By David Govertsen
The overture from Stephen Sondheim’s A Little Night Music is an oddly appropriate musical number for these many months we have spent in quarantine. Much like 2020, you never know quite what is coming next.
Sondheim scraps the traditional instrumental overture one expects at the top of a musical drama and instead lets the singers kick things off, and a cappella at that. The ensuing three minutes are a wild ride of key changes, shifts in tempo and texture, leaps of vocal register and dynamics, and musical moods that turn on a dime. Listen as each singer switches roles between featured soloist, background accompaniment, and balanced four-part ensemble member (Sondheim actually composed this for five singers, bonus points if you can figure out how we covered all the parts with a quartet). As a performer I love the variety that this kind of music provides, but it is certainly a major vocal workout.
The overture contains three main themes that appear later in the show: "Remember’" "Soon", and "The Glamorous Life". Since live performances have come to a standstill there has been much time to reflect on music we made in the past. Ah, how we laughed, ah, how we cried…remember? Though in the context of the show it has a very different meaning, the lyrics seem to answer the question we are all asking: Will life in the performing arts as we once knew it return? Soon, I promise. From the standpoint of a performer it is incredibly strange not to have worn a tuxedo for a concert in so long. Pack up the luggage–Hi-ho, for the glamorous life!
Fortunately, Fourth Coast Ensemble has exciting plans to bring up the curtain once again with our seventh season. The complete announcement of our inaugural HD season, including ticket info for three live broadcast concerts, will happen on January 5, 2021. Until then, please enjoy this la la la from the archives!
This performance was recorded live on March 3, 2020 in Buchanan Chapel with pianist Kuang-Hao Huang. Audio by Joshua Sauvageau. Video by Nadia Oussenko.
Ah, the holiday season. A time for nostalgia, music, sending cards, decorating homes with lights, and - above all - enjoying special holiday foods! Favorite recipes and treats have the power to transport us in time to our childhoods, or make us feel suddenly closer to family, friends, and loved ones we may not otherwise get to see. Just a few nights ago, my mother and I were surprised to discover we were simultaneously making my great-grandmother’s Dutch Sinterklaas cookie recipe while halfway across the country from one another! Whether it’s grandma’s babke, an uncle’s spiced cider, or your cousin’s famous cheesy bread, everyone has one or two special dishes that signal holiday cheer.
So, without further ado, let Fourth Coast Ensemble offer you a new recipe to add to your tradition this year: “Tuna Supreme!”
Performed by the quartet and pianist Kuang-Hao Huang in the spring of 2019, composer Richard Pearson Thomas’ humorous Fish ‘n Chicks song cycle culminates in this zany finale. As text, Thomas sets a real recipe taken out of “Betty Crocker’s Picture Cookbook, 1950.” After a dramatic piano glissando, the close vocal harmonies mimic a Hollywood trio from that era, proclaiming excitedly: “TUNA SUPREME. A treat from the deep. A perfectly grand dish for women’s luncheons!” Yes, we have officially landed in 1950.
The music then flies off into the joyous “Fast swing tempo” of the recipe itself: a casserole with very specific ingredients, some of which may seem rather odd to our 21st Century gastronomic sensibilities. But the enthusiasm is infectious: from the walking bass line in the piano, to the rhythmic tenor and bass spoken section (you’ll know it when you hear it!) under a semi-improvisatory soprano vocalism, to huge crescendos and vocal glissandos, it’s a cooking experiment in Technicolor! And then, just when you think it’s over, Thomas reels you back in for one last dive through the animals celebrated earlier in the cycle, bringing it all to a true Hollywood finish.
What a treat!
Hello, and welcome to the blog! We are Fourth Coast Ensemble, Chicago's classical vocal quartet. Join a different member of our ensemble each week for insights into our favorite art songs, links to archival and new recordings, and reflections on why we value and continue to come back to this musical medium. We proudly present, your weekly #artsongfix!