Boston’s churches are essential to the health and vitality of the city’s classical music world. The music programs that accompany churches every Sunday morning educate, sustain, and allow young musicians to grow and develop in their craft, like at The First Church of Boston, whose music program is home to soprano Rebecca Teeters. Accompanied by pianist Michael Strauss, Teeters performed settings of texts (all written by women) composed by Dominick Argento, John Duke, and Libby Larsen on Sunday, April 10, for First Church of Boston’s Collins Family Memorial Concert.
Teeters understood Argento’s From the Diary of Virginia Woolf with an intuition that neither patronized nor coddled her audience. The work sets starkly internalized passages from the British author’s diary to almost equally internalized music. The audience was led through passages on Woolf’s depression, oppression, death of parents, and finally, suicide. Teeters’s performance on Sunday made us feel that we were intruding into something remarkably intimate — a world ripped apart by the sobs of earnest invectives and desolate isolation. In collaboration with pianist Michael Strauss, Teeters understood the sensibility of this delicate music by tempering her considerable instrument to the intricacies of Argento’s score.
Is it unfair to say that the remainder of the concert was considerably less intellectually demanding? John Woods Duke’s Six Poems by Emily Dickinson was a welcome reprieve after Argento’s dark work, yet no less of a pleasure to hear performed this Sunday afternoon. It’s in these works (devoid of the distractions of the music itself) that we really got a sense of Teeters’s voice — a generous, well-developed soprano that maintains a confident presence in its mid range and a dark richness in its lower range. Somewhat more theatrical than Argento’s work, the Duke allowed Teeters to display the full range of her dramatic abilities.
The program concluded with Libby Larsen’s Wives of Henry VIII. It’s hard to know what to make of this work: Larsen’s settings of speeches and letters that Henry VIII’s wives wrote or spoke shortly before their execution or death seem somehow facile in some cases, patronizing in others. I shouldn’t complain: regardless of my reservations on the music, the works showcased Teeters’s voice in its full range — that not only displayed the same versatility of her middle and lower registers but also showcased the brilliant flexibility of her upper range. Sunday afternoon’s recital ended in a thoughtful silence that was greeted by earnest applause.
Although a young musician (Teeters graduated from the University of Central Oklahoma in 2006) there is no question as to her vocal talent. Yet what separates a soprano like Teeters from so many others is her ability not simply to perform but to internalize and present a thesis of each work. We are fortunate not only to have the opportunity to have musicians of Teeters’s caliber among us, but also institutions such as First Church of Boston to support such artists.
Sudeep Agarwala is a graduate student at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. He performs with various choral groups throughout Boston and Cambridge.