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2012.10.13 Recital, Spivey Hall, Atlanta: Pedja Muzijevic

Spivey Hall, Atlanta

Recital

13. October 2012 8:15 PM
Pre-concert Talk 7:15 PM

Simon Keenlyside
Pedja Muzijevic, piano

A compelling international opera star and recitalist, “Simon Keenlyside has no peers and few equals among English baritones,” proclaims The Sunday Telegraph, praising his velvety tone, expressive phrasing and immaculate diction.”

“this is a voice of many colors but more importantly a voice where the lyric and dramatic elements are held in such perfect balance” (The Independent).

Programme:

IRELAND Sea Fever
WILLIAMS
Youth and Love
The infinite Shining Heavens
BUTTERWORTH When I was One-and-Twenty (From “A Shropshire Lad”)
GRAINGER The Spring of Thyme
BUTTERWORTH
Think no more, Lad (From “A Shropshire Lad”);
The Lads in their Hundreds (From “A Shopshire Lad”)
IRELAND
The Vagabond
Three Ravens
FRANK BRIDGE
Thy Hand in Mine
WILLIAMS
The Vagabond (Songs of Travel)
WEILL
Beat! Beat! Drums!
Dirge for two Vetrans
WOLF
Auf einer Wanderung
Heimweh
Schlafendes Jesuskind
Lied eines Verliebten
Der Jäger
SCHUBERT
Der Einsame
An den Mond in einer Herbstnacht
Geheimes
L’incanto degli occhi
Im Walde

Encores:
Schubert:

  • Der Wanderer an den Mond
  • Fischerweise
  • An mein Klavier


 Sound bites

Stephanie Adrian, artsatl.com, 18.10.2012

“British baritone Simon Keenlyside thrills audience at Spivey Hall
British baritone Simon Keenlyside and pianist Pedja Muzijevic presented an exceptional, if not mind-blowing, recital Saturday night at Clayton State University’s Spivey Hall. It was the sheer breadth of the sung poetry, as well as Keenlyside’s tremendous range of vocal color and nuance, that left one overwhelmed. ….. “

 ” A Novice’s Perspective” by Marilyn Meeker

Two dear friends from Annapolis, Maryland, and I—from Ann Arbor, Michigan—had a “cultural destination” reunion in Atlanta last weekend, with the prime motivation being Simon’s recital at Spivey Hall at Clayton State University. We met last year in Cleveland to see Simon in his memorable performance of Don Giovanni at the magnificent Severance Hall (with the incredible Cleveland Orchestra as the pit band).  Because this was going to be Simon’s only recital in North America in 2012, and because it was to be in a 400-seat hall recognized by classical artists as one of the finest small performance spaces in the world, this seemed like the ideal opportunity for a “first” chance to hear Simon in this most intimate of genres.  Our hopes—our expectations—were not only met . . . they were surpassed beyond measure.

Sam Dixon, the Executive Director of Spivey Hall, spoke briefly at a pre-concert dinner, explaining that Simon was appearing “by permission of the Metropolitan Opera.” It truly was an extraordinary situation that in the middle of preparations for what may be the Met’s most important production of the season, it agreed to let Simon travel to Atlanta for this event.  It is also extraordinary that Simon would “mix” his genres in such a close time-frame. I seem to recall him stating that the two genres require different types of singing, and that he normally likes to take up to two weeks between a run of operas and moving back to the song repertoire. There could have been any number of reasons why this exhausting switch from “opera” voice to “recital” voice might have affected the evening’s outcome.  I am happy to report that—if he was exhausted—it did not show in the slightest during this glorious evening of music.  His singing was sublime, and he was thoroughly engaging, charming, disarming, and humbly appreciative of the reception given to him by an appreciative Atlanta audience.

Simon appears younger in person (I did not really think that was possible) . . . he looked like a cross between a Cambridge don—in his immaculately tailored dark suit and tweed vest—and an apprehensive schoolboy, not just running his hands through his hair, but rubbing his head back and forth . . . mussing his hair, wiping his entire face. I have read so many accounts of him in recital . . . his quirkiness, his seeming discomfort being in such an exposed position.  You know what? It didn’t matter in the slightest . . . it was endearing and . . . it was Simon.  If one becomes distracted, he/she loses the precious moments of heartfelt artistry that simply consume his entire being. The vast palette of color, nuance, dynamic range, of pure artistic honesty . . . all of this was on display in the person of Mr. Keenlyside.  His skill at achieving hairpin turns from clarion fortes to breathtaking whispers in the same song, the ability to make each strophe of an Ireland or Schubert song not just a reiteration of the same music, but a crystallizing refinement, a careful recasting and loving shaping guided always by the text . . . text . . . text . . . This is what truly makes a recital by Simon an evening of wonder.

