wells of love, lasagnas of protection

There are different wells within your heart.
Some fill with each good rain,
Others are far too deep for that.

In one well
You have just a few precious cups of water,
That “love” is literally something of yourself,
It can grow as slow as a diamond
If it is lost.

Your love
Should never be offered to the mouth of a
Stranger,
Only to someone
Who has the valor and daring
To cut pieces of their soul off with a knife
Then weave them into a blanket
To protect you.

There are different wells within us.
Some fill with each good rain,
Others are far, far too deep
For that.

—Hafez

 

In late March 2021, after all the accumulations of the past year—

after mourning the people who died—

after commiserating with friends who lost loved ones—

after adjusting to the loss of most of my income—

after feeling almost unbearable gratitude for the work I managed to do in spite of everything, and the friends who supported that work—

after watching momentous political upheavals across the world on small screens—

after endless vulnerable conversations about how everything, everything, had been changed by Covid—

after making and re-making plans over and over and seeing most of them cancelled anyway—

after laboring for so long to keep my professional mask from slipping, because I knew that everyone in the performance industry was suffering more or less equally, and no one had any answers—

after all this, in late March, I cried harder than I had in the entire pandemic.READ MORE

the things I am still, a year in, trying to tell myself

Someday, you will recognize how brave you were.

Someday, you will recognize that your grief was reasonable, whether it was connected to a specific loss or not.

Someday, you will (possibly) forgive yourself for your unearned privileges—a home, a few close people, tolerance of solitude, money and food enough, health care—that others suffered and died without.

Someday, you will (possibly) forgive the politicians who dismissed the importance of your life’s work during a crisis that stripped you and most of your friends of their livelihoods even as those politicians continued to ease their lockdown boredom with stuff made by artists.

Someday, you will look back in disbelief at having been able to devote months to a single project, a single album, and you will fully know the generosity of everyone who helped make it happen, everyone who listened and shared and wrote to you to tell you what it meant to them.

Someday, you will know that what you actually spent time on this year—making that album, listening to what others were making at the same time, movies and shows and books and podcasts and radio and streamed concerts, cooking and cleaning and sleeping and bathing and walking and resting and laundry, knitting, keeping a pet rabbit and some plants alive, yoga, learning about houses in general and yours in particular, taking things apart and putting them back together mindfully, clearing away old objects and anxieties, opening your home to two friends for months, opening your heart to many friends’ fear and grief, finding ways of sharing your own fear and grief and also bearing them on your own, huddling for long cold afternoons under a crocheted blanket that was a handmade gift—mattered more than what you didn’t spend time on and felt guilty about.READ MORE

Regards sur l’Infini: Reactions

Sam and I have been overwhelmed by the response to Regards sur l’Infini, our debut disc as a duo, the project that kept us both moving forward through the hardest months of 2020. We’ve heard from many friends, and critics (see below), and critics who are now friends because they sought us out to talk about what we made, that the album has helped others bear the uncertainty of the current moment, too, and has provided beauty and inspiration. We couldn’t have asked for a more sympathetic reception for our unusual and personal program of songs.

Here is a summary of the press response to the disc: reviews, radio programs, blogs, interviews. The album also made several best-of-2020 lists: Parool, Diskotabel, and Basia Jaworski all chose it as one of their top picks of the year.

 

Reviews

 

The Guardian (Erica Jeal’s Classical Album of the Week): “Glowing, intriguing French chamber music … Katharine Dain and Sam Armstrong have used lockdown to produce a memorable, effortlessly polished album. … An extraordinarily polished and thought-through disc. At its centre is a glowing performance of Messiaen’s 1937 song cycle Poèmes pour Mi, Dain’s voice crystalline yet powerful when required, Armstrong’s piano effortlessly propulsive.”

The Times (Geoff Brown): “You could try gazing into infinity with Katharine Dain, an American soprano with scorching top notes, based in the Netherlands, and the incisive British pianist Sam Armstrong. As a virus album, Regards sur l’infini is impressively elegant and thoughtful, featuring cunningly chosen French song settings presented in palindrome form. … Penetrating artistry … perfect in every way.” (pdf)READ MORE

Concertgebouw Orchestra debut on four days’ notice

I was honored to step in this week as soprano soloist with the Concertgebouw Orchestra, one of the world’s greatest. A colleague had fallen ill just before the planned premiere of a piece by Bram Kortekaas. I was contacted on Sunday afternoon: could I learn the fourteen-minute score immediately? Would the piece be a good fit? Was my command of Dutch language good enough? I had worked once before with Antony Hermus, the wonderful conductor of this all-Dutch program, but the orchestra didn’t know me, and I know perfectly well what a risk it is for management to make a call like this at the last minute.

