Song of the Day: November 30

Paul-Appleby1-PhotoCredit-Frances-Marshall-500x330.jpgThis week we welcome Schubert/Beatles cast member and longtime friend of NYFOS Paul Appleby to Song of the Day!  You can hear him with NYFOS on Tuesday, December 8th at Merkin Concert Hall (Get tickets here).  And don’t miss his solo recital at Carnegie Hall on March 16, 2016 (tickets here)!

from Paul Appleby:

Hello NYFOSNUTS!!! If you are reading this blog, you are my people. NYFOS is not just the names on the masthead or the performers it presents after all, but the community of song aficionados and music lovers who cherish a little clever word painting above most other things in life whether it be found in a sacrosanct Lied or that Argentine canción or “Skylark.” You and me, well, we are a special tribe, the guardians of the hidden-in-plain-sight art of song, and the scholars and evangelists who go forth with joy spreading the gospel according to Blier. You know the one I mean: the one that preaches deep research and open mindedness to the vast, varied, rich panoply of song that we humans have been cobbling together all these millennia. We gather at the shores of the “lakes of delectation” each season to board Mr. Blier’s pleasure cruise of song and sail out into uncharted waters of words and music. I myself am a devoted consumer of “Song of the Day” so I take this responsibility to provide one for you each day this week with no small sense of pride in and duty to my fellow readers.

I figured I would start the week off by offering you a song that means a lot to me personally and which affords me the opportunity to tell you a bit about me and my history with song as a performer. As any good NYFOSer worth her* salt would, I hesitated to include such a DTD (“done to death” for NYFOS neophytes)* chestnut as Beethoven’s “Adelaide” because you are all undoubtedly already terribly familiar with the song. It’s not like Beethoven is in need of a champion, am I right? All the same, this song has special significance to me because it is the one that introduced me to “art song” (whatever that means) and started this whole I-want-to-be-a-classical-singer thing. Let us not forget, every well-known song was to us once an undiscovered country of delight.

In the spring of 1999, I was obsessively and endlessly listening to two albums: Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat with Donny Osmond, and Fritz Wunderlich and Hubert Giesen’s recital album with Lieder of Beethoven, Schubert, and Schumann. Let me explain. After three years of journeyman work in the South Bend School Corporation-wide summer Broadway musical production, I was cast as the eponymous hero of Andrew Lloyd Weber’s Old Testament musical. At 15, it was my time, my moment, and I approached the task with a seriousness and focus that was new to me. I wanted to kill it!

At that age, I was beginning to comprehend not just the depth of technical skill that good singing required, but also the more complicated, sometimes mystical phenomenon of the relationship between a performer and her public. This was a lesson I had begun to learn when my parents had taken my siblings and me to see Donny perform Joseph in Chicago a few years earlier. I had come away from that performance thinking “I can and I need to do that” and “what’s the deal with these middle-aged women freaking out over Donny Osmond?” By the time I was preparing to sing the role myself, I had learned more about Donny’s place in pop-culture and realized that his audiences weren’t thrilled simply by a great performance of Joseph. It was DONNY-OSMOND-AS-JOSEPH.* It was THEIR Donny on stage, that unbelievably cute and talented kid with that big Mormon family, all the campy late-70’s splendor of Donny and Marie, the oxymoronic American fantasy of a sex symbol made of purity and probity. It was the fact that he was still sounding and looking so good in the 90’s that excited them.

This felt unfair. If one (myself, for example) could sing and act the role of Joseph better than Donny Osmond, one should be hired to do it. Of course I didn’t appreciate just how talented and skilled Donny Osmond was as a performer on his own merits, let alone his much more complicated role of ironic-cultural-icon-Donny-Osmond. And I certainly hadn’t considered the business side of show business including such practicalities as marketing and the ticket sales that would increase thanks to Donny’s name-recognition. So I listened to that recording of Joseph with severe critical scrutiny and set out to best Donny at his own game. I may not have his fan base, I told myself, but I will be a better Joseph!

