review by janet i. martineau
Thank you, three Bostonians, for reminding us in music played and sung so beautifully what a wonderful state of Michigan we call home.
That, is a nutshell, sums up “The Michigan Recital Project” chamber music concert Monday night in Saginaw Valley State University’s sound-bright Rhea Miller Recital Hall.
The “project” is in the midst of a week-long tour of five venues throughout Michigan. And the three Bostonians...well, they all called Michigan home growing up -- one of them being contralto Emily Marvosh, a graduate of Valley Lutheran High School.
The 12 selections on the program were either composed by people with Michigan connections and/or refer to Michigan in their lyrics. And stop to consider this: collectively they include four Pulitzer Prize winners (three of them from Michigan in a testament to our creative talent), four are premieres for this tour, one came from the pen of Irving Berlin of all people, and on Monday night two of the composers were in the audience because they live in mid-Michigan.
First a word about the performers. Marvosh and soprano Margot Rood (from St. Clair) have exquisite voices, ever so clear and precise in diction and when teamed up in a duet you just get goosebumps.
They were accompanied by pianist Joseph Turbessi (from Nunica) who when he soloed on a William Bolcom ragtime titled “The Graceful Ghost”....well we wanted to hear more solo work from him.
Picking a favorite piece is impossible because all of the works, even the brand new contemporary ones, were listener friendly, enjoyable and well performed.
William Rice’s seven-movement “Ode to Lake Michigan,” based on a single poem by Michigander Richelle Wilson, totally captured the many moods of that body of water in sound as well as word. You could just feel it. Issac Schankler’s “Fire and Ice,” based on a poem by Robert Frost (who lived in Michigan 1921-27), was sung with great humor by Marvosh, its seesaw words and score pondering “will the world end in fire or ice” with great booms from the piano.
Scott R. Harding’s fun and sorta-ragtimey “The Laughter and the Music” evoked memories of Lily Tomlin’s telephone lady Ernestine, other comics and musicians from the state, and violence on TV not violins. Mary Montgomery Koppel’s native Americanish “The Death of Minnehaha” added flutist Tess Miller of Alma College to the trio of Bostonians and some fancy fluting special effects. Miller played in several of the pieces.
Scott Ordway’s “Detroit” toyed with the images of the tiny bicycle-like wheels on Model Ts, the Temptations of Motown fame and urban gardens -- an unlikely trio but a creative one.
Rood really cut loose with the humor on three selections from Bolcom’s “Cabaret Songs” -- the first one filled with sarcastic and torchy notes and movements about a lousy love affair in its final throes and the last about a young woman who catches the eye of a cop, an ice cream salesman and a judge cause she “looked so good.” The words were provided, yet again, by a poet-- Arnold Weinstein.
And for right in our own back yard there was a healthy helping of Ned Rorem music set to Saginaw-born Theodore Roethke’s poems in the 1960s and two selections from Saginaw Township’s very current Catherine McMichael (“Winter Doves” just totally charmed us).
Now for the sour notes....the gremlins of this elegant night.
First off, on the very first piece, a foot pedal on Turbessi’s piano emitted a gawd-awful squawk. To the rescue, despite being dressed to the nines, Marvosh swooped under the piano and fixed it.
And then...and then...right after intermission, when all four performers were barely into the “Minnehaha” piece.....the Curtiss Hall alarm system with its flashing lights and blaring sound went off.
No fire. No nothing. But we all, performers included, spend 15 shivering minutes outside until the all clear.
“Thank you for coming back,” Marvosh said at they began the interrupted work all over. No problem. By then we were totally hooked on the flavorful program.
For your FYI....the four Pulitizer winners represented were Rorem, Roethke, Bolcom and Leo Sowerby. The premieres were “Ode,” “Laughter,” “Minnehaha” and “Detroit.” In the audience were McMichael and Harding. And the Berlin piece was “I Want to Go Back to Michigan,” extolling farmlands.