Review

Marilyn Horne Song Competition winners dazzle at National Sawdust

The Music Academy of the West held its annual Marilyn Horne Song Competition winners recital tonight in Williamsburg.

MAW is one of the few companies for young opera talents that also heavily nurtures the craft of art song interpretation. Every year, during the glorious summer stint that each of the artists spend in Santa Barbara, the singers and collaborative pianists come together to perform and compete against one another.

The prize? A whirlwind, multi-city recital tour and $5000 toward the future development of the artists. As I can attest, such opportunity for exposure/financial assistance goes a long way for a musician who is transferring from apprenticeships into the world of professional artistry.

The setting at National Sawdust was cozy, but with a modern-art type of sensibility. It was a large enough space to feel more formal than a parlour evening, but intimate enough to have the music feel as though it reached out and touched you individually — But that could have just been the talent we had.

Kelsey Lauritano is a vocal empath. More than that, she is a conduit for the emotion of a song; she makes everyone else empathize with the characters in the music. The young mezzo-soprano has a supple voice, but it isn’t really just the one aspect that makes her performance stand out. It’s the whole package.

Her’s is the level of preparedness and easy technique that makes you forget about the singing. It actualizes and elevates the music and the poetry, and doesn’t boast in its depth and agility (though she has those qualities in spades).

It made me question what I thought I knew about my musical tastes. I never remembered much enjoying Ravel’s Histoires Naturelles before having heard it tonight. During the Ricky Ian Gordon debut Without Music, people were actively sobbing behind me; almost to the point of distraction. This is the kind of effect that Lauritano wove throughout the whole 90 minutes.

A fellow Juilliardie, this level of expression and attention to detail is likely baked into her artistic id. That program is exceptionally devoted to the advancement of art song, and features many singer/pianist duos in liederabend evenings; all throughout the year. The people who study there have access to some of the industry’s foremost authorities on diction and musical coaching. If you ever get a chance, I highly recommend going and catching one of those, as they are free to the public.

At the piano, Andrew Sun‘s mastery of technique led me to forget just how difficult some of the music on offer really was. He was as adept at pulling out the lines of a strophic Schubertian melody, in Du bist die Ruh’, as he was at piloting the winding, harmonically denser passages of the Ravel and of the Gordon cycle. His playing, too, felt like it transcended showmanship or virtuosity; opting to get to the meat of the core emotion of the works at hand. It was as if he knew how to play the poetry that she was singing.

Another win, for me, was the pace and structure of the recital programming.

The duo initially eased the audience into the night with some more well-known Schubert pieces. This accomplished two things: 1) It gave the audience something pleasing to listen to, and fostered an enjoyable, comfortable beginning to a longer evening of song and 2) it introduced the animation of the presence and voice of the interpreters; reassuring the audience that they would be engaged through some of the more complex music.

Because of the acting, and its connection to the voice, I forgot to be critical. I became just a witness, wondering what would happen next.

There will be two more shows featuring the pair; one in Chicago (May 22nd) and another in Santa Barbera (May 24th). I definitely implore you guys, if you’re on-hand in the area, check this one out. You won’t regret it.

Enjoy this post? Do you have another arts related issue that you would like highlighted on this blog? Let me know via the Contact page!

This review was done in cooperation with Voce di Meche.

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