No Song is Safe From Us

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

I faced a quandary when I was programming the April 24 Lorca concert. Though I try to avoid presenting songs I’ve done in recent concerts, I couldn’t find many suitable examples of cante jondo—the “deep song” of Andalusia that Lorca venerated. He disdained the word “flamenco,” which he called the “tourist version” of cante jondo. But for an American listener the two terms are roughly equivalent, especially in this day and age. Recordings of cante jondo are of course in plentiful supply. What’s almost impossible is finding songs in this style appropriate for the recital stage and classically trained singers.

 |  nyfos

Machiavelli’s La Mandragola was Mark’s next idea, and he eventually convinced Bill that the idea had legs. “I liked it because it was centered around a woman,” Bill told me, “and (in our version) a woman who comes out on top. I had only one proviso: I wanted to set it in Argentina.” Why? “Well, I wanted to write a zarzuela…as imagined by the Marx Brothers.”

 |  nyfos

Our very first Artist of the Month is a longtime friend of NYFOS: Pulitzer Prize-winning composer William Bolcom. He answers our questions about song, singers, and his history with Steve in advance of our NYFOS@Juilliard concert in celebration of his 80th birthday.

 |  Adrian Rosas

As I began to think of some of the songs that I love, my mind immediately gravitated to multiple pieces from the cabaret songs of William Bolcom. Within these volumes of songs, “Black Max” (as it is most commonly known), has always stuck out as a favorite.

 |  Justin Austin

“Ballad of the landlord” is a poem by Langston Hughes. It basically is a dialogue between an African American tenant and a white landlord. It’s interesting to me that Langston doesn’t offer any opinions. He tell’s the story as it happens and the reader/ listener has no choice but to develop their own opinion.

 |  Michael Barrett

Certainly one of our most successful living opera composers, Bolcom has an amazing way of writing arias that sound really American, and still sound like Grand Opera. I hear jazz chords, the blues, and american musical gestures which I don’t have a name for. And it is all somehow spun into soaring operatic melody.

 |  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

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

Sasha Cooke walked into my studio at Juilliard twelve years ago, bringing songs from Fauré’s La chanson d’Eve. My life instantly took a turn for the better. From the beginning Sasha had That Sound—I describe her voice as the love child of Janet Baker and Lorraine Hunt Lieberson—rich, intense, somehow fruity and folky at the same time. I knew I wanted to be one of her musical partners for life, also sensing that I would have to share her with a lot of other folks. (Thank God I had learned to be polyamorous as a musician.)