Craig Rutenberg coaches voice students in a concert featuring folk songs and song cycles by Benjamin Britten

Craig Rutenberg is returning to Chautauqua Institution for a concert with the voice students.

“I gladly come every summer to take part in the program,” said Rutenberg, consultant and coach for the Atkins Training Program at the Mariinsky Theatre. “The students are always at a very high level and the work ethic is extremely strong.”

This year, Rutenberg decided to lead the students in a concert with pieces by Benjamin Britten, the composer of The Turn of the Screw, the opera the students performed in Week Four. At 2 p.m. Sunday in McKnight Hall, the students will perform a varied selection of pieces by the 20th-century British composer.

“We are doing some very offbeat stuff,” Rutenberg said. “There are a lot of folk songs … and then two song cycles that hardly ever get performed.”

Voice student Daevyd Pepper said preparing for the concert is nerve-wracking because Britten’s work is complex. Pepper will be performing a song cycle called “Six Hölderlin Fragments”; the text of the piece comes from short poems and verse fragments by Friedrich Hölderlin.

“They’re beautiful,” Pepper said. “It’s about the idea of loss of innocence growing up in a world where people blindly follow leaders and do what society wants, and how life is more complicated as you get older, and you stop doing what you want and do what other people want.”

Pepper said “Six Hölderlin Fragments” explores the concept of “rediscovering your agency and inner child.” In a time in society where people are questioning the media and what they’re being told, Pepper said the piece will resonate with the audience.

“As a child you’re instinctive … you don’t make excuses for things,” Pepper said. “When you think something is bad you say, ‘That’s bad,’ as opposed to saying, ‘Well, maybe.’ You don’t try to reason things out.”

The audience will also enjoy the folk songs in Sunday’s concert, Pepper said. Most of the folk songs come from the United Kingdom, which Pepper said will be interesting for an American audience to be exposed to, and if there’s someone from the United Kingdom in the audience “they’ll get a little piece of home.”

Elio Bucky, a voice student, is performing two of the folk songs in the concert. He said that while the pieces have “bouncy melodies,” most have a sinister, raunchy story. For example, the song “Foggy Foggy Dew,” which Bucky is performing, is about a male weaver who courts a young lady, and who may or may not have fathered a child.

Since most of Britten’s folk songs are strophic, Bucky said the students are focusing on diction and word specificity to make sure they’re performing the songs in a way that tells the story best.

“We still approach them from a classical standpoint,” Bucky said. “We’re very much focused on making sure that the technique that we use and anything else we do is conveyed in singing and interpreting folk songs.”

Bucky said the biggest difference in performing the folk songs is changing techniques or voices throughout a piece. He said when new characters are introduced in the folk songs, the performer may have to put on a different voice to embody a different character.

“It’s definitely a great chance to be exposed to these songs,” Bucky said, “and to work with someone who’s passionate about them.”

Tags : Benjamin BrittenCraig RutenbergMcKnight Hall

The author Rebecca Klar

Rebecca Klar is a recent graduate of Binghamton University with a bachelor’s degree in English with a concentration in rhetoric. She is excited to be spending her first summer at Chautauqua as a School of Music reporter for The Chautauquan Daily. You can contact her at