Interviews

 

From Rodney Lister, the author of the musical notes on our Thomson recording

Rodney studied composition with Thomson and is a successful teacher and composer today.

What was particularly gratifying about learning and recording the songs if Virgil Thomson? What did you learn about Thomson that surprised you?

Rodney Lister: That he has a very special and personal presentation of the world which incorporates both an evocation of an America that even by his youth was beginning to cease to exist and includes a lot of things--hymn tunes, patriotic tunes, and long ago popular music--that seem to me to be particularly appealing. Without a doubt the biggest discovery for me was the Oraison Funèbre, which I'd never heard before, and which I find enchanting and which I long to play myself sometime soon.

 


From our Contralto, Lynne McMurtry

Described as "a force of nature" (Toronto Star) and "an actress of immense talent" (Opera Canada), contralto Lynne McMurtry has performed with the Boston Symphony, the Winnipeg Symphony, the Edmonton Symphony, the Okanagan Symphony, Opera Ontario, Edmonton Opera and Manitoba Opera, and at many of the major festivals, including Tanglewood, Ravinia, Banff, and Aldeburgh.

What was particularly gratifying about learning and recording the songs if Virgil Thomson?

Lynne: It was really fascinating how many different styles of composition and possibilities he had explored. My songs were so different, from the Phèdre to the Praises & Prayers, to the Mass….they all sounded very different, with different values accorded to melody, harmony, text-setting, throughout. What did you learn about Thomson that surprised you?" Lynne: I guess the variety of styles surprised me. I also hadn't realized how much church music permeates his output.

Why should people buy this recording?

Lynne: I think the quality of care that went into our performances is going to make the disc something special. Working (mostly) in English (our native language), with an American composer and on a project that we care so much about, we really invested and took care with communicating, painting the text, enjoying all of Thomson's quirks and experiments and differing musical voices.

Florestan Recital Project has a history of programming and/or recording the complete songs of composers from Francis Poulenc to Samuel Barber to Virgil Thomson. Who are some other composers whose complete song output would appeal to you as a performer?

Lynne: What a nice thing to think about. Singing all of Ned Rorem's songs might make me a little crazy but I think he deserves a look. Lee Hoiby? I think John Musto may have been done, or am I imagining that? He has lots of good songs.

As a multi-faceted artist, you perform in many different genres from opera to oratorio to chamber music. Why is song repertoire special to you, and what would you like people to know about its place in the overall landscape of the arts?

Lynne: I have always loved singing songs because it gave me so much freedom to sing about things I wanted to sing about. There are so many different poems and texts, so many voices, so many eras. Rather than be limited to a single peripheral character in a larger story (which is usually what happens to me in opera because of my voice type!) I get to be the protagonist and explore all sorts of existences and possibilities. And while I appreciate the timeless themes and the canonical composers, I absolutely adore being able to speak on stage in a more contemporary voice, with settings of composers and poets from my lifetime and the very recent past. It feels relevant and real and right now and it gives me such a thrill.

 


From our Pianist, Linda Osborn

Award winning pianist Linda Osborn has performed extensively across the United States and in Europe as a chamber musician and vocal accompanist. Her partnership has been recognized as "thoroughly satisfying, colorful and supportive" by the Los Angeles Times, with "an impressive ability to speak powerfully in both the softest and the loudest extremes of the piano's dynamic spectrum" by the Washington Post.

What was particularly gratifying about learning and recording the songs if Virgil Thomson? What did you learn about Thomson that surprised you?"

Linda: Foremost, the opportunity to work with Sarah and Bill - two singers I have long admired but never collaborated with. And regarding the songs - each one was a surprise waiting to be revealed. I had no idea how stylistically varied his output was. One minute it's transparent, ethereal colors and on the next page there's a parlor song. Crazy!

Why should people buy this recording?

Linda: Well, the singing is spectacular, of course. That's reason enough! But I do think the songs deserve this recording which offers a glimpse into a very particular time and cultural space. Thomson's settings of poems by Gertrude Stein, for example, not only showcase her daring experimentation, but also his own immense creativity and craft. And of course, it's always exciting to experience the growth of an important composer by hearing their complete output.

Florestan Recital Project has a history of programming and/or recording the complete songs of composers from Francis Poulenc to Samuel Barber to Virgil Thomson. Who are some other composers whose complete song output would appeal to you as a performer?

Linda: I've always wanted to spend time with Ives. And also to explore geographic regions - South America, Scandinavia.

As a multi-faceted artist, you perform in many different genres from opera to oratorio to chamber music. Why is song repertoire special to you, and what would you like people to know about its place in the overall landscape of the arts?

Linda: The intimacy of song is what keeps me coming back again and again - both during the process and the performance. A wonderful singer peels away at layers - layers in the text, the notes, the emotions and reveals themselves through the music. Of course all music can offer an emotional experience, but song more than anything else because of the vulnerability of the performer. I'm astounded art song isn't more popular in this country, to me it's the most expressive of the arts. But part of it might be the nakedness of the experience. A performer stands without an instrument separating you, you see their face, their eyes, hear words and music that might be incredibly beautiful or emotionally challenging - it demands you participate in the experience. Every voice is unique with it's own special color, timbre, size. So each performance is inherently unique.

 


From our percussionist, the composer John McDonald

Recently described as “the New England master of the short piece” in a recording review, John McDonald is a composer who tries to play the piano and a pianist who tries to compose. He is Professor of Music at Tufts University, where he has served both as Music Department Chair and Director of Graduate Music Studies. He teaches composition, theory, and performance at Tufts. His output concentrates on vocal, chamber, and solo instrumental works, and includes interdisciplinary experiments.