And this was all possible because of the glories of Spivey Hall . . . he could dare to whisper . . . and to be heard.  I might have wished that the lid of the piano were only on the half-stick, rather than full stick . . . this is an incredible instrument, but there were times when Pedja Muzijevic was almost too powerful on the piano . . . This was not true for the entire performance . . . only moments, and in those moments I was wishing to hear Malcolm Martineau playing this magnificent Hamburg Steinway (affectionately named “Clara”).

The programming was curious only because the placement of the English songs in the first half meant that there were no “groupings,” therefore, no breaks for applause through the entire first half.  But all credit to the Atlanta audience . . . it was by far the most quiet, respectful audience I think I have ever not heard! Not a single cough . . . only a slight shuffling of pages . . . but no groupings meant the first half simply flew by. Alas . . .

Simon’s impromptu remarks were another charming example of his distinctive personality.  Before “Der Einsame,” he related this story (“I’m not sure if this is an example of life imitating art imitating life . . .”) about an apartment he once had in Vienna . . . “and outside this apartment I always heard a cricket.” One night when he couldn’t sleep, he went outside, determined to find the cricket . . . only to discover it was . . . an electrical timer!  I guess one hears what one wants to hear . . .

In the encores, Simon announced each of the songs. For “Der Wanderer an den Mond,” he talked about this song meaning something different to him now than it did earlier in his career, when he didn’t enjoy the constant travel, and felt kinship with the traveler in the song. But now—and in so many ways, this seemed to be reflected throughout the evening—Simon said he did feel at home wherever there was a love for classical music, and a hall, a piano, and an appreciative audience, and he thanked everyone. It was simple, eloquent and humble. For the second encore, when he announced “Fischerweise,” I’m sure someone in the audience misheard him and thought he said “Winterreise,” because that person then spoke audibly enough for Simon to hear, “are you going to dance it?”  Simon responded . . . “if you’ll allow . . .,” but I think he was graciously confused . . . one might “swim” “Fischerweise” but certainly not dance it!  But the perfect ending to the evening—if it had to come to an end—was the ravishingly beautiful “An mein Klavier,” in which each progressive strophe became softer and more tender . . . it is so much more difficult to sing softly than to sing loudly, and to have that culminate the concert was a true testament to the enormous talent of this artist.  It was over all too soon . . .

Simon gave Spivey permission to reprint some of the appropriate sections of his wonderful notes from the CD booklet for Songs of War in the program booklet for this recital. This allowed the audience the chance to enjoy Simon’s insightful creativity through his writing as well as his singing and acting. His after-concert meeting of members of the audience showed someone who seems to have come to accept his public persona with grace and engagement.  He met each person and seemed to enjoy conversing with each, without any sense of needing to rush off to the next event (there was also an off-site reception after the meet-and-greet in the lobby).  I asked him to sign the cover of the Songs of War CD booklet, and when I congratulated him on the Gramophone award, he immediately somewhat embarrassedly tried to change the subject . . . he said he was very pleased with the cover photo of the WWI soldier that Sony had selected . . . When I told him we had traveled to hear his Don Giovanni in Cleveland, he revealed that it was during the one and only rehearsal for that four-performance run in March 2011 that “I tore my arm to bits!” Ligaments were torn up through his entire left arm, which meant he did all four performances of that opera before any serious repair work could be done (calling for the later brace which was worn during the performances of Pelléas and Macbeth—for which he then had to learn to use a sword with his right hand—later that spring/summer). But one couldn’t really discern that it affected his Giovanni performance in the least. When one of my companions asked him to sign the DVD of the Monteverdi Orfeo, he confessed to never having seen it . . . this seemed to me like the response of one never wanting to linger on the past, but only to move forward.  I can only hope that someday, Simon might be able to take time and look at these documented performances to appreciate what a wealth of gifts he has given to us all . . .

This was a “bucket list” experience that I will never, ever forget . . . made only more special by the ability to share it with two dear friends. What a night . . . what a hall . . . what an artist!

