I was honored when Megan invited me to contribute a guest post to The Sybaritic Singer. Like Megan herself, the blog has done a lot of good in the contemporary music world. Megan suggested that I address behind-the-scenes aspects of directing a concert series. My two-part post will consider practical and philosophical issues that have been on my mind as the Evolution Contemporary Music Series celebrates ten years of bringing new music to Baltimore.
Part I: The M-Word
There’s an M-word in the arts: money.
We need money, but we don’t like to talk about it. The word itself isn’t offensive, but we routinely opt for euphemisms like “backing” and “support.”
It’s a strange business asking people for money, especially friends and family, or fellow artists who we know don’t have much to spare. If you’re a presenter, you may have already had to offer your peers more modest compensation than they deserve.
The Evolution Contemporary Music Series – a Baltimore-based concert series dedicated to the music of living composers – has sustained a steady artistic ascent since I founded it in 2005, but our finances haven’t always kept pace. The work has been a labor of love for all involved. Given artists’ natural tendency to concentrate on creating and sharing art at the highest possible level, it’s dangerously easy to treat other dimensions of our enterprise as secondary, especially securing the money needed to realize a meaningful vision.
I feel comfortable with two of the important M’s in our field, music and messaging, but money is more of a challenge. As I continue to inch along the learning curve in the art of development, here are a few of the lessons I’ve learned along the way:
- Fundraising isn’t a one-person job. More to the point, it isn’t the sole province of an artistic director. The Evolution Series has belatedly but necessarily added a managing director, Wesley Thompson (a former series intern) and a nascent board. Though I believe it’s critical to share my own time and passion in order to engage donors, I can’t do it alone, and can better serve the series by focusing my energies on the music and musicians at the heart of what we do.
- The Evolution Series had the privilege of presenting the outstanding, highly successful International Contemporary Ensemble (ICE) in our 6th and 7th seasons. Following one of their concerts, an after-party was hosted by an old friend of the group’s then-director of development. The event took place in a beautiful apartment across the street from the Peabody Institute of the Johns Hopkins University, where I have spent 25 years of my life as a student or faculty member. I had never been in this elegant building, nor did I know most of the guests. When I mentioned this to one of the “Icicles,” he told me: “We learned a long time ago that musicians spend far too much time with other musicians.”
- Finally, one of my Johns Hopkins University colleagues (notably, on the medicine side) recently articulated this fundamental principle: “You have to ask.”
So here’s the ask. The Evolution Series is in the final days of a Kickstarter campaign to fund our 10th anniversary season. This season will be one of our biggest and best yet, featuring several of our favorite musicians: Pulitzer Prize winners Caroline Shaw and David Lang, standout Peabody Conservatory alumna Amy Beth Kirsten, and one of the world’s finest ensembles, So Percussion.
In exchange for your backing – your money – we’re offering exclusive rewards associated with the music and people that will bring this year’s Evolution Series to life. A Kickstarter project is only funded if it meets or surpasses its goal, so the best way to support us is to make your pledge today and then spread the word.
Thanks so much for reading and, I hope, contributing. In my next post, I’ll share a few thoughts about presenting concerts in the 21st century.
About Judah Adashi
Said to be “embarked on a promising career” (Washington Post), composer Judah Adashi has been honored with awards, grants and commissions from the American Academy of Arts and Letters, the ASCAP and BMI Foundations, the American Composers Forum, Meet the Composer and the Aspen Music Festival, as well as residencies at Yaddo and the Virginia Center for the Creative Arts. A committed musical organizer, advocate and educator, Dr. Adashi is the founder and artistic director of the Evolution Contemporary Music Series, noted for having “elevated and enriched Baltimore’s new music scene enormously” (Baltimore Sun). He is also on the composition and music theory faculty at the Peabody Institute of the Johns Hopkins University. Dr. Adashi holds master’s and doctoral degrees from Peabody, and a bachelor’s degree from Yale University. For more information, please visit judahadashi.com.
