Better Than Talk from the Stage: Silence

Today musicians frequently talk from the stage. Don’t you wish they’d get to the music? Last weekend I heard a voice recital with superb music—and superb silence.

Julia Fox, Soprano

I always expect great music-making from accompanist Keith Weber, the conductor-organist-harpsicordist-coach-and-yes-pianist who is artistic director for Grace Song. Soprano Julia Fox, whom I hadn’t heard before, brings not only a great sound but also high expectations for performance. This was a well-rehearsed recital with meaning.

The performers divided the program into six sets, three each before and after intermission. Sets 1, 3, 4 and 6 consisted of Copland’s Twelve Poems of Emily Dickinson. The interior sets of each half leavened the mix with songs of Bernstein, Monteverdi, Purcell and David Evan Thomas, as well as an improvisation by Mr. Weber.

At the end of each set the performers paused and sat down, perhaps sixty seconds each time. Did they need rest? No. Did the audience? Absolutely.

I’ve heard the Copland cycle before. I hadn’t enjoyed it as an audience member despite loving the individual songs. This made the poems a series of sprints rather than an endurance run. The brief respites refreshed me as I felt presence in the space, in silence. How rarely do we take such time!

Keith Weber

What lessons can we draw for orchestra concerts?

  • Let’s be more imaginative in programming sustained, demanding works, lightening the performance with contrasting music. It’s a 19th-century tradition; let’s revive it in the 21st.
  • On rare occasions demanded by the music, program silence. Your audience will thank you.

Program: “Blessing”

Julia Fox, soprano
Keith Weber, piano

Set One

From Copland’s Twelve Poems of Emily Dickinson
- Nature, the gentlest mother
- There came a wind like a bugle
- Why do they shut me out of Heaven?

Set Two

Prologue (La Musica) from Monteverdi’s Orfeo
Simple Song from Bernstein’s Mass
A Blessing, by David Evan Thomas

Set Three

From Copland’s Twelve Poems of Emily Dickinson
- The world feels dusty
- Heart, we will forget him
- Dear March, come in!


Set Four

From Copland’s Twelve Poems of Emily Dickinson
- Sleep is supposed to be
- When they come back
- I Felt a funeral in my brain

Set Five

Purcell’s Bess of Bedlam
Piano Improvisation by Keith Weber
Rorem’s Visit to St. Elizabeths (Bedlam)

Set Six

From Copland’s Twelve Poems of Emily Dickinson
- I’ve heard an organ talk sometimes
- Going to Heaven
- The Chariot

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