Art songs are short, lyrics-driven pieces often learned by students and practiced by professionals in between gigs. Think classical literature interpreted by an opera singer to a bite-sized baroque tune. Since the first Denver Art Song Project show in 2015, the classical performance ensemble has continued to push the boundaries with puppets, video and lights shows in an attempt to make this quirky highbrow genre accessible.
“We do this for the most part because we love it,” says Leubner. “It’s what we do when we don’t have opera gigs that are paying our bills. This is the stuff we do to keep ourselves whole as artists. It’s the music we do to keep ourselves sharp. It’s the music we do to keep our brains engaged while we’re waiting for the next gig.”
In previous years, the Denver Art Song Project has choreographed a puppet performance to Lewis Carroll’s “Jabberwocky” and reimagined so-called gypsy tunes as "The Troubadour Songs."
“These are salons, in the old sense. There’s a chance for people to come together, experience art and then talk about it with the artists," Leubner adds. "[The songs] are so concise; these are really small, and the poetry speaks for itself."
Although much of the project’s mission now involves educational outreach, Leubner says he holds no interest in setting foot in a formal classroom.
“I actually avoided teaching, just because it’s not a strength of mine, it’s not a passion, and there is nothing worse than a non-passionate teacher,” he admits. “But I love talking about stuff and having conversations that challenge me, and I think these shows are my output for that, and talking to people is an educational act, and it’s an act of defiance.”
This fall will also mark the second season of the Denver Art Song Project’s online #ArtSongExperiment and YouTube series.
The group begins planning its seasons six months in advance, giving singers extensive time to research, rehearse and own their materials. It will release its full schedule, guest spotlights and season's theme at the upcoming salon.
This season, Leubner notes, he has invited top-tier artists from around the country to perform for and coach Denver’s singers, including Robert Osborn, who developed his own pastiche of songs centered around the post-chivalric romance Don Quixote.
Sunday's show will spotlight soprano Stephanie Ann Ball’s performance of “Joy,” last featured in “The Pillars of African Art Song,” with lyrics by Langston Hughes. Pianist Wil Smith and soprano Margaret Ozaki Graves will also perform throughout the season.
Denver Art Song Project 2018-19 Season Preview Salon, 6:30 p.m. Sunday, October 28, the People's Building, 9995 East Colfax Avenuein Aurora, $35 per person or $50 per couple.