About the Evolution Contemporary Music Series
The Evolution Contemporary Music Series, founded in 2005 and directed by composer and Peabody Institute faculty member Judah Adashi, is a Baltimore-based concert series dedicated to the music of living composers. Praised by Tim Smith of the Baltimore Sun for having “elevated and enriched Baltimore’s new music scene enormously,” and by the Baltimore City Paper as “superb…not the same-old, same-old,” the Evolution Series has presented or premiered works by over 75 composers, performed by acclaimed musicians from Baltimore and beyond. Events regularly include pre-concert conversations with performers, composers, critics and scholars. Featured guests have included Marin Alsop, music director of the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra; composers Missy Mazzoli and John Luther Adams; and music critics Tim Page (Washington Post) and Alex Ross (New Yorker).
Hello kind readers! My name is the Voracious Vocalist and I am a friend and colleague of the esteemed Sybaritic Singer. After spending an afternoon re-reading Sybie’s fabulous blog, one sentence really struck chord with me and highlighted an idea that I feel like I am constantly proselytizing myself. On Day 7 of this year’s fantastic #28DaysToDiva series our author wrote, “one of the most important points is that we cobble together the career that works for each of us individually – not just a generic idea of a successful singing career.”
I have seen so many young singers angst over getting into just the right college, so they can proceed to obsess over the very best graduate school. Then they zoom in on young artist programs and plan out how they will certainly proceed to management auditions and then the obligatory comprimario roles blah blah blah… and voila! They surely will be “successful” and happy and true vocal artists and all that. Right. Well, I have watched dozens of times how these same singers become baffled when Step A, doesn’t really guarantee Step B, or Step C for that matter. A classical singer’s career has no guaranteed linear progression. Forward momentum is, of course, absolutely necessary and obligatory (this blog is a perfect resource to research this topic). Move forward or perish – like a shark, dear readers. However, the arts world is not some corporate worlds. There is no one ladder. Folks jump rungs and rappel to other ladders entirely.
The so-called singing “career path” is a myth that sets up most young singers for disappointment and confusion. Besides, we are creative types – a singular, narrow ladder/path keeps us much too focused on a small range of artistic opportunities. Instead, I encourage you to leave the ordinary path and discover new ones of your own. Don’t be afraid to dive off-course into the sometimes thorny – but much more invigorating – undergrowth! It will stretch you as an artist and open you up as a musical entrepreneur to new projects and markets. Take a straight theatre audition, make a connection with a new composer, volunteer for an arts organization, try directing – or painting, or writing, or skiing. Take a shot at the new day job that will give you a new perspective on yourself and your capabilities. In fact, do it all at once. Because there is no career “path” – just a wide, wild, ever-expanding career meadow. Make your own paths all across that meadow. Many of them. Because we are artists and one narrow, crowded path? Well, that’s just not the place for us. Frolic in the meadow, folks. It’s waiting for you!
Courtney Kalbacker is a dedicated opera performer and production professional based in Baltimore, MD. She has taken on many roles both on and off stage including serving as Director of Production at Opera Anne Arundel Community College, an AGMA Stage Manager at Lyric Opera Baltimore, and as a Stage Director at Silver Finch Arts Collective, Unmanned Stagecraft, Oklahoma City University and the Boston University Tanglewood Institute. Since moving to the area three years ago, she has also performed as a coloratura soprano with D.C.’s Capital Fringe Festival, Lyric Opera Baltimore, The Victorian Lyric Opera Company, Harford Choral Society, HUB Opera Ensemble, Silver Finch Arts Collective and at venues abroad including the Warsaw Chamber Opera and Kingshead Theatre (London). Most recently her production and performance of the new one-woman opera The Young Wife (K. Brochocka) won “Pick of the Fringe – Best Opera or Musical Theatre” at the 2013 Capital Fringe Festival. More info at www.CourtneyKalbacker.com.
Once a journey is designed, equipped, and put in process, a new factor enters and takes over. A trip, a safari, an exploration, is an entity, different from all other journeys. It has personality, temperament, individuality, uniqueness. A journey is a person in itself; no two are alike. And all plans, safeguards, policing, and coercion are fruitless. We find after years of struggle that we do not take a trip; a trip takes us. Tour masters, schedules, reservations, brass-bound and inevitable, dash themselves to wreckage on the personality of the trip. Only when this is recognized can the blown-in-the glass bum relax and go along with it. Only then do the frustrations fall away. In this a journey is like marriage. The certain way to be wrong is to think you control it.”
