Claude Debussy struggled with an especially debilitating form of cancer in his last nine years — yet during that period he wrote some of the most beautiful music in the repertoire. He was a dedicated, supremely gifted artist who led the kind of bohemian life artists often lead, complete with love affairs and conflicts with the artistic status quo.
The Lyric Fest song series will portray his life in a “biography in music” program — a format that mixes a composer’s songs with readings from letters and other sources. Lyric Fest’s musical bios have produced some of its most memorable programs; this one looks especially promising, biographically and musically.
Debussy was an exceptional songwriter. I’ve heard Mimi Stillman play solo flute arrangements of his songs, and his melody lines create images and moods all by themselves, with no help from a text. Lyric Fest’s pianist, Laura Ward, feels his keyboard writing is just as evocative; in her pre-concert comments she lists 19 scene-painting effects Debussy creates with his piano accompaniments, starting with the sound of a plucked guitar and ending with “chattering women.” When you combine that kind of musical creativity with good singers singing French poetry, the result looks like a winning formula for a Lyric Fest event.
Lyric Fest will present Claude Debussy, Biography in Music on Saturday, February 10, at 4pm at the Presbyterian Church of Chestnut Hill (8855 Germantown Avenue, Philadelphia), and on Sunday, February 11, at 3pm at the Academy of Vocal Arts (1920 Spruce Street, Philadelphia). Tickets are $25 online and $35 ($10 for students) at the door.