“boundless theater of the mind”: the fall 2021 concerts that could

I’m writing from my yellow couch, site of last year’s Covid stagnation, as a bunch of new regulations have just slammed hurriedly into place to protect the Netherlands against the Omicron wave. Our uncertain times aren’t over, and the rest of my winter is suddenly thrown into doubt again. So I’m feeling especially lucky that some lovely projects were able to go ahead in the fall with friends old and new. A roundup, so that I can look back later and remember:

I performed Debussy’s ravishing La damoiselle élue with Holland Upper Voices, my dear friend Drew Santini conducting, and pianist Flore Merlin—listen to the broadcast of this piece, or the full concert, on the Radio4 website.

 

Finally, some long-postponed recitals of Schubert, Rorem, Poulenc and Korngold with pianist Sam Armstrong and clarinetist Lars Wouters van den Oudenweijer. I’ve never heard Shepherd on the Rock played more beautifully than Lars and Sam together.

 

I spent a joyful and emotional week workshopping a new creation for the Dutch National Opera with Manoj Kamps and an insanely wonderful team. Fingers SO CROSSED that our performances in March 2022’s Opera Forward Festival can go ahead as planned.

 

My quartet, Damask, was finally reunited in full for the first time in eons. We performed Brahms, Schumann, Zachary Wadsworth, and John Corigliano on several concerts with pianists Flore Merlin and Anne Le Bozec. Watch our performance of Wadsworth’s Zum Schluß below.

 

 

 

I rejoined Silbersee for Stockhausen’s trippy performance-art piece Stimmung on a festival in Belgium whose shows all took place in a pop-up planetarium erected on the town square. Surreal and beautiful.

 

And finally, just before the new measures took effect in the Netherlands, I traveled to Helsinki to sing Saariaho’s mesmerizing Emilie Suite (a song cycle adapted from her opera of the same name) with the Tapiola Sinfonietta. I can’t say enough good things about this wonderful chamber orchestra. My friend Ryan was due to conduct, but had to withdraw due to illness; the brilliant Olari Elts stepped in, and the concert went off without a hitch. Although I’ve loved Saariaho’s music for a long time, this was my first chance to sing one of her orchestral scores. I hope it isn’t the last. Her shimmering timbres, operatic sense of drama and timing, and gloriously soaring vocal writing are completely delicious. We got a wonderful review in a Helsinki paper: “Saariaho’s music opens up a dazzling and dizzying view of the boundless theater of Émilie’s mind. The radiant voice of American-Dutch soprano Katharine Dain resounds with ethereal beauty and dramatic power. The soloist was at the intersection of timelessness and the limitations of time, intellectual visions and bodily passions, ecstasy and pain.”

The intersection of timelessness and the limitations of time? Yes. All of Covid has been an exploration of this bizarre liminal space, and I’m feeling right back in the middle of it. I’m feeling exceptionally lucky that this fall—with its Mozart, Debussy, and Saariaho, its recapturing of a spirit of openness and play, a nomination for an Edison, and fresh ideas for recording and theater projects in the future—gave me lots of inspiration to carry me through this next period of uncertainty, however long it lasts.

Hang in there, everyone. This isn’t forever.

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