― John Steinbeck, Travels with Charley: In Search of America
I know it has been quiet around these parts lately. As many of you know, we just made a big move across the country to San Diego, California. Thank you for your patience while we get settled and I get back into a regular writing groove.
As I readily accept the challenge of joining new communities, finding a soul-enriching job, and reaching for more musical opportunities, I thought about the communities, jobs, and opportunities that I had in Baltimore since 2007. I would never have guessed that this would have been part of the path. But, I’m sure glad it’s turned out this way. What parts of your destiny are you ready to say “yes” to right now?
With great affection,
From April 6 to 13, Washington D.C. area audiences will get to hear a cross-section of Louis Andriessen’s most important recent work in a festival celebrating his upcoming 75th birthday. Developed and curated by Armando Bayolo, founder of Great Noise Ensemble and new music curator at the Atlas Performing Arts Center, Andriessen 75 features a host of premieres and defining works by the honored composer, alongside pieces and performances by some of his most noted collaborators, students and friends.
Of greatest interest to the Sybaritic Faithful will likely be the concert performance of Andriessen’s 2008 work “La Commedia.” Based on Dante’s “Divine Comedy,” the composition is a treasure trove of vocal colors, musical references from jazz to chant to off-kilter Bernstein, and dramatic flair. This particular performance Sunday, April 6, 2014, 6:30 p.m. at the National Gallery of Art West Garden Court does not include the accompanying film by director Hal Hartley but it will feature one of the original performers, Cristina Zavalloni as Dante. “The journey is not clear-cut,” writes Mark Swed in his review for the LA Times, “but Dante — in the form of the extraordinarily versatile mezzo-soprano, jazz singer and new music specialist Cristina Zavalloni — descends into the horrible city of Dis and also enters a purgatory fashioned after Hieronymus Bosch’s “The Garden of Earthly Delights.” Zavalloni will be joined on stage by soprano Lindsey Kesselman as Beatrice and Andrew Sauvageau as Lucifer/Cacciaguida. The intrepid new music folks at Shenandoah Conservatory are also participating in this exciting festival offering two performances featuring the EDGE Ensemble, Aeolus Quartet, and Shenandoah Conservatory Wind Ensemble. Check out their schedule here.
“It’s amazing how much American culture has influenced my music. If not for the music of jazz and American avant-garde composers, such as John Cage and Robert Graettinger, I would have been a different composer. My connection to American music is perhaps one of the reasons why Armando Bayolo and other Washington area organizations are able to organize this festival today. I am honored that my music will be celebrated in Washington, D.C.” – Louis Andriessen
The journey is not clear-cut, but Dante — in the form of the extraordinarily versatile mezzo-soprano, jazz singer and new music specialist Cristina Zavalloni — descends into the horrible city of Dis and also enters a purgatory fashioned after Hieronymus Bosch’s “The Garden of Earthly Delights.” – See more at: http://latimesblogs.latimes.com/culturemonster/2010/04/music-review-la-commedia-at-the-green-umbrella-concert-at-disney-hall.html#sthash.GvwViaB2.dpuf
You will not want to miss the events at the Atlas Performing Arts Center either! Get tickets to any of the Atlas Performing Arts Center performances here.
- Monday, April 7, 2014, 8:00 p.m.
Atlas Performing Arts Center
Roadmaps and Diaries II
Monica Germino, violin and voice
Frank van der Weij, sound design
Louis Andriessen: Xenia
Julia Wolfe: with a blue dress on
Michael Gordon: INDUSTRY
Donnacha Dennehy: Overstrung
- Wednesday, April 9, 2014, 8:00p.m.
Atlas Performing Arts Center
Andriessen’s Piano/Andriessen’s Jazz
Molly Orlando, piano
Francesca Hurst, piano
Brad Linde Jazz Ensemble
Image de Moreau (U.S. première of the complete collection)
Louis Andriessen: On Jimmy Yancey
Monument to Graettinger (U.S. Premiere)
That Happens in Vietnam
The Family Revisited (U.S. Premiere)
- Friday, April 11, 2014, 8:00 p.m.
