In-Studio with Ariadne Greif

Ariadne Greif


Simone Dinnerstein: Hello. I'm Simone Dinnerstein. Tonight, we are going to spend time with the fabulous soprano, Ariadne Greif, and her eclectic musical interests on this edition of the Young Artists Showcase.


Simone Dinnerstein: The Young Artists Showcase has been generously underwritten by the Harold W McGraw Jr. Family Foundation since 1978. And on tonight's show, I'm so excited to welcome Ariadne Greif. Ariadne Greif is a force of nature. She is a soprano who is equally passionate about singing romantic art song, and the most experimental of experimental music. We are just catching her at the end of her young artist phase as she is definitely morphing into an experienced performer, an artist in her own right.

She has premiered more than 20 new operas and more than 100 chamber pieces. As she told me once, "I started doing new music when I was a teen. And working with living composers makes me really happy." Ariadne, welcome to WQXR.

Ariadne Greif: Thank you so much, Simone.

Simone Dinnerstein: Ariadne, we're gonna start with a song by the Brooklyn-based composer, Shawn Jaeger. And, um, his bio states that he's known for using folk song, field recording, and sonic ephemera to explore placemaking and personal and cultural memory. He sounds like a really interesting person. Um, and this piece is called Träumerei, and I'm just wondering how it relates to Schumann's Träumerei from Kinderszenen.

Ariadne Greif: Um, well, you're very correct. It's a microtonal deconstruction, uh, of-of that Schumann piece that you know so well. And, um, I would love to actually set the scene for it because it's very much like a narrative dramatic peace. Um, it's a dream episode and in it, I'm about eight years old, but I'm just like incredibly large, like a giant eight-year-old, um, an adult-sized eight-year-old. Um, and I come in on my scooter and I'm playing hide and seek, but it's dark and it's getting cold. And the person I'm looking for, whose name is Anna and seems to matter to me very much, um, is nowhere to be found.

And as the piece progresses, I get more and more adult, um, until it's clear that I'm definitely in a place where I don't belong, um, but, uh, at the end, I just sort of settled down for a nap in tire despair. And, uh, and then at the end, some of the inspiration for the scene, which is exactly what you said, it's a field recording and ephemera, the inspiration for the scene is sort of revealed in a very rude awakening. Um, and the piece is definitely about childhood and growing up. And the singing itself goes from my-my best approximation of about how I sounded when I was eight, so a child voice, all the way to a very adult sound by the end, um, which is part of the plot of the dream.

Simone Dinnerstein: Wow, that sounds pretty intense. So, well, let's listen to it now.

[MUSIC - Shawn Jaeger: Träumerei]

Simone Dinnerstein: That was the remarkable Ariadne Greif singing Shawn Jaeger's Träumerei for soprano and fixed recording. The next work is by the experimental composer, Paul Pinto. He has developed a new form of opera theater that fuses the musicality of American speech, poetry, classical music, extended vocal techniques, and electronic sound art. When you start listening to the piece that Ariadne is going to share with us, you might not even think it is music at first. [laughs] I thought I was listening to some kind of TikTok course. [laughter] It sounds like gossiping-gossiping women. Just tell us what happens in it.

Ariadne Greif: Um, it's, uh, awesome and very serious piece of music, um, with almost every detail notated, but somehow it creates this amazingly wild and-and it feels improvised. The effect feels improvised. And to me, it sounds like it's three voices gossiping in the car, um, in a long car ride about a guy named Hans, who broke all three voices' hearts. [laughs] Um, and the piece has a lot of very bad words in it, um, which I have completely bleeped out for radio, um, which I think actually makes it even funnier.

And somehow, at the lowest moment of the piece, emotionally, the bleeps get closer and closer together as the people get more and more upset. [chuckles] Um, and it's absolutely the first time I've ever had the chance to bleep out any bad words.

Simone Dinnerstein: [laughs]

Ariadne Greif: And I feel like so cool. [chuckles]

Simone Dinnerstein: Well, let's listen to it and see-see what it sounds like.

