Art Song Societies on the East Coast
By Karen Hoy, Prime Mover of Our Local Cantabile Project
For the past 20 years Art Song Societies have been popping up all around the country and especially on the eastern seaboard. We all enjoy the dramatic emphasis in opera and it is wonderful to see that same spirit informing the recital scene. It is thrilling to go to the Met HD series at local movie theaters where you can be “face to face” with these world class singers and “chat” with them at intermission. Hopefully, someday we will see vocal recitals on the big screen. Fortunately art song societies are adding more drama to their programs. Here is a brief summary of what’s happening on the eastern seaboard.
Florestan Recital Project
Boston with its college scene and young people has a thriving art song community. The oldest and most established is Florestan Recital Project (www.florestanproject.org). It was founded in 2001 to promote song repertoire with concerts, master classes and educational residencies. They have a core of committed artists, singers and pianists who, through diligent research, create exciting programs. They also invite guest artists with established careers to join in their programs.
A relatively new and very creative art song society is WordSong (www.wordsongboston.org). Their mission statement says:
"We at WordSong believe that contemporary American society has lost the connection to artistic experience as an effective means of personal and social reflection. Composers today have, in large part, failed to engage listeners in an appealing and thought-provoking way; they have traveled down wonderful yet often very foreign roads of musical expression and simply expected audiences to follow without question. As a result, new music is often simply played at the audience, when it needs to be presented with the audience as an active participant. WordSong will help begin to bring about this change."
This is a concept all artists need to consider in today’s society. Connecting with the audience is the whole point of performance, not just displaying our talents. Here is a description of their very challenging but interesting format:
"WordSong is a new concert format in which one text is presented in multiple, newly composed settings and is the focus of directed conversation among composers, performers, and audiences. This format can be applied to various venues, from nouveau salons to educational forums to public concerts. WordSong’s goal is to reconnect musicians and listeners through shared, active artistic experiences. It is a public conversation about intuitive musical understanding."
I love this name and wish I had thought of it first. It’s taken from the German folk story about a siren named Lorelei who lived on the Rhine River near a gorge with a sharp, abrupt bend in the river. During storms Lorelei would lure sailors to their deaths at the rocky bend with her enticing song. Lorelei Ensemble (www.loreleiensemble.com) performs early and newer music for women’s voices. They perform as a full ensemble and also in chamber music combinations (solo, duet, trio and quartet). They have a core group of eight singers but also invite guest artists and collaborate with local composers.
New York City
The Art Song Preservation Society of New York (ASPS)
The motto of ASPS (www.artsongpreservationsocietyny.org) is “where music speaks and words sing” and they are “dedicated to preserving, revitalizing and promoting art song repertoire and art song recital.” They attempt this noble task through educational opportunities, performances, master classes, competitions, workshops, lectures, voice lessons and coaching. Their main goal is to provide performance opportunities for emerging classical singers and pianists in public recitals. They support both established and emerging composers through performance of their works.Their website defines art song:
"An art song is a music composition for voice and instrumental accompaniment with a poetic text. This makes the art song a dual art and one of the greatest creations in the realm of classical music. When the ideal proportions of poetry and music are met, one cannot help but be affected by it."
The Song Continues - Marilyn Horne’s Legacy at Carnegie Hall
The Song Continues, formerly a Marilyn Horne Foundation event, a weeklong festival of master classes and recitals presented by Carnegie Hall’s Weill Music Institute, features internationally known artists, and concludes with a gala recital - Marilyn Horne Song Celebration. Annual auditions are held each year offering a Carnegie Hall recital debut to the winner. www.carnegiehall.org/2013_2014_The_Song_Continues/
New Triad for Collaborative Arts
Founded in 2003 by Arlene Shrut, New Triad (www.newtriad.org) is a premier educational and arts service organization. They offer programs which combine drama, movement, musical interpretation and the art of speaking. From their website:
"New Triad is the only organization of its kind that goes beyond musical instruction to train artists in how to personally communicate and visually engage with their audiences, reinvigorating performing arts as a whole."
I first met Dr. Shrut at a Regional NATS Conference quite a few years back. I remember being totally enthralled by New Triad’s recital, Measure of Our Years and knew I was seeing a totally new way of presenting art song; a way that would update and revive thw art form and its great repertoire. Arlene Shrut and I have been good friends ever since. She offered support in developing Cantabile Project and is awonderful source for new ideas for music and presentation. She approaches everything she does with intensity and great depth.
New York Festival of Song
NYFOS (www.nyfos.org) enjoys the creative genius from two very experience pianists, Michael Barrett and Steven Blier. They have a special gift for putting together songs from across many genres in an interesting and unusual way.
From their website:
"In every NYFOS program, the songs and their interpreters bring poetry, passion, history and humor to the proceedings, transporting listeners to many regions of the globe, and into the personal, creative worlds of song composers and lyricists. With its exquisitely crafted and carefully researched programs, charming and informal on-stage narration, and extensive program notes, NYFOS provides its subscription audiences – ranging in age from 14 to 104 – a lifetime learning experience in the most fascinating and forgotten corners of the song repertoire."
Of NYFOS, the New York Times has said: "…Mr. Blier and Mr. Barrett…have succeeded beyond all expectations because they know how to program familiar repertory in contexts that make us hear it freshly".
