NEW YORK PHILHARMONIC NEW YEAR’S EVE: CELEBRATING SONDHEIM
Tuesday, December 31, 2019
One of the nation's oldest continuing television series devoted to the Fine Arts is Live From Lincoln Center on PBS. Over the years, viewers have been able to experience on LFLC performances by, among others, the New York Philharmonic, the New York City Ballet and Lincoln Center Theater. Among the annual traditional highlights have been the New Year's Eve concerts by the New York Philharmonic. We're delighted to add to that list this season's upcoming gala concert by the Philharmonic, a tribute and homage on the eve of his 90th birthday next March, to one of the giants of the American musical theater, Stephen Sondheim.
I first became aware of Stephen Sondheim when Leonard Bernstein mentioned to me that a new and extremely gifted young man had been engaged to write the lyrics for a new musical being cooked by Bernstein, Jerome Robbins and Arthur Laurents. The show was what was to become “West Side Story.” Intrigued by a seeming neophyte joining a trio of Broadway stalwarts, I decided to learn more about this Stephen Sondheim.
His early years could serve as a model for a redemptive musician: young man suffers a traumatic childhood, young man meets and becomes a protege of a titan of American musical theater (Oscar Hammerstein II), young man meets and befriends other stalwarts of the American musical scene, including – surprisingly – that fearsome advocate of serial music, Milton Babbitt. From that diverse background emerged one of the most important figures in the history of the American musical theater.
Sondheim's enlistment to write the lyrics for “West Side Story” was one of those “accidents” that frequently change history. Originally it was the team of Betty Comden and Adolph Green – Bernstein's longtime collaborators – who were to be his lyricists. But Comden and Green were in Hollywood under contract for a film. It was suggested that the 27-year-old Sondheim be assigned that role. At first Sondheim wanted to compose the music also, but in a compromise Bernstein agreed to have his own name removed as co-lyricist, giving Sondheim full credit for the lyrics. Two years later Sondheim’s hope to be both lyricist AND composer was frustrated once again: he was denied the role of composer but was engaged as lyricist for “Gypsy,” the fanciful “biography” of burlesque queen Gypsy Rose Lee.
However, Sondheim did not have to wait long for an assignment as lyricist and composer. It arrived in the form of “A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum.” From that point on Stephen Sondheim has gone on to become an icon of America's musical culture. Among his many works are “Into The Woods,” “Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street,” “Sunday in the Park With George,” “Assassins,” “A Little Night Music” and “Company.” Suites and songs from all six of these imperishable works will appear on the Philharmonic's New Year's Eve concert.
It was as far back as 1985 that the Philharmonic's romance with the work of Sondheim began, and over the years that association has yielded, among other collaborations, “Follies in Concert” as well as staged performances of “Company” and “Sweeney Todd.” For all of them Lonny Price, a master of concert staging, has served as director. He will do so again on this occasion.
The evening's celebration will be hosted by longtime Sondheim champion and interpreter, Bernadette Peters. The guest soloist will be last year's Tony Award winner for Best Actress in a musical production, Katrina Lenk. Miss Lenk is a graduate of Northwestern University's School of Music where she majored in viola playing. And the conductor, Alexander Gemignani, is the son of Paul Gemignani who himself has served as Conductor for a number of Live From Lincoln Center offerings. Alexander is the Artistic Director of the Eugene O'Neill Theater Center National Music Conference.
So there you have it, ladies and gentlemen. Ring in the new year 2020 with us on Tuesday evening, December 31 at 8 PM Eastern standard time. As always, I urge you to check the schedule of your local PBS station for the exact date and time in your area.
Happy New Year!
ODYSSEY: THE CHAMBER MUSIC SOCIETY IN GREECE
Friday, September 6, 2019 at 9 PM
In April of 2018, the Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center, more familiarly known as CMS, invited us to join its musicians on a journey to Greece.
The resulting program, “ODYSSEY: The Chamber Music Society in Greece,” is a follow-up to our 2016 episode, “Simple Gifts: CMS at Shaker Village,” which established a motif we hope to continue exploring, traveling with this high-spirited group of musicians to locations that help us gain a deeper appreciation for the music they’re performing.
John Steinbeck has written, “A journey is a person; no two are alike… We find after years of struggle that we do not take a trip; the trip takes us.” That was certainly true in this case. We expected an adventure – beyond that, I doubt any of us could have told you what to expect until the last frame of footage was shot.
It starts with the way this production came together. Live From Lincoln Center and CMS are both, at their hearts, small and scrappy operations, a fact that could easily be taken for a disadvantage but in which we choose to see opportunity. When CMS first proposed the trip, the desire to say yes was huge but the resources lacking. And that led us to approach the Hellenic Broadcasting Corporation (ERT), Greece’s public broadcasting service, as a third producing partner.
As Greece’s economic crisis deepened in 2013, ERT was effectively shut down for a period of two years. When it finally resumed broadcasting in 2015, what was left of its staff returned at severely reduced salaries, sometimes slashed, I’ve been told, by as much as 50%. It was under those conditions that ERT generously lent its crew toward the project, simply because it wanted to produce something of cultural beauty for the Greek public, and because it felt they could learn from our techniques.
Perhaps they did learn some things from us about shooting live performance; but I’m sure I learned much, much more from them – lessons on dedication, friendship, and wresting joy and satisfaction wherever you find it. I’ve worked with many wonderful crews over the years, but I have never seen a harder-working group of technicians and artists, building camera plots in impossible historic locations without benefit of high-tech amenities or production assistants (the government would have had to approve even the hiring of PAs and, given continuing financial concerns, that was not likely to happen), and always doing so with grace, good humor and the unassuming pride of true craftsmenship.
CMS performed in four different locations: the new Stavros Niarchos Foundation Cultural Center in Athens (Mendelssohn’s Octet and Ravel’s “Cinq melodies populaires grecques” for Voice and Piano); the Church of Pammegiston Taxiarchon in the remote town of Milies on the slope of Mount Pelion (Beethoven’s Serenade in D major for Flute, Violin and Viola, Op. 25); the ancient amphitheater of Larissa (Andante from Bach’s Sonata for unaccompanied Violin in A minor, BWV 1003 and Debussy’s Syrinx for Flute); and the Church of St. Constantine and Helen in the port city of Volos, where Jason reputedly set sail with the Argonauts (Selections from George Tsontakis’s KnickKnacks for Violin and Viola).
The Niarchos Foundation Cultural Center was a natural choice for the main concert. In 2017 the Stavros Niarchos Foundation – which also provided the primary funding for the film – donated this magnificent complex, designed by the eminent architect Renzo Piano, to the Republic of Greece, and CMS became the first American music organization to perform there. Consistent with its mission, the Center presented the concert free to the public.
Other locations were deliberately chosen “off the beaten path." The gorgeous Pelion region in Thessaly is known to many Greeks as a vacation destination, but it is not widely known outside Greece. CMS’s “angel” in this endeavor was Vasos Papagapitos, a staunch lover of music and Greek history, who with his energetic and always resourceful colleague Maria Christina Baklava came up with the idea of filming there. They in turn connected us with Gregory Fanoulas, a travel agent based in Volos, whose encouragement and unflappable faith in the project helped keep it alive through the many months when the logistical obstacles seemed almost insurmountable. Sharing conversations with him over dinner or while scouting locations in his car, I felt I learned a great deal about Greek life in a very short time.
There were happy accidents too. On our initial scout, we looked at a couple of amphitheaters conceived in the classical style, one modern and the other dating back to the 2nd Century B.C. but largely eroded. Neither seemed right. Then, on our way back from the monasteries of Meteora, while passing through the textile town of Larissa, we happened upon a street sign cryptically advertising an “Amphitheater." Through a walkway just off one of the main roads of this bustling town, past the “Las Vegas” nightclub and some adorable coffee shops, you arrive at one of the most magnificent and unexpected Greek theaters you will ever find. And this is the one that appears in the film.
Our skeleton U.S. crew was magnificent, rolling with every unexpected hazard, adjusting to ever-changing schedules, and never losing focus. The serenity prayer that pleads for “the wisdom to know the difference” between what you can change and what you can’t proved to be our collective motto throughout the shoot. Our director, Habib Azar – who also directed “Simple Gifts” – is a wizard at visually capturing the nuances of classical music, from the shifting dynamic of the instruments to the subtle glances and gestures exchanged between musicians. I’d venture to say there’s no one better at this working today.
Habib brought his “ace in the hole,” the director of photography Ki Hwang, who also set the visual style for “Simple Gifts.” Ki is more popularly known (and far better compensated) for his work on South Korean feature films, but we were grateful to have him with us again. Also with us again was Da-Hong Seetoo, who is CMS’s go-to music recordist, and has worked with these musicians from the time when David Finckel, co-artistic director of CMS, was still a member of the acclaimed Emerson String Quartet. Just listen to Da-Hong’s work on Emerson’s recording of Shostakovich’s complete string quartets – or on the album that accompanies this program.
