I'm headed to Australia next week for the Australian Festival of Chamber Music in Townsville, QLD. I was recently sent a series of questions to answer for festival's e-newsletter, so I thought I'd share my answers here as well.
What are you looking forward to about AFCM 2014?
--I'm looking forward to so many things about AFCM 2014: returning to beautiful Townsville, hiking up Castle Hill a few times, and hopefully fitting in a bit of sightseeing. I'm excited to reunite with old colleagues and friends, and make some new ones. I'm also looking forward to enjoying some Vegemite on my toast in the mornings -- I really do like the stuff, though I only seem to crave it when I'm in Australia. Oh yeah, the MUSIC! It really is a special kind of gratification and excitement to give so many performances in a short period -- often one is still buzzing from the previous night's concert while being excited about tonight's concert. One's head spins, and the days fly by because they're so action packed.
When was the last time you were in Australia?
--In November of 2011, when I sang at the Huntington Estate Music Festival in Mudgee.
What are some of your recent performance highlights?
--This past May I made my Carnegie Hall debut singing the bass arias in the St. Matthew Passion with the Oratorio Society of New York. I've also been singing a lot of Charles Ives songs in my recitals this past season, in preparation for recording an album in the near future. He is such a unique composer -- one of my favorites -- and I'm really looking forward to singing some of his songs at the festival.
When did you start singing the Eight Songs for a Mad King?
--I first performed the Eight Songs for a Mad King in 2010 with the Los Angeles Philharmonic. I hesitated for a while before accepting that engagement because the piece is so freakishly demanding -- to the point of being potentially dangerous to sing! -- and I also wasn't enjoying listening to any recordings of it. But so many of my friends who had either performed the piece or seen it in person said that it was one of the most powerful concert experiences they'd ever had, so I decided to take it on. It's now it's one of my favorite pieces to perform.
What inspired you to start singing?
--From my early childhood, I obsessively sang along with the record player in the privacy of my bedroom -- I would press my ear to the speaker and try to make my voice sound exactly like whoever was on the recording. (No classical music whatsoever, but stuff like the Beatles, Elvis, U2, Linda Ronstadt, The Police, Johnny Cash, the Jesus Christ Superstar soundtrack, Talking Heads, AC/DC, etc.). It never occurred to me to sing in public until my mid-teens when I saw my high school's production of West Side Story. I thought it looked like fun, and that inspired me to take the first steps toward bringing my singing out of the bedroom.
Where are you based?
--I live on the island of Manhattan.
Posted on 07/18/2014 | Permalink
In the past few weeks I've had the pleasure of singing in two of my hometown's most beautiful venues. Filling in on short notice, I sang Bach's St. Matthew Passion in Carnegie Hall with the Oratorio Society of New York. The last time I performed this piece in town was with the NY Collegium in a fun and controversial one-voice-per-part version (singing Jesus, two arias, and all the choruses) conducted by Andrew Parrott. So this was different. It was also my solo debut in the big hall at Carnegie. Unfortunately, because of the short notice, I only had about 24 hours to enjoy replying "Carnegie Hall" when asked where I was singing next, and nobody asked.
The obligatory pic from the stage.
The other venue was Bargemusic, the legendary floating (and rocking and bobbing and swaying) concert hall that is moored in Brooklyn near the base of the Brooklyn Bridge. It's indescribably beautiful, so just take in this photo:
I sang David Del Tredici's Love Addiction, a 40 minute song cycle that sets poems by John Kelly. What a glorious piece! The poems are so touchingly personal, direct, and conversational that the audience needed no printed texts, and they are set to music that overflows with DDT's characteristic lush and melodious invention.
Poet, composer/pianist, singer (photo by Joel Conarroe).
I put more thought than usual into figuring out how to dress comfortably for the performance because singing this piece is kind of like vocal Crossfit -- a fearsome test of a singer's range, stamina, agility, and power. It's no casual stroll for the pianist either. But it was worth all the sweat -- even though I generally strive to 'hide the work' and make things appear as effortless as possible, in these songs I think the sense that the musicians are rising to an extraordinary physical challenge is a big part of what grabs the audience, many of whom seemed to respond to the piece in a very personal way that was gratifying to see and be a part of. I hope to sing this piece many more times in the future.
This is what it feels like to sing Love Addiction.
Hello from Poughkeepsie, where tonight I'm appearing on Vassar's Modfest series, singing an exciting scene from Jonathan Chenette's opera, Eric Hermannson's Soul, which is based on a Willa Cather short story. It reminds me in many ways of one of my favorite movies, There Will Be Blood.
I took an introductory composition class from Jon at Grinnell, and sang my first solo with a professional orchestra (the Des Monies Symphony!) in a beautiful piece he wrote called Broken Ground, a piece that may also have been my very first new music experience. I remember being terrified at the prospect of learning something without having a recording to listen to.
Speaking of recordings, I've released a new one.
I haven't done a caroling gig in a long time, but this one was pretty special.
At first we stood on the porch and in the foyer, greeting guests with song as they entered. Then we moved to the "Brown Room" and sang some more, but it was so lively that it was probably hard to hear us. After a while, we took a break. I sampled some ham (country and city), slurped an oyster and a few fish eggs, washing it all down with some deceptively ethereal egg nog. When it was time for dessert, we went to the "Summer House" (where there seemed to be plates of surreally beautiful cookies on every flat surface) and led a singalong around the piano. Guests were provided with these amazing caroling books -- amazing because 1) I've rarely seen a score engraved with such clarity and care and 2) there were LINER NOTES about each carol and 3) the egg nog recipe was printed in the back!