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Leonard Bernstein, arr. Alexander Platt and Robert Osborne: Songfest, A Cycle of American Poems for Six Singers and Orchestra (1977)

A Collaboration with Actors and Writers Theater, and the Phoenicia International Festival of the Voice.

Maria Todaro and Louis Otey, artistic consultants

Nancy Allen Lundy, Soprano; Robert Osborne, baritone; Anna Tonna, mezzo-soprano; Sarah Heltzel, mezzo-soprano; Barry Banks, tenor; Matthew Gamble, baritone; Robert Osborne, bass.

Chamber Orchestra: The Caroga Arts Ensemble, Kyle Price, Director
Steven Beck, pianist
Garry Kvistad and Russell Hartenberger, percussionists
Alexander Platt, conductor

This concert is made possible by the generous support of the Thompson Family Foundation.




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SONGFEST concert attendees are cordially invited to a special reception with the Chamber Orchestra musicians and soloists under the tent on the Maverick Concerts patio immediately following the performance. Enjoy supper and dessert provided by Bistro to Go along with wine and beverages.

Only $50.00 per person (in addition to concert ticket price). Attendance is limited. Last call for Reservations, August 21.

When this transaction is complete, you will receive an email confirmation. To get your stamp for the reception, please go to the ticket booth upon arriving for the concert.

Lenny at 100: A Bernstein Birthday Fête

ROBERT OSBORNE, bass-baritone
Readers from ACTORS & WRITERS

SATURDAY, AUGUST 25, 2018, 6 pm

Leonard Bernstein (1918-1900)

Songfest (1977): A Cycle of American Poems for Six Singers and Orchestra
Arranged for Chamber Orchestra (2011) by Alexander Platt and Robert Osborne
New York Premiere

The Pennycandystore Beyond the El (Lawrence Ferlinghetti)
A Julia de Burgos (Julia de Burgos) • To What You Said (Walt Whitman)

I, Too, Sing America (Langston Hughes) / Okay, “Negroes” (June Jordan)


To My Dear and Loving Husband (Anne Bradstreet)
Storyette H.M. (Gertrude Stein)
Sextetif you can’t eat you got to (e.e. cummings)
Three SolosMusic I Heard with You (Conrad Aiken) • Zizi’s Lament (Gregory Corso)
What Lips My Lips Have Kissed (Edna St. Vincent Millay)
Closing HymnIsrafel (Edgar Allan Poe)

This performance of Songfest is made possible by a generous grant from the Thompson Family Foundation. Many thanks to artistic consultants Maria Todaro and Louis Otey, of the Phoenicia International Festival of the Voice, and Maestro Robert Manno, of the Windham Chamber Music


About the Artists

Maverick’s Music Director, Alexander Platt, needs, of course, no introduction in his role as the conductor of what has become a valuable annual Maverick tradition: a performance of a noted vocal work with chamber orchestra. This has usually been a version specially devised for Maverick’s resources and space out of one originally created for much larger forces, as is the case today. (See Alexander’s comments about his version of Leonard Bernstein’s Songfest below, in “About the Music.”)

Today, Alexander will be conducting the Caroga Arts Ensemble, a group created, and usually conducted, by Kyle Price at the Caroga Lake Music Festival, an annual summer event in the Adirondacks.

The six virtuoso singers for Songfest are a starry group, several of whom have also performed in recent years at Maverick’s neighbor, the Phoenicia Festival of the Voice. Nancy Allen Lundy, soprano, has thirty major operatic roles in her repertoire, and has sung them with leading opera companies in this country and in Europe; she has the distinction of having three operas specially composed for her by Tan Dun. Anna Tonna, mezzo-soprano, is noted both for her operatic work (she is particularly admired in Rossini) and her recitals. She was, unusually, the recipient of a scholarship to study Spanish song in Spain. Mezzo-soprano Sarah Heltzel made her debut as a young artist in Richard Wagner’s Ring cycle for Seattle Opera and has since sung dozens of operatic roles. She is a lover of new music and has created many roles in new operas for American Lyric Theater in New York. English-born and English-trained tenor Barry Banks played the trumpet in his youth. He made his American debut in Bernstein’s Candide in Chicago in 1993, and has since sung throughout the United States, lately at the Metropolitan Opera. Baritone Matthew Gamble is a young singer with a wide repertoire and experience on the musical stage as well as in opera (he was in a Sondheim musical in Paris, and has also performed with a dance company). Gamble teaches at Bard College and at Montclair State University in New Jersey. Robert Osborne, who worked with Platt on today’s version of Songfest, is a bass-baritone with more than thirty years of wide experience; one of his most admired performances was on an American tour of Peter Maxwell Davies’s Eight Songs for a Mad King, and he has a repertoire of more than fifty leading operatic roles. He has performed in Songfest with Bernstein himself on several occasions, including in Moscow and at the Proms in London’s Royal Albert Hall. He teaches at Vassar College.

