Tag Archives: Dawn Upshaw

Donnacha Dennehy and Alarm Will Sound leave us Hunger-ing for more

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Alarm Will Sound (Photo by Justin Bernhaut)

Famine isn’t a cheery topic. And when we’re talking about the Great Irish Famine of 1845-1852, it could seem like musty and old as well as unpleasant.

And, let’s face it, the Great Famine is not a happy subject.

Luckily, when the fantastic Irish composer and Crash Ensemble bandleader Donnacha Dennehy takes on the monumental subject, it assumes a magical, transcendent quality.

Dennehy and the awesome 20-member New Music ensemble Alarm Will Sound gave New York its first taste of The Hunger, a still in-progress theater piece that combines the ensemble with live singing by an Irish  sean nós singer and a mezzo-soprano, at Carnegie Hall’s Zankel Hall on Saturday night, April 6.

We were mesmerized for all 45 minutes of urgent playing coupled with recordings of Irish sean nós singing and the keening of a mother for her dead child, along with and live singing by the extraordinary Rachel Calloway.

Calloway sang lyrics based on the first-hand accounts of the famine by the American nonconformist Asenath Nicholson, who spent two years in Ireland working with those dying of starvation. Her words in song are gripping, terrifying and urgent.

The piece is destined to be a full evening of performance by Alarm Will Sound, sean nós singer Iarla  Ó Lionáird and one of our very favorite mezzos, Dawn Upshaw. While Upshaw will likely put the finished work into an even higher category, we were mightily impressed with Calloway’s work on Saturday.

This taste leaves us starving to hear more.

While The Hunger was the marquee event of Saturday’s program, Alarm Will Sound got plenty of opportunity to show off its New Music chops in the first half, as well. The evening was intended to draw attention to the fact that the 12-year-old group, led by Alan Pierson (who also helms the Brooklyn Philharmonic), has amassed quite a bit of music written specifically for it.

One of its oldest commissions, David Lang‘s increase, composed in 2002, was the highlight of the first half. But the world premiere of the noisy, energetic Fly By Wire, by the suddenly ubiquitous Tyondai Braxton and New York premiere of Charles Wuorinen‘s Big Spinoff, were plenty of fun. Journeyman, composed by Alarm Will Sound’s pianist, John Orfe, also had its New York premiere Saturday.

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Missy Mazzoli’s making an uproar

Composer and performer Missy Mazzoli. (Photo by Stephen Taylor)

Composer Missy Mazzoli‘s having a great year — and it’s only February. She’s been working hard to get her music heard, and it’s really coming together.

Tomorrow night and Sunday, her chamber opera Song from the Uproar is being performed by students from the Bard College Conservatory of Music Graduate Vocal Arts Program, run by the estimable soprano Dawn Upshaw. It’s part of an opera triple bill, which also includes Vinkensport, or The Finch Opera, a world premiere by David T. Little, and L’Enfant et les sortilèges by Maurice Ravel  in the amazing Sosnoff Theater on the Bard College campus in Annandale-on-Hudson. For more info about those shows and to buy tickets, priced from $20-$75, click here. If you’re willing to take a randomly assigned seat, you can pay just $10 by clicking here and using the password “triplebill.”

The lyrical piece examines the life of 19th Century Swiss explorer Isabelle Eberhardt, with text inspired by and responding to her journals, which Missy set to music for soprano and small ensemble, against a backdrop of film by Stephen Taylor. A 40-minute version of the piece presented last May at Galapagos Art Space in Brooklyn was enchanting and provocative entertainment.

Missy’s opera will be heard again in New York City in the spring, when it’s presented as part of New York City Opera’s Vox showcase of new operas. Although Vox hasn’t formally announced its season yet, Time Out New York‘s Olivia Giovetti reveals in an interview with Missy that it’ll be held April 30 and May 1 this year. Although the venue has not been announced, Vox has been presented for the past four years at Skirball Center for the Performing Arts at New York University.

Missy Mazzoli and her quintet Victoire.

Then, in her rock-club guise as leader of the quintet Victoire, Missy will be performing in March and April with American Composers Orchestra.

The first show is at 4 pm Sunday, March 21, at Dweck Center at the Brooklyn Public Library, Grand Army Plaza, Brooklyn.  Admission is free. Call (718) 230-2100 or click on www.brooklynpubliclibrary.org for more information.

The second show (on a bill also featuring Arp & Anthony Moore) is presented as part of the Wordless Music Series at 7:30 pm on Wednesday, April 7 at (Le) Poisson Rouge, 158 Bleecker Street, Manhattan.  Tickets are  $15. Call (212) 505-FISH or click here.

Meet Dawn Upshaw and support young singers

Dawn Upshaw

Dawn Upshaw

Dawn Upshaw is living proof that great sopranos don’t have to be divas. She is the most un-divalike soprano I’ve ever encountered. She seems calm and sweet and there are no press clips or other evidence of bad behavior on her part. And she has one of the sweetest, most supple voices in the business today. (It also doesn’t hurt that she’s adventurous and willing to tackle difficult music, like Gyorgy Kurtag‘s Kafka Fragments and new works, such as Osvaldo Golijov‘s Ainadamar.)

Upshaw’s also been very generous in sharing her vast experience with young singers. She signed on as artistic director of the Graduate Vocal Arts Program at The Bard Conservatory of Music back in 2004, and has been active at the conservators since the graduate program got off the ground in 2006. Next Wednesday, April 29, she’s giving even more of herself by headlining a concert that will raise funds for her program’s scholarship fund. The show starts at 7:30 p.m. at the Richard B. Fisher Center for the Performing Arts on the Bard College Campus in Annandale-on-Hudson, N.Y.

For $75, you can hear Upshaw and other sing and meet the artists afterward.  If you just want to hear the music, you can skip the reception and get tickets for as little as $15. For tickets, call (845) 758-7900 or click here.

The Richard B. Fisher Center at Bard College.

The Richard B. Fisher Center at Bard College.

Bard’s bucolic campus is a pleasant day trip from New York City up the Hudson Valley. It’s worth the trip just to check out the Fisher Center. It’s a spectacular gem of a Frank Gehry-designed hall — virtually a miniature version of Gehry’s Walt Disney Concert Hall in Los Angeles. And the Sosnoff Theater, the main auditorium where the program is being presented, has no bad seats and grand acoustics.

Here’s what’s on the program, according to a Bard press release:

The program features solo songs performed by Upshaw and an ensemble repertoire including works by Purcell (arranged by Britten), Schumann, Mendelssohn, Foster, and Copland performed by singers of the Graduate Vocal Arts Program, and accompanied by pianists of the Post-Graduate Collaborative Piano Fellowship and faculty of The Bard Conservatory of Music. …

The evening’s program includes songs from Orpheus Britannicus by Henry Purcell and arranged by Benjamin Britten; songs from Spanisches Liederspiel, Op. 74, and Liebhabers Ständchen, Op. 34, no. 2 by Robert Schumann; Herbstlied, Op. 63, no. 4 and Maiglöckchen und die Blümelein, Op. 63, no. 6 by Felix Mendelssohn Bartholdy; “Gentle Annie” and “Katy Bell” by Stephen Foster; and “The Promise of Living,” from The Tender Land by Aaron Copland, among others.