Schubert songs come home to salon, as part of hotel’s music series

Arts / Article

Classical music concerts haven’t always been in big, imposing halls with sound baffles, ushers and clearly marked exits.

Like music of every kind down to the present day, much of it was written for intimate settings, such as a modest home or a small coffeehouse. Tomorrow night, the Miami Beach hotel The Betsy is holding the second of its classical music salons in its B Bar lounge, featuring tenor Dennis Petersen and pianist Alan Johnson of the University of Miami.

“A lot of music was written for salon performances, with music as a tool to connect people,” said Deborah Briggs, vice president for philanthropy and programs at the Ocean Drive hotel. “At The Betsy, we’re really focused on creating an environment for people who are interested in the things that matter to them. And music is one of the ways we do it.”

Other ways include the poetry library in the lobbies, as well as libraries in each room, she said.

“So we have a classical music series because a lot of our guests are interested in it. And our target audience is 25 or 50 people in the lobby salon that want to sit down and see a world-class artist perform up close and personal,” Briggs said.

Petersen, a singer whose credits include the Metropolitan Opera, Chicago’s Lyric Opera, Florida Grand Opera and the Spoleto festivals, will perform the first half of Franz Schubert’s great song cycle “Die Winterreise” (D. 911). A haunting, and ultimately tragic, cycle, it is sung by a jilted lover who sets out on a winter journey, trying to get over his grief.

Petersen said he and Johnson, old friends from New York days, have long wanted to do concerts together and had not yet performed “Die Winterreise,” but it seemed like an excellent fit for the salon.

“Schubert wrote the first 12 of the 24 songs as a piece, because he had run across these 12 songs [by Wilhelm Müller] in a collection and thought that was the entire cycle of poetry and then discovered later that there were 12 more pieces,” Petersen said. “So we thought that given the intimacy of the space and the time allotment, that the first half would be perfect to do.”

After the Schubert, Petersen will sing two opera favorites of the tenor repertoire: “E lucevan le stelle,” from Puccini’s “Tosca,” and “Vesti la giubba,” one of the most famous of all such pieces, from Ruggero Leoncavallo’s “Pagliacci.”

“It’s wonderful for Alan and me, having just done a concert in Gusman, which is a 600-seat concert hall, and then come here to a more intimate setting, it will be a really interesting experience for us as well,” Petersen said.

Briggs said the concerts, which are free to the public, are somewhat reminiscent of the Knight Foundation’s Random Acts of Culture in that the music begins to take place in an unlikely venue and then proves too compelling to ignore.

She said she makes a point of telling the guests they’re about to be treated to a concert.

“It’s like a little magnet. We have [Laurent Tourondel’s] BLT restaurant right in our lobby, so people are coming in to have a steak, and then I go around and explain to them what’s going on, and it’s like a magnet,” she said. “By the end of it, the lobby is filled up and people are just intrigued by it.”

Petersen pointed out that the songs of “Die Winterreise” were first heard by the composer sung by his friend Johann Michael Vogl, who championed Schubert’s work.

“He sang it for him first in his apartments. And the concert halls, because of the conservative religious atmosphere of the time, were all closed down,” Petersen said. “So the salons were the only place you could go for music and poetry. That was the preferred atmosphere.”

Other song cycles would work well for The Betsy, too, Petersen said such as Schumann’s “Dichterliebe,” a beautiful collection of songs about a poet’s love and suffering, very much in the vein of not just Schubert but the Romantic era.

The future holds more such collaborations, especially with the universities, for The Betsy, Briggs said, which will be the host hotel for the judges of the 12th Murray Dranoff Two-Piano competition in 2013. The Dranoff will sponsor future concerts there, and the Amernet String Quartet, which opened the salons last week, will return for another concert with a new piece in tow.

Peterson and Johnson will perform at 6 p.m. tomorrow in the hotel at 1440 Ocean Drive on South Beach.

Here’s the German tenor Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau, with the pianist Alfred Brendel, in “Der Lindenbaum (The Linden Tree),” the fifth song of “Die Winterreise’s” first half, to help set the mood.