Los Angeles is a capital of song, if for no other reason than it is the center of the recording industry. We are becoming ever more a capital of art too, helped by an influx of young artists. But this town has never been much of a capital of the art song.SongFest 2015 aims to change all that, if only for a month. The June festival and training program at the Colburn School hosted a celebration of Southland song on Sunday at Zipper Concert Hall. There was no apparent agenda other than to gather music from composers who live here.The festival has become increasingly impressive. The SongFest faculty now includes not just vocal experts but essential singers, such as Lucy Shelton and Dawn Upshaw, who have transformed modern vocal music and performance. More and more composers are involved. Emerging singers give dozens of concerts and recitals and take public master classes during the month.The resources allowed Sunday’s program to employ 19 young singers and 10 young pianists. All were accomplished. Nine composers, born between 1952 and 1981, were represented by a short song or two, with one exception. Anne LeBaron was commissioned to write a full song cycle for the occasion, and it proved the major news of the day.
Melanie Henley Heyn, Jesse Malgieri and pianist Gloria Kim concentrated on capturing exquisite intricacies of sonorities, giving the impression of whispering truisms directly in each listener’s ears.
“Poems are rough notations for the music we are,” Rumi ends the beautiful final song of the cycle. LeBaron let the sentiment resonate, as though it might ring on and on as motto for singers in a celestial SongFest.
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The deeply felt performance, coached by [Michael] Barrett (who was a pianist in the premiere and first recording), gave this valedictory meaningful new life.
Frank’s “Cantos de la Cocina” (Songs of the Kitchen) went for another kind of radiance. Commissioned by SongFest and written for O’Connor and soprano Jessica Rivera (SongFest ‘98),it is a dialogue, affectionately barbed and wonderfully affecting, about a jar of spilled honey and a mother/daughter relationship that won’t allow for spilled dreams.And if there is vocal music that mimics the viscous sweetness, the fragrance and headiness of honey, this is it. In L.A., we’ve been able to watch both Rivera and O’Connor blossom from students into I suspect two of the most able and astonishing young singers of their generation. They here expressed both the said and the unsaid that are essential in all loving relationships.
Clarissa Lyons’ luxuriant large soprano made much of Mary’s liquid vocal lines full of Middle Eastern melisma, while Leann Osterkamp achieved the desired flashiness for the piano accompaniment.