Friday, September 30, 2011

Commercial Carmina

In honor of my post yesterday...

It's not necessarily a car commercial, but it's a commercial, and it has cars...

And one more Carmina commercial for your amusement:

Last night was great fun!  We have two nights left at the Kennedy Center - if you're around DC and want to see it, tickets and concert info are here.

Thursday, September 29, 2011

Carmina, Revisted

A lot of classical musicians roll their eyes when you mention Carmina Burana.  “Oh, it’s so silly!” they say.  When you mention Carmina Burana to someone who isn’t super familiar with classical music, they’ll say, “I’m not sure I know that piece?”  To which musicians always reply, “Oh yes, you do – it’s in, like, every car commercial you’ve ever seen…”

Eight years ago, I was walking down the street in New York City when my cell phone rang.  It was Kim Witman from Wolf Trap Opera who wanted to know if I would be interested in singing Carmina Burana with the National Symphony Orchestra in the Filene Center when I got to Wolf Trap in a few weeks.  The funny thing is, when she called, my knowledge of the piece was limited to the following two facts: The opening movement was in, like, every car commercial; and I would have to sing three high D’s. Aside from that, I really didn’t know anything else about it. 

At our first rehearsal here in DC at the Kennedy Center, I realized that I actually knew more of the piece than I thought I did at the time – I’d heard bits and bobs of it here and there on various recordings and in, yes, car commercials. It occurred to me that the main reason that I wasn’t so familiar with the piece was a result of the car commercial thing – I just assumed it wasn’t “serious” music. But these really beautiful and fascinating moments of music that were new to me kept occurring left and right in rehearsal, and I found myself completely charmed and moved by the piece.

Eight years and many performances later, as I’ve been rehearsing the piece with the NSO again, revisiting this place where I learned this piece this week, I’ve been marveling at how Orff's music hasn’t gotten old for me.  I don’t have much to sing in this piece, so I end up spending most of the concerts listening. After all these times doing it, the In Trutina still makes my eyes water up a little but, the Ego sum abbas still makes me chuckle, and the Blanziflor et Helena still gives me gooseflesh.  It’s just extraordinary music.  I guess that accounts for its popularity.  It’s obvious that the reason it has bled so pervasively throughout our culture is not because it is cheesy, but because it is so extraordinarily exciting and beautiful.

If you are in the DC area, we perform tonight, as well as Friday and Saturday at the Kennedy Center.  More info is here.

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Album One

You’ve probably noticed the ad for my debut solo album on Avie at the top right corner of the blog for the last month or so…the album was released digitally this week (the physical release was a little earlier this month), so I feel it behooves me to post about it for a moment. Both Myra and I are really excited about the album, as it represents not only what was an incredibly important step in our preparation for our Carnegie Hall debut recital last fall, but also the beginning of a new exciting artistic chapter for us. 

Since the album’s release, the most commonly asked question has been “Why Britten?”  The main reason I was drawn to Britten was that over the past few years, between various recitalings and my summers exploring vocal chamber music at Marlboro, I've become increasingly amazed by the power of Britten.  I wrote a bit about my first outing of Winter Words in a small, Midwestern town in the album’s liner notes, and how I was so surprised by the positive impact it had on the audience there.  I learned many valuable lessons from that concert about never underestimating an audience, and how emotionally moving Britten’s music is.  Since that concert, I feel as if I have become a missionary for his music, proselytizing to anyone who will listen.

Back when Myra and I were given the opportunity to perform a debut recital in Carnegie Hall, the big question was: what music do we sing?  Almost immediately, my obsession with Britten and his music took over, and the next thing we knew, we had an entire program that was mostly comprised of his music.  As we dug deeper into these pieces during our rehearsals, we felt that we simply had to record it.  In the process of learning about Britten these past couple of years, we have inevitably become fascinated with other pieces of his music, and are excited to explore more of it in the recording studio as we put together the next album!

You can purchase the album on iTunes here, and (if you are an old-fashioned CD collector, like me) you can order physical copies of the album at here.

We hope you enjoy!

Sunday, September 11, 2011

A Decade

Ten years ago I had just moved to New York City.
Ten years ago I was just beginning a Master’s degree at Manhattan School of Music.
Ten years ago my roommate woke me up saying, “oh my god, you’ve got to see this…”
Ten years ago we sat in our living room together, watching our tv in shock and horror.

We watched as one of the World Trade Center towers smoked and burned.
We watched a second plane fly into the second Twin Tower.
We watched as the towers crumbled before our eyes, crushing the people trapped within, clouds of dust flooding the streets, people running for their lives.

Ten years ago we sat around all day wondering what to do, where to go.
Ten years ago we climbed to the roof of our building with some friends who lived upstairs and looked toward downtown.

We watched the giant, thick tower of endless smoke that was rising into the sky.
We watched fighter jets circle Manhattan in the afternoon sun.
We watched as our silent, empty streets filled with people, forced to walk home from work.

