Lady Gaga to Monteverdi: Anything Goes

Coach/Pianist Joseph Li, one of Wolf Trap‘s unsung heroes last spring for his help in bringing the world premiere of The Inspector to the stage, guest blogs today about the pairing of music and art for Wolf Trap Opera’s Vocal Colors concert at the Phillips  on June 28 at 6:30 pm.

Photo of Coach/Pianist Joseph Li.

Coach/Pianist Joseph Li. Photo by Chris Novosad.

At opening night of Fidelio at Houston Grand Opera, I had the privilege of sitting next to a couple straight out of high school, attending possibly their first night ever at the opera. As the tenor drew his gun and aimed it ever so slowly at the soprano, the girl next to me cursed under her breath in an excited whisper. She was completely lost in the moment; her response to what was happening on stage was honest and genuine.

Shouldn’t recitals have that kind power over our imaginations? Why shouldn’t we respond viscerally like that to an art that was specifically created for and performed in small, intimate settings? Especially when every song on a recital program presents an opportunity to tell an incredible story . . .

This is just one of many challenges that draws me irresistibly to the Vocal Colors series. My colleagues and I must provide the most spontaneous opportunity for that experience–without the aid of elaborate sets, lighting, and costumes.

What we do have is an amazing selection of visual art at The Phillips Collection to accompany our program. Nonetheless, choosing repertoire for a Vocal Colors concert is like trying to decide what to see in a day at the Louvre–the possibilities are endless. And finding just the right song to go with just the right painting means that there are no hard and fast rules about what kinds of songs to choose. Anything goes.

What kind of singers do you need for this kind of program? Good ones! Pulling off a program like this requires a great deal of vocal flexibility and stagecraft. The nature of these programs necessitates that the artists maintain an open mind before we walk into our first rehearsal.

What might you expect to see and hear when you come to see a Vocal Colors concert? Among other things:

  • You may hear Lady Gaga and Monteverdi back to back.
  • You may want to dance in your seat or in the aisles.
  • You may hear that song from that show you love.
  • You may learn something new about yourself.
  • You may learn something new about your date.
  • You may want to take up singing or piano lessons.
  • You may hear the song you danced to at your high school prom.
  • You may hear your favorite hymn from Sunday mornings.
  • You may hear something we didn’t intend for you to hear.

In short, expect the unexpected. And don’t let anyone else tell you how to react. Anything goes!

Joseph Li, Coach/Pianist

Musicians Paint the Music Room with Sound: Vocal Colors Part II

Lee Gatch, City at Evening, 1933. Oil on canvas, 18 x 25 in. The Phillips Collection, Washington, D.C. Acquired in 1943.

Talented vocalists and other musicians from Wolf Trap return to The Phillips Collection this Thursday at 6:30 pm for the second concert in the Vocal Colors: A Musical Exploration of Visual Art series. Pianist Stephanie Rhodes guest blogs about her experience interpreting artwork through music.

I see in black and white, but I hear color.  As a pianist, I have 88 keys and printed black notation staring off a glaring white page. My job (how did I get so lucky?) is to take that straightforward world and transform it into a colorful realm of sound, all with the aim of sweeping up the listener in the process of creation, typically with the help of a talented singer.

Here’s the thing:  aural orientation doesn’t really lend itself to visual art. I’ve spent time in some of the greatest art museums in the world, with an audio tour guide in tow and a strong desire to experience the masterpieces before me.  Often though, the type of connection and impression I so value in my musical being eludes me.

Preparing our Vocal Colors recital for The Phillips Collection, that has not been the case. Continue reading “Musicians Paint the Music Room with Sound: Vocal Colors Part II” »

Young Vocalists Paint the Music Room with Sound

A Wolf Trap Opera performer responds to Henri Matisse's Studio Quai Saint-Michel (1916) with Stephen Sondheim's I'm Losing My Mind (1971). Photo courtesy Wolf Trap Opera.

I was a classical cellist before falling in love with art history, and one of the things that I love about The Phillips Collection is the way art of all kinds is brought together in conversation.  In this spirit, the Phillips is hosting singers from Wolf Trap’s bright and talented Filene Young Artists tomorrow at 6:30 pm. Vocal performances are paired with multimedia presentations of works from the Collection – some highlights include pairings of Schubert with Cézanne and Stephen Sondheim’s I’m losing my Mind with Studio Quai Saint-Michel by Matisse.  The vocalists will perform in the Phillips’s lush, Victorian music room, where Duncan Phillips and his brother used to relax while they plunked out tunes on the grand piano, making plans for their budding art collection.

Check out some photos from Sunday’s rehearsal!

-Evelyn Gardett, Graduate Intern for Lectures and Programs