Showing posts with label Gus Mercante. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Gus Mercante. Show all posts

Thursday, April 11, 2019

Remembering Victims of Gun Violence Through Moving Spirituals Performance

By Christine Facciolo

Countertenor Augstine (Gus) Mercante offered some perspectives on his long — and sometimes complicated — relationship with the African American spiritual in the program notes of his March 31 concert, There's a Man Going 'Round: Remembering Victims of Gun Violence, as part of The Arts at Trinity series at Trinity Episcopal Church in Wilmington.

He first fell in love with the repertoire when at age 16 he auditioned for All-State Chorus. Burleigh’s Sometimes I Feel Like a Motherless Child was the audition piece. Years later, he submitted the work to fill the English Art Song requirement for a voice competition and was shocked when one of the judges told him that white singers shouldn’t sing spirituals in a concert setting.

Countertenor Gus Mercante accompanied by pianist
Hiroko Yamazaki. Photo courtesy of Gus Mercante.
Fast forward to the summer of 2006. Mercante was studying at the Mozarteum when he got an invitation from internationally acclaimed mezzo-soprano Grace Bumbry to sing for her in her apartment. After they sang for each other, he asked her if she though white people should be sing spirituals. She looked right at him and said: “Anyone with a soul can sing a spiritual.”

Mercante certainly has soul, plus a robust high male voice of unique strength and deliberate, rhapsodic lyricism and expression. Mercante does not just sing a song, he brings it to life. (Note: If you haven’t seen him perform a comic English opera with Brandywine Baroque, definitely put it on your to-do list.)

The program, dedicated to the victims of gun violence, opened on an appropriately somber and sorrowful note with two selections from Bach Cantatas: Wir mussen durch viel Trubsal and Kreuz und Krone sind verbunden.

Mercante raised the specter of death with a dynamic rendering of the Schubert Lied Der Tod und das Madchen, with dramatic vocal characterizations of Death and the Maiden.

Less dramatic, but equally powerful, were Faure’s setting of the Verlaine poem "Clair de lune,” Nocturne Op. 43, No. 2 — kudos to Mercante for including this much-neglected song — and Schubert’s Im Abendrot, all of which juxtaposed the melancholy of the characters with the beauty and grandeur of the moon and the sunset.

The first half of the concert wrapped up with two contemporary selections: the resigned simplicity of William Bolcom’s Waitin’ (from Cabaret Songs) and H. Leslie Adams’ Prayer (from Nightsongs) which Mercante delivered with maximum emotional impact through dynamic contrast and textual clarity.

The second half of the program, which was devoted to spirituals, opened with Mercante processing into the sanctuary singing the traditional Guide My Feet. The set included Burleigh’s Sometimes I Feel Like a Motherless Child, which sparked Mercante’s interest in the Negro spiritual. This set contained some very moving performances, notably a powerful rendering of the apocryphal There’s a Man Going ‘Round and Crucifixion, which nearly brought some audience members — including this one — to tears.

And if you closed your eyes, you might have sworn it was the late Marian Anderson singing Burleigh’s My Lord, What a Morning.

The concert concluded on a triumphant note with the glorious Ride On, King Jesus.

Mercante was ably supported by Hiroko Yamazaki at the piano, while Sherry Goodill and Marion Yager Hamermesh of the Hanover Dance Collective brought visual interest and kinetic energy to select songs.

Thursday, May 15, 2014

DVC Celebrates a Legacy

By Guest Blogger, Christine Facciolo
Christine holds bachelor’s and master’s degrees in Music and continues to apply her voice to all genres of music. An arts lover since childhood, she currently works as a freelance writer. 

You don’t have to be an Anglophile to know that the Western choral tradition owes an enormous debt to Britain. From the Renaissance to today, works by British composers have become the mainstay of the world’s choral repertoire.  

The DelawareValley Chorale dipped into the vastness of this centuries-old tradition to close its 2013-14 season on Saturday at The Episcopal Church of Saints Andrew& Matthew in Wilmington with a concert titled “The English Choral Legacy.” The sound was so glorious and the program so well-chosen that one only hopes the group will revisit this literature in the not-too-distant future.