Caroga Arts Ensemble
Seung Jeon, Flute
Tamara Winston, Oboe
Graeme Steele Johnson, Clarinet
Arleigh Savage, Bassoon
Joanna Schulz, Horn
Emily Schaefer, Horn
Alex Mayon, Trumpet
Chris Brosius, Trombone
Andy Liang, Violin
Aaron Schwartz, Violin
Stephanie Price-Wong, Viola
Kyle Barrett Price, Cello
Jonathan Borden, Bass
Michael Tsang, Electric Keyboard
The Caroga Arts Ensemble will be joined by percussionists Garry Kvistad and Russell Hartenberger of NEXUS, and pianist Steven Beck.

Actors & Writers
Katherine Burger, Dannah Chaifetz, Sarah Chodoff, Mary Gallagher, Mikhail Horowitz, Nicole Quinn, Eddie Sanchez, John Seidman, Joe White, Lori Wilner, Shelley Wyant.

About the Music

This evening’s concert celebrates the centenary of the birth of Leonard Bernstein, born in Lawrence, Massachusetts, on August 25, 1918. For nearly fifty years, Bernstein—or Lenny, as he was known to his friends and to many others—was America’s most vivid and omnipresent musician, as composer, conductor, and (via TV) persuasive music teacher. He started composing while still in his teens, and was always the life and soul of any party at which there was a piano. Nobody could have been more ready than he for world celebrity to descend upon him when he famously stepped in for an ailing Bruno Walter to lead the New York Philharmonic in 1943. He was twenty-five years old, and became not only the most famous conductor of his time but also a composer whose music, to his chagrin, was more admired by Broadway audiences than by concert patrons.

That’s an unfair verdict, as we are about to be reminded. Songfest was originally intended to celebrate America’s Bicentennial in 1976, with a selection of settings of American poems across the generations, from Pilgrims to Beats, stressing the basic humanity and racial and sexual tolerance of the nation, and the power of love. It shone with the idealism and fervor that was typical of Bernstein—the work seems particularly resonant now, at a time when the country seems to be moving in a very different direction. Its extravagant demands, for six virtuoso singers and a large orchestra with a battery of percussion, have made it one of the least performed of the composer’s major works, although many admirers consider it one of his strongest. It is eclectic in the writing, borrowing extensively from jazz and Latin music, and inclusive in the breadth and variety of the visions Lenny chose to set. Songfest was written at a time of great strain for the composer—he was separated from his wife, Felicia, and his musical 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue was proving a huge flop—and he was late finishing it, so it didn’t appear until 1977.

Of this version scaled for Maverick, Platt says: “I made this version for chamber orchestra in 2010 with my old friend Robert Osborne, fresh from the seismic success we’d had at the Maverick with my chamber version of David Del Tredici’s Final Alice in 2007. As with Alice, I wanted to make a workable version of a forgotten American vocal masterpiece, and with Robert I had a collaborator who not only had the technical experience as a copyist that was now so necessary, but as a soloist in many performances of Songfest under Bernstein’s baton would also provide a wealth of insight along the way. All was ready for a performance near the end of the Maverick season in August 2011; then Hurricane Irene scuppered those plans. The project was revived, however, for the Ravinia Festival in 2013 and met with great success. Thus I am thrilled and relieved to be finally bringing my Songfest home, to its Maverick birthplace.”
It’s not always easy to hear the words of the poems, even with Alexander’s much-reduced orchestra (and in any case, the words are often eccentric), so performers from the Actors & Writers theater ensemble will recite them before each number.

