the art of art song

Which was also Barbara Bonney’s masterclass at the NEC.
My favorite quote of the evening: “there’re about 7 breaths missing!”

a very interesting experience. Think i sorted out the hurdle of art songs. and the fact that my opinion can be very biased and based on what i “hear”, or more specifically what i can *only* hear. Let’s have a quick run-down the list before going into details, but generally speaking, it’s getting clearer now why lieder are such a hurdle for myself.

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tchaikovsky piano concerto #1 @ NEC

Starting out niiice week of music with Tchaikovsky’s piano concerto. Actually they also played Beethoven’s symphony #1 but must admit i completely unfamiliar with it to say much.. but knowing lots of duet piano with woodwinds, of course first row side balcony is the place to be:


So, i must admit somehow I couldn’t hear the soft piano playing bit (hence shaping of the phrases) very well, not sure if it’s because i too close to side violins.. so perhaps wait a bit for them to upload the performance and have a listen to the “real” recording to get the impression… so besides a note of how superbly nice it is to be back again in such a concert hall and have access to this quality of music for free, i’ll offer instead Martha Argerich for discussion! And promptly, we’re going to start with duet:

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la clemenza di tito @ NEC

one full year after the smashing success of Orfeo ed Euridice, the NEC presented another favorite white-shirt opera to the near full house: Mozart’s last opera La Clemenza di Tito.  I was a little worried upon learning of the presence of “narrators”.  My only guess for having these is to reduce the amount of text the NEC students/singers have to memorize so they can focus on their arias?  In contrast to the last (painful-for-td) narration event from high podium, the female narrative voice to my right was JUST right in dramatic intensity (I very impressed actually), so for the most part it worked out just great.  That said, I enjoyed the finale of Act 1 and whole Act 2 much more for several reasons:  the orchestra seemed to come more alive and there was much more interaction/recitatives instead of narration.  The problem with jumping right into an aria after “attempting to act” the part while someone else narrated is that the flow of thought/movement is chopped up and, to my perception, affected how the arias were delivered, i.e., in academic context vs as part of a flowing/developing story line…

td's absolute non-musical Parto-start chart

td’s musical-clueless Parto chart

So, several points to cover: the “staging/setting”, the orchestra, and the singers. First up, orchestra. Based on experience from last year, i was VERY looking forward to hearing the music under direction of Stephen Lord. Same as last year and through this night, i quite convinced he can get the orchestra to do EXACTLY what he wants, which brings us to the overture + accompaniment during “come ti piace imponi” (link is to my fav version from Madrid of course :-)), and especially the first 20sec of “Parto”, in all cases I thought the orchestra was too timid (??).. In fact, was so puzzled by how “Parto” started, i went back to reliable youtube and listen to some 30 various versions and have now come up with a 2×2 checkbox of how conductor/singer choose to do this by intention (see left).  And example of what I mean (focus on only the first 20sec, though listening to rest is entirely recommended and optional): (1)=the only way i thought it should be 😉

clip1b (<– in fact i once had a discussion w/ DTO over this version, i thought sword coming out at the end, she thought it all love, interesting how 3 years later it still goes in this box for me), (2): clip2a, clip2b, clip2c, (3): clip3a (or 1..), (4): clip4a, clip4b (check out the suit+tie while you’re at it..), clip4c, clip4d (or 2d?)… (oh wow, i found a 5th category: clip5). anyway, enough clips, you got the idea. Not so much in (3), apparently (1) is also rare.. but equal distribution between 2 and 4. Especially for 4 when done intentionally, it really brings out the uncertainty in Sesto… So, back to this NEC performance, the orchestra starts VERY slow and timid (intentionally), then Sesto entered.. somewhere i not quite sure, i’d put it in category (4) though not sure if that’s HER intention.. At first i thought it was the orchestra not supporting enough, though plenty of clips on (2) and (4) has proven otherwise.. Why so much focus on this? it’s the most important moment for Sesto after all, and when expressed well in music you can understand better Sesto’s state of mind.. otherwise one is sort of sitting in a limbo waiting to find out which Sesto will show up during the burning session..

