Contemplations From National Sawdust

S1 E1 | FULL EPISODE

21c Liederabend Opus Worldwide

Co-curated by Paola Prestini and Beth Morrison, 21c Liederabend unites a diverse collective of women and top-flight talent. Featuring works by Paola Prestini, Amyra León, Holland Andrews, Theodosia Roussos, Diana Syrse and Lido Pimienta.

AIRED: June 27, 2021 | 1:13:45
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TRANSCRIPT

♪♪

♪♪

So, today launches "Contemplations,"

and it felt very essential to me

to really launch this retrospective

actually looking forward

and there's nobody more perfect in my mind

to look forward with than you.

One of the things that I think is really exciting about hosting

this digital, you know, rendition of the Liederabend is

that it's actually Volume Four,

and there's been three volumes before that.

The first one we did was at Galapagos. Yes.

The first one was at Galapagos, and this four-hour extravaganza

because we're so overly ambitious. Yep.

We did a three-night at the Kitchen,

and then we did a two-night at BAM. Right.

And then we did Disney Hall with the LA Phil out in Los Angeles. Yeah.

So, there's been four volumes and this volume.

And then also, this summer,

we're doing a version for Music Academy of the West,

which will also be really thrilling.

You know, now, where we stand, you know, in this pandemic is

we've learned so much about digital form, right?

And so, what can we learn from,

incorporate into this new Opus Worldwide? Yeah.

We have the most unbelievable lineup of women

and nonbinary composers,

both backgrounds as well as genres and incredible

filmmakers that are also joining them.

We have really 12 whole premieres.

Most of them are actually performing their work as well.

And so, it's a really extraordinary group of

sort of total artists making these works.

It's such a huge pleasure to be here today with two people

I admire greatly.

Beth Morrison, who's been a longtime partner of mine

in many different ways, and the brilliant Renee Fleming.

Renee, you know that for Beth and I,

you've both been a fairy godmother of sorts.

You know, the world's reigning diva,

but also a heart of gold who's so willing to put themselves

forward in terms of advice and kindness,

and we're so grateful to have you with us today

talking a little bit about the evolution of the song form.

I'm so happy to be here.

I am such a fan of both of you, and I tell everybody, really,

that I meet in the business how extraordinary you both are,

and I'm not surprised you're both women, and you know,

it's sort of -- ask a busy person to do something,

both of you will get it done.

I'm a big fan.

I mean, how blessed are we to talk to you, the reigning diva,

as Paola said, about song, and we'd love to hear your thoughts

on the evolution of the art song recital,

the changes you see happening in the vocal fields,

both in the song recital formats

and in the Opera sphere.

Performers and young artists are finding ways of making recital

a very personal experience for the audience.

So, whether it's because you're an activist and you care about

social justice or, you know, something that you feel strongly

about and can fold in traditional song literature

with new music or with other genres, it becomes, then,

kind of a statement in a way, and that's refreshing.

I mean, I think that artists and young artists have

an opportunity to really reinvent the art of song,

adding visual elements, adding media,

certainly storytelling, poetry, whatever it is, photographs,

to make it somehow more accessible

and more interesting to the public.

For some of these young singers and composers and creators,

what message can we give them as they're entering this

complex time, and how can they stitch together a reality in

this moment of vast unknown?

Young people have an opportunity to create platforms that express

these things that are important to them, and song, I think,

is a great way to do it, because it is a small form.

It is a form in which you, a singer and a composer,

could collaborate.

People are now co-writing things,

so that's the kind of environment we're in today.

[ Singing Opera ]

And so, 21c Liederabend is

actually launching "Contemplations,"

and I'm wondering if you can tell

a little bit about the seed of this journey.

Gosh, this goes back to 2009,

when we did our first 21c Liederabend together,

and 21c Liederabend really came

as an idea to bring the Liederabend,

which literally means "Song Night" --

we would get together every month as singers

and sing together

and it comes from the Schubert days of Schubertiades, salons,

of coming together and singing together,

really about a community and feeling community.

And so, I felt that -- I launched BMP in 2006,

and this idea of the Liederabend

didn't exist in the professional realm,

and even just the word "Liederabend," "Song Night"

didn't exist, and I missed it, you know?

And I just thought, "Well, wow, wouldn't it be fun if we kind of

brought it into the professional world?"

