Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Art-songs from the pop charts

The New York Times' Stephen Holden reviews performances by singer-songwriters Amos Lee and Rodney Crowell and the Brazilian-Polish baritone Paulo Szot, singing Latin American popular songs, in Lincoln Center's American Songbook series:

Holden is one of The Times' pop-music critics, but his review reads as if he were covering Lieder recitals. Which he was, actually: If a popular song outlasts its initial burst of popularity, and proves amenable to various interpretations in various settings, it becomes a "classic." Popular songwriters, from Stephen Foster to Stephen Sondheim, already figure in today's art-song repertory.

If a contemporary pop song proves to be worth repeating and can make the transition from amplified, theatrical presentation to a more intimate, acoustic setting, in time it may find its way into classical or semi-classical recital programs. It's already happening with the music of Radiohead; and it's not hard to imagine some mezzo-soprano interpreting Joni Mitchell or some baritone dipping into the songbag of Willie Nelson.

Any song recitalists out there thinking about exploring recent pop repertory? Look into the songs of Kate and Anna McGarrigle. (Or has someone beat you to it?)