This is an organization to emulate in every way. They have begun a new miniseries, NYFOS Next, which offers free concerts featuring young composers and performers in brand new American songs.
The Brooklyn Art Song Society
A relatively new art song group in their fourth year, The Brooklyn Art Song Society (BASS) (www.brooklynartsongsociety.org) has presented some impressive programs. From their website:
"Dedicated to the vast repertoire of poetry set to music, BASS presents programs of epic scope yet intimate at the same time. Past highlights have included performances of the complete songs of Charles Ives, Henri Duparc, a festival of works from Franz Schubert’s last year and an ongoing project to present the complete lieder of Hugo Wolf. Committed to keeping art song relevant in our time BASS has collaborated closely with the important living composers Tom Cipullo, Libby Larsen, Lowell Liebermann, and Yehudi Wyner and has commissioned works from Brooklyn-based composers Marie Incontrera and Michael Rose. The 2013-14 season featured works by Johannes Brahms, Lowell Liebermann, Michael Rose, Clara and Robert Schumann, and Hugo Wolf."
An impressive start indeed!
Art Song Repertory Theater Company (ARTCy)
ARTCy (http://artcy.org) is a relatively new art song organization developed by Jennifer Beattie who sang recently in Cantabile Project’s launch recital in November, 2013. From their website:
"The Art Song Repertory Theater Company (ARTCy) specializes in using art song as the medium for original theatrical productions. Our productions offer the full theater experience to our audiences, presenting pastiche works that weave a storyline through a song program. Lighting, staging, multimedia and costumes combine to push the boundaries of how art songs are performed, communicated and interpreted."
ARTCy’s desire is to present art song fearlessly going beyond traditional boundaries.
Vocal Arts DC
Vocal Arts DC (www.vocalartsdc.org) offers free concerts by winners of their annual young artist competition. They present recitals in various neighborhoods throughout DC, Virginia and Maryland to those who may never have had the opportunity to attend a vocal performance. Their programs feature spoken commentary in an effort to make art song accessible to audiences unfamiliar with the art form.
Founded in 1990 as the Vocal Arts Society, Vocal Arts DC is one of the premier presenters of classical vocal recitals. Their mission is “to present accomplished singers, often in the early stages of their careers, in a full range of repertoire.” Vocal Arts DC has co-presented recitals with other performance organizations, universities, and governmental institutions.
Society for American Art Song
The mission of the Society for American Art Song (SAAS) (www.americanartsong.org) is to educate the public about the beauty and significance of America’s classical song heritage through concerts and lectures. They promote American art song by commissioning new works and providing access to existing works.
The Society uses their website to promote American art song by serving singers, teachers and performers. The site is organized to research composer, author of the text, or song topic—humor, death, love, seasons, etc. For performers, the site provides a place to publicize past and future performances. The site gives emerging and established American composers a place to make themselves known to their key public—singers and teachers. Lastly, the site provides a place for researchers to begin learning more about American art song, and also to publish the results of their work.
Cantabile Project (http://cantabileproject.org) was founded in 2012 by this writer, Karen Hoy. One of my main motivations was to provide more performance opportunities, not only for my own students, but the many fine singers in Hampton Roads. Singing in the studio is not enough to develop the skills required to become a polished performer. Before establishing Cantabile Project, I had presented my students in recitals that included other local singers. Programs titled Mendelssohn and the Sopranos, Schumann Liederabend, Made in America and La Serenissima were well received by our small but enthusiastic audiences. Realizing the need for more audience engagement and visual enhancement for the new millennium, I developed Cantabile Project and sought fiscal sponsorship from Fractured Atlas. Our board of directors includes some of the finest singers and teachers in our area along with other professionals who love the vocal arts.
Earlier my interest in art song was piqued by the establishment of the Norfolk Art Song Society (NASS). This was a wonderful experience in many ways. We would meet about six times a year and present mini-recitals for each other and our members. In 1998 Marilyn Horne gave a recital, sang with the Virginia Symphony and gave a master class for local singers in conjunction with NASS. Her presence in our community more than tripled the NASS membership. At that time Ms. Horne knew of no other organization in the country like ours. Did we start something? Who knows, but I’d like to think a seed was planted by our own Norfolk Art Song Society in 1997. NASS (later Virginia Art Song Society) disbanded in 2004. My continuing enthusiasm for and dedication to art song led me to establish a recital series and found the Cantabile Project.
The Atlanta Vocal Arts Society
During the 2012-2013 season, The Atlanta Vocal Arts Society (www.atlvocal.org) launched their debut program Celebrating Atlanta’s Talent. They are dedicated to showcasing natives of Atlanta or artists who currently call Atlanta Metro Area home. Their first season featured three traditional programs, one with less familiar repertoire — Sibelius, Turina and Rachmaninoff. Another featured all American composers, poets and performers. They ended their season with The Atlanta Song Festival, a music filled weekend featuring the final rounds of the Roland Hayes International Song Competition followed by a recital and master class.
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As we can see from the above summaries, art song, similar to opera some twenty years ago, is experiencing a revival emphasizing drama and relevancy. I predict that vocal recitals will continue to expand and grow through exciting programming and repertoire made accessible to new, inexperienced audiences. Today’s gifted, young singers have demands placed on them like never before. The skill levels required have never been stronger, in spite of what you may see on TV. The next time you see a vocal recital being presented in your community, PLEASE GO!
Karen Hoy, June 2014