NYFOS‘s Tour de France takes us on a musical voyage to the four corners of France before a deluxe stay in Paris, the city of light. The music of Claude Debussy, Joseph Canteloube, Francis Poulenc, Michel Legrand, and Charles Trénet provide the fuel for a superb quintet of young artists selected by NYFOS’ Artistic Director Steven Blier, who devised the program with the peerless coach and pianist Bénédicte Jourdois. After an intensive week of rehearsal, all seven musicians will livestream this ravishing exploration of French music from Caramoor’s Music Room.
Read Steven Blier’s daily blog posts to read all about how rehearsals are going in preparation for the April 1 concert.
The Vocal Rising Stars self-quarantined and fulfilled COVID-19 testing requirements prior to their residency at Caramoor. The mentors have been fully vaccinated and have also been-self quarantining while not rehearsing in order to keep everyone safe from exposure.
Schwab Vocal Rising Stars
Nicoletta Berry, soprano
Erin Wagner, mezzo-soprano
Aaron Crouch, tenor
Samuel Kidd, baritone
Gracie Francis, piano
Steven Blier, Artistic Director
Bénédicte Jourdois, Associate Director
Hahn / Nous avons fait un beau voyage from Ciboulette
Poulenc / From Cinq poèmes de Max Jacob: Cimetière and Berceuse
C from Deux poèmes de Louis Aragon
Legrand / Nous sommes deux soeurs jumelles from Le demoiselles de Rochefort
Poulenc / Fagnes de Wallonies from Banalités
Barbara / Göttingen
Mahler / Zu Strassburg auf der Schanz
Poulenc / Vers le sud from Calligrammes
Canteloube / From Chants d’Auvergne: Lo fiolairé and Brezairola
Poulenc / Voyage à Paris from Banalités
Caplet / Notre chaumière en Yveline
from Cinq ballades françaises de Paul Fort
Debussy / Ballade des femmes de Paris from Trois ballades de Villon
Poulenc / Montparnasse
Kosma / Le cauchemar du chauffeur de taxi
Trénet / Douce France
Inaugurated in the spring of 2009, Vocal Rising Stars is Caramoor’s mentoring program focusing on vocal chamber music and the art of song in recital. Singers at the advanced student and beginning professional level are invited to Caramoor to participate in an intensive week-long residency for daily coaching, rehearsals, and workshops with mentor Steven Blier and guest teaching artists.
At Caramoor, we believe that the work leading up to a performance is of equal if not of greater importance than the concert itself and will have a lasting impact on the growth and development of young artists. Vocal Rising Stars provides singers with an opportunity to form collaborative partnerships with one another, the Caramoor staff, and the coaches who also participate in the residency. In recent years we have included a position in the program for a young pianist, to gain experience and training in the art of vocal accompaniment, while gaining knowledge of the repertoire.
Since its inception, the program has received funding from the Terrance W. Schwab Endowment Fund for Young Vocal Artists. Created in memory of long-standing Caramoor trustee Terrance W. Schwab by his family, this endowment fund is designed to nurture and support the artistic development and careers of young vocalists outside of the operatic repertoire.
In 2012, the program was renamed the Terrance W. Schwab Vocal Rising Stars, to honor his memory and the Schwab family’s ongoing commitment to this important program.
To make a contribution to the Schwab Vocal Rising Stars mentoring program or to the Terrance W. Schwab Endowment Fund for Young Vocal Artists, please contact Jennifer Pace, Director of Individual Gifts, at 914.232.5035 ext. 412, or donate online at caramoor.org/support.