[MUSIC - Paul Pinto: Three Songs Near Omaha, Nebraska]

Simone Dinnerstein: That was Paul Pinto's Three Songs Near Omaha, Nebraska performed by Ariadne Greif. The next song is by the composer Eve Beglarian, and is a setting of a poem by Jane Bowles called Farther from the Heart. It's a very touching poem, so I thought I would read it right now. Farther from the Heart.

Oh, I'm sad for never knowing courage

And I'm sad for the stilling of fear

Close to the sun now and farther from the heart

I think that my end must be near

I linger too long at a picnic

'Cause a picnic's gayer than me

And I hold to the edge of the table

'Cause the table's stronger than me.

And I lean on anyone's shoulder

Because anyone's warmer than me.

Eve Beglarian wrote, "I have been mulling over this 1942 poem by Jane Bowles since I first encountered it in 2000. I think the poem is unbearably sad, the embodiment of a specific kind of mid-20th century female unhappiness. I do not live this life, but I am very conscious of having escaped it. So we're going to listen to you now live in the studio, and we're gonna bring in your wonderful pianist, Vladimir Rumyantsev, to play with you. Um, so let's listen to Farther from the Heart.

[MUSIC - Beglarian: Farther from the Heart]

Simone Dinnerstein: That was Eve Beglarian's Farther from the Heart performed here in the WQXR studio by soprano, Ariadne Greif, with pianist, Vladimir Rumyantsev. That was really a beautiful performance, and, uh, I'm-I'm so pleased, Ariadne, that you brought Vladimir with you to the studio because, um, I know Vladimir from several years ago when he was a student of Pavlina Dokovska at Mannes. And, uh, while-while you were there, you took my class on, uh, performing for elementary school, uh, students in the New York City public school system. So, um, Vladimir, it's so nice to see you again.

Vladimir Rumyantsev: So nice to see you too. Thank you so much for having me here.

Simone Dinnerstein: I'll never forget your performance of Petrushka in that, uh, public school auditorium. That was really terrific.

Vladimir Rumyantsev: It was a lot of fun.

Simone Dinnerstein: [laughs] So, um, I know that you've been doing lots of different projects since-since then. Have you been playing much with singers as well or is Ariadne one of the only fortunate to?

Vladimir Rumyantsev: I would say she is one of the only ones.

Simone Dinnerstein: She's one of the only ones?

Ariadne Greif: I'm the most fortunate.

Simone Dinnerstein: [laughs]

Ariadne Greif: The most fortunate.

Simone Dinnerstein: That's so great. That's wonderful. I-I did read in your bio that you've been doing some work with theater though.

Vladimir Rumyantsev: Yes. I used to work at American Ballet Theater.

Simone Dinnerstein: Yes. At American Ballet Theater.

Vladimir Rumyantsev: Yes.

Simone Dinnerstein: Okay, wonderful.

Vladimir Rumyantsev: Good.

Simone Dinnerstein: Um, so the next group of songs that you're going to do is a set of songs by Rachmaninov and I just wondered if you might want to tell us a little bit about them, Ariadne.

Ariadne Greif: Well, I picked a supercut of the best breakup songs by Rachmaninov. [laughter] If you ever have a breakup and you just wanna wallow, Rachmaninov's got you. [laughs]

Simone Dinnerstein: Okay. Yes, I'm sure. Well, I-I know that the piano music covers that too.


Ariadne Greif: And they're all from different opuses, except there are three at the end from Opus 38, which is a very special opus and he considered it some of his best songs.

Simone Dinnerstein: Mm-hmm.

Ariadne Greif: And I love the circumstances under which he wrote the songs. He was in a kind of epistolary romance with a beautiful, and at the first-- at first very mysterious poet named Marietta Shaginyan, who signed her letters to him just with the name Re. And she thought-- She said to him that he needed to pick more modern symbolist texts and she helped him assemble these incredibly stunning poems.

Simone Dinnerstein: Uh, Vladimir, were you familiar with the poetry of some of these songs before?

Vladimir Rumyantsev: Yes, absolutely. Because I've been playing them for many, many years.

Simone Dinnerstein: Oh, okay. Yes.

Vladimir Rumyantsev: Yes, and--

Simone Dinnerstein: But also separately from-- Have you read these poets?

