On March 6th, four rising star vocalists and one rising star pianist arrived at Caramoor to start their week-long residency with Steven Blier and Bénédicte Jourdois as a part of the Schwab Vocal Rising Stars mentoring program. The week of rehearsals, coachings, workshops, and even living together at Caramoor culminated in two final performances: the first in the Music Room at Caramoor, and the second at Merkin Hall at Kaufman Music Center just two days later.
This final blog post from Artistic Director Steven Blier lets the audience in on how he felt the two performances went. This year’s 2023 Schwab Vocal Rising Stars are: Shelén Hughes, soprano; Maggie Reneé, mezzo-soprano; Colin Aikins, tenor; Joseph Parrish, baritone; Yihao Zhou, piano. Their performance, entitled Mediterranean, was a musical voyage around the Mediterranean Sea, with stops in Spain, France, Italy, Greece, Israel, Lebanon, Egypt, and Tunisia.
The thing I most desired after our two concerts was a day to lie in bed, eat bonbons, and watch movies. Unfortunately, my schedule did not offer me such indolence. Wednesday, in fact, turned out to be a high-stress day. I’ll spare you the details, but by the time it ended smoke was coming out of my ears; I’ve no doubt my blood pressure was spiking.
Probably I was taking a karmic hit for how well Sunday and Tuesday had gone. I have beautiful memories of every artist that shared the stage with me: Bénédicte tearing into “Paño murciano” like a (vegan) bullfighter; Shelén creating a heavenly aura with “Canticel” by Toldrà; Maggie offering a moment of international peace with her world-class delivery of songs in Arabic and Hebrew; Joseph displaying a surprising sense of British style and peerless comic chops in Noël Coward’s “Bar on the Piccola Marina”; Yihao tossing off a Greek art song with breathtaking subtlety and wit—he managed to find four distinct colors in just the first measure. Colin came back into the concert slowly—only one song on Sunday, but two on Tuesday. He did himself proud, behaved with wisdom, and gave everyone a taste of that golden voice.
Making music is something like arranging a marriage between two recalcitrant parties: your body, and the sound you have in your imagination. I look at the score, and my inner ear summons up the Platonic Ideal for every phrase. Then come the negotiations with my hands and arms, who are unionized and have their own demands. I am sure many musicians—many artists!—feel the same. The statue is hidden inside the marble, the painting lies dormant in the tubes of pigment. But this week I had two concerts where my ear and my body called a truce for 75 minutes, and maybe the entente cordiale will last for a while.
The Mediterranean journey sparked a lot of enthusiasm in both audiences, particularly the Greek-Lebanon-Israel part of the concert. It took a village to make this project happen, and Iuckily I had one: a team of brilliant singers and pianists, backed by a cadre of generous and knowledgeable coaches. My bad luck on Wednesday is slowly receding, but the glow of “Mediterranean” still remains strong.