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Nurturing Art Songs at UCLA

July 14, 1996|Daniel Cariaga | Daniel Cariaga is The Times' music writer

Veteran UCLA professor John Hall says: "Every year I wonder out loud why our wonderful campus facilities are not used maximally in the summertime."

In 1996, correcting the situation with the blessing of and funds from UCLA Summer Sessions, Hall has created the three-week UCLA Vocal Arts Institute and Summer SongFest '96, in progress now on the Westwood campus. To instruct a total of about 70 young singers and pianists, Hall has enlisted three distinguished American musicians--pianist Martin Katz, soprano Ruth Golden and mezzo-soprano Suzanna Guzman.

Backbone of the vocal recital, the art song--whether in German, French, Norwegian or other languages--remains the vehicle by which serious singers express themselves when not on the operatic stage. These two workshop sessions--in the first week devoted to Spanish and French music, this week to "The American Recitalist"--seek "to expand the art-song horizon," says Hall, acknowledging that contraction, not expansion, has of late been the trend.

Bucking the trend, which also includes a decrease in vocal recitals, G. Schirmer is this month publishing "New American Voices, the Art Song Collection, 1996," representing eight young American composers. The contents of this new volume will be performed by students of the Institute Tuesday at 1 p.m. in Jan Popper Theater at Schoenberg Hall.

Despite what seem like declining opportunities in the art-song field, University of Michigan professor Katz--who has been an assisting artist for a starry list of operatic paragons (among them Horne, Gedda, Stade and Tebaldi)--thinks training the ambitious youngsters of 1996 can only help to further the cause of the form.

"I know it's increasingly difficult to make a career, yet people manage to do it," Katz says.

"The solution is not less training, but stronger preparation. A lot of things have to come together so that the individual musician can make a life, and professionalism is still top priority.

"In a world where artists seem to be expected to react only to the whims of impresarios and agents, I find it exciting to find 24 students--singers and pianists both--who are motivated to seek out material of genuine quality."

In addition to student performances from the Schirmer publication, the public also has been invited to hear the art song pros. This week, Ruth Golden offers two American song recitals, Monday at 1 p.m. and Thursday at 8 p.m., both in Popper Theater in Schoenberg Hall.

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