No Song is Safe From Us

No Song Is Safe From Us - The NYFOS Blog
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We went back to Katonah today, with Mo Zhou riding up with us in the car. I wish everyone could have Mo to themselves for an hour. She’s a delight, a character, a raconteur, a force of nature.

Apparently there had been eighteen inches of snow at Caramoor, but most of it was cleaned up, the electricity was back, Jeff Haydon (the CEO of Caramoor) was back from vacation, and all seemed back to normal. There was one fly in the ointment: since the singers didn’t find out that their residence was back on the grid until they were already on the train, they left all their stuff in New York. This necessitated a return trip for them tonight back to their hotels and apartments, and another schlepp up tomorrow morning for rehearsal. They’ve been asked to sing at a 10 AM board meeting at Caramoor. I don’t want to think about it.

Through all of this Sturm und Drang (literally), Adam and the quartet of singers have made steady progress. Michael and I have been so impressed with the beauty of their work. They are also amazingly assured and startlingly professional. I reflect on what I might have accomplished in my life if I’d been this grown-up and together when I was in my mid-twenties—or my mid-forties! Ah well. I reassure myself that no one was this assured back in the messy, disheveled, “Trust No One Over 30” 1970s.

We did a work-through of the whole show today, with Mo Zhou serving as director. It’s hard to describe what it’s like to work with the brilliant woman. She talks very quickly, narrating the scenario she wants to see at breakneck speed: “You come in, all fairy oh look what a nice room you tell audience about the trumpet you take nice trill so pretty but then she take a high note you not too happy but you get over it go back to pretty room look at picture of Virgin Mary on back wall.” Somehow it all works. Occasionally Mo says, “Oh Steven tell me if this is too much.” Sometimes what she wants is fantastic, sometimes it’s…too much. But working as a team—with Mikey monitoring it all—the results are ultimately beautiful, and so original. Mo always has another idea, even better than the last. As she said, “Michael! You keep me on a leash! You drag me back when I go too far!!!”

People often see me smiling warmly during the concerts on the Emerging Artist series. “You really are the proud papa, aren’t you?” they ask. Well, sort of. But the source of the smile is not parental satisfaction. It is the sheer pleasure of hearing a song performed with beauty, truthfulness, and depth. I am not beaming at my “kids.” I am moved by the words and music I treasure, and the way these singers bring it all to life. When Adam plays, I fall in love with Finzi and Bridge all over again. And so it is with each of the singers—they breathe fresh life into repertoire I’ve known for decades.

The day ended with a snowball fight between the cast members. This was a bit like seeing your adorable pet kitty turn into a predator, baring his claws at the sight of a bird. It’s a side of them I hadn’t yet seen during our hothouse artistic hours together. Greg, the refined purveyor of nuance, turned into a deadly lobber of icy white missiles. “I’m kind of a jock, you know,” he confided between throws. Kayleigh countered with a lethal speedball of her own. Madison, who had given her voice a bit of a rest during the long rehearsal, didn’t spare herself as she shrieked during the fight. Matt, the gentle giant, needed to use only a fraction of his strength to hit each of his colleagues squarely in the back.

Tomorrow: dress rehearsal. I’ll be sad to leave these rehearsals behind.

Steven Blier

Called “the coolest dude in town” by Opera News, master collaborative pianist and coach Steven Blier is the co-founder and artistic director of New York Festival of Song. Here on No Song is Safe From Us, Steven blogs about the NYFOS Emerging Artist residencies, writes the engaging and erudite program notes for our Mainstage concerts, and contributes frequently to Song of the Day.


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1 Comment on "NYFOS@Caramoor: Day 5"

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8 days 22 hours ago

How wonderfully you write about your musical family and the good times on the road. I can see each and every one of the characters, as well as your own gentle smile as you appreciate the beauty of music and of making it with friends. Thank you for inviting all of us onto this charmed adventure. Mo Sounds like such good fun!