Corrections or additions?
This article by Elaine Strauss was published in U.S. 1 Newspaper
on June 30,
SummerFest: By, But Not For, Vocalists
Looking over the program for Rutgers SummerFest ’99,
the number of vocal programs seems exceptionally large. Six of the
22 programs employ singers, and the vocal listings are greater for
1999 than they were for the past three seasons. Tenor Frederick Urrey,
professor of voice at Rutgers Mason Gross School of the Arts, who
performs in Vaughan Williams’ Symphony No. 3 ("The Pastoral")
on Saturday, July 17, the mid-point of the festival, seems a likely
candidate to explain this year’s SummerFest program.
SummerFest opened its doors in 1987, and begins its 1999 season on
Saturday, July 3. With the exception of Mondays and Sundays that are
dark, the music extends nightly, throughout the month of July.
includes music for orchestra, for chamber ensembles, and for solo
recitals. The repertoire ranges from the 18th century (Mozart) to
the 20th century (Partch, Cage, Schnittke, and a Jeff Beal work
for the Ying Quartet), with a substantial sampling of 19th and
French music. In addition, there are programs of Indian classical
music, jazz, and cabaret. A season pass, priced at $160, brings the
average cost of each concert to a low price tag of $7 and change.
Single ticket prices are $18 and $24.
Urrey promptly puts the 1999 Rutgers festival in perspective.
summer you see a lot of names of singers," he says, and then adds
a warning. "But this is not a singers’ festival. In the Vaughan
Williams I’m a member of the orchestra. There are no words. I sing
a tune that comes out of the piece. The effect is an offstage voice
that begins and ends the last movement. It’s a little bit of a lament,
and I’ll sing it rather introspectively. But believe me," he
"I’m not a soloist. The spotlight is not on me."
"There’s really only one SummerFest vocal recital," Urrey
says, "Kurt Ollman’s performance on July 11." Baritone Ollman
has scheduled a program with Mary Dibbern at the piano, consisting
completely of French music. The composers are Leguerney, Debussy,
Faure, and Poulenc. Urrey explains that Ollman’s appearance
with a workshop on French art songs sponsored by the National
for Teachers of Singing. The workshop, which is not open to the
runs from July 9 through 12. Also coordinated with the workshop is
the orchestral program of Saturday, July 10, with Richard Auldon
conductor of the Rutgers Festival Orchestra, on the podium. The
consists of works by Faure, Ravel, and Debussy and features
Another feature of SummerFest, Urrey points out, has
been cabaret style music. He identifies the Jody Applebaum concert
of Friday, July 16, as being in the cabaret tradition. Music by Satie,
Weill, and Gershwin, among others is programmed. Marc-Andre Hamelin
is at the piano.
Urrey also singles out the program of Tuesday, July 20, based on the
songbook of novelist Jane Austen. Featured performers are soprano
Julianne Baird, fortepianist Andrew Willis, and narrator Marilyn
dean of MGSA. Originally scheduled for the 1998 season, the program
had to be cancelled because Baird was injured. Urrey is enthusiastic
about the Austen program not only because of its content, but because
it makes vivid the life of a proper young lady of Austen’s time
The highest quality of music considered proper for pursuit by young
women of the gentry class is revealed in the program, as is the
of the fortepiano, both in society and in Austen’s novels. Although
music is endemic in her novels, Austen focuses on the player, rather
than the composition. Based on research into Austen’s letters and
her notebooks, this program fills the gaps by drawing on music that
she was likely to have known.
A fervent advocate for SummerFest, Urrey stresses its variety.
cornerstone is the orchestral concerts," he says. "At the
same time, there’s a good balance between chamber music and solo
It’s amazing that we have a festival of this quality in our backyard.
It’s an extraordinary festival at a very low cost."