A final word about the musicians themselves. To appreciate the quality of the Chamber Music Society’s musicians, you need look no further than the program itself. But I will add as a personal note that they are also a delight to work with and excellent traveling companions. Their patience with our omnipresent camera crew is matched by their enthusiasm for every sight and sound they encounter. At the possible risk of confusing matters, I sometimes call them a “family” of musicians, because that’s what their good fellowship feels like to me.
And I’d like to mention one other good reason to watch. When talking about performances of classic work, it’s always dangerous to use words like “definitive” – so take this as just one layman’s subjective opinion – but watch and listen to CMS’s performance of Mendelssohn’s Octet. It is, to me, about as thrilling as any version I can imagine, a worthy match for the confidence the young composer himself must have felt when he set out to create this masterpiece.
On the night before our last shoot in Pelion, my Greek friends on the crew invited me and my invaluable liaison Anastasia Serdsev out for a drink. Walking back to the hotel, one of them mused, “Ah, what an experience! And now we’ll have to go back to our regular jobs.” To which another joked, “So let’s not go back.”
My thoughts exactly.
As our friend Martin Bookspan would say, “Enjoy!” Please be sure to check your local listings.
Friday, February 8, 2019 at 9 PM
One of the important spokes in the wheel that keeps Lincoln Center spinning round and round is the Lincoln Center Theater. Over the years we at Live From Lincoln Center have been privileged to bring you some of the Theater's most important productions. That history will continue on Friday evening, February 8, when our cameras and microphones will be in place to bring you one of Lincoln Center Theater's most arresting recent productions, PIPELINE, by the young African-American playwright, Dominique Morisseau. Last October Ms. Morisseau was among 25 important cultural figures to be honored with a “Genius” Award from the MacArthur Foundation.
PIPELINE deals with one of the shameful elements of our education system: the seeming pipeline for young black male students from classroom to prison cell. A few years ago President Obama's Education Department came up with the statistic that “black students are suspended and expelled at a rate three times greater than white students.” This circumstance is the theme of PIPELINE, which deals with a mother's worry over her son’s future.
The principal players in PIPELINE, a mother and her teenage son, have lots to worry about. The boy has pushed one of his teachers, apparently his third misdemeanor. Will the teacher press charges against him? Will he be expelled from the school? The mother is herself a teacher in a mostly white upstate prep school. She is given to panic attacks, drinks to alleviate her stress, and has unquenched guilt over past mistakes. Riveting performances of these two central characters are delivered by Karen Pittman as the mother and Namir Smallwood as the boy.
Karen Pittman is a daughter of the South; she was born in Mississippi and grew up in Nashville. She has had a varied career in films, television and theater. Television programs that have been graced by her presence include Law and Order, 30 Rock and Madam Secretary.
Namir Smallwood was born in Newark, New Jersey. He, too, has already racked up steady successes. Last year he was nominated for one of the theater's most prestigious honors, the Lucille Lortel Award for outstanding lead actor in a play. Of his performance in “Lifeline,” Mr. Smallwood has said: “I want people to enjoy themselves and to see themselves in this story.”
In an interview with NBC News playwright Morisseau said: “I really wanted to explore what young black male rage is. Like all teenagers have young rage; why when a young black man has rage, we therefore criminalize him?... I, too, have experienced what it feels like to have my emotionality policed and that there somehow isn't enough space for me to be the full emotional human being that I am.”
And so on Friday evening, February 8 on Live From Lincoln Center we'll experience one of the ways in which playwright Morisseau comes to grips with this challenge. Watch the fruits of her investigation, PIPELINE, on your local PBS station. As always, I recommend you check your local listings for the exact date and time in your area.
NEW YORK PHILHARMONIC NEW YEAR’S EVE 2018 WITH RENÉE FLEMING
Monday, December 31, 2018 at 9 PM
As New Year’s Eve approaches, Live From Lincoln Center is gearing up to continue one of its longest traditions: bringing the New York Philharmonic's gala New Year’s Eve concert into the homes of millions of viewers by way of PBS. There is a special “zing” to the forthcoming telecast which will mark the Live From Lincoln Center debut of the Philharmonic's new Music Director, Jaap van Zweden. And the soloist will be the beloved soprano Renee Fleming, who will be heard in a kaleidoscopic variety of music from Viennese classics by Johann Strauss and Lehar, to Broadway hits by Kander & Ebb and Sondheim, to songs from films.
Holland-born Jaap van Zweden was a child prodigy as a violinist, spending some time as a student at New York's famed Juilliard School. By the time he was 19(!) he was Concertmaster of one of the world's premier orchestras, the Concertgebouw Orchestra of Amsterdam. The story is often told of how he became a conductor. Leonard Bernstein was on a European tour with the Concertgebouw Orchestra. At one point in a rehearsal he wanted to check the acoustics in the hall. Asking the Concertmaster to wield the baton, he went out into the auditorium to listen for a few minutes. When he returned to the stage, he said to van Zweden: “You should be a conductor”! Thus began the violinist's new career.
Not long afterwards he began to appear as a guest conductor with orchestras around the world. For the last decade or so he has served as Music Director of the Dallas Symphony Orchestra, bringing that ensemble to new glorious heights. A few years ago he added the Music Directorship of the Hong Kong Philharmonic to his resume. With both orchestras he has made memorable recordings. including an ongoing project of the four music dramas of Wagner's “Ring” Cycle with the Hong Kong Orchestra.
I had the privilege a few years ago of attending van Zweden’s concerts with two different orchestras: the Boston Symphony at Tanglewood and the New York Philharmonic at what was then still named Avery Fisher Hall. Beethoven Symphonies figured on both programs, the 7th with the Boston Symphony and the 5th with the Philharmonic. To both symphonies he brought an incandescent fire and sweep that were palpable. For me it is only fitting that it has been these two symphonies that he has now recorded as his first recordings with the Philharmonic...
Two of the scheduled Johann Strauss works on the New Year’s Eve program bring back fond memories: the Overture to “Die Fledermaus” and the “Thunder and Lightning” Polka figured about a quarter of a century ago on a legendary program in the New York Philharmonic's Live From Lincoln Center series. Zubin Mehta, the orchestra's Music Director at the time, conducted the “Fledermaus” Overture. The rest of the program was in the hands of Guest Conductor Danny Kaye! Maestro Kaye had taken some conducting tutorial from his friend, Harry Ellis Dickson, Assistant Conductor of the Boston Pops and a longtime violinist in the Boston Symphony Orchestra.
In the opening weeks of this season’s Philharmonic concerts Maestro van Zweden has brought a discipline, strength and abandon (in the best sense) to his performances that make every concert a gala experience.
So a very special treat awaits us all on the evening of the last day of 2018. As usual I leave you with the suggestion that you check the schedule of your local PBS station for the exact day and time of the program in your area.
Enjoy, and Happy New Year!
New York Philharmonic New Year’s Eve: Bernstein on Broadway
Sunday, December 31 at 9 PM
August 25, 2018 will mark 100 years since the birth of Leonard Bernstein, iconic figure in 20th century music and masterful Music Director of the New York Philharmonic for a little more than a decade in the 1950s and 1960s. To begin the worldwide celebrations of this anniversary, the Philharmonic is dedicating its annual gala New Year's Eve concert to music by Bernstein, specifically to music from his various Broadway shows. And as has become traditional here at Live From Lincoln Center, our cameras and microphones will be in David Geffen Hall to bring it all to you.
I first met Leonard Bernstein in 1940. In conjunction with the Boston Herald, the Boston Pops played two concerts which it labelled Musiquiz: a part of each program contained music that was not listed in the program. It was up to us in the audience to identify (on a secret ballot) the mystery items. The winner proved to be the chief record buyer for the Boston Music Company, New England's largest retail music store. When the Musiquiz judges learned this, they felt that the winner had a leg up on the rest of us and they decided to elevate the second place winner to be co-winner of first place. That second place winner was a young man named Leonard Bernstein!
When the judges learned that Mr. Bernstein was to be one of the students in Serge Koussevitzky’s pioneering conducting class at Tanglewood that summer, they added an additional prize: conducting one work (without rehearsal!) at a concert of the Pops' outdoor Esplanade offerings. I attended that concert, and the work chosen was the Prelude to Wagner's “Die Meistersinger” (not the Brahms “Academic Festival” Overture as indicated in Humphrey Burton's Bernstein biography). Within ten seconds of that “Meistersinger” Prelude performance it was clear that Leonard Bernstein was a born conductor.
He became Assistant Conductor of the New York Philharmonic at the beginning of the 1943/44 season. I was listening to the Philharmonic’s Sunday afternoon radio broadcast of his now legendary last-minute substitution (again without rehearsal!) for the ailing conductor Bruno Walter. That concert made front-page news in The New York Times and instantly catapulted him into national prominence. I phoned him a few days later to congratulate him and he said his head “was still spinning.”
