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Welcome to Art Song Canada, an online “magazine” to cover various aspects of the art-song world.

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By Catherine Robbin
President, Art Song Foundation of Canada

The Art Song Foundation of Canada thinks it would be good for art song to have a more public voice.

Our friends in opera have a fine magazine, Opera Canada, which keeps opera- lovers well informed.

With this first issue of Art Song Canada, the Foundation is starting an online “magazine” that will cover various aspects of the art-song world. There will be articles by important people in the field of art song, reports from the various regions of our country, and more.

The material can be accessed directly on the Art Song Foundation of Canada web site and by e-mail via our mailing list, and will be advertised on social media.

If you wish to be on the mailing list for Art Song Canada, please click here.

We hope you will enjoy the following articles by Michael McMahon, Gerald Finley, and Olivier Godin.

Please feel free to be in touch with us. We would be happy to hear your comments and any suggestions for future articles.

In Memoriam — Dr. Max Deen Larsen
March 6, 1943 ~ January 12, 2018
By Michael McMahon
Associate Professor, Piano and Voice, Faculty of Music, McGill University
Director, Art Song Foundation of Canada

With the passing of Dr. Max Deen Larsen on January 12, 2018, the world of art song lost one of its greatest mentors.

Forty years ago, Deen Larsen and his future wife, German cellist Verena Göthel, founded the Franz Schubert Institute in Baden bei Wien, Austria. After attending various masterclasses in German lieder, Deen realised that there was an important element missing in the training of singers and pianists in the performance of the lied and that element was the attention to the poem itself. In creating “Poetry and the German Lied” at the Franz Schubert Institute, Deen brought together not only some of the world’s greatest singers and pianists, but also actors and diction specialists.

Since 1978, singers and pianists from all over the world have spent at least 12 hours a day every day for five to six weeks learning about poetry and lieder in the classroom, sharing wine and food in the local Heurigen, and hiking in the Vienna Woods. Each day would begin with a poetry class given by Deen Larsen in which he would share his passion for German language, its poets, and its composers. He would encourage everyone to search for honesty in his/her interpretation and to remember that what we do is not about us. It is about communicating in a truthful way what the poet and the composer have given us.

It was not only in the classroom that learning took place. Deen would take the participants on hikes in the same woods that many of the poets and composers had visited. He would have everyone stop, be silent, and listen to the sounds of nature. This was followed by a reminder that we are all a part of nature and that the sounds we were hearing were the same sounds that Beethoven and Schubert had heard.

Deen lived and breathed poetry, and generously shared his vast knowledge with all who would listen. He was always so pleased when a former participant would write asking for help in understanding the meaning of a poem, and he would write back with well-considered responses that would undoubtedly shed light on what had otherwise been elusive.

Thinking back to 1978, when I first saw a poster advertising the Franz Schubert Institute, I can still visualise exactly where it was on the wall at McGill University’s Faculty of Music and remember the excitement I felt when I saw the list of artists who would be teaching there. On it were the names of legends in the world of German Lieder, including Elly Ameling ( who has taught at every course since the beginning), Hans Hotter, Kim Borg, Jörg Demus, and Erik Werba. I applied with a singer, was thrilled to be accepted, and  found my voice as an artist during that summer in Baden. What I learned has stayed with me and nourished me throughout my career.

Distinguished alumni include Cheryl Studer, Delores Ziegler, Donna Brown, Tyler Duncan, Erika Switzer, Philippe Sly, Jordan de Souza, Gordon Bintner, Rihab Chaieb, Colin Balzer, John Brancy, Ammiel Bushakevitz, Jonathan Ware, Che Anne Loewen, Rena Sharon, and Kathleen Lohrenz Gable.

The Franz Schubert Institute is making plans to continue and will find new ways to pass on the great tradition that Deen so loved. I will be forever grateful to my dear friend and mentor, who helped connect me and so many others to the essence of German Romanticism.

The Voice is the Song
By Gerald Finley, Baritone
Honorary Director, Art Song Foundation of Canada

While learning my latest program of Schubert and Brahms for concerts and a recording, I came across an Italian version of Schubert’s Staendchen sung by Giuseppe di Stefano on YouTube. We live in an age where the great singers of the past can entertain and bring us great pleasure. How is it that a great Italian singer can bring such depth of feeling through his beautiful voice to a German song?

Knowing that a full program of German song is a rarity, I need to come to a peace with myself that fewer and fewer people will be giving up their precious time to come and hear it. Thankfully, in Hamburg there was a full house, 550 in the small Hall of the Elbphilharmonie, certainly all completely familiar with the repertoire that I was performing.

In the early 1980’s in London when I was a student, song recitals would fill the Royal Festival Hall, some 2,100 places, and then standing room for young ones like me to take up, wanting to hear the great masters like Dietrich Fischer Dieskau and Elisabeth Schwarzkopf. Just a few years earlier, the Albert Hall would fill for similar artists, some 5,000. It is reported that John MacCormack and John Charles Thomas sang for audiences in the many thousands.

Now, the Wigmore Hall (545 seats) does quite well with song recitals, but even the ’stars’ have their programs vetted by the director to ensure that there are not too many similar programs. When I plan a tour to North America, the word from promoters is, “Please sing something in English.” Should I not sing the repertoire that brings the greatest pleasure?

Note the difference between these paragraphs. One is about the singers; the other is about the programs. We are in an age where the simple art of singing without a microphone is under threat. The “X factor” generation wants to be discovered at 18 and then be promoted by the wheels of industry. This discussion is more suited to a great treatise than a reflective article, but it is the crux of the problem, for both singers and promoters.