Steven Blier is the Artistic Director of the New York Festival of Song (NYFOS), which he co-founded in 1988 with Michael Barrett. Since the Festival’s inception, he has programmed, performed, translated, and annotated more than 140 vocal recitals with repertoire spanning the entire range of American song, art song from Schubert to Szymanowski, and popular song from early vaudeville to Lennon-McCartney. NYFOS has also made in-depth explorations of music from Spain, Latin America, Scandinavia, and Russia. New York Magazine gave NYFOS its award for Best Classical Programming, while Opera News proclaimed Blier “the coolest dude in town” and in December 2014, Musical America included him as one of 30 top industry professionals in their feature article, Profiles in Courage. During the 2020 Covid-19 pandemic, NYFOS launched a new video performance series called NYFOS@Home, with contributions from Lawrence Brownlee, Denyce Graves, Erin Morley, and Julia Bullock.
Blier enjoys an eminent career as an accompanist and vocal coach. His recital partners have included Renée Fleming, Cecilia Bartoli, Samuel Ramey, Lorraine Hunt Lieberson, Susan Graham, Jessye Norman, and José van Dam, in venues ranging from Carnegie Hall to La Scala. He is also on the faculty of The Juilliard School and has been active in encouraging young recitalists at summer programs, including the Wolf Trap Opera Company, the Steans Institute at Ravinia, Santa Fe Opera, and the San Francisco Opera Center. Many of his former students, including Stephanie Blythe, Joseph Kaiser, Sasha Cooke, Paul Appleby, Dina Kuznetsova, Corinne Winters, Julia Bullock, and Kate Lindsey, have gone on to be valued recital colleagues and sought-after stars on the opera and concert stage.
In keeping the traditions of American music alive, he has brought back to the stage many of the rarely heard songs of George Gershwin, Harold Arlen, Kurt Weill, and Cole Porter. He has also played ragtime, blues, and stride piano evenings with John Musto. A champion of American art song, he has premiered works of John Corigliano, Paul Moravec, Ned Rorem, William Bolcom, Mark Adamo, John Musto, Richard Danielpour, Tobias Picker, Robert Beaser, Lowell Liebermann, Harold Meltzer, and Lee Hoiby, many of which were commissioned by NYFOS.
Blier’s extensive discography includes the premiere recording of Leonard Bernstein’s Arias and Barcarolles (Koch International), which won a Grammy Award; Spanish Love Songs (Bridge Records), recorded live at Caramoor with Lorraine Hunt Lieberson, Joseph Kaiser, and Michael Barrett; the world premiere recording of Bastianello (John Musto) and Lucrezia (William Bolcom), a double bill of one-act comic operas set to librettos by Mark Campbell; and Quiet Please, an album of jazz standards with vocalist Darius de Haas. His latest release is Canción amorosa, a CD of Spanish songs with soprano Corinne Winters. His writings on opera have been featured in Opera News and the Yale Review.
A native New Yorker, he received a Bachelor’s Degree with Honors in English Literature at Yale University, where he studied piano with Alexander Farkas. He completed his musical studies in New York with Martin Isepp and Paul Jacobs.
A graduate of the Lindemann Young Artist Development Program at The Metropolitan Opera, Bénédicte Jourdois is currently on music staff at the Metropolitan Opera and on faculty at the Juilliard School.
Jourdois has performed in numerous venues in Europe and in the United States, including Alice Tully Hall and Carnegie Hall in New York and the Kennedy Center in Washington D.C.
As a coach and pianist, she has worked with the Los Angeles Philharmonic, Los Angeles Opera, Chicago Lyric Ryan Opera Center, Pittsburgh Opera, Washington National Opera, Houston Grand Opera, Opera Philadelphia, Opera Saratoga, Rice University, the Chautauqua Institution voice program, the Castleton Festival, Spoleto Festival USA, and Carnegie Hall’s SongStudio. She was a faculty member at the Curtis Institute in Philadelphia from 2013 to 2016 and at the Manhattan School of Music from 2011 to 2018.
Born in Paris, Jourdois holds degrees from the Conservatoire National de Region de Saint-Maur, the Conservatoire National Superieur de Musique de Lyon, Mannes College, and the Juilliard School.
