No Song is Safe From Us

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

My Wolf Trap concert ends with a bang: Gershwin’s “Love Is Sweeping the Country,” done in its original arrangement—a bracing two-step. The song comes from “Of Thee I Sing,” the first musical to win a Pulitzer Prize. But the award was given only to the book-and-lyrics team of Morrie Ryskind, George. S. Kaufman, and Ira Gershwin, not to the composer, George Gershwin. At that time, the Pulitzer was still strictly a literary prize—no musicians allowed.




 |  Steven Blier

Since my upcoming Wolf Trap concert features four singers and two pianists, it seemed crazy not to open the program with the cornerstone work for those forces: Brahms’ Liebeslieder Waltzes. Normally I shun the obvious, so I briefly considered delving into the four-part writing of Szymanowski or Schoeck or Schreker. After about 40 seconds I came to my senses. Some pieces are evergreen, and the Liebeslieder are at the top of that last.




 |  Steven Blier

The Wolf Trap concert I’m about to start rehearsing is another one of my quattro stagione pizzas: four groups of songs from four countries, each nationality introduced by a two-piano piece for Joseph Li and me to play. Joe had asked me to include some French music, and I obliged. I’m putty in his hands—and he’ll also be playing most of the songs.




 |  Steven Blier

I am taking a small liberty and posting a “song” that doesn’t include any singing. But I have been so turned on by playing Astor Pizzolla’s “Fuga y misterio” on two pianos (with Joseph Li, of course) that I thought you might enjoy the excitement of the piece too. Something unusual happens to me when I play “Fuga y misterio”: I feel I become a different person. Music almost always flies me to a different emotional realm, but the physical act of pounding out Piazzolla’s tango brings out a Steve I have never before met before. 




 |  Steven Blier

One of the songs we’re doing at Wolf Trap is Gershwin’s “Hi-ho.” George and Ira wrote it for the movie “Shall We Dance,” and it finds the brothers at the top of their game. Musically complex (an early listener called it “practically a piano sonata”) and lyrically adroit, “Hi-ho” is a true Gershwin masterpiece. But it was simply too long to be included in the movie. It would have needed an expensive, elaborate set, and Hollywood was not seduced by its sheer musical brilliance. Tony Bennett recorded it as a sexy soft-shoe, but William Sharp and I exploited its careening energy when we made our Gershwin CD in 1990. I love Tony B., but I think our “Hi-ho” flies higher. And when Joe and I played it last weekend, my piano started to give off smoke. Watch out, world.




 |  Steven Blier

We weren’t sure we’d be able to make it to Westchester today. They predicted a lengthy snowfall with five to seven inches accumulated on the ground by noon. So we made a bunch of contingency plans, and were prepared to load the singers onto a Metro-North train to work at my house in the afternoon. But it turned out to be a fairly benign snowfall in above-freezing temperatures. The roads were clear (and blessedly empty) on the way up to Caramoor, and we managed to stay on course.




 |  Steven Blier

Something has been missing for me from the last few Caramoor residencies: one-on-one time with each singer, the kind of interaction where mountains get moved and new artistic ideas get planted. It’s mostly been a question of scheduling: when we have a guest coach, the singers are all in one room with Michael and me and the imported guru, and we simply have less one-on-one time. And this week we’ve had guest teachers every day. Until today.




 |  Steven Blier

Thursday is usually the most intense day—it’s the designated time for everyone to be off book, i.e., memorized. But today—Wednesday, usually a frolic in the sandbox—turned out to be a strenuous day of contact sports. Some of this had to do with the schedule: Marco was to join us in the afternoon, but he could only get there at 3:40. It was our last coaching day with him—yes, he’ll be back for more rehearsals and he’ll play the performances with us, but then he’ll be in his role purely as flautist. So we had a lot to cover in a short period, and that meant the day ended with three hours of extremely concentrated work on all the flute stuff and all the Spanish stuff.




 |  Steven Blier

I always used to joke that one of the important things Michael Barrett and I had in common was that we both came from islands: Michael was born in Guam, and I was born in Manhattan. This quip could always be counted on to bring down the house at a NYFOS concert. In recent years, though, I have started to wonder if there wasn’t some truth underlying my flippant remark. Island dwellers, whether urban or tropical, all seem to develop certain traits. We crave the proximity of water, which provides us with a comforting aquatic buffer from the rest of the world. We see ourselves as fundamentally different from (and superior to) our landlocked neighbors. We are often under attack from outside enemies, and must learn to protect ourselves from invasion.




 |  Steven Blier

Tuesday is traditionally the most carefree play-day at Caramoor. The Sunday concert still seems a long way off, memorization is not making everyone into zombies, and we can still do some real exploration with the singers and the songs. Michael and I have a sense of what we’d like our cast to get out of the week’s project, and there seems to be just enough time. It’s like working with plaster of Paris: there is a certain window when the materials are malleable before they harden for good. We seized the day, all of us.