Vladimir Rumyantsev: Yeah. They're quite famous poets of the silver age in Russia.

Simone Dinnerstein: Mm-hmm. Mm-hmm.

Vladimir Rumyantsev: And yes, I was familiar with some of them, but not with all of them, I suppose, so.

Simone Dinnerstein: Yeah. And were you able to help Ariadne with her diction?

Vladimir Rumyantsev: Her diction is outstanding, I would say for Russian.

Simone Dinnerstein: Oh, all right, good. Yeah.

Ariadne Greif: Aw.


Vladimir Rumyantsev: We have friends and they're from different place all over the world.

Simone Dinnerstein: Uh-huh.

Vladimir Rumyantsev: But they, for some reason, speak Russian.

Simone Dinnerstein: Uh-huh.

Vladimir Rumyantsev: And she's one of them.

Simone Dinnerstein: Oh. [laughs]

Vladimir Rumyantsev: [chuckles] Even from California if she can speak Russian very well.

Simone Dinnerstein: Wonderful.

Ariadne Greif: That's a huge compliment. I can formulate a phrase.

Simone Dinnerstein: Okay.

Ariadne Greif: But I can't really talk. [laughs]

Simone Dinnerstein: Well, as long as you can sing, that's good. So let's listen to these songs. We're going to hear Dream. Oh, no, I beg don't go. I was with her. We ran into each other yesterday. Lilacs. Daisies. Aa-u. To her and Spring Waters.

[MUSIC - Rachmaninov: Dream]

Simone Dinnerstein: Wow. [laughs] That was a tremendous performance of a group of Rachmaninov songs sung live here in WQXR Studio by our guests, Ariadne Greif and Vladimir Rumyantsev. It's time for a quick break now, then I'll be back with more vocal gymnastics here on the McGraw Family's Young Artist Showcase. Welcome back. Tonight we are listening to the extraordinary soprano, Ariadne Greif. The next two selections are from a new opera ISOLA by the composer Alyssa Weinberg. And I actually wasn't familiar with Alyssa Weinberg's music so much, so I'm really curious to know more about her. Can you say a little bit about her music?

Ariadne Greif: Oh, she's so cool. She writes a lot with sampled instruments, and, uh, in this piece, she recorded me quite a bit.

Simone Dinnerstein: Mm-hmm.

Ariadne Greif: So this is- this-- It's-it's many of me singing this.

Simone Dinnerstein: I see.

Ariadne Greif: Um, and throughout the piece, my voice is always lurking in the corners of the sound world and sometimes swirling in the center. And the first movement that we're doing here, Glacial Expectations, it reminds me of spadinalium or something with a million different voices. It feels like Renaissance polyphony, and it's like many selves, a fractured self. The opera is about a mental health episode.

Simone Dinnerstein: Okay.

Ariadne Greif: And, um, and being alone, loneliness and desire. And this is more of a fractured part, and in the next movement, it's more of a gathering yourself together.

Simone Dinnerstein: So-so the first movement that we're going hear is Glacial Expectations, and the second movement that we're gonna hear is Blue Gradations. And we'll be able to hear the difference between them and style in terms of the scope of the multi voices used. Would you-would you say that's correct?

Ariadne Greif: Yes. I also wanted to point out that the opera is kind of special because it's, um, it doesn't have like a libretto. It has gorgeous poetry by J Mae Barizo, and some of the words are just stunning.

Simone Dinnerstein: Could you tell us a few of the words-

Ariadne Greif: Oh.

Simone Dinnerstein: -if we don't hear them when you're singing?

Ariadne Greif: I'm gonna read you some of the poem for Blue Gradations.

Simone Dinnerstein: Okay. So that's the second song that we're gonna hear.

Ariadne Greif: “I told him I'm not afraid of death, but of the blue gradations of distance, a sailboat dots the blue and I am exiled from love. I think I dreamt of you and your noise machines. I dreamt an impossible kind of music, an impossible kind of music where everything sounds borrowed. The book I had in my suitcase, along with the impossibly soft T-shirt that said, ‘Have a garbage day.’”

Simone Dinnerstein: [chuckles] I think I did hear that.