We had just met then in 2009,

and you were doing these incredible things with

Visionintoart, with, like, all these amazing visual things that

come into contemporary art-making, right?

And we were both interesting in marrying the visual

with the sonic.

We have expressions from Mexico to Greece. Yeah.

To Colombia. Colombia, to right here on our home turf.

Even throughout this extraordinarily

complicated year, you've managed to continue pushing forward,

and I want to ask you, you know,

where do you think this from will continue to progress?

What are you excited about?

It's been such a struggle and such a difficult moment for

artists and for everyone, but it has forced creativity in a way

that has hopefully, I think, lasting impact on the industry.

Yeah.

Particularly, you know, the opera industry,

which I think has needed so much to reinvent itself.

I feel it really has

and I'm excited to see the lasting impact on that.

It's been such a beautiful thing to collaborate

with this set of collaborators,

and you know, on a personal basis,

I actually got into composing by playing piano and singing,

but I never really sing, and because this piece is

so personal to both of us, I decided that for once,

I would actually shadow her at the beginning

and the end of the piece.

And so, that was very meaningful because I got to do something

that, you know -- that felt right for this piece.

For me, song has always been an anchor and a way to reflect

upon my own experiences and a place to kind of

put my emotions.

We've been compiling the visuals to mirror this baroque,

extravagant, magic, realist, but personal, intimate

yet frenetic world.

I remember having this sensation

when I heard the entire piece together,

the music, the words, this incredible wave of synesthesia,

which I have when I read literature,

but this experience was all-encompassing,

and so I think we've been trying to translate that into visuals.

Through the process of animating this, it's incredibly slow,

and we're doing a chunk of the animation

that is lip-synced.

So, paintings of mouths and eyes

and features that correlate to the music.

So, the technical process of lining that up is quite slow,

and it requires a lot of repetitive listening to segments

of the piece.

But it's about relationships.

It's about vulnerability,

and a lot of things that have been kind of at the core of

my own work for a long time.

So, it feels like -- I feel quite lucky to be matched with

this creative team.

I have been doing a lot of oral history work as of late,

where I am taking people's first-hand accounts of

their life and others' lives and then trying to fashion them

into a lyrical content, and so this was really

a remarkable opportunity to take ideas from both of them,

synthesize them, and then add fictional elements and create

this portrait that feels like all of us.

♪ Waiting for you

♪ Waiting for you

♪ Waiting for you

♪ Is a pastime

♪ I've mastered

♪ Blown around

♪ Rootless

♪ All haphazard somersaults

♪ I am a tumbleweed

♪♪

♪ I am your tumbling weed

♪♪

♪ Waiting for you

♪ My bag is full

♪ That's the heaviness

♪ The weight of it

♪ I've packed what might help you remember ♪

♪ Items I'm sure I'll need

♪ When you choose to return

♪ When I forget what I'm waiting for ♪

♪ What I've packed

♪ I hope it's enough

♪ Enough

♪ The sky quietly changes

♪ Changes

♪ Changes

♪ The sky quietly changes

♪ Changes

♪ Changes

♪♪

♪ The only thing I hear

♪ The only thing I hear

♪ The only thing I hear

♪ Is the sound of bees

♪ Sound of bees

♪♪

♪ Clinking against the glass of a jar ♪

[ Buzzing ]

♪ Against the glass of a jar

♪ You trapped them skillfully

♪ You trapped them skillfully

♪ You trapped them skillfully

♪ The furious ones, the furious ones ♪

♪ The furious ones, the furious ones ♪

♪ The furious ones, the furious ones, the furious ones ♪

♪ The furious ones, the furious ones ♪

♪ The furious ones

♪♪

♪ You trapped them skillfully

♪ The ones caught in my stomach ♪

♪ The ones caught in my stomach ♪

♪ The ones caught in my stomach ♪

♪ Stomach

♪ Packed

♪ Packed

♪ Packed

♪ A warped record

♪ Lionel Ritchie's face

♪ A warped record

♪ Lionel Ritchie's face

♪ The grooves traced a thousand times ♪

♪ By a needle he'd place

♪ Say you

♪ Say me

♪ Say you, say me

♪ Say it together

♪♪

♪ We danced

♪ My toes on yours

♪ Over and over and over

♪ Say you

♪ Say me

♪ See you

♪ See me

♪ Together

♪ Together

♪ Together

♪ Together

♪ Together

♪ Together

♪ Together

♪ Together

♪ Packed

♪ Packed

♪ Packed

♪♪

♪♪

♪♪

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[ Buzzing ]

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This song is about fears

and about anxiety and about uncertainty

and what we can do in order to --

to confront these fears in our lives.

