“Art song, etc.” Breaks Borders between Genres — Concert Review

By Megan McLaughlin

A variety show of unexpected wonders for voice and piano, Art song, etc. is a powerful and uplifting reminder of what this generation of classical musicians has in store for the world. The program was  created and performed by Oberlin Conservatory second-years Kenji Anderson and Julia Alexander as their project for Winter Term 2020, and took place in Stull Recital Hall on Sunday afternoon, February 16. The duo’s program set out to break down borders between genres and redefine what is acceptable performance material for students in the modern-day conservatory. They aimed for inclusivity, and followed through successfully.

An art song is generally thought of as a piece for voice and piano, but can involve contingencies of having text set from a poem, or being from the classical music tradition — this is where the “etc.” in Art song, etc. comes in. Clocking in at just under 50 minutes, Art song. etc is comprised of thirteen short works for voice and piano. Several are staples of the repertoire, including works by Francis Poulenc, Samuel Barber, and Alma Mahler, but Anderson and Alexander also presented pop songs that are not often heard in a venue like Stull. The two performed songs by Sara Bareilles, Mitski, The Beatles, and Tracy Chapman, as well as show tunes such as “No One Else” from Natasha, Pierre & The Great Comet of 1812 and “My Funny Valentine” from the classic Babes in Arms.

Art song, etc. demonstrated that there is nothing Anderson and Alexander cannot do together. Solemnly opening with Sara Bareilles’ “Once Upon Another Time,” the pair seamlessly transitioned into William Bolcom’s spunky and playful “Amor.” The chronology of the rest of the program was just as pleasantly unexpected, and the combination of piano and voice never becaame monotonous or trite — every piece provided one surprise after another.

The program fulfilled the duo’s goal of creating an inclusive, accessible, and creative concert, but also showcased the many vocal styles Alexander has perfected. Going between songs in English, French, and German masterfully, Alexander sang about different plotlines in various moods. Changing her demeanor from one song to the next, her visage constantly glowed, and shone to the back of the hall. Not once did she let her nerves show: the only personal feeling apparent to the audience was that of pride when Anderson and Alexander hugged each other during their standing ovation.

Art song, etc. did nothing less than fill one with hope — a common theme throughout the performance. Anderson and Alexander have created a program so genuine and memorable that it was difficult to pick only one song to hum while leaving the concert. Art song, etc. was an all-encompassing work — inspiring, buoyant, thoughtful, etc., etc.

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