No Song is Safe From Us

No Song Is Safe From Us - The NYFOS Blog
 |  Steven Blier

For many years, Michael Barrett and I discussed doing a program devoted to the blues, that quintessential American genre. But we were never sure how to tackle such a broad topic. Then our friend, the musicologist and early blues scholar Elliott Hurwitt proposed that we devote an evening to W. C. Handy, and this magically opened up the long-sought path. I’d known about Handy—famous as “The Father of the Blues”—since my boyhood. One of his songs was in some anthology I pored over as a child—could it have been The Fireside Book of Favorite American Songs? I found his music sweet and old-timey, redolent of straw hats, picnics, bandstands on summer days.




 |  Steven Blier

A student and I were talking about the operas we’d heard in recent months, as we often do at the beginning of a session. It was a slightly depressing discussion, and one I’ve had several times recently in my studio during a period when there has been a lot of alarming crash-and-burn singing across the […]




 |  Steven Blier

One of the most rewarding parts of my life is my work at Juilliard. There I have met some extraordinary artists and given them projects that let them shine. NYFOS audiences have been lucky enough to hear many of these beautiful singers over the years—Paul Appleby, Julia Bullock, Theo Hoffman, Miles Mykkanen, Sasha Cooke—a dazzling list that goes on and on.




 |  Steven Blier

The summer before last I became obsessed with the Verdi Requiem. It’s a piece I’ve known since I was 13, when I got the Leontyne-Jussi Bjoerling LPs (in monophonic sound) as a bar mitzvah gift. But now, due to the miracle of Spotify, I suddenly have the capacity to hear a slew of recordings, all available by touching a screen. Young people take this digital bonanza for granted, but after lugging stacks of records home from the library as a kid, I never cease to marvel at how easy it is to indulge my musical whims.




 |  Steven Blier

I ventured into the Met to hear The Girl of the Golden West last week. I’d never seen the now-venerable Giancarlo del Monaco production—never heard this opera at the Met, in fact—and I’d never seen Jonas Kaufmann live. Neither of us is getting any younger and I pride myself on having heard all the major voices since I started going to the opera in 1963. So I secured a standing room ticket and hauled myself into the theater.




 |  Steven Blier

I’ve been listening to soprano Montserrat Caballé this past week, in the days following her death at age 85. I first heard her at Carnegie Hall in December of 1965, when she sang Donizetti’s Roberto Devereux. Later that month my dad and I went to the Met for her début. She wanted to sing in the old house on 39th Street before it got torn down, and they slotted her in for a single performance of Faust.




 |  Steven Blier

It never ceases to amaze me how significant a concert can be, especially in an intimate environment away from the urban hurly-burly. When we make music in Orient—way out at the eastern end of Long Island’s North Forth—we feel the immediate reward of feeding people who are clearly hungry for song, hungry for artistic stimulation, hungry to be addressed with kindness, humor, and intelligence.




 |  Steven Blier

When I first did “The Art of Pleasure” at Wolf Trap I shared piano duties with a man I treasure, both as a musical partner and friend—Joseph Li. He’s an almost intimidatingly beautiful artist, versatile and virtuosic. In Orient, alas, I am going it alone, which makes “The Art of Pleasure” a lot more art but somewhat less pleasure for me.




 |  Steven Blier

Wednesday is pretty much the last day I can work intimately with each singer. From here on in, we need to put a show together, bash away at memorization, and fit each song into the longer arc of the program. So I scheduled a bunch of individual sessions to talk through big ideas and correct small errors. An almost-negligible flaw in a phrase sometimes reveals a larger, more important issue, something worth discussing. And it always takes me by surprise, the tiny blip that leads to big progress.