It also talks about the stories of leaving,

of people that are coming into one place and then leaving,

or even people that have a connection with other people

and the question of what do you leave behind.

So, I thought also about this shadow

of the things you do

and what you can leave behind in every step you take.

It was my first video music project,

so I was really excited

to think about how putting images onto a composition.

I really fell in love with the music,

and so the idea was also to follow the music,

but to be in kind of a dialogue with Diana.

"The Story of Leaving" was from the beginning a story of women

and also the story of movement in our life,

like how we are keeping moving into our life,

from the dark to the light to the dark to the light.

And I created a character,

a kind of modern witch, with the image of Diana.

And also, we can see a women riding a bike,

trying to escape from the city, to go to nature,

following the instruments.

And I choose also a really special process,

because I created a program

which is transforming the shots frame by frame,

like thousands and thousands of frames.

So, it's a kind of experimental, generative video.

♪♪

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♪ You are still wondering what to do with your life ♪

♪ You are still playing the game they left behind ♪

♪ Don't stay trapped in the illusion of time ♪

♪ Shut your eyes, your senses, free your mind ♪

♪ Let's forget that we all are apart ♪

♪ That what we do will affect everyone ♪

♪ It seems there is no exit, it's already planned ♪

♪ They are waiting for you to find a better way of life ♪

[ Vocalizing ]

♪♪

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♪ What you do now is what will remain ♪

♪ Keep constructing, look beyond the pain ♪

♪ So much money in one hand, makes you sad ♪

♪ We are eating from the same big plate, you know that ♪

♪♪

♪♪

♪ Historia

♪ Del partir

♪♪

[ Vocalizes ]

♪ Partir

♪♪

"Mana Sky" honestly

was cultivated from a space

of wanting to create something that allowed

all who experience it, whether it is the visual

or the listening,

to be invited and ignited to reflect on their own person

and to tickle their senses, you know?

And so, sonically, the score really goes through a journey,

following the piano as the spine,

which is the first thing that came to life for this piece.

You know, the choice to not do a live video

and to really make it a film rather than a live performance

was, again, out of the deep desire

to be able to tickle people beyond the moment.

I would say that the main inspiration for "Mana Sky"

is to invite and ignite the people who experience it,

to feel safe in reckoning.

Life is beautiful and terrifying.

The alignment and the synchronicities between it

was so magical that it was almost indescribable.

Like she was saying,

the parts that were planned, the choreographed parts,

it was absolutely beautiful and so minimalistic,

but they're so strong and so vibrant,

and they're so dominatingly there

that you can't do anything but be there with the movement, too.

It was fun to keep, like, an eye open,

like, on the environment around me,

to just kind of, like, see things.

And obviously, Amyra'd be, like, kind of pointing things out,

like, left and right and stuff,

like, "Oh," like, little things you're seeing or something.

And then just trying to kind of, like, find, like,

the best lighting for it,

'cause everything was naturally lit on this piece,

So it was just either, like, finding, like, the best lighting

or the best compositions to kind of, like, tell the story.

Hearing, like, her vision just come to life

through different things and getting so excited

how things just happened to fall into place

has been so amazing

and just treating the score like a film score, really,

and, you know, just really telling the story of the visuals

has been really beautiful, as well.

[ Birds chirping ]

♪♪

[ Whistling, clicking ]

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♪ Cor

♪ Cor

♪ Cor

♪♪

♪ Memory

♪ Memory

♪ Memory

[ Vocalizing ]

♪♪

♪ Time, malleable like water

♪ Like mana from the sky

♪ Freedom is not a hope, but a memory inside ♪

♪ A memory inside you

♪♪

[ Vocalizing ]

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♪ Memory, memory

♪ Memory

♪ A memory inside

♪♪

♪ A memory inside

♪ A memory inside

[ Vocalizing ]

♪♪

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♪ I know that there exists a place ♪

