Sarah Wolfson is a performer whose youth belies her many accomplishments and artistic sensitivity. Constantly seeking new challenges, she is equally at home in the worlds of opera and contemporary music. For her sold-out premiere performance at Café Sabarsky on Thursday, March 24, she makes her first foray into the realm of cabaret.
Sarah spoke to us about her musical background and the searching spirit that guides her as an artist.
Question 1: You have an extensive operatic repertoire, and you are also a champion of new music. Do you see any similarities between the two genres?
Sarah Wolfson: Often times, opera is thought of as accessible and exciting, while contemporary music is thought of as clinical and cold. I firmly believe that the musical languages found in both are meant to move an audience and ignite the listener’s desire to hear more. Of course, as an artist, you do have to go about preparing the different genres in different ways. The process of learning Luciano Berio’s Sequenza is certainly different from learning the role of Susanna in Le nozze di Figaro, but the goal for me always is to let the music shine while making it my own.
Q2: What attracted you to the music of Kurt Weill?
SW: I know I’m at my best when I can be a storyteller, and Weill’s music gives me the opportunity to give the kind of performance I enjoy the most. Not only did he compose in so many diverse musical styles (classical, cabaret, pop), he did it so masterfully. Each of his songs creates a mood and captures a real emotional moment. When researching my program for Thursday night, I felt a bit like a kid in a candy shop!
Q3: As a student at Juilliard, you spent time in Salzburg, Austria, on the Lucrezia Bori Grant for study abroad. What did you learn about Austrian musical culture during your time there? How did it influence you as a performer?
SW: It was simply glorious to step outside of the conservatory setting. All the principles that my coaches and teachers had been drilling into me about style and musicality finally sunk in. Anyone who’s ever been in Salzburg knows that the city is surrounded by nature. I couldn’t escape the musical language of the great German Lied composers, because their voices jumped out at me on a daily basis. I remember riding my bike every day past a babbling brook and saying to myself, “Ah, that’s the sound of Schubert’s Die Forelle!”
Q4: You are on the faculty of the music department at Columbia University. What do you find to be the most satisfying thing about working with young performers?
SW: My students are so passionate and talented that it’s a joy to teach them. I began as an instructor at Columbia in 2007, and was rather hesitant at first. I wanted to make sure that I had all the tools at hand to help young singers. I quickly realized, though, that I had more than enough ways to help them understand the craft of both vocal technique and performance. Truly the most rewarding aspect of it is seeing them take what we’ve worked on in lessons and class and make it their own.
Q5: What can you tell us about your performance this week?
SW: I’m very much looking forward to my show! I’m excited to be singing in such a great setting, surrounded by some of my favorite art, my favorite food, and my favorite people. The title of my program is “Foolish Heart: Kurt Weill’s Search for Love and Home.” I’ve always been fascinated by the way great artists evolve their talents over the course of their lives, and Kurt Weill’s journey from Weimar Germany to Hollywood spoke to me. It seems to me that Weill spent much of his life trying to find a place in the world where he belonged, as a musician, a German, a Jew, and a visionary. I share some of those same feelings myself, as someone who moves in and out of so many genres. I think the success of any good program relies on both the artist and the audience making new discoveries about the music and themselves. My hope is that my program will do just that.
Sarah Wolfson will perform Thursday, March 24 at 9 p.m., preceded by a prix-fixe dinner at 7 p.m.
Ticket price is $110 (dinner $65, performance $45; purchased together). Performance and dinner are not sold separately. Tickets are nonrefundable.
Performance will take place in Café Sabarsky at the Neue Galerie New York
1048 Fifth Avenue at 86th Street
New York, NY 10028
Piano courtesy of Yahama.