Category Archives: Music for a World in Crisis Series

Episode 99. Yi-Kwei Sze (斯義桂)



The Chinese-American bass Yi-Kwei Sze (1915-1994) was the first Chinese singer to achieve worldwide prominence in the world of Western classical music. From his first studies with Vladimir Shushlin at the Shanghai Conservatory, Sze’s sound and artistic soul carried on the great tradition of the Russian basses, including that of Alexander Kipnis, with whom he studied after emigrating to the United States in 1947. This episode captures Sze’s legacy in both his live and (comparatively rare) studio recordings, including operatic arias by Verdi, Mozart and Handel, and songs by Schubert, Schumann, Brahms, Mussorgsky, and Rachmaninov. Alongside my tribute to this great artist, I also consider the plight of the Asian musician as eloquently set forth in a riveting article published in The New York Times. Over the course of the past nearly two years since I have been producing the podcast, I consider Yi-Kwei Sze to be one of the greatest artistic discoveries on my own path. A note for my Patreon supporters: a second Yi-Kwei Sze episode is being published today that further explores his recorded legacy.

Countermelody is a podcast devoted to the glory and the power of the human voice raised in song. Singer and vocal aficionado Daniel Gundlach explores great singers of the past and present focusing in particular on those who are less well-remembered today than they should be. Daniel’s lifetime in music as a professional countertenor, pianist, vocal coach, voice teacher, and journalist yields an exciting array of anecdotes, impressions, and “inside stories.” Occasional guests from the “business” (singers, conductors, composers, coaches, and teachers) lend their distinctive insights. At Countermelody’s core is the interaction between singers of all stripes, their instruments, and the connection they make to the words they sing. At Countermelody’s core is the interaction between singers of all stripes, their instruments, and the connection they make to the words they sing. Please visit the Countermelody website (www.countermelodypodcast.com) for additional content including artist photos and episode setlists. And please head to my Patreon page at www.patreon.com/countermelody to pledge your monthly support at whatever level you can afford. Bonus episodes available only to Patreon supporters are currently available.


Episode 97. Owen Williams and Leslie Scott: Two Forgotten Black Pop Baritones



Today I present to you two Black baritones who made their mark in Europe and the United States over the course of several decades. Leslie Scott (ca. 1920-1969), who appeared on the State Department-sponsored tour of Porgy and Bess in the 1950s, and who played Jake in the now-obscure 1959 film version of the piece, began his career as a big-band singer. About his fellow singer, bass-baritone Owen Williams, I have been unable to discover much of anything, in spite of the fact that, like his compatriot Kenneth Spencer, he was featured in German film and television in the 1950s and 1960s and also recorded extensively in the 1960s, in his case, for Philips Records. Both Williams and Scott display undeniable vocal and interpretive gifts that are sometimes obscured by other factors, such as the tackiness of the arrangements and the pervasive and unchecked plantation nostalgia of the period, especially in Germany. Close examination of the recorded legacies of both Williams and Scott provides a partial glimpse into their lives and careers, even if too much of it today remains hidden in obscurity.

Countermelody is a podcast devoted to the glory and the power of the human voice raised in song. Singer and vocal aficionado Daniel Gundlach explores great singers of the past and present focusing in particular on those who are less well-remembered today than they should be. Daniel’s lifetime in music as a professional countertenor, pianist, vocal coach, voice teacher, and journalist yields an exciting array of anecdotes, impressions, and “inside stories.” Occasional guests from the “business” (singers, conductors, composers, coaches, and teachers) lend their distinctive insights. At Countermelody’s core is the interaction between singers of all stripes, their instruments, and the connection they make to the words they sing. At Countermelody’s core is the interaction between singers of all stripes, their instruments, and the connection they make to the words they sing. Please visit the Countermelody website (www.countermelodypodcast.com) for additional content including artist photos and episode setlists. And please head to my Patreon page at www.patreon.com/countermelody to pledge your monthly support at whatever level you can afford. Bonus episodes available only to Patreon supporters are currently available.