Soprano Nicoletta Berry is a dynamic performer passionate about the art of storytelling. Berry is pursuing her Master of Music at The Marcus Institute for Vocal Arts at The Juilliard School. This season, she will be performing the role of Clizia in Handel’s Teseo with the Juilliard Opera, and she will perform on the recital stage in Juilliard’s Liederabend series.
She has performed the role of Tytania in Benjamin Britten’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream at the Chautauqua Institution, where she has also performed Kathie in Romberg’s The Student Prince, and Flora in Britten’s The Turn of the Screw.
Berry is also passionate about bringing composers from diverse backgrounds to the forefront. She was the Co-artistic Director of Hear Them Now: Works by Composers from the African Diaspora, which premiered online in August 2020.
Berry completed her undergraduate studies at the Manhattan School of Music.
Mezzo-soprano Erin Wagner is from El Paso, TX and is currently pursuing her master’s degree at The Juilliard School under the tutelage of Darrell Babidge.
She is passionate about the performance of art song, chamber music, new music, and opera that represent diverse and modern perspectives.
Upcoming engagements include SongStudio with Renée Fleming and Carnegie Hall, Brian Zeger’s Songfest, Pierre Vallet’s Liederabend, Caramoor Schwab Vocal Rising Stars Program, Saengerbund Awards Finals, Naumburg Vocal Competition, Das Lied International Song Competition, 2021 Young Concert Artist Semifinals, and Renée Fleming’s Artist Program at Aspen Music Festival.
Aaron Crouch, a native of Bowie, Maryland, is a recent graduate of the Curtis Institute of Music in Philadelphia.
Some of Crouch’s roles at Curtis include Prunier in Puccini’s La Rondine, Lensky in Tchaikovsky’s Eugene Onegin, and Don Ottavio in Mozart’s Don Giovanni.
Crouch was a Gold Medalist at the YoungArts Foundation in 2017. He also received First Place in the 2017 Sue Goetz Ross Competition, as well as First Place in the 2017 Classical Singer Vocal Competition.
In December of 2018, Crouch was awarded an encouragement award from the Premiere Opera International Vocal Competition. He also received an
Emerging Artist Award from Opera Index in 2019.
In past summers, Crouch has attended the Chautauqua Institute where he performed the role of Nemorino in Donizetti’s L’elisir d’amore. In 2019, he was a young artist at The Glimmerglass Festival where he debuted the role of The Son in the world premiere of Jeanine Tesori’s opera Blue.
Samuel Kidd, baritone, is a second-year master student studying vocal performance at the College Conservatory of Music at the University of Cincinnati, under the instruction of William McGraw. He received his undergraduate degree from the University of Michigan, where he studied with Freda Herseth.
Last season at CCM, Kidd performed the roles of Krušina in The Bartered Bride and the title role in the workshop production of Falstaff. He was also involved in several operas at the University of Michigan as Friar Laurence in Gounod’s Roméo et Juliette, Dr. Talbot in Balcom’s Dinner at Eight, and Theseus in Britten’s
A Midsummer Night’s Dream.
In summer 2020, Kidd was a studio artist with Wolf Trap Opera, performing in their studio spotlight scenes. The two prior summers, he was a vocal fellow at the Music Academy of the West. In 2019, he performed the roles of Ethan/Owens in Cold Mountain by Jennifer Higdon, as well as the bass solos in Pulcinella by Stravinsky under the baton of Thomas Adès. In 2018, he performed the role of Jazz Trio in Bernstein’s Trouble in Tahiti, as well as in the chorus of Mozart’s Le nozze di Figaro.
New Zealander Grace Francis is a student of Dr. Lydia Brown at The Juilliard School, where she began a Master of Music in Collaborative Piano (Vocal) in September 2019. She is a proud recipient of a Kovner Fellowship and a Fulbright General Graduate Award.
At Juilliard, Francis is a Diversity Advocate, Gluck Community Service Fellow, and Student Congress representative. Since beginning her studies she has been a winner of Juilliard’s Vocal Arts Honors Recital with soprano Jessica Niles (2020) and mezzo-soprano Emily Sierra (2021), and performed with bass-baritone William Socolof for his winning performances in the Young Concert Artists competition (2020).
