Recordings are a conundrum. They are drafts of our work, they pass themselves off as permanent. To publish a recording is to put ones work in conversation with unattainable perfection and definitive performances of the past. It is to invite judgement. For young singers arias take on a life and a drama more real than that which they serve in their respective operas, as we march them out in competitions and audition after audition, or when somehow an aria turns into a mere "audio sample." In these contexts the aria becomes two things at once: the work itself and an operatic 100 m dash or 5k in which we show how we excel, and where we fall short. I've grown accustomed to that function of the aria, and don't hesitate to post aria recordings (of my favorite takes), even as I hear the ever present space between my rendition and that which I strive for. Lieder however gives me pause. Though the form gives more latitude for presonal interpretation, to post recordings of my favorite lieder feels somehow more presumptuous than an aria. Nevertheless I've chosen to post a few recent lieder recordings. They are public drafts. When I listen to them, I hear work that I'm proud of; I hear interpretative decisions that didn't quite get to the heart of it; I hear risks that paid off; I hear risks I didn't take; I hear my vanity masking the music; I hear the music come through; I hear a vowel not quite open enough; I don't hear a final consonant; I hear my tongue too far back. All of this adds up to my conversation with my collaborators and the composers, which is essentially the thing I want to share. With that long caveat disguised as a reflection, I hope you enjoy my work.
Below is a summary of my performances in my last semester at Juilliard. Links to video of the performances are embedded in the titles of the works. Here is a link to my program notes and translations for my degree recital.
On Friday, January 19, 2018 at 6 PM in Juilliard’s Paul Hall, I will present my degree recital with pianist Adam Rothenberg and a string quintet from the Historical Performance department. We will perform Jacques Ibert’s Chansons du Don Quichotte, Johannes Brahms’ Vier Ernste Gesänge, three chamber reductions of Mozart’s concert arias for bass, including Per Questa Bella Mano with Hugo Abraham on the Viennese bass, and premiere Das Haustier Liederbuch, a pet-themed song cycle by my friend, roommate, and composer-extraordinaire Katherine Balch.
Here is the facebook event for the recital. For those of you further afield, if it is possible to livestream, I will post the link in the event page. Stay tuned.
It will be a full winter and spring of performances. In February with Juilliard Opera, I’m in Otto Nicolai’s Die Lustigen Weiber von Windsor, a charming mid-nineteenth century German opera adaptation of Shakespeare’s Merry Wives of Windsor. I’m singing the role of Dr. Cajus and covering Sir John Falstaff.
I join The New York Festival of Song (NYFOS) for Protest! an evening of music from progressive social movements around the world in Merkin Hall on February 27 and at the Hudson Opera House on March 3. Developing and participating in the program with Steven Blier, Mary Birnbaum, and my fellow students last season was an incredible fusion of art and activism and I'm glad to share it with a wider audience.
We’ll close the semester in April with Jean-Philippe Rameau’s French Baroque masterpiece Hyppolite et Aricie. The Rameau runs until April 21, and on April 22 I head to the Opera Theatre of Saint Louis for their festival season. I am excited to share that I will perform two roles with the company – Dr. Grenvil in Verdi’s La Traviata, and Specialist Julian Swanson in the world premiere of Huang Ruo’s An American Soldier.
I am writing the Berkshire Hills of western Massachusetts, where I am a vocal fellow at the Tanglewood. As a fellow, I am spending the summer making music with incredible musicians and continuing to study under the guidance of my mentors Sanford Sylvan and Dawn Upshaw.