Atlas Performing Arts Center
Andriessen and Friends
Bang on a Can All Stars
Louis Andriessen: Life
David Lang: Cheating, Lying, Stealing
Michael Gordon: I Buried Paul
Julia Wolfe: Believing
Steve Martland: Horses of Instruction
“Louis Andriessen’s influence on American composers and musicians of the post-Baby Boom generations is well-documented, as is the influence of American music on him. His music and aesthetics have had an enormous impact upon my own work, both as composer and as an advocate for the music of our time. The current mood in contemporary concert music—optimistic, energetic, informal, irreverent, fun—can be directly attributed to Louis. It is for this reason that, as the Washington new music scene continues to grow and its national presence expands, we wish to honor Andriessen’s work on the occasion of his 75th birthday.” – Armando Bayolo, curator of Andriessen 75
In case you’re in the mood to get started right away. Here’s a playlist from Boosey & Hawkes to light your fire.
It was a lover and his lass that made last night’s audience fall in love all over again during Washington National Opera‘s production of Donizetti‘s L’elisir d’amore. Held up as an ideal of bel canto singing, L’elisir d’amore is one of the favorite operas in the traditional repertory. The libretto, written by Felice Romani, tells the love story of two young inhabitants of a rural Basque village. The timid Nemorino relies on the elixir of a traveling snake oil salesman, a bottle of Bordeaux, to woo Adina before she marries the suave Sergeant Belcore. Stephen Costello, as Nemorino, and real-life wife Ailyn Pérez, as the sought-after Adina, captured the hearts of the audience. Even with a few musical hiccoughs throughout the evening, the performance is full of good clean fun and some thrilling singing.
Costello is a gem for Washington National Opera this season. He returns to the Kennedy Center Opera House stage after his recent performance as Greenhorn/Ishmael in Jake Heggie‘s Moby-Dick. If WNO audiences hadn’t already fallen for him in that production, they certainly melted for him as the lovesick Nemorino. Even though he looked a bit like the young Indiana Jones, he sounded every bit the bel canto lover. Costello ranged from such affectionate moments like “Una parole, Adina” to robust and intense as in his technically impressive “Dulcamara volo tosto a ricercar.” Which explains how he had the audience in the palm of his hand by the time the famous “Una furtiva lagrima” came along. The dynamic change as well as the silence he left between the “si può morir” phrases at the end of the aria were exquisite. Just before Nemorino’s notable aria, Pérez also stunned in her Act II duet “Quanto amore! Ed io, spietata, tormentai sì nobil cor!” with Nicola Ulivieri as Doctor Dulcamara. She exhibited brilliant singing throughout the evening but found her most free and expressive moments here. While her initial “Prendi” was extremely tender, Pérez sought such delicate pianissimo at other times that did not carry to the audience effectively. However, her dramatic push and pull with Costello was honest and enthralling (something tells me they might have a bit of an advantage here…)
Nemorino’s attempts to win Adina’s affection before she marries the renowned Sergent Belcore sung by Italian bass-baritone Simone Alberghini also offers many opportunities for push and pull from the main characters. Without even a hint of “woofiness”, Alberghini demonstrated clarity and agility in the rapid Donizetti vocal lines. He also seemed to relish in the chance to ham it up on stage. Classic physical comedy abounds in this production without devolving into cliché and the opening night audience certainly ate it up. Ulivieri’s Dulcamara also reveled in the humorous elements. These two characters are often responsible for bringing the staccato, marcato patter to balance the legato bel canto lines of the young lovers and both did so with great skill. Domingo-Cafritz Young Artist Shantelle Przybylo also deserves a mention for her adorable turn as Giannetta. The passing-the-plates scene that she shares with the female chorus in which she describes how Nemorino has come into his new fortune was energetic and fun.
