sanford sylvan tackles 10 questions

well, believe it or not, we’re (already) down to our final guest soloist for the season!  sanford sylvan is an amazing singer who’s credits are way too numerous to get into.  i will say this though: if john adams is america’s composer, then mr. sylvan is america’s baritone.  so looking forward to hearing him this weekend (and next week at carnegie hall!), but until then, here’s a lil’ sumpin’ sumpin’ to tide us all over…

you’ll be singing the wound-dresser with the oregon symphony – how would you describe this music?

The piece is quite cinematic.  It opens with music that seems to move us back in time, the violin solo taking us deep into Walt Whitman’s memories.  When the singing starts we are present in the hospital with Whitman and we witness the profound and lasting horror that war brings through the agony of the wounded soldiers.

composer john adams specifically had your voice in mind when he wrote the wound-dresser, you sang the world-premiere way back in 1989, and you’ve been performing it regularly ever since.  what’s it like to be so connected with this particular piece of music?

The imagery in the piece is deeply painful but the music is so beautiful that it is a thrill and honor each time I get to perform it.

do you play an instrument?

I play the piano (badly) but I love the instrument.

what’s so great about experiencing classical music live?

Vibrations that are in no way impeded by electronic interference.  Also, the thrill of witnessing living beings struggle to connect with each other as they play, and with the audience as they listen – anything can happen.

if you could invite 3 composers to dinner, who would you choose?

Bach, Schubert, and Shostakovich.  I would take them to a Szechuan Chinese restaurant where we could all share the food and sweat and laugh.  Well, I hope Mr. Shostakovich could quietly smile a bit.

i’m thinking it would be impossible not to smile while watching johann and franz take their first bite of kung pao chicken.  hey, can i ask if you are you stoked by any non-classical music?

I think Aretha Franklin is probably the greatest singer that America has produced and (in the spirit of full disclosure) I am a big fan of Pink Martini – it is a thrill that Mr. Taylor from your brass section is one of its stars.

if i were to buy you a drink, what would you order?

Fizzy water with lime.

i’m gonna have to start drinking like you a bit more.  um, do you have any special pre-concert rituals?

I warm up during the day and give thanks before I sing.

sweet response – thanks!  i read your interview in the advocate a while back, so i’ll ask you the same question i asked (my hero) pianist stephen hough: any words of encouragement for us queers in america?

Yes.  Equal is equal, nothing less.

word.  you’ll also be performing with the band at carnegie hall, where gustav mahler conducted his final concert.  oh, and the month of may just happens to mark the 100th anniversary of the composer’s death.  if carlos asked you to perform a mahler song as an encore, what would you choose?

I would be happiest not to sing but to listen to Maestro Kalmar and the orchestra play the slow movement (Ruhevoll) from Mahler 4.

ahh… i would be happiest to listen with you.  perfect choice too, since uncle gustav conducted his symphony #4 in carnegie hall exactly 100 years ago!  but i digress.  thanks mr. sylvan for the amazing responses!

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1 Response to “sanford sylvan tackles 10 questions”


  1. 1 Jeff May 21, 2011 at 11:06 am

    The only thing I love more than your asking Mr Sylvan the “equality question” is his answer, lovely and simple.


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