Francis received her Bachelor of Music (First Class Honors) in 2014 under Rae de Lisle at the University of Auckland, making professional concerto debuts as both pianist and harpsichordist during her studies. She has also performed in Canada and across Europe.
Before arriving in the U.S., she worked as répétiteur for New Zealand Opera, National Aria contest, and as Assistant Director of GALS (Gay and Lesbian Singers). For nine years she was a mentor and educator with youth organizations including Opera Factory and the Auckland Youth Choir, performing in Carnegie Hall in 2016 and the Australian International Music Festival in 2019.
The pianist and coach Bénédicte Jourdois has done two previous short stints with us at Caramoor as a guest coach, and they were among the headiest experiences in all my years with the Schwab Vocal Rising Stars program. This time I was lucky enough to snag her for the entire week-long residency. Her musical expertise is far-ranging — last year she startled me when she got into the fine points of Russian diction without referring to a score. She is proficient in five languages and three centuries of culture.
In spite of her breadth of knowledge, Bénédicte is usually thought of as a specialist in French music, and she certainly has earned her stripes in that repertoire. I knew our cast would benefit from a deep dive into French music with Bénédicte, but I admit I was being a little selfish when I invited her to share the week with me. I have seen how her work on a French poem blossoms effortlessly into musical elegance. When the poem flows, the music flows and the song takes wing. I wanted to watch that magic happen again.
New York Festival of Song (NYFOS) once did a program called Road Trip, a musical travelogue of the United States. I mentioned this to Bénédicte and she said, “You could do the same thing for France.”
“You could?” My sense of French geography is on the mushy side.
“Of course! The Auvergne! Brittany! Paris! I’ll help you.”
The result is today’s Tour de France, a whirlwind voyage to all four corners of the country, ending with a five-song stay in Paris.
We’ll hear songs from number of composers new to NYFOS, but one very familiar composer kept turning up in almost every part of the map: Francis Poulenc. I had always thought of his music as the quintessence of Paris, and it often is. Hints of the Folies-Bergères permeate his sacred music, and the hon-hon-hon of song-and-dance man Maurice Chevalier has been known to turn up in his art songs.
You always know when you’re hearing a work by Poulenc. His an instantly recognizable brew made from a blend of Neo-classicism, American jazz, a bit of Mussorgsky and Stravinsky, a touch of music hall, and a large helping of Ravel. Yet what variety he found using these disparate elements! In Fagnes de Wallonie we hear the relentless, rough winds of the north; in Cimetière and Berceuse, the peasanty roughness of the western seaside coast; in Vers le sud, the lazy sensuality of the sun-drenched south. Voyage à Paris and Montparnasse are each hymns to the City of Light, one the jaunty song of a longtime denizen returning home, the other the rapt meditation of the newcomer.
C is perhaps Poulenc’s most famous song. Aragon’s poem tells of a place in the Loire Valley (Les Ponts de Cé, or The Bridges of Cé), a site of bloody battles stretching far back in France’s history. In 1940 the Nazis fought the French there and brought the country to its knees. Aragon was able to cross the Loire into the “Free Zone” and join the Resistance. Every line in his poem ends with the syllable “cé,” just as history sadly repeated itself at Les Ponts de Cé. Aragon imagines knights of antiquity alongside rusted-out tanks, a landscape of destruction reaching across four centuries. After a piano introduction made from a long, single-note melody that rises and falls like a bridge, Poulenc sets Aragon’s poem with his unique mix of gravity and sensuality, an ode to a lost world.
Most of the other classical composers will be familiar to concert- goers. Claude Debussy (1862-1918) offers his Ballade des femmes de Paris, set to a poem by the 15th-century master François Villon.On the surface it is a devilish scherzo in praise of the “bon bec” of Parisian women. That term can be roughly translated as “the gift of gab,” but it also implies that they might be good kissers. Debussy sets the medieval poem with a razor-sharp wit that has an edge of fury. Might he have been thinking of the Parisian gossips who had maligned him in the early years of his marriage to Emma Bardac, a liaison that had scandalized so many of his friends and colleagues?