The overall production from Director Stephen Lawless, including set design by Johan Engels and lighting design by Joan Sullivan-Genthe, was refreshing. Sullivan-Genthe’s lighting design showed obvious consideration for visual story-telling. The production moves from a gorgeous sun-drenched opening through a carefully constructed storm and finally into a clear night. The strangest disappointment in this production were the handful of tempo disagreements between the stage and conductor Ward Stare that seemed to throw the trios and quartets off-kilter. It was undetermined what was causing the rift, but it was certainly noticeable.
Even with a few hiccoughs, it is true that sweet lovers really do love the spring. What better way to celebrate spring’s return than with this fun production of Donizetti’s L’elisir d’amore at Washington National Opera? There are seven more opportunities to catch it with this and another cast featuring Sarah Coburn and Daniel Montenegro as Adina and Nemorino. Tickets and information can be found at the Kennedy Center Box Office, by calling (202) 467-4600 or (800) 444-1324, or online at www.kennedy-center.org.
There is incredible growth when musicians work collaboratively in an interdisciplinary environment. It is exciting not only for the performers but for audiences who crave new experiences. Whether it is music, opera, theatre, dance, or other disciplines, there is no limit to the depths that are explored. That is why I was excited to talk to soprano CarrieAnne Winter and get her take on her recent performance with the In Series as well as her experience in the 2013 Rhymes With Opera New Chamber Music Workshop in New York City.
We covered so much… let’s get to it!
CarrieAnne Winter hails from Rockford, MI, and is known for her expressive phrasing and comic acting. A graduate of the Maryland Opera Studio, she made her professional opera début with Opera AACC in the role of Marietta, where she was described as having a “shimmering sound.” (Bay Weekly). The Washington Post declared her a “perky Blonde” (in Mozart’s Abduction from the Seraglio), and the Baltimore Sun has also praised her “stellar vocal and acting talents.”
Most recently, CarrieAnne made her Kennedy Center début as a soloist in collaboration with the Washington Ballet where she was featured in Christopher Wheeldon’s ballet, There Where She Loved. Other recent credits include Blonde/Abduction from the Seraglio with In Series, Dew Fairy/Hansel and Gretel with Loudon Lyric. A great supporter of new work, CarrieAnne premiered 2 operas, a song cycle, 2 Masses, and workshopped John Musto’s Inspector General with Wolf Trap Opera. This past year, CarrieAnne also had the pleasure to première new chamber works in the newly opened National Opera Center in Manhattan with Rhymes with Opera.
CarrieAnne has brought her voice to many productions, including Despina/Cosi fan tutte, Rosalba/Florencia en el Amazonas, Die Königen der Nacht/Die Zauberflöte, and Adele/Die Fledermaus. Her concert work includes Orff’s Carmina Burana, Mozart’s Requiem and Schubert’s Mass No. 2 in G. A diverse singer with a jazz background, she has shared the stage with Johnny Mathis, Darmon Meader, and Bobby McFerrin. Upcoming performances include Gilda/Rigoletto with Center Stage Opera.
Congratulations on your recent performance of “La Vie en Rose” with the In Series. The performance featured French chanson as well as dancers from The Washington Ballet Studio Company. What was the experience like to work in such a multi-dimensional performance?
I loved working with dancers! It was incredible to watch people who have worked so hard to master expression in their body the same way I have worked to master my voice. We all strived to achieve the same artistic moment, and when it was created, it was magical.
One challenge I found as a musician was consistency with tempos and phrasing. Just as we have only so much breath to complete a phrase, a dancer must complete a step in a set amount of time. The type of energy for a lift is very different from that of a jump or an arabesque, and you have to find that in the music. This type of collaboration is very much like working with other musicians in that you are constantly ‘listening’ to the other performers and responding. You just have to use your eyes in addition to your ears.
Working with the composers was much more like working with a director/choreographer, in that the director tells you what he/she wants the message to the audience to be. With the dancers, we were performing what our choreographer wanted from pieces that were already considered standards. The final product was much more set in stone. For the workshop with RWO, we were singing what our composers wrote for us, but we were building something for the first time, and so there was much more exploration and flexibility.