Episode 96. Great Baritones Sing Charles Ives



To help me and all my American friends celebrate the Fourth of July, I bring you a gorgeous bevy of great low-voiced singers performing songs by that emblematic US-American composer Charles Ives. I offer thirty of his songs which display a wide range of compositional, musical, and literary styles. Some of the greatest Ives interpreters are on display here, including Thomas Stewart, Samuel Ramey, Donald Gramm, Sanford Sylvan, Kurt Ollmann, Gerald Finley, William Sharp, and William Parker, accompanied by Alan Mandel, Dalton Baldwin, Alan Feinberg, Warren Jones, Steven Blier, Craig Rutenberg, and others. I finish the program with late Jerry Hadley performing that most celebratory of Ives’s songs, “The Circus Band.”

Countermelody is a podcast devoted to the glory and the power of the human voice raised in song. Singer and vocal aficionado Daniel Gundlach explores great singers of the past and present focusing in particular on those who are less well-remembered today than they should be. Daniel’s lifetime in music as a professional countertenor, pianist, vocal coach, voice teacher, and journalist yields an exciting array of anecdotes, impressions, and “inside stories.” Occasional guests from the “business” (singers, conductors, composers, coaches, and teachers) lend their distinctive insights. At Countermelody’s core is the interaction between singers of all stripes, their instruments, and the connection they make to the words they sing. At Countermelody’s core is the interaction between singers of all stripes, their instruments, and the connection they make to the words they sing. Please visit the Countermelody website (www.countermelodypodcast.com) for additional content including artist photos and episode setlists. And please head to my Patreon page at www.patreon.com/countermelody to pledge your monthly support at whatever level you can afford. Bonus episodes available only to Patreon supporters are currently available.


Episode 95. Queer Blues and Beyond (Pride 2021)



For my second Queer Pride episode this month, I offer you a panoply of blues and other popular music sung by women of color over the past 100 years and over a wide range of the LGBTQ spectrum. The focus is on the queer and bisexual women of color who enlivened the Harlem blues scene in the 1920s, including the newly popular and celebrated Ma Rainey and Bessie Smith, as well as other vital and iconoclastic singers of that era, including Bricktop, Lucille Bogan, Alberta Hunter, Ethel Waters, Victoria Spivey, Lucille Hegamin, and the fascinating Gladys Bentley. The net is further extended to include jazz (Billie Holiday, Carmen McRae, Dinah Washington), pop, rock ‘n’ roll (Big Mama Thornton), gospel (Sister Rosetta Tharpe), cabaret (Mabel Mercer, Joséphine Baker), soul (Carolyn Franklin) and folk (Joan Armatrading, Meshell Ndegeocello, Toshi Reagon, and Laura Love). Of course in this episode the musical categories are as flexible as are the sexual and gender boundaries, so expect to see a lot of genre-hopping as well among these subversive, innovative, and pathbreaking women of color.

Countermelody is a podcast devoted to the glory and the power of the human voice raised in song. Singer and vocal aficionado Daniel Gundlach explores great singers of the past and present focusing in particular on those who are less well-remembered today than they should be. Daniel’s lifetime in music as a professional countertenor, pianist, vocal coach, voice teacher, and journalist yields an exciting array of anecdotes, impressions, and “inside stories.” Occasional guests from the “business” (singers, conductors, composers, coaches, and teachers) lend their distinctive insights. At Countermelody’s core is the interaction between singers of all stripes, their instruments, and the connection they make to the words they sing. At Countermelody’s core is the interaction between singers of all stripes, their instruments, and the connection they make to the words they sing. Please visit the Countermelody website (www.countermelodypodcast.com) for additional content including artist photos and episode setlists. And please head to my Patreon page at www.patreon.com/countermelody to pledge your monthly support at whatever level you can afford. Bonus episodes available only to Patreon supporters are currently available.


