Concert Review: Mirror Visions — An Extraordinary Vocal Ensemble

I urge anyone interested in the voice and or just terrific music to try to attend one of Mirror Visions’ concerts.

Flights of Fantasy, a Concert by the Mirror Visions Ensemble at the Roeliff -Jansen Community Library, Hillsdale, NY on January 23. (The ensemble will be appearing at the Library for the Performing Arts at Lincoln Center on January 30th, as well as other locations all over the country later this spring.)

Photo: J. Henry Fair

Mirror Visions — Baritone Jesse Blumberg, Tenor Scott Murphee, and Soprano Vira Slywotzky. Photo: J. Henry Fair.

By Roberta Silman

Mirror Visions is a wonderful vocal chamber ensemble founded by Tobé Malawista, Richard Lalli, and Scott Murphree in 1992 and continuing strong both in the United States and France. Those lucky enough to hear their new program in Hillsdale, NY were delighted by the fabulous mixture of musicianship, creativity, and passion that is the trademark of this ensemble. As Ms. Malawista wrote in the note to the texts and translations:

Our program “Flights of Fantasy” grew out of the unceasing desire to explore both music and texts by wandering into the world of dream and imagination — from ancient times to the present. In this we were greatly helped by our newly commissioned work Scales and Tales by Gilda Lyons. In her songs she presents on a musical silver platter the ideal combination of imagination, humor and wild fantasy.

But before getting to Gilda Lyons’ outstanding piece as well as the rest of this program, a note about the participants: soprano Vira Slywotzky, tenor Scott Murphree, baritone Jesse Blumberg, and the pianist Grant Wenaus. All four are well-known in their fields and have impressive resumes individually, which are available online to anyone interested. But what makes this ensemble so special is their marvelous rapport and ability to work together as they interpret the songs they have so carefully chosen and prepared.

Each program has a special twist, which is why this ensemble’s work is so continually interesting, and this one’s theme was strange creatures, both real and mythological, like Schubert’s “The Dwarf,” Lorelei — from Heine’s text to songs by Schumann and Gershwin — Sibelius’s Narcissus, Strindberg’s Semele, Debussy’s Pan, Keats’s “La belle dame sans merci,” Hugo Wolf’s stork, Linda Pastan’s moon, as well as witches, unicorns, serpents, dragons and even Lewis Carroll’s Jabberwocky. What was so remarkable was the range of presentation — there was drama, weariness, passion, and gravitas where called for, and also lightness, charm, and humor when that was the ticket. Each song was fresh and lively and the singer’s facial expressions and gestures matched their voices in an almost uncanny way. There was not one “filler” selection.

But most important for these singers this afternoon was Scales and Tales by Gilda Lyons, which was commissioned by them and performed for the first time. With texts from a Norwegian 18th century sailor, Hesiod, an English traveler (also 18th century) and Claudius Aelianus, Lyons has created a dramatic account of mythological beasts with great variety and elán. Here the surprising star of the piece turned out to be Grant Wenaus because Lyons uses the piano in ways I have not seen since hearing and watching George Crumb’s work when it was first performed. Wenaus plucked the strings and pounded the case as well as playing the keys, thus making music that was superbly inventive, yet never gimmicky or precious. This is serious music that is even bolder than Crumb — as it should be so many years later — and well worth hearing.

Mirror Visions is known for its commissions which is a major part of its mission. Under Ms. Malawista’s guidance they have commissioned more than 70 vocal chamber music works from 14 composers including Christopher Berg, Tom Cipullo, Russell Platt, Richard Pearson Thomas, Yehudi Wyner, and now the enormously talented Gilda Lyons. It is worth pointing out that Tobé Malawista has been recognized for her unique vision by the French government and is a Chevalier of the Legion of Honor for her contributions to the culture of France.

I urge anyone interested in the voice and or just terrific music to try to attend one of their concerts. The New York Times praised Mirror Visions, saying that “programs are shaped with an ear to the poetry of the song texts.” Not an easy thing to do, and to sustain such a high standard throughout each program with such wit and energy is well-nigh miraculous. Catch them if you can, you are in for a real treat.

Roberta Silman‘s three novels—Boundaries, The Dream Dredger, and Beginning the World Again—have been distributed by Open Road as ebooks, books on demand, and are now on She has also written the short story collection, Blood Relations, and a children’s book, Somebody Else’s Child. A recipient of Guggenheim and National Endowment for the Arts Fellowships, she has published reviews in The New York Times and The Boston Globe, and writes regularly for The Arts Fuse. She can be reached at

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