can’t sing it the way you’d speak it. Use a voiced ‘th.’” This might not seem like sweet talk to you, but it was music to my ears. I’d been fretting over that gutteral, thick-tongued choker for the last eight days and John swept the problem away like an industrial Hoover. It was the first of his many acts of grace. (Another example: after Toby finished singing Grieg’s ‘Våren,” John waited a moment and said, “I must say, your Norwegian is perfect. Like a native.”)
Tomorrow we’ll do the whole program for him in order. This is a little like showing the doctor where it hurts. But it’ll cure our ills, I know it.