With this goal in mind, I started taking voice lessons. I drove with my learner’s permit and my mom over the Michigan border to Niles to see Mr. Ginter, an adjunct professor of voice at the University of Notre Dame. I told him I wanted him to teach me how to sing the role of Joseph better. He told me he would teach me classical singing and classical music, and that I could apply the technique to any repertory I liked. So we started with some early Italian songs (“Caro mio ben,” of course) and after a few weeks, Mr. Ginter got me started on Schubert and Schumann. I had already studied some French and German at school, and I had taken piano lessons since the age of six, so I was able to learn and enjoy these songs. They were for me, however, merely etudes, technical exercises to prepare me for the big gig. Sensing my lack of commitment, Mr. Ginter assigned me the song “Ich grolle nicht” from Schumann’s song cycle Dichterliebe and sent me home with Fritz Wunderlich’s recording of it. I popped the CD in that night (this is before iTunes libraries) and let the first track start while I looked over the liner notes. It was Beethoven’s “Adelaide,” and within the first 30 seconds I felt as if I had heard this song before. I hadn’t, but there was something so elemental in the chord progression in the piano intro and something so simply lovely in Fritz’s voice singing “Einsam wandelt dein Freund im Frühlingsgarten” that it felt like this song had been played everyday in my crib as a baby and although I had forgotten it in the intervening years, it had always been a part of me. This has happened to me a few times with such songs as Schumann’s “Widmung” or Paul McCartney’s “I Will,” and songs that strike me in that way live close to my heart.

I must have repeated “Adelaide” twenty times that night before jumping ahead to “Ich grolle nicht.” Between Fritz’s overwhelmingly powerful yet beautiful, controlled singing and the self-righteous rage of that song, I was in. By the time I jumped back to Fritz’s perfect recording of “Im wunderschönen Monat Mai” it was over. As when I saw Donny Osmond sing Joseph, I told myself, “I can and need to do that.” With Fritz Wunderlich though, and with this music, I never felt competitive. I was in awe and I was his student. I discovered that the process of learning how to sing like Fritz was far more fun and fulfilling than trying to outdo Donny.

Now coughcough years later I am still learning from and aspiring to the example of Fritz Wunderlich’s singing. I have listened to his “Adelaide” for over half of my life now! And although I know every color and contour of his recording, I hear it every time with new ears and new amazement. The challenge and joy of singing classical vocal repertory is that you the singer are always changing vocally, physically, emotionally and therefore must constantly attend to your technique and your aesthetic approach as your vocal and communicative strengths and weaknesses shift over time. The life-changing moment of hearing this song was not just about the performance, it was the discovery of an art-form and the pleasure of entering into its discipline. As a performer I can tell you that those magical moments in a performance when everything clicks and you are not just impressing but communing with the audience mean a lot and are the prize for all that work. But they are not enough to sustain me through the hardships of a career as a professional musician. The gift that Fritz and Beethoven gave me that day was the passion for the process of music. I was so stunned by the beauty of that recording that I have spent my life since seeking to understand what made it so beautiful and collecting all the discrete bits of knowledge and wisdom about music and performing to better understand and better manifest such beauty myself.

So here is Fritz:

*I like to use a lot of parenthetical statements, hyphenated compound words, referring to God and notions of individuals as females in my blogs, ya dig?

Song of the Day: November 27

Steven Blier (photo Liv Hoffman)NYFOS is celebrating our co-founder Steven Blier this week! In honor of his birthday on November 25, each Song of the Day post this week will be a tribute to him.  Happy Birthday, Steve!  We hope you enjoy these and have a wonderful week!

Today’s post comes from longtime friends of NYFOS composer William Bolcom and singing actress Joan Morris. Joan is up first:

Steve Blier has been our dear friend for so many years.  I first worked with him when he coached me in the role of Polly for The Beggar’s Opera done at the Guthrie Theater in Minneapolis. Steve’s friend Alvin Epstein was running it and asked Bill to complete the score that Bill’s teacher Darius Milhaud had partly arranged from the John Gay 1728 compilation of well-known tunes of his time. (Only one of those tunes shows up in The Threepenny Opera, by the way.)

Steve also coached me for the premiere and recording of Bill’s Fourth Symphony, conducted by Leonard Slatkin, and showed such painstaking patience and support during our work sessions.  I began my career as an actress and began serious musical work later in life so that many things didn’t come easily to me, especially working in so-called ‘serious music.’  Because of Steve refining my abilities and taking care that I honored every musical value, I was able to be confident when I got up in front of the audience.

And Steve was always a pleasure to hang out with.  We shared many silly jokes and gossip and stories during those rehearsals. Much later Bill and I were lucky to work with NYFOS on several occasions, plus I admired and learned a lot from Steve’s elegant program notes on the composers and lyricists they featured.

Here’s Bill:  In 1969 Alvin Epstein, Martha Schlamme, and I began a run of a Kurt Weill evening originally put together by Alvin and the pianist Will Holt.  After our first showing at Yale, we went on to small theaters in New York, and very soon after I met Steve when he took over the piano reins; I was struck by his resourcefulness and strong theatrical sense.  In 1978 when Joan played Polly at the Guthrie, Steve was very much around; our duo Bolcom & Morris was at its hottest then, and not long after NYFOS would be born with the idea of drawing from classical and popular music sources in the same evening.

