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Mary Bonhag and Tanglewood Fellows Perform in Vermont

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Mary Bonhag - COURTESY OF ARIELLE DONESON
  • Courtesy of Arielle Doneson
  • Mary Bonhag

Soprano Mary Bonhag was on complete voice rest last week prior to a concert at the Resonant Bodies Festival in Brooklyn. So this owner of a beautifully expressive voice in both speech and song could use only email to describe what may have been her richest musical summer yet — as a 2017 fellow at Tanglewood Music Center.

Bonhag was one of only 15 singers to win a spot in national auditions at the summer home of the Boston Symphony Orchestra. It was her fourth attempt in 10 years. "This is not an uncommon story," she wrote. "It's pretty darn competitive."

Now Bonhag has invited two of her fellow Tanglewood singers to join her on the season-opening concert of Scrag Mountain Music, the central Vermont chamber series that she and her husband, Evan Premo, run from their Marshfield home. Bonhag, mezzo-soprano Jazimina MacNeil and bass Andrew Munn will sing a program of songs by Franz Schubert, Johann Sebastian Bach, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, Kurt Weill, William Bolcom and others — some of which they performed at Tanglewood. Premo, a double-bass player, will accompany Munn and pianist Adam Rothenberg, another Tanglewood fellow, on a Mozart concert aria.

The concert is, in part, a thank-you to the Vermonters who made the singer's summer possible. Bonhag was determined not to leave her husband and two young sons behind for eight weeks, even to pursue a dream she has had since high school. So she launched a GoFundMe campaign to help cover the costs of staying in Lenox, Mass., with her family.

Of the $10,000 needed for a furnished place, supporters raised the requested $6,000. Tanglewood pays its fellows $2,000. "They're not used to having fellows with children," Bonhag wrote. (Premo periodically traveled back and forth for performances with the Craftsbury Chamber Players, the Vermont Symphony Orchestra and the Rochester Chamber Music Society.

Bonhag stresses the importance of starting "a conversation about the need for foundations and grants for ... [musician] mothers and families. We are limiting the amount and kinds of art and music we all can experience if we don't support musicians who also choose to have children," she wrote.

The soprano is especially grateful for her community's support because she feels that Tanglewood's preeminent musicians on faculty helped her significantly improve her instrument. The singing program's director this year was the esteemed soprano Dawn Upshaw, who helped train Bonhag while the latter earned her master's degree in vocal performance at Bard College.

In addition to taking twice-weekly voice classes and giving regular recitals, primarily at the intimate Seiji Ozawa Hall, the voice fellows received specific coaching on each new program from a different faculty member. And, wrote Bonhag, there were "concerts to attend every single night of the highest caliber" — including those by her fellow singers.

Reviewers for the New York Times and Classical Voice North America both took special note of Bonhag and MacNeil's performances, with a third singer, of contemporary composer David Lang's "just (after song of songs)." "A beautiful performance," the Times reporter wrote.

One of Bonhag's emails conveyed just how momentous the summer was for her: "I saved the voice mail from November saying I got in [to Tanglewood] until I just got home last week. That's how excited I was!"

This weekend's concerts will allow her and the other highly select musicians to pour their emotion into song.


The original print version of this article was headlined "Vocal Virtuosity"

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