Episode 94. Odetta (Juneteenth 2021)



In honor of the first commemoration of Juneteenth as a national holiday, there is no artist more worthy of celebration than the great Odetta (1930-2008). The breadth of her influence and the scope of her accomplishment should be trumpeted from the rooftops. From her first appearance on primetime national television opposite Harry Belafonte, to her prominence as the artist at the forefront of the folk music revival, to the importance of her music as a centerpiece to the Civil Rights Movement, to her additional contributions to blues and gospel music (and even, less expectedly, jazz and soul), Odetta Felious Holmes remains one of the most important musicians of the twentieth century. From her first recording in 1954, to one of her final live performances, I present a wide-ranging portrait highlighting the significance of an artist who, for once, merits the designation “cultural icon.”

Countermelody is a podcast devoted to the glory and the power of the human voice raised in song. Singer and vocal aficionado Daniel Gundlach explores great singers of the past and present focusing in particular on those who are less well-remembered today than they should be. Daniel’s lifetime in music as a professional countertenor, pianist, vocal coach, voice teacher, and journalist yields an exciting array of anecdotes, impressions, and “inside stories.” Occasional guests from the “business” (singers, conductors, composers, coaches, and teachers) lend their distinctive insights. At Countermelody’s core is the interaction between singers of all stripes, their instruments, and the connection they make to the words they sing. At Countermelody’s core is the interaction between singers of all stripes, their instruments, and the connection they make to the words they sing. Please visit the Countermelody website (www.countermelodypodcast.com) for additional content including artist photos and episode setlists. And please head to my Patreon page at www.patreon.com/countermelody to pledge your monthly support at whatever level you can afford. Bonus episodes available only to Patreon supporters are currently available.


Episode 93. Evelyn Lear sings Sondheim and Bernstein (and other Queer Composers)



I had intended a no-holds-barred Queer Pride extravaganza for this week’s episode, but life got in the way, so I elected to do a more modest, chamber-music-sized celebration instead, which encompasses both the life and artistry of Evelyn Lear, the ninth anniversary of whose death we observe on July First. Her 1980 release Evelyn Lear sings Sondheim and Bernstein, recorded in collaboration with her most frequent recital partner, pianist Martin Katz, finds this artist lending her distinctive voice, style, and interpretive flair to ten songs by these two composers, who are seen today as, among other things, queer icons. I round out the episode with performances by Evelyn Lear and her husband Thomas Stewart, of songs by a number of other composers (Schubert, Hahn, Tchaikovsky, Copland and Foster) who are, by my assessment at least, also guiding beacons for the queer community.

Countermelody is a podcast devoted to the glory and the power of the human voice raised in song. Singer and vocal aficionado Daniel Gundlach explores great singers of the past and present focusing in particular on those who are less well-remembered today than they should be. Daniel’s lifetime in music as a professional countertenor, pianist, vocal coach, voice teacher, and journalist yields an exciting array of anecdotes, impressions, and “inside stories.” Occasional guests from the “business” (singers, conductors, composers, coaches, and teachers) lend their distinctive insights. At Countermelody’s core is the interaction between singers of all stripes, their instruments, and the connection they make to the words they sing. At Countermelody’s core is the interaction between singers of all stripes, their instruments, and the connection they make to the words they sing. Please visit the Countermelody website (www.countermelodypodcast.com) for additional content including artist photos and episode setlists. And please head to my Patreon page at www.patreon.com/countermelody to pledge your monthly support at whatever level you can afford. Bonus episodes available only to Patreon supporters are currently available.

