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Classical 101

Ohio Song Project Launches With Intimate Art Song Concerts

Soprano Dione Parker Bennett and pianist Scott Ewing rehearse for an Ohio Song Project performance.

My point of entry for a love of vocal music, back when Mozart was alive, tended to be bloody, loud, flashy operatic melodrama.

Give me a chorus yelling away and a few full-throated high Cs among the star singers, and you got me.

This went on for a number of years. I lost two roommates and had the cops called once.

I was the despair of my more cultured friends who favored Franz Schubert and Gabriel Faure. I didn't know music from Schubert and Faure. They weren't loud, and they didn't write purely for vocal display.

Then I grew up.

Today I can still enjoy a good ol' operatic free-for-all. But my soul needs Schubert, Faure, Brahms, Strauss, Rachmaninoff and Copland as well.

A well-trained singer and a fine pianist can collaborate on a mini-opera: three-minute stories demanding full characterizations (Schubert) or charm, with meanings best left unsung (Faure).

Recently two of Ohio Song Project's prime movers came to see me.

Scott Ewing is a pianist on the faculty of Capital University. Richard Celestina is a classically trained singer, currently studying for a doctorate in mechanical engineering — and are his parents thrilled or what?

Ohio Song Project began only a few months ago. Ewing, Celestina and their colleagues have put together a board. The objective is to provide performance opportunities and to encourage enjoyment of song literature.

They'll host house concerts — just as Schubert did with his "small circle of friends." Just as Franz Liszt favored the salons of Marie d'Agoult and George Sand in Paris, Ohio Song Project will give recitals in private homes before invited audiences, for a start.

Ohio Song Project is happy to present artists living in the Columbus area. We have an embarrassment of riches.

I attended the second house concert in June. Ewing and his wife opened their Clintonville home for the event. With him at the piano, an orchestra would have been superfluous, even if the music called for it. He's a pianist who plays well, and he's a pianist who listens.

Credit facebook.com/OhioSongProject
Ohio Song Project members (left to right): Chad Payton, board; Scott Ewing, piano; Meg Linebaugh, mezzo-soprano; Diana and Mike McCullough, hosts; Dione Parker Bennett, soprano; Richard Celestina, board; Coral Owdom, board

Two fine singers performed. Soprano Jennifer Whitehead is a buddy with whom I've collaborated before, and am soon to again. She offered sets of Strauss, Rachmaninoff and Bernstein.

None of the music held any terrors for her. Whitehead is a pro. There's not much you can throw at her that she couldn't throw back at you in a better key.

Meg Linebaugh is a young artist with a rich mezzo voice. Her Brahms was gorgeous — including my favorite, Von ewige liebe. Remember her name. 

It was a wonderful afternoon. The music-making was first-rate, and the program was very well-constructed.

I suspect house concerts will be the backbone of Ohio Song Project's presentations. The song literature needs intimate spaces. I can also see the organization adding bona fide concert hall performances soon.

I'll be keeping a close eye on Ohio Song Project. If you love music, do the same. There's no such thing as too much fine music-making. 

Any opportunity to showcase our young artists, and hear lieder by Strauss and Brahms, melodies by Faure and Bernstein's theater songs has my vote.

Christopher Purdy is Classical 101's early morning host, 7-10 a.m. weekdays. He is host and producer of Front Row Center – Classical 101’s weekly celebration of Opera and more – as well as Music in Mid-Ohio, Concerts at Ohio State, and the Columbus Symphony broadcast series. He is the regular pre-concert speaker for Columbus Symphony performances in the Ohio Theater.
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