A Celebration of American Composers: Behind the Scenes

Written and interviewed by AVA Administrative Associate Stephen Trygar.

This weekend, the Academy of Vocal Arts invites you to join us in celebrating some of the finest composers in American history. Reservations for our virtual recital A Celebration of American Composers are still available! Reservations can be made on our website or by calling the Box Office at (215) 735-1685. This performance will be streamed on the AVA YouTube channel on February 6, 2021 at 7:30 P.M., and it will remain available for viewing until February 11, 2021 at 7:30 P.M. We look forward to seeing you there as we kick off our virtual spring season.

At the turn of the 20th century, the American musical culture really began to cultivate composers of its own. For so long, musicians and audiences alike limited themselves to listening to the European greats, primarily from Germany, Austria, France, and Italy. However, certain musical organizations began loosening their strict grip on the composers they performed, and local composers were given more opportunities to share their music. Master Vocal Coach Luke Housner, the music director for this recital of American composers, aims to capture that moment in time with this program. When I got the chance to speak with him, he had noted the many German and Czech programs he has mounted over the past four years. So, he felt it was time for a change, and what could be better than looking in our own back yard?

This program was not only a great change from Mr. Housner’s normal routine, but it was also a perfect opportunity for him to revisit some repertoire that he hadn’t touched since his undergraduate years at Oberlin College Conservatory of Music back in the early 90s. At that time, he regularly performed works by Barber, Copland, Ives, and Menotti, four composers each having their own set within this program. Mezzo-soprano Chelsea Laggan has taken on selections from the lush Twelve Poems of Emily Dickinson by Aaron Copland; bass Eric Delagrange, a quirky, yet though provoking selection of songs by Charles Ives, including “In the Alley”, “Charlie Rutlage”, “Circus Band”, and others; soprano Aubry BallarĂ², the melodious Five Songs by Gian Carlo Menotti; and soprano Kara Mulder, the lyrical Three Songs, Op. 45 by Samuel Barber. The fifth set in this beautiful program is performed by baritone Titus Muzi, who sings a program of a wider variety of composers, including Blue Mountain Ballads by Paul Bowles, “Sweet Suffolk Owl” by Richard Hundley, The Nightingale by Clifford Shaw, and “Holding Each Other” by Gene Scheer. For Mr. Housner and Mr. Muzi, their roles were reversed in regards to their relationship to the pieces. Mr. Muzi had performed the Bowles piece during his undergraduate while Mr. Housner had not yet become aware of it until preparing for the program.

Chelsea Laggan, mezzo-soprano
Eric Delagrange, bass

Aubry BallarĂ², soprano
Titus Muzi, baritone
Kara Mulder, soprano

Each of our participating Resident Artists will be giving you some more information about each of the pieces they will be performing during our virtual recital. To aid in setting the mood, these singers and Mr. Housner together have collected photos and paintings that best support the artistic paths each aim to take during their individual sets. When chatting with Mr. Housner about this aspect of the performance, he greatly expressed his excitement about this component. He said, “It was a fascinating journey for the singers and I to decide on which direction to take with each song selection and then find and identify photos and paintings to support/bolster that path chosen.” Via a green screen positioned behind and above the singers, these pictures and paintings will be featured as each of the Resident Artists sings their music, framed by the gorgeous design set into the Helen Corning Warden Theater’s fireplace.

We hope you enjoy this beautiful program!

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