Thursday, March 29, 2012

Collaborative Works Festival

Today is an extremely exciting day for my colleagues at Collaborative Arts Institute of Chicago and I, as tonight is the very first concert of our first ever Collaborative Works Festival - our new, annual Festival devoted to the art of song and vocal chamber music.  My colleagues at CAIC and I have actually been dreaming of this Festival since 2005, long before CAIC as an organization was even an idea.  We have had this vision of building a showcase for the art of song and promoting this incredibly rich repertoire that we are so passionate about - from that vision, CAIC was born, and now, the pinnacle of that vision - the Collaborative Works Festival, is about to begin.  Below, you can read more about my thoughts on our vision for this annual series of concerts in my Artistic Director's note reprinted from this weekend's program.  Tonight is a major milestone for us at CAIC, and there will be much to celebrate.

Unfortunately, the life of the traveling artist forces one to miss many important milestones - it's the one aspect of this life in music that I find most difficult.  Tonight is one of those nights in which I have wished in vain that I could clone myself or divide myself in two, and somehow pull off the impossible feat of being able to be in two places at once.  When the opportunity arose to be able to present Martin Katz and Jesse Blumberg as our inaugural festival artists, we at CAIC knew that this was not a chance to be missed. Unfortunately, though, due to the complexity of calendars, I wasn't able to coordinate my own schedule to match with theirs in order to be there for this momentous event.  So, while I will be singing Bach with David Robertson and the Saint Louis Symphony this weekend, Jesse and Martin will be launching this Festival which has become so close to my heart and has become one of my primary passions.  My heart is with them and my colleagues at CAIC this weekend, and I am forever grateful for their integral part in getting this vision of ours off the ground in such classy and spectacular style.  

Tickets are still available for both concerts of the Festival, which are both at the the Cindy Pritzker Auditorium at the Harold Washington Library in downtown Chicago, and there are still spaces available for tomorrow night's Master Class on Schubert songs with Martin Katz, which will be held at the Pianoforte Salon of the FIne Arts Building on Michigan Avenue.  If you are in Chicago, please be sure to catch both of these amazing artists perform these all too rarely performed masterpieces, and celebrate the launch of this new Chicago tradition with us.  I will be celebrating with you all in spirit.


The simple act of a human voice telling a story through song has a way of piercing to the core of our hearts, inciting reactions from laughter to tears. Something aboutadding music to text makes the story a universal one: Music's universal language draws us together, allowing us to hear someone sing their story and feel, "Oh my gosh - that's me...I've lived that, too..."

While the grand forms of musical theater and opera are incredibly powerful and moving, they can feel like blockbuster movies, sweeping up their audience with the staggering weight and momentum of the many dramatic elements involved: orchestras, soloists, choruses, sets, costumes, wigs, make-up, imaginary fourth walls, and gigantic theaters make for a big show. When it comes to songs, there are only the performers and the audience, and the atmosphere created is one of direct communication and personal expression. For me, a song is a special type of conversation that gives me the opportunity to see inside the performers' heart and soul. Because of its direct nature, the art song has an unlimited potential for real vulnerability and intimacy in the relationship created between performers and audience.

As powerful as the song is, it is an art form in peril. There are so few that present performances of song, and even fewer that seek to preserve the art form and cultivate an audience for it. Part of the mission of Collaborative Arts Institute of Chicago is to promote the art of song and vocal chamber music. It is our passion for this niche of the vocal repertoire that inspired Shannon, Nicholas, and me to pursue lives in music. We have experienced the transforming power of song as both performers and as listeners, and our lives have been forever changed for it. CAIC has created the Collaborative Works Festival to be Chicago's showcase for this repertoire, and we are excited to be pursuing this part of our mission with such fervor. This music is too powerful to be ignored or forgotten, to be left unplayed and unsung. It is music that is truly for everyone, and it should be enjoyed by all. It just needs more opportunities to shine!