We also were working directly with the composers, and so we were able to talk to them about the meaning and source of the text. One of the pieces used text from our own individual palm readings. That particular piece was interesting because it was our own words set to music. In addition, we could say to our composers, “This phrase is really difficult for me vocally. Can we try this on a different vowel?” And the changes were made!
What do you find to be the most exciting aspects about working together in the compositional process?
I loved discovering the music with my colleagues. I remember my group didn’t know what one of the pieces, ‘Bramble Babies’, was about. We thought it was this weird thing with young girls eating raspberries. After we asked our composer about it, we found out it had a much deeper story to it — that it was actually about abortion! It totally changed how we felt about the piece, and how we sang it. The three composers I worked with were really different from each other, and exploring their unique styles was exciting. It was completely rewarding to finally hear the music come together.
Wow, what a difference that must have been! What elements did you find challenging?
The most challenging aspect was the short amount of rehearsal time for such complex pieces. We also had a last-minute replacement for our bassist, so the addition of a new personality to music that we had realized with another individual was an extra challenge.
You perform in such a wide variety of styles. How has working in new music informed your overall approach?
All music has a story. Some stories are clear, or poignant, or funny. As a vocalist, what’s most important is using your voice in a way that expresses the story. You have to be extremely aware of what your voice is capable of, what it sounds like, and what your tools are as a musician. If you want to perform in a specific style, you have to learn what it takes to sound authentic.
What I love about new music is its ability to take modern issues and ideas and give them expression. One of our pieces with RWO was about the Kardashians! I actually don’t watch much television, so I had to look it up and watch some of their show so that I could “Keep Up.”
Ha! Watching the Kardashians for research is certainly contemporary. Another facet of your performance is improv. What inspired your interest in classical improvisation?
A musician is made up of experiences, and my interest in improv probably came from a couple of sources. In college, I had the opportunity to work with a world-class vocal jazz ensemble. We were required to learn to improvise, and it was encouraged for us to arrange and write music. I was also exposed to Bobby McFerrin’s musicianship, and learned how to create circle songs, and was inspired by his ability to improvise concerts. It was probably at that when I lost the fear of making ‘bad’ sounds. Lastly, I have to thank my composer friend, Jonathan Cook. I premiered some of his works in undergrad, and he later took a class in improvisation. During a visit, he described how he had recently improvised an entire concert, and we had an improv jam session that showed me that I could spontaneously create music using the palette of classical vocal sounds.
If you had an extra day of the week, how would you spend it?
Probably the same way I spend most of my days! I would spend some of it singing, some of it with people I love, and some of it doing things I hate, but are necessary.
Time is the most valuable thing I have — so if I’m not spending it the way I want, it’s time for a change!
Amen to that!
Thank you to CarrieAnne for joining us today and sharing her thoughts! If you’d like to see more 6 Questions RE: with singers, composers, presenters, and more from around the country sign up for our mailing list to the right under “BECOME A SYBARITIC FAITHFUL OFFICIAL MEMBER” or find me on Twitter and get the latest in an amusing 140 characters at @mezzoihnen.
Are you interested in finding out more information about the Rhymes With Opera Summer Festival? Did you know that there will be a Baltimore-based summer festival this year!? Check it out:
About the Workshop
The RWO: New Chamber Music Workshop creates unique vocal/instrumental ensembles and pairs them with emerging composers to create collaborative new vocal chamber music. RWO is based in both New York, NY and Baltimore, MD, and the 2014 Workshop will take place in both cities concurrently.
Over the course of eleven sessions, singers will be combined into small ensembles with members of the Rhymes With Orchestra, and each ensemble will be paired with two composers. Composers will write pieces specifically for their ensemble, and each piece will be developed in a series of workshops and rehearsals, offering feedback to both composers and performers in the process. The Workshop culminates in a final performance of the new works.
COMPOSERS will have the opportunity to work with singers at the beginning of the workshop, allowing them to get to know the style and strengths of each individual musician before the writing process begins. Composers will receive feedback on their work from the performers, and will work closely with the performers on their pieces from inception to performance. Composers will participate in masterclasses with RWO composers George Lam and Ruby Fulton.
