No Song is Safe From Us

No Song Is Safe From Us - The NYFOS Blog
 |  Leann Osterkamp

“Little Smary” is an example of Bernstein’s art song repertoire outside of the theater. The words are by Jennie Bernstein (Bernstein’s mother). The story depicts a young girl playing with her “wuddit” (rabbit). The story was a common bedtime story told to Bernstein by his mother.




 |  Joshua Breitzer

We like to think of Irving Berlin as one of the most quintessentially American songwriters, but like so many of them, he had his roots elsewhere. He wrote this little-known tune for Fanny Brice in 1925, soon after legislation had been passed placing quotas on immigration. In this live recording by the incomparable Judy Blazer and NYFOS’s own Michael Barrett, listen for lyrics like “There’s millions of people on the shore / Why can’t you make room for just one more” and marvel at how relevant Berlin’s piece still is.




 |  Michael Barrett

To end the week on an upbeat, let’s have a group sing. Here is the opening chorus from Bach’s Cantata No. 11. It is from the marvelous complete cantata recordings by Gustave Leonhardt and Nicholas Harnoncourt. I had the good fortune of participating in masterclasses with both of them on various occasions. I wasn’t exactly a baroque-nik, but their music making was so fresh and vital, I felt I needed to learn from them.




 |  Michael Barrett

Continuing our quick survey of J.S. Bach, here is another cantata aria. It is really chamber music. The countertenor’s expressive part is underpinned by an incredible duet between the organ and oboe, creating a kind of trio sonata. The mastery of counterpoint is intimidating (at least for us performers), but the outcome is so joyful, it’s irresistible. The text? Well, it is about death, but the joy comes not from some promised afterlife, where, finally, everything will be tolerable. It is about living one’s life fully, so that when you reach the endgame you are ready, fulfilled, and feel that you have made some contribution that has been ultimately satisfying.




 |  Michael Barrett

Today let’s revisit Bach’s Cantata No.199. It’s a favorite of sopranos, for the obvious reason of the absolute beauty and gentleness of the central aria “Tief gebuckt und voller Reue”. In the best Lutheran tradition, the text addresses God, admitting guilt and weakness, but implores God to be patient. This beautiful performance is sung by Magdalena Kozena and conducted by John Eliot Gardiner.




 |  Michael Barrett

I’m surveying some of my favorite Bach this week. I won’t be able to make a dent in the 250 surviving Cantatas, Oratorios, Masses, or Passions, alas. It’s true that most of Bach’s vocal output is liturgical. There are exceptions: The Coffee Cantata, the Hunt Cantata, and this beauty found in Anna Magdalena Bach’s Notebook. Did she write it herself? One of her talented sons? Or was it a valentine from her husband that she wrote down in her musical journal?




 |  Michael Barrett

I’ve just completed a successful time at the 25th annual Moab Music Festival. It’s a big achievement which I am proud of. NYFOS is celebrating our 30th year starting next month, so this seems to be a big anniversary year for me. Moab and NYFOS have converged on many occasions, but never around the music of Bach. There are so many specialty groups now that specialize in early music, which includes Bach. At NYFOS I guess we feel that Bach is covered.




 |  Michael Barrett

Dave Frishberg has the most urbane sense in his songs. He writes about everyday things but somehow makes them oh so cool. I mean, what’s so great about your lawyer? If you have one, maybe you are having problems. And they are so expensive! But My Attorney Bernie makes me want to meet Bernie and hang with him. I guess there are terrific people to be found in any profession, which is what Mr. Frishberg seems to be celebrating.




 |  Michael Barrett

Summer is usually the time when love has the greatest opportunity to bloom. The soft evenings, the lingering twilight, the wonderful cuisine—fresh produce of every kind—all add up to an awakening of the senses. The collection of German folk poetry Des Knaben Wunderhorn is full of parables about war, love, betrayal, and fidelity. “Ablösung Im Sommer” is one of these.




 |  Michael Barrett

Summer is when we get the most sun. Most of us brown up a little, even without getting to the beach. The tomatoes and peaches are coming in, the breezes are warm, the city streets are less crowded, and life is full of pleasures we just can’t experience when it’s cold. To remind us how to hang on to that feeling throughout the year, here is Esperanza Spalding singing (and playing her bass in) “The Sunny Side of the Street”. She’s an amazingly gifted artist, and she’s got all the high notes and all the low notes in her arsenal.