Festival to highlight student research, honor late professor

Westminster Choir College’s annual Art Song Festival will combine musical performances and student research presentations on German composers from the 19th century Romantic period in Germany.

By Sage E. Spitz

Westminster Choir College’s (WCC) annual Art Song Festival, “Lovers, Devils, Wanderers: The Romantic Lied,” will explore the essence of artistry through German music and student research.

Starting on Feb. 16, the festival will feature presentations from students concentrating on works composed by Johannes Brahms and Robert and Clara Schumann, a performance of Schumann’s renowned “Frauenliebe und Leben” in tandem with a presentation entitled “The Influence of Yiddish Folksongs on the Art Songs of Two Jewish Composers.”

On Feb. 17, student presentations will be focused on settings from the imagination of poet Heinrich Heine, in which Robert Schumann’s “Dichterliebe” will be performed along with a discussion entitled “Works of Clara Schumann; Ada, Countess of Lovelace and Mary Shelley.”

The recitals will feature professor of piano J.J. Penna at the keys, accompanying students who were selected specifically for the event.

The festival will be dedicated to the late Lindsay Christiansen, former chair of the voice department, and someone who Penna described as “a passionate and devoted scholar of music, poetry, theology and philosophy and a great teacher to us all.” She passed away in March 2017 after 18 years at WCC.

When choosing the student performers for the event, Penna stressed the importance of storytelling through music.

“We are blessed with ambitious, distinctive and musically savvy students here at Westminster Choir College,” he said. “It was important to listen, not just for vocal ability, but also for how expressive and sensitively the students could communicate these texts and convey their messages.”

According to Penna, Christiansen proposed the idea for this year’s festival because she wanted the event to focus on the songs of Schumann and Brahms.

“The title ‘Lovers, Devils, Wanders,’ came from a desire to capture the opposing forces present in so much of this literature,” Penna said. “In some ways, these concerts explore the complex, not-always-clean-or-rational ways 19th century artists related their inner lives to the outside world.”

The concerts place emphasis on the emotion of the musical pieces. Penna said the main appeal of the songs is the “directness” that is portrayed through “some of the most beautiful and immediately approachable music in the repertoire.”

Senior voice performance major Abigail Merk will be performing two lieder — a type of German song specifically for solo voice —by Fanny Hensel-Mendelssohn: “Verlust,” meaning “loss,” and “Warum sind die Rosen so blaß?” meaning “Why, then, are the roses so pale?”

Merk said she loves the Art Song Festival “because it gives students a chance to share a very personal, evocative and thoughtful art form in an intimate musical and intellectual setting.”

Penna believes that the Art Song Festival gives students “the opportunity to present these beautiful songs.

“It has been wonderful working with our students for the last month, watching them connect with this music and these texts on an emotional level,” he said.

The recitals will take place in Bristol Chapel on Feb. 16 and 17 starting at 7:30 p.m. The performances will be preceded by student presentations starting at 6:45 p.m.


Published in the 2/14/18 edition.

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