♪ Where Eden rests and bears the face ♪

♪ Of days long gone and years to come ♪

♪ Tell me of

♪ Tomorrow

♪ Tell me

♪ Of

♪ Tomorrow

♪♪

♪ Beneath the concrete there is soil ♪

♪ Haunted, haunted

♪ Singing to a sky it has never seen ♪

♪ Trusting

♪ Haunted

♪ In what

♪ One cannot see

[ Car engine starts ]

♪ Freedom

♪ A memory inside you

♪ Breathes

♪ A memory inside you

♪ Breathes

♪ Freedom

♪♪

♪ A memory inside you

♪ Breathes

♪♪

♪ A memory inside you

♪ Breathes

♪♪

♪ A memory inside

♪ Tell me of the dream you had

♪♪

♪ Before the fog got in your head ♪

♪♪

♪♪

♪ I thought about my vertebrae ♪

♪ The space between them haunts me ♪

♪♪

♪ I don't know if I will know the day ♪

♪ That freedom knows my

♪ Name

♪ A memory inside you

♪ Breathes

♪ Inside you breathes

♪ A memory inside

♪ You breathes

[ Vocalizing ]

♪♪

♪♪

♪ Memory has had its way with me ♪

♪♪

♪ There's so much I left unsaid ♪

♪ Because I was afraid of the sound of my own voice ♪

♪ I dun shook the fear into a tangible mess ♪

♪ And I laid in it for hours

♪ Until the sun rose on my skin ♪

♪ Begging me

♪ To let myself dream again

♪ Tell me of tomorrow

♪ Just before the dawn

♪ Will I see the morning come?

♪ A memory inside you

♪ Breathes

♪ A memory inside you

♪ Breathes

♪♪

[ Howling ]

♪♪

[ Chuckles ]

[ Howling ]

♪ If I should die

♪ Before I wake

♪ I

♪ Pray

♪ The Lord

♪ My

♪ Soul to take

♪ A memory

♪ Inside you

♪ Breathes

♪♪

[ Vocalizing ]

♪♪

♪ Do you

♪ See

♪ The river coming to a bend?

♪♪

[ Vocalizing ]

♪♪

♪♪

♪ A memory inside

♪ You

♪ Breathes

♪♪

[ Tapping ]

[ Breathes deeply ]

"Polymnia" is written in honor of my mother, Paula,

and my great-grandmother Polymnia,

whom she was named after.

And when my mother passed away a couple years ago,

it was this huge, immense loss for me

that I experienced. And in the wake of that,

I wanted to know more about my great-grandmother.

So I went to Astoria, where my mom's family's from,

and I found this box of

things that were my great-grandmother's.

And she had all these poems there

and all these old photos that I hadn't seen before

and even, like, transcripts

of my grandmother telling the story

of how my great-grandmother came here.

These songs just poured out of me,

and I really felt like

I was very connected to my ancestors in that moment.

I think the material itself already evoked,

like, a visceral, kind of, like, emotional quality to me,

but then also hearing, like, how it came about,

the genesis of the story,

really informed my approach to the whole visual.

The texture of, like, how we treated the video

really came from the first impression

of listening to the songs.

I know. It was so amazing

to see, like, even when you were just conceiving

of the projections and film,

it was really amazing,

because I felt like you were able to make a visual

of how I felt

and of, like, this idea of memory

and that we're told these stories about our families

that we can only imagine, and it's all a little bit hazy.

So, I do think it's very powerful

to bring together so many women creators

to bring these stories to life.

♪♪

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[ Singing in Greek ]

♪♪

♪♪

[ Vocalizing ]

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[ Singing in Greek ]

♪♪

♪♪

[ Vocalizing ]

♪♪

♪♪

♪♪

♪♪

♪ Sundays are for crying

♪ Sundays are for mourning

♪ Sundays are for crying

♪ Crying, crying

[ Humming, whimpering ]

♪♪

[ Inhales sharply ]

♪♪

[ Singing in Greek ]

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[ Singing in Greek ]

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[ Continues singing in Greek ]

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♪ Oh, my dear

♪ Polymnia

♪♪

♪ Oh, my dear

♪ Oh, my dear Polymnia

♪♪

♪ Oh, my dear

♪ O, my dear Polymnia

♪♪

♪ Oh, my dear

♪ Polymnia

♪♪

♪ Oh, my, Oh, my dear

♪ Polymnia

♪♪

♪ Oh

♪ My

♪ Dear Polymnia

♪♪

♪ Oh

♪ My dear

♪ Polymnia

♪♪

♪ Oh, my dear

♪ Oh, my dear

♪♪

♪ Oh, my dear

♪ Polymnia

♪♪

♪ Oh, my

♪ Dear

What was really beautiful about being given this opportunity

was that this was a collaborative experience.