Ten years ago we speculated as to who would have done this.
Ten years ago we wondered why this was happening.
Ten years ago we felt under attack.

Ten years ago our world changed.

Ten years ago, I was stunned at the level of violence and hate humanity was capable of. 
Ten years ago, I also marveled at the beauty and compassion humanity was capable of. 

I watched people holding, comforting each other at candlelit shrines all over New York.
I watched as subway stations became wall-papered with pictures of loved ones.
I watched strangers smile at each other as they walked by on the street.
I watched as people committed random acts of kindness in one of the toughest cities in the world.
I watched as one of the loneliest cities in the world to live in became a community, united and strong.

Now, after a five-year hiatus in Houston, I am a resident of New York City again.
Now, I am working at the opposite end of the country in Los Angeles.
Now, after a decade of desensitizing myself to all that happened, I find myself on the edge of tears as the world reminisces.
Now, I am about to sing my first Mozart Requiem.
Now, I think of all the lives lost on that day and since as I study Mozart’s unfinished music.
Now, I am grateful that I am immersed in a profession that is dedicated to realizing the beauty that humanity is capable of.

Now, as the world marks a decade since September 11, 2001, I find that all I really want to say is this:

I really believe that, all being human, we are all in essence one.

When we hurt each other, we hurt ourselves. 
When we kill each other, we kill ourselves. 

I leave you with this excerpt from Handel’s oratorio, Theodora:

Descend, kind Pity, heavenly guest,
Descend, and fill each human breast with sympathizing woe.

That liberty and peace of mind may sweetly harmonize mankind,
And bless the world below.

Thursday, September 08, 2011

Checking The Sound

One aspect of hopping from one concert hall to another is adjusting to each acoustic once we arrive.  While the technique of sound production remains the same, the sensation of singing can differ vastly between venues.  What I love about sound check rehearsals is that, in addition to being a chance to feel out the sonic space, it's also a chance for us to tweak things a bit in between performances.  Performance always brings out new things that can't occur in the rehearsal room - sound checks allow us to revisit things and see which new things from each performance worked, and which new things didn't.  It keeps things fresh and alive, and it's a chance for the team to reconnect, regroup, and refocus.

Sound checks are also an opportunity for me to play with my are some shots from both Bucharest and Torino...

Our noble Ariodante for this tour, Ann Hallenberg

Ginevra - Roberta Mameli

Dmitry Sinkovsky - Il Complesso Barocco's fearless leader

Dalinda (who is quite mean to me in the opera...) - Ana Quintans (who is incredibly sweet to me in real life!)

Wednesday, September 07, 2011

Wandering Through Bucharest

A few photos I took as I was wandering around Bucharest trying to stay awake for our concert late Sunday night (the show started at's a very strange feeling to begin warming up for a performance at 10:00pm...)

Saturday, September 03, 2011

Happy Labor Day - Take comfort this Labor Day in knowing the pressure to have fun this summer is finally over

Happy Labor Day weekend to all of you back in the US...

Again, I find myself abroad for an American holiday...this time I am in one of the more exotic places I've ever visited: Bucharest, Romania.  We're about to revisit Ariodante in concert at the George Enescu Festival.  Our concert is late tomorrow night here:

It looks really beautiful from the outside, I can't wait to see the inside tomorrow.  I've been really amazed by this place since we landed here this afternoon.  You can really feel that it's a place of transitions - from communist dictatorship to capitalist democracy and from the Middle East to Europe.  As I explored a bit this evening, I walked by countless people smoking hookahs in the midst of European architecture that earned this city the nickname "Le Petit Paris", and by run-down, drab communist-era buildings that stood next-door to beautifully restored neo-classical buildings that housed banks and familiar fast-food chains.  My initial impression is that it's a place that is trying to figure itself out at the same time as it has a very distinct and strong sense of identity.  Culture is so vibrant here - on the way back to my hotel after dinner, I passed a Belgian band giving a concert for people at a street fair near our restaurant; outside the Athenaeum, people were gathering to hear a concert with the Venice Baroque Orchestra; and in the adjacent plaza a documentary about Beethoven's Eroica Symphony was being screened for the crowd gathered there.  I'm starting to wish that we had an extra couple of hours to get to know this place a little better before we leave.

It's funny to think that the summer has already passed us by - it has really flown by for me this year.  I barely feel like I had a chance to register that it was summertime, aside from a few really uncomfortably hot and sticky (and mosquito-ridden) days in Treviso a week and a half ago. But they say that time flies when you're having fun, and I must concede - it's completely true.  I've had an incredible time this summer running from one fantastic musical experience to the next, exploring one new city after the other, and having great times with many friends, both old and new.

I leave you with a few pictures I took of a particularly beautiful Italian sunset in Mondovì the other day.  Some of that fun I've been having is playing around with the various camera apps on my iPhone...