Ariadne Greif: [laughs]

Simone Dinnerstein: I did catch "have a garbage day". That happens right at the end, doesn't it?

Ariadne Greif: Right at the end.

Simone Dinnerstein: Yes. Yeah. Uh, okay, well, let's-let's listen to, um, Alyssa Weinberg' two songs from ISOLA called Glacial Expectations and Blue Gradations.

[MUSIC- Alyssa Weinberg: Glacial Expectations]

[MUSIC- Alyssa Weinberg: Blue Gradations]

Simone Dinnerstein: That was our guest, soprano, Ariadne Greif, singing two songs from the opera ISOLA by Alyssa Weinberg. The first was Glacial Expectations, and the second was Blue Gradations. And I hope you all heard the-the end lyric "have a garbage day". [laughter] Wonderful. The last piece on your program today is by the composer Betsy Podsiadlo. I know that she is both a composer and a singer, and I'm curious about how that affects her writing. Like how is it when you sing something written by a singer?

Ariadne Greif: I mean, there are no-- there are notable singers, uh, that I've worked with who write amazing idiomatic music for voice.

Simone Dinnerstein: Hmm. Yes.

Ariadne Greif: And I think, you know, something like Rachmaninoff, obviously, he was a pianist, and it just he-he can make it count. He can make it hard, but it counts. And I think in the case of Betsy, she's a kind of amazing singer. She's an amazing vocalist. And she has incredible technique. So her piece is actually really hard, but it's very enigmatic. Um, and I am really excited about it. It's very- it's very funky and, um, psychedelic and shimmering and yet somehow still-- it's still the Lux Aeterna that you know from the Requiem.

Simone Dinnerstein: Mm-hmm.

Ariadne Greif: Um, with this-this sort of, in my mind, it conjures biblical angels with many, many eyes and flaming swords and thousands of wings and, um, uh, and the rapture and fire.

Simone Dinnerstein: Mm-hmm.

Ariadne Greif: And, um, she's very young. Um, she's an incredibly beautiful singer. She's a church musician, a string player, a singer-songwriter with a special expertise in Appalachian folk music-

Simone Dinnerstein: Oh.

Ariadne Greif: -and many other things too. She's an incredibly interesting sort of octopus.

Simone Dinnerstein: Well, I'm-I'm very curious to hear this-this rendition that you're gonna do of Lux Aeterna by Betsy Podsiadlo.

[MUSIC: Betsy Podsiadlo: Lux Aeterna]

Simone Dinnerstein: That was our guest, Ariadne Greif, singing Betsy Podsiadlo Lux Aeterna. Ariadne, what a real pleasure it was to spend time with you and listen to all of your different, many different interests in music. And also thank you, Vladimir for coming to the studio. That was just a-a real pleasure to be with the two of you today here at WQXR.

Ariadne Greif: Thank you so much, Simone. This was so cool.


Vladimir Rumyantsev: Thank you so much. It was a pleasure to see you.

Simone Dinnerstein: It was great to see you again.

Vladimir Rumyantsev: Thank you.

Simone Dinnerstein: You've been listening to the soprano, Ariadne Greif, in collaboration with pianist, Vladimir Rumyantsev. That completes this week's edition of the McGraw Family's Young Artists Showcase which is generously underwritten on WQXR by the Harold W McGraw Jr. Family Foundation. Here's Terry McGraw with more.

Terry McGraw: Good evening, everyone. It's great to be with you and it's always great being with the Young Artists Showcase and to hear these really wonderful and inspiring musicians as they continue to share their incredible gifts with us every week. I can't wait to hear the fabulous talent coming up on the showcase and I am so pleased to be able to support the series all through its well over four decades on WQXR, and there's so much more to come.

Simone Dinnerstein: Thank you, Terry. Next week, I'll be back with two more wonderful young artists, pianist, Jonathan Mamora, and soprano, Hannah Chow. Special thanks to our WQXR program producers Laura Boyman and Max Fine. Our session engineer is Irene Trudell. And our generous program underwriter is the Harold W McGraw Jr. Family Foundation. I'm Simone Dinnerstein. Goodnight.


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