If you’re a regular at HGO, you’re probably aware of one of the company’s important traditions: three times each season, we present our Studio artists in recital performances at either the main campus of the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, or at Rienzi, the MFAH house museum for European decorative arts. In contrast to our spectacular performances of mainstage repertoire in the Brown Theater, these events show a different side of classical singing: songs performed by a pianist and singer in an intimate space. If you haven’t yet attended a Studio recital, I urge you to join us for the experience, and I promise you’ll be hooked.
Studio recitals are typically performed in a space that accommodates fewer than 100 guests. No seat is farther than about 50 feet from the piano. The recital is one hour long, with no intermission, and a short reception is held afterwards to give the audience a chance to meet the artists. Typically, three Studio singers perform in each recital with one pianist, with each singing a solo “set” of songs; sometimes they sing duets, or a unique program is designed that follows a narrative idea. While you may not know the music, you’ll often recognize the composer, and you’ll have a copy of the poetry in English to follow along.
When classical singers and pianists perform in a recital format, they select repertoire from an extraordinary array of music, spanning centuries, languages, and a multitude of styles. Recitals are programmed to foster a deep connection to the poetry and music—which means that artists must sing songs that they love, so they can express themselves in the most honest and heartfelt way. For some, it may be contemporary American songs; others may have fallen in love with the poetry and romantic style of 19th-century German song or the immense and rich Spanish song repertoire. What matters most is that the artists feel that this music is their own.
Over the years, many of my most meaningful experiences as an audience member have been at recitals, where incredible performances by great artists have been etched in my memory. The power of great poetry, combined with the unique, expressive nature of the human voice, connects with our souls in a way that is beyond description. Hearing artists in such an intimate space can be a profound experience, as operatic voices surround you, and pianists play with a dizzying array of sounds and colors, great imagination, and extraordinary skill. In this setting, singers are able to experiment with their voices, exercising every option available to express themselves and communicate poetry with an audience that is in very close proximity. We look to music to give us a moment in time that departs from everyday life, moving us beyond ourselves and heightening our emotions.
Of course, as with all elements of the HGO Studio, these recital programs are an important part of the artists’ training. The HGO Studio is about discovery, encouraging and unlocking ideas that make each of the artists one-of-a-kind. They enter the program with extraordinary talent, passion for the art, and technique that is growing and developing every day. Recitals are the perfect opportunity for the artists to channel their daily practice into performance, push themselves to deepen their relationship with music and text, and share with an audience in a personal and intimate way. Recital work fuels them and molds them into the extraordinary talents you see on our main stage, and it is a critical part of their development.
Our next recitals are coming up soon, on May 2 and 5 at Rienzi, featuring Yelena Dyachek, soprano; Leia Lensing, contralto; Richard Trey Smagur, tenor; and Kyle Naig, piano. Tickets can be purchased on HGO’s website or by calling Customer Care at 713-228-6737. If you haven’t attended a recital, make plans now to experience an important part of HGO.
—Brian Speck, HGO Studio Director