New Classical Tracks: Clara Osowski explores jazz and poetry in collaborative debut album
New Classical Tracks: Clara Osowski
Haunted Blue: Clara Osowski/Jeremy Walker (Jeremy Walker Music)
If Franz Schubert were composing songs today, would they sound like the songs heard on this new recording?
Clara Osowski is a mezzo-soprano from the Midwest. She became the first ever American prize winner at Thomas Quasthoff's International Das Lied Competition last year by placing second for her interpretation of Schubert lieder. Her debut recording is filled with songs written for her by jazz pianist and composer Jeremy Walker. You might be wondering, are there similarities between Schubert's lieder and these songs on her new recording, Haunted Blue?
"I posted something when I sang a Schubert recital last year that Schubert had the best music to live life through. And I then realized I said the exact same thing about Jeremy's music when we were making some promotional videos. And I mean it for both. What I think we often forget is how contemporary Schubert's music was. We think of, you know, the Viennese greats — they had the same exact feelings and emotions that we did. I mean, I'm sure they asked their therapists the same questions that we do, too."
Your primary focus has been more in the world of classical music and art song. But for your debut album, you've gone in a little bit of a different direction. How does that reflect on your artistry and your vision for new music?
"Recording this album, it was the combination of finding Jeremy and having his music be so accessible already to a different world that I knew nothing about. But what I know are words and what I know is what I love to sing. And so, Jeremy offered to create all of these songs with this in mind that, we're not going to put a label on it and we're not going to say that you have to enjoy this to like this. What's nice about this is it allows the listener just to be in whatever moment they want to be in.
"Composers often will say, 'Hey, I want to write a lot of music for you,' and I say, 'Great, I want to sing a lot of your music,' and then sometimes it never happens. It's almost like it's an afterthought. But with Jeremy, he was really focused on creating this whole album. And it was a collaborative process through words and music."
Tell me about that. He wrote these songs for you, but it was, indeed, a collaboration?
"Yeah. I looked through several anthologies of poetry. And I do this for composers who want to write for me. I've done this with other classical composers, too. So, looking through these poems, I would flag one and I would put the Jeremy stamp on it and say, 'I think Jeremy might actually like that.' And he chose I think three of those. There's a Longfellow poem in there that we just released and had a music video made of it, and for me to enjoy singing the words that he likes to set, it really makes it crystal clear, the message that we're both trying to communicate across.
"He also had a lyricist named Greg Foley that he had been good friends with in the past and has collaborated with before, and thankfully Greg writes some pretty amazing text that I could really connect with, too."
One of my favorites on this recording features lyrics by Greg Foley, and it opens almost like an opera aria with a duet featuring you with Tesfa Wondemagegnehu. It's called, 'This Open Road.'
"Yeah, it's a great piece. I think that's the one that a lot of people have really, really connected with. It was a very hard piece to record because the length — I think it's the longest track. There's an open jazz section, there's a rhythmic section at the end, there's this lyric section at the beginning — but it really does encompass the entirety of the album. I'm glad you like that one."
The last piece, 'Everything Was Almost Mine,' I literally thought that Gershwin could have written that piece.
"It's an immediate standard. And I remember singing through it the first time, and I said to myself, 'I'm really okay with this being an encore for the rest of my life.' Ending the whole album with 'Everything Was Almost Mine' is a nice mix of past, present, and future."
Songs that may reflect the future of classical music, written by Jeremy Walker for Clara Osowski on her debut recording, Haunted Blue.
To hear the rest of my conversation, click on the extended interview above, or download the extended podcast on iTunes or wherever you get your podcasts.