On World AIDS Day, December 1, 2012, Sing for Hope marked the twentieth anniversary of the classical music world's first organized response to the AIDS crisis with the celebratory concert "AIDS Quilt Songbook @ TWENTY." The evening featured impassioned performances by many of the country's leading classical vocalists, including Amy Burton, Adrienne Danrich, Heather Johnson, Suzanne Mentzer, Sidney Outlaw, Randall Scarlata, Michael Slattery, Monica Yunus, Camille Zamora, and two of the baritones of the 1992 premiere, Kurt Ollmann and William Sharp. Scroll below for photos from the concert!
At the keyboard were renowned composers John Musto and Fred Hersch, contemporary music champion Marcus Ostermiller, and artistic director Thomas Bagwell. The event was directed by Lorca Peress, assisted by Heidi Lauren Duke, with a seamlessness achieved through adept pacing and poignant use of three projection screens. In addition to John Musto and Fred Hersch onstage, the evening's composers in attendance included Ned Rorem, David Del Tredici, Robert Aldridge, Herschel Garfein, Gilda Lyons, Scott Gendel, Stephen Dembski, Drew Hemenger, and Lawrence Axelrod.
The concert opened with the late Chris DeBlasio's "The Disappearance of Light," delivered with beautiful, burnished tone by baritone Randall Scarlata. Soprano Amy Burton brought her trademark crystalline sound to John Musto's quietly devastating premiere, "Sarah's Song," with Mr. Musto providing rich sound at the keyboard. Scarlata and Burton joined forces for Conrad Cummings's "Soon," a duet with an elegant, quasi-Baroque ground bass underpinning searing lyrics by Vikram Seth. Powerhouse soprano Adrienne Danrich channeled a drag queen's farewell in the premiere of Drew Hemenger's potent "Her Final Show," and gently illuminated Gilda Lyons' mystical Pueblo Indian text in "Hold On." Leonard Bernstein protege and original AIDS Quilt Songbook baritone Kurt Ollmann brought ravishing sound and intensity to Ned Rorem's "The Man with the Night Sweats" and Juhi Bansai's "I've Looked for You." Ricky Ian Gordon's "I Never Knew," was given a beautifully controlled, laser-focused performance by baritone Sidney Outlaw. In Kevin Oldham's "Across the Sea," and Wolfram Wagner's "On the Pulse of Night," the radiant mezzo Susanne Mentzer sang with profound beauty of tone and a commitment that brought to life both Oldham's hopefulness and Wagner's despair. Heather Johnson brought a sparkling wit and luscious mezzo sound to works by Robert Chesley and Eric Reda. The iconic pianist/composer Fred Hersch and clarion-voiced young tenor Michael Slattery invoked a "pharmaceutical rosary" in Hersch's "Ordinary." Slattery also joined baritone Outlaw for a powerful reading of Stephen Dembski's hypnotic, complex duet, "In the Fast Lane".
In David Del Tredici's sparkling "After the Big Parade," and Jack Perla's ruminative "Across a Table," baritone William Sharp - like Ollmann, a veteran of the 1992 premiere - sang with unerring beauty and compelling emotional focus. In Herschel Garfein's "No Giggly Time," Monica Yunus displayed silvery tone and a glistening high E-flat in a narrative of a female sex worker explaining safe sex, in no uncertain terms, to her young colleagues. Camille Zamora brought richly spinning sound and endless legato line to Scott Gendel's transcendent setting of Wendell Barry's poem "At Last." And Yunus and Zamora joined forces for the premiere of "Away, But Not Far Away," written for them by composer Robert Aldridge and librettist Herschel Garfein - a tour de force scena for the two exquisite sopranos that made clear why this composer/librettist duo received the recent Grammy for their opera Elmer Gantry.
The evening's one solo pianist, Marcus Ostermiller, gave a compelling performance of Lawrence Axelrod's virtuosic soundscape inspired by the Quilt, entitled "Common Threads." Throughout the evening, acclaimed collaborative pianist Thomas Bagwell was a beautifully sensitive partner to the singers, playing with a warmly singing tone. That this important, moving evening of song ended with standing ovations for all involved was a surprise to no one.