Hits of Christmas
Artist By Last Name
Lear: The Art of the Recital
DEBUSSY (1862-1918): Chansons de Bilitis
CHARLES IVES (1874-1954): Serenity 2:24
single CD, $16.99
LEAR, soprano - MARTIN KATZ, piano
I am so delighted that VAI has chosen to produce this recital with Evelyn Lear and myself. I don't say this because I want another recording of mine in the stores; rather, I am thrilled because my twenty-year association with this wonderful artist and extraordinary person was something I am so proud of, something I still treasure. Evelyn and I only made one "commercial" recording together during all that time, and that was devoted entirely to popular music, songs from shows, etc. There was no way that others could fully understand Evelyn's way with an artsong or the nature of our partnership. At last, I have proof!
Partnership is a word which Evelyn might have coined herself. Many artists speak about it, but few truly practice it. Evelyn even refused to have me billed as "pianist" or "accompanist" on any concert programs; she always insisted on "in collaboration with Martin Katz", and in her case, the expression was totally appropriate. Most of the time, in planning a program for here or there, Evelyn would have well-formed ideas about what she wanted to sing before we met, but inevitably there would be a group or two or perhaps an aria which remained unplanned in her mind, and, as is often the case with singers, she would ask my advice. I remember this in particular with Ginastera's arrangements of Argentinean folksongs. I suggested them to Evelyn, perhaps I played through one or two very sketchily. That evening the phone would ring: "We're changing everything - we're doing the Ginastera plus the following songs . . ." This sort of thing happened constantly.
Partnership continued to be a living philosophy when it came to actual rehearsing and performing as well. Evelyn plays the piano fairly well (never a comfortable fact for an accompanist like me to know) and could thus easily empathize with technical and pianistic necessities in the keyboard part of any piece we were doing. Her interpretations were never conceived in isolation; they were added to the piano in a way so as to make both instruments shine and be comfortable always. She is a superb musician, she knows the rules and regulations for each style, but more importantly, she is musical and vehemently practical, and so she intuits when rules must be bent a bit.
Some of my favorite memories are those of introducing Evelyn to songs for the first time, songs which were under consideration for future programming. I would begin playing, and if the piece didn't charm her, didn't intrigue her . . . she knew instantly, perhaps by the fourth or fifth measure! She trusted her instincts about her art and her audiences, and she was rarely wrong. If I had struck gold and found something which attracted her, I continued playing through the piece, and I could tell that the seeds of a magical interpretation had already been planted. To be sure, Evelyn rejected some wonderful things, perhaps due to this passionate intuition of hers, but it was as if she could already see and hear herself on the stage, and took on the challenges only when she could sense potential success.
One of the great joys in giving recitals is the myriad of different moods, characters, even voices one needs to employ in the course of any single concert. In this regard, as I hope comes across in this recording, Evelyn is a chameleon. She seems to have an infinite array of paintbrushes and colors available, and is unafraid of extreme contrasts. This was particularly valuable to me, playing a much more generic instrument with no text - how could I bear to sound the same from song to song, composer to composer, when Evelyn was serving up vivid contrasts? I must also add that even in terms of a concert's organization, Evelyn was not content to simply do the expected. One of my favorite programs we did was divided in thirds, not halves, and the thirds were united by language, not by composer as is usually the case. Initially, the concert hall staff said this was impossible - it would necessitate two intermissions - it had never been done. Somehow Evelyn charmed them into agreeing, and, of course, the audience loved this new format.
Perhaps I have made it sound as though all of this magic came about easily, so let me hasten to correct this notion. Evelyn is a workhorse. Having set the goal, she was indefatigable in teaching her voice and her brain how to achieve it. Many times, I would suggest a change in repertoire when a song or aria just wasn't improving, but Evelyn would have none of this. She might alter a tempo, or adjust a key, but she was committed to her vision of a piece, so sleeves were rolled up and work continued until success was glimpsed.
As with all great artists, Evelyn had the musicality and brains to plan things in a most detailed fashion, the patience and resolve to work these plans out and bring them to fruition, and then at the moment of performance, the magic to seem spontaneous. But even the most fervent planners have their moments of improvisation: Waiting in the wings at the beginning of a Town Hall concert with just moments left before walking on stage, Evelyn excused herself "for just a moment" and returned to her dressing room. I thought, "Oh gosh, she's really nervous tonight - I must do everything I can to calm her." She returned, her lovely gown now being worn backwards. "Looks better this way, don't you think?" . . . and sailed on stage to greet her audience.
Thanks, Evelyn, from your lucky partner!