Whether or not the American Art Song is a specific type of genre is not known to me. There are certainly many of them and they enrich the classical vocal repertoire greatly. Wits University selects their outside performers carefully, intent on giving music students specifically, and other students generally, an opportunity to be exposed to things which they would not usually be able to hear live.
So the concert starts with a work by Simon Sargon (b 1938) – A Clear Midnight for baritone (Christian Bester), piano (Laetitia Orlandi) and horn (Shannon Armer). Six poems by Walt Whitman (1818-1892). In the first item Bester’s voice is sometimes overpowered by the instruments. By the second he is in full stride and his voice is loud and clear and the work flowed exquisitely from there. By end of the song cycle, I was a confirmed fan. Simon Sargon is an American composer from Israeli/Indian descent. I am amused, Bester was born in South Africa and now lives in the USA. Armer was born in the USA and now lives in South Africa. The joys of the music world include a lot of international collaborations.
Bester’s voice is lovely, and his explanations of the works he chose is too brief. I wanted to know more.
Shawn Okpebholo, Aaron Copland, Leonard Bernstein, Charles Griffes, Ricky Ian Gord, Paul Bowels, H Leslie Adams were all represented, all exquisitely performed.
The encore was by Charles Ives. A false start. I loved it. “Live performance” he says, and shrugs. No visible embarrassment, no stress, just starting over, getting it right, delighting the audience with something completely different.
It was a charming concert. I was just a little disappointed that it was not better attended.
From Sea to Shining Sea was performed at the Wits Atrium on Wednesday 22 March 2017.