So, to the singers. Starting with castle burning session, actually here is when i thought the mezzo began to express very well the anguish, torment, along with SUPERB support from the orchestra. MUCH BETTER than the hammock-soothing-swinging version heard last year in church. I think this is also when she (=mezzo=Sesto) had more extended recitative, hence the drastic increase in intensity/mood/expression. By the time “Deh per questo instanto solo” came around, the tissues came out in heaps, might have even heard couple people sniffing in the back. VERY MOVING, in part also due to the great body positioning/acting. Actually there’s not that much acting going on but rather standing at angles, staring, glancing, gesturing with hands in response to passionate narration to my right (I’m fine with it, took some time to get used to, but better smaller meaningful gestures than grand overacting). But for Sesto’s last aria, the full recit between that built up the intensity and capped by Tito swiping off Sesto’s pleading hand as (s)he fell face-first to the ground. From here, heart-aching music picked up with Sesto delivering last words from four feet. truly tear inducing. SUPERB singing. BRAVA (ps- Purity once had a very nice and detailed post on this aria, something related to malt or marmite methinks..)

Next up, Vitellia. If there’s a staging anywhere near with her in this role, i’ll show up! of all singers this night, she was the best in expressing full intention/emotion during recitatives. very nice shaping of phrases with varying the voice intensity (not so much pianissimo but everything from p to fff she had at her disposal and used well.) She also acted the most (again to great narration on right ear) beginning with spinning Sesto by the nose to regretful “non piu di fiori” (<– my fav YT version for listening while i continue typing..) As always, one wonders how the soprano will handle the low passage here. absolute no problem, all went very well with relative ease, along with SUPERB clarinet! he also got huge applause at the end.

Tito: he has quite more recit it seems, i really enjoyed how he expressed emotion during these passage. none of the pouting i dread, true expression in recit, yay! To say i don't normally pay attention to Tito in various already-seen recordings in an understatement :-). Only image i always have is first Barbara Bonney lying flat on floor bowing, followed by him grabbing her hand heading directly for the bed in super-crazed fixated eyes followed by cuddling on her lap.. singing-wise, he has a nice voice, but i’ll have to listen more/again coz my (wrong?) impression was that somehow the music was always a bit “truncated”, i.e., instead of shaping the note/words/phrase, sometimes the note+word is just reached and stopped (?)…

Not so much opinion on Servillia and Publio, except to now realize how small the part of the bass is… But for some reason, i have quite little opinion for Annio, not sure what that means.. except the duo with Sesto was such a rush starting with recit, as if they just wanted the whole thing to be over with. But this is generally true as well in many performances i find, where if you blink you might just miss the whole scene! In fact a quick tally on YT yields nominal time of 1.25sec with both recit + duo included! (ex: Otter+Connoly, Garanca+Lindsey(<– actually i really like this one too, even in short time they somehow expressed everything very nicely). This is what happened i suspect if your first ever clemenza di tito is salzburg2003, coming in at a RECORD clock time of FOURTY-FOUR second of recit followed by SIXTY-THREE sec of duet (pardon the yelling, amazingly long timing for expressing music!!)

Well this post is getting quite long in rambling fashion.. but a few more words about orchestra. I LOOOOVE how Stephen Lord can command the orchestra to do what he wants. Some accompaniment with singing was incredible (Deh per questo, transition to choral part right after Sesto was arrested (true funeral mood, quite amazing), Deh, se piacer me vuoi, can’t remember now but pretty much the whole Act 2 + elsewhere except overture/here/there which i already mentioned..) Anyhow, to quickly wrap up as bed-time is 1hr ago, the NEC is making the recording available as always, here’s the link for you to sample: . Also included is the curtain call, well deserved roar, i first switched on camera to snap the usual shot but roar = video instead :-). VERY MUCH looking forward to what they’ll roll out next year!

(kernel) panic attack

"spring" view outside window yesterday

“spring” view outside window yesterday

all is settled. i’ve been checking mail and card charge last month, and already suspected the bayerische staatsoper won’t give me any tix for the harteros+kaufmann show… today they sent confirmation, shows are too much in high demand… On rather very related business, the conference has assigned a time such that FOR SURE i’d miss Nina Stemme’s Marschallin’s monologue if not more, GRRRRR. You know i got tix _not_ just for VK’s take… anyone know if they’d let you in at all if you arrive *late* at the Zürich opernhaus? (while we’re at it, allow me to vent: to all organizers of conferences (and may be weddings :-D), i’d really love it if you just hold it in a MAJOR city with BIG airport, not on some countryside remote towns.. may be it works for people from europe, but from USA, you arrive after very long hours with many connections, already pooped from jet-lag, then have to sort out trains + buses in foreign country for few more hours to some damn resorts… and yes, at (*&#%# resort, i have been assigned exact date of Der R’s performance, at an exact time when i should be heading for the train to Zürich, ggggggggggrrrrrrrrrrr)

ok, i nearly done ranting. in term of priorities, i’ve never put opera above work before… but it’s sooo tempting… but it’s work, c.a.n.’.t. s.a.c.r.i.f.i.c.e…. (still have a few months to internally discuss with double self!!)

