Classical Sounds

Austin-based mezzo-soprano Kathryn Findlen debuts new works in New York

Mezzo-soprano Kathryn Findlen debuts new works in New York

Kathryn Findlen
Kathryn Findlen. Photo courtesy of Kathryn Findlen
Masters, Findlen, Frazelle
Richard Masters from left, Kathryn Findlen, and Kenneth Frazelle. Jimmy Williams
Kathryn Findlen
Masters, Findlen, Frazelle

Austin-based mezzo-soprano Kathryn Findlen makes her two-part New York City debut this May. The first involves the New York City premiere of Kenneth Frazelle’s Songs in the Rear View Mirror, Monday, May 20 at Carnegie’s Weill Recital Hall with UT Austin faculty pianist Richard Masters. The second part is a concert of George Crumb songs, such as Apparitions, at a less formal venue called Spectrum with Charlie Magnone on May 29. She has worked closely with both Crumb and Frazelle to bring these works uniquely to life.

Findlen is a voice instructor at Southwestern University in Georgetown and the co-founder of Kaleidoscope, a local music series that aims to make opera, classical and contemporary music more accessible to the general public through unique programming and venues. She has sung with Austin Civic Chorus, Texas Choral Consort, the Austin Symphony, and the Austin Lyric Opera. In 2012, Findlen was nominated for an Austin Critics Table Award for her performance in Petite Messe Solenelle. She's been an active promoter of classical music around the city as well as a friend of many local composers for years.

“I moved to Austin with the express intent of completing my masters in 12 months and leaving,” says Findlen. “I am a die-hard Carolinian girl. At the time I couldn’t imagine living outside of North Carolina, but Austin really grabbed me.” In Austin, Findlen says she has found “an emphasis on quality of life and on experiences, though it has honestly not been great for a classical singer’s career.”

“When we’re in music school we think that we’ll get out with a skill and we’ll do our auditions, do our jobs, and get paid for them," continues Findlen. "That can be true for some. But what I’m finding is, instead, that I spend most of my time creating my own projects. Austin’s a great place to do that. There’s a really entrepreneurial spirit that thrives here. So I can start a concert series and have great feedback, or I can have a thriving studio while teaching at a university.”

This week, Findlen takes that entrepreneurial spirit to New York for the premiere of Kenneth Frazelle’s Songs in the Rearview Mirror. The piece, which takes place in a suspended world of eastern North Carolina, is prompted by the photographs of William Christenberry, who documented the disappearance and change of buildings over time. Frazelle describes it as a “road trip — through time, location, and emotion.”

The New York premiere marks the first performance in a new region. “Hopefully the content of the work transcends regional appeal and will reach people in a meaningful way," Frazelle says. "Both [Findlen] and [Masters] are able to inhabit the piece with all the emotional and evocative presence a composer could ever hope for. They have an impeccable ability to conjure deep imagery through their pianistic and vocal storytelling.”

“I’ve never been inspired to do a New York City debut,” says Findlen. “That’s never appealed to me because rather than doing an event, or something about me as a performer, I prefer to be more of a conduit for the composer. So being given the chance to perform something so very powerful and personal, as a woman and a parent and an artist to be able to take this work on a major stage in New York, means so much more to me than if I had been singing a standard recital of expected repertoire.”

For Findlen, Frazelle’s piece unlocks something new — helps the audience grow. “[Masters] and I have done it twice in North Carolina, three times in Texas, once in Washington D.C.,” she says. “Each time we’ve heard people laughing hysterically at the punch lines, but then we’ll also hear people openly weeping at the end. It’s just a powerful piece of art.”