The work begins with the vocal ensemble singing “To the Poem,” a setting of text by Frank O’Hara, which launches with plangent brass fanfares and plentiful percussion, and is a deliberately overblown, clearly satirical view of a typical patriotic hymn. “The Pennycandystore Beyond the El” by Lawrence Ferlinghetti offers a baritone solo hinting at a gay encounter, with an accompaniment that’s a piquantly sly mix of jazz and serialism. “A Julia de Burgos,” by the Puerto Rican poet of the same name, is a fierce soprano solo that is a passionate cry for recognition, with an accompaniment full of dazzling Latin effects, of the kind Bernstein loved—echoes here of Copland’s El Salón Mexico. “To What You Said” is a brief, recently discovered verse by Walt Whitman hinting at bisexual love. Richly lyrical strings introduce a baritone solo, glowingly tender and accompanied sometimes by a wordless chorus. “I Too Sing America” with text by Langston Hughes, is coupled with “Okay, ‘Negroes’” by June Jordan in a duet that speaks of the African American yearning to be acknowledged as human, against considerable odds. It’s jumpy, features some wonderful jazz riffs and a bit of scat singing, and sounds in its more passionate moments like a duet from Gershwin’s Porgy and Bess.

“To My Dear and Loving Husband” by Anne Bradstreet, the earliest American poet, is a nostalgic love song that could get sentimental, but somehow, sung by a rhapsodic trio of women’s voices, sounds exalted instead. “Storyette, H.M.” by Gertrude Stein (H.M. is Henri Matisse) is another jazzy entry, sung as a duet. In “if you can’t eat you got to” by e.e. cummings, that hater of capital letters, the full sextet joins in a swinging virtuoso piece that’s alternately syncopated and languorous in a style somewhat reminiscent of the long-gone Mills Brothers. “Music I Heard with You” by Conrad Aiken is treated in another soulful solo, a strange but effective mix of diatonic and serial writing. The setting of “Zizi’s Lament” by Gregory Corso is a wildly eccentric piece with an angular vocal line and some brass riffs that could accompany a belly dance. “What Lips My Lips Have Kissed” by Edna St. Vincent Millay, a solo song about forgotten lovers, was said to have been Bernstein’s own favorite; it’s a nostalgic piece, elegantly accompanied and with two heartfelt climaxes, first in the orchestra, then in the voice; moments recall Samuel Barber’s Knoxville: Summer of 1915. Finally, in “Israfel” by Edgar Allan Poe, a strange poem about an angel, Songfest comes to a crescendo of sound and power, all six singers in full cry with the orchestra and percussion whipping up a huge climax that hits an exhilarating final stroke, of the kind that brings the house down. No reason why it shouldn’t at Maverick—-and Lenny, at one hundred, would be pleased.

Program Notes © 2018 by John F. Baker

Songfest by Leonard Bernstein
Lyrics & Translation


I. To the Poem
Let us do something grand
Just this once Something
Small and important and
UnAmerican Some fine thing
Will resemble a human hand
And really be merely a thing
Not needing a military band
Nor an elegant forthcoming
To tease spotlights or a hand
From the public’s thinking
But be In a defiant land
Of its own a real right thing
—Frank O’Hara

II. The Pennycandystore Beyond the El
The pennycandystore beyond the El
Is where i first fell in love
With unreality
Jellybeans glowed in the semi-gloom
Of that September afternoon
A cat upon the counter moved among
The licorice sticks and tootsie rolls
And Oh Boy Gum
Outside the leaves were falling as they died
A wind had blown away the sun
A girl ran in
Her hair was rainy
Her breasts were breathless in the little room
Outside the leaves were falling and they cried
Too soon! too soon!
—Lawrence Ferlinghetti


III A Julia de Burgos

Ya las gentes murmuran que yo soy tu enemiga
Porque dicen que en verso doy al mundo mi yo
Mienten, Julia de Burgos. Mienten, Julia de burgos
La que se alza en mis versos no es tu voz: es mi voz
Porque tú eres ropaje y la esencia soy yo; y el más
Profundo abismo se tiende entre las dos.
Tú eres fria muñeca de mentira social
Y yo, viril destello de la humana verdad
Tú, miel de cortesana hipocresías; yo no;
Que en todos mis poemas desnudo el corazón
Tú eres como tu mundo, egoísta; Yo no
que en todo me lo juego a ser lo que soy yo.
Tú eres sólo la grave señora señorona; yo no;
Yo soy la vida, la fuerza, la mujer

