Good-mood music

“Musick has charms to soothe a savage breast.” So said playwright William Congreve in his 1697 play, The Mourning Bride, and it’s still true today. Here’s what several of Santa Fe’s classical musicians are listening to when they need to be soothed or want to set their spirits soaring. Some delve into a corner of the classical repertory they’re less familiar with or to re-engage with cherished favorites. Others explore something completely different, ranging from country and western to jazz through an Armenian lens.

Violinist and Santa Fe Symphony principal conductor Guillermo Figueroa is taking the deep dive approach. “I’ve always known that the piano sonatas are central to Beethoven’s development. But not being a pianist, I have never really experienced those works. So I’ve set off to listen to all 32 sonatas in order, with the scores, one a day. I’ve done five so far, 27 to go! It’s incredible to discover some of the greatest music by a composer I thought I knew well. And by the way, no violin practicing for two weeks already. Very relaxing and liberating!”

Steven Ovitsky, the Santa Fe Chamber Music Festival’s executive director, embraces a yin-yang duality. “Right now, I’m listening to three recordings,” he says. “The first two are Heinrich Schütz’s Psalms of David and Franz Schubert’s late piano sonatas played by Walter Klien. For more than 50 years, Schütz’s music has spoken to me deeply, and these settings are some of the early Baroque’s greatest music. Klien’s elegant, powerful playing speaks to the great humanity and power of Schubert’s music at this difficult time.” And the third recording? “It’s Compadres by Marty Stuart and The Fabulous Superlatives, my favorite country band, performing with legends including Merle Haggard, Johnny Cash, Travis Tritt, Loretta Lynn, and B.B. King.”

The new executive director of Santa Fe Pro Musica, Mary G. Madigan, also welcomes contrast. “When I’m seeking solace, I listen to a Bach chorale, Gottes Zeit ist die allerbeste Zeit, transcribed for piano four hands by György Kurtág. The playing by the Kurtágs — together for 72 years until Márta’s death last October — is so tender, so musical. I go to Nina Simone for grit and power. Nina knows how baaad it can be. But she is also determined! Her blue and optimistic ‘Trouble in Mind’ is one of my favorites.”

Alexander Neef is being pulled in three directions these days. He’s the artistic director of the Santa Fe Opera. He takes the helm as general director-designate of the Opéra National de Paris soon. And he is leaving his general director post at the Canadian Opera Company. “I find that French baroque operas, especially Jean-Philippe Rameau’s Tragédies lyriques with their clarity and classicism, help me to get some distance,” he says. “The same holds true for the Monteverdi operas. And then there’s always Beethoven, the symphonies, piano concertos, piano sonatas, and string quartets to stimulate and engage me. I never tire of them.”

The distinguished British-born baritone Anthony Michaels-Moore, who now describes himself as “a proud full-time Tesuque resident,” chooses the pastoral lushness of Ralph Vaughan Williams’ The Lark Ascending and the Fantasia on Greensleeves. “Both are calming, inspirational, and beautiful,” he says. “You press play, and ah … You’re transported to the Kent countryside, if you like that sort of thing.”

Santa Fe Symphony executive director Daniel Crupi likes that sort of thing. “In times of turmoil, I gravitate toward music that brings me comfort,” he says, “especially the 20th-century British repertory by the likes of Benjamin Britten, Vaughan Williams, and Edward Elgar. And as a vocalist, I’ve always been drawn to songs by Gerald Finzi, especially his settings of Thomas Hardy poetry. I’m tackling one Finzi-Hardy cycle per week, and also reading Hardy’s The Return of the Native to complete my English immersion therapy.”

The “Three Bs” are just the ticket for Santa Fe Pro Musica’s Thomas O’Connor, albeit with Samuel Barber replacing Johannes Brahms. “Bach’s Brandenburg Concertos are my first choice because each is unique and joyful in its own special way,” he says. “For sheer determination in the face of overwhelming odds, it’s Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony. If I want to go to that place in my emotional life where my feelings are most intense, it’s the Adagietto from Mahler’s Symphony No. 5 or Barber’s Adagio for Strings or Anna Clyne’s Within Her Arms.”

Robert Tweten, head of the Santa Fe Opera music staff, likes to rock while he’s rolling on his bike. “To put me in a better mood, riding while listening to classic rock from the ’70s and ’80s always works. A couple of favorites are ‘Carry On Wayward Son’ by Kansas and ‘Closer to the Heart’ by Rush. If there’s one classical piece that resets me, it’s Aaron Copland’s Appalachian Spring. For sheer vocal beauty, I usually turn to tenor Fritz Wunderlich singing Schumann, Schubert, or Viennese operetta. Actually, Fritz could sing the phone book and it would be amazing.”

The Santa Fe Desert Chorale’s artistic director Joshua Habermann opts for pop. “Jack Johnson’s ‘Mud Football’ is a feel-good song about the invincibility of youth and living totally in the present,” he says. “I love the quirky orchestration that includes what sounds like a nautical bell, and the Hawaiian chill vibe combined with a Cuban salsa-groove. I’m a fan of good words set to good music, and sometimes when you’re facing tough times you want encouragement rather than escape. ‘Wartime Prayers’ by Paul Simon, with its gospel choir background, lifts my spirits every time.”

“The Cave of Rebirth” by Armenian-born, Los Angeles-raised Tigran Hamasyan is an “all-time favorite” of Emma Marzen, the chorale’s executive director. “His music blends an amazing range of genres, from Armenian folk to jazz, and everything in between. This song, in particular, is sonically gripping, and when paired with the music video for the piece, I find myself absolutely transported and transfixed.”

“My go-to composer for all forms of depression and anxiety is Rossini,” says Anthony Barrese, Albuquerque-based Opera Southwest’s artistic director. “His rhythm gets the heartbeat moving, his melodies are delightful, his plots are zany, and everything in his music is designed to bowl you over. The finales of his comic operas get so wild you can’t believe it’s going to get any more insane, and then he drops it back for a moment and does it all again!”

Santa Fe Opera general director Robert K. Meya enjoys the “Liebestod” (Love Death) from Richard Wagner’s Tristan und Isolde. “It’s one of the most beautiful pieces of music ever written,” he says. 

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