Mendelssohn's violin concerto @ NEC

Mendelssohn’s violin concerto @ NEC

ok, other than that, the week has been extremely productive (aside from the daily frantic kernel panic crashes… the mac is now in its hospital, i back to ubuntu for a few days…) Last week, i did trek across the river in quite crappy weather for this very very nice Mendelssohn’s violin concerto at the NEC, suuuuch great fun. The first movement somehow seemed a bit disconnected, not sure why… but this must be the first time i realized there has to be some connection between the soloist’s music and the orchestra’s, shouldn’t there be?
Anywho, it wasn’t soo evident until the transition into the 2nd movement. And by the 3rd, the soloist yoyo-ingly tossed a little tune to the orchestra to have it swinging fully back, the whole show rocks. loads of little chase, give and take, giggles, and the final run had me truly grabbing on to the handle bar of the seat. great fun! (and what a HUUUUGE contrast to Tchaikovsky’s 6th symphony that followed, talk about mood issue, one better be stable in the mind listening to that piece. it apparently had also a memory overload effect coz i once during coming out time listened to this piece everyday, serious stuff i tell you 🙂 . there’s also some discussion about the “odd” timing of the valse movement (4/5 or 5/6 or something of that nature…), sounds really good to my ear, but already there you can tell it’s not the valse that provides uplift to the spirit but rather one to tell you to best just drop the shoulders and give up..). Anyhow, here’s a link to the NEC’s concerto performance, they record a lot of theirs live for relistening.

NEC Philharmonia, Biss / Rouse, Mendelssohn, Tchaikovsky.


just putting this up for myself coz am having a very hard time keeping up with this schedule concept these days… some up-coming broadcasts/concerts i’d like to listen/attend:

Fri, 01-Mar-2013, 1700GMT (1200EST) Mozart piano concert 20, link
Tue, 05-Mar-2013, 1900GMT (1400EST) Patrizia Ciofi sings Verdi’s La Traviata, link
Wed, 06-Mar-2013, 1930GMT (1430EST) Academy of Ancient Music plays Bach, link
Thu, 07-Mar-2013, 1830GMT (1330EST) Beethoven Emperor concerto, link
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master class with andreas scholl

i have a countertenor crush… since a while already i’ve admired his voice but let me just say in person (in mountaineering clothing and hiking boots and clear glasses) he’s charmingly cute with an adorable smile and accent…

so, the master class! love. i left in such high spirit, enlightened. given i no expert in singing technique, i won’t comment much about the four students he was giving advice to, but will talk mainly about his fantastically insightful advices/comments as well as how he has shed light into why I enjoyed certain type of singing and certain composers… His main focus was to help the students connecting with the music to bring meanings to what they were singing. Much of the afternoon was to act out how they would react to each situation they’re singing in the face and in body movement: think wave, bowling, taichi, pendulum; fix your eyes on the imaginary object you are telling the audience you see; when a music phrase is repeated, what is the point? You don’t just say “i see her, i see her”, either first to yourself “i Want her”, then to the whole world joyfully “I WANT HER”, or first joyfully “I WANT her”, then internally happy “i want HER”, or some theme and variation…. but whatever theme/variation it is, have an intention.

Much of what he said made so much more sense to me now, from the listening side of thing. As a singer, the key is to know what you want to do, where you want to go with the music. Then you practice on how to get there, how to get the voice to express your direction. Regardless of tempo, even in the fast coloratura section of Handel for example, there needs to be an intention. For this part, he even slowed down the music to help the student interpret the various sections within the coloratura run (don’t we all want coloratura to say something instead of just a tiresome superfast run? (VK did say that in some interviews as well, and from listener point of view, i can only say i agree fully.)) Also, with the ABA format in Handel’s music for example, “B” has illuminated something new (either to yourself the character or the to your audience), and therefore the 2nd “A” has to be sung differently to take into account what you’ve learned in “B”. Often, to my untrained ears, that 2nd “A” sounds too showy or over-the-top ornamented, and I wonder if that’s because the intention is just to show off how fancy one can get with the ornamentation and voice instead of guiding us the listener to understand the situation better.