SINGERS will share their strengths with their composers during the workshop, informing the composition process through feedback and dialogue. Singers will have the opportunity to première new works written specifically for their voices. Participants will be coached by RWO singers Elisabeth Halliday and Robert Maril.
In addition to the development of the new works, participants will attend sessions with guest lecturers and performers under the guidance of Rhymes With Opera. Participants will explore topics including advanced music notation, contemporary performance techniques, creating and maintaining a constructive composer/performer relationship, and the intricacies of commissioning, developing, rehearsing and performing a new work.
To apply, visit rhymeswithopera.org
The songs that sprung from the Berlin cabaret (Kabarett) scene beginning in 1901 through the Weimar era packed a powerful punch in condensed form. The scene attracted literary and music composition giants such as Hanns Eisler, Kurt Weill, and Bertolt Brecht. Their political satire and criticism was thinly veiled, at most, in their songs. Grammy-nominated singer Theo Bleckmann and celebrated composer and pianist Rob Schwimmer teamed up on Thursday night for the Strathmore Music in the Mansion series to perform music from Songs of Love and War, Peace and Exile arranged by Fumio Yasuda. In keen juxtaposition, they paired the Kabarett songs with another Yasuda arrangement written for Bleckmann’s voice, Las Vegas Rhapsody, featuring songs that highlight the golden age of the crooner. Bleckmann and Schwimmer’s “Berlin~Las Vegas” journey isn’t chronological. It soothes with the lush sounds of one era only to jump through time and give a quick bite in the next song.
Both the Berlin Kabarett scene and the glamorous heyday of Las Vegas were steeped in illusion. Individuals struggled for distraction from their history and political conflicts. The music of each time period satisfied a need for escape, beauty, and a fugitive sense of pleasure or luxury. In making this observation of two worlds, it is appropriate then that Bleckmann and Schwimmer mixed the songs from both periods in a non-linear fashion. Bleckmann also pointed out in one of his short introductions that many of the songs still carry important meaning for contemporary audiences with, as he put it, “Russia being a little odd.” The sentiment was certainly not lost of the Strathmore audience many of whom who obviously did not need translations for the German songs.
Bleckmann, who moved to the States 25 years ago, has a voice like the perfect martini: clean, clear, and intoxicating. He was effortless throughout the evening with a deep understanding of the abilities of his instrument. One of the signature elements of his voice is the ability to change vocal colors quickly and intensely which he demonstrated over the course of the first half including: “Der Bilbao-Song”, “An den Kleinen Radioapparat”, and a stirring performance of Weill’s “Moon of Alabama” from the Songspiel Mahagonny. Being German has its advantages, especially when singing in the language. He stays true to the vocal line by singing clearly on the vowel while giving each consonant the exact amount of needed attention. Bleckmann threw the audience a bit of a curve ball with a cover of Kraftwerk’s 1978 “Das Modell” but elicited some laughs with his robot dance moves before returning to his smooth style with “Falling in Love Again” made famous by Marlene Dietrich.
While Rob Schwimmer seems overall more aggressive at the keyboard than Bleckmann is with the voice, he does exhibit an adroit clarity in this repertoire. Schwimmer’s dexterity on the jazzy tune, “Button Up Your Overcoat” was impressively slick. He also joined in on the singing in that tune – harmonizing with Bleckmann to the delight of the room. Later in the program, Schwimmer expertly took his time building the dramatic opening to Yasuda’s arrangement of “Chim Chim Cheree” which was a much darker look at “Hollywood’s take on the working class” than the one we remember from the movie.
The recital flowed so gracefully that I was almost surprised it was over – feeling as though we had just gotten started. Closing with Brecht and Weill’s “Surabaya Johnny”, Bleckmann and Schwimmer gave us one final example of what was so special about their performance all night — the juxtaposition of lush vocal colors with a quick bite from the text. Each iteration of the line, “take that stupid pipe out of your mouth, you dog” (in both English and German) had a subtly different shade of pain. Finally, as an encore and special thank you to Zona Hostetler of the Randy Hostetler Living Room Music Fund, Bleckmann and Schwimmer performed the Las Vegas perennial favorite “I’ve Got the World on a String.”