Saturday, July 27, 2013

Old songs and young singers find mutually requited love, with Michael Feinstein as yenta

Julia Goodwin put across "Dream a Little Dream of Me" with mesmerizing intensity and returned in the second set of finalists with  a smoldering "Feeling Good,"  and that sealed it for the 15-year-old from Baldwinsville, N.Y.

Julia Goodwin, 15, won top prize in Michael Feinstein's annual contest
She received the first-place award in the 2013 Great American Songbook Vocal Academy and Competition, which ended Friday night at the Palladium. ("Feeling Good" is by the Briton Anthony Newley, but that source apparently didn't make it ineligible.)

The program, which attracted a crowd that filled nearly every seat in the Center for the Performing Arts flagship, was organized around a series of speeches, solo performances from four of the professional judge/mentors, and ensemble songs with all 10 candidates backing up founder/CPA artistic director Michael Feinstein ("Too Marvelous for Words") and workshop presenter Kathleen Hacker ("The Sound of Music" medley, stepping in for Sandi Patty, who was attending the birth of her first grandchild in Anderson).

But the twin centerpieces of the evening were solos by the 10 high-school vocalists, organized in two sets. Those performances determined the winners; besides Goodwin, they were Kyrie Courter, second place, and a third-place tie between Sam Pomales and Melinda Rodriguez.

For the past two years, upstate New Yorkers well under the upper age limit of the competition have come out on top. Last year it was Nick Ziobro, 16, of Manlius, N.Y., who made the wait for the judges' decision well worth it Friday with swan-song renditions of "All of Me" and, accompanying himself smartly at the piano, "What Are You Doing the Rest of Your Life?"

Now Goodwin will take over as year-long ambassador for the Feinstein Initiative, headquartered at the Palladium and producer of the annual week of workshops, master classes and the culminating contest.

Performances of the other prize winners revealed some justification for their having placed ahead of the other six participants, none of whom "bombed." That would have been shocking, considering the hoops that those who made the finals had to jump through in a field widened to 22 states this year —  double the number in 2012.

Second-place winner Kyrie (pronounced "KYE-ree," though the name was inspired by the Greek chant "Kyrie eleison") Courter, who perhaps verged a little too much into an "American Idol" style of delivery in "I Who Have Nothing," her second selection. It went over well with the crowd, however, and the crescendoing emotional anguish she expressed must have impressed the jury as well. I found her natural charm much more in evidence and under control in her stylish rendering of "Taking a Chance on Love."

The third-place tie was no surprise, given that every one of these young singers had something distinctive and meritorious to offer. Pomales walked back and forth a little too distractingly for my taste while singing "Fly Me to the Moon," reminding me of those college professors who couldn't seem to deliver a lecture without pacing the floor in front of the class. His phrasing and dynamic contrasts served the expressivity of "The Summer Knows" perfectly, however.

Rodriguez offered a "Blue Skies" that seemed more relaxed than her first number, "Autumn Leaves." But then, one song is poignant, the other upbeat. Still, I heard more individuality in the daringly slow version she offered of Johnny Mercer's adaptation of a French song that has become beloved of singers and jazz instrumentalists alike.

It would be churlish to focus on how the other participants may have fallen short, so I will instead call attention to a few good things: Brandon Ocasio's "Come Fly With Me" had chiefly the benefits of snappy presentation, including a few nimble dance steps toward the end — not too many to be beside the point, just enough to reinforce his interpretation.

Maya Jacobson offered an idiomatic "Bei Mir Bist Du Schoen," though she could have used a more rhythmically incisive piano accompaniment. Morgan Rose delivered handsomely on her declared love for Johnny Mercer lyrics with a spellbinding, sensitive account of "Skylark." Grace Wipfli showed admirable flair and maturity in Cole Porter's "It's De-Lovely," and Brittany Bauerly displayed  the requisite verve and bravado (despite a tendency to shortchange phrase ends) in "I Got Rhythm."

Who, indeed, could ask for anything more than this marvelous showcase of great popular songs?