If Debussy was one of music’s great innovators. Reynaldo Hahn (1874-1947) was the master of charm. His music is rosy and seductive, Renoir to Debussy’s Cézanne. Hahn was prolific, turning out score after score —cantatas, operettas, film music, ballets, tone poems. But these days he is best known for two things: his output of 100 songs, and his four-year love affair with novelist Marcel Proust. Hahn’s music is so appealing that it is easy to write it off as trivial. But his best songs are perfectly crafted and gracious for both the performer and the listener.
Yes, they were born old-fashioned, without a hint of spiky dissonance or impressionistic gauze. Hahn didn’t seem to need them. His melodic inspiration and emotional sincerity go straight to the heart.
Until Susan Graham’s CD of his songs brought him back to the spotlight, Hahn’s music had been out of fashion for many years. So was that of Gustav Mahler (1860-1911) until Leonard Bernstein’s advocacy made him a household name again in the 1960s. These days we’re used to hearing his songs in recital with great frequency. Still, there are outliers like Zum Strassburg auf dem Schanz, a setting of a folk poem from the collection Des Knabens Wunderhorn (The Youth’s Magic Horn). I’d rarely heard it, and never played it. Strassburgis one of Mahler’s early songs, a military death march with ominous trills deep in the piano’s bass register. A few years later Mahler would return to set more Knaben Wunderhorn songs for voice and orchestra, in an eponymous work that is often recorded and performed. Strassburg is a like preview of Des Knaben Wunderhorn’s better-known Der Tamboursg’sell — both rueful monologues of soldiers facing the firing squad (in one case) and the gallows (in other).
I was surprised to learn that the current generation of singers is unfamiliar with Joseph Canteloube’s Chants d’Auvergne. When I was a tyke they received their first modern recording in stereo (still a new-fangled invention) by the Israeli soprano Netania Davrath on the Vanguard label. These fancy arrangements of Auvergne folk songs were a sensation, and soon lots of other singers tried their hands at them — Anna Moffo, Kiri te Kanawa, Frederica von Stade, and Victoria de los Ángeles. But no one captured the naive purity of these melodies like Davrath.
Canteloube (1879-1957) had deep family roots in the Auvergne, and he devoted much of his musical life to preserving the folk music of the area. He spent over 30 years polishing the Chants d’Auvergne. His orchestrations are ornate and dense, almost cinematic in their colors. Yet they do not overwhelm the plaintive beauty of the original tunes. Instead, he makes each song into a lush soundscape in which the singer delivers the pure melody while the orchestra evokes its verdant, pastoral setting.
Along with Canteloube, André Caplet (1878-1925) is making his NYFOS debut with this program. Caplet first came to prominence as an opera conductor — not just in France, but in Boston where he spent six months of each year from 1910-1914. (Why Boston? Cherchez la femme — in this case, the wife of the company’s general manager.) Caplet’s combination of musical sensitivity and scrupulous exactitude brought him to the attention of Debussy. Caplet orchestrated some of Debussy’s piano works, conducted his mentor’s premieres, and was apparently an eagle-eyed proofreader.
Caplet’s own music has a fresh, improvisatory quality, with melodies that seem to dance forward without the trappings of thematic development. This gives his compositions a feeling of a spontaneous ad lib, a “happy accident.” It takes a sophisticated craftsman to create this illusion. Ma chaumière en Yvelines is a prime example of Caplet’s tumbling musical sunshine.
To round out the program Bénédicte and I included four songs by some of France’s iconic chansonniers: the singer/songwriter known simply as Barbara, the Academy Award winner Michel Legrand, the timeless charmer Charles Trénet, and the sophisticated team of composer Joseph Kosma and lyricist Jacques Prévert.
