On Thursday, April 6 from noon to 1:00 pm, the series will present a free concert in the Auditorium featuring soprano Loralee Songer with pianist Perry Mears. The duo will present a program of cabaret songs by Benjamin Britten, Arnold Schoenberg, and still-living composers William Bolcom and Dominick Argento.
A gift from an anonymous friends of the series has helped to make this concert possible.
Cabaret, from a French word for nightclub, is a form of musical entertainment that gained popularity throughout the 19th century in Europe and into the beginning of the 20th century in the United States. “We could think French, we could think New York,” said Songer, who is developing a repertoire of cabaret songs.
Though Songer said she is often called on to sing operatic roles, she loves the intimacy of performing art-song recitals. “I like to be able to see people and communicate that way,” she said, pointing out that cabaret is similar. She said it was meant to be sung in small rooms to an up-close audience. But unlike at most art-song concerts, cabaret’s listeners are usually dining or drinking.
Songer doesn’t consider herself a lifelong cabaret specialist, but rather came upon the genre organically. “I started collecting music and sort of stumbled on a theme,” she said. “It’s a really fun program.”
Composer William Bolcom won the Pulitzer Prize for music in 1988 and is famous for writing new cabaret songs. She said she met him at a training festival, and was able to work and even perform with him on his music.
Thursday, Songer and Mears will perform Bolcom’s “Over the Piano” and a set of songs called “Minicabs”. “Minicabs” lasts about five minutes and contains eleven very short songs. “They’re very humorous and clever,” said Songer. A big part of cabaret’s entertainment value is in the humor.
Though Songer said there are a lot of different kinds of humor in Bolcom’s music, the short format of the songs in “Minicabs” lends itself to a simple type. “It’s not hard to get the joke,” she said. “Over the Piano” leans perhaps more toward burlesque, she said, adding “It’s nightclub-appropriate.”
Arnold Schoenberg, who lived during cabaret’s turn-of-the-century golden age, was known for being a pioneer in serial music. Serial music is composed based on strict mathematical patterns and rules that were very different from what came before.
Songer said those who know Schoenberg’s serial works may get a little bit of a surprise when they hear his cabaret songs. She and Mears will perform three from his song cycle, “Brettl-Lieder”. Songer said she finds these enjoyable, melodic, and very much tonal. “I think you expect something different,” she said.
The duo will close the program with three songs from still-living composer Dominick Argento’s “Cabaret Songs”. Argento was also a Pulitzer prizewinner.
In 2014, Songer was a vocal fellow at the Tanglewood Music Center and was a 2013 Stern Fellow at SongFest. Roman & Littlefield recently published her book, “Songs of the Second Viennese School: A Performer’s Guide to Selected Vocal Works.” She is on the music faculty at Coe College in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, and can be found online at www.loraleesonger.com.
Mears’ recent performances include recitals at the University of Alabama with Songer, at Sneed State College with the Poplar Wind Trio, and in Memphis with the Luna Nova ensemble. Previously on the faculty at Lee University, he has also been on the musical staff of the Schumann Liederfest in Zwickau, Germany, and Ash Lawn Festival Opera. He currently resides in Davenport, Iowa and serves as the music director for St. Peter’s Episcopal Church Bettendorf.