Lenny Bernstein and I had a warm 50-year friendship. I was present at the Friday evening Services in Boston's Temple Mishkan Tefila when the Rabbi announced the engagement of Leonard Bernstein to the actress Felicia Montealegre Cohn. Complications got in the way of that engagement and the two parted ways. Five years later, however, they got back together and married.
In the early 1960s, I was one of three Intermission hosts of the New York Philharmonic radio broadcasts (the other two were Edward Downes and Schuyler Chapin). This was during Bernstein’s tenure as Philharmonic Music Director, and I seized every opportunity to have him as my Intermission guest. It was during one of these conversations that he announced that he would not be renewing his Philharmonic contract upon its expiration.
By then he was Conductor-in-Demand worldwide! At one point I was on an assignment in Vienna, coincidentally at the same time he was there. I found out what hotel he was visiting, phoned and got his manager, who was traveling with him. When they heard I was in Vienna, they asked if I had any plans for the next day. I replied: “Nothing I can't postpone until the day after tomorrow.” They promptly invited me to attend the next day’s rehearsals of Beethoven Symphonies he was to conduct in concert and record with the Vienna Philharmonic. What a plus that was to my Vienna stay!
We last visited during the early summer of 1990. It was at Tanglewood, beloved by both of us as the summer home of the Boston Symphony Orchestra. After the Tanglewood season he was to take the remarkable orchestra of the Tanglewood Music Center on a European tour. He looked gaunt and tired. I was not surprised when the tour with the TMC Orchestra was cancelled. But I was surprised a few weeks later when it was announced that he was retiring from the concert stage. And I was in a state of shock when it was announced five days after that that he had died...
On Sunday evening, December 31, Bramwell Tovey will conduct the New York Philharmonic in an exciting “Bernstein on Broadway” concert encompassing highlights from such historic landmarks as “West Side Story,” “On the Town,” “Candide” and “Wonderful Town” among others. Be sure to check your local PBS station's date and time in your area for the exact details of our Live From Lincoln Center transmission of this remarkable event.
Friday, October 27, 2017 at 9 PM
Some months ago here in my Notes I had occasion to pay homage to some of the great teams of composer and librettist whose combined talents have given the American musical genre a special place in world-wide entertainment: George and Ira Gershwin, Richard Rodgers and Lorenz Hart, Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein II, Alan Jay Lerner and Frederick Lowe, among others.
Unfortunately, I neglected to include William Finn and James Lapine. Our next Live From Lincoln Center gives me an opportunity to atone for that omission. On Friday evening October 27, we'll bring you the Lincoln Center Theater production of one of the most memorable recent American musical theater works: “Falsettos,” with music by William Finn, book by co-writers William Finn and James Lapine. Among the other products of the Finn/Lapine collaboration have been “Little Miss Sunshine” and “The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee,” both of which received multiple Tony Awards.
“Falsettos” is actually the product of three earlier and shorter plays: “In Trousers,” a one-act musical of 1979, was followed by “March of the Falsettos” of 1981 and “Falsettoland” of 1990. For “In Trousers” – essentially the prequel for what finally became “Falsettos” – it was Finn who served in triple capacity as composer, writer and director. And it was in “In Trousers” that we met some of the principal characters, mainly Marvin, father of a 9-year old son named Jason, and a somewhat mysterious man named Whizzer.
A few years have passed when we get to “Falsettos.” By now Marvin and his wife have divorced. He and Whizzer have entered into a homosexual relationship but he wants to continue close family ties with his ex-wife and Jason, who is preparing for his Bar Mitzvah. Underlying the action is a mysterious disease which is killing young men by the tens of thousands: the plague of AIDS was in its early stages. Some of the most wrenching scenes in “Falsettos” revolve around the AIDS epidemic. Don't miss its telecast at 9PM on Live From Lincoln Center on October 27.
The last time Live From Lincoln Center represented Lincoln Center Theater was in 2015, with Lapine’s “Act One,” so perhaps a short summary of its history might be appropriate. The aim of Lincoln Center, as enunciated by its founder, John D. Rockefeller III, is to solidify that the arts are “not for the privileged few, but for the many.” Each year Lincoln Center Theater distributes free tickets to underserved culture enthusiasts throughout the five boroughs of New York. After a brief hiatus Lincoln Center Theater was re-established in 1985, and since then millions have attended performances in its three houses: the Vivian Beaumont Theater, the Mitzi E. Newhouse Theater and the Claire Tow Theater. Five years ago, on the roof of the Beaumont Theater, there was created a complex of offices, rehearsal space and a home for “LCT 3,” a laboratory for developing new and challenging material.
So join us for the Lincoln Center Theater's production of “Falsettos” on Friday evening, October 27. Please check your local PBS station's schedule for the exact date and time in your area.
50 YEARS OF MOSTLY MOZART
Friday, February 3, 2016 at 9 PM
It began rather innocently 50 summers ago under the modest title “Midsummer Serenades – A Mozart Festival.” The impetus behind the idea was to provide a few weeks of employment for some of New York’s vast reserve of mostly freelance musicians, as well as air-conditioned comfort in Philharmonic Hall (as David Geffen Hall was then known) to an audience of some 2,500 each evening. The series was greeted enthusiastically, and over the next couple of years underwent some name changes: “Midsummer Serenades, a Mozart and Haydn Festival” and ultimately simply the “Mostly Mozart Festival.” As such it has been a regular feature of our Live From Lincoln Center programs.
Our next Live From Lincoln Center, on Friday evening, February 3, is an all-Mozart concert taped last August in Geffen Hall and features the Mostly Mozart Festival Orchestra under its Music Director, Louis Langrée. We'll hear the composer's Symphony No.1 (K.16) and Symphony No. 41 (K.551) – his first and last Symphonies – along with his Piano Concerto No. 12 (K.414) with the distinguished pianist Richard Goode as soloist.
Are you wondering about those mysterious "K." numbers attached to each of the works? A 19th Century botanist and musicologist named Ludwig Kochel devoted himself to compiling a chronological catalogue of the entire output of Mozart's music. To each of them in succession he appended the initial of his last name. K. 1, for example, is a simple Minuet for piano composed when Mozart was five years old! The last work in Kochel's catalogue bears the number 626: it is the monumental Requiem which was left unfinished at the time of Mozart's death one month shy of his 36th birthday. In the subsequent years previously unknown works of Mozart have surfaced; they have generally been added to Kochel's listings with the suffix K.Anh (Kochel Anhang, Kochel addition).
Mozart was eight years old when he composed his First Symphony, scored for 2 oboes, 2 horns, harpsichord and strings. The brief three-movement score is already and unmistakably the work of Mozart. The Symphony No. 41, his last, is one of three extraordinary symphonies composed in six weeks during the summer of 1788. There was no outward stimulus for these three: no commission (which he would have eagerly accepted), no prospects for their performance. Yet each of them is driven by a monumental power and passion. The Symphony No. 41, indeed, bears the name “Jupiter,” bestowed on it probably by the British concert impresario Salomon (for whom Haydn later composed his twelve “London” Symphonies).
The Piano Concerto No. 12 is also one of a triplet of works, composed six years earlier than the final three symphonies. It is lightly scored: backing the solo piano are 2 oboes, 2 horns, 2 optional bassoons and strings. During his sojourns in London, Mozart had become a great friend and disciple of Johann Christian Bach, the “London” Bach, who died during the time Mozart was composing the Concerto. As an homage to his late friend and mentor, Mozart incorporated a theme from one of Bach's works in the slow movement of the Concerto.
A special Intermission feature has been created for the PBS telecast celebrating the 50-year history of the Mostly Mozart Festival and highlighting some of the memorable moments during the course of that history.
All this is yours for the watching and listening on Friday evening, February 3. Do check the listings of your local PBS station for the exact date and time in your area.
NEW YORK PHILHARMONIC NEW YEAR’S EVE 2016: ENCHANTED EVENING
Saturday, December 31, 2016 at 8 PM
New Year's Eve!
For years now there has existed a New Year's Eve tradition for those of us at Live From Lincoln Center: the Gala Concert by the New York Philharmonic. These festive occasions have explored the lighter side of the symphonic repertoire, from music by the Strauss family to all-Gershwin programs to last year’s French program. This year Conductor Alan Gilbert has chosen to focus on a quintessential American art form: music from the Broadway stage. See and hear it live on your local PBS station on New Year's Eve, Saturday December 31 at 8 PM.
