October 04, 2011
Lately I have listened to Adele on repeat. Of course she is a “pop” star and some would wonder why her name is even mentioned on a classical music blog. I do not expect many converts, although I would hope one listen to her sultry tone and sharp emotion would persuade any discerning listener to take interest. Rather, I want to illustrate the power of the voice and how great vocal artists inspire me.
I have always been drawn to the sounds of the human voice. The nuances of speech have a musical quality that when used properly can project an array of emotions. As a child, I first learned to sing by mimicking the big band tunes my mother would play. My first love was the jazz singer Anita O’Day whose rendition of “Her Tears Flowed Like Wine” still transports me back to the boiling hot Cadillac we drove around on family trips. Today, listening to Adele I see the clear connection in style and delivery. The pull that human emotion holds in the voice that ropes me in every time I hear a song.
The first question I received from friends when I decided to join LACO was, “But you’re a vocalist. What interests you about an orchestra?” Often among you musicians there is a perceived line that divides instrumental music from vocal music and never the two shall meet. Although they do—again and again. When I lived in New York, my friend introduced me to the musician Andrew Bird. A whimsical and at times jazzy singer he came out of the swing craze as a part of Squirrel Nut Zippers into his own creative solo albums. A brilliant artist, he seamlessly transitions from instrument to instrument and is comfortable on his own, or with established classical artists such as Yo-Yo Ma and LACO’s 2011-12 artist Gabriel Kahane.
LACO and its audience distinguished itself by consistently programming vocal music and not only the great choral masterpieces, but the songs of Barber, Schumann, Bach and Britten. For me, these works have always proven the most inspiring. Just a single voice and the orchestra. Pure and raw honesty. As a singer, of course, I think of the voice as the original instrument; the one we did not have to create, but rather held within ourselves. It responds to our deepest emotions and expresses our most personal thoughts through a range of sounds unlike any other man made instrument. As upcoming LACO artist Karina Gauvin states “After all, a voice is a living thing, in your body. It has bad days and good days, like the rest of you, and it nourishes itself from something deep in the soul. If you can find profound happiness, the voice responds to that.” In her rendition of “Lascia chi’o pianga” the pulsing pain that imbues the work leaves the listener in tears.
Jeffrey Kahane has said that it was Bach’s Magnificat that inspired him to become a conductor and listening to the pure lines of Mary’s rejoicing juxtaposed with the angelic voices of the chorus leaves no confusion about the power of persuasion the voice holds.