No Song is Safe From Us

No Song Is Safe From Us - The NYFOS Blog
 |  Michael Barrett

It’s the big Bernstein year. Steven Blier and I have already done a passel of LB shows, with more to come this winter and next fall. But here’s a beautiful rarity from his Peter Pan. Most folks don’t know it, since it didn’t have a big run on B’way. He wrote half a dozen songs for Boris Karloff’s show (he was Hook, of course), but as always, Lenny delivered some keepers.




 |  Michael Barrett

Jesu, meine Freude. Jesus, my Joy. Johann Sebastian Bach. It’s fair to say that classical musicians agree that Bach at the very top of creative geniuses. His music seems in a class by itself. And he wrote lots and lots of music. It seemed to just pour out of him. I’m amazed at how personal his music sounds to me. It’s full of emotional feeling, belief, hope, and tragedy. On a snowy day like this, when I hope to stay in, listening to Bach is like having a private religious ceremony. This is a church I actually want to attend.




 |  Michael Barrett

think most NYFOS folks know Charles Yang by now. He’s our young super star violinist and more recently, he’s carving out an important career as a songwriter and vocalist with an amazing group of three string players (two violins and bass) called Time For Three. They have been playing to much larger audiences than our normal NYFOS crowd (stadiums), and their music is getting deeper, better, and more beautiful every time I hear it.




 |  Michael Barrett

I met Johnny Green in the 1980s. He was well into his 80s and he was there at BAM for the Gershwin celebration concert and TV show to teach us about Gershwin, and about how his big band arrangements went. He took the band through a few numbers and what I most remembered was the sound he got out of them. “This should sound like velvet” he said. We all know velvet doesn’t make a sound, but of course every sax player instantly knew what to do, and they got breathy with their reeds, and the trumpets and trombones fell right in.




 |  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?