Classical Music: Lieder at Lunch goes On the Road

What: Lieder at Lunch
When/where: Wednesday, Jan. 9, 12:30 p.m., Room B037, School of Music (MacLaurin Building, University of Victoria)
Tickets: Free admission

The start of a new year seems like a good time to remind classical-music fans of a longstanding free concert series that returns next Wednesday after a year’s hiatus: Lieder at Lunch.

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This popular series comprises precisely what its name suggests: lunchtime recitals devoted (mostly) to exploring the rich repertoire of German art songs. (“Lieder” is German for “songs.”)

Lieder at Lunch is run by the husband-and-wife duo of pianist Harald Krebs and soprano Sharon Krebs, through the University of Victoria’s School of Music.

Harald, who has taught in the School of Music since 1986, heads its music theory program and offers courses in theory, musicology and collaborative piano. (In 2010, the university named him a distinguished professor — its highest academic honour.) Sharon, besides being a performer, is an independent scholar with an impressive record and catholic interests — she holds degrees in human physiology, science education and Germanic studies.

In 1991, the couple began performing German art songs around town through UVic’s Speakers Bureau, and in 2001 they founded Lieder at Lunch.

The recitals in this series, which run about 45 minutes, are organized around a theme and augmented with talk, projected images and text translations. They are given in the School of Music’s Room B037, a rehearsal space that approximates the intimate domestic settings in which lieder were typically heard when the genre first came to prominence in the early 19th century. And yes, you can actually bring your lunch.

Both Harald and Sharon are scholars as well as performers of song repertoire — the two activities feed each other. Harald, for instance, says that much of his academic work since the 1990s has dealt with lieder, especially those of Robert Schumann but also of Schubert, Wolf and Clara Schumann.

The couple does not focus only on canonical composers and works, however. They have also championed many undeservedly neglected corners of the repertoire, particularly the songs of the prolific, once-popular German composer Josephine Lang (1815-1880).

Since discovering Lang’s work during a six-month stay in Germany in 1993-94, they have done a great deal of research on her and have promoted her songs internationally through performances, articles, websites and, most significantly, a jointly authored book, Josephine Lang: Her Life and Songs, published in 2007 and including their own CD featuring 30 of Lang’s songs.

The last Lieder at Lunch concert took place last January; there was no concert during the fall semester as Harald was on study leave. The couple spent some of that time in Germany, their self-described “second home,” where they attended an international song competition in Stuttgart.

Next Wednesday’s recital, titled Unterwegs (On the Road), is, Harald says, “the traditional season-starter that functions as a musical diary of recent travels,” which also included conferences and research trips to Edmonton and Washington, D.C.

The program features songs from the core of the Romantic lieder repertoire, by Schubert, Mendelssohn, Schumann and Wolf, but also by Hanns Eisler (1898-1962). Born in Germany and raised in Vienna, Eisler lived mostly in the U.S. (including Hollywood) during the Nazi era but was expelled from the country in 1948 after falling afoul of the House Committee on Un-American Activities, which denounced him as “the Karl Marx of music;” for the last dozen years of his life he was based in East Berlin.

The recital will also include works by two prolific song composers who were once highly regarded but are today obscure: Liza Lehmann (1862-1918), an English soprano, and Carl Mangold (1813-1889), a German conductor some of whose songs were popularized by Jenny Lind, the famous Swedish soprano. (Among Mangold’s other fans was Schumann, who admired the “natural liveliness” and “power and depth of expression” of his music.)

To make up for the long hiatus, there will be another Lieder at Lunch recital on Feb. 13, featuring a guest performer: clarinetist Patricia Kostek, a professor emeritus in the School of Music. That program, titled Fliederlieder (Songs about Lilacs), includes works by Mendelssohn, Brahms, Lang and Eisler, but also, Harald says, by “obscure composers whom we would never have discovered if we hadn’t been searching for good lilac songs.”

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