 


Episode 92. Blessed Memory (In Memoriam III)



The final episode (for now) in my series commemorating recent deaths in the musical community, this one presents a further group of treasurable (and often less well-known) musical artists, refracted through the lens of memory: personal memory, collective memory, eternal memory, blessed memory. Prepare to make or renew acquaintance with Adele Stolte, Silvano Carroli, Inés Rivadeneira, Eugenia Ratti, Caroline Kaart, Galina Savova, Bernard Ładysz, Cora Canne Meijer, Arthur Woodley, Jolanda Meneguzzer, Eldar Aliev, Sophie Boulin, and Edith Thallaug, among many others. Some were “voiceless wonders,” relatively speaking, others were gifted with enormous vocal gifts. All were artists and human beings who each made their mark in their own distinctive way. Guest stars include Vasile Moldoveanu, Cesare Siepi, Aimé Doniat, and Ralf Gothóni.

Countermelody is a podcast devoted to the glory and the power of the human voice raised in song. Singer and vocal aficionado Daniel Gundlach explores great singers of the past and present focusing in particular on those who are less well-remembered today than they should be. Daniel’s lifetime in music as a professional countertenor, pianist, vocal coach, voice teacher, and journalist yields an exciting array of anecdotes, impressions, and “inside stories.” Occasional guests from the “business” (singers, conductors, composers, coaches, and teachers) lend their distinctive insights. At Countermelody’s core is the interaction between singers of all stripes, their instruments, and the connection they make to the words they sing. At Countermelody’s core is the interaction between singers of all stripes, their instruments, and the connection they make to the words they sing. Please visit the Countermelody website (www.countermelodypodcast.com) for additional content including artist photos and episode setlists. And please head to my Patreon page at www.patreon.com/countermelody to pledge your monthly support at whatever level you can afford. Bonus episodes available only to Patreon supporters are currently available.


Episode 91. Unforgotten (In Memoriam II)



We continue our memorial tributes this week with the second of (at least) three episodes commemorating the recent deaths of singers and musicians who have helped make our existence a little more manageable, our world a bit more beautiful. From Milva to Rudolf Kelterborn, from Yevgeny Nesterenko to Mary Wilson, from Jane Manning to Antoine Hodge, may they all rest in peace and power. Above all, this episode is dedicated to George Floyd on the first anniversary of his murder.

The two Countermelody episodes from a year ago devoted to music of protest and emancipation:

www.countermelodypodcast.com/episode-37-no-more-slavery-chains

www.countermelodypodcast.com/episode-38-something-in-the-air

Countermelody is a podcast devoted to the glory and the power of the human voice raised in song. Singer and vocal aficionado Daniel Gundlach explores great singers of the past and present focusing in particular on those who are less well-remembered today than they should be. Daniel’s lifetime in music as a professional countertenor, pianist, vocal coach, voice teacher, and journalist yields an exciting array of anecdotes, impressions, and “inside stories.” Occasional guests from the “business” (singers, conductors, composers, coaches, and teachers) lend their distinctive insights. At Countermelody’s core is the interaction between singers of all stripes, their instruments, and the connection they make to the words they sing. At Countermelody’s core is the interaction between singers of all stripes, their instruments, and the connection they make to the words they sing. Please visit the Countermelody website (www.countermelodypodcast.com) for additional content including artist photos and episode setlists. And please head to my Patreon page at www.patreon.com/countermelody to pledge your monthly support at whatever level you can afford. Bonus episodes available only to Patreon supporters are currently available.


Episode 90. Gone But Not Forgotten (In Memoriam I)



Christa Ludwig, celebrated two weeks ago, is not the only great singer and musician to have departed this earthly realm in recent months. This episode presents a wide cross-section of great musicians we have lost, not just singers, and not just classical musicians. Included are many opera singers who today are less well-known, including Sándor Sólyom Nagy, Libuše Domanínská, Margherita Roberti, Tamara Sorokina, Angelo Mori, Marcella Reale, Biserka Cvejić, and Michel Trempont. A wide range of composers including Ennio Morricone, Elias Rahbani, and Harold Budd, also receive a nod, as do instrumentalists Leon Fleisher, Osian Ellis, and Julian Bream, and non-classical artists such as Anne Feeney, Charley Pride, Gerry Marsden, Jimmie Rodgers, and SOPHIE. Only once before on the podcast have I presented such a kaleidoscopic memorial episode; it is good to be reminded of the full range of expression pursued by great musicians of all stripes. Guest stars today include Barbara Hendricks, Muriel Smith, and John Shirley-Quirk. The tributes continue next week.