What was particularly gratifying about learning and recording the songs if Virgil Thomson? What did you learn about Thomson that surprised you?"

John: The large scope and variety of Thomson's songs, the play of languages (he's not just a Gertrude Stein man), and the high quality of this large output were pleasant surprises. His dry humor and inventiveness barely mask a deep seriousness.

Why should people buy this recording?

John: Great singing and playing rivalling the best in the world, plus a composer whose work chronicles most of the twentieth century with elegance and an inimitable personal touch (I'm thinking of the lullabies)...

Florestan Recital Project has a history of programming and/or recording the complete songs of composers from Francis Poulenc to Samuel Barber to Virgil Thomson. Who are some other composers whose complete song output would appeal to you as a performer?

John: Ned Rorem, Othmar Schoeck, Darius Milhaud, Peter Child (Boston via England), Yehudi Wyner, Lee Hoiby, Florestan commissioned composers (evening-long cycles as CD projects?). Don't know how much there is from Polish composer Zygmunt Krauze, but he is super-interesting and unknown in the states. Also John Duke (quality issue?), Ernst Bacon (250 songs apparently), Ernst Krenek, Dada songs (Zurich, New York, etc.), more if I sit around long enough thinking...

As a multi-faceted artist, you perform in many different genres from opera to oratorio to chamber music. Why is song repertoire special to you, and what would you like people to know about its place in the overall landscape of the arts?

John: It can be argued that two people --singer and instrumentalist--collaborating in an intimate space to interpret unusual words without extraneous theatrics is vital for our stability and concentration powers as a developing culture. You can look but sooner or later you gotta just listen and be patient, let words and music sink in.

 


From our tenor, William Hite

William Hite’s reputation as an engaging and expressive artist has led to appearances spanning three decades with the Boston Symphony Orchestra, the Philadelphia Symphony Orchestra, Dresdner Philharmonie, American Symphony Orchestra, Washington Bach Consort, New York City Ballet, Mark Morris Dance Group, New York Collegium, National Arts Center Orchestra (Ottawa), Charlotte Symphony, Boston Baroque, Toronto Consort, Emmanuel Music, Tafelmusik and Philharmonia Baroque.

What was particularly gratifying about learning and recording the songs if Virgil Thomson? What did you learn about Thomson that surprised you?"

William: I was surprised to learn that the close connection to Gertrude Stein pervades his song repertoire and not just his operatic output. I was surprised at how elegantly and expertly he sets the French language.

Why should people buy this recording?

William: I think the strongest selling point and why one would purchase this CD is because of its completeness. It is an invaluable resource for students of American art song whether they be scholars or performers, or both!

Florestan Recital Project has a history of programming and/or recording the complete songs of composers from Francis Poulenc to Samuel Barber to Virgil Thomson. Who are some other composers whose complete song output would appeal to you as a performer? >

William: Stephen Foster, Copland, Ives.

As a multi-faceted artist, you perform in many different genres from opera to oratorio to chamber music. Why is song repertoire special to you, and what would you like people to know about its place in the overall landscape of the arts?

William: Song is special to me because of its distillation. If words/texts/poems are what set singers apart from other instruments then it strikes me that the setting of those texts for just voice and piano is ideal. Composers tasks themselves with tapping their personal response to the words and then must convey that using only two instruments. There is little to prevent the text from being heard and communicated.

The process for the pianist and the singer is boiled down as well. They have only each others music and the text to concentrate on. The dialog, musically and otherwise, that is a by product of preparing songs would not be possible in a setting where there were many other instruments involved. The singer and pianist are wholly involved and invested in the process. A satisfactory, or excellent, outcome requires deep listening to the others ideas. When the process works there is an uncommon sense of connectedness to your colleague that doesn’t take place in the other mediums open to singers. The experience of opera and oratorio can indeed be very powerful, but intimacy of song is not duplicated anywhere else in my experience as a singer.

Poet, composer, pianist and singer in the closest possible proximity and conveying that to a listener. That’s what is so amazing about song!

 


From our Soprano, Sarah Pelletier

Praised by the Boston Globe for possessing“virtues of voice, intelligence and musicianship… with purity of tone and expression”, soprano Sarah Pelletier demonstrates these qualities in all her performances. She has appeared as a guest artist at the Spoleto Festival USA, Bard Music Festival, and Aldeburgh Festival, UK. Ms. Pelletier toured with Maestro Seiji Ozawa to Japan, China, and Italy performing Madama Butterfly and Peter Grimes at Saito Kinen Festival and Maggio Musicale Fiorentino.

What was particularly gratifying about learning and recording the songs if Virgil Thomson? What did you learn about Thomson that surprised you?"

Sarah: Before this project, I had only known of Thomson's operatic works, so I was surprised by the breadth and scope of his song output. The pieces I sang included an extended Baroque song form (Preciosilla), songs for solo voice with percussion (Five Phrases from the Song of Solomon), early songs in an Impressionist Style (Vernal Equinox), a delicately crafted cycle of Spanish songs (Tres Estampas), and more.

When you focus on the music of one composer for a project such as this, you truly live and breathe the music. You immerse yourself in it fully - the words, the melody, the accompaniment. It was an honor to carve my artistic imprint on the songs by creating, for some, the very first recording of the works.

Why should people buy this recording?

Sarah: This recording is a comprehensive discography of an early founder of American art song. Each performer displayed mature artistry in his/her rendition of this repertoire. Lovers of art song, voice teachers, musicians, and historians should know this repertoire, and it is my hope that this recording will breathe new life into this music.

 


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