Stage Director Peter Sellars teaching a Masterclass in Zipper Hall with soprano Kate Stevens

Los Angeles an art song capitol? Though song recitals, in general, take place all too rarely these days for those of us who cherish this repertoire, each June the city reverberates with the soaring melodies of Schubert, Strauss, and Ives as SongFest Summer Institute, America’s premiere festival and training program dedicated exclusively to the art song repertoire, occupies the campus of the Colburn School on Grand. Founding director Rosemary Ritter, a pianist with a passion for this art form, says some 100 ambitious singers, from college-age to young professionals, perform in daily coaching sessions, master classes, and recitals. They are accompanied by nearly 20 young pianists, expected to gobble up demanding repertoire practically by the pound.

Martin Katz teaching

Esme Wong, who is from Malaysia and recently earned her master’s in Collaborative Piano from the University of North Texas, says the intense schedule is well worth it. “We get to work with living composers like Libby Larsen and Jake Heggie who give us first-hand knowledge of their music. It’s inspiring me to be more honest, curious, and put more love into everything I’m playing.”

For soprano Caroline Hewitt, “there’s a high concentration of the absolute best of both singers and pianists. Where else can you get pianists Martin Katz, Alan Smith, Graham Johnson, in one place, not to mention getting to work with them one-on-one? Singers like Sanford Sylvan, Susanne Mentzer, Roberta Alexander? Most of us will make our careers in opera, but the coaching that goes into these songs, the attention to detail, it’s transferable. You want to treat all your music in the same way.”

With support from the Sorel Organization, SongFest has also expanded the modern American songbook, commissioning works by such renowned composers as Anne LeBaron, John Harbison, Gabriela Lena Frank, Jennifer Higdon, and Shulamit Ran.
SongFest runs through June 30. Many of the daily master classes are open to the public free of charge. More at

And here’s a sampling of the free concerts still to come:

Saturday, June 24 | 5 PM | Thayer Hall
featuring works by Mark Abel, Mark Carlson, David Conte, Jake Heggie

Sunday, June 25 | 3 PM | Thayer Hall
featuring works by David Bruce, Tom Cipullo, David Conte,
Thea Musgrave, Scott Wheeler, Jake Heggie

Wednesday, June 28 | 7:30 PM| Thayer Hall
ROBERT SCHUMANN: After the Wedding is Over…

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