Friday evening, Festa della Voce presented a “Liederabend” at the Corcoran Gallery. It was the kind of musical performance that could have turned anyone off classical music, indefinitely. Festa della Voce claim to be “Washington’s premiere vocal chamber ensemble.” Observing truth in advertising one might add: Washington’s only vocal chamber ensemble. Their program consisted of songs for one to four voices, in the course of which they managed to tarnish the reputation of Johannes Brahms, Kurt Weill, Franz Schubert and – presumably – Hugo Wolf, Richard Strauss, and Robert Schumann, although by the time they got to those composers I had already brought my ears into safety.
The less said about the concert, the better. The performers shall, for their sake, remain nameless; suffice it to say that none of them had any business singing in public. They are listed in order of increasing offensiveness: mezzo soprano (the only singer with any redeemable quality, although she had no control or sense of tasteful employment for her huge, wobbly voice) – baritone – soprano (a pathetic, squealing sound in the vocal quartets of Brahms), and finally, the tenor. The latter delivered what must be the worst music performance I have ever heard live (and I've heard some horrible stuff); six selections from Die Schöne Müllerin that were travesties of unspeakable (but apparently singable) proportions. Had he treated a physical work of art as he did Schubert’s songs (like taking a knife to a Rubens, acid to a van Gogh, or a hammer to the statue of David), he would have been arrested – and rightly so. A comically painful (but mostly painful) nasal mess without even the most rudimentary understanding of Lieder-singing, much less text, much less pronunciation, much less actual ability. The pianist, a merciless hack whose treatment of the piano was a disgrace, had the good fortune of being overshadowed by the tenor’s superior awfulness. Anyone with any musical sensibility whatsoever will have experienced the sensation of physical pain at this crime against art. How anyone stayed even after the Schubert is beyond comprehension.
Co-conspirators in this assault on music were the German Embassy, the Goethe Institut, and Arts America. Absence of judicious artistic judgment (never mind taste!) is a hallmark of the German Embassy’s cultural events – but the disaster that was this Liederabend surprised even me. The only thing left to do was take a long shower and burn one’s clothes.
P.S. The only thing worse than the performances was the following review in the Washington Post. Either a bold-faced lie or barefaced incompetence.