MUSIC: The Song Continues: Marilyn Horne Song Celebration

 

MUSIC: The Song Continues: Marilyn Horne Song Celebration

 

Date: January 22, 2014
by: June LeBell | Contributing Columnist

 
 

// The Song Continues: Marilyn Horne Song Celebration

My husband, Ed, and I were in New York City for four days last week, and we were honored to celebrate an important milestone: Marilyn Horne’s 80th birthday. “How did I get to 80?” asked the greatest mezzo-soprano of the 20th century. “I almost didn’t make it. You know I had pancreatic cancer almost 10 years ago.” But she’s fine now. Cured. “Courage is better than fear, and faith is better than doubt.” She taught me that.

Music is up there with courage and faith. And Horne was blessed with a birthday celebration, thrown for her by Carnegie Hall no less, with so many friends, family and fans, it’s almost impossible to count them.

As tenor Robert White said, “The love for Marilyn was bouncing off the walls.” So was the sound of music bouncing off the walls of the beautiful and intimate Zankel Hall, the subterranean Carnegie concert space where the star-studded performances honoring “Jackie,” as she’s known to all, took place.

Hosts Frederica von Stade and Samuel Ramey, Met Opera stalwarts and friends of Jackie’s, took us on a memory-filled musical narration, introducing singer after singer, each with an important, life-changing connection with the honoree.

Lester Lynch, who was one of the young baritones on “The Song Continues,” a series I had the honor of co-hosting for many years with Jackie on WQXR, returned, fully blossomed into a mature artist with international credits from Berlin to Washington, to sing two of Copland’s “Old American Songs,” pieces dear to Jackie’s voice and heart. Later in the evening, he performed “Eri Tu,” from Verdi’s “Un Ballo in maschera,” with great depth and a spinning legato.

Met Opera star Piotr Beczala offered a riveting rendition of Beethoven’s “Adelaide” and returned in the second half with Renee Fleming for a lovely, romance-filled performance of “Lippen schweigen” from “The Merry Widow.” (Fleming had already appeared as a soloist on the first half, singing “Träume,” one of the “Wesendonck” songs by Wagner.)

Countertenor David Daniels took “O del mio dolce ardor,” a Gluck song that’s well-known to voice students from the Schirmer edition of “24 Italian Songs and Arias,” and added ornaments in places, removed them from others and sang it with the simplicity and understanding of the great artist he is. Later, his performance of Wilder’s “Blackberry Winter” brought tears to our already misty eyes and proved that, once again, Jackie was right in saying David must always sing this.

The superstar lineup continued, as did the song.

Brenda Rae, a stunning soprano whom we’d heard last summer in Santa Fe, N.M., used her wondrous way with words in Schubert’s “Lied der Delphine” in the first half, and then proceeded to sound like a bubble fountain as she overflowed with beautiful sounds and deep compassion in “O beau pays de la Touraine,” from Meyerbeer’s “Les Huguenots.”

Mezzo soprano Jamie Barton, who knocked us out when we recently heard her on television, wowed us when she joined her molten lava-like voice with the caresses of Daniels’ sweetness in a duet from Handel’s “Giulio Cesare.” That was after she sang the reflective “Urlicht,” not as a section of Mahler’s second symphony, but in the setting from “Des Knaben Wunderhorn.”

Mezzo Isabel Leonard offered, first, the exquisite lullaby from Montsalvatge’s song cycle, “Canciones negras,” with phrasing so tender, the little “coconut baby” would have cooed with pleasure. Later in the program, she knocked our collective socks off with an astonishing performance of “Non piu mesta” from Rossini’s “La Cenerentola.”

This lineup of singers with their songs and arias brought back memories of the parade of seemingly super-human unknowns Jackie introduced to the music world through her Marilyn Horne Foundation in the 1990s. (It’s now the Marilyn Horne Legacy at Carnegie Hall.) I was bowled over being part of it back then and privileged and grateful to be part of it last week.

But there was more. There were two collaborative pianists who should be in the pianistic Hall of Fame: the unique Martin Katz and the inimitable Warren Jones, two of the world’s greatest keyboard colleagues, adding the support of an orchestra and the exceptional understanding even the greatest singers cannot do without.

There was also a delightful and poignant duet, “I Remember it Well,” from “Gigi,” sung by our hosts, “Flicka” von Stade and Sam Ramey, that added even more nostalgia to the evening. And, most wondrous of all, the 86-year-old Barbara Cook (“The Eighth Wonder of the World,” as Jackie called her) singing Arthur Butler’s “Here’s to Life,” a fitting tribute to the life-force known as Marilyn Horne. 

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