I looked through the score: some high Cs and Ds, some lowish notes, some quick tempi and big intervallic leaps, some lyrical passages, lots and lots and lots of Dutch. I called my friend Manoj, who promised to help with the text. Manageable. I took a deep breath and responded: Yes, I can do it.

The next few days were a blur.READ MORE

“merciless beauty”

Our album is out!! Regards sur l’Infini was officially born on November 27th, 2020. Sam and I performed a small CD release concert in the gorgeous concert hall in Nijmegen, the same space where we recorded, that night, and we are overwhelmed by the positive response to the disc so far.

The Guardian chose Regards sur l’Infini as their classical pick of the week: “a memorable, effortlessly polished album.”

MusicWeb International has given us a sublime review and one of their coveted “Recommended” labels.

Beautifully recorded, exquisitely performed. … Katharine Dain is perfection itself. Her tone is light but not insubstantial, flexible, expressive and colourful, with a natural vibrato that you can listen to forever. Sam Armstrong’s accompaniment is sensitive and equally expressively communicative, an ideal mirror to Dain’s voice. … A superbly curated programme of French music. … This is the kind of recording that reminds us that there is not only beauty in melancholy, but also a wealth of inspiration.

—Dominy Clements, MusicWeb International, 25 November 2020

READ MORE

Ruth Falcon, 1942-2020

I was shaken to learn last night that soprano and legendary teacher Ruth Falcon has died.

I was lucky to study with Ruth at Mannes for three years. She was an exacting technician, a force of nature, someone who could be both boundlessly generous and terribly difficult. Although we haven’t been close in many years, it’s hard to believe she’s gone.

I remember our first lesson. I had been accepted to Mannes and was trying to decide on a teacher. Ruth worked me hard for an hour; I felt things unlock that had never been free. The feeling was physical and thrilling, and the resulting sound was one I had never heard come from my own body before, unstable, full of color. After I breathlessly thanked her at the end of the lesson, she told me with satisfaction that she had heard something teachable in my high C during my Mannes audition. Nothing else was good yet, she hastened to add, but we could build down from that pitch. It was my first squirming encounter with her notorious directness, but the thing was, we DID build down from there. In the next year or two especially, she gave me technical tools I am still using.READ MORE

Mahler, Berg, and Schubert with Grammy-winning Ludwig

Most of my concerts this spring, summer, and fall were cancelled. But not this one, which went off last week without a hitch, and thank goodness, because it was a complete pleasure from start to finish. Scroll down to listen to our Mahler and Schubert.

Ludwig is a Dutch chamber orchestra that almost exclusively plays without conductor. (A notable exception is whenever they work with Barbara Hannigan, who sings and conducts; their 2018 album Crazy Girl won a Grammy.) I’ve sung with them a few times before, but this project felt extra-special. It was my first time singing Mahler’s Fourth Symphony, a piece on my wish list for the longest time; it was in TivoliVredenburg, a concert hall in Utrecht that feels like home, for an actual (distanced) audience; and it was one of only a few live performances I’ve gotten to do lately, and perhaps the last for a while. The program also included three of Alban Berg’s luscious Seven Early Songs and a ghostly, stunning arrangement of Schubert’s Nacht und Träume.

But back to the Mahler, which felt almost unbearably poignant under the circumstances.READ MORE

Regards sur l’Infini: Back Story

It’s been a rocky few months for the performing arts, which makes it all the more strange and wonderful to announce my own news: Sam Armstrong and I are making an album.

Sam and I been close friends and collaborators for a long time, but we’ve never recorded together. Now, finally, we’re planning a disc of French songs, titled “Regards sur l’Infini” after a gorgeous early song by Dutilleux. The program is a compact, symmetrical meditation on restlessness and longing, including two complete cycles (Messiaen Poèmes pour Mi, Debussy Proses lyriques) and songs by Claire Delbos, Dutilleux, and Saariaho. We will record in the second week of August in Nijmegen’s stunning Concertgebouw de Vereeniging. Frerik de Jong will be at the helm, and the disc will be released on 7 Mountain Records in November of 2020.

But wait! How did this project evade the jaws of the pandemic?

It didn’t. “Regards sur l’Infini” will be a direct result of the Covid-19 lockdown. Like most performers, I’ve been virtually unemployed since mid-March; although some work is flickering back to life, the industry is still in major trouble. But meanwhile, I’ve been quarantining with a pianist. We’ve been making music together at home all along—at first just to cope with the uncertainty and loss, and later with a defined goal. I’m so glad that the album will serve as a permanent record of this work: a document of deep thought and assimilation and trust, a personal silver lining to a global catastrophe.