Tú eres de tu marido, de tu amo; yo no;
Yo de nadie, o de todos, porque a todos, a
Todos en mi limpio sentir y en mi pensar me doy
Tú te rizas el pelo y te pintas; yo no;
A mí me riza el viento, a mí me pinta el sol
Tú eres dama casera, resignada, sumisa
Atada a los prejuicios de los hombres; yo no;
Que yo soy Rocinante corriendo desbocado
Olfateando horizontes de justicia de Dios
Tú en ti misma no mandas; A ti todos te mandan; en ti mandan tu esposo, tus padres, tus parientes, el cura, el modista, el teatro, el casino, el auto, las alhajas, el banquete, el champán, el cielo, Y el infierno, y el que dirán social
En mí no, que en mí manda mi solo corazón
Mi solo pensamiento; quien manda en mí soy yo
Tú, flor de aristocracia; y yo, la flor del pueblo
Tú en ti lo tienes todo y a todos se Lo debes, mientras que yo, mi nada a nadie se la debo
Tú, clavada al estático dividendo ancestral
Y yo, un uno en la cifra del divisor social
Somos el duelo a muerte que se acerca fatal
Cuando las multitudes corran alborotadas
Dejando atrás cenizas de injusticias quemadas
Y cuando con la tea de las siete virtudes
Tras los siete pecados, corran las multitudes
Contra ti, y contra todo lo injusto y lo inhumano
Yo iré en medio de ellas con la tea en la mano
—Julia de Burgos

Already the people murmur that I am your enemy
because they say that in verse I give the world your me.
They lie, Julia de Burgos. They lie, Julia de Burgos.
Who rises in my verses is not your voice. It is my voice
because you are the dressing and the essence is me;
and the most profound abyss is spread between us.
You are the cold doll of social lies,
and me, the virile starburst of the human truth.
You, honey of courtesan hypocrisies; not me;
in all my poems I undress my heart.
You are like your world, selfish; not me
who gambles everything, betting on what I am.
You are only the ponderous lady very lady;
not me; I am life, strength, woman.


You belong to your husband, your master; not me;
I belong to nobody, or all, because to all, to all
I give myself in my clean feeling and in my thought.
You curl your hair and paint yourself; not me;
the wind curls my hair, the sun paints me.
You are a housewife, resigned, submissive,
tied to the prejudices of men; not me;
unbridled, I am a runaway Rocinante
snorting horizons of God’s justice.
You in yourself have no say; everyone governs you;
your husband, your parents, your family, the priest, the dressmaker, the theatre, the dance hall, the auto, the fine furnishings, the feast, champagne, heaven and hell, and the social, “what will they say.”
Not in me, in me only my heart governs,
only my thought; who governs in me is me.
You, flower of aristocracy; and me, flower of the people.
You in you have everything and you owe it to everyone,
while me, my nothing I owe to nobody.
You nailed to the static ancestral dividend,
and me, a one in the numerical social divider,
we are the duel to death who fatally approaches.
When the multitudes run rioting
leaving behind ashes of burned injustices,
and with the torch of the seven virtues,
the multitudes run after the seven sins,
against you and against everything unjust and inhuman,
I will be in their midst with the torch in my hand.
—Translation © 2005 Jack Agüeros


IV. To What You Said
To what you said, passionately clasping my hand, this is my answer:
Though you have strayed hither, for my sake, you can never belong to me
Nor I to you
Behold the customary loves and friendships the cold guards
I am that rough and simple person
I am he who kisses his comrade lightly on the lips at parting
And l am one who is kissed in return
I introduce that new American salute
Behold love choked, correct, polite, always suspicious
Behold the received models of the parlors—
What are they to me?
What to these young men that travel with me?
—Walt Whitman


V. I, Too, Sing America / Okay, “Negroes”

[Baritone] I, too, sing America
I am the darker brother
[Mezzo] Okay, okay, okay Negroes
American Negroes
[Baritone] They send me to eat in the kitchen
[Mezzo] Looking for milk
[Baritone] When company comes,
[Mezzo] Crying out loud
[Baritone] But I laugh and eat well,
[Mezzo] In the nursery of Freedomland.
[Baritone] And grow strong.
[Mezzo] The rides are rough
[Baritone] Tomorrow
I’ll sit at the table
When company comes.
Nobody’ll dare say to me
“Eat in the kitchen,” then.

[Mezzo] Tell me where you got that image
Of a male white mammy,
God is vague and he don’t take no sides.
[Baritone] Besides, they’ll see how beautiful I
am and be ashamed —
[Mezzo] You think clean fingernails, crossed
legs, a smile, shined shoes, a crucifix
around your neck, good manners, no
more noise.
You think, who’s gonna
give you something?
You think, who’s gonna give you
[Baritone] I, too, am America.
[Mezzo] Come a little closer, where you from?
[Baritone] I, too, am America.
Tomorrow I’ll sit at the table
[Mezzo] Come a little closer, where you from?

