V1704. LORRAINE HUNT LIEBERSON, w.Peter Serkin (Pf.): Rilke Songs, recorded 8 Aug., 2005; PETER SERKIN: Bagatelles – recorded 1985; PETER SERKIN, w.Orion String Quartet: Piano Quintet, recorded 18 May, 2007; PETER SERKIN, w.James Conlon Cond. NYPO: Red Garuda Piano Concerto #2, Live Performance, 2004 (all Peter Lieberson). Bridge 9317. Final Copy! - 090404931727
“Hunt Lieberson sings with refreshing honesty and self effacement. The result is a level of musical truth that is rarely encountered.”
“The mezzo-soprano Lorraine Hunt Lieberson, who won near universal praise from critics and audiences for her courageous, insightful and deeply affecting artistry, had a maverick career. She brought uncompromising integrity to her choice of roles and repertory, was a champion of Baroque operas and of living composers, and preferred to work in close-knit conditions with directors and ensembles who shared her artistic aims, especially at festivals like Glyndebourne in England and Aix-en-Provence in France….few artists have brought such emotional vulnerability to their work.
That she began her professional life as a freelance violist and did not focus fully on singing until she was 26 may account for the musical depth and intelligence of her vocal artistry. One of her closest colleagues, Craig Smith, the Boston-based conductor and choir director, said as much in a 2004 profile of Ms. Hunt Lieberson by Charles Michener in the NEW YORKER. 'There's something viola-like about the rich graininess of her singing, about her ability to sound a tone from nothing’, he was quoted as saying.
Though her work seldom drew less than raves from critics, her singing eluded description. Despite the gleaming richness of her sound, her voice somehow conveyed poignant intimacy. Although she paid scrupulous attention to rhythm, phrasing and text, she came across as utterly spontaneous. Her person disappeared into her performances. And yet in a Handel aria, a Britten cantata or a song by her husband, she could be so revealing you sometimes wanted to avert your eyes for fear of intruding.
Her second appearance in a Met production came in 2003 when she sang the role of Dido in the new staging of Berlioz's epic LES TROYENS. With this luminous, stylistically informed and emotionally true portrayal she showed that she could galvanize the Met's stage in a major role.
She studied voice and viola at San Jose State University and, upon graduation, became a freelance player in the Bay Area noted for her expertise in contemporary music. When a French horn player she was dating got a job with the Boston Symphony Orchestra, she moved with him to Boston, soon becoming a valued freelance musician. She was particularly drawn to the music program at Emmanuel Church in the Back Bay section of Boston, where Mr. Smith conducted the orchestra and choir. For the next decade her career thrived as she collaborated with the early-music conductor Nicholas McGegan and the Philharmonia Baroque Orchestra on a series of Harmonia Mundi recordings of Handel operas and oratorios.
She met Mr. Lieberson in 1997 when he selected her to sing in the premiere of his opera ASHOKA'S DREAM at the Santa Fe Opera. The story tells of an Indian emperor in the third century B.C. who renounces violence after converting to Buddhism and inspires trust and generosity among his people. She and Mr. Lieberson, a practicing Buddhist since his graduate-student days at Columbia, were immediately drawn to each other. Their closeness was apparent to anyone who observed them onstage at Symphony Hall in Boston in November during the ovations for ‘Neruda Songs’, Mr. Lieberson's setting of five Spanish sonnets by Pablo Neruda, each a reflection of a different aspect of love. The performance, with the Boston Symphony Orchestra conducted by James Levine, was repeated a few days later at Carnegie Hall. Every phrase of this emotionally unguarded, intricate and haunting work seemed fashioned by the composer for his wife's distinctive voice. It would be her last New York performance.”
- Anthony Tommasini, THE NEW YORK TIMES, 5 July, 2006
“Peter Serkin, a pianist admired for his insightful interpretations, technically pristine performances and tenacious commitment to contemporary music, was descended from storied musical lineages on both sides of his family. His father was the eminent pianist Rudolf Serkin; his maternal grandfather was the influential conductor and violinist Adolf Busch, whose musical forebears went back generations. By 12, Peter Serkin was performing prominently in public, and he soon seemed poised to continue the legacy of his father, who was known for authoritative accounts of the central European repertory. His first two recordings, made for the RCA label when he was 18, confirmed this impression. One was a buoyant, lucid and probing account of Bach’s ‘Goldberg’ Variations that many critics compared favorably to Glenn Gould’s influential version; the other was a glowing, preternaturally mature account of Schubert’s spacious late Sonata in G, Op. 78. Yet, though he was proud of his heritage, Mr. Serkin found it a burden. Like many who came of age in the 1960s, he questioned the establishment, both in society at large and within classical music. He resisted a traditional career trajectory and at 21 stopped performing, going for months without even playing the piano.
Throughout his career, he presented recital programs that juxtaposed the old and the new: 12-tone scores and Mozart sonatas; thorny pieces by the mid-20th-century German composer Stefan Wolpe and polyphonic works from the Renaissance. Admirers of his playing appreciated how he drew out allusions to music’s past in contemporary scores, while conveying the radical elements of old music.
Reviewing Mr. Serkin’s 1985 recording of Mr. Lieberson’s Piano Concerto #1, with the Boston Symphony Orchestra conducted by Seiji Ozawa, the critic Tim Page wrote in THE NEW YORK TIMES that Mr. Serkin seemed to him ‘America’s pre-eminent young pianist - his intelligence and perceptivity invariably take the listener to the heart of the music’. Rudolf Serkin acknowledged that he had not given his son much encouragement early on. ‘I doubted he was talented’, he said in a 1980 NEW YORK TIMES MAGAZINE profile of his son. ‘He was so full of tension when he played; I didn’t realize that was his real gift’. He said that having been compelled by his own father to be a musician, he ‘was reluctant to push Peter’.”
Though Mr. Serkin never completely shook off the early perception of him as ‘the counterculture’s reluctant envoy to the straight concert world’, as the TIMES critic Donal Henahan called him in an admiring 1973 profile, over time he reconciled to the ways, even the dress protocols, of that classical world and developed productive associations with artists like the Guarneri String Quartet, the mezzo-soprano Lorraine Hunt Lieberson (who had married Peter Lieberson) and the conductors Seiji Ozawa, Herbert Blomstedt, Robert Shaw and Pierre Boulez.
‘Maybe I’ll pay some kind of price in my career, but I don’t even think about it. I’d rather deal with something I believe in’.”
- Anthony Tommasini, THE NEW YORK TIMES, 1 Feb., 2020