The Julians (Kristen Buhler, Liz Bacon, Maria Karlin and Vakarė Petroliūaitė) have quite the self-promotion engine going, best as they can for a four-woman traditional singing group — a website with song samples, a Blog, Twitter and Facebook, plus appearances on KBOO-FM and mentions from Oregon Arts Watch and Oregon Music News. Both the program for their song cycle, Truly, Madly, Deeply, and their own website self-referentialy call them “…four of Portland’s finest Singing women…” (someone best put Storm Large, China Forbes, Christine McKinley and Lisa Mann on notice). That’s one tall order of a claim, especially in the age when audiences are already over-exposed to vocal performances on Glee, American Idol, The X Factor, The Voice and any number of youth on YouTube willing to belt it out for free. The question is, can the Julian’s performance back the chutzpah of the promotional cheque they’ve written?
The answer is: kind of, which is not the answer you’re looking for after such a build up. The four women’s experienced vocal training and resumés (detailed on the website and in the program) are evident in their performance. What was lacking, however, save in a few instances, was some good old-fashioned selling of the material and artistic oomph beyond trained singer technicality. In Truly, Madly, Deeply at the First Presbyterian Church last Sunday, they offered a lot to showcase, in variety of material and plain quantity — nearly two hours in length, from operetta, German Lieder and French Chanson, to R&B, 60s folk/pop and modern ballad, there was more than enough to ponder of what the Julians like in music — too much, perhaps. It could have easily edited down to half that for the audience not to feel inundated by material. Truly, Madly, Deeply wishes to explore the faces of love compared to the four seasons, with each of the women representing one of the seasonal aspects of love. Backed up for half the show by an ensemble of musicians the performance came off as serviceable, but oft too laid back in the church atmosphere to meet the emotion of the material or truly grab the audience’s attention and not let go, like a sudden flash of passionate love.
I was looking for more of the occasional exceptions to the subdued effort, like the ensemble’s performance of the chorale April Is In My Mistress’ Face, and Maria Karlin’s fine emotional pitch of operatic bravada on Adieu, Notre Petite Table from Massenet’s Manon. The debut performance of local husband/wife composers Renée Favand-See and Corin See’s Lighting The Leaves was good, but the experience was lost in the self-congratulatory atmosphere of the Julians’ and Favand-See’s praising each other immediately after. While love might have many seasonal faces and much musical material to draw from, a more select, coy limiting of material and unabashedly expressing love in full gusto might win more hearts.
Music and Art at First Presbyterian present The Julians in Truly, Madly, Deeply. The Julians: Kristen Buhler, Liz Bacon, Maria Karlin and Vakarė Petroliūaitė. Musicians — Keyboards: Jon Stuber, Guitar and Bass: Jerome Monaco, Guitar: Jonathan Buhler, Drums: Jared Brownson & Jake Cantrell, Chris Fotinakis: Violin/Guitar. Debut original material, Lighting the Leaves, by Renée Favand-See, music, and Corin See, lyrics.