Countermelody is a podcast devoted to the glory and the power of the human voice raised in song. Singer and vocal aficionado Daniel Gundlach explores great singers of the past and present focusing in particular on those who are less well-remembered today than they should be. Daniel’s lifetime in music as a professional countertenor, pianist, vocal coach, voice teacher, and journalist yields an exciting array of anecdotes, impressions, and “inside stories.” Occasional guests from the “business” (singers, conductors, composers, coaches, and teachers) lend their distinctive insights. At Countermelody’s core is the interaction between singers of all stripes, their instruments, and the connection they make to the words they sing. At Countermelody’s core is the interaction between singers of all stripes, their instruments, and the connection they make to the words they sing. Please visit the Countermelody website (www.countermelodypodcast.com) for additional content including artist photos and episode setlists. And please head to my Patreon page at www.patreon.com/countermelody to pledge your monthly support at whatever level you can afford. Bonus episodes available only to Patreon supporters are currently available.

Pictured: Biserka Cvejić as Amneris


Episode 89. The Radiant Heather Harper



I have dreamed of doing an episode on the great Irish soprano Heather Harper (1930 – 2019) since before I began the podcast. As we we find ourselves in close proximity to both the anniversary of her birth on 8 May 1930 and her death on 22 April 2019, I feel compelled to bring that dream to life. A peerless artist, probably most renowned today for her close collaboration with Benjamin Britten, whose War Requiem she learned ten days before the premiere when the scheduled artist, Galina Vishnevskaya, was refused by the Soviet government to participate in the performance. Her crackerjack musicianship is heard to full advantage in 20th century works by Michael Tippett, Leif Segerstam, Anton Webern, Luigi Dallapiccola, Francis Poulenc, William Walton, and Alban Berg. But her focused, flexible instrument also made her an ideal performer of the Baroque repertoire (we hear her in Purcell, Monteverdi, Cavalli, Bach and Handel). And the surprising stores of power she could summon made her a vital and sympathetic heroine in the operas of Wagner, Mozart, Strauss, and Gounod, as well Britten’s Ellen Orford, of which she was the definitive interpreter. She also excelled in the intimate medium of the Lieder recital. Vocal guest stars include Jessye Norman, Helen Donath, Nicolai Gedda, John Shirley-Quirk, Norman Mittelmann, Nicolai Ghiaurov, and others. Conductors heard include Pierre Boulez, Rudolf Kempe, Colin Davis, Raymond Leppard, Gary Bertini, Meredith Davies, Horst Stein, Anthony Lewis, Carlos Païta, Bernard Haitink, Steuart Bedford, Hans Swarowsky, David Atherton, and Gianandrea Gavazzeni. Fasten your seat belts and settle for an overdue tribute to the dazzling versatility and artistry of the great Heather Harper.

Countermelody is a podcast devoted to the glory and the power of the human voice raised in song. Singer and vocal aficionado Daniel Gundlach explores great singers of the past and present focusing in particular on those who are less well-remembered today than they should be. Daniel’s lifetime in music as a professional countertenor, pianist, vocal coach, voice teacher, and journalist yields an exciting array of anecdotes, impressions, and “inside stories.” Occasional guests from the “business” (singers, conductors, composers, coaches, and teachers) lend their distinctive insights. At Countermelody’s core is the interaction between singers of all stripes, their instruments, and the connection they make to the words they sing. At Countermelody’s core is the interaction between singers of all stripes, their instruments, and the connection they make to the words they sing. Please visit the Countermelody website (www.countermelodypodcast.com) for additional content including artist photos and episode setlists. And please head to my Patreon page at www.patreon.com/countermelody to pledge your monthly support at whatever level you can afford. Bonus episodes available only to Patreon supporters are currently available.