By Steven Blier, Artistic Director, mentor and pianist
Today was the first day of the 2014 Vocal Rising Stars program at Caramoor—the sixth season NYFOS and Caramoor have collaborated on this project. Every year has its own distinctive atmosphere, like the unique timbre of an instrument or the tantalizing aroma of something in the oven. Our cast is a bit younger than usual—just a few years, really, but for people in their twenties the age difference is significant. One of our singers, Annie Rosen, has sung in opera houses overseas, but the other three—soprano Olivia Betzen, tenor Miles Mykkanen, and baritone Theo Hoffman—are just entering the professional world. Theo is still an undergraduate (he’s the youngest we’ve ever had in the program), and Olivia is fresh off the boat—she moved to New York about six weeks ago after finishing the Masters program at Ann Arbor. All of them are superb musicians and total stage animals. I am reveling in their freshness and their sense of freedom. Sometimes the first day of rehearsal can be stressful as each singer endeavors to impress his colleagues. Today we saw no grandstanding; Michael and I were struck with how everyone was easing into the songs by exploring them, sinking into the words and music, letting the beginning be a true beginning—the bud, not yet the flower, of the song.
Caramoor asked me (gently but repeatedly) to add a young pianist into the mix of artists, and I (gently but repeatedly) demurred. I felt it was like having another mouth to feed, and I admit that I was feeling selfish and proprietary about the songs. I’d created this program last summer at Wolf Trap and played it on my own; now I was already flipping out about splitting the repertoire with Michael—how could I add another person at the keyboard? But when Michael not only leaned on me to acquiesce but suggested Leann Osterkamp to fill the role, I had no trouble saying yes. Leann had helped me get the Juilliard show ready this January, and she is a dream colleague: prepared, attentive, flexible, and generous. I let her wear my hat all day as a gesture of inclusion.
One thing is certain: all of us are in need of something restorative, an Art Retreat, and I cannot remember a group of singers who were more grateful for the peace and quiet of Caramoor. It’s like being in the eye of a storm for seven days. You know there is a lot of turbulence around you, but you are safe in a cocoon, a temple of music, a private clubhouse with a well-stocked DVD player. It’s a conservatory with only four students—and three pianists at their beck and call.
It was beautiful hearing everyone sing today—what a program, if I do say so myself. If there was one single highlight, it was playing Kurt Weill’s “J’attends un navire” for Annie. I felt something at the piano that I hadn’t experienced in a few years, something I’d been missing: the feeling of riding on a rocket. The music is so powerful and it seemed to lead me back to the kind of uninhibited, spontaneous music-making I remember from my twenties, when I was the age of this cast. After we were done, Annie looked at me wide-eyed. “That’s how it’s going to go,” I said—“you up to it?” “Oh, YES!” she answered.
Catch the Schwab Vocal Rising Stars at Caramoor on March 16.