Photo by Nidi Garcia.
On Sunday Oct. 19, two Lawrence Unviersity Conservatory faculty members joined to perform an ambitious program featuring 18 art songs by Franz Schubert (1797-1828) and Ned Rorem (b. 1923). Conservatory students and faculty members came to the Lawrence Memorial Chapel at 4 p.m. to enjoy the music and show their support.
Mezzo-soprano and Professor of Music and Teacher of Voice Karen Leigh-Post has performed in a variety of opera companies and vocal ensembles. Her special area of interest is mind-body awareness and how it can affect singers’ performance ability. Pianist and Associate Professor of Music Anthony Padilla has soloed with numerous orchestras and participated in music festivals around the world. He was the 2017 recipient of Lawrence University’s Excellence in Teaching Award.
Together, Leigh-Post and Padilla put on a rousing performance of two collections of beloved art songs. The first half of the concert program was comprised of twelve short pieces about nature and love by Franz Schubert. To begin, Padilla and Leigh-Post walked quickly onto the stage. Leigh-Post’s flowing crimson top came to rest as she took her place inside the crook of the piano.
The first song, “Der Schmetterling” (“The Butterfly”) was sweet and gleeful. Leigh-Post, as the butterfly, sang of the joy of dancing in the air and landing on flowers, “flowing lightly over valley and hill.” Padilla supported her with Schubert’s thoughtfully light and steady piano accompaniment. As the duo progressed through the Schubert songs, they displayed great attention to detail, characterizing each section according to its text. They provided a handout with English translations for the audience.
Some of their strongest moments came through during the nostalgic “Erster Verlust” (“First Loss”), which laments “those fair old days, that sweet time” of first love. During most of the other songs, Padilla set the mood with an introduction before Leigh-Post joined in with the melody, but here they began precisely together. Later in the song, Leigh-Post dipped down to the bottom of her mezzo-soprano range in an emotional plea for her “lost happiness.”
After a short break, the second half of the program began, featuring six songs by Ned Rorem. Leigh-Post revealed her own personal connections to Rorem’s pieces. The famous song “Early in the Morning” reminds her of the time she spent in Paris her 20s. “Norway Aria” is the reason visiting Norway is on her bucket list.
Rorem’s songs are written in a contemporary style. Their melodies break some traditional rules, and harmonies are suggested and outlined. Padilla and Leigh-Post chose songs based on a common emotional warmth tied to nostalgia and longing. It was during the Rorem songs that the arc of the concert program suddenly made sense. The program was all about the love for a particular place in a particular time; Schubert paints the setting and Rorem brings the wistful nostalgia, the lens of time.
The most impressive part of their entire performance was “The Lordly Hudson,” based on a poem by Paul Goodman which describes a woman returning to New York City asking her driver about the great river, which she had not seen in a long time. During? this piece, the duo perfectly captured the conversational nature of Goodman’s text; Padilla’s rolled chords almost answered her questions as she sang them. The final word of the poem, which closed the concert, was a long and high “home!” on top of tall piano chords. It reinforced the theme of the program — longing for what was and what could have been — and brought the audience to their feet for thunderous applause while Leigh-Post and Padilla hugged and bowed.