READ MORE

Höchste Lust: music as the opposite of social distancing

it is a necessity to have a plan, a manifesto, an alternative. it’s a question of life and death for our species. as a musician i feel i can suggest the musical poetic angle which is that after tragedies one has to invent a new world, knit it or embroider, make it up. it’s not gonna be given to you because you deserve it, it doesn’t work that way. you have to imagine something that doesn’t exist and dig a cave into the future and demand space. it’s a territorial hope affair. at the time, that digging is utopian but in the future it will become your reality.

—Björk

 

Oh, hi. Weren’t we just chatting? Was it really only last month that I was here on the blog, smugly linking to positive reviews and broadcasts, projects I had in the pipeline? Was it really just a few weeks ago that my first performances were canceled due to the rapid spread of COVID-19 across Europe, and I was hoping (despite more emails and apologies coming in every day) that the loss might be limited to my March and April gigs?

… Well. Here we are, in a different reality. So many people are losing so much, so quickly. I am currently healthy, in a well-functioning country, riding out the uncertainty in a comfortable house with my husband and two close friends (one of whom is a wonderful pianist, so I can even carry on with music at home). I feel fervently grateful for my good luck, and guilty for being so lucky when others aren’t. I don’t know how to be adequately grateful for the doctors and nurses risking themselves every day to care for sick people, or for the public-health folks and epidemiologists who are working to lessen the blow around the world. The scale of it all is staggering.READ MORE

Wagner & van Veldhuizen with the NSO

I’m so grateful to have been involved in the 2020 Nederlands Studenten Orkest tour of a concert program fittingly titled “Extase,” which closed Sunday night to massive fervor in the Grote Zaal of Amsterdam’s Concertgebouw. The orchestra (made up of all university students, approximate ages 18-26, led by Manoj Kamps) worked for four weeks, I for three, with an intensive rehearsal period followed by 13 concerts in 15 days. It was exhausting, it was massively stimulating, and it was incredibly fun. It was my first time singing Wagner, the Liebestod from Tristan und Isolde; the kids of the orchestra made that a safer, more exploratory, more joyful experience than it might have been in another context. (I’m definitely a lyric soprano, not a dramatic or Wagnerian voice, but with this group, and this conductor, I didn’t have to worry about balance or Fach or long-term implications: I could just focus on making the most sublime, rapturous music I could, with everyone in full support.Judge for yourself below, where I’ve posted the recording, if you’d like.) And we built an exciting new piece from scratch: Rick van Veldhuizen’s unde imber et ignes, which I loved discovering and singing. Keep your eyes on his name, everyone—Rick is a star.

READ MORE

Reinbert de Leeuw, 1938-2020

The world is a less vibrant place today.

The last time I saw Reinbert was nearly a year ago, spring, a jump-in—Berg and Zemlinsky songs in gorgeous chamber arrangements he had made. I had enough notice that I could go to his house in Amsterdam on a sunny April day to go through the music. I had been cramming at home and was quaking in my boots when I arrived, because I was barely past the sight-reading stage with some of the songs, and how could I hope to please him, who knew so much more than I did?

I should have known better, but then I only worked with him a few times. He welcomed me in, made me a coffee, sat in his favorite chair in the sun, and then we didn’t rehearse at all—he talked about the music and the texts for an hour or two with such love, such depth of understanding, and such wonder and humor. He played me recordings and hummed and conducted along, his eyes sparkling at particularly beautiful harmonic shifts. He told me stories. He could not have been more generous. It wasn’t only generosity—this was also of course the most useful preparation together, because everything started from his fierce, uncompromising, entirely romantic commitment to the material, and this was what he cared that I absorb in our short time together, more than musical details, which I could manage on my own. I won’t ever forget that concert, or his spirit, although so many knew him much more deeply and longer than I did.

Rest well, Maestro.

The Guardian thinks I’m “worth discovering!”

My album of Clara Schumann and Rhian Samuel songs (with bass-baritone Paul Carey Jones and pianist Jocelyn Freeman) got a short mention in the Guardian. It’s a tiny review, but I’ll take it, especially as it allowed me to see my name in the Guardian’s instantly-recognizable typeface for the first time, which was maybe more of a thrill than the words themselves.

“There’s more by Samuel on the album Song Lied Cân (Ty Cerdd). This small Welsh label, doing quietly impressive work, has paired her songs with works by Clara Schumann, performed by Katharine Dain (soprano), Paul Carey Jones (baritone) and Jocelyn Freeman (piano). All worth discovering.” —Fiona Maddocks, The Guardian, 19 January 2020

thoughts on an itinerant Thanksgiving

Happy Thanksgiving from me, an immigrant.