Two works by composer C. Hubert H. Parry bookended the concert. Hear my words, ye people, was composed for the Festival of the Salisbury Diocesan Choral Association and was first performed in the Salisbury Cathedral on May 10, 1894. This extended anthem was meant to be sung by a gathering of parish choirs so the choral parts are within the reach of most choirs. The more technically demanding music is reserved for the soloists and organ. Soprano Lauren Conrad Giza, baritone Bill Gross and organist David Hearn did not disappoint. The final section of the quarter-hour work featured the SsAM Choral Scholars, with the resulting contrast of choral sonorities suggestive of a choral “concerto.”

Blest pair of sirens, Parry’s rip-roaring setting of John Milton’s poem Ode to a Solemn Musick concluded the concert. The highlight of the piece is the “big tune” to the words "O may we soon again renew that song” which spreads from the sopranos to the whole choir, then turns into fugue on "To live with him," which again reverts back to a homophonic texture of the final bars. The performance was one magnificent arch of music, bringing the audience to its feet with calls for an encore.

The other major piece of the first half was Come ye, sons of art, Ode to the birthday of Queen Mary II in 1694, by Henry Purcell, arguably Britain’s greatest composer. Soprano Conrad Giza and baritone Gross were joined by countertenors Augustine Mercante and Daniel Moody, whose superb voices, diction and style were a delight.

The balance of the concert included four madrigals ably executed by the SsAM Choral Scholars. The Chorale returned after the intermission with three songs by Arthur S. Sullivan, perhaps better known for writing a few operettas with a partner named Gilbert. The 20th Century got its due with Jubilate Deo, one of Benjamin Britten’s best known and most often performed short choral works. Hearn provided a rhythmically spirited organ accompaniment to the chorale’s direct vocal phrases and the piece bubbled with the joyous mood of the words.


Monday, June 24, 2013

Artist Profile: Countertenor Gus Mercante

Gus Mercante sings very high notes – and when he does you can feel the audience jerk awake wondering how a man can produce notes in the stratosphere normally reserved for altos and mezzosopranos.  Yet, the quality of upper notes in a countertenor are smoother than a soprano voice, more boyish and without that extra strain that can irritate the listener when an untrained soprano reaches a bit too high in her range.  The countertenor uses a trained upper range that is not a falsetto like Smokey Robinson’s voice (which I also love, by the way), but more like a pure and directed sound which many describe as ‘head voice’.  The trick is to make the transition from that upper range to the lower notes without changing the quality of the vocal production. 

When Gus sings his very high range, it seems as if his voice is landing downwards from a gentle height.  His rounded, well-controlled tones are exactly what has garnered him myriad awards.  He won the 2007 Austrian American Society prize, a 2009 Fulbright scholarship to Germany  which included performances with opera companies in Augsburg, Nurnberg and Munich.  

This week Gus will perform in the Tanglewood Music Festival – a summer training and performing school which has been used to launch giants of American music such as Leonard Bernstein.  Originally, Tanglwood was the site of summer concerts for the Boston Symphony under the baton of Serge Kousevitsky, and it has now grown to a full-time music center which attracts over 350,000 visitors and attendees each summer.  For Gus to perform in the American premiere of George Benjamin’s Written on Skin, conducted by the composer – one of Britain’s prominent musicians -  is quite a coup for our local talent. 

Fame won’t change Gus.  He is always helping others – making calls to organize musicians and delivering scores to be transposed, handing out programs at the Italian festival with the calm of any old volunteer – yet, minutes later, he is singing his heart out to give a startlingly passionate rendition of Di tanti palpiti from Rossini’s Tancredi . His voice soars and resounds – especially in such a reverberant church.  In spite of thunderous applause, Gus’s first reaction is to study what he could have done to improve, which is no doubt why he is so good.

When he is not studying or helping others organize concerts, Gus is an active contributor to charities and worthy causes.  He makes his music work for others with his organization Lifesongs with which he raises money for charities and individuals as well as community-centered projects. 

I encourage you to listen to Gus while he is still a local artist, because those days may be limited.