Corrections or additions?

This article by Elaine Strauss was published in U.S. 1 Newspaper

on June 30,

1999.

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.

Programming

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

commissioned

for the Ying Quartet), with a substantial sampling of 19th and

20th-century

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.

"This

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

emphasizes,

"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

coordinates

with a workshop on French art songs sponsored by the National

Association

for Teachers of Singing. The workshop, which is not open to the

public,

runs from July 9 through 12. Also coordinated with the workshop is

the orchestral program of Saturday, July 10, with Richard Auldon

Clark,

conductor of the Rutgers Festival Orchestra, on the podium. The

program

consists of works by Faure, Ravel, and Debussy and features

mezzo-soprano

Mariana Karpatova.

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

Somville,

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

(1775-1817).

The highest quality of music considered proper for pursuit by young

women of the gentry class is revealed in the program, as is the

presence

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.

"The

cornerstone is the orchestral concerts," he says. "At the

same time, there’s a good balance between chamber music and solo

recitals.

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

probably

living there when I was born," he says. "He moved to Hot

Springs

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

Southern

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

played harmonica.

Urrey and his younger sister, Caroline, "grew up in church

choirs,"

he says. Because his father changed jobs Urrey grew up in Louisiana

and earned bachelor’s and master’s degrees from Louisiana State

University

(LSU). "I was a pianist and trumpet player before I was a

singer,"

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

first sight.

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,"

he says.

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

garde.

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

studied

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.

"Without

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

revere."

A selection from Urrey’s recent and future engagements

is only partially Bach. On June 21, he played Tito in Mozart’s

"Clemenza

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

Mendelssohn’s

"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

keyboard

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

SummerFest ’99, Nicholas Music Center, New Brunswick,

732-932-7511. Anne-Marie McDermott and the Festival Orchestra in

Gershwin’s

"Cuban Overture," "Rhapsody in Blue," Still’s

"Africa," and "West Side Story Suite" by Leonard

Bernstein. $24. Saturday, July 3, 8 p.m.


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