No Song is Safe From Us

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

I always look forward to the first day of Caramoor rehearsal, but I also fear the first day of Caramoor rehearsal. This year’s outing, Four Islands, is a complicated show with songs from Ireland, Cuba, Madagascar, and Manhattan in five languages (including Gaelic and Zulu). It has music hall, vocal chamber music, Afro-Cuban heat and contemporary cool. I knew one of my cast members well, and another was a singer with whom I had a short but fruitful acquaintance. The other two were people I believed in but actually knew very little. So was my pianist.




 |  Steven Blier

William Bolcom is my musical godfather. I’ve known him since the late 1970s—Alvin Epstein introduced us after one of their Tully Hall concerts. When I met Bill’s wife Joan Morris I said, “Oh you were so wonderful this evening—but I am sure you must be tired of hearing that from everyone.” And she said, “Oh, actually…no. Try me.” We bonded instantly.




 |  Steven Blier

I couldn’t do a week of American song blogs without featuring my friend John Musto. I first heard him at a memorial concert for Paul Jacobs, who had been my piano teacher for a little while. John was playing a duo-piano piece (Schubert, I think) that night. Both guys played beautifully, but there was something special in John’s sound and phrasing that resonated in my soul. I struck up a conversation with him at the party afterwards, and we soon became friends and colleagues. We’re both dyed-in-the-wool New Yorkers, and somehow the contrasts in our personalities helped to forge a bond between us.




 |  Steven Blier

Paul Bowles’ A Picnic Cantata has been something of a NYFOS signature piece ever since our late board member Morris Golde brought it to Michael Barrett’s attention in the early 1990s. I remember going with Michael to listen to it in the Lincoln Center Library Research Division—the LP was long out of print. Alternatively spiky and lyrical, utterly unpredictable, and oddly graceful, Bowles’ music won me over. We programmed it on a double bill with a concert reading of André Messager’s operetta L’amour masqué—a project so ambitious that I had to check my archives to reassure myself that my memory was not deceiving me. We should have renamed ourselves “The New York Festival of Chutzpah.”




 |  Steven Blier

Gabriel Kahane is one of my favorite contemporary songwriters. He sprang to prominence with an early piece, “Craigslistlieder,” a brash, hilarious, and sophisticated song cycle based on internet postings. Gabe has a unique way of melding popular and classical styles, cross-breeding German art song and 90s power ballads, Fauré and Beatles, Stravinsky and Radiohead into something uniquely his own.




 |  Steven Blier

Of all of Bernstein’s vocal works, the one I love most is “Songfest.” It was originally intended to premiere during the Bicentennial year, but Bernstein was not able to finish it in time. As a result he had to relinquish the commission. Yet he felt strongly impelled to finish the work—the idea had taken root within him. “Songfest” finally had its first full performance in 1977, and it was worth waiting for.




 |  Steven Blier

I’ve become friends with my British colleague Julius Drake. John Brancy introduced us a few years ago, and I am always touched that Julius makes sure to see me when he’s in town. I admire him very much as an artist, and have taken to sending him occasional emails when I am practicing. The mere idea of his presence—my inner Julius, I guess you’d call it—calms me and guides me at the piano.




 |  Steven Blier

As I deal with the current dystopia I encounter every morning on NPR, I keep thinking about the song “Slap That Bass” by the Gershwin brothers. “Dictators would be better off if they zoom-zoomed now and then,” they write. I couldn’t agree more. “Zoom zoom, zoom zoom, the world is in a mess”—but for a few minutes George and Ira make the world safe again.




 |  Steven Blier

It just rained in New York for about 48 hours and I stayed inside for the duration. I got lots done, and my students seemed happy to have their lessons here (where they get tea, more time, a better piano, and juicier stories). But today is sunny and beautiful and I finally have to leave my aerie. To celebrate, a clip from one of my favorite modern artists, Lypsinka.




 |  Steven Blier

Of all of today’s jaw-dropping political insanities, the fact-free, capricious dismissal of climate change strikes me as the most destructive and short-sighted. We can’t lose time, we can’t blame it on China, we can’t just tweet it away. I’ve been thinking obsessively about this Joni Mitchell classic for the past few days—“Big Yellow Taxi,” a cheerful tune with a sharp, still-timely environmental message.