I cannot imagine a more fitting way to kick off this annual Festival than with performances of Franz Schubert's song cycles. Schubert truly is the 'father of the German Lied', and his virtuosic song settings have inspired song composers of every generation and every nationality. This combination of performers is perfectly apt, as well. Martin Katz has mentored countless musicians in the performance and study of song, as well has having accompanied some of the world's most famous singers for nearly half a century. Jesse Blumberg has established himself as a leader of his generation in championing the art of song, both as a performer and a presenter; in 2007 Jesse founded the Five Boroughs Music Festival in New York City, which has become impressive platform for song and chamber music.

I sincerely hope you enjoy the 2012 Collaborative Works Festival's 'Epic Journeys'. We're excited to have you with us on the beginning of our own epic journey, as we inaugurate a new Chicago tradition!

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

A Passion for the Passions

I've been graciously invited to be a new regular contributor at the classical music blog, The Ecstatic Living Room.  Below is a preview of my first post there, about Bach's Passions.  If you enjoy the preview, please feel free to check out the rest of the post at the Ecstatic Living Room's site.  Also, take a moment to browse through some of my other colleagues' posts there.  It'll be a fun time, I guarantee it...


Mardi Gras, or Fat Tuesday, just passed by us, so for much of the world, now that the copious alcohol consumption, Paczki eating, parading, and bead-necklace tossing is over, and Guys/Girls Gone Wild has enough flasher footage to finish their 19th installment in their series, Lent has begun. I was raised Greek Orthodox, and as a result, our Easter often tends to fall at a slightly different time each year, so I actually wasn’t raised with the tradition of Fat Tuesday. Instead, while the ideas behind the holidays are the same, Lent for us always began on Clean Monday – which entailed a day of strict fasting, and was much less fun than Mardi Gras, I assure you.
On the few times my mother insisted that we strictly fast in observance of Clean Monday, it was explained to my younger brother and I that the reason for enduring the throbbing headaches caused by our hunger pains was so that we could understand the sacrifice that Jesus made for our sins by allowing himself to be crucified. It was then explained to us that the idea of giving something up for Lent continues the meditation on this particular theme. Of course, this was lost on me as a child, and I just continued to whine about not being able to eat Chicken McNuggets for 40 more days.
For singers, the Lenten and Easter season (which I can hardly believe has arrived already – where does the time go?) proves to be a time in which there is a lot of extra work singing about the Passion of Jesus Christ, as well as the Easter Story in general. The pieces that seem to get the most traction around this time of year are Bach’s two Passions. While it is pretty clear that he wrote or at least drafted four versions of the Passion story (one for each gospel – Matthew, Mark, Luke and John), only two seem to have survived in a complete form to the present day: the Passions according to St. Matthew and to St. John. The way Bach conceived of both pieces is pretty extraordinary, and while they are clearly pieces of sacred church music that was not meant to be staged, both works are quite theatrical in scope. Each piece has a narrator – the Evangelist – who is like the voice of an angel, narrating the action of the story in a very simple, speech-like musical form called recitative. A baritone plays the role of Jesus in these recitatives in both pieces, and the chorus members play the other various characters in the story through their many choruses. Yet, for me, what are most compelling about both passions are the four soloists (a soprano, an alto, a tenor, and a bass) who comment on the action of the story as timeless, human observers with haunting and meditative arias. This story is one that many have heard told yearly in church – Jesus was arrested and tried under Pontius Pilate, sacrificed himself for our sins, was crucified, and was buried. The commentary of the soloists, though, is heartbreaking – relating the story to us as believers, meditating on what the various aspects of the story mean. It’s like listening to sermonizing on the lessons of the Gospel, but in a way that actually compels us to listen, and can actually move our hearts — unlike when we tune out the priest’s homily in church, patiently waiting for the offering tray to be passed our way and the post-church-service fellowship hour to begin...  (read more)