In retrospect it all seems like a natural growth, but at the time what we did was nothing short of revolutionary.  Both Steve and I pioneered the idea of the pianist speaking to the audience about the songs as we performed them, and Steve’s notes for the NYFOS programs would continue the idea of informing the audience in an engaging way—he is a wonderful writer!

NYFOS’s approach has energized the often-moribund voice recital for so many years, and Joan and I are extremely proud of him.  But more than that, Joan and I sing in chorus when we say, “Love you, Stevie!” and “Happy Birthday!”

Best, Bill & Joan

For one of our favorite people, here are some of our favorite things:

(“Three Penny Things” performed by Bill and Joan)

Song of the Day: November 25

Steven Blier (photo Liv Hoffman)NYFOS is celebrating our co-founder Steven Blier this week! In honor of his birthday on November 25, each Song of the Day post this week will be a tribute to him.  Happy Birthday, Steve!  We hope you enjoy these and have a wonderful week!

Today’s post comes from Steve’s former student and NYFOS artist Hal Cazalet:

My song of the week for Steve is “Till The Clouds Roll By”, music by Jerome Kern and lyrics by P G Wodehouse from the 1917 Broadway musical Oh Boy!

“The Schubert of the American Song” – Steve Blier describing Jerome Kern.

Happy birthday to you, my dear Mr Blier. I wanted to send you a birthday tune I know is close to both of us and that I hope makes your day even more beautiful.

There is something quite wonderful about the impression this music has on our sophisticated ears nearly 100 years on. There seems a bygone innocence in the style and manner, a simple truth in the melody, naivety in the lyric, yet for all its lighthearted charm and fun, there seems something inexplicably moving in its effect. Music that goes to the heart is rather rare in stage musicals today, but it seems the great inaugurators of the American musical, Guy Bolton, Jerome Kern and P G Wodehouse, had the ability to connect with the emotions of their audience without ever seeming to make an effort.

Oh Boy! was one of the Princess Musicals and notably, made a name of Beatrice Lillie who took the roll of Jackie in London production in 1919 following the Broadway transfer. The plot is full of the usual Wodehouse/Bolton antics – Polo Players, a character described as ‘a Dandy’, a befuddled leading man trying to elope with the girl while avoiding her Quaker aunt. All wonderful stuff that is a perfect tonic in the uncertain world we live in today. Strange, and yet heartening to think that when America joined WW1 in April 1917, Oh Boy! was on Broadway and would continue its run for most of that year – just think of the comfort it must have given to the New York spirit back then. George Orwell described the fanciful world of the Princess Musicals as ‘The Garden of Eden’, a haven of escape, delight and joy. I hope, SB, that your day is jam packed with all three. I suppose all honest music moves us because it needs no where to hide.

Happy birthday old horse,
Hal x

I am sending 2 versions. The first is the John McGlinn recording and the second is the original which is so wonderfully audacious!

Song of the Day: November 24

Steven Blier (photo Liv Hoffman)NYFOS is celebrating our co-founder Steven Blier this week! In honor of his birthday on November 25, each Song of the Day post this week will be a tribute to him.  Happy Birthday, Steve!  We hope you enjoy these and have a wonderful week!

Today’s post comes from NYFOS’s co-founder Michael Barrett:

Now that Steve Blier is turning 64, I find myself thinking not so much about Steve’s resilience, his continuing professional productivity, or his unfailing stamina. Those traits all seem miraculous in the face of his fight with FSH Muscular Dystropy, but since I am around him lots, I really just see them as part of Steve’s character and work ethic. But what it is, on his 64th birthday that leaps out to me is Steve’s youthfulness. He’s eager about the future. He revels in discovery. He loves going out to shows in the evening. Is it any wonder his students become his friends and colleagues while they are still in school?

In honor of Steve’s secret to staying “among the very young at heart” is not THAT song, but the last movement of Mahler’s Fourth Symphony. “Himmlische Leben” by Friedrich Rueckert portrays a child’s view of heaven. Heaven is full of fun and games, the best food, the best music. It’s where everything awakes to joy, all in G major. I’m wishing Steve a wonderful birthday, and to his continuing enthusiasms and exuberance.

Here is soprano Edith Mathis singing, accompanied by another guy who hung on to his youthful mojo—Leonard Bernstein. The back-up band is the Vienna Philharmonic.
—Michael Barrett

Song of the Day: November 23

Steven Blier (photo Liv Hoffman)NYFOS is celebrating our co-founder Steven Blier this week! In honor of his birthday on November 25, each Song of the Day post this week will be a tribute to him.  Happy Birthday, Steve!  We hope you enjoy these and have a wonderful week!

Today’s post comes from Steve’s lifelong friend Matthew Epstein:

In May of 1965, Steven Blier and I gave a song recital at the Fieldston School. We were both students there, he a 13 year old, I a venerable 17!

