Texas Christian University’s two-day Festival of American Song, which took place last weekend at PepsiCo Recital Hall, brought attention to an overlooked genre of music. Song recitals have almost vanished in the past few decades, and programs such as this one are fueling their resurgence.
The festival’s focus on songs by American composers, struggling for performances, makes these concerts doubly valuable.
The festival was curated by Shields-Collins Bray, artistic adviser at the Cliburn Foundation, in cooperation with TCU faculty member and soprano Angela Turner Wilson. The pair brought in composer Ricky Ian Gordon and featured his music.
The recent world premieres of two of Gordon’s operas suddenly shined an international spotlight on him; his innovative fusion of musical theater and opera puts him at the pinnacle of the composers of our generation.
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TCU assembled an impressive roster of students and veterans who brought Gordon’s songs to life Saturday. Bray was at the piano.
Wilson alone carried Sunday’s program, which included songs of other composers such as Ned Rorem and Stephen Sondheim. Sunday also featured the world premiere of Meteors, a marvelous song by Gordon, commissioned for the occasion.
So, the elements for a memorable festival were in place — great music and excellent performers. Unfortunately, the result was less than the sum of its parts.
Saturday, each unannounced singer silently took the stage to sing one of Gordon’s unannounced songs. The scant program offered the name of the song and the singer — no context or even the author of the words. All the while, a superfluous Gordon sat in the audience; it would have been useful and engaging to hear his thoughts on the works, but the opportunity slipped away.
On Sunday, things were better. Gordon joined Bray on the stage to talk about his life and career. His illuminations enhanced the enjoyment of Wilson’s superb performances that followed.