Concert Preview – TFI interviews Rebecca Reavley and Pamela Krakauer for “Of Night and Dreams”
Soprano Rebecca Reavley, graduate of the Royal Northern College of Music, and pianist Pamela Krakauer, collaborative pianist and piano teacher, perform ‘Of Night and Dreams’, a song recital of Alban Berg, Schumann, Strauss and Mozart at the Esplanade on 2 May 2021.
Derek Lim speaks with them to find out the source of their creative spark.
TFI: Good morning Rebecca and Pamela! Thank you for the interview.
To start off, how did the two of you start performing together?
Pamela Krakauer (PK), pianist: Our mutual friend, Caleb Liu, suggested that we get together. I don’t think we, or at least I, started with the goal of performing. On my part I was looking for a singer to go through music with, having done so for several years in Austria.
Rebecca Reavly (RR), soprano: Same! Really thankful to have someone to make music with, especially during Covid times.
TFI: So you’re a ‘Music in the Time of Covid’ duo!
PK: Love in the Time of Cholera, Duo in the Time of Covid. I like that!
TFI: How long was it before you decided you wanted to perform together? Is this your first gig?
PK: It is our first public performance together. I think that we were rehearsing on a regular basis and we felt that we were growing together and being more in sync with each other. So perhaps this idea came about after about 4 to 5 months?
TFI: What is it that attracted you to each other’s performance?
RR: I appreciate how sensitive to detail Pamela is. When rehearsing, she is always eager to improve things, even down to small changes. It challenges me as a musician to do the same.
PK: It isn’t just about performance, but the evolution (sorry I hope this is not sounding cliché). I appreciate very much how Rebecca thinks about her role as an interpreter, and her attention to detail. So I would say that it’s about a certain pace, tempo and style of working that makes me feel that it is a good partnership. I feel bad when I mess up and I think that Rebecca is always very forgiving with imperfections and flaws. But then we just do it again and again in a quest to make things better.
RR: Of course! (Laughs) I understand what it’s like to be a pianist and I make mistakes too.
TFI: I’m curious – do you find that having two ladies in the partnership makes it more collaborative?|
PK: (Laughs) Actually when I was in Austria, I worked more with male singers and I was most drawn to the baritone register. But as for the gender issue – without trying to generalise and use stereotypes – I think that we are in general quite tactful and diplomatic, or temperamentally not too different.
RR: Interesting question – I think it helps to be able to talk openly about our feelings towards the text of the songs, and thus interpretation. Even then, I think that doesn’t necessarily come with gender. It comes with a relationship of trust that we built as we started working together.
TFI: The evening’s programme looks unusual and fascinating! Could you tell our readers a little about how you went about programming or devising it?
RR: The Berg cycle – Alban Berg’s 7 Frühe Lieder (7 Early Songs) – was something Pamela always wanted to try, and after listening to it, I fell in love with it too. When we were thinking about a recital, I felt that it was a chance to bring a cycle that’s rarely performed to Singapore.
PK: It’s not so easy to listen to, because of the dissonances and clashes, often between piano and voice. It’s emotionally intense and because of the theme of night and dreams, we wanted to find other songs that have a thematic and poetic resonance with the Berg cycle. A deliberate choice we made was also not to present it chronologically, but to intersperse it with Schumann and Strauss for a musical counterpoint.
For example, Berg’s ‘Nacht’ is so mysterious and abstract while Schumann’s ‘Mondnacht’ opens a landscape which speaks of union, cohesion, unity, and the soul returning home.
TFI: Was it also a conscious effort to intersperse the more tonal and familiar songs with the Berg songs, to ‘rest’ the ears a little?
PK: Yes, certainly so. (laughs)
RR: Definitely! Atonal music can often be difficult if you listen to it for the first time and we wanted to give space between challenging pieces.
RR: I think in some ways, the familiar songs we chose do add to the Berg and pair really well with the themes and even the musical content.
TFI: What is Berg’s musical language like at this point, in 1908?
PK: Late Romanticism going into Expressionism. The Op 1. Piano Sonata I think has quite some similarities with the 7 Early Songs musically.
TFI: Would you say that it’s pushing the boundaries of tonality or still very much tonal?
RR: I would say it’s a mixture, there are some songs that are very tonal and simple, e.g. ’Im Zimmer’, and others that push boundaries e.g. ‘Sommertage’.
PK: Free tonality vs. Atonality. I think the most tonal song of the cycle is ‘The Nightingale’, decisively in D major. In the music there is a lot of ambiguity and sometimes we don’t know where we are… so it’s always a bit of a relief when we arrive at a very clear tonality, though it often happens in passing.
I think two of the songs that we struggled with a lot at the beginning was ‘Liebesode’ and ‘Traumgekrönt’.
TFI: How so?
RR: One of our biggest challenges was that in some sections, the vocal part is set to clash intentionally with the piano, and the dissonances would extend over long phrases without resolve. Tuning for me was a nightmare!
It took us a long time to get to grips with the harmonies in those two as well — it’s a piece where you have to be very intentional with the way you phrase and direct the song – if not the dissonances and resolutions may not seem as cohesive.
TFI: Rebecca, do you have perfect pitch?
RR: Unfortunately not.
PK: I think you’re most of the time in tune, no?
RR: I would hope so! I have strong relative pitch.
TFI: For your concert goers – how would you help them get under the skin of the music?
PK: Well in this programme, I’m roping in my husband as a speaker! In a lot of song recitals it’s not uncommon to always be reading programme notes or translations, so one of the concerns we had was how to make it more relatable for an English-speaking majority audience.
RR: We hope that by explaining the text and the significance of the writing, we can bring audiences into the world of the songs. By relating it to pieces by more well-known composers, we were also hoping to bridge the gap.
PK: So apart from resting the ears, we also tried to find some symbols. The nightingale that appears in Strauss’ ‘Ständchen’, which is a shimmering and dazzling song in F sharp major, leads to Berg’s D major nightingale song. Other considerations we thought of was how one key of one song would lead to the next, and musical tempo and character.
RR: For example, ‘Schilflied’ and ‘Der Nussbaum’ pair perfectly because of the swaying figures in the music reflecting the imagery of the reeds (Schilflied) and the tree (Nussbaum) swaying in the wind.
PK: The interiority of ‘Im Zimmer’ being connected to ‘All mein Gedanken’ (all my thoughts) – both have a quality of brevity about them. What is so fascinating about songs like that is their relationship and verisimilitude with time… they are so fleeting, and so brief, the way one’s consciousness works and thoughts go from one to the next in an instant.
TFI: So much German Romanticism!
PK: (Laughs) It’s a fascinating period! And [it showcases] what a song can so powerfully convey.
Of Night and Dreams will play at the Esplanade Recital Studio for one night only on Sunday, 2 May 2021, 7:30pm. Tickets are sold out.
7 Fruehe Lieder, Alban Berg
Der Nußbaum, Robert Schumann
Mondnacht, Robert Schuman
Ständchen, Richard Strauss
Die Nacht, Richard Strauss
All mein Gedanken, Richard Strauss
Abendempfindung, W.A. Mozart