Hello from ITALY
I know this has taken me far longer than it should have, but here it is - thank you for being patient with me! Although I am currently in Italy at the moment, I thought I might begin with my SongStudio experience in New York.
This is a yearly 10-day program in New York hosted by Carnegie Hall. The program is devoted exclusively to classical Art songs - songs written specifically to showcase the piano and voice together. There are art songs in every language - German (called Lieder), French (Mélodie), and so on! Each singer in this program was paired with a pianist, with whom they collaborated and workshopped their repertoire together throughout the week. There were 10 couples in total from all around the world. I was paired with the brilliant Richard Fu, originally from China, and now studying under master Julius Drake in Graz, Austria. Here's us pictured together after the concert!
PRACTICE, PRACTICE, PRACTICE (the only way to get to Carnegie!) The program included private lessons, coachings, and lectures; public lectures and masterclasses; and two concerts. It was a very busy week and in amongst each session, Richard and I squeezed in as much practice time as possible to prepare for it all. We begun the week with coachings from Javier Arrebola (Spanish pianist and coach) who had a fantastic imagination and insight into music, inspiring us to try and hear the meaning behind every chord and motif. I also had some vocal sessions with Gerald Martin Moore (Scottish pianist, teacher and art song partner with Renée Fleming). We had worked together a few times in my previous visit to New York and as always, he helped me during a busy week of singing to stay vocally connected and using the right technique. I was very thankful we had him on staff to check in vocally, and he also generously helped Richard and I prepare our ensemble pieces for the concerts. We had a coaching with Craig Terry (pianist, Chicago Ryan Opera Center Music Director, and I believe he recently won a Grammy with Joyce DiDonato (?!)), who also gave us a lecture on programming and expanding repertoire choices. At the end of the week we had a coaching with Hartmut Höll (pianist and previous art song partner to incomparable Baritone lieder-master Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau!). He had so much knowledge, everything he said was absolutely fascinating. I thought he was also an excellent actor too, he knew the text of every poem intimately and declaimed it with such conviction - inspiring the singers to do the same.
Other memorable lectures include those with Gabriel Kahane (New York composer), generous Brian Zeger (recital pianist and Director of Vocal Arts at Juilliard) and an interesting lecture on the possibilities of art song collaborations with Julia Bullock (emerging New York soprano). On top this we had our masterclasses - I was elected to be in both Elina Garanča and Renée Fleming masterclass.
Elina Garanča is a Latvian mezzo-soprano and has been one of my idols for many years now. I was definitely pinching myself being given the chance to even meet her, let alone work with her! In the Elina Garanča masterclass, I performed “Rheinlegendchen” (from Mahler's Des Knaben Wunderhorn). As soon as I sang, she hopped off stage and went into the audience. After I finished singing, she encouraged me that I should really sing pieces by Brahms and Wagner instead (…which are for big voices - perhaps not me just yet!). It was a very interesting masterclass all the while. We worked on different ways of expressing the text. Particularly one great tip she gave was that the word “fisch” (German for fish) could be sung in a way that demonstrates the size and type of fish! We tried singing the word lightly and with weight, demonstrating that it could be either a tiny, delicate or big, meaty fish. All these small nuances and tips make a huge difference to depicting the characters or story that is in the text of the song.
Elina Garanča, me and my colleague Eric Carey also from the SongStudio.
Renée Fleming is a beloved American soprano who was the director and leader of this program. You might recognise her from the Super Bowl 2014 or on the Shape of Water soundtrack! In case you don't know who she is, have a listen to her performing 'The Embroidery Aria' from Britten's Peter Grimes (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Jz3FEaMJanI). It's one of my favourite recordings of her. I won't share too much about the Fleming masterclass, as I know it was recorded to eventually be put on youtube. As soon as I see it, I will be sure to send it along! Otherwise again, it was a fantastic masterclass, and as you will see Fleming is an excellent masterclass giver. She didn’t go too much into technique but made small changes that made an immediate positive difference, and of course, was very warm and kind.
Before the Renée Fleming masterclass began!
CONCERTS We had two concerts - one salon concert at the home of Sarah Billinghurst Solomon and Howard Solomon on the Upper East Side. It was an extraordinary home with a small and very warm audience. She is a great philanthropist of opera (for 42 years prior she was the Arts Administrator at the Metropolitan Opera), and has had many concerts in her salon room - surprisingly a beautiful acoustic to sing in. And finally there was the evening recital at Carnegie Hall, where I sang Kołysanka (a beautiful Polish cradle song) and Verlorne Müh’ (again from Mahler's Des Knaben Wunderhorn). I was very happy with my performance and Richard’s (who had been a fantastic pianist that week) and was a great way to finish the week together. Now I can officially say I have made my Carnegie Hall debut!
Sarah Billinghurst Solomon and Howard Solomon's home for the Salon Concert
Evening recital in Zankle Hall
LIVING OUT OF A SUITCASE
Before and after my New York trip, I have been staying in London. I am very lucky to have family abroad - the polish "Puskarz" side of my family. I must especially thank my Aunt Helena who has been so kind to host me on my many visits to England (and to keep hold of some of my luggage while I go back and forth!!). I have enjoyed being together with my family, cooking and learning many polish delectable dishes, favourites including pierogi (Polish version of ravioli) and gołąbki (translates as "doves", but is actually seasoned beef/pork mince wrapped in cabbage). Although my mother was not there for Christmas, I am delighted my mother also came to visit me in New York and came to London also for a big family reunion.
My mother and I in Times Square!
I am now in Italy (Treviso) for the next while. I have a huge European summer ahead, and will be in three different continents throughout the season! I am looking forward to having some time now to prepare all the music, practice practice and also brush up on my Italian language skills in this amazing country. My partner Sam who lives here has drastically improved his Italian and I need to learn more to in order to keep up with what he is saying to our friends! Do you have any must-do's when here in Italy, or even places to indulge and eat? I am hoping to get a bit of exploring in as well...!
St Mark's Basilica in Venice
Although I have just begun my stay in Italy, I will be returning to London next week. Unfortunately after a very long battle and a valiant fight with all the challenges thrown her way, my babcia, grandmother Kazimiera Puskarz passed away recently. She has the most amazing story from her experiences during the Second World War, and despite even more challenges, she raised three amazing people, one of which is my wonderful Dad. I will always admire the strength and determination of this amazing women, and also my father and his sisters for their devoted care for many years.
So I devote this letter to my babcia, my father and my two wonderful aunts (pictured all below)
_______________________________________________________________ I hope you are all well. Please send me updates! Sending love Always, Xenia X