An enthusiastic audience turned out Saturday evening at Sunset Center to enjoy the 8:00 pm Awards Concert featuring the three winners of the Carmel Music Society’s 36th Annual Competition.
The Society’s President, Anne Thorp, welcomed the audience and introduced the competition judges, distinguished soprano Ruth Ann Swenson, Dr. Clifford Cranna, Director of Musical Administration at the San Francisco Opera, and conductor Nicholas McGegan.
The judges presented the awards on stage. The Grand Prize, consisting of $5000, which in part includes an opportunity to perform in May 2013 as part of the Carmel Music Society’s subscription series, was awarded to soprano Clarissa Lyons, 27, a native of California and a graduate of UC Berkeley, the Manhattan School of Music and Bard College. The second prize of $2000 was awarded to baritone Anthony Whitson-Martini, 18, a student at Point Loma Nazarene University. The third prize was awarded to soprano Lauren Libaw, 25, a graduate of Yale University’s School of Music. During the awards concert, the young prizewinners were scheduled to play in reverse order with the Grand Prize Winner ending the evening’s program.
Soprano Lauren Libaw came out on stage to open the concert and charmed us with the aria Je veux vivre from Gounod’s Roméo et Juliette, impressed us with a stylish aria from Mozart’s “Marriage of Figaro, and ended her group with a lovely song, beautifully performed, by Poulenc. One of the most intense and interesting songs on her program was “Destiny” by Yale composer, Daniel Schlosberg, although its effectiveness was marred by diction problems (it was only halfway through the song that we finally realized she was singing in English). It was, nevertheless, a beautifully written song we would love to hear again.
Next we heard Anthony Whitson-Martini, the youngest of the three finalists, in fine performances of Le sécret by Fauré, “There’s nae lark” by Barber, an aria by Rachmaninoff and a song by Mussorgsky. Since many of us in the audience today have been thinking about the loss of Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau a few days ago, hearing such a young and talented baritone as Whitson-Martini had special significance and hope for the future on this occasion. Whitson-Martini’s finest moments during his performance was the beautifully sung and acted aria from Mozart’s La Finta Giardiniera and his glorious rendition of Scheer’s patriotic song, “American Anthem.” Hearing Anthony Whitson-Martini in the Scheer song was a very uplifting experience, so much so that I was tempted to thinking about joining the Marine Corps next week.
After intermission we heard the Grand Prize Winner, Clarissa Lyons. Right from her opening aria from Mendelssohn’s Elijah, we heard a mature, seasoned voice with well-developed dramatic skills and a natural flair for expressive color. She continued her program with two songs by Sibelius that were remarkable for their dramatic intensity. In the first one, War det endröm, she almost sounded like a mezzo in her low tessitura, and in the second one we heard an amazing outpouring of impassioned emotions, which were enhanced by the beautiful accompanying piano score. Her knockout performance of the evening was the amazing range of emotion and color she delivered in the mini-drama Kennst du das Land by Hugo Wolf. She ended her group with the amusing “Amor” by William Bolcom. In Amor, we had difficulty in hearing and understanding the text, partly through diction problems and partly because Daniel Faltus tended to over play during this song. Nevertheless, we did get it, but not all of it, and nothing can obscure the fact that Clarissa Lyons delivered a great performance during this concert.
Those who were not able to attend the competition earlier in the day missed some excellent performances. During the morning we heard soprano April Amante, 26, from the Los Angeles area, who impressed us with her fine rendition of Corigliano’s “Forever Young,” the Laudamus te from Mozart’s Mass in C Minor, K, 427, and a powerful performance of Hugo Wolf’s Ich hab’ in Penna einen Liebsten wohnen. Bass-baritone Alexander Doby, 20, from Folsom, California, and a sophomore at Baylor University in Waco Texas, charmed us with a sweet, mellow Nocturne by Fauré and Auf dem Kirchhofe by Brahms. Soprano Sarah Butler, 25 a resident of San Francisco, performed a poignant and moving rendition of Hugo Wolf’s Kennst du das Land, two songs by Debussy and an impressive Quia respexit from Bach’s Magnificat. The last performer of the afternoon, soprano Marielle Murphy, 23, a native of Carmel and a graduate of the Eastman School of Music, blew us away with an over-the-top rendition of the Queen of the Night’s aria from Mozart’s “Magic Flute” and moving performances of songs by Rachmaninoff and Strauss.
Daniel Faltus was on hand during the entire competition to provide accompaniments to all the participants of the competitions. This he did very professionally and tirelessly. The screening judges, who spent many hours listening to the applicants’ CDs were Beverly Dekker-Davidson, Reg Huston and Peter Tuff. The CDs they listened to were identified only by a code number that didn’t reveal the age, ethnic origin or professional background of each applicant.