No one present at the gala that marked the birth of The Marilyn Horne Foundation will ever forget that blessed event. On a bone-chilling winter afternoon in January 1994, Carnegie Hall was the warmest spot in town. A dazzling array of singers and pianists assembled to pay tribute to the art of song, and to their cherished friend and colleague Marilyn Horne, who had timed the event to coincide with her 60th birthday.
Coming full circle, the Foundation, dedicated to the preservation of the vocal recital, brings its annual festival The Song Continues to Carnegie Hall this January and February, presenting programs in all three auditoriums: recitals in Weill Recital Hall, master classes and discussion forums in Zankel Hall, and another star-studded gala in Stern Auditorium, where it all began ten years ago. The roster for this year's gala, scheduled for February 1, includes luminaries from the world of opera and recital (Isabel Bayrakdarian, Stephanie Blythe, Olga Borodina, David Daniels, Denyce Graves, Ben Heppner, Bejun Mehta, Thomas Quasthoff, Twyla J. Robinson, and Frederica von Stade); Broadway legends Barbara Cook, Marvin Hamlisch, and Audra McDonald; and celebrated pianists Warren Jones, Martin Katz, and Lang Lang.
The new partnership between The Marilyn Horne Foundation and Carnegie Hall has special resonance for the legendary mezzo-soprano. "My personal relationship with Carnegie Hall goes back to my New York debut in 1961," Horne recalls warmly. "Joan Sutherland and I did a concert version of Bellini's Beatrice di Tenda at Town Hall, but then there was such a demand for tickets that the American Opera Society organized another performance at Carnegie Hall. Since that time, I've sung numerous concerts and recitals here; I would imagine it's getting up to between 75 and 100. I feel a real affection for the Hall, it's been a big part of my life." A member of the Board of Trustees of Carnegie Hall for several years, Horne has been a staunch advocate for the presence of singers in the new Zankel Hall. At 644 seats, "it's the ideal size for vocal recitals," she says, "just what we need in New York."
The inspiration for The Marilyn Horne Foundation came from the singer's personal experience. In her view, "It was give-back time for the great life I've had in music. I was thinking, Where should I go with this? And I kept coming back to how many recitals I had sung and how much I loved them. Opera was well taken care of, but recitals were really on the wane." Enter The Marilyn Horne Foundation, whose stated mission is to support, encourage, and preserve the art of the vocal recital. To date, the MHF has presented more than 56 young artists in 168 recitals and 396 educational programs reaching nearly 32,000 students in 22 states. Despite these impressive statistics, Horne remains only cautiously optimistic. "At the time I established the Foundation, I named vocal recitals 'an endangered species'‹and I think they still are." To address these concerns, the MHF is sponsoring a public seminar titled The Song Recital‹Alive and Well? to be held in Zankel Hall, on January 30, at 3:00 p.m. The eminent vocal coach and pianist Brian Zeger will moderate, and the panel will include Horne, Kenneth C. Fischer of the University of Michigan, Martin Katz, and artist representative Janice Mayer.
Many illustrious artists have shown support for the Foundation by conducting master classes for The Song Continues. This year, the young singers chosen to participate in the master classes will benefit from the guidance of three master singers: Deborah Voigt (on January 28), Thomas Hampson (on January 29), and Horne herself (on January 31). All three events will take place at 3:00 p.m. in Zankel Hall. According to Horne, master classes have grown in popularity over the years. "I like to run my classes pretty much like I run a lesson," she says, "but you can't deny that the audience is there. So you do direct things to them, share your knowledge with the public, and I think that's good."
The need for classical performers to reach out to audiences is a crucial component of Horne's esthetic vision. "I feel that singers should be able to talk about the songs they are singing," she says. "It brings the audience to them immediately." Another method for improving communication between performer and audience has been the introduction of supertitles. "We started supertitles for recitals," she notes proudly. "When the technology became available, I said, 'We've got to do it, and I want us to be in the forefront.' Song singing is all about the words! I knew that if we could get titles up there, it would make a difference, and it has." This year's The Song Continues includes, for the first time, two 'mini-recitals,' spotlighting exciting young singers chosen by the MHF. Both recitals will take place at Weill Recital Hall, and both will feature supertitle translations of the song texts. The first is on January 28, at 5:30 p.m., with Barbara Quintiliani, soprano, and Bruce Sledge, tenor; the second is on January 30, at 5:30 p.m., and presents Marie Lenormand, mezzo-soprano, and Joshua Hopkins, baritone.
Music lovers wishing to learn more about Marilyn Horne will be in for a treat when the diva appears in conversation with Ara Guzelimian on January 29 at 7:30 p.m., at Weill Recital Hall. Given her still-active performing career (she has recently begun a series of joint concerts with Barbara Cook), her hectic teaching schedule, and her responsibilities as head of the Vocal Department at the Music Academy of the West in Santa Barbara, California, Horne will no doubt have much to talk about. Thanks to her untiring efforts on behalf of young singers and the art of the vocal recital, The Marilyn Horne Foundation will give everyone something to sing about this winter at Carnegie Hall.
Allan Altman is a frequent contributor to Opera News and other musical publications, and has written liner notes for numerous videos and compact discs on the VAI label.