{ 3 comments… read them below or add one }

Ally October 18, 2012 at 2:00 pm

Heidemarie, Marylin, Bill, thank you so much for great reviews!
I wanted to go to Atlanta so much. Unfortunately I was busy during this October weekend and couldn’t change the situation. So thank you again for wonderful details. Spivey Hall, as I know, is a true gem, so intimate and welcoming for any kind of chamber music, vocal or instrumental.

Sam Dixon has a blog with Spivey Hall website. He wrote an interesting pre-concert article dated October 13.
http://spiveyhall.blogspot.com/2012/10/simon-keenlyside-pedja-muzijevic-tonight.html

Sue October 16, 2012 at 12:20 pm

Thank you, Heide and Bill, for sharing your impressions of the Atlanta recital. Such snapshots of these events are very much appreciated – particularly Simon’s comments on the songs. So pleased to hear he is on top form during the demanding preparation period for The Tempest.
And thanks also to Ally for the masterclass information – that will be so interesting.

Bill Palik October 16, 2012 at 4:49 am

Hi –
Just back from Simon’s recital in Atlanta. Spivey Hall on the campus of Creighton State University is a very handsome and comfortable concert venue. I attended the pre-recital presentation by Prof. Dr. Kurt Zeller, who is I believe director of vocal studies at Creighton. He spent too large a portion of his 45 minutes explaining that he did not have sufficient time to cover everything he wanted, and concentrated finally on giving some info about the poet Moerike, the composer Wolf, and then a bit about Kurt Weill and the Whitman songs Simon was singing. One very interesting aspect was his slide show, including a photo of the painting on which Moerike based “Schlafendes Jesuskind” with the baby Jesus semi-recumbent asleep ON a cross in the woods, with instruments of the Passion (nails, hammers) lying on the dirt in the foreground.
Simon and Pedja Muzijevic came onstage at 8:15 PM – the Steinway had its lid all the way open, and it was angled a bit more than usual, so we could see the pianist’s hands very clearly. Simon – looking tanned and healthy (never mind a few times when he had recourse to his handkerchief) was in splendid form. The first half (13 English language songs selected from his Songs of War CD) was a model of clear diction and easy stage deportment. Simon stopped before The Sprig of Thyme to explain how Grainger picked up that folk song in his wanderings, and gave his reason for putting such a song in the present context, altering its meaning by proximity to its neighbors, etc. Sometimes one noted the difference in ensemble between Simon’s frequent partner, M Martineau, and Mr. Muzijevic, a rarer pairing, but it was all in all a very winning variation on Simon’s more ingrained collaboration.
The second half began with five Wolf selections from the Moerike Lieder – My favorites were Auf einer Wanderung, with its varied colors and moods, Schlafendes Jesuskind, a mini-sermon in a few minutes (the best kind), and Der Jaeger.
Simon prefaced his five concluding Schubert Lieder with an introduction to one of his favorite songs, Der Einsame, and talked about the cricket on the hearth of the happy hermit. Simon looked over at his pianist after Geheimes and laughed – he had sung “Weiss recht gut was das bedeute” (the last lines of the first verse) again at the end of the song. I’m not sure how many in the audience caught that. Anyway, Mr. Muzijevic paid Simon back in the concluding “Im Walde” when he threw Simon a harmonic curve ball or two – Simon just looked over and pressed on without dropping a beat.
The rather mature audience, including yours truly, managed to rise to a standing ovation at the end of the program, and we were rewarded with three Schubert encores, starting with Der Wanderer an den Mond, which Simon introduced as an old friend whose meaning had changed 180 degrees in his years onstage – formerly it had reflected his own feeling of homelessness and alienation and put-upon-ness, but now he feels at home on the small world stage of classical music, wherever he is. Then came “Fischerweise” (Simon bending over the music rack at the piano to make sure of the correct selection) – he said (somewhat optimistically) “You all know this one … and I hope I do, too.” Not that he did not know it perfectly – he did – I just don’t know how familiar most of us were with it. Finally he sang “An mein Klavier” which he started singing I believe less than 2 years ago in recital (someone with better info might research this) – he said “I just love it” and related it to the piano onstage, thanking us for letting him use it, this particular venue, and so on – and he concluded the evening in a triumph of subtlety and grace.
I was so happy to be able to attend one of only two voice-and-piano recitals Simon is singing in 2012 – I hope this shrinkage is not a trend that will continue next year, but wait and see. Afterwards I had a chance to chat with our baritone in the lobby. Maybe one day I will be moved to attend one of his opera performances, but the availability of simulcasts in cinemas makes me more likely to continue seeking him out in recital.

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