Tenor Eric Ferring to Release 'No Choice But Love: Songs of the LGBTQ+ Community'

The album will be released on Friday, November 18, 2022.

By: Sep. 19, 2022
Tenor Eric Ferring to Release 'No Choice But Love: Songs of the LGBTQ+ Community'

On Friday, November 18, 2022, American tenor Eric Ferring, known internationally for being "powerful and direct... while conveying a range of conflicting emotions with distinction and subtlety" (BachTrack), releases No Choice but Love: Songs of the LGBTQ+ Community with pianist Madeline Slettedahl on Lexicon Classics. The album can be pre-ordered here.

The two-CD length album seeks to highlight diverse LGBTQIA+ voices and perspectives, through revelatory performances of important songs by some of today's leading composers, including the world premiere recording of Ben Moore's Love Remained in a new version for tenor, and the commissioned title work, No Choice but Love; Manuel de Falla's Preludios and Oración de las madres que tienen a sus hijos en brazos; Jake Heggie's Friendly Persuasions; Poulenc's Tel jour, telle nuit; Ethel Smyth's On the Road; Jennifer Higdon's Lilacs; the world premiere recordings of Willie Alexander III's Sure On This Shining Night and Mari Esabel Valverde's To digte af Tove Ditlevsen; Benjamin Britten's Canticle I; and Ricky Ian Gordon's Prayer and Joy. Ferring performs a recital of these works at his alma mater, Drake University, as part of their acclaimed Jordan Concert Series on October 14, 2022.

Ferring expresses, "As members of that community, Madeline and I wanted to pay homage to the beautiful, difficult history of the LGBT+ community within the classical music world by featuring the many talented living and passed LGBT+ composers. We believe that music is a means of expression, an alternative lens through which to interpret reality, and a healing force. We know that we must use our voices to be advocates for those whose voices are ignored or can't be heard. We as artists must utilize our gifts to be catalysts for change, empowering our networks, and inspiring them to do what they never thought possible."

The album opens with Ben Moore's (b. 1960) song cycle, Love Remained (2011). The first song includes selections from a 2010 speech by Fort Worth city councilman Joel Burns, in which he came out publicly to his community, followed by Moore's interpretation of the love Randy Robert Potts had as a child for his late gay uncle, Ronald Roberts, son of American television evangelist Oral Roberts. For the third song, baritone Michael Kelly, the cycle's dedicatee and first performer, contributed a poem about coming out to his brother. Ben Moore's final song excerpts Harvey Milk's now-legendary 1978 "Hope Speech" to create a piece with an anthemic quality. Moore says, "Milk was like the Martin Luther King of the gay-rights movement. I wanted something to honor him, juxtaposed with the passion of the speech."

Spanish composer Manuel de Falla (1876-1946) was a closeted gay man, who exiled himself to Argentina in 1939. "His two songs on this album express sentiments common to parents everywhere, hoping to create a more universal dialogue between parents and their children," says Roger Pines in the liner notes. In Preludios (1900), Falla sets a mother-daughter dialogue by Antonio de Trueba. Oración de la madres que tienen sus hijos en brazos (Prayer of the mothers who hold their sons in their arms) (1914) is described by Pines as "deceptively soothing, given the desperation of the mother imploring Jesus not to let her son become a soldier."

Jake Heggie's Friendly Persuasions: Homage to Poulenc (2008) uses texts by Gene Scheer, highlighting friendships between Poulenc and four close friends. Pines says, "The first song presents a dialogue based on correspondence between Poulenc and harpsichordist Wanda Landowska, as she impatiently awaits the new concerto he's writing for her. Her urging that he explore his true feelings in his music leads Poulenc to confess his longing for 'Richard' (presumably painter Richard Chanlaire, Poulenc's lover in the late 1920s)." The second song tells the story of when Poulenc's recital partner, baritone Pierre Bernac, disliked a holiday song he had written, so he threw it into the fire. Heggie next shares the story of Raymonde Linossier, a young woman to whom Poulenc proposed marriage but died at only 32. The fourth and concluding song finds Poulenc "at home during wartime, playing his own songs for Surrealist poet Paul Eluard, whose friendship Poulenc considered true brotherly love," says Pines.

Francis Poulenc (1899-1963) was a prolific composer, and although he was troubled by life as a gay man, "he remained a central figure in the world of gay writers, composers, and theatrical figures "who galvanized the Parisian cultural scene." (Pines) Poulenc's nine-song cycle, Tel jour, telle nuit (1937), emerged directly from the true story of him destroying the song manuscript when Bernac didn't like it, and then whispered the words, "Tel jour telle nuit" ("As the day, so the night"). Poulenc used nine poems by Paul Eluard, largely inspired by Eluard's second wife.

Pines says, "Dame Ethel Smyth (1858-1944) triumphed over prevailing skepticism - not to say scorn - regarding female composers. Smyth produced much-admired songs, operas, chamber music, and large-scale orchestral works. The fervency of her commitment to music was matched by the passion of her romantic attachments to numerous other women, and also by her dedication to women's suffrage, which led on one occasion to her arrest and two months in prison. Ethel Carnie Holdsworth, a zealous feminist and anti-Fascist activist, contributed the text for Smyth's On the Road (1913)."

Jennifer Higdon (b. 1962) is one of today's most successful American composers and a member of the LGBTQ community. She took the text of Lilacs (2014) from Walt Whitman's "When Lilacs Last in the Dooryard Bloom'd," which published in 1865, shortly after Abraham Lincoln's assassination, and mourns the president without actually mentioning his name.

