Saturday’s concert with Steven Blier is called Tales from the Vienna Woods. The play on words is much appreciated here in the wilds of Vienna (Virginia). And the music is peerless.
Funny how different my perspective is, this time around. Steve did this same concert here 14 years ago, and I was involved in its preparation. (A member of our coaching staff rehearses the material with the singers in the two weeks prior to Steve’s residency.) At that time, I was in the early years of my career, and my own experience with recitals was sadly typical of many pianists and singers. You know: a couple of unrelated sets per half, one in each major language, with a random aria as an encore.
Don’t blame me; I simply knew no better. I had played more than my share of graduate recitals (both in school and afterward) because I was a whiz at sight-reading, I was empathetic to singers, and I needed the money. But I had no mentor, no good role models, no inspiration. That was all to change quickly as Steve opened my mind and my ears to the marvelous possibilities inherent in programming all kinds of songs.
In 1994, these Lieder (German songs) in the Tales from the Vienna Woods program bore a suffocating layer of tradition and mystery (the wrong kind). Rather than trying to get at the heart of the music and poetry and accept that my task was to find out how they spoke to me, I was struggling to replicate the “right” interpretation. It feels like a missed opportunity, but I can’t beat up on my younger self too much. It took years of maturity and perspective before I could begin to accept that I might actually have something to say through the music.
This time around I’m not at the keyboard, so it’s probably not fair to draw a parallel. But I will say that as I’ve walked in and out of the rehearsal room this week (usually to do something creative and inspiring like retrieve scheduling requests…), the music hits me with a completely different force. It doesn’t intimidate me as much. I used to approach it with the politeness, deference and awe one might use with a respected authority figure. I still have to fight off those instincts, but I now have a chance at allowing it to speak to me like a trusted friend. To be sure, a friend who knows so much more about life and love than I ever will – but someone with whom I have a fighting chance at honesty.
I’m rambling, for while this is something that I feel in my gut, my left brain has yet to sort it out.
On a Lighter Note