Welcome to the newest series on the Sybaritic Singer called “6 Questions RE:”. Our community has a wealth of diverse and distinctive voices. The Sybaritic Singer is a wonderful place to highlight these singers, composers, conductors, musical entrepreneurs, instrumentalists, and more! So, without delay, let’s get started with our first feature: Lisa Perry, Soprano.
Praised for her “pure, gleaming timbre” and “bright, agile singing” (Baltimore Sun), soprano Lisa Perry has become a familiar face within the Baltimore/ Washington, D.C. music scene. She has recently performed the title role in Lakmé (Léo Delibes), Tree Stone (Stephen Albert) with the Great Noise Ensemble at the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts, the Lady with the Hand Mirror in Postcard from Morocco (Dominick Argento), De Materie (U.S. professional première; Louis Andriessen), Music for 18 Musicians (Steve Reich), Letters from Zelda (world première; Sean Doyle), le feu, princesse, and rossignol in L’enfant et les sortileges (Maurice Ravel), Red Giant (world première; Adam Matlock), Mysteries of the Macabre (György Ligeti) and Ancient Voices of Children (George Crumb). As a founding member of The Lunar Ensemble, Lisa has performed Arnold Schoenberg’s Pierrot Lunaire—for which the ensemble is named—throughout Maryland, New York, and Pennsylvania with critical acclaim.
Lisa received her Bachelor’s Degree in Music Composition and Theory from Michigan State University (2008) and her Master’s Degree from the Peabody Institute in Voice Performance (2011). She is currently pursuing a Doctor of Musical Arts degree from Peabody under the direction of Phyllis Bryn-Julson. Upcoming engagements include Mysteries of the Macabre (Ligeti) with the SONAR Ensemble, the role of ‘Lady Bird Johnson’ in the world première of “Camelot Requiem” (Joshua Bornfield), and Daniel Felsenfeld’s “Revolutions of Ruin.”
What was the inspiration for doing an unaccompanied voice recital and what were some of the specific challenges you encountered with the pieces you chose that may not have been present in other traditional vocal recital repertoire?
When Phyllis Bryn-Julson presented me with “Killing Time” (Robin Holloway) in 2011, I struggled to find complementary works. As a composition for unaccompanied soprano, it didn’t seem to fit in a typical recital setting– at least, not with the repertoire I was imagining. Later that academic year, I premiered Joshua Bornfield‘s “yes” and I realized that not only did it go well with “Killing Time”, between the two works I had nearly half a recital of unaccompanied (or self accompanied) music. That’s when I decided to make an entire program of unaccompanied works. The biggest challenge thereafter was to find more repertoire. My job was to find balance: a solo recital of just me could either get very monotonous or be too overwhelming. There is a wealth of options, but the majority is hefty projects that do well as the center piece of a recital. I was having trouble finding smaller pieces that seemed to live up to the standards set by Bornfield and Holloway. Finally I opted for Aperghis‘ “Recitations” (a definite ‘center-piece’ but in a completely different musical language from “Killing Time” and “yes”, thus providing aesthetic variety) and two of Aribert Reimann‘s “Vokalises.” The “Vokalises”, beautiful as they are, function as sort of a palate cleanser between the three large pieces. Balance was achieved, and (I hope!) I have created an interesting and enjoyable program.
What types, if any, of non-standard notation are present in these works and how did you approach them in your study?
Only two of the composers on this recital use non-standard notation. Bornfield’s text is taken from James Joyce’s “Ulysses”, and he has written “yes” to coincide with the stream-of-consciousness style Joyce used for the novel. Consequently, there are very few bar lines and much of the vocal writing is written like chant. Large blocks of text are written under a reciting tone, and arrows extend from the vocal line to the piano part indicating which chords should line up with which words. While this seemed like the only logical way to notate such a piece, the two parts are so complex together that they had to be mastered separately before being combined.
Aperghis also used non-standard notation for his “Recitations”, but while Bornfield still uses the standard layout (five-line staff, clefs, etc), Aperghis’ scores are graphic. Of the six recitations I chose, only two are meant to be read continuously from left to right. The others are triangular, where the singer begins the piece at the tip of the triangle and works his or her way down, adding text along the way. These works ended up testing my memorization abilities more than any other piece.
Many fine sopranos have distinguished themselves in the realm of contemporary classical/new music. Have you looked to any of them for inspiration or do you feel passionate about anyone’s particular style?
I am a huge Dawn Upshaw fan. I fell in love with her when I heard her recording of Golijov’s “Ayre”, and I strive to interpret new works with the same clarity and musicality that she demonstrates.
For audience members that are unfamiliar with these works, what would you encourage them to listen for or be aware of?
First, be ready for anything when watching someone perform the Aperghis. These works are meant to be acted; simply listening will not do them justice. Second, embrace the sound. It can be a little jarring to hear a completely solo voice, so try to imagine the harmonies underlying each melody, or the sounds being mimicked in each recitation.
This upcoming recital is part of your DMA studies at Peabody. How much does scholarship influence your singing? Do you find scholarly research of new music to be any different? Do you feel researching is more or less challenging than traditional or standard repertoire?
I have always felt that the more I know, the better I sing. I like to understand the compositional rationale behind each piece I sing, as that tends to dictate my approach to learning it. I like to know composers’ influences, their stylistic development, etc. But to answer the question, I do not find the research to differ in difficulty between new and traditional rep. Although the two genres require stylistic differences, the research required to successfully execute each style is exactly the same, and equally important.
What is next for you after such a hefty recital?
I have a few exciting events coming up! First, I have been accepted into the New Music on the Point summer institute. I, along with fellow NMOTP’ers Hillary LaBonte and Bethany Pietroniero, will be hosting a benefit concert on April 21 (5:00pm, Old St. Paul’s in downtown Baltimore) to raise money for tuition. On May 3 I will sing Györgi Ligeti’s “Mysteries of the Macabre” with the Sonar New Music Ensemble, conducted by Blair Skinner. The following weekend, I will be premiering the role of ‘Lady Bird Johnson’ in Joshua Bornfield and Caitlin Vincent’s “Camelot Requiem.” To wrap up May, I will be performing Sean Doyle’s “Letters from Zelda” and Daniel Felsenfeld’s “Revolutions of Ruin” with the Great Noise Ensemble (Armando Bayolo, conductor). The performance will be on May 17 at the Atlas Theater in Washington, D.C.
Thanks to Lisa Perry for being such a great first interview for the series. I hope that you will all check out her recital this evening (4/16/2013) at Peabody Conservatory, Griswold Hall at 8pm in Charm City of course.
Please keep an eye out for future 6 Questions RE interviews. If you have a suggestion for an interview, please feel free to contact me.