Yo-Yo Ma, Richard Goode, the Martha Graham Dance Company, and The King’s Singers. The Emerson, Juilliard, Tokyo, and Guarneri string quartets. The Salzburg Marionettes, Tafelmusik, and the Orpheus Chamber Orchestra.
You don’t have to go to New York, London, or Austria to see such A-list talent. Just head about 25 miles northwest to Los Alamos and the programs of the Los Alamos Concert Association.
If familiarity breeds contempt, proximity seems to breed obliviousness — at least on the part of many Santa Feans who aren’t familiar with the group’s remarkably top-flight offerings. A very good example is the upcoming performance of Franz Schubert’s song cycle Winter Journey (Winterreise) by the top-tier duo of bass-baritone Eric Owens and pianist Jeremy Denk on Thursday, Dec. 5.
Both performers have New Mexico connections. Owens created the role of General Leslie Groves in the 2005 world premiere of Doctor Atomic, which was staged by the Santa Fe Opera in 2018. He also played the role of the malevolent Doctor in Wozzeck during the SFO’s 2011 season and is slated to return next summer as King Marke in Tristan und Isolde. He’s currently at the Metropolitan Opera giving an acclaimed portrayal of Porgy in Porgy and Bess; in between, it’s more Wagner as he stops off in Chicago for Wotan in Lyric Opera’s new production of The Ring Cycle.
Denk was born in New Jersey but grew up in Los Alamos. At age 10, he auditioned for William Leland, a professor of piano at New Mexico State University, and began seriously studying the instrument. “This crucial period of my life is when I basically decided to be a pianist, without knowing it,” he says in a charming video posted on the concert association’s website (losalamosconcert.org). He’s now celebrated for interpretations that uniquely combine passion, pianistic technique, and humor with what The New York Times called his “vivacious intellect.”
Schubert never found success as an opera composer, but his two song cycles to narrative poems by Wilhelm Müller — The Beautiful Mill Girl (Die schöne müllerin) and Winter Journey — are virtually monodramas with their intense, emotional impact. The first 12 of Winter Journey’s 24 songs follow the protagonist’s thoughts on his journey through a familiar but now desolate winter landscape after having been jilted by his lover. The final dozen take an inward turn, exploring themes of alienation and despair.
Owens and Denk should make an ideal pairing for the program, given Owens’ dark, velvety voice and ability to embody a character’s inner thoughts, and Denk’s probing, thoughtful pianism. Their performance in Los Alamos marks the beginning of their own winter journey, a tour performing the song cycle in the Midwest and on the East Coast before the holidays arrive. 7 p.m. Thursday, Dec. 5, at the Duane Smith Auditorium of Los Alamos High School, 1300 Diamond Drive, Los Alamos. Tickets are $35, $40 at the door; 505-988-1234, lensic.org.