— Langston Hughes / June Jordan


VI. To My Dear and Loving Husband
If ever two were one, then surely we.
If ever man were loved by wife, then thee.
If ever wife was happy in a man,
Compare with me, ye women, if you can.
I prize thy love more than whole mines of gold,
Or all the riches that the East doth hold.
My love is such that rivers cannot quench,
Nor ought but love from thee give recompense.
Thy love is such I can no way repay;
The heavens reward thee manifold, I pray.
Then while we live, in love let’s so persever
That when we live no more, we may live ever.
— Anne Bradstreet


VII. Storyette H. M.
One was married to someone. That one was going away to have a good time. The one that was married to that one did not like it very well that the one to whom that one was married then was going off alone to have a good time and was leaving that one to stay at home then. The one that was going came in all glowing. The one that was going had everything he was needing to have the good time he was wanting to be having then. He came in all glowing. Glowing. Glowing. The one he was leaving at home to take care of the family living was not glowing. The one that was going was saying, the one that was glowing, the one that was going was saying then, I am content, you are not content, I am content, you are not content, I am content, you are content, you are content, I am content. —Gertrude Stein

viii. if you can’t eat you got to
If you can’t eat you got to
smoke and we ain’t got
nothing to smoke: come on kid
let’s go to sleep
if you can’t smoke you got to
Sing and we ain’t got
nothing to sing; come on kid
let’s go to sleep
if you can’t sing you got to
die and we ain’t got
Nothing to die, come on kid
let’s go to sleep
if you can’t die you got to
dream and we ain’t got
nothing to dream (come on kid
Let’s go to sleep)

— e.e. cummings


IX. Music I Heard With You
Music I heard with you was more than music
And bread I broke with you was more than bread;
Now that I am without you, all is desolate;
All that was once so beautiful is dead
Your hands once touched this table and this silver,
And I have seen your fingers hold this glass.
These things do not remember you, beloved,
And yet your touch upon them will not pass.
For it was in my heart that you moved among them,
And blessed them with your hands and with your eyes;
And in my heart they will remember always,
They knew you once, O beautiful and wise
— Conrad Aiken

X. Zizi’s Lament
I am in love with the laughing sickness
It would do me a lot of good if I had it—
I have worn the splendid gowns of Sudan,
carried the magnificent halivas of Boudodin Bros.,
kissed the singing Fatimas of the pimp of Aden,
wrote glorious psalms in Hakhaliba’s cafe,
But I’ve never had the laughing sickness,
So what good am I?
The fat merchant offers me opium, kief
hashish, even camel juice,
All is unsatisfactory—
O bitter damned night! you again! must I yet
pluck out my unreal teeth,
undress my unlaughable self,
put to sleep this melancholy head?
I am nothing without the laughing sickness
My father’s got it, my grandfather had it;
surely my Uncle Fez will get it, but me, me,
Who it would do the most good
Will I ever get it?
— Gregory Corso

XI. What Lips My Lips Have Kissed (Sonnet XLIII)
What lips my lips have kissed, and where, and why
I have forgotten, and what arms have lain
Under my head till morning; but the rain
Is full of ghosts tonight, that tap and sigh
Upon the glass and listen for reply,
And in my heart there stirs a quiet pain
For unremembered lads that not again
Will turn to me at midnight with a cry.
Thus in the winter stands the lonely tree,
Nor knows what birds have vanished one by one,
Yet knows its boughs more silent than before:
I cannot say what loves have come and gone,
I only know that summer sang in me
A little while, that in me sings no morera

—Edna St. Vincent Millay


XII. Israfel
In Heaven a spirit doth dwell
Whose heart-strings are a lute;
None sing so wildly well
As the angel Israfel,
And the giddy stars (so legends tell)
Ceasing their hymns, attend the spell
Of his voice, all mute.
Tottering above in her highest noon
The enamored moon blushes with love
While, to listen, the red levin
(With the rapid Pleiads, even
Which were seven)
Pauses in Heaven.
And they say (the starry choir
And the other listening things)
That Israfeli’s fire
Is owing to that lyre
By which he sits and sings—
The trembling living wire
Of those unusual strings
But the skies that angel trod,
Where deep thoughts are a duty,
Where Love’s a grown-up God,
Where the Houri glances are
Imbued with all the beauty
Which we worship in a star.
—Edgar Allan Poe



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