If you’re scratching your head about that last pair of artists, you certainly know at least one of their songs, The Autumn Leaves (originally Les feuilles mortes). Budapest- born composer Joseph Kosma (1905-1969) and French poet Jacques Prévert (1900-1977) are revered in France for the 50 songs they created together, works that hover in the gray area between art song and popular song. Prévert and Kosma’s chansons are in the same category as Marc Blitzstein and William Bolcom — too difficult for the average cabaret singer, but too colloquial for Lieder purists.
Jacques Prévert remains one of the most popular poets in French literature, widely read, memorized by schoolchildren, and immortalized for concertgoers by his musical partner Kosma. With the single exception of his hit tune, The Falling Leaves, Kosma tends to give Prévert’s lyrics a strong dramatic reading rather than a sweeping melody. But his music has theatrical vitality and wonderful rhythm. He always finds the right tempo for the poem. Kosma’s enjoyed a long career, including some famous movie scores (The Crime of Monsieur Lange, Grand Illusion, and The Rules of the Game) and some neglected operas and ballets. But he’ll most likely be remembered as part of the Prévert/Kosma duo — or, in America, simply as the guy who wrote The Falling Leaves.
Barbara (1930-1997) is another French icon whose songs may have bypassed many American music-lovers. After a slow rise to fame, she earned a niche as one of her country’s most beloved musicians. Accompanying herself at the piano, usually dressed in black, she conquered audiences with her emotional sincerity and her ability to summon deep feelings in simple language. Her given name was Monique Andrée Serf — she took her stage name from her Ukrainian grandmother Varvara. As a Jewish child in Nazi-occupied Paris, she had to remain hidden during the war years, always on the run from French collaborators and SS goons. She resolved never to sing in Germany and held firm to that promise until a group of students in Göttingen entreated her to give a concert. She refused until they went out and brought back a grand piano which they hauled onto the stage. She sang for them that night and received one of the greatest ovations of her career. Barbara commemorated the experience with the song Göttingen, an ode to the people of the town and a plea for peace and understanding. It is said that her song did more to advance Franco-German reconciliation than any political speech in the 1960s.
Michel Legrand (1932-2019) was a veritable fountain of music—over 200 film and television scores, earning him two Oscars and five Grammy Awards. Songs like You Must Believe in Spring and What Are You Doing the Rest of Your Life cleverly mix French sensuality with American terseness to create an irresistible, international sound. One of his greatest successes was the film-operetta The Umbrellas of Cherbourg, which inspired a sequel, The Young Girls of Rochefort. The two movies pretty much define “period piece” with their mod costumes and go-go choreography. Their scores are as sweet as their ice cream-colored cinematography, but there are some wonderfully bracing moments. Chief among them is the zesty Chanson des jumelles, the opening number of Rochefort that introduces us to the twin protagonists of the title.
The most joyous of the French chansonniers has to be Charles Trénet (1913-2001), a Catalan boy who came to Paris in 1937 and became a star of stage and screen for the next half century. A prolific writer, he published 350 songs and left 300 more unpublished. His lightness of touch lends his songs a childlike quality reminiscent of Maurice Sendak and Marc Chagall.
Douce France was one of his signature songs, and he recorded it several times during his long career. Written during World War II, the song evokes the safety of childhood and the countryside. Trénet premiered it in 1943 in Berlin, where he sang it for French war prisoners. Douce France — sweet France — is an epithet that has deep roots in literature. It first appeared in the Chanson de Roland, the 11th-century epic poem — dulce France. Of course, French culture — indeed, French life — embraces so many more qualities than mere sweetness. Yet the phrase instantly conjures up a romantic vision of a country famous for its glamor and amorous arrangements.
Today, our Tour de France offers us a Gallic Platonic ideal: clear-eyed, unsentimental, and philosophical, but built on an unashamed embrace of sensual pleasure. Sweet indeed.
– Steven Blier
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