One weekend, two unforgettable debuts


I stayed in town this weekend for two musical events, both debuts. Both brought me, and the audiences who were on hand, a great deal of joy.

The first was on Friday night, when Alessio Bax gave his New York City recital debut at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. I first heard Alessio on a Warner Classics CD called Baroque Reflections, an album that I listened to repeatedly for the beauty of the repertoire and Alessio’s natural, expressive performances.  A while later, Alessio signed on to our company’s “Artists to Watch” program, and we have since been proud to be associated with his artistry.  

In the lobby of the museum’s theater, I chatted with various industry VIPs and critics, and the topic of conversation all focused on the appeal of the program. As one critic said to me in the lobby, “The title of this program could be ‘See, I Can Play Anything’!” It was certainly one of the most varied and satisfying I’ve heard in a long while: Brahms’s Ballades, Opus 10, Rachmaninov’s Corelli Variations, Bartók’s Dance Suite, Granados’s El amor y la muerte (from Goyescas), and Ravel’s La Valse, which I had never heard before in its version for piano. For encores, Bax gave us a tender, noble performance of Bach’s Sheep May Safely Graze, and a galloping rendition of Brahms’s Hungarian Dance.  

Artists who perform in New York City frequently fret about the likelihood that busy music critics are going to be able to attend and cover a big occasion like a recital debut, and it was fun to see that Alessio’s ambitious program had caused a stir. Steve Smith talked about the “rightness” of Alessio’s playing in his New York Times review. Harry Rolnick’s colorful take on the concert for ConcertoNet is fun to read, but I do think it was a Brahms Hungarian dance and not a Liszt Hungarian Dance that Bax tossed off with such aplomb.  

Two days later I heard another New York debut, this by another client. I’ve heard Deborah Voigt sing Broadway and popular songs as recital encores, and in some special gala performances, but this was her first time singing at the legendary Café Carlyle on New York’s Upper East Side (the New World’s closest thing to Old World elegance).  Debbie was performing a benefit concert for New York’s classical radio station, WQXR (which is now publicly owned), with her collaborator and pianist Ted Sperling.  It just so happened that today was also the day of the New York City Marathon, so, in anticipation of mind-numbing traffic, I met Debbie at her apartment at 10:30 AM to give us plenty of time to get there for her 11:30 sound check. I felt awfully spoiled sitting in for her rehearsal with Ted, hearing some of my favorite songs at such close range. During the opening segment of her evening performance, she told the audience that she wasn’t used to people being so close to her when she sang. She then proceeded to warn people in the front row to watch out for being sprayed with errant spit.

I’m not a huge theater music maven, so I don’t fully remember where all of the songs came from, but it was wonderful to hear Debbie sing two of my very favorites – both of which brought tears to my eyes in rehearsal, and even more so in the evening’s performance:  Sondheim’s heart-breaking “Losing My Mind,” and the Kern/Hammerstein “Can’t Help Lovin’ That Man of mine” from Showboat. Both are favorites of Broadway legend Barbara Cook, who has been an inspiration to Debbie for many years. The one time Debbie stood for an entire song during her Carlyle set was when she crossed back over to the classical world with Richard Strauss’s Zueignung. I have adored that glorious and uplifting song ever since I heard Jessye Norman sing it as one of the fillers on her Four Last Songs recording for Philips, and hearing Debbie’s voice opened up at full throttle in such a small space was thrilling.   

The audience went pretty crazy when Debbie did Irving Berlin’s “I Love a Piano,” a comic song that she has sung many times as an encore. As she sang the lyric, “I know a fine way to treat a Steinway,” she draped herself along the edge of the piano and milked the vampy moment it for all it was worth. And then came the pièce de résistance: in the final part of the song, Debbie walks over and sits down next to the pianist and joins him for a jazzy, four-hands romp. It was pure show biz, and Debbie, who admitted to being enormously nervous beforehand – over and over again throughout the day she said to me, “Remind me why I’m doing this!” – seemed to finally be having as much fun as the audience.

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