Willie Lee Alexander III's (b. 1992) music is inspired by his experience as a gay African-Mexican-American man. As co-composer and consultant, Alexander recently worked on two new operas presented by Kanye West in collaboration with The Sunday Service Collective and co-created the music for Kim Kardashian's Skims fashion show for 2020 New York Fashion Week. Pines shares, "The ten lines of text in Sure on This Shining Night (2021) present a portion of James Agee's eleven-verse poem, 'Description of Elysium' (1934)... Alexander imagines 'an older man walking through the woods at night and remembering the life he's lived - both the hardest points and the triumphant ones.'"

Works by Mexican-American transgender composer Mari Esabel Valverde (b. 1987) is a multilingual singer and music educator, as well as a frequent speaker on social-justice issues. To Digte af Tove Ditlevsen (2010) sets two poems by the distinguished Danish writer who - after an exceedingly turbulent life affected by drugs, alcohol, four failed marriages, and troubled mental health - died by suicide at age 58 in 1976. Valverde calls these poems "brutally honest."

Benjamin Britten's (1913-1976) five deeply spiritual Canticles celebrate the expressive possibilities in the singing of tenor Peter Pears, Britten's life partner. Of Canticle I featured on this album, Pines says, "Although the work's homosexual content has been the subject of debate, it does ultimately seem as close as anything in Britten's oeuvre to a public declaration of his love for Pears."

Ricky Ian Gordon (b. 1956) noted in an interview for The Journal of Singing that "poetry is the deepest way I order my universe...when I set poems to music, it's almost like I'm healing a rift in myself." Written for soprano Harolyn Blackwell, Gordon's ten-song cycle Genius Child (1993) uses texts by Langston Hughes to exhibit a vast range of emotion.

Ferring and Slettedahl close the double album with its title track, No Choice but Love, which Ferring commissioned from Ben Moore in 2021. Ferring sent the composer a poem by a fellow tenor and close friend, Jamaican-American Terrence Chin-Loy. Pines describes, "Immediately attracted to the poem, Moore first did an oral reading for Chin-Loy to confirm that his own interpretation connected completely with the poet's intention.

Moore saw that Chin-Loy was strongly rebuking 'everything that is designed to beat down gay people, and the feeling that LGBTQ+ love is somehow unnatural. Like every other gay person I've ever met, I was given negative messages when I was young. It's a process to fully accept yourself and see that what we are is natural. Nor is it a choice - it's based in love.'" Moore worked to give the song "a cosmic feel" and says, "the speaker reflects on the people who came before and made our current freedoms possible. 'We have no choice but love' - Terrence celebrates that this hugely positive truth is how the world is meant to be.'"

American tenor Eric Ferring is known internationally for his "fine, gleaming tenor" (New York Classical Review) as well as for being "powerful and direct... while conveying a range of conflicting emotions with distinction and subtlety" (BachTrack). His expertise ranges from early bel canto repertoire and the music of Handel and Mozart to the origination of contemporary operatic roles.

Eric Ferring made his anticipated Metropolitan Opera debut during the 2021-2022 season singing Pong in Turandot, followed by Tamino in The Magic Flute, Arturo in Lucia di Lammermoor, a Royal Herald in Don Carlos, and covering Grimoaldo in Rodelinda. He made his debut at Santa Fe Opera, singing Fenton in Sir David McVicar's new production of Falstaff, as well as his Spoleto Festival (USA) debut in Beethoven's 9th Symphony. Future seasons include return to Opéra de Rouen and debuts with the Opéra de Paris as Lurcanio in Ariodante and the Opéra national du Rhin as Tamino. Ferring will release a new album, We have tomorrow, with French string quartet Quatuor Agate and pianist Madeline Slettedahl in late 2023.

Ferring's numerous awards include top prizes at many competitions including the George London Foundation for Singers, Glyndebourne Opera Cup, Gerda Lissner Foundation International Voice Competition, American Opera Society of Chicago, Dorothy Lincoln-Smith Classical Voice Competition through the National Society of Arts and Letters, the Metropolitan Opera Laffont Competition, as well as grants and awards from the Richard Tucker Foundation, Sullivan Foundation, Santa Fe Opera, and Opera Theatre of Saint Louis.

He is a native of Dubuque, Iowa and graduated from Drake University with his Bachelor of Music in Vocal Performance and The Boston Conservatory with his Master of Music in Opera Performance. Ferring is a graduate of the Lyric Opera of Chicago's Ryan Opera Center and the Pittsburgh Opera Resident Artist Program.

"Extraordinarily expressive" (Seen and Heard International) pianist Madeline Slettedahl is an enthusiastic collaborator, recitalist, and highly sought-after operative coach. A current member of the Houston Grand Opera staff, additional appointments include Opera Theatre of St. Louis, Wolf Trap Opera, and Lyric Opera of Chicago, where she received her training as part of the Ryan Opera Center.

An avid recitalist, she has made recent appearances with leading opera singers of today at Carnegie Hall's Citywide Concert Series, the Dame Myra Hess Memorial Concerts, the Collaborative Art Institute of Chicago's Lieder Lounge, Green Lake Festival of Music, and the Cincinnati Song Initiative Recital Series, as well as chamber music engagements with Icicle Creek Chamber Players, Bellingham Festival of Music, and TwickenhamFet.

Artist fellowships include the Solti Accademia di Bel Canto (studying opera pianism and conducting with Jonathan Papp and Richard Bonygne), the Britten-pears Young Artist Program (opera and art song with Anthony Pappano and Mark Padmore), The Song Continues with Marilyn Horne, and Renee Fleming's SongStudio program at Carnegie Hall. She also attended Music Academy of the West, where she won First Prize in the Marilyn Horne Song Competition. Madeline holds degrees in Collaborative Piano and Piano Performance from the Shepherd School of Music at Rice University, and Western Washington University, respectively.

2023 Regional Awards


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