So, my input and creation

of the musical element

had already kind of happened in a separate time.

And then when I was conceptualizing

who I wanted to work with

and who I would entrust with the visual part of this --

kind of, like, the emotional story of this music,

I immediately thought of my friends Katrina and Paul.

I sent them the music

and kind of told them a little bit of what those sounds were --

what they meant to me

and kind of just wanting them

to experience the music from an emotional place

and then to see what imagery would be conjured from that.

It's -- What do you call it? -- magical realism in a way,

where that's just happy moments

where the ancestors or this preternatural being

is coming to help us, like, heal

from different things that we're kind of, like, dealing with.

What's the idea of a good haunting?

Not every ghost and every ghost story is a horror story.

It can sometimes be a story of love

or just, you know, intergenerational love

coming back to heal you one last time, you know what I mean?

We often talk about generational trauma

and how that gets passed down. Yeah.

And what if we are also

able to name

and uphold

and value

the generational love that is passed on?

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♪ When I want anything

♪ I just wanna feel better

♪ I just wanna feel better

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♪ Do I?

♪ Do I?

♪ Do I feel

♪ Better?

♪ Better

♪♪

♪♪

♪ Do I feel better?

♪ Do I feel better?

♪ Better

♪♪

♪ Do I?

♪ Do I feel better?

♪ Better

♪♪

♪♪

♪ Do I?

♪ Do I?

♪ Do I?

♪ Do I feel better?

♪ Better

♪♪

♪♪

I create wherever I am.

I think my mind is always creating.

My dreams are very intense.

Ideas come all the time,

and they really happen and come in the domestic setting,

because whether I am touring or at home,

I always bring my kids with me,

so I feel like bring the "domestic" element in my life.

It's always with me.

I think that what I'm able to see online

and what I'm able to see

in people that are coping with

managing their life,

coping with depression, an illness,

and access to minimal health,

access to minimal food and water,

and I feel like all of these problems

and all of these issues, we've had before the pandemic,

but everything has been so highlighted,

so heightened.

So that is my inspiration.

That's where my music comes from.

I make music out of pain,

and I try to turn it into light.

That's my biggest inspiration,

just being able to bring hope and love.

And that's the inspiration for this performance.

It's just to come together in love, in unity.

My marimba player

is the person that I am sharing my life with,

I share my children with,

so we've been able

to be together in a more meaningful way,

surviving and bringing hope to our kids,

being that example.

The same goes to my collaborators.

The people that I make my videos with,

the people behind the cameras, recording this sound,

are the people that I try to work with all the time,

because we also share an intimate relationship,

and it has also been very important and heightened.

And I feel like

it will be seen, heard, and felt.

Hello.

♪♪

Welcome.

♪♪

[ Vocalizing ]

