Welcome to the first installment of Listening Room! After nearly three decades of performing and recording 20th/21st Century Music, I wanted to share some perspectives about the music for which I've served as an advocate from my point of view as an interpreter.
When asked about my life as a musician, and how all of this came about, I often find myself talking about the songs of Charles Ives. I can't remember why I first came across them (it seems like it must have been a music history class assignment, since in the early 1980's very few voice teachers were keen on introducing their students to this repertoire) but I when I heard them, they changed my life. Why? I had never imagined that memories could be transformed into perfect worlds of song, as Ives does so beautifully. I was captivated by the layers of sound, which evoked a shared American iconography, but which eschewed nostalgia, through subtle musical asymmetries and ear-tugging dissonances. Ives' description of his songs, in the Postface to 114 Songs - self-effacing, humorous, courageous, and firmly egalitarian - only deepened my curiosity. I have performed - and loved - the songs of Charles Ives for over three decades, most often with my wonderful colleague, the extraordinary American pianist Donald Berman. The tracks below are taken from our 2008 CD "The Light that is Felt" Songs of Charles Ives on New World.
I had the rare privilege of working with the American soprano Helen Boatwright (a distinguished interpreter of Ives' songs) in those early days, in a summer program in Vevey, Switzerland. It was my first time out of the United States, and I remember the experience vividly. One of my memories is of Helen telling me that I ought to pay more attention to standard repertoire because "You can't make a living by singing Charles Ives!" I suppose the lesson here is that, after all, love is blind.
I was introduced to the music of Claude Vivier through my friends at the ASKO/Schoenberg Ensemble in the mid 1990's. Although I did not know it at the time, it was the beginning of a ten year project in which we worked together on performances Vivier's strange and beautiful music for voice and ensemble. These days, Vivier's music isbetter known; his works are found in the seasons of the more adventurous major orchestras and ensembles worldwide. In those days, though, that was not the case. We worked from manuscript facsimile and found our way into this incredible, terrifying and ecstatic world. Vivier's writing for voice is wide ranging. It vacillates between ravishing phrases of exquisite simplicity (with treacherously long span), extended vocal techniques that evoke an ancient, exotic and completely imaginary world, and climactic passages of ecstasy and boundlessness. His music is a journey worth taking and one that I found infinitely rewarding and for which I remain profoundly grateful.
Bouchara is one of my favorite works. Written for soprano and medium size ensemble, its intimate introduction belies the intensity that is to come. Vivier referred to it as "an endless love song"; it is music that is increasingly rhapsodic through its fourteen minute duration. But what are the words? None from this world; it is set to one of Vivier's invented languages, in which we can identify two names "Tazio" and "Marco". However the work reflects on Vivier's life and art, I can say that from the point of view of the interpreter, it is thrilling to sing. One could not say that it is written with comfort in mind (the singer has no rests for the entire work) but, as in all of Vivier's music for voice, is about exploring the limits of expression and endurance - and imagining the music that lies beyond both.