Or am I an expat? There’s a huge difference in connotation between those two words. The word “expat” usually implies a temporary state: a state of privileged displacement for a period of months or years, a chosen state of non-integration. Expats might have gone abroad for an interesting job; expats don’t always bother to learn the local language; expats only hang out with other expats. Some people start off thinking of themselves as expats but stay long-term. Some who thought they were moving permanently actually find the transition to a new place too difficult, and return. The word “immigrant” is often used negatively, unfortunately, to otherize people who flee dangerous or hopeless circumstances and try to improve their lives somewhere else.

I’ve lived in the Netherlands for more than seven years, and I’ve gone through multiple bureaucratic processes at the IND (Immigratie- en Naturalisatie-Dienst, the Dutch agency that processes foreigners trying to settle in the Netherlands). I’m an immigrant in the eyes of the law. I wasn’t forced out of my home country by oppression or war or danger, thank goodness, but I am originally American, and now I live in the Netherlands, and I plan to stay. I applied for dual citizenship when that became possible, and now I am “Dutch-American soprano Katharine Dain,” a phrase I put at the beginning of my bio to indicate both my hireability throughout the EU as well as an aspect of my identity. Artists are sometimes put idealistically in a different category—citizens of the world, drawing inspiration from everywhere, etc.—but whether we study abroad (as I did in London from 2004-06) or permanently relocate (as I now have), we’re still immigrants, or expats. We still submit our paperwork at the IND like every asylum seeker. We still grapple with feelings of cultural displacement, loss, and loneliness, and never more so than around the holidays.READ MORE

Boccherini and Mendelssohn in Brussels

In a very last-minute change, I will be replacing the Spanish soprano Nuria Rial tonight in a concert presented by Bozar Brussels with the Auryn Quartet and bassist James Munro. The repertoire is Boccherini’s lovely Stabat Mater for soprano and strings, as well as music by Bach and Mendelssohn. I wish Nuria a speedy recovery and am grateful to my new colleagues for their generosity and beautiful playing in our rehearsal today.

On the early trip down from Rotterdam this morning, I was also treated to a stunning winterscape from the train window. Perk!

great press for Don Giovanni

I’ve been hugely enjoying singing Donna Anna with the Orchestra of the 18th Century under Kenneth Montgomery, a semi-staged production that is touring the Netherlands and Belgium in October. With a dream cast and a group of players that take as much interest in the storytelling as the singers, I’m finding new colors and possibilities in the piece in every performance. The press has been very positive.

“Donna Anna … was in handen van Katharine Dain, een heel fraai optreden. Haar twee grote aria’s ‘Don Ottavio, son morta!’ en ‘Crudele Non mi dir… bell’idol mio’ waren van grote klasse; verrassend, met een paar extra coloraturen.” (“Donna Anna was sung by Katharine Dain, in a very fine performance. Her two major arias ‘Don Ottavio, son morta!’ and ‘Crudele … Non mi dir’ were first-class, surprising with extra coloratura.”) –Place de l’Opera

“Bij de dames overtuigde vooral de sopraan Katharine Dain als een lyrische en beheerste Donna Anna, het enige adellijke slachtoffer van Don Giovanni.” (“Of the women, the soprano Katharine Dain was especially convincing as a lyrical and controlled Donna Anna, Don Giovanni’s only victim of the nobility.”) –OpusKlassiek

“Bij de zangers zijn de uitblinkers … de sopraan Katharine Dain als Donna Anna, die haar krachten spaart voor de
schitterende aria Non mi dir…” (“Outstanding among the singers … soprano Katharine Dain as Donna Anna, who kept her strength for the beautiful aria ‘Non mi dir…'”) —Het Parool

“Du côté des femmes, l’américaine Katharine Dain domine avec beaucoup d’aisance les aspérités de Donna Anna, et impose un phrasé des plus expressifs.” (“Among the women, Katharine Dain gracefully smoothed Donna Anna’s rough edges with most expressive phrasing.”) —Opera Online

“Donna Anna, de jonge vrouw die zich niet laat pakken, krijgt het vuur in de keel van sopraan Katharine Dain.” (“Donna Anna, the young woman who doesn’t let herself be caught, blazes with fire in the throat of soprano Katharine Dain.”) –Volkskrant

“magnifiek … kippenvel” (“magnificent … goosebumps”) –Trouw

“Sopraan Katharine Dain bracht een mooie kordate Donna Anna…” (“Soprano Katharine Dain was a beautifully resolute Donna Anna…”) –Opera Gazet