Another point is the starting of the phrase, it should be as part of a pendulum swing (join the the flow) instead of a jump off a cliff or jump on a table (too abrupt), especially when the intro from instruments help create such a beautiful swing to the mood. Then when the notes go high, there has to be an intention on what you want to say and therefore how you will sing the note (shade, colors, breathing, vowel articulation, etc.) and altogether you have to already aim for it before you get there with the phrasing, otherwise it’s too late. Of course to an outsider like me, a piece of singing can just sounds strange, too loud, too disconnected, too something to the ears… but now to have insights, and especially to see the effect when only a couple of things can smooth out and bring out the music phrases, that’s truly cool! And that of course explains much of why i “like” some singers’ way of expressing music but indifferent to others (all very biased and personal of course, but all has to do with personal feeling of the moment and how you feel the singing can create that stir in you.)

He took some questions at the end, and one has to do with his “repertoire”. He said his focus is mainly on how to express the music, not to fit a certain “style”, where style is what we came up with under some assumed notion of authenticity (for example what a countertenor supposed to sing or supposed to sound like). I think this is why i was drawn to him originally, how he expresses the music, not him, not his voice, nothing else, but what he thinks the music is telling us. Here is also another point, not sure if i understand him completely, but he said with the written music, our job is to try to interpret what the composer meant/thought at the time he composed, not what we think. I think he said this in reference to a Bach’s aria. And this is also where i sorted out why Handel instantly makes sense to me (remember that Alcina trip?) whereas my connection with Bach is not fully developed…

1 student sang a Bach aria (i quite like her voice actually, and i thought she connected the most with the music..) but at one point you also think she’s turning color and running out of breath.. So, Bach, his message (according to Andreas Scholl) is simply to God, his goal was to express in the deepest possible way redemption, devotion, deliverance… and if you’re good enough of a singer, then you can deliver his message (otherwise, too bad, bye). So in that sense, the music can be un-singable at times, no place to breath… Handel, on the other hand, wrote music specifically for the voice, to express the deepest human emotion, so you can do no wrong because he highlights your voice in the best possible way.

oh, one last thing which I thought was reallly cool. I was always puzzled at the rather “lose” pronunciation of certain singers, and yet when the pronunciation are clear, i often find them interfering with the music! in the sense that it becomes a singing speech which is great for native speakers but yet attention to musical phrases was lost. So, in several occasions, Andreas Scholl told the student first to start with just “a” and feel/connect to the music/phrase, then switch to “o” (singing, but just with those vowels), then explained (surely you all know this) that some vowels are easier at higher notes than others, and that a round “o” can help in some situations (so modulation of vowels sometimes are necessary), both to connect the voice with the lower body and make it rounder and larger… then finally he told them to VERY lazily pronounce words along. In several cases, one can clearly hear the letters “p”, “m”, “l” forced the mouth/tongue to close and cut off the music, so there one should give the vowels infront/behind the letter 90% of the time and make the least effort to get barely those letters “p,m,l” in to keep the music phrase flowing. If we now go back to what sometimes I perceive as VK’s way of slurring words across, at least methinks i understand the context now coz I always listened to her music phrasing and wonder how one can do differently unless one intrudes the sharp pronunciation in at expense of music… so there you have it. he left me in such high spirit with answers to several puzzling questions i’ve had for a while :-).

ps- that 2nd clip, whole playlist is here. and just discover my library has it! yes!! what a treat, Antonacci is superb, how have i looked past her singing Handel before??

music into the night

note the absolute lack of content recently :-), i’ve been working very hard, cancelling all traveling plans for thanksgiving and xmas… not sure how yet to survive in the deserted town… but, finally there’s progress! loads of looking at Atlantic to finally realizing it was the Pacific that’s been troubles all along… so, i’ve missed a TON of local performances… but to my delight, the NEC has its own YT channel !! and they’ve uploaded some reallly nice concerts which i’ve heard live and have been re-listening many times this year…

so, here’re a couple of clips to start sunday (very late) evening:

duet mezzo to woodwinds:

duet violin + viola (looove the viola’s sound)

more links of that Orfeo ed Euridice can be seen at the NEC channel, including Amore & duet.  starting the week in style, yay.

orfeo ed euridice @ NEC

had a very very very nice time last night @ the NEC with their lovely semi-staged production of Orfeo ed Euridice. I was gonna write up my impression, but have decided to listen to it again! here it is, music for the evening.

I remember loooooving the orchestra and regretted Euridice’s part was too short… and liking quite a bit the chorus… then onto mezzo + Amore. all-in-all, very very very nice evening. will write later after re-listening (while wrestling Atlantic ocean as always…)

(Wanted to listen first to see if my visual was biasing my impression… and another opportunity to re-listen to the singers…)