Selected Twentieth and Twenty-First Century Solo Vocal Works That Tribute Visual Artists

By Graddy, Julia H. | Journal of Singing, September/October 2016 | Go to article overview

Selected Twentieth and Twenty-First Century Solo Vocal Works That Tribute Visual Artists


Graddy, Julia H., Journal of Singing


PART I: ARTISTIC INTEGRATION AND THE CHANGING LANDSCAPE OF VOCAL PERFORMANCE

REMINDERS OF THE INCREASINGLY DAUNTING PRACTICAL challenges faced by career classical musicians multiply as fast as next month's bills, while solutions for most of us remain as lean as next month's paychecks. The litany of threats to the artistic world as we know it is all too familiar: changing demographics, shrinking leisure, diminished funding, and the relentlessly expanding domain of the virtual. Doomsayers have often been wrong, of course, and the predictions of classical music's death, like the accounts of Mark Twain's demise, have so far proven to be greatly exaggerated.1

Painful realities remain, though, and classical vocalists must find ways to accommodate a rapidly changing artistic landscape. One line of fruitful possibility may well lie in the career trajectories chosen by musicians like Yo Yo Ma and Thomas Hampson, individuals whose unique talents and wide appeal would cast them for many as exceptions to be envied rather than examples that could be emulated. Both, however, have by design downplayed exceptionalism, and have cultivated instead a broadly diverse catholicity, building ever wider bridges to millions, rather than ever higher pedestals for themselves. What likely comes to mind first is cellist Ma's energetic, sometimes daring, exploration of music genres from a culturally and socioeconomically inclusive global mosaic. Significant as that is, our present focus concerns not Ma's eclecticism, but his more fundamental interest in synthesis: his efforts to bring art domains together that, at least in modern music, usually function in separate spheres. In his six-part Sony film series Inspired by Bach, for example, Ma uses the Six Suites for Unaccompanied Cello to probe connections between music, landscape gardening, cathedral architecture, theater, and dance-both traditional Japanese and contemporary Western.2 Artistic integration likewise has been a hallmark goal of baritone Thomas Hampson, about whom critic David Weininger wrote, "Few living musicians have explored so widely or thought more deeply about the intricate craft of joining poetry and music."3 As its Program Booklet notes, Hampson's 2011 recital, "Water: A Musical Celebration of America's Heartland and Heart," "repre- sents a confluence of aesthetic experiences," and "was inspired by the Minnesota Marine Art Museum and the illustrious Burrichter/Kierlin Marine Art Collection."4 Reflecting this commitment to connectivity, Hampson established in 2003 The Hampsong Foundation, which, among its other initiatives, funds selected projects that "use American classic art song... to tell a larger narrative in history, culture, literature, and/or the visual arts."5

The fostering of that last named variety of integration-exploring relationships between modern and contemporary solo vocal works and the visual arts-is the core aim of the present project. Before moving further, though, we should point out that Hampson is by no means the sole vocal pioneer in this innovative approach to interpretation and program building. A 2013 recital sponsored by the Vancouver International Song Institute featured the world premiere of composer Lloyd Burritt's Triptych-Three Songs on Three Abstract Paintings. VISI's website at the time noted that the pieces are "musical settings of poet Marilyn Lerch [that were in turn] inspired by paintings of artist Liberia Marcuzzi." "As the moving work is performed," the note continued, "Marcuzzi's paintings will be projected onto the stage."6 The preceding year (January 22, 2012), a faculty recital at Boston Conservatory ("A Gallery of Song-Musical Reflections of Visual Art") showcased "live music [set] to themes portrayed in the paintings of Doron Putka, which will be exhibited at the performance."7 And as a third example, SongFusion, an art song ensemble based in New York City, states that its "mission is to expand the traditional recital format, creating programs that explore familiar themes from unexpected angles, and collaborating with instrumentalists, dancers, actors, and visual artists. …

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