I will sing on a number of public programs throughout the season. For those of you in the area or making a swing through, here are my dates:
- July 6, 8 PM, Schubert's Summer Journey, Bass in two Schubert part songs with Emanuel Ax - Tickets and Info
- July 11, 8 PM, Humor in Song, Two songs with pianist Marika Yasuda on a program with vocal fellows and Stephanie Blythe Tickets and Info
- July 19, 1:30 PM, Schubert Lieder Masterclass with Javier Arrebola, Gruppe aus dem Tartarus and Der Wanderer with pianist Adam Rothenberg
- July 25, 8 PM, Music of Les Six, Five songs by Arthur Honegger with pianist Sichen Ma - Tickets and Info
- July 31, 1:30 PM, French Melodie Masterclass with Margot Garrett, Numbers 1 & 2 from Jacque Ibert's Don Quichotte with pianist Marika Yasuda
- August 7, 8 PM, Vocal Chamber Music, Fili mi Absalom, by Heinrich Schütz, for bass and four trombones - Tickets and Info
- August 10, 8 PM, Contemporary Vocal Chamber Music, Bass in a new work by composer Nathan Davis - Tickets and Info
- August 20, 10 AM Concert of Bach Cantatas, Bass soloist in BWV 32 - Tickets and Info
Community Organizing: The Urban Rural Artist Exchange Project
I also want to share news of a a project I've developed over the last year and ask for your support. Since November, I've worked with three fellow students at Juilliard to create The Urban Rural Artist Exchange Project. Our aim is to harness the power of collaborative art-making and community organizing to grow artistic collaboration and solidarity across the urban-rural divide. I'm writing today to ask for your support by donating to our founding fundraising campaign on IndieGogo. Check it out, watch our video, donate, and share this link:https://www.indiegogo.com/projects/urban-rural-artist-exchange-project#/
In May we held our first event, a three-day intensive with youth from the Appalachian Media Institute in Whitesburg, Kentucky. To see media and reflections on the week, follow our facebook page. The fundraising campaign closes on July 5 and a big thank you to everyone who has already donated so generously!
In addition to our external aims of strengthening narratives and relationships of empathy and solidarity between urban and rural communities, this project has been a way for me to continue weaving my artistic and political work together. Nate May, composer of Dust in the Bottomland, long-time friend and collaborator joined the team in Kentucky, and will be a part of the ongoing work. Finding a team of artists and activists to continue this exploration with has been an highlight of my first year at Juilliard.
Your support will enable us to continue the exchange, bringing artists and youth from Kentucky to New York in 2017-18 and lay the foundation for a larger exchange in summer 2018. Now is the time for artists to show up and use our crafts to construct new narratives that are rooted in our distinct histories and embrace our present differences and commonality. Join us in our efforts, donate as you are able, share our campaign and help us set this vital process in motion.
On the whole the past year has been a time of "going to the gym" to strengthen the core skills of my craft, but through this project and the time and space afforded to me by my fellowship at the Tanglewood Music Center, I am looking forward to deepening my investigation of the productive tension between my work as a classical artist and person grappling with 21st century politics, ecology and culture.
Last time I wrote, I remember feeling both a sense of excitement and some measure of anxiety about my leap into Juilliard and New York City life. I'm two months in, and I'm loving it. More on that another time, today I'm writing to share a few performance dates and links to watch them via livestream.
This Friday at 4 PM I will share a scene from Claudio Monteverdi's L'Incoronazione di Poppea with baritone Jacob Scharfman in a masterclass led by the conductor Pablo Heras-Casado. In the scene, I portray the Roman philosopher Seneca stoically (pun!) embracing his death. The masterclass will showcase the work of a number of my colleagues at Juilliard singing Monteverdi and Handel. The livestream will be at this link on Friday at 4 PM. If you can't catch it live, it will be posted to Juilliard's YouTube channel.
I have a few more performance dates to share this fall. On November 30, pianist Nathaniel LaNasa and I will perform a set of Schubert's lieder on poems by Johann Mayrhofer in a Juilliard Liederabend along with other Juilliard singers and pianists. Schubert and Mayrhofer will close friends and roommates in Vienna. Mayrhofer's poetry is manic, ecstatic, and depressive. It despairs, convulses, rages, and crumbles in its effort to communicate the ephemeral nature of human achievement and his own poetic work. But, here we are, two hundred years later, still thinking about his works as brought to life by Schubert's music.
Lastly, on December 9, tenor John Noh and I will perform a scene from Donizetti's Don Pasquale as part of the Vocal Arts Showcase Series.
In my last letter I wrote of the sense of change and transition that came with moving to New York. I knew I would find satisfaction in the work at Juilliard, but I'm happy to say that I'm also finding a supportive, multi-faceted community among my fellow students, the faculty and staff. I'm really happy here.
Below are a few very brief thoughts on Winterreise and the invitation to the performance. Here is a link to the video of that performance, during my second year of studies at Bard. This is a link to my program notes and translations.