Urrey was born in Hope, Arkansas, in 1949. "Bill Clinton was
living there when I was born," he says. "He moved to Hot
when he was three, the year I was born." Urrey’s father was a
horticulturist who worked at the University of Arkansas, and later
sold science equipment to schools. His mother was a homemaker. They
both sang for their own entertainment. "They used to go to
gospel singing schools," Urrey says. "The schools lasted for
several days. They were social as much as musical. It was sacred music
done with a lot of spirit and energy, music you could dance to. It
was what young people did." In addition, Urrey’s mother played
piano "enough to play the gospel music," he says. His father
Urrey and his younger sister, Caroline, "grew up in church
he says. Because his father changed jobs Urrey grew up in Louisiana
and earned bachelor’s and master’s degrees from Louisiana State
(LSU). "I was a pianist and trumpet player before I was a
he says. He also played guitar, banjo, and string bass. "I entered
college as a voice and piano major. Then I discovered opera. I enjoyed
the grandeur and the drama, and I loved being on stage. I enjoyed
being part of a theatrical production." Still, he says it took
a while for his affection for opera to develop; it was not love at
After LSU, Urrey wanted to deepen and extend his musical roots, and
decided to enroll in Vienna’s Hochschule fuer Musik. "I wanted
to live in the cultural capital where the great composers lived,"
Urrey spent six years in Vienna, supporting himself by singing, and
becoming fluent in German. "I sang everything from 12th-century
troubador songs — I even made a recording — to the avant
I did opera, and sang a lot of Bach, Handel, Mozart, and Haydn —
that was the steady diet. But I also did Schubert, Schoenberg, Webern,
and Berg. I sang with an ensemble of 12 and we toured Italy, Sicily,
and Spain. It was an exciting time to be young and seeing the world
and learning all this music. I tried to be the proverbial sponge,
learning the music and learning the language."
There he met his wife of 25 years, Taina Kataja, a Finnish student
studying with the same music professor. Contrasting that encounter
with his slow warming to opera, he says intensely, "That
was love at first sight."
Soon Kataja became a traveling and performing companion. "It was
a very romantic time," Urrey says. "We were seeing the world
and singing opera together. We saw all of western Europe and a lot
of eastern Europe together. Once we were on the road with the `Magic
Flute’ in six countries, doing 59 performance in 60 days." The
touring schedules of the two didn’t always overlap, and even when
they did, the constant travel was beginning to pall.
"One reason we left Europe," Urrey says, "is that we were
getting a little tired of being on the road. The last three years
we averaged over 100 performances each. There was a period when I
was in Scandinavia and Taina was in the United States. For a month
we were in the wrong countries. We were starting to dislike being
apart; we wanted to be in one place at the same time.
"I wanted to get a doctorate and fill in the holes in my education
and get my act together. I was interested in a doctorate in musical
arts, rather than a Ph.D. in musicology. I hadn’t been in school for
seven years, and I wasn’t sure how I would react." While Urrey
studied at Baltimore’s Peabody Institute, Kataja worked as a singer
and set about improving her English. "She didn’t speak English
when we met," Urrey says. "We courted in German. She had
English in Finland, but it was all academic."
Kataja spoke Finnish to their daughters, Minna, 17, and Anna 13, until
they were three, but English is the language of the family.
a Finnish community" says Urrey, "it’s hard to keep up."
In recent years Urrey has performed frequently in compositions by
Bach and has solidified his reputation as a Bach expert. "I don’t
like to use the word `specialist,’" he says, "because it has
the connotation of doing something exclusively. I’m drawn to Bach
because it demands a high level of musical proficiency and a high
level of technical ability. It’s complex and fulfilling. Every piece
is such a masterpiece. I don’t think I’ll ever master it all. Bach
centers me vocally, musically, and spiritually. That’s the music I
A selection from Urrey’s recent and future engagements
is only partially Bach. On June 21, he played Tito in Mozart’s
di Tito" with the Connecticut Early Music Festival. In August
he sings in Bach’s "St. Matthew Passion" in Connecticut and
at Lincoln Center’s Alice Tully Hall. Next season he does
"Erste Walpurgisnacht" with Princeton Pro Musica. However,
Urrey points out that the year 2000 is a big year since it marks the
250th anniversary of Bach’s death.
"If I feel really stressed with something in my life, " says
Urrey, "I will play two or three-part inventions or the `Well
Tempered Clavichord.’" It is curious that Urrey turns to Bach’s
works as a personal outlet, rather than his vocal works, especially
since he considers himself a lapsed pianist. Perhaps his choice of
the piano is a testimonial to the completeness of the instrument as
a musical vehicle. "I wouldn’t call myself a proficient pianist
any more," Urrey says. "I play in the studio for students, but
I haven’t called myself a pianist for 30 years."
Urrey argues quite convincingly that SummerFest, despite appearances,
is not primarily biased in favor of vocal performances. In his own
career, the evidence is overwhelming. Forget about Frederick Urrey
and the piano, trumpet, guitar, banjo, or string bass. No one can
doubt that he is a singer with a strong bias for Bach, even though
he chooses not to specialize.
— Elaine Strauss
732-932-7511. Anne-Marie McDermott and the Festival Orchestra in
"Cuban Overture," "Rhapsody in Blue," Still’s
"Africa," and "West Side Story Suite" by Leonard
Bernstein. $24. Saturday, July 3, 8 p.m.
Corrections or additions?
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