Singing is a craft that takes devotion and diligence. The great Eva Turner said to me, “You cannot have a career without application and dedication.” And I believe it to be so today: that there are few great artistic lives of leisure and general conviviality. Fischer Dieskau was notorious for his lack of socializing after a concert, even though his home was a haven for chamber music and musical get-togethers. The use of artists in general promotion is a burden that no previous generation has had to endure, and the fatigue and distraction that encircles the singer is taking its toll on those who are amenable.

Singers need to perform and also to husband their resources for the perfection of their art. In their early years, they need extended opportunities to work just with their teachers, the actual masters of the voice. There are legendary stories of the hard taskmasters of Beniamino Gigli, Edita Gruberova, Monserrat Caballe, and lately, Dmitri Hvorostovsky. The ability to sing a song with the most intimate sound is a long-sought and difficult task, when opera houses are demanding louder and more pushed voices to get over those rich orchestral sounds in those enormous auditoriums.

“Opera is where the money is.” Is this the threat for the song recital? Singers need to survive, and expenses in travelling and accommodation are not insignificant. Famous halls in great cities pay an artist and accompanist less than 40% of the ticket sales of a recital. However, a fairly priced recital with a few hundred people can also make economic sense for the artist, and any artistic opportunity should be seized. But agents don’t make so much money, and the burden of logistics can make agents decline engagements. They do not necessarily nurture the “artist” on their roster. Promoters also need to have a keen ear and a loyal audience to present the up-and-coming voices that both need to be heard and need experience in recital. They are rare, but they do us a service.

Song is the vehicle through which the audience can have a direct communication with and from the performer. The performer can offer their own voice in all its wonder, not that of a character. Most importantly, the richness of the composers’ treasury can be explored, and the satisfaction of music lovers and artists can be nurtured.

Singing can be the most satisfying of endeavours, and the challenge faced by young ones who grasp the long, thorny road is great. It is not about loud. It is about discovering the best of one’s own resources, of the liberation of sound and of honest communication, of the composer’s deepest reaction to poetry. Then we might start again to connect with the music lovers in an intimate setting and begin to fill the big halls once again.

Art Song in Quebec
By Olivier Godin
Collaborative pianist and vocal coach at McGill University

As an art song pianist and vocal coach in “la belle province”, I’ve had the opportunity to participate in several projects and the privilege of discovering great events and artists over the years, both as a teacher and a performer. In Quebec, we are very fortunate to have festivals, concert series, and venues that are presenting high-quality art song recitals featuring local and international artists, as well as quite a few schools and summer workshops to pass on this refined and unique tradition to younger singers and pianists.

Beginning with local artists: I believe that Quebec holds a unique place in the world when it comes to great singers. Over the years, so many great voices have started international careers and gained worldwide renown. Several singers are frequently performing art song recitals in the province and across the country, as well as throughout the USA and Europe. Hélène Guilmette, Julie Boulianne, Marie-Nicole Lemieux, Philippe Sly, Marc Boucher, Michèle Losier, Lyne Fortin, Donna Brown, Aline Kutan, Dominique Labelle, and Karina Gauvin, to name a few, always have recitals planned in their calendar.

As for pianists, I feel very lucky and privileged to work around fabulous colleagues such as Michael McMahon, Esther Gonthier, Marie-Ève Scarfone, Pierre McLean, Francis Perron, Martin Dubé, and other fantastic collaborators who are essential to and inspiring for all the singers they work with.

When it comes to venues and festivals, we have so many art-song allies that it would be impossible to be exhaustive, but around the province, I can think of the Arte Musica Foundation/Salle Bourgie in Montreal, which always presents high-calibre recitals (including Sylvia Schwartz, Marie-Nicole Lemieux, Thomas Dolié, and Donna Brown), the Société d’Art Vocal de Montréal, which is presenting one of the best annual art-song series (Gerald Finley, Susan Platts, Michèle Losier, Mariane Fiset), Domaine Forget, which invited Jose Van Dam and Sophie Koch this past summer, the Lachine Festival and Richard Turp, its director, who is one of the reasons why art song is still so alive in Montreal, the Club Musical de Québec, which will be presenting a recital by Simon Keenlyside and Malcolm Martineau in November, and the Musique à Ste-Pétronille Festival, which also offers at least one beautiful art-song recital every summer.

To conclude this short report, I need to mention education, which is the key to the future of art song. Of course, voice faculties of the key establishments all have teachers and coaches who care deeply about art song: Schulich School of Music of McGill University, Université de Montreal, les Conservatoires du Québec, and Université Laval). But we also have many summer programs offering art song as a main discipline for both young singers and pianists. Among them, the new Lachine International Academy, which had its first session last summer with guest teachers François Le Roux, Liz Upchurch, Lena Hellström Färnlöf, and Marie-Ève Scarfone comes to mind. There is also Domaine Forget in Charlevoix, which holds a leading place in the training of young singers and pianists during their summer program, with guest artists such as Jose Van Dam, Sophie Koch, and Wolfgang Hozmair, and Orford Musique, with Francis Perron, Nathalie Paulin, David Lutz, and others.

I cannot end this report without mentioning three Quebec-based record labels that have done wonderful art song projects over the last couple of years: ATMA Classique, Analekta, and Disques XXI-21. These three labels released many recordings featuring recitals by high-level Quebec artists and also recordings of complete songs by various composers (Fauré, Poulenc, Duparc, to name a few). Many of these recordings have won prizes and gained international recognition in specialized publications.

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