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2017-18 Season

RoschmannFebruary 8, 2018
Dorothea Röschmann
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PregardienFebruary 24, 2018
Christoph Prégardien
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Hoffman March 20, 2018
Theo Hoffman
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MulliganApril 28, 2018
Brian Mulligan
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NYFOSNovember 5, 2017
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BondarenkoDecember 5, 2017
Andrei Bondarenko
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ErraughtJanuary 9, 2018
Tara Erraught
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Vocal Arts DC
PO Box 42423
Washington, DC 20015



The George Washington University Department of Music
Goethe-Institut Washington
Levine Music
University of Maryland Opera Studio
Wagner Society DC

"My Favorite Song"

Guest contributors select one song that has a special, personal meaning for them, sharing specific reasons about why they find the music and lyrics irresistible, and choosing a performance that they feel ideally captures the spirit of that song.

Archive of Past Selections

"My Favorite Song"
May, 2014

Welcome to the monthly feature of the Vocal Arts DC web site in which guest contributors select one song that has a special, personal meaning for them, sharing specific reasons about why they find the music and lyrics irresistible, and choosing a performance that they feel ideally captures the spirit of that song.

Baritone Matthew Morris, one of the co-winners of Vocal Arts DC's annual "Art Song Discovery" Competition, and consequently one of our two featured performers in our local "Discovery Series" recitals this spring at The Phillips Collection and at the Kennedy Center Millennium Stage, also became associate artistic director of Songfest at Colburn in 2013. Trained at Juilliard and Bard as a singer, actor, and dancer, and mentored by soprano Dawn Upshaw and stage director Peter Brook, he counts among his growing list of impressive credits appearances in Paris, Milan and London, and with the Boston Symphony Orchestra, the Tanglewood Festival, and the Aldeburgh Festival.

Gabriel Fauré: "En Sourdine"

It was "love at first hearing" for me and Fauré's En Sourdine. I was in my junior year French Vocal Literature class at the Juilliard School with instructor and French Diction Czar Thomas Grubb, and my ears perked out of their two-hour long art song class haze when Mr. Grubb announced that this was one of his favorite songs. The opening ripple of chords began, and from that day, Fauré has been my favorite composer and En Sourdine my favorite song.

Now, I am fully aware that I am biased. Through the course of my training at the Juilliard School, I took survey classes of the great vocal literature from the Italian, German, and French traditions (oddly no American or British!). Out of this great exposure, it was French music that always made me want to come back for more.

I think that on average, people are more geared towards one culture/language/style than another based on their personalities. People who like to be in the moment and live life to the fullest: to eat the best food, to laugh with family and friends, to love passionately today and not worry about tomorrow-to me, those people tend to go for Italian music. People who like to live life at the deepest edges of experience: to love like a crazy person and then be haunted forever when that love leaves, to examine nature for whispers of the eternal-those people tend to go for German music. People who love beauty and are fully aware of its transitory nature, being willing to let it go when the time comes with just a "C'est la vie" - now that's French!

And for me, En Sourdine is the epitome of that French spirit. It is a giant love letter to life in general and to one individual afternoon wrapped in a lover's arms followed by a musical sigh as we all go back to our everyday lives. German music would put up a fight with wrenching chromaticism, tempo changes, and climactic high notes, but in En Sourdine the tempo never changes and there is no climactic high note. In fact, the climax is a gorgeous piano line symbolizing the soft call of the rossignol (a nightingale) that announces the sunrise and the end of a ravishing evening.

Fauré is also able to capture the feeling of "timelessness" that happens on an evening like this by starting with one accompaniment figure, the ripple of sixteenth notes in the piano, and continuing with the same figure until the end of the song, but somehow we find we are in a different place from where we started. I think the secret lies in Fauré's abnormal musical training outside of the standard "Conservatoire." It is this unusual knowledge of modal church harmony that allows his chords to move like liquid from one to the next, always shimmering with novelty (just like that night in a lover's arms!), yet never sounding a dissonant wrong note (hopefully like that night in a lover's arms too!). In fact, I have a pianist friend and collaborator who has perfect pitch. She dreads playing Fauré because she cannot tell what harmony she is playing, so fast, fleeting, and slightly odd are the changes underneath her fingers.

It is truly my "take one song on a desert island" choice. You can play it on repeat and never get tired of it. It somehow seems to capture incomparable beauty and loss, distilling them into a tiny and elusive gem: you can never quite put your finger on why it is so beautiful. If there is one artist who certainly seems to know why, I would have to choose Gérard Souzay, in particular his recording of En Sourdine with Jacqueline Robin from 1950. Souzay, that paragon of mélodie performance, sounded heavier and darker as his career progressed, but in 1950 at 32 years old, the voice is stunningly lyric and beautiful, with liquid legato and ease. He makes each word clear effortlessly, and perfectly straddles the artistic line between letting the words speak for themselves and beautifully coloring words with honest emotion. I could listen to that pianissimo shimmer and ever so faint portamento he takes on the last word, "chantera," a million times, and I probably have. This is a song that you can listen to on a sad day or a happy day, just be sure it is a beautiful day, and then you are truly French!

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"My Favorite Song"

Archive of Past Selections