Festival of Song Opens Its Doors


Most of what's going on this week and next for Summer SongFest '99 goes on behind closed doors at UC Irvine, in the form of private classes and workshops for the participants.

But those doors are thrown open three times to the public for recitals given by the guest artists and teachers.

Tenor John Aler and pianist Martin Katz will celebrate French song today. Soprano Ruth Golden and SongFest founder and pianist Rosemary Hyler will offer a potpourri of songs Tuesday. Baritone Brandon Velarde and pianist Graham Johnson perform Schubert's "Winterreise" (Winter Journey) on Friday. (See schedule at end of story.)

"The idea was to have some art song-opera festival in the greater Los Angeles area," Hyler said recently by phone during a short break between classes.

When SongFest began at UCLA in 1996, she said, "it was largely Martin Katz, Ruth Golden and [stage director] John Hall of UCLA who started it with me. We just decided there was nothing going on in the summer. We had wonderful facilities at UCLA."

The festival was held there for two years before moving to UCI in 1998 to make it easier for Hyler, a UCI faculty member for 18 years.

But there aren't many UCI students who make the final cut.

"A lot of summer festivals are geared to college students or younger students," Hyler said. "We have a variety of different levels--pre-professionals, some people who teach in a college and want to work with these people and get refreshed, and also college students.

"People participate from all over the world. This year, there's a pianist from Germany, one from Belgium, many Canadians, and of course they come from all over the country."

It costs $580 per week for performers, $125 for auditors. People who are not selected to perform are encouraged to enroll as auditors and sit in on the classes and observe. Housing at UCI Campus Village is an additional $375 per week.

"We have no scholarship aid," Hyler said. "That's a big problem. We have a few donors outside the university, but basically, the tuition has to pay the expenses."

This year, there are 30 participants each week--23 singers and seven pianists. It is a typical ratio, according to Hyler.

"'We had many more qualified people apply than we could take," she said. "It's very small, and it is very intense.

"There are about eight hours of classes a day," she said. "When you finish the week, you feel you've been there a year, so much music is covered."

The draw is the artist teachers. "I feel that we're really privileged in their agreeing to come."

Past festivals have focused on Spanish and American repertory.

"We used to do a week of opera and a week of song," Hyler said. "But we vary it. . . . This year, it is the celebration of French song and opera, and oratorio and cantata solos the first week. The second week is devoted to songs using texts by the great German poet Goethe, and also English song.

"The big title is 'Breaking the Song Barrier,' which Martin Katz thought up. It sort of stuck as the umbrella over both weeks."

None of the teachers get rich doing this.

"It's a labor of love for a lot of people," Hyler said.

"When the artists come, they don't make a lot. They come because they love the repertory. It's very stimulating for us to have these artists here. A lot of people here on staff also have dedicated their services this year. And it's a passion of mine."

SongFest Schedule

The Summer SongFest includes three guest artist recitals at 7 p.m. in the UCI Concert Hall, West Peltason Drive and Mesa Road.

* Today: Tenor John Aler; pianist Martin Katz: "A Celebration of French Song," including works by Bizet, Saint-Saens, Duparc, Faure and Dupont.

* Tuesday: : Soprano Ruth Golden; pianist Rosemary Hyler: Songs by Beethoven, Schubert, Donizetti, Rossini, Pauline Viardot, Reynaldo Hahn and Roger Quilter.

* Friday: : Baritone Brandon Velarde; pianist Graham Johnson: Schubert's "Winterreise" (Winter Journey). Johnson will lecture at 7 p.m. The recital will begin at 8 p.m.

Admission is free, but tickets are required. Availability is limited. Information: (949) 824-1974.

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