♪♪

♪ Yo por fin todo lo tenía

♪ Y a ti todo te lo entregaba

♪ Tu por fin me necesitabas

♪ Y despues no me tuviste cuenta ♪

♪ Tu por mi nunca trabajas

♪ Me acerque para ser la primera ♪

♪ Si tu a mi nunca me querias

♪ Yo porque tengo darte perlas

♪ Tu por mi nunca trabajas

♪ Me acerque para ser la primera ♪

♪ Si tu a mi nunca me querias

♪ Yo porque tengo darte perlas

♪ Yo tambien miraba yo

♪ Adivinaba bien

♪ Yo aquí sembré las semillas y regue las que tu plantabas ♪

♪ Tu sin mi nunca te hallabas pero hoy me encuentro relajada ♪

♪ Lo que tu quisiste lo robabas ♪

♪ Llegaste, pero de sorpresa

♪ Dejame, nunca me quisiste

♪ Alejate, me das pena ajena

♪ Yo, tambien miraba

♪ Yo, adivinaba todo pues bien

♪ También me iba bien, todo lo imagine ♪

♪ Yo, tambien miraba

♪ Yo, adivinaba todo pues bien

♪ También me iba bien, todo lo imagine ♪

♪ Yo te queria, te queria tambien ♪

♪ Como instrumento de lo que no podía ser ♪

♪ Te adoraba, te adoraba también ♪

♪ Como el momento de lo que no podía ♪

♪ Yo, tambien miraba

♪ Yo, adivinaba

♪ Yo, adivinaba, yo

♪ Yo, tambien miraba

♪ Yo, adivinaba

♪ Yo, adivinaba, yo

♪ Yo te miraba también

♪ Yo te miraba también

♪ Yo te miraba también

♪ Yo te miraba también

♪ Yo te bote

♪ Yo te bote

♪ Yo te bote

♪ Yo, tambien miraba

♪ Yo, adivinaba todo lo se

♪ Tambien lo pude ver, ver

♪ Yo te quería, te quería también ♪

♪ Como instrumento de lo que no podía ser ♪

♪ Te adoraba, te adoraba también ♪

♪ El momento de lo que no podía ♪

♪ Yo te quería, te quería también ♪

♪ Como instrumento de lo que no podía ser ♪

♪ Te adoraba, te adoraba también ♪

♪ El momento de lo que no podía ♪

♪ Y también

[ Vocalizing ]

♪♪

♪♪

♪ Yo te miraba también

♪ Yo te miraba también

♪ Yo te miraba también

♪ Yo te miraba también

♪ Yo te miraba también

♪ Yo te miraba también

♪ Yo te miraba también

♪ Yo te miraba también

♪ Yo te bote, yo te bote

♪ Yo te bote, yo te bote

♪ Yo te bote, yo te bote

♪ Yo tambien miraba

♪ Yo, adivinaba todo lo se

♪ Tambien lo pude ver

[ Vocalizing ]

♪♪

The other night, Beth and I had the pleasure

of you being our first foray back into live performance,

and it was stunning.

Can you talk a little bit about, you know,

the way that you approach style in relation to your expression?

I really did explore style

more broadly than classical music style.

And having that opportunity --

And I can't say that I was actually fantastic at it.

You could probably hear the influences at the time,

but I was able then

to bring that into my singing and classical music,

and it gave me a tremendous freedom,

you know, vocal freedom,

a way of shaping phrases that was much looser.

And I was criticized for that to some degree in the beginning.

But in retrospect, I wish I had ignored the criticism,

'cause if I listen back and hear a couple of things,

I'd think it was unique.

It was something different that I was bringing to the table.

It's very easy to criticize

when somebody does something differently than everyone else.

And I hope and believe that we've all become much more open,

and we're looking for those differences,

and we celebrate them.

You know, I'm here at Sawdust.

Beth has been championing so many of us composers.

Just anything about, you know, this intersection that we're at,

both as an institution

and, you know, in terms of Beth Morrison Projects,

just what it means to you,

and as our fairy godmother, if you have any words.

Well, I think you're both incredible,

that you've kept your institutions going,

you've kept them strong, and I have no doubt

that when things open up again completely,

you'll hit the ground running.

I never look at something you're doing or a newsletter

and don't think, "How?

Where is this endless creativity coming from?"

You know, every day, it's something fresh, new, different,

and enticing.

I want to sort of absorb it all.

So, chapeau to you both.

And I'm so happy that you're thinking about a Liederabend.

I'm happy you're thinking about song,

because I believe strongly in the art form.

I love it.

And that you have used some of your creative capital

to also shine a light and a fresh light, at that,

on this art form that's so historic and so brilliant.

Such a gift to have you with us for our 21c Liederabend,

-And... -Thank you, Beth.

...for all that you have done for song and singers

and composers and for us as producers

and all the support that you have shown us.

I'm so deeply grateful. Thank you.

Thank you, and thank you, Paola.

♪ Yo por fin todo lo tenía

♪ Y a ti todo te lo entregaba

♪ Tu por fin me necesitabas

♪ Y despues no me tuviste cuenta ♪

♪ Tu por mi nunca trabajas

♪ Me acerque para ser la primera ♪

♪ Si tu a mi nunca me querias

♪ Yo porque tengo darte perlas

♪ Tu por mi nunca trabajas

♪ Me acerque para ser la primera ♪

♪ Si tu a mi nunca me querias

♪ Yo porque tengo darte perlas

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