March 31, 2021
Artistic Director Steven Blier recaps each day of intensive rehearsal and coaching with the 2021 Schwab Vocal Rising Stars — four vocalists and one pianist at the beginning of their professional careers. On day six, it’s a dress-rehearsal, creating a passive-aggressive tone while singing, and Steven shares with us his utmost trust in Béné.
Watch their concert tonight at 7:00pmEST. Available to watch 48 hours after the stream.
Perhaps my enforced absence from the concert stage has given me a chance to rethink everything about putting on a concert. Maybe my daily partnership with Bénédicte has shaken up my old routine. Maybe I can’t even remember my old routine any more. But things feel different, and in many ways better.
Normally we’d spend the dress rehearsal day going over trouble spots in the morning, and then doing a run in the afternoon. But Béné and I—and the cast—decided to run the concert in the morning, have lunch, and then go cue to cue in the afternoon. That way we faced the monster of our first no-stopping rehearsal while we still had some energy. And later on, we’d know for sure what needed brushing up and what could be left alone.
I have often been known to have a quiet, scary meltdown at dress rehearsal. But I have had a lot of time to think about my nerves since the lockdown. And I have also been in front of the camera and the microphone much more than ever before in my life during past thirteen months. I cannot say that I have wrestled my demons to the ground. But I have developed a certain savvy for coping with them.
And I also realized that most of my actual problems stemmed from the fact that the pedal on the Caramoor Steinway was higher than the pedal of my piano at home, so I needed an extra board under my foot to play properly. When my foot works, my hands work. Ellie Gisler went off in search of something to give my heel another ¾” clearance. It’s not glamorous: a piece of corrugated cardboard covered in duct tape. But it did the trick and finally—for the first time all week!—I felt comfortable in front of the piano, the instrument that has absorbed me, tormented me, put bread on my table, challenged me, and released my musical soul into the world for the past half-century.
All of us had our bobbles today, but the overwhelming impression was that these songs were getting the royal treatment from us. Nicoletta, Aaron, Sam, Erin, and Gracie brought tears to my eyes.
One moment sticks in my mind from the afternoon clean-up session. Erin has been giving a nice performance of Poulenc’s “Cimetière,” and we’d come up with an interpretation we all liked. But in spite of everything I privately felt, something was off. It just wasn’t quite the “Cimetière” I had in mind. I think I was fixated on the way soprano Rosemarie Landry sang it when I first played the piece in 1982—naïve, floating, and silvery, not petulant. How could I get that musical result without changing everything we’d built in already—the day before a performance?
“Erin,” I began. “The girl in ‘Cimetière…’ Could she be more passive-aggressive, less actively angry?”
“What do you mean?”
“Well, instead of ‘If you make me break up with my boyfriend, I’m going to kill myself and it’ll be on your head…’ perhaps it could be more like, ‘If you take my boyfriend away, I’ll die, but don’t worry about me, I’ll have a beautiful funeral, and Aunt Yvonne will come on Sunday to the graveside, and I guess I’ll rise up to heaven, I’ll be fine….’”
“I’ll try it.”
Whereupon she got up and spun out Poulenc’s Ab-major barcarolle sweetly into the empty hall pretty much exactly the way I’d heard it in my mind. Nothing is over until Bénédicte blesses it, though.
“Oh, absolutely. I love it.”
A sigh of relief.
Part of the joy of the week is the daily commute with Bénédicte. We have shared so much about ourselves, the music and literature we love, and the work we do. Neither of us holds back very much. The windows are up, we trust one another, and we say what we truly think. Needless to say, we laugh a lot. I sometimes have the feeling that Bénédicte knows everyone and everything. She is a stimulating friend and colleague, humbling in the best sense. She manages to be Vesuvian and delicate at the same time. I value her so much.