It was my ONLY recital appearance, but it was Steven’s FIRST appearance as a collaborative pianist.

Over fifty years of friendship, I have learned a lot from Steve and I like to think he was a bit influenced by me….

I treasure our friendship and revere his amazing accomplishments.

On that 50 year old program was Handel’s “Where ere you walk”, which pointed my way to five decades of Handel!

I have found a You Tube of Rockwell Blake, singing this piece with an astonishing breath control. He was Jupiter in my 1985 Carnegie Hall concert with Kathleen Battle, Marilyn Horne, and Sam Ramey…..20 years after Fieldston and 30 years ago.

Along with our friendship, what a glorious and memorable life in music Steven and I have shared!!


Handel’s “Wher’er You Walk” from Semele sung live in concert at Carnegie Hall by Rockwell Blake

Song of the Day: November 20

Steven Blier (photo Liv Hoffman)Renata Scotto and Tito Gobbi in today’s Song of the Day from Steven Blier:

I went to the Met yesterday evening. It was part of a new year’s resolution to stay au courant with the current crop of opera singers, and to see more of the new productions in the theater. I was treated to the Rigoletto production set in Rat Pack-era Las Vegas. You know the drill: pole-dancers, fan-dancers, the Countess Ceprano looks like Marilyn Monroe, Gilda’s corpse gets dumped into the trunk of a blue sports car, Rigoletto gets tricked by the “courtiers” by being led to the wrong elevator. The main visual motif is garish neon lighting. I didn’t mind the updating per se, but the performance was logy and aimless, and the plot points weren’t made very clear (Rigoletto says “We’re alone” while there are 40 choristers still onstage). The dark, brooding color of Verdi’s music seemed to be an afterthought to a brash, in-your-face concept. The two really good performances were, alas, in two of the smaller parts: the Sparafucile (a superb basso named Stefan Kocan), and the Act II guard who has one line (Earle Patriarco, who delivered his bit part with clarion force). The rest of singing ranged from uneven to mediocre to distressing—though I liked many things about Pablo Heras-Casado’s conducting. He deserved a better cast.

The theme of the week is comfort, and Italian opera is a kind of home for me. Last night I thought, “Well, they say you can’t go home again.” But YouTube provided a safe haven this morning with two Rigoletto excerpts from Italian television in the late 1950s. VERY old-fashioned, non-HD, from-the-gut performing by two great artists: Renata Scotto and Tito Gobbi. Something about the way they perform the end of Act II reduced me to tears this morning. I had to reassure Jim I was OK as I stared at my computer, weeping. I don’t want to live in the past—but sometimes I have to if I want to get fed properly.

Act II: “Sí, vendetta” with Scotto and Gobbi:

And if you want more: part of the Act I duet with Scotto and Gobbi:

Song of the Day: November 19

Steven Blier (photo Liv Hoffman)Leontyne Price sings Handel in today’s Song of the Day from Steven Blier:

Just before I hit the sack I did a routine check of my email. There I found a note from baritone, friend, and colleague Ricardo Herrera with the subject line “Sad News.” I clicked on it both hurriedly and reluctantly, knowing that it would bear the news of a death. Indeed, he was writing to tell me that Daniel Ferro had died at age 94. Dan was a prominent voice teacher, a guru of bel canto. I played for his voice lessons at Juilliard in the early 1970s, when he taught Neil Shicoff, Alan Titus, and Barbara Hendricks, as well as a who’s who of major singers of the day. He was always proud to have put Evelyn Lear’s shattered voice back together, to have mentored Kathleen Battle, and to have given other teachers like Marlena Malas the technical and aesthetic grounding they needed to start their careers. Later on he was the teacher of Hal Cazalet and John Brancy, some of my most valued colleagues.

He took me under his wing when I was a very, very young spud—a 21-year old kid with a degree in English literature and a lot of moxie. Dan was always teaching me as much as he was teaching the singer. I never went to music school, but playing in Dan’s studio my ears were sharpened to resonance, vowel, phrase, breathing—the technical elements of singing with taste and beauty. Those principles, combined with what I learned from Martha Schlamme and Alvin Epstein about acting and programming, were my true post-graduate degree.

In Dan’s memory, here is Handel’s “Care selve” sung by Leontyne Price. It’s not exactly our contemporary idea of Handel style, but…oh my, what singing. I am sure that Dan is now surrounded by such sounds in his new home, the green, heavenly forest. And in case you think Leontyne’s recorded performance was a fluke of the studio, I am enclosing a live performance, just as perfect. (Maybe even better!)

(live performance with David Garvey, pianist, 1963)

(commercial recording, 1967)