Stunned that Kenneth Montgomery died yesterday.
Many knew him much longer and better than I did—but I feel so lucky to have known him for a few years, to have worked and learned and sung in his circle of light for a short while; and I feel heartbroken that I didn’t have more time, that we all didn’t, that a light like his has to go out.
It won’t, of course, not really. We’ll all be carrying it on, consciously or unconsciously. I thought of him often today. I was singing Brahms, Herzogenberg, Schumann and Korngold, and I tried to sing it with the rapture, focus, rigor, and zest that he would have brought to music of such extraordinary beauty. I tried to sing it with the gentleness toward myself and those around me that he would have shown. I tried to sing it with a soft sparkle in the eye, like his.
I will never forget singing Mozart with him—starting with my audition for Don Giovanni with the Orchestra of the 18th Century, one sunny May afternoon in his living room. I had been traveling since six in the morning and arrived late after a massive train delay, breathless and frantic that I’d blown my chance. But Kenneth smiled, sat at his Broadwood, beckoned me into its crook, and began to play. My breath slowed into the humanity I heard in each phrase he played, the compassion for every emotional shift. My love for and indignation on behalf of Donna Anna found a friend and champion in him before we’d exchanged a word about her character or her story: I could hear it in his music, see it in his face. And we kept going. We read arias together for as long as it gave him pleasure.
The picture above by Jan Hoordijk is from the Schauspieldirektor/Magic Flute mashup we did in the fall of 2021. I was singing the goofy role of Madame Herz, a caricature of a prima donna. What strikes me about the photo is that I look so much like myself under his amused smile, despite the exaggeration of the character.
I have all kinds of identity questions about myself to this day. Opera singer? Concert singer? Good girl or femme fatale? Nerd or diva? Singing with him allowed me to be all things at once—a fully realized version of myself as a musician and human, whatever the proportions. I think everyone who loved him felt that way. He was so extraordinarily, boundlessly generous of spirit. For him, all good music was good music; every singer or player was a delightful mix of music-making, soul, and sense of humor; and all stories were good stories, and weren’t we just so lucky to get to tell them?
Kenneth, it was an honor to know you.