Florestan Recital Project
Florestan was born in 2001, when Aaron and tenor Joe Dan Harper brainstormed about a song series during a long opera rehearsal. They shared a love for song, a desire to actually use university training for its intended purpose, and Aaron’s vague panic about ending up working a fluorescent-bulb-lit office job for the next fifty years. Those hurried beginnings have given way to a near fifteen-year history of performance, innovation, recording, and mentorship.
We are named for the fiery character of Florestan, one of the creative alter egos of composer Robert Schumann, who wrote of a basic mission: “to be remindful of older times and their works and to emphasize that only from such a pure source can new artistic beauties be fostered.” That message is at the center of our activities, generating projects that draw connections between art song of the past, present, and future, while exploring the genre’s rich collaborative possibilities.
Aaron and Joe Dan joined with pianist Anne Kissel as Florestan’s co-founders and artistic directors. When Joe Dan and Anne embarked on a Fulbright grant to Germany in 2003, Alison d’Amato came on as a co-director to further develop the Boston-based concert series. As lives and employment opportunities took off in several directions, Florestan has evolved into a multi-faceted organization with an international network of collaborators, co-directed by Aaron and Alison since 2012.
Since these Boston-based beginnings, Florestan has grown into a national art song powerhouse, producing recitals, festivals, and innovative performances of classical music for audiences from coast to coast. Our oeuvre includes large-city premieres of new work as well as revivals of older pieces. Mentoring is also an essential part of Florestan’s mission, and we have led and participated in several efforts to foster the development of young musicians and composers, from short-term residencies to emerging artist programs.
In 2008, Florestan Records launched, initiating a varied and critically-acclaimed catalog of world premiere art song recordings. In 2012, Florestan redesigned our website and marketing approaches specifically to accommodate ongoing recording projects, many of which will be released for free through streaming web audio. By offering a free, simple and user-friendly online platform for our recordings, Florestan is changing the way audiences access new and old songs; while hearing professionally-produced releases, listeners are simultaneously able to access carefully researched program notes, biographical information on the composer and poets, as well as full texts and translations. Our belief is that these works should have no monetary impediment to being heard.
“The performance was, quite simply, breathtaking...In fact, it would have been difﬁcult to imagine applause; the ballet held the audience rapt. When the curtain was drawn, there seemed to be a collective intake of breath, followed by a roaring standing ovation.”
“I don’t remember a “concert” where people were as engaged, or had as much fun; but, of course, this event was much more than a concert. Wordsong wisely used the terriﬁc baritone Aaron Engebreth and fearless pianist Alison d’Amato, co-directors of the Florestan Recital Project, that champions song recitals. Together they gave beautiful, haunting, fun performances.”
“This set is as important to the history of American Art song as the Barber recordings of Cheryl Studer and Thomas Hampson two decades ago. All four singers major in clarity of diction and ﬂuidity of phrasing. Pianists provide impeccably prepared and executed support in Thomson’s frequently tricksy accompaniments, and respond acutely to his mix of down-home, Kansas City folksiness and Parisian sophistication. Five Star Recording and Choral and Song pick of the month.”
“Every so often a recording comes along that represents not only high artistic achievement but also a landmark contribution to musical culture. The new collection from the Florestan Recital Project for the New World label is one: a 3-CD set of the complete songs for voice and piano by American composer Virgil Thomson. Rather than organize this encyclopedic project chronologically, the Florestan protagonists — baritone Aaron Engebreth and pianist Alison D’Amato — mingle songs from different styles and eras, perhaps as a way of emphasizing the ﬂuidity of the composer’s evolution. The composer’s melodic ingenuity and paramount concern with clear prosody shine through every moment of this revealing set, thanks to the efforts of Engebreth and D’Amato and their colleagues (soprano Sarah Pelletier, alto Lynne McMurtry, tenor William Hite, pianist Linda Osborn, and, in a brief appearance, percussionist John McDonald). Complete texts and an insightful essay from Boston University’s Rodney Lister make this collection something to return to often — perhaps in the company of the Library of America’s collections of Thomson’s music writings, the second of which is due in August.”
“Why have I been discussing the works rather than the performances? Because all four singers are so accomplished, so precise, so free of artiﬁce, and so intent on doing right by Thomson and making the words clear that you hear the compositions ﬁrst, the interpretations second. I suspect that’s what Thomson would have wanted. Indeed, the diction is so uniformly excellent that New World could have spared providing complete texts, although I’m glad they didn’t! The pianists adhere faithfully to Thomson’s markings and eschew the expressive “hairpins” and phrase taperings that caused the composer to yell at more than a few well-meaning accompanists. Rated 10 out of 10.”
"You can hear the weird, the wild and the wonderful in these songs... ..There is great variety, and these very ﬁne performances make about as good a case for them as imaginable.” - American Record Guide “
This is a major release, a gift that ﬁlls in a serious gap of recorded American music history.”
The Florestan Recital thrived perhaps not by the success of the performances themselves but by the manner in which they were displayed to the audience. In an industry full of recitals and concerts that require audience members to simply sit back and enjoy the show on stage, the Florestan Project invites and even encourages spectators to become actively involved in the performance. The recital proved that innovation is not created through the medium itself but rather through those artists willing to demonstrate ingenuity.
“This cycle [by Ruth Crawford-Seeger], as well as the ﬁnal, extraordinarily interesting work – The Peculiar Case of Dr. Holmes by Libby Larsen – were performed by the brilliant baritone Aaron Engebreth with pianist Alison d’Amato. Both are wonderful musicians, dedicated to solo instrumental performance, and founders of organizations that promote this art. Engebreth “acts out” the miniature musical form with artistry and musicality.”
“The performances, by Florestan artistic directors Aaron Engebreth (baritone) and Alison d’Amato (piano) are ﬁrst-rate—stylish, lived-in interpretations with high techn
Aaron Engebreth sings with a bright, beautifully focused tone. He has a lovely high extension and an ability to deliver the text clearly and effectively. The cycle demands rich low register singing only in two lines of the last song. This Engebreth handles without difﬁculty. Alison d’Amato displays a wonderful range of energy and sensitivity in her playing that makes the matter-of-fact nature off the text chilling. Both artists are remarkably accurate in their reading of the score and provide a sense through artistic expression of how horribly inhuman we humans can be. Coordination between the video animation and the music is excellent and the entire production is strikingly engrossing. You may ﬁnd this work troubling. It is, however, certainly absorbing and thought provoking.
“Florestan's performances give due credit and more, with beautiful diction and assured interpretation.”- National Public Radio 5 Best American Contemporary Classical Albums Of 2010; a review of Florestan's recording, The Complete Songs of Daniel Pinkham by Daniel Gilliam “
… presentation is exemplary from all angles. Enthusiastically recommended.” -Fanfare Magazine CD Review: The Complete Songs of Daniel Pinkham, volumes 1 and 2 by Colin Clarke
“The Florestan Recital Project has performed all 152 Poulenc songs over the last three years, and then it scheduled them again for a four-concert festival last weekend. This has been done once before in this country, in Minneapolis, but there can't be too many other cities where anyone would program an undertaking this ambitious and carry it off with this panache.”