Poetry, Music, and a Touch of Comedy in Composer Georgia Stitt's SubCulture Debut
Kate Baldwin, Rebecca Luker, and more joined Stitt for a concert of some of her most personal and least-known songs.
Last night, an array of VIPs from the New York theater scene joined composer Georgia Stitt below Bleecker Street at SubCulture, a cozy new concert venue located in Manhattan's NoHo neighborhood. Singers ranging from Tony nominees Kate Baldwin and Rebecca Luker to the Metropolitan Opera's David Schmidt came downstairs to lend their voices to some of Stitt's more rarely performed works in what proved to be an eye- and ear-opening evening.
Conceptually, Stitt's SubCulture debut was structured around the five-song Alphabet City Cycle, with lyrics by Marcy Heisler (whose Ever After will have its debut at Paper Mill Playhouse this season). Chronologically, however, the "Cycle" came as the event's climactic finale. As Stitt guided the audience through her oeuvre of art songs (compositions she describes as living "between the worlds of classical music and musical theater"), she offered anecdotes of her friendships with the concert's starry performers. She even divulged a colorful detail or two about her romance with composer Jason Robert Brown (Honeymoon in Vegas) — like the cello accompaniment he composed to woo her.
Broadway's Andrea Burns, one of Stitt's longest collaborators, opened the show with "The Holy Secret," with lyrics by Len Schiff, and "Palimpsest," the only composition of the night featuring lyrics by Stitt. Following "Palimpsest," Stitt ventured into even more intimate territory, performing a poem set to music composed for her wedding to Brown ("These Two" by Howard Schwartz, sung by Bradley Dean) and two other sonic poems created especially for her friend Rebecca Luker ("What Lips My Lips Have Kissed" by Edna St. Vincent Millay; "When I Am Dead" by Christian Rossetti, premiered by Luker herself).
Stitt went on to reflect on her introduction to composing music for poetry in college. Freshly returned from a study-abroad program in London, she selected two poems celebrating that city and set them to music ("London" by William Blake and "Composed Upon Westminster Bridge" by William Wordsworth). According to her website, Stitt remembered those songs when creating her concert's set list, "dug them out of the archive," found them to be "not embarrassing," and enlisted David Schmidt to sing them.
Two more musical-poetry anthologies brought the evening to its climax, with Andrea Burns returning to the stage to lend her voice to the One-Minute Song Cycle and Luker and Dean each singing a single sonnet (written by Henry William Hutchinson and William Shakespeare). Stitt's One-Minute Song Cycle, a collection of five pint-size pieces, was originally inspired by the following Poetry in Motion offering by Alicia Partnoy, which made her "laugh out loud":
I am talking to you about poetry
and you say
when do we eat.
The worst of it is
I'm hungry too.
Before inviting Baldwin to the stage to close the night with the Alphabet City Cycle — a collection of songs created specifically for her — Stitt took a moment to acknowledge her audience. "Don't worry. It's not over yet. It's really long," the composer quipped about her song cycle, and went on to thank cellist Mairi Dorman-Phaneuf, violinist Victoria Paterson, and all the women (and a couple of men) who had joined her onstage.
Following Baldwin's pilgrimage through the five women — on Avenues A, B, C, and D, and in Tompkins Square Park — in the Alphabet City Cycle, all that was left was for Stitt to stand up from the piano bench and take her place at the edge of the stage for a warranted bow — and then, probably, head offstage for a much-deserved snack. Stitt certainly sated the audience's appetite for poetry and music, but following the artfully heady event, we were all a bit hungry for dinner.