Unreview: Report from unSUNg 3.1

If you’ve read this blog or the Lauri’s List site and newsletters, you’re probably aware that our summer concert series launched its third season last night.  Of course, we cannot offer an actual review our own event, but here are a few notes about what occurred, for those of you who missed it:

With a very appreciative crowd and enthusiastic performers, it was a beautiful evening featuring five “sets” that combined to create our most diverse program so far.  St. Mark’s Episcopal Church in Glendale was a welcome, climate-controlled respite from punishing summer heat.  As the audience filtered in, it was clear that we were all ready for something new.  Those of us setting up and privy to the sounds of one spectacular voice after another coming from the sanctuary already knew that this was going to be a very special evening, and that premonition was fulfilled gloriously.

Cuatro canciones en nahuátlSalvador Moreno (1916-1999)
Ursula Maria Kleinecke and Vernon Snyder

Starting with one of the older works on the program, soprano Ursula Maria Kleinecke and pianist Vernon Snyder performed the Mexican composer’s Four songs in Nahuatl, a cycle of four songs written in 1951 in the language of the Aztecs.  With a charming introduction, Ms. Kleinecke clued us into the emotional depths of these lush and charming songs, expressing a broad spectrum of emotion.  Dressed in an elegant skirt and blouse with traditional peasant-style touches, her voice was full and passionate, accompanied by Mr. Snyder’s agile and expressive pianism, the duo started off the concert with a bang.

Downloadable or CD recordings of this cycle and more in the genre are available online, released in 1995 by soprano Anna Bartos and guitarist Gregg Nestor, who was in the audience for this performance.

Arias from The Scarlet Letter and The Three FeathersLori Laitman

Next we enjoyed the West Coast premiere of two new arias by DC-based composer Lori Laitman, from operas in the works.  Soprano Natalie Mann and pianist Victoria Kirsch have collaborated separately with Laitman, but this is their first time performing together.  It is a fruitful pairing indeed, as the two are well-matched, both in song and in their onstage rapport: Ms. Mann spoke about the stories and read the texts (which were inadvertently left out of the program by yours truly) for each song, and Ms. Kirsch showed us a motif to listen for throughout the second aria, which made the experience richer and even more fascinating.  The first aria, “Beyond All Price”, is a melancholy and deeply moving lullaby from The Scarlet Letter, based on the classic novel by Nathaniel Hawthorne, the opera libretto adapted by David Mason.  The second aria, “Just Once”, is a charming peek into childhood whimsy, part of Laitman’s children’s opera, The Three Feathers, with libretto by Dana Gioia and based on a story by the Brothers Grimm.  Greeted by thunderous applause, the performers and repertoire were a big hit.

lori_laitman_two_new_operasRead more about Laitman and these up-and-coming operas on the composer’s website.

Epitaphs and LovesongsPeter Yates

Mezzo Alexandra Grabarchuk put a nod to Monty Python to good use, saying, “and now for something completely different,” as she and duo partner Peter Yates set up their stands and instruments.  The pair performs together as GuitAria, and both have ties to UCLA, where Yates is part of the music faculty and Grabarchuk is finishing her doctorate.  Yates’ new cycle, Epitaphs and Lovesongs, is a raucously eclectic mix of styles and textures, showing off classical chops but including surprising elements of blues and folk styles and incorporating percussion, toy piano and vocal effects that echo improvisatory spoken word.  Yates held the audience in the palm of his hand as he introduced the songs, each one more imaginative and surprising than the last.  The first half ended with an enthusiastic ovation that sent the crowd into the intermission invigorated.

For just a taste, here’s a YouTube video of the first song in the cycle, posted in March.  With text by Yates, it is “A song about nature, evolution, a husband behaving badly, and reaching beyond the self.”

Kemurino aoi lento monagare (“Blue smoke is flowing in lento”) — Ippo Tsuboi

After the break, tenor David Wilson and pianist Izumi Kashiwagi shared a cycle of songs by Japanese composer Ippo Tsuboi, setting poems of Kenji Miyazawa.  The translations were especially useful here, as the language is mystical and very visual.  As Japanese is not one of the usual languages included in study for classical singers in the US, Wilson explained that he originally sought out these pieces in order to broaden the scope of a recital last year.

Kenji Miyazawa

The poetry is truly the core of the work, tunes and interpretation springing joyfully from the images, and Wilson’s introduction explained that while Miyazawa’s short life was mainly in the early 20th century (1896-1933), it is only recently that his work has been widely appreciated and taught in Japan.  Once we heard these bewitching pieces, it was clear why they were eager to perform them again.  The translucent and sometimes wildly florid songs are intoxicating, full of onomatopoetic elements and sound painting which, performed by two impressive talents who played together with style, made this set the fan favorite of the evening.

To dive into the work that inspired these songs, try this highly rated English translation of Kenji Miyazawa’s poetry.

Songs by Robert Parker
Red Car Trolley: Rebecca Rasmussen, Norge Yip, Brian Dyer and Jennifer Appleberry

Wrapping up with perennial crowdpleasers Red Car Trolley, we heard a selection of songs for vocal quartet by Los Angeles composer Dr. Robert W. Parker, a Los Angeles-based composer committed to creating classical music that is accessible without being watered down.  Soprano Rebecca Rasmussen introduced each piece, filling us in on pertinent details about the texts and the music: The first three were settings of songs from Shakespeare’s comedy, Twelfth Night, with flautist Silvia Seitz accompanying the final “Hey, Ho, the Wind and the Rain” with lovely melodic tone.  We’re informed that “Ulalume”, a setting of one of Edgar Allan Poe’s darkest poems, was marked “molto spookioso” in the piano part, which got a laugh from the audience and was carried out admirably by pianist William Schmidt.  The set rounded out with “Sure on this Shining Night”, a setting of the classic text by James Agee, which Parker wrote specifically for Red Car Trolley, which includes Ms. Rasmussen, alto Jennifer Appleberry, tenor Brian Dyer and bass Norge Yip.  The piece was performed for just the second time at this concert, and is perfect for the group, clearly intended for their particular blend and sound.  The selections, as a set, are beguiling, and the audience clear agreed, with plenty of claps and hollers.


After an exhilarating evening, we met in the courtyard for fresh fruit and vegetables, iced tea and fizzy water, cheesecake provided by Lauri’s List team member Coril Prochnow, and an unusual “cannoli dip” with cookies for dipping, made by unSUNg curator Ariel Pisturino.  (We’ll see if we can get her to share the recipe – it was scrumptious!)

Thank you all for being part of the first concert of this third season. This was certainly one of our best programs yet, for its diversity and the magical symbiosis that sometimes happens when performers and works come together just right.  It’s a great way to start a new summer.

What’s next

We’ll post photos on Facebook as they become available, and we’ll have snippets of audio available for browsing later this summer – stay tuned!

There are two more concerts this summerJuly 26 and August 23, both starting at 6pm at St. Mark’s in Glendale.  Hope to see you there!

Visit unSUNg’s website

Get tickets


UPDATED:  The original post mistakenly placed composer Lori Laitman in New York, when she actually lives in the Washington, DC area.  Apologies for the error.

1 thought on “Unreview: Report from unSUNg 3.1”

  1. What a wide -ranging unSung! We were alternately soothed, touched, chuckling and blown away by the sustained high quality of the performers and the pieces. Kudos to the choices and organizational abilities of Lauri and her team for preparing such a smoothly-flowing and entrancing evening – delicious in every way!


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