Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra: making great music personal

music inspires

laura claycomb sings music's praises: part II

December 07, 2009

In a blog entry posted last week, we read about Laura Claycomb’s passion for music and live orchestral performance. In part II of her musical musings, Claycomb shares the specific pieces and experiences which have inspired her throughout the years. Enjoy her eloquent words, and hear her perform with LACO on December 12 and 13!

One piece which almost always inspire me is the 3rd movement of Mahler’s Fourth Symphony. I find it so heartbreakingly beautiful, I usually ask if I can sneak in for my solo in the Fourth movement during the introduction to the fourth instead of having to sit through it. Otherwise, I seriously risk crying.

The first time I sang Mahler’s Fourth was with San Francisco Symphony. We were in one of our rehearsals, and I was sitting onstage next to Michael-Tilson Thomas, following along in my music. I felt such a strange sense of longing and melancholy and sadness mixed in with hope and understanding, and I could feel my eyes start to well up. My first thought was “how strange – it’s just a rehearsal!” and then I thought “how embarrassing – they’re all going to think I’m a total weirdo.” I didn’t know MTT well at all at this point, just that he had been very nice to me in our rehearsals. Then I looked up at Michael. That was when I noticed he had tears streaming down his face, and as matter-of-fact as can be, he’d wipe them away as he kept conducting this hauntingly gorgeous, quiet, tender movement, before the burst of sunlight announced the beginning of the Visions of Heaven – the Fourth Movement. How I ever sang after that is beyond me.

One of the most life-changing experiences, though, was seeing Lorraine Hunt-Lieberson perform the two Bach Cantatas that she staged with Peter Sellars. I saw her performances in Paris and felt like I had been kicked in the gut. I have never before or after seen a singer so totally connected and grounded to the material she was singing, as if it were just flowing out of her and upon us. I didn’t notice technique of any sort; no musical gesture was out of place – actually no musical gesture was even noticed as a musical gesture – it all just mingled in her being and just WAS. It made me aspire to greater things, but also spoiled me for a lot of bad “opera directing” in the years to follow. It’s hard to turn in what you know will be an OK performance because the production is “safe” once you’ve seen how life-changing theater and music can be.

[editor’s note: Peter Sellars is the special guest in LACO’s third Westside Connections event on April 29 Be there to hear this theatrical master discuss his musical inspirations!]

After Lorraine Hunt Leiberson’s bout with cancer, she did another tour with the Bach. My boyfriend at the time and I decided we had to go see her in Amsterdam. He had worked with her and I knew her as a result. She’d always been kind to me. There wasn’t even a sliver of doubt that we could miss this performance. We showed up the day, and heard via Peter and company that she was not well. The official story was that her back was hurting her. Ferociously guarded of her privacy, she would not tell anyone that her cancer was back. ...Even Peter …even her agent (who was also my agent.) But of course we all knew from the looks from the people who were working with her that this was no run of the mill aching back. They announced she was indisposed and they would play an oboe concerto instead of the first aria, but that Mrs. Hunt-Lieberson would manage to sing “Ich habe genug,” at least. Needless to say, this was the most amazing performance I have ever seen. Her “Ich habe genug” was not just married to her movements; you knew that she actually meant it herself about her own imminent mortality. She had had enough of this life. You could see that she was in pain but that she had gone beyond it. The “Schlummert ein” was one of the most moving things I have ever seen – she was actually comforting US with this lullaby, and showing us that it was OK that she was going. After the concert, she canceled the rest of the tour. This was the last time she ever sang the piece. I would have felt fortunate to have just seen her perform it once, but to have been there at the beginning and the end of such a beautiful and complete musical journey was one of the dearest artistic experiences I have. I know she rests in peace; she told us that day in Amsterdam. This is the real power of music.

Some other pieces which inspire me (usually vocal music, as I do so much research looking for stuff and stumble across pieces I would love to do…) Hindemith – any and all vocal pieces, but especially Das Marienleben and Die Serenaden; Ernst Krenek’s O Lacrymosa (nobody ever wants to do this tryptich, but it’s fantastic!); virtually anything vocal by Kaija Saariaho; and Poulenc’s Dialogues des Carmelites. Italian music’s all great, but poops out on you about 1914, unfortunately, unless you count the many pieces of Mario Castelnuovo-Tedesco. He wrote a ton of great songs. Strangely, none with guitar (that have been published, at least). One of my pet projects has been to find unknown Castelnuovo-Tedesco songs and include them on recitals. Some great stuff! In my ‘free time’ (ha ha) I would love to research him some more. His papers and letters include many unpublished songs – my dream is to find the time to shuffle through it all and find some more gems to sing…hopefully something that marries his beautiful, unique vocal writing with his penchant for writing for the guitar. We’ll see!

I’m looking forward to singing with you!

And we’re looking forward to hearing you sing, Laura!

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