FEBRUARY 2016: I am writing today to invite you to my performance with Rami Sarieddine, pianist, of Schubert's Winterreise, on Saturday February 6 at 4 PM in the Conservatory Performance Space of the Bito Building at Bard College. Winterreise is a cycle of twenty-four songs to poetry by Wilhelm Müller composed by Schubert in 1827, near the end of his life.
Winterreise first captivated my attention as an undergraduate at the University of Michigan. I worked at the music library my freshman year on work study, and would listen to recordings of my favorite singers while re-shelving scores in the stacks. The bass-baritone Hans Hotter's 1955 recording of the work grabbed me - I didn't know of the work, barely knew Schubert, and may not even have had a clear idea of what a song cycle was, but the songs themselves, their beauty, savagery, and peculiarity pulled me in.
I think it best not to try too hard to articulate what it's about, but instead leave it in the broadest terms: with lost or abandoned love as a point of departure, Winterreise becomes an exquisite skeleton for the performers and audience to create and discover meaning in the space between the experiences of the composer, poet, performers, and witnesses.
Rami and I began work together on the cycle in the autumn of 2014, when we were first paired together by the Bard Graduate Vocal Arts Program. We are both fortunate to be in a setting that has encouraged our collaboration and has provided us the time, space, and mentorship to begin our journey with this piece. We are excited to share our work, and our love for Schubert, Müller, and Winterreise with you in our first public performance. It's been a rewarding process, and if geography and time make it possible, I hope you will join us.
I've been writing for the Juilliard Journal as a very very part time work study gig. In October I interviewed my friends and fellow singers Tatum Robertson and Khady Gueye about their work as student leaders of the newly formed Juilliard Black Student Union. It was a far ranging discussion about racial justice and the arts, and their role as student organizers in this iconic institution. We trimmed down the hour conversation to this piece that was published in the November issue of the journal.
Read it here: http://www.juilliard.edu/journal/striving-racial-justice
The summer is winding down and I'm on the move again.
While packing for my upcoming move to Manhattan, I came across a journal from my first semester at Bard. Waiting outside of Sanford Sylvan's voice studio on 72nd street, I would write in it to clear my mind before a lesson. Leafing through it today, this snippet resonated with me as I begin the infamous apartment search, and prepare to start at Juilliard in a few weeks.
Look I've found a routine - a ritual to center, or unbalance, sitting in this lobby- hearing the baritone before me, the hushed shuffling of a meditative dance class, distant echo of a soprano downstairs. The city, an arrangement of rooms and paths between. Here, what is a room? a place to elicit a certain spirit. In the voice studio, through the surprisingly thin door, it is bare - a grey floor and mirror-wall - not quite tuned piano; a shell to be filled with the intent of its inhabitants- for me, a shrine to craft and terrain for safe exploration. The city, a museum of contemporary life each room a gallery, a zoo of Homo sapiens boom ecology each room a habitat, a performance of Babylon reinterpreted. Is there an essence, a spirit squeezed from the materials that pass through here... (then my lesson started and things got more concrete)
New York inspires me. New York terrifies me. Still.
I was at the beginning of getting into a rhythm with the New York City, figuring out what that was to me, how it might change me. I had spent time in the city before--to visit my younger sister in college; to see my first opera, Die Walküre at the Met (the trip was a high school graduation gift); and I had got to know the fifteen hour train ride from Prince, West Virginia to Penn Station while traveling to the auditions that got me into Aspen and Bard in 2013/4. It often felt like an anthropological expedition to see the distinctly urban ways of life carved out by millions where this vast river meets the Atlantic.
And now I am beginning to carve out my own path here. It is where I need to be, and I'm happy to say that after spending a summer living and making music in the city, that it is where I want to be. Now I am looking for a few rooms for me and my dog to call home in the midst of it
The Bel Canto at Caramoor Young Artist Program was an ideal introduction to the New York opera world. A week ago I performed in Beethoven's Fidelio. It was a grand finale for the summer opera season at the Caramoor. The cast and orchestra were electric. I covered the opera's main bass role, Rocco, which was performed by the great Kristinn Sigmundsson, and sang a brief solo as the Second Prisoner in Beethoven's achingly beautiful chorus of political prisoners.
