Kevin Puts is a busy man these days: In addition to composing and teaching at the Peabody Conservatory in Baltimore, his opera Silent Night—which won last year's Pulitzer Prize—opened Friday night in Philadelphia. Still, Puts found the time to travel to the Baryshnikov Arts Center last Wednesday to curate a program for the ongoing New York Festival of Song Next series.
Now in its third season, NYFOS Next—part of the larger New York Festival of Song, now in its 25th season—purports to present "the latest and greatest in American Song," according to NYFOS Associate Artistic Director Michael Barrett.
"When Michael asked me to curate this program," Puts told us prior to the concert, "I told him: 'I don't really know that much about the world of song.' To be honest, I didn't even know that much about vocal music until I wrote Silent Night. But, I guess you could say I've grown to love it."
As if to drive the point home, Puts moved to the piano to accompany soprano Stacey Tappan with his own "You Need Song," a melodic paean to the art of singing. Barrett then took over accompanying Tappan, mezzo-soprano Krista River, and baritone Jesse Blumberg in songs that covered a wide range of lyrical and musical territory.
Christopher Cerrone's "That Night With the Night Sky" (lyrics by Tao Lin) traced a dark, disturbing scene walking home late at night in Manhattan, while Derek Bermel's "Luck Number" (text by Wendy Walters) was almost giddy in its effusive charm. Ricky Ian Gordon, one of today's leading musical-theater composers, contributed the Copland-esque "Bless This Our Lovely Home," while David Lang—best known for his song cycles based on dark fables—set Shakespeare to music with "where the bee sucks."
Tarik O'Regan's "Love Raise Your Voice" (text by Andrew Motion) featured violinist Charles Yang, along with Tappan and Barrett. Other songs were contributed by Christopher Theofanidis, Harold Meltzer, and Andrew Haile Austin. All of the composers, save Lang and Theofanidis, were present in the theater.
The night ended with Puts accompanying Blumberg and Tappan in selections from his Pulitzer Prize-winning Silent Night (libretto by Mark Cambpell), which recounts the true story of a spontaneous cease-fire among Scottish, French, and German soldiers during the final Christmas of World War I. Wrought with emotion, Blumberg sang the battlefield lament of a French soldier (in French), while Tappan sang the powerful dirge of a German every-woman waiting in dread for that "knock at the door" carrying news of her husband/father/son. Surprisingly, the song ends not in despair, but with a dramatic crescendo of hope:
"Our story will end
Like all the others
Unless we do something about it.
We must do something about it.
...I will find a way."
More pics on the photo page.