If you’re not quite sure what the term “art song” means, don’t feel bad. I’ve mentioned art song programs to people who frequently attend other types of concerts and discovered they had no idea what I meant. Lyric Fest has proved there’s an audience for art song, but I think it’s fair to say it’s still one of the less visible forms on the concert schedule.
Preserving ‘art song’
“Art song” is the standard English term for songs by classical composers (including contemporary composers who work in the classical tradition). In January, the Philadelphia Chamber Music Society (PCMS) will put it front and center with "Emerging Voices: Art Song and Social Connection," a spectacular series devoted to the development of art song from the last decades of the 19th century to the first two decades of this one. In development for three years, the series includes four concerts at the Perelman Theater, two “salon concerts” in the Stotesbury Mansion on Walnut Street, and two panel discussions in the College of Physicians auditorium.
The concerts will feature eight vocalists with international reputations accompanied by two pianists who specialize in song accompaniments, two string quartets, and a renowned double bass player. The composers represented include just about anyone who wrote songs during the last fifteen decades, from acknowledged masters like Debussy and Charles Ives to lesser known figures like George Butterworth, the young British composer who died on the Somme in 1916.
Empathy through music
The series has been curated by Nicholas Phan, a tenor whose ethnic background personifies the theme: the rise of new nations, adding new voices to international culture. As Phan notes in his comments on the PCMS website, he is the child of a Greek-American mother and a Chinese father, grew up in the Greek Orthodox church in a heavily Protestant midwestern community, and regularly sings songs and operatic arias created by European composers.
Classical music has always felt like the music that best expresses his identity, Phan writes, even though “as an Asian-American, I can’t really lay claim—from an ethnic or national standpoint—to any of the music I perform.
“Waves of nationalism are tricky things,” Phan continues. “They focus on division and difference. Somehow, for me, singing songs has highlighted the empathic experience music and poetry can provide....Song gives us the opportunity to find common ground in each other’s self-expression, creating a path for peace and harmony, as opposed to division and strife.”
PCMS is surrounding the project with extra attention. On their website you’ll find videos and essays by most of the participants. The staging will include visuals and projections of the all-important texts. If you can’t attend all the concerts, the individual events are all self-contained programs. The series as a whole should be one of the major events of the season.
What, Where, When:
The Philadelphia Chamber Music Society will present “Emerging Voices: Art Song & Social Connection” January 13 through 24.
Four concerts will take place at the Perelman Theater, Kimmel Center for the Performing Arts, 300 South Broad St. The four concerts at the Perelman take place Tuesday, January 14 (Paris of the Bell Epoque); Friday, January 17 (The War to End All Wars); Sunday, January 19 (The New European Map); and Friday, January 24 (The Rise of the American Voice).
Two Wednesday “salon concerts” will take place at the Stotesbury Mansion, 1923 Walnut St., Philadelphia, on January 15 and January 22.
A panel discussion kicks off the envent on Monday, January 13, with a second talk on Monday, January 20. Both are at Mitchell Hall, College of Physicians, 19 South 22nd St., Philadelphia.
All events start at 7:30pm, with the exception of The New European Map, which begins at 3pm.
Tickets are $26 for Perelman concerts and $30 for salon concerts. Panel discussions are free but tickets are required. Tickets are available online and by calling (215) 569-8080.