Earlier in the summer we performed Rossini's Aureliano in Palmira, in which I had a brief scene as a shepherd offering rest to the opera's war-weary hero. I also presented a set of Beethoven songs in a program shared with other Caramoor young artists. Happily, I was named in a few positive reviews. I'm thankful for the new colleagues and coaches, and to now be versed in the gospel of true legato (ask me about it).
Alright, time for me to get back to packing. PS ~ Obligatory dog photo...
The following is my introductory program note for "Speculating on Eternity," my culminating degree recital at Bard College. The recital will be live streamed at this link on Saturday May 14 at 8 PM and event information can be found on facebook at this link.
Time eludes and encapsulates us. In our sensory experience we ask, “where has the time gone?” or “when will this end?” as the time we share flies by or drags on. An objective understanding of time escapes us as well. Though we can glance at our phones and agree that it is 7:53 PM on May 14, 2016, the phenomenon that we measure with our clocks and calendars defies definition. Theorists of time differ—is time a dimension of physical reality in which events occur in measurable sequence, or is that which we call time a cognitive effect of the mind that enables us to organize reality into discrete events, an aspect of a user interface our brains generate for us to navigate physical reality? Whether time is real or cognitively generated, both theories posit an eternity beyond human knowledge. Time as reality offers unthinkable expanses that precede and follow our brief existences. If indeed time is cognitively generated, then what is reality beyond the veneer created by our senses?
This evening’s program deals with our relationship to time, particularly to eternity and eternal realms in the Western imagination. In Claudio Monteverdi’s Ab aeterno ordinate sum divine wisdom speaks to us of her origins before the world came into being and rejoices in the advent of humanity. Karlheinz Stockhausen’s Tierkreis, the German term for the Zodiac, winds through the program as a circular journey through the Zodiac’s archetypal characters. Gaetano Donizetti set Dante Alighieri’s visceral painting of eternal damnation in Canto XXXIII: Il Conte Ugolino, in which Dante’s theological imagination and the power struggles between medieval Italian city-states intertwine in a grisly tale. Four lieder of Franz Schubert flow from the underworld of classical antiquity in Friedrich Schiller’s poem Gruppe aus dem Tartarus, to the contest for power between humanity and the Gods in Johann Wolfgang von Goethe’s Prometheus, to Johann Mayrhoffer’s meditation on the ephemerality of human achievement in Auf der Donau, and conclude with Goethe’s Grenzen der Menschheit, a meditation on the ways in which humanity is both exiled from and fundamentally bound to the fabric of eternity.
The ways in which we imagine eternity, and the forces the govern it, shape the way in which we navigate our individual and collective lives. In these poems and the compositions they inspired, we find distinct ideas of the humanity’s relationship to eternity, each deeply embedded and continuing to shape the cultural imagination. Meditating on scales of time beyond our existence is not merely an exercise in humility. In time’s expanse we are small, yet we also live in an era that human activity is setting in motion processes that will unfold for millions of years; climate change, nitrogen cycles, radioactive half-lives, to name a few. Time dwarfs us, but we cannot claim insignificance. Perhaps in the past, wrestling with the human relationship to the eternity was strictly an intellectual or spiritual practice. Today, it is a materially necessary practice as we come to understand humanity’s power to shape the course of time far into the future.
Music exists on a canvas of time, and is uniquely suited for its exploration: its subdivision, its suspension, its cyclical nature. Perhaps in moments of writing, composing, and performing we each tear away little scraps of time from the canvass of eternity, scribble our messages on them, and toss them back onto the metacanvass of time, hoping they stick in our collective memories. It is a sacred privilege to be in this time and place with you.
That opening line of Rilke's poem from The Book of Hours "I live my life in widening circles," echoed in my head as I drove south through the Anthracite coal region of Pennsylvania and down Interstate 81 into the broad Shenandoah Valley, sheltered by the Alleghenies to the northwest and Blue Ridge to the southeast. It was spring break, and I was back in Appalachia, even if only briefly, revisiting Dust in the Bottomland in a series of performances with Nate May, composer, collaborator, and friend. It was a homecoming of sorts, or maybe more of a home-passing-through, and a time for me to reflect on my ongoing relationship with Appalachia, even as my work and passions take me elsewhere.
