Two piano-vocal duos took the stage in Valley College’s latest free concert

An exercise in active listening followed an operatic performance of a series of German poems, both of which featured two musicians: vocalist and pianist.

By Isaac Dektor, Managing Editor

Mezzo-soprano Diana Tash and Pianist Wendy Prober answer questions after performing Frauenliebe und -leben (Woman’s Love and Life) by Robert Schumann / A. Chamiss at LAVC’s Music Recital Hall. (Photo by Jose Callejas)

While most of the 22 audience members at Valley College’s free show on Wednesday did not speak German, there was no loss in translation thanks to an emotive performance from Mezzo-soprano Diana Tash and pianist Wendy Prober.

The duo performed all eight poems from “Woman’s Love and Life” by Adelbert von Chamisso as arranged by composer Robert Schumann. Schumann’s music and Chamisso’s lyrics take listeners on a rollercoaster of love and loss. Tash, an accomplished vocalist and operatic performer, carried the audience over the language barrier with her evocative vocal tonations. With both performers well-rehearsed and coordinated down to their outfits — black adorned with red roses — the showcase never lost its momentum.

“It’s the arc of a woman’s life,” said Prober after the show. “Diana and I were saying you can’t sing these when you're 20.”

The lyrics feature a first-person narration about the joy of love and despair of heartbreak.

“In this style of vocal literature, it’s really two separate voices coming together,” said Tash.

The singer is referring to the characteristic of Prober’s piano playing throughout the show, sometimes slipping away from accompaniment into a leading role. The eighth and final song of the series ended with a piano solo that leaned into dissonance before resolving.

The showcase exposed the musical genre to students who may not be familiar with opera. To the inexpert, watching an opera singer is like seeing a fish walk out onto dry land — the sustained pitch-perfect sounds they make on a single breath seem impossible.

The second duo played three arrangements of the same number, “At the River.” Christian Nova, a veteran of Broadway and department chair to Valley’s music department, sang baritone while Frank Garvey, pianist from Ireland who is an active recording musician while serving as a faculty member for Valley, accompanied on the keys.

Each version of the song carried a different tone, the first being light and playful, the second heavier and more dramatic. The third version featured a jazzy accompaniment from Garvey on the piano. Using a tablet instead of sheet music, Garvey’s piano shone through during the third rendition with complex chords and adorning trills.

“Listen to the differences in the way I’m singing and also listen for differences in Dr. Garvey’s accompaniment,” Nova told students before the performance began.

While the second performance had an emphasis on education and was catered more towards music students, its short duration and talented performers made it enjoyable even for the layperson.

Valley’s free concert series is an asset to music students and lovers alike as seasoned performers stop by week after week. As the semester approaches its finish, only four concerts remain — students can get keyed up for the faculty piano concert that takes the stage next Wednesday at 1:30 p.m.