Each day, we hear straight from the source about how Schwab Vocal Rising Stars rehearsals went, from the Artistic Director of the program, Steven Blier. Let’s see what happened yesterday, March 7, the first day of the program.
I was at Caramoor two years ago just as we were becoming aware of the scale of the Covid pandemic. March of 2020 was still the dawn of the quarantine era. While we were not yet wearing masks, the threat of a marauding virus outside the protective walls of Caramoor cast a pall over our rehearsal week. On Sunday we performed our concert for an audience of about 12 invited guests, as well as a camera crew who live-streamed it as we gave our last performance for—well, who knew how long. All of us were rattled as we sang to an empty hall—and an unseen gaggle of people watching us on their computers.
We were back at Caramoor last March, this time masked (well, most of the time). Once again our performance was live-streamed, and this time we had an audience of just four people. By that point, we’d be vaccinated, and though we weren’t out of the woods we felt a good deal safer. I’ll always remember that program—Le Tour de France—as one of the sweetest concert experiences of my life: beautiful music, beautiful artists, and the sense that relief was on the way.
This year, March of 2022, Caramoor is once again a balm to our souls. We are finally able to spend our day without masks, and for the first time since 2019, we had our traditional opening-day lunch with the staff of Caramoor. It’s such a simple ritual—everyone gets to stand up and say their name and where they’re from. To add a bit of spice, Caramoor’s Artistic Director Kathy Schuman asked everyone to describe a live concert they’d enjoyed in the last few months. It’s fascinating how much a seemingly trivial detail like that can reveal about a person—one guy talked about hearing a band play in a bar (“I hadn’t actually gone there for the music,” he slyly shared), another about her intense admiration for Elvis Costello’s backup singers (“I’ve heard him 13 times”), and another admitted that she didn’t go to live concerts at all—except the ones at Caramoor, where she works.
It was heartening to feel life getting back to normal. At the same time, all of us were sobered by the geopolitical tragedy of Ukraine, and by the sense that the world had found yet another way to slide off the cliff. The ongoing turmoil and tension makes this week-long retreat even more precious to all of us. For seven days we are granted the priceless tranquility of Caramoor where we can focus on music and poetry. I’ve always loved the Vocal Rising Stars Program, but my appreciation has deepened as I come to understand the true value of beauty.
So how was the first day? Great. The show is called Love Songs in 176 Keys, and it features music from Germany, France, Spain, and America. Yes, we have a lot of work to do to get this complicated, demanding program in shape, but Bénédicte Jourdois and I heard a lot of alluring sounds all day. Sure, there were some slippy-slidy rhythms and an imprecise French vowel or two. But the songs were already taking possession of our souls. And that’s what I crave.
The cast? Soprano Meredith Wohlgemuth, mezzo-soprano Natalie Lewis, tenor César Andrés Parreño, and baritone Seonho Yu, plus Francesco Barfoed, the apprentice pianist. Each of them is a blessing. Bénédicte is sharing the musical leadership with me. But we also have two special guests: Aeneas Wittenberg, Béné’s five-week old son, and Marie-Chantal Jourdois, Bénédicte’s charming and kind-hearted mother. Aeneas is one of those babies with a wise old man’s face. One of his great skills seems to be sleeping through car rides and Poulenc songs. We’re all in love with this little heartbreaker.
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