Dust in the Bottomland is itself a homecoming story. It is through the eyes of a young man returning to his home in rural West Virginia after ten years to find the social and physical landscape permanently altered by prescription opiate addiction and mountaintop removal coal mining. Nate May wrote the forty-five minute monodrama for me in 2013 as I was phasing out of my work as a community organizer in the coalfields and beginning my journey as a singer and collaborative artist. It is a bittersweet love song for the tangled, beautiful, abused, and loved land of central Appalachia.
We performed at Virginia Tech, hosted by Community Voices and at Winthrop University's Conservatory of Music. In our residency at Virginia Tech we had the opportunity to dig more deeply into the subject matter in a round-table discussion and podcast interview with Andy Morikawa and Virginia Tech graduate students Dana Hogg, Jordan Laney, and Cheryl Montgomery – they were rich discussions of opera and the role of arts in building a more just world, aesthetics and empathy, and the relationship of personal journeys to creative work – listen to the podcasthere and the round table here. If you do take the time to listen, I’d love to hear your thoughts. Click here to view a slide show from our performance at P. Buckley Moss Gallery in Blacksburg, Virginia. Above: Nate and me with two of our Community Voices hosts, Max Stephenson Jr. and Jordan Laney.
Now, I am back in the Hudson Valley, at the moment charging downriver aboard the Amtrak train to New York City where this evening I will share a song recital with two fellow singers from the Bel Canto at Caramoor Young Artist Program in a recital of song by Haydn, Mozart, and Beethoven. It will be my first New York recital appearance, and has given me a taste of the work I’ll be doing this summer with the Caramoor International Music Festival. I’m looking forward to it.
Here's the scene: I write from the stage of the Sosnoff Theater - the sixty-piece orchestra of conservatory musicians is playing in the pit and my Vocal Arts Program colleagues are singing beside me as we rehearse the vibrantly colorful score of Higglety Pigglety Pop! by Oliver Knussen. I don't show up for another twenty-minutes (in my golden costume designed by Liene Dobraja), so I'm taking some time to write, share reflections from Winterreise earlier this month and think forward to revisiting Dust in the Bottomland.
Higglety Pigglety Pop! is paired with an abridged version of The Magic Flute in the Vocal Arts Program 2016 opera double bill onMarch 4 & 6. I'm singing the aforementioned lion (picture) in Higglety Pigglety and Sarastro in The Magic Flute. Both works are masterpieces, one contemporary and one classical full of colorful music and characters brought to life by my fantastic colleagues at Bard under the direction of Nic Muni and conducted by James Bagwell. Join us if you can, click here for ticket information.
We've poured our lives into these productions for the past month, and it hard to believe that Rami and my performance of Winterreise was less than three weeks ago. Thank you to all of you who joined us that afternoon or sent encouragement. Again, Winterreise can be said to be so many things, but most of all it is a direct link to Schubert, and the multi-hued humanity he wrote into his songs. Rami and I look forward to continuing our journey with the work and have a few performances lined up in the coming months.We will be presenting the second half as part of a recital in Woodstock on March 12. Check out information here.
Perhaps one role of these posts is to declare intentions and hold myself to them, so I'll share a thought I hope to make time to follow through on. Spending so much time with Winterreise in this most strange of winters - today another apocalyptically beautiful mid-winter spring day - has stirred up thoughts of a speculative essay on Winterreise's place in the public imagination in a world of diminishing winters. Look for a link to a draft in a future note.
LOOKING AHEAD (and remembering)
Looking a little further ahead, I am preparing for performances of Dust in the Bottomland by Nate May at Virginia Tech and Winthrop Universities over the spring break on March 22nd & 24th respectively. My close friend and collaborator, Nate May wrote Dust in the Bottomland as a solo chamber opera for me to sing while I was still working as a community organizer in West Virginia. The protagonist grapples with the effects of prescription drug addiction, mountaintop removal mining, and the changing fabric of rural Appalachian communities. Relearning the piece has been rich with memories, or the work itself and the place it came from. I'll dedicate a later post to share more about it. In the mean time, if you know appreciators of the arts, rural America, Appalachia, and good story telling, please pass on our facebook event.