Singers to give voice to local composers’ works at Skidmore’s Zankel

Anne Turner has had a long and successful career as a vocalist and teacher in the Capital Region. La

Anne Turner has had a long and successful career as a vocalist and teacher in the Capital Region. Last year, in a moment of inspiration during a meeting of the Eastern New York Chapter of the National Association of Teachers of Singing, she suggested that instead of presenting students at their annual Art Song Festival, the teachers should do the singing.

Enthusiastic response

“The idea was met with quite a lot of interest,” Turner said in an email. “I then sent out an email to our membership, and the response was again extremely positive.”

American Song Project: Local Treasures

WHEN: 3 p.m. Sunday

WHERE: Skidmore College Arthur Zankel Music Center



A date then was set for this Sunday, but Turner, who is a senior artist-in-residence at Skidmore College, wanted to do more.

“I would say that if I have one mission currently, it’s to try my best to support the music of living composers by bringing it before the public,” she said.

So, working with Frances Wittmann, president of the chapter and voice teacher at the University at Albany, they compiled a list of composers who lived within the Capital Region and started contacting them to see who would be interested.

Composers responded eagerly, and many sent songs, Turner said.

Last October, she and Wittmann decided to bill the festival as the “American Song Project: Local Treasures” and began to play through every piece.

“We found one gem after another, and we discussed who might like to perform specific pieces,” she said. “Some of them were gobbled up right away; other singers took time to think about what they might want to perform.”

The list of composers they chose are Alfred Fedak, Joseph Fennimore, Adam Fine, Jane Leslie, Timothy Luby, Evan Mack, Steve Murray, Rand Reeves, Thomas Savoy and Hilary Tann.

The singers are soprano Gene Marie Callahan, mezzo-soprano Kara Cornell, mezzo-soprano Barbara Eckhaus, soprano Anne Dugan, soprano Elissa Premerlani, tenor Rand Reeves, soprano Corine Salon, soprano Deborah Savoy, and soprano Turner and mezzo-soprano Wittmann. The pianists are Erich Borden, Michael Clement, Alfred Fedak, Evan Mack, Thomas Savoy and Josh Tanis.

Sometimes it was easy to see which composer went with what singer. Thomas Savoy had written several terrific songs for his wife, Deborah, who will perform them. Rand Reeves, who most people know as a conductor of the Burnt Hills Oratorio Society and as a master piano technician, is also a fine tenor, Turner said. So he’ll sing his own “Poems of Love and Innocence” with texts based on James Rhodes.

Reeves returns May 15 with the BHOS to conduct Handel’s “Messiah” at the Zankel Center.

Steve Murray, who sings with Albany Pro Musica when he’s not playing with his own eight-piece jazz band or teaching composition at Berkshire Community College, will have songs from his “A Cluster of Stars” sung by Wittmann.

Turner chose Tann’s unaccompanied monodrama “Arachne.” She had sung the song in 2000, but Tann subsequently refashioned the piece for her. Based on the legend of Arachne, it tells of the boastful weaver who angers Athene, the goddess of the arts, who then turns Arachne into a spider.

“It’s quite a challenge [to memorize],” Turner said. “It’s a killer in that respect. It’s quite picturesque and very difficult, with mild atonality with great expressiveness.”

Other works on the program include Cornell in Leslie’s “Living on an Island,” which Cornell and Leslie premiered in 2009 at the Tilles Center for the Performing Arts in Brookville, New York; Dugan in Fennimore’s “Party Songs”; Eckhaus in three songs from Mack’s “Dream of Freedom,” which are based on Langston Hughes’ poems, and a song from Mack’s “Three Reflections of Sister Dorothy” inspired by the brutal 2005 murder of Sister Dorothy Stang in Brazil’s Amazon region by two hired gunmen.

Salon, Premerlani and Eckhaus will join to sing Luby’s trio from his “In the Shadow of the Rainbow: A Requiem” with text by Christina Rossetti. Salon and Eckhaus will also sing Fine’s duet “For the Beauty of the Earth” based on Folliott Pierpoint’s 1864 poem.

Potential for future

If the event goes well, Turner said she might like to see it become an annual offering.

“Perhaps different composers will be featured each year or perhaps we will have symposiums and lectures in addition to performances where we would bring in guest composers and performers,” she said. “It’s just an idea at this point.”

Categories: Life and Arts

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