Baltimore Lieder Weekend; Daniel Schlosberg, Director
10/8/2016 10:52 AM
I suppose I was predisposed early on to starting an art song festival. I played Schubert’s wonderful, expansive D Major Sonata, D. 850, in high school and was familiar with the more famous Schubert songs before I arrived at Peabody for my undergrad. It was there that I met baritone Ryan de Ryke and his mentor, the great John Shirley-Quirk; both musical presences affected me deeply. Summer courses at Britten-Pears and the Franz Schubert-Institut confirmed what I had suspected: I had caught the art song bug.
From its start in 2009, the Baltimore Lieder Weekend (BLW) has presented a European-style mini festival, anchored by the core German, French and English composers. That might sound ultra-traditional or even elitist, but that isn’t my intention. Even among the works of Schubert, Schumann, Brahms and Wolf, it is amazing how many hundreds of exceptional songs there are to discover. Do you know the Brahms song, “Dämmrung senkte sich von oben” (Goethe)? To paraphrase the Men’s Wearhouse ad, “you’ll like what you hear. I guarantee it.” And I do intend to burst out of the western European bubble in 2017, with a “New American Song” focus.
Baltimore happens to have a delightful salon-performance space called “An die Musik” – it could not be more appropriately titled! Each year of BLW has a theme and a special guest scholar. I’ve been particularly fortunate to bring such eminences as Deen Larsen and Gerard McBurney, but a special mention must be made of Susan Youens, who will be participating in her third BLW this month. When I realized I would be joining her in the Notre Dame music department, I became very excited, recalling Ian Bostridge’s 2004 Carnegie Hall program book, which I had saved because of her insightful notes. When I discovered firsthand her generous and enthusiastic soul, I felt like I had won the Lieder lottery. Like Stephen Greenblatt with Shakespeare, she has revolutionized the study of art song by examining the social and cultural background of not just the musical composition, but the poet and the poem as well. She has demonstrated, in essence, that “all the world’s a song.” A poem—an abstruse one, or one in a foreign language (or both)—can act as a hindrance to the uninitiated audience member (most of us!), and my experience has been that these engaging scholars help in a meaningful and memorable way.
The BLW couldn’t take place without Free Fall Baltimore, a city-wide arts initiative that has supported us financially every year. As its name suggests, all performances must be free, which has been critical to bringing in new audiences, including the would-be passersby, unaware of what he is about to experience. (Other cities, take note: Free Fall is awesome and you should copy it.) There are also audience members and production personnel who have become regulars over the years, many aiding in key capacities. It’s assuring to know that art song types seem to come out of the woodwork eventually – this is the case in more communities than we realize. I am also indebted to support from The Hampsong Foundation, which houses an in-depth website that all art song lovers should explore. I recently formed a non-profit, The Art Song Institute, to aid in fundraising for the BLW and, eventually, other projects. While it is skeletal at present, I hope to develop it more fully this year, taking cues from my friends in the art song and new music worlds.
My friend, soprano Laura Strickling, developed the phrase/motto/hashtag “#teamartsong,” and I do feel like we are an especially supportive and intimate community. It’s heartening to see so many organizations around, each with different yet worthy aims. I speak of Sparks and Wiry Cries, Brooklyn Art Song Society, Collaborative Arts institute of Chicago (in my adopted city) and so many more, and there are new ones popping up all the time. While organizing, production and performance is hard work, you end up finding so many people that feel as passionately as you do about this fascinating genre, and that makes the whole venture doubly rewarding.
- Daniel Schlosberg is the Director of the Baltimore Lieder Weekend.