Alan Gilbert and the New York Philharmonic will be joined on the stage of Lincoln Center’s David Geffen Hall by two outstanding singers, mezzo-soprano Joyce DiDonato and baritone Paulo Szot. Ms. DiDonato, a native of Kansas, is one of today's most sought-after artists and a prized member of the Metropolitan Opera. She has a truly international career and this season is appearing with the Bavarian State Opera, the Strasbourg Opera and the Baden-Baden Opera, among others. She made her New York Philharmonic debut a decade ago in an all-Mozart concert, and was the featured soloist in the Philharmonic's Europe/Spring 2015 tour. As a recording artist she is the winner of multiple Grammy Awards. For his part, Paulo Szot, a native of São Paulo, Brazil, is also a much in-demand singer who is equally at home at the Metropolitan Opera or in Broadway musicals. His schedule this season includes engagements at the Paris Opera and the Dutch National Opera, along with a series of performances at Feinstein’s 54 Below in New York City. He won a 2008 Tony Award for his portrayal of Emile De Beque in the revival of “South Pacific,” a role sung by the immortal Ezio Pinza in the original Broadway production. At the Metropolitan Mr. Szot has appeared in Shostakovich's opera “The Nose,” Bizet's “Carmen,” Massenet's “Manon,” Johann Strauss’ “Die Fledermaus,” and John Adams’ “The Death of Klinghoffer.”
A dominant element of the evening will be music created as the result of collaboration between two extraordinary artists. But there is really nothing new about that. Just think of the astonishing operas by the team of Mozart and his librettist, Lorenzo Da Ponte; or those by Verdi and his librettist, Arrigo Boito, or those by Richard Strauss and librettist Hugo von Hofmannsthal.
In the 1920s, starting with the collaboration between the Gershwin Brothers, Ira and George, in the show “Lady Be Good,” and continuing with the 1927 path-breaking “Show Boat” (music by Jerome Kern, libretto by Oscar Hammerstein), the great stream of Broadway musicals was frequently the product of a collaboration by a team of two outstanding creators. Think of Rodgers and Hart, Rodgers and Hammerstein, Lerner and Loewe, Harnick and Bock, Kander and Ebb. It is from that great treasure trove of inspired collaboration that the bulk of the evening’s entertainment has been selected. Ms. DiDonato will sing two inspirational songs from the Rodgers and Hammerstein favorite “The Sound of Music” as well as “I Could Have Danced All Night from “My Fair Lady” and two of Aaron Copland's Old American Songs collection – “Simple Gifts” and “I Bought Me a Cat.” Mr. Szot will sing “Billy's Soliloquy” from “Carousel” and “I've Grown Accustomed to Her Face” from “My Fair Lady.” And together the two of them will turn to another evergreen from “My Fair Lady”: “The Rain in Spain.”
But that's not all: In addition to supplying the musical backdrops for the sung items, the Philharmonic will play the Four Dance Episodes from Copland's Ballet “Rodeo,” Richard Rodgers’ “Carousel Waltz,” Frederick Loewe’s “Embassy Waltz” and – borrowed from the Vienna Philharmonic’s New Year's Day Concert – Johann Strauss’ “On the Beautiful Blue Danube” Waltz.
Is there a better way to say goodbye to 2016 and usher in 2017? Not in my book! So join us for this joyous concert on Live From Lincoln Center, Saturday evening, December 31 at 8 PM. And of course please check your local PBS station for the exact date and time of the telecast in your area.
Happy New Year to All.
JOSHUA BELL: SEASONS OF CUBA
Friday, December 16, 2016 at 9 PM
Earlier this year, following the recent thaw in relations between the United States and Cuba, there came a renewal of what was once a thriving musical exchange between the two countries. Among the results: President Obama's Committee on the Arts and Humanities invited renowned American violinist, Joshua Bell, to become a member of a group of artists devoted to developing interactive relations between the people of America and Cuba. And what better way to pursue this goal than through the international language of music?
A few weeks ago, in Jazz at Lincoln Center's Frederick P. Rose Hall, Joshua Bell convened the Chamber Orchestra of Havana and its conductor, Daiana García (in their U.S. debut), along with a distinguished collection of American and Cuban musicians, including special guest Dave Matthews, also a member of that delegation to Cuba. Live From Lincoln Center's cameras were there to record all the excitement and historic importance of the event. You will become a member of that audience on Friday evening, December 16, when the concert is featured as part of the PBS Arts Fall Festival.
As hinted above, Cuba in the pre-Castro days was a land of music, with a special place for classical music and as a regular stop on the international touring schedules of the greatest musical figures of the time. One example among many: In January 1950, after 25 glorious years as Music Director of the Boston Symphony Orchestra, Serge Koussevitzky accepted an invitation to come to Cuba as Guest Conductor of the Havana Philharmonic Orchestra. In a conversation I had with him after his return, he told me it was hard work, with many rehearsals, but the orchestra's players were eager to become disciplined and responsive musicians and at the concerts that followed they played quite well.
The star of the upcoming Live From Lincoln Center concert, Joshua Bell, I first met in the 1980s when I was broadcasting the chamber music concerts of the Spoleto Festival USA from Charleston, South Carolina. Those chamber music concerts enlisted the services of some of the reigning stalwarts of chamber music performance – and here in their midst was a 13-year old violinist who more than held his own in their midst. A pupil of the renowned Josef Gingold, Bell made a splash the next year as Concerto soloist with the Philadelphia Orchestra and its then Conductor, Riccardo Muti. Ever since then Joshua Bell has been perhaps the busiest and starriest violinist on the international scene.
Conductors whose original instrument is the piano and who then serve as their own Concerto soloists, conducting from the keyboard, are not uncommon. Think of Bruno Water, or Leonard Bernstein, or Daniel Barenboim. Rarer, though their number seems to be increasing, are the violinists who do the same, conducting the orchestra while playing a Concerto. Pinchas Zukerman may be the contemporary pioneer in that department; Isaac Stern did so occasionally and so does Itzhak Perlman. But only Perlman took on the simultaneous responsibilities as touring virtuoso and orchestra conductor: he served for a short time as Music Director of the Westchester Philharmonic Orchestra in suburban New York City. Joshua Bell, in addition to his crowded life as violin virtuoso, has served for about five years as Music Director of London's Academy of St. Martin in the Fields. It is in that dual role, as soloist and conductor, that we'll meet Joshua Bell on our next Live From Lincoln Center.
The centerpiece (no pun intended) will be the familiar “Summer” section of Vivaldi’s “The Four Seasons,” a series of four brief violin concertos, each depicting one of the four cycles of the yearly seasons. We'll also hear the modern offspring of the Vivaldi – “The Four Seasons of Buenos Aires” – A Astor Piazzolla's sequence of four tangos. Rock star Dave Matthews is on hand to add some of his singing and magical guitar playing, and some expert Cuban musicians will contribute to the evening's festivities with both traditional and contemporary Cuban music, including the justly dubbed “Poet of Havana” (recently profiled in an American-produced documentary by the same name), Carlos Varela, also often described as “Cuba’s Bob Dylan.”
All in all, Friday evening December 16 promises to be a memorable one on our next Live From Lincoln Center on the PBS schedule. Be sure to check your local listings for the exact date and time in your area.
Lang Lang’s New York Rhapsody
Friday, November 25, 2016 at 9 PM
Thirty-four-year-old native Chinese pianist Lang Lang is one of the world's most recognized musicians; he has performed on concert stages the world over. But it is New York that holds a special place in his heart. Confirming that fact is his recent appointment as Cultural Tourism Ambassador on behalf of New York City. He becomes the first artist ever to occupy such a role.
Lang Lang gave a concert in Lincoln Center's Rose Theater titled “New York Rhapsody,” and Live From Lincoln Center was on hand to capture the excitement of the evening. That concert will be shown on Friday evening, November 25 at 9 PM as part of the PBS Arts Fall Festival.
Lang Lang's life would make an enthralling Hollywood movie. At the age of 2 he was mesmerized by the Tom and Jerry cartoon "The Cat Concerto," which featured a “performance” of a Liszt Hungarian Rhapsody. He had to wait a whole year before his parents decided that he was ready to take piano lessons. At the age of 5 he won a local piano competition. But at 9, when he hoped to begin to study at the Beijing Central Conservatory, his teacher declared that he lacked the talent for such an intense musical undertaking. Lang Lang's life was briefly derailed, but for the next decade he entered and won other competitions. When he was 15 he and his father left China to journey to Philadelphia and the city's celebrated Curtis Institute of Music. There he became a pupil of the renowned pianist and Director of the Institute, Gary Graffman. It did not take long for his career to take off.
Here at Live From Lincoln Center he is a veteran headliner, beginning about a decade ago with a performance on the Opening Night of the Mostly Mozart season. He was scheduled to play the Mendelssohn G Minor Piano Concerto. Ten minutes before air time the other scheduled soloist, a soprano, reported that she was unable to sing. Lang Lang spontaneously offered to fill her time with the Liszt Fantasy on Mozart's “Don Giovanni.” That heroic effort was nothing less than a triumph! Years later, Lang Lang was the soloist with Alan Gilbert and the New York Philharmonic playing the Grieg Piano Concerto on our telecast of the opening concert of the Orchestra's 2015/16 season.
For this special program Lang Lang has brought together an amazing group of artists to perform with him, including Andra Day, Kurt Elling, Lisa Fischer (recently featured in the movie “20 Feet from Stardom”), trumpeter Sean Jones, Regina Spektor, Lindsey Sterling, Suzanne Vega, and Rufus Wainwright. The title of the program is probably a tongue-in-cheek reference to Gershwin's “Rhapsody in Blue” – and yes, Lang Lang will perform that beloved American classic in its original jazz band arrangement from 1926. How to account for Lang Lang's love affair with New York? He regards the city as home to music of all genres: classical, popular, Broadway, jazz, rock 'n roll, soul, and more.
Along with the Gershwin some other highlights of the program include music by Leonard Bernstein (“Tonight” and “Somewhere” from West Side Story), and Aaron Copland (“Story of Our Town” from Our Town), "New York Morning," as well as the themes from the films Breakfast at Tiffany's and Spider-Man.
So on your calendars mark 9 o'clock Friday evening November 25 – the day after Thanksgiving Day – for this unusual and special addition to the history of Live From Lincoln Center. And do check the listings of your local PBS station for the exact date and time in your area.
Simple Gifts: The Chamber Music Society at Shaker Village
Friday, September 9, 2016 at 9 PM
Several of the constituent organizations of Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts bring their mastery not only to New York City but also to the United States and the world at large. Our next Live From Lincoln Center will for the first time originate from a venue outside of New York City: on Friday evening, September 9, we'll travel with the Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center to rural Kentucky for "Simple Gifts: The Chamber Music Society at Shaker Village" in a program filmed there in May 2015.
The Shaker movement was founded as a unique Christian sect in England in the 18th century. Their fundamental belief focused on purification in anticipation of the second coming of Christ. The Shaker name derives from their ecstatic physical and emotional exhilaration during their worship services. They pursue a lifestyle of communal life, pacifism and sexual equality. In the American Colonies the first Shaker settlements were established later in the 18th century. The high point of the Shaker communities in the United States came in the mid-1800s when their numbers approached some 6,000 believers. Today the numbers are much smaller, but the survivors maintain the customs and traditions of their forefathers.
Shaker Village of Pleasant Hill, Kentucky, where our next Live From Lincoln Center originated, was founded in 1805 as an embodiment of the Shaker philosophy of simplicity. The complex today consists of 3,000 acres in the oldest town in Kentucky's Harrodsburg section. The musicians of the Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center played in the Shaker Village's Meadow View Barn, a restored former tobacco barn. The program consists mainly of music by American composers, from Stephen Foster and Louis Gottschalk to Samuel Barber and Mark O'Connor. Also included is music by the Czech composer Antonin Dvořák who, during his residency in New York as Director of the National Conservatory of Music in the 1890s, declared that the future of American Music lay in its homegrown musical culture.
The main feature of this program is Aaron Copland's "Appalachian Spring,” which incorporates the Shaker song "Simple Gifts.” We'll hear it in Copland's original orchestration for 13 instruments; he later re-scored it for symphony orchestra. A personal note: In early 1944 I hosted a radio program on the Harvard Crimson Network (which now carries the call letters WHRB). My guest was Aaron Copland. During the course of our conversation I asked him what he was working on now. He responded: "Martha Graham has asked me to compose the music for a Ballet she has in mind. There is as yet no title for it so for now we're calling it 'Ballet for Martha.'" To the best of my knowledge that was the first pubic revelation of what turned out to be nothing less than "Appalachian Spring"!
So, a rare musical adventure awaits us on our next Live From Lincoln Center program on Friday evening, September 9 at 9 PM: the Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center playing at Shaker Village in rural Kentucky. As always I urge you to check the listings of your local PBS station for the exact date and time of the telecast in your area.
From Bocelli to Barton: The Richard Tucker Opera Gala
Friday, February 5, 2016 at 9 PM
On February 5th, Live From Lincoln Center and PBS will continue their longstanding association which has brought the annual Gala Concert of the Richard Tucker Music Foundation into our homes. As in previous years the Gala features a Who's Who of current opera singers, along with members of the Metropolitan Opera Orchestra and the New York Choral Society. This year’s conductor is Eugene Kohn, internationally acclaimed opera pianist and conductor.
The Richard Tucker Music Foundation was created in 1975 by his widow and sons as a memorial to the great American tenor shortly after his sudden death. Its aim is the support of outstanding young American opera singers through an Awards program that serves as a stimulus to singers on the cusp of distinguished national and international careers.
There is no application process for the Tucker Foundation's recognition. Instead, members of the worldwide opera family – conductors, teachers, administrators – are invited to nominate U.S.-born singer citizens. Those chosen to audition must prepare five arias, one in English, as showcases for their maturity, flexibility, range and vocal color. Award recipients are chosen by a distinguished Board of Directors that includes representatives from the worlds of the arts, education and business.
Awards given each year are many and varied. The top grant, The Richard Tucker Award, is for $50,000. Past honorees have included such stellar artists as Renée Fleming, Stephanie Blythe, Joyce DiDonato, Deborah Voigt, Lawrence Brownlee, Angela Meade, Matthew Polenzani, Isabel Leonard and Dolora Zajick. This year's recipient is the mezzo-soprano Jamie Barton, who among other accomplishments was awarded the Main and Song Prizes at the 2013 BBC Cardiff Singer of the World Competition, the Kennedy Center's 2014 Marian Anderson Award and a 2012 Richard Tucker Career Grant. Richard Tucker Career Grants of $10,000 go to artists in their mid-thirties or younger who have already had considerable experience singing in professional companies. Keep your eyes and ears open for this year's three Career Grant awardees: tenor Benjamin Bliss, and the bass-baritones Brandon Cedel (featured in previous Richard Tucker Opera Gala broadcasts) and Michael Sumuel.
Yet another category of Award is the Sara Tucker Study Grant, named after Richard Tucker's dedicated and formidable wife. These grants of $5,000 go to singers, usually under age 30, who are well on their way from student to professional, with a graduate degree or singing experience in a regional company's Young Artist or Apprentice program.
Among the singers we'll hear from this year's Gala Concert will, of course, be Jamie Barton, along with such leading artists of today as Renée Fleming, Piotr Beczala, Nadine Serra, Angela Gheorghiu, Isabel Leonard, and Christine Goerke. Another headliner is tenor Andrea Bocelli who will make a special appearance. Composers to be represented include Cilea, Giordano, Verdi, Rossini, Donizetti, Puccini, and Gounod.
A veritable cornucopia of operatic splendor awaits us on the next Live From Lincoln Center, Friday evening February 5, for the Richard Tucker Music Foundation's annual Gala Concert. As always I suggest you search the schedule of your local PBS station for the exact day and time of the program in your area.
New York Philharmonic New Year’s Eve: La Vie Parisienne
Friday, December 31, 2015 at 8 PM
For years now one of the highlights of New York's holiday season has been the annual New Year's Eve Gala Concert by The New York Philharmonic. These events have traditionally explored the lighter side of the symphonic repertory: all Gershwin, for example, or all music by the Strauss family. This year's all-French program takes on a very special importance in light of the ISIS terrorist attacks on the City of Light at the beginning and end of 2015. Titled “La Vie Parisienne,” the Philharmonic and its Music Director, Alan Gilbert, will be joined by mezzo-soprano Susan Graham, pianists Inon Barnatan and Makoto Ozone, and actor Nathan Lane in a program including music by Offenbach, Ravel and Saint-Saëns.
“La Vie Parisienne” is obviously a derivative of “Gaite Parisienne,” the classic ballet of the Ballet Russes de Monte Carlo. With choreography by the great dancer Leonide Massine, a musical score of works by Offenbach orchestrated by the composer/conductor Manuel Rosenthal, and conducted by Efrem Kurtz, “Gaite Parisienne” made its debut in Paris in 1938. Soon afterwards a short Suite of items from the score was recorded by the London Philharmonic Orchestra conducted by Kurtz. That two-disc 78 rpm album became a bestseller and introduced listeners of my generation to the intoxicating score Rosenthal had fashioned.
Two of the pioneers of “Gaite Parisienne” escaped from World War II Europe and enjoyed substantial success here in the United States. Rosenthal appeared as Guest Conductor of the St. Louis Symphony Orchestra in 1946, and later served as Music Director of the Seattle Symphony Orchestra from 1948 to 1951. He also conducted French operas at the Met in New York in the early 1980s. Efrem Kurtz served as Music Director of the Kansas City Philharmonic Orchestra from 1943 to 1948, and of the Houston Symphony Orchestra from 1948 to 1954. So two of the leading players in the creation of “Gaite Parisienne” left an indelible impression on musical America in the mid-years of the 20th century. It is a Suite from “Gaite Parisienne” that we'll hear on the Gala New York Philharmonic New Year's Eve Concert.
Another work on the program is Ravel's “Pavane for a Dead Princess.” Like so many of Ravel's orchestral works, this one began its life as a piece for solo piano. Some ten years later, in 1910, Ravel orchestrated it, giving prominence to the French horn. He once described the work as “an evocation of a Pavane that a little princess might, in former times, have danced at the Spanish court.” Asked another time about the rather strange title (“Pavane pour une infante defunte” in French) he replied that the title meant absolutely nothing, he simply liked the sound of those words when spoken together!
Renowned opera singer and chanteuse Susan Graham will join in the festivities with a group of French favorites including “C'est ca la vie, c'est ca l'amour” (“That's life, that's love”), a couple of songs by Offenbach to go along with “Gaite Parisienne,” and the unforgettable “La Vie en Rose” made famous by Edith Piaf.
Saint-Saëns’ “Carnival of the Animals” is another feature of the evening. Composed in 1886 at the same time as the composer's Third (“Organ”) Symphony, the Grand Zoological Fantasy, as Saint-Saëns referred to it, is one of the great fun pieces in the repertory. It is scored for chamber orchestra and two pianos, and its fourteen sections are musical evocations of animals, among them the lion, tortoises, hens and roosters, the cuckoo, the elephant and the swan. Saint-Saëns regarded the work as a private joke to be enjoyed only by the family and close friends. He forbade publication or public performances of the music until after his death. Those enjoinders were strictly observed, but almost immediately after Saint-Saëns died, in 1921 at the age of 86, his publisher, Durand, made the music available to the public. For a recording of the score by Andre Kostelanetz and his Orchestra in the 1940s Columbia Records commissioned the witty poet and lyricist, Ogden Nash, to create verses to be spoken before each of the sections. For the recording those verses were spoken by the formidable Noel Coward.
The pianists in our "Carnival of the Animals" will be Inon Barnatan and Makoto Ozone. Israeli pianist Barnatan, now a resident of New York, is the first musician to be designated Artist in Association with the Philharmonic. And Japanese pianist Ozone has basically carved out a career in jazz. It will be fascinating to see how these two pianists from different sides of the street coalesce in performance.
For its presentation of “Carnival of the Animals” the New York Philharmonic has commissioned a new New York-themed scenario from the Tony-nominated composers, writers and lyricists Laurence O'Keefe and Nell Benjamin. And to speak those words we'll have none other than the star of stage, screen and television, the Tony award winner Nathan Lane!
So another Gala New Year's Eve Concert by the New York Philharmonic awaits us live from David Geffen Hall on Thursday evening, December 31. Please check your local PBS station for the exact date and time of the telecast in your area.
Happy New Year to all, and Enjoy!
Sinatra: Voice for a Century
Friday, December 18, 2015 at 9 PM
“Ol' Blue Eyes,” “Chairman of the Board,” or simply “The Voice.” Mention any one of those three characterizations and your subject will be identified immediately: Frank Sinatra. Few if any in the history of our popular culture have enjoyed the lasting and universal fame of this remarkable native of Hoboken, New Jersey, who was born in December 1915 and died in Los Angeles in May 1998. Completely at odds with his rail-thin grownup appearance, Frank Sinatra was an enormous baby, weighing 13 and a half pounds, who had to be delivered with the use of forceps. He was left with scars on his left side as well as a perforated ear drum. But those circumstances obviously did not hinder what became a 60-year-long career as singer, actor, producer and director. On Friday evening, December 18, Live From Lincoln Center will present its own tribute and memorial to him titled “SINATRA: Voice for a Century.” Participants in the event will be the New York Philharmonic and its Music Director, Alan Gilbert, along with a dizzying galaxy of entertainers, among whom are Christina Aguilera, Chris Botti, Fantasia, Sutton Foster, Bernadette Peters, Billy Porter and Sting. The host will be the actor, filmmaker and TV creator Seth MacFarlane. As usual with the Philharmonic's Pop and Broadway ventures, the director will be Lonny Price.
Sinatra's career began in 1935 when he was part of a vocal quartet called “The Hoboken Four,” a group that sang with the Harry James Orchestra. Occasionally Sinatra was singled out for a solo both in live performance and recording. In 1939 he switched to the Tommy Dorsey Orchestra as a solo performer and remained with them until 1942. It was in 1943 that the Sinatra legend may be said truly to have begun. Signed to an exclusive recording contract with Columbia Records, Sinatra proceeded to produce one hit record after another and became an instant icon for teenagers of the time. His appearances at New York's Paramount Theater occasioned lines at the box office stretching for blocks and blocks on Broadway. In Boston, where I grew up, I was among the thousands of teenagers who waited in line patiently for a Sinatra show plus a first-release movie in the old, ornate Metropolitan Theater (now the Wang Performing Arts Center). Afterwards I remember thinking it was well worth the long wait!
Frank Sinatra's interest in music was wide and deep and embraced many genres and personalities. The list of performers whom he sought out and with whom he performed includes Bing Crosby, Judy Garland, Dinah Shore, Louis Armstrong, Ella Fitzgerald, Count Basie, Quincy Jones and Duke Ellington. And, yes, also the New York Philharmonic. In 1943 he appeared with the Philharmonic before an audience of 7,000 at its fabled (now long defunct) summertime concerts in Lewisohn Stadium on the grounds of the City University of New York in upper Manhattan. He was a great admirer and friend of the legendary American opera baritone, Robert Merrill, and would often seek Merrill's advice concerning voice matters. Others whom Sinatra would engage were the greatest arrangers/orchestrators of his time, including Axel Stordahl, Nelson Riddle and Alec Wilder. So taken was Sinatra with Wilder's talent that he persuaded Columbia Records to allow him to record – as conductor – several of Wilder's short classical music pieces.
I must also recall Sinatra's remarkable career as a film star. Quite logically, he was sought out for movie musicals: “On the Town,” “Guys and Dolls,” “High Society” and “Pal Joey” among them. But he also played the lead in a number of movie dramas, including “From Here to Eternity,” for which he won an Academy Award as Best Supporting Actor, and “The Manchurian Candidate.” Sinatra was also a regular figure on television throughout the 50s, 60s and 70s.
As noted above, the Lincoln Center/New York Philharmonic toast to Sinatra will involve some great current figures in the fields of pop music and entertainment. Christina Aguilera has won six Grammy Awards for her recordings and was cited by Rolling Stone Magazine as one of the 100 greatest singers of all time. Sting was a founder, with Stewart Copeland and Andy Summers, of the band The Police, which went on to win six Grammy Awards and two Brits and to be inducted in 2003 into the Rock ‘n’ Roll Hall of Fame. On his own as a solo performer Sting has won ten Grammy Awards, two Brits, a Golden Globe and an Emmy. He is also a member of the Songwriters Hall of Fame.
Bernadette Peters has brightened the Broadway stage for years in such hit shows as “Annie Get Your Gun,” “Gypsy,” “A Little Night Music,” “Follies” and “Sunday In the Park With George.” For her role in the film “Pennies From Heaven” she received a Golden Globe nomination. On television she has a prominent role in the current series “Mozart In the Jungle.” Sutton Foster is one of the theater's more recent discoveries. She has now appeared in eleven Broadway shows and received the Tony Award for her stand-out performances in “Anything Goes” and “Thoroughly Modern Millie.”
Host Seth MacFarlane, writer, director and singer has won two Emmy Awards, two Grammy Award nominations as well as an Academy Award nomination. All the other performers in the evening's entertainment have equally impressive achievements.
Live From Lincoln Center thus has an early Christmas gift for all of us on the evening of Friday, December 18, in the form of “SINATRA: Voice for a Century.” As usual I urge to check the listings of your local PBS station for the exact time and date in your area.
“Act One” by James Lapine
Friday, November 13, 2015 at 9 PM
For more than a quarter-of-a-century, between 1930 and 1960, the Broadway theater world was the playground of one of its most supremely gifted creators. His name was Moss Hart, and in a relatively short lifetime---he died in 1961 at the age of 57---as either writer or director he gave us some of the most inspired works in our theatrical culture. His autobiography, Act One, was hailed by Frank Rich in New York Magazine as “the greatest showbiz book ever written.” Famed writer/director James Lapine has taken Act One and adapted it to the stage for a memorable production by Lincoln Center Theater. We are proud to present the Hart-Lapine “Act One” as our next offering on Live From Lincoln Center on Friday evening, November 13 in the continuing PBS Arts Fall Festival series.
Moss Hart was born in New York to parents who had emigrated from England. His early life was a harsh and impoverished one and he dropped out of school at a tender age. It was an aunt, Kate, a difficult and troubled woman, who introduced young Moss to the theater by taking him on expeditions to Broadway. An instant bond was formed, and Moss Hart's future life seemed predetermined. After working as a director for amateur theatrical groups and summer resorts, he came to the attention of the legendary playwright George S. Kaufman, who agreed to write a show together. The result, 1930’s “Once in a Lifetime,” was the first of five acclaimed collaborations by the two of them. Among the others were “You Can't Take it With You” (1936), which won the Pulitzer Prize for Drama; “The Man Who Came to Dinner” (1939) and “George Washington Slept Here” (1940).
In addition Hart wrote the books for some of Broadway's greatest Musicals of the era. Among them were “As Thousands Cheer” (1933) with songs by Irving Berlin; “Jubilee” (1935) with Cole Porter; “I'd Rather be Right” (1937) with Richard Rodgers and Lorenz Hart (no relation); and “Lady in the Dark” (1941) with Kurt Weill and Ira Gershwin. He somehow also found time to write the screenplays for some of Hollywood's classic films, among them “Gentleman's Agreement” (1947), which received an Oscar nomination; “Hans Christian Andersen,” which starred Danny Kaye; and 1954's “A Star Is Born” with Judy Garland in perhaps her most memorable screen performance.
As a director he was responsible for “Junior Miss” (1941); “Dear Ruth” (1944); “Anniversary Waltz” (1954); “My Fair Lady,” for which he won a Best Director Tony Award (1956); and “Camelot” (1960). In 1972, eleven years after his death, he was in the first group of inductees into the American Theater Hall of Fame.
One of today’s most distinguished playwrights and directors, James Lapine, was born in Mansfield, Ohio in 1949. The team of Stephen Sondheim (music and lyrics) and James Lapine (book) has brought us such masterworks as “Sunday in the Park With George” (1983), “Into the Woods” (1987), and “Passion” (1994). With composer William Finn, James Lapine has served as playwright and director for “Falsettos” (1992); “The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee” (2005); and “Little Miss Sunshine” (2011). A few weeks ago, in recognition of his distinguished service to the American theater, Lapine was presented the Mr. Abbott Award, named after the legendary director, George Abbott. Mr. Lapine’s library shelf sports three Tony Awards, five Drama Desk Awards. one Pulitzer, one Peabody and an OBIE.
This, then, is the background to James Lapine’s play, "Act One", our next feature on Live From Lincoln Center. The cast includes notables of the stage, screen and television, some of whom play multiple roles. Matthew Schechter is the young Moss Hart; Santino Fontana is the emerging and energetic Moss; and Tony Shalhoub plays Moss's father, middle-aged Moss and George S. Kaufman. Among others in the cast, Andrea Martin plays Aunt Kate, Frieda Fishbein and Beatrice Kaufman. All told the cast of 22 plays over 40 parts.
Friday evening, November 13 is the date. I urge you to check with your local PBS station for the exact date and time in your area.
Danny Elfman's Music from the Films of Tim Burton
Friday, October 30, 2015 at 9 PM
During the course of its 20 year history, Lincoln Center Festival has carved out a niche for itself as one of the most imaginative and creative events on New York's artistic calendar. Its presentations have ranged from innovative evenings of dance, theater and music to the daring staging of classic and contemporary operas. Our program on Friday evening, October 30, will offer one of the highlights of the 2015 Festival: an evening of “Danny Elfman's Music From the Films of Tim Burton.”
Some of the greatest composers of the 20th and 21st centuries have composed music for films. Among them are Shostakovich, Copland, Bernstein, Prokofiev and Korngold. And there are the composers who are known PRINCIPALLY for their output for the motion picture screen: Max Steiner, Elmer Bernstein, Alfred Newman, Franz Waxman among others. Then there are the teams of Director and Composer, such as Alfred Hitchcock and Bernard Herrmann, Stephen Spielberg and John Williams, David Lean and Maurice Jarre, Blake Edwards and Henry Mancini. Screening a classic film with its musical score played live by a symphony orchestra has become a highly anticipated event in concert halls around the world. “Danny Elfman's Music From the Films of Tim Burton” is rapidly becoming a stand-out feature in this genre.
Danny Elfman was born in Los Angeles in 1953. As a teenager he travelled with his violin to France, where he was a member of an experimental music/theater group for whom he was singer, songwriter, composer and actor. Returning home at the age of 19, he along with his brother Richard founded a far-out ensemble called “The Mystic Knights of the Oingo Boingo.” When Richard left Oingo Boingo to become a filmmaker, Danny composed the music for his first film, Richard's “Forbidden Zone,” and appeared in the film as Satan. For the next 20 years the Oingo Bongo Band led an active touring and recording life until it suddenly disbanded in 1995.
Elfman had met filmmaker Tim Burton a decade earlier and now was invited by Burton and Paul Reubens to compose the score for their film Pee-Wee's Big Adventure. Uneasy because of his lack of formal training as a composer, he sought orchestration help from a colleague in Oingo Boingo. The resulting score proved to be an immediate success, and the combo of Elfman and Burton has gone on to become one of the industry's most acclaimed teams. Over a period of three decades they have produced 15 mind-blowing film epics such as Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, Beetlejuice, Mars Attacks!, Batman, Beetlejuice and Edward Scissorhands. His scores have gone on to win Danny Elfman four Academy Award Nominations, an Emmy Award, a Grammy Award, and his music for Batman and Edward Scissorhands were nominated for the American Film Institute's “100 Years of Film Scores.”
Director Tim Burton is also a native Californian, born in the city of Burbank in 1958. In his early youth he was obsessed with watching films and drawing. A Fellowship from Disney studios engaged him in animation, but he soon developed his own unique film directing style: a relatively low budget with heavy emphasis on often graphic fantasy. Several Burton films have grossed in the hundreds of millions of dollars. His boyhood flair for drawing and sketching has resulted in hundreds of works of art which have been exhibited in museums in Los Angeles, New York, London, Paris, Prague ad Melbourne, Australia.
The musical direction of “Danny Elfman's Music From the Films of Tim Burton” has been entrusted to the distinguished conductor John Mauceri, who has been associated with the project since he conducted its premiere in 2013 in London's Royal Albert Hall. For our Live From Lincoln Center presentation he conducts the Philharmonia Orchestra of New York, a newly-formed ensemble of some of the finest freelance instrumentalists in the city, as well as a 44-voice choir.
So, for a most unusual evening of musical and dramatic entertainment be sure to tune in Live From Lincoln Center on Friday evening, October 30 – appropriately, the night before Halloween. Please check your local PBS station for the exact time and date in your area.
Kern & Hammerstein's Show Boat
in concert with The New York Philharmonic
Friday, October 16, 2015 at 9 PM
During the month of October PBS will be celebrating what by now has become an annual event: the PBS Arts Fall Festival. We are honored by the fact that two of our Live From Lincoln Center presentations have been chosen for inclusion in the Festival: the New York Philharmonic's semi-staged presentation of the Kern-Hammerstein classic, "Show Boat", on Friday evening, October 16; and a Danny Elfman/Tim Burton celebration on Friday evening, October 30.
When "Show Boat" opened at New York's Ziegfeld Theatre on December 27, 1927 a new era was born on Broadway. Until the arrival of "Show Boat" the Broadway musical theater was awash in silly, frilly productions of questionable artistic value. Based on the popular novel by Edna Ferber, "Show Boat" tackles serious issues such as racism, marriages gone wrong, alcoholism and gambling, and covers nearly 50 years in the lives of a show business family. "Show Boat" fairly bursts with songs that quickly became part of The Great American Songbook. Among them are "Ol' Man River", "Can't Help Lovin' Dat Man", "Make Believe" and "Why Do I Love You?" The original cast included such luminaries as Helen Morgan, Charles Winninger and Norma Terris.
Productions of "Show Boat" vary according to the vision of its producers and directors. The New York Philharmonic's version takes as its basis the 1927 original score as orchestrated by Robert Russell Bennett, and includes several songs either dropped altogether or rarely included in other productions. Among these are "Let's Start the New Year", "Mis'ry's Comin' Round" and "It's Getting Hotter in the North". Ted Sperling, Conductor and Director of this presentation, has said: "One of the reasons we chose 'Show Boat' is because music is at its core. The score is by turns lyrical, dramatic and joyous---it will sound especially luxurious and dynamic when played by the Philharmonic."
The primary figure in the story is Magnolia Hawks, the naive and innocent daughter of Cap'n Andy, owner of the "Cotton Blossom" show boat. Enter Gaylord Ravenal, an altogether unsavory--but charming--gambler/actor. Magnolia and Gaylord fall in love, marry, leave the show boat and move to Chicago. There Gaylord's gambling runs amok. He ultimately loses all their money and abandons Magnolia and their young daughter. Peace is eventually restored between mother and now-grown daughter on the one hand and their family on the show boat. There is a reconciliation with Gaylord as well, pointing to an ultimate Happy Ending.
A devastating subplot involves Magnolia's best friend, Julie La Verne, who faces arrest on charges of miscegenation when it is revealed that she is a mulatto.
The annual presentation of a great American Musical by the New York Philharmonic has by now become a highlight of each season, and we of Live From Lincoln Center have been privileged to be able to bring them directly into your homes. "Show Boat" now joins such other Live From Lincoln Center/New York Philharmonic collaborations as "My Fair Lady", "Carousel", "Candide", and "Sweeney Todd". Ted Sperling, the Conductor for many of the earlier ones, returns once again for "Show Boat", now also assuming the role of Director. Choreographer is Randy Skinner. A quintet of experienced Broadway performers will take the five leading solo roles: Lauren Worsham will sing Magnolia; Fred Willard is Cap'n Andy; Julian Ovenden portrays Gaylord Ravenal; Vanessa Williams takes on the central role of Julie; and Norm Lewis plays Joe.
A very special evening awaits us all on Friday, October 16 when the New York Philharmonic's semi-staged production of "Show Boat" arrives by way of PBS. Be sure to check your local station for the exact day and time of the presentation in your area.
New York Philharmonic Opening Gala with Lang Lang
Thursday, September 24, 2015
A certain impossible-to-duplicate thrill accompanies the opening of every new theater, sports or music season. On Thursday evening, September 24, that thrill will be renewed once again as the New York Philharmonic and its Music Director, Alan Gilbert, open the Orchestra's 2015/2016 season. And as has been traditional for many years now, our cameras and microphones will be there to bring the entire proceedings LIVE directly into your home. Guest soloist will be the audience favorite, pianist Lang Lang, who will play the Grieg Concerto. The second half of the program will consist of Beethoven's Seventh Symphony.
Lang Lang and Live From Lincoln Center have an interesting history together. Some years ago we celebrated the opening of a Mostly Mozart season with a live telecast of that concert. Lang Lang, then at the beginning of his spectacular career, was scheduled to play the Mendelssohn First Piano Concerto, and a soprano was to sing some Mozart Concert and Opera Arias. Ten minutes before air time the soprano told us she was unable to sing. Crisis was averted when Lang Lang suggested that, if we wanted, he could fill the soprano's time with the Liszt Fantasy on Themes from Mozart's “Don Giovanni.” We wanted, he played, and proceeded to “bring down the house.” Afterwards my one word comment on the air was “Wow!” It will be a pleasure to welcome Lang Lang back to Live From Lincoln Center.
Norway's Edvard Grieg composed more than a hundred pieces for solo voice and piano and several hundred relatively short works for piano solo. But the A Minor Concerto is his sole Piano Concerto; in fact it is his only work in Concerto form. He composed it in 1868 when he was 25 years old. Not too many years ago the Grieg Concerto was a regular visitor to our concert halls, its stirring melodies heard season after season. Indeed in the 1940s, when Tin Pan Alley raided the classics for melodic material, the opening of the Grieg Concerto served Big Band Maestro Freddy Martin as the basis for a hit recording. Also, the Broadway musical “The Song of Norway” parades many of Grieg's melodies before us. Perhaps the forthcoming performance by Lang Lang, Alan Gilbert and the New York Philharmonic will serve to renew interest in the work.
On the other hand, Beethoven's Seventh Symphony, which occupies the second half of the program, brings us a score that has never suffered from neglect---except perhaps at its very first performance. The occasion was a charity concert, a benefit on behalf of the “Austrians and Bavarians wounded at Hanau” defending their native land against the army of Beethoven's one-time hero, Napoleon. Coupled with the premiere of the Seventh Symphony on that program was a potboiler if ever there has been one: Beethoven's “Wellington's Victory” (or “Battle Symphony” as it is sometimes called). The exciting drum rolls and brass fanfares of the latter work roused its first audience to ecstatic heights, while the glorious Seventh Symphony met with mild applause. It did not take long, however, for the true glory of the Seventh Symphony to assert itself: here is one of those astonishing works of art so universal and transcendent in its communicative intensity that it seems its creator's hand must have been driven by a higher power.
So there we have it: on the evening of Thursday, September 24, the opening of the 2015/2016 season of the New York Philharmonic, Alan Gilbert conducting, with piano soloist Lang Lang. As usual I urge to check with your local PBS station for the exact day and time of the telecast in your area.
Curtain Up: The School of American Ballet Workshop Performances
Encore Presentation: Friday, August 7, 2015
The New York City Ballet and Live From Lincoln Center are old friends and colleagues. The Company made its first appearance on our series in January 1978, exactly two years after our launch with a concert by the New York Philharmonic. Since then we have been fortunate to count the New York City Ballet among our most cherished collaborators, beginning with “Coppelia” and continuing with many of the beloved classics of the ballet repertoire. Our next program, on the evening of Friday, December 12, will offer a different aspect of the Balanchine legend, the 50th Annual Workshop performance of the renowned School of American Ballet.
Lincoln Kirstein, Rochester-born scion of an American department store family, was a lover of ballet from his early adulthood. He harbored many dreams: the creation of a great new ballet company; the infusion of new works into the performing repertoire; the creation of a school in which highly talented dancers would be taught by the greatest dancers and choreographers of the era. He undoubtedly did not know it at the time, but all his dreams would eventually come true starting the day in 1933 when he met choreographer George Balanchine in Paris. Russian-born and trained, Balanchine was already a force in the ballet world. And by force of his own personality Kirstein persuaded Balanchine to join forces with him, come to America, and create a world class ballet company together.
But before a ballet company could take hold, Balanchine needed the talent to fulfill his ambitious vision. The first product of the Kirstein-Balanchine collaboration was in fact the creation, in 1934, of the School of American Ballet. True to Kirstein's vision, the School quickly became the magnet for aspiring young dancers. And Balanchine, for his part, created his first choreography in the United States, “Serenade,” as a workshop piece for students at the School. The following year the team of Kirstein and Balanchine brought together a company of dancers who toured the U.S.A. under the group name The American Ballet. For three seasons the group was also the resident ballet company of the Metropolitan Opera. It was during that period that Balanchine presented his choreography for three scores by Stravinsky, the living composer for whom he created three of his most enduring ballets: “Apollo,” “Le baiser de la Fee” and “Card Game.”
The team of Balanchine and Kirstein came together once again, this time in 1946, to form Ballet Society, out of which----two years later and in collaboration with New York's City Center---emerged the New York City Ballet, with its home at New York's City Center (formerly the Mecca Temple) on West 55th Street. For more than 35 years, until his death in 1983, Balanchine served as the Company's Ballet Master in Chief, creating dozens of new works set to the music of history's finest composers. A signal event in the history of the Company occurred in 1954 when Balanchine introduced his choreography for Tchaikovsky's “The Nutcracker” as a Holiday celebration for the Christmas Season. This was an instant success and served to inspire ballet companies all over the country---indeed all over the world---to follow suit. “The Nutcracker” and the New York City Ballet are inextricably tied together and the nearly month-long series of performances have long since been a highlight of Christmas-time in New York.
In the early 1960s, when the New York State Theater (now named the David H. Koch Theater) arose as part of Lincoln Center on Manhattan’s Upper West Side, the New York City Ballet became one of its constituent institutions. Here, for an annual season of 23 weeks, the New York City Ballet performs under the artistic leadership of one of its former principal dancers, Peter Martins.
Throughout the long and inspirational alliance between Kirstein and Balanchine the original project that brought them together, the School of American Ballet, has flourished. Now housed in another building of the Lincoln Center complex, The Samuel B. and David Rose Building, the School has an enrollment of more than 350 hopeful young dancers from all over the United States and from around the world. Eagerly anticipated features of the School’s annual activities are public Workshop performances that take place in yet another of Lincoln Center’s buildings, the Peter Jay Sharp Theater. They are designed to showcase the ongoing excellence of the School's activities and are the full package, with costumes, scenery, lights and a symphony orchestra.
This, then, is the special event that awaits us on our next Live From Lincoln Center program scheduled for Friday evening, December 12. As always I urge you to contact your local PBS station to learn the exact date and time in your area.
Billy Porter: Broadway & Soul
Friday, April 3, 2015
At Live From Lincoln Center we continue our exploration of the “American Songbook” on the first two Friday evenings in April. The Friday April 3 telecast will showcase the star of "Kinky Boots,” Billy Porter, in a program of Broadway and Soul music. The following Friday, April 10, will feature Norm Lewis in a program titled "Who Am I?"
The term American Songbook refers to the Golden Age of America's love affair with the songs of the 1920s through the 1950s. These songs came primarily from three sources: Broadway, Hollywood and Tin Pan Alley. Giants roamed the popular music world in those years, years that were highlighted by the work of George Gershwin, Irving Berlin, Jerome Kern, Richard Rodgers, Harold Arlen and Cole Porter. And the performers included the pantheon of America's Pop singers, the likes of Frank Sinatra, Bing Crosby, Perry Como, Tony Bennett, Sarah Vaughan, Billie Holiday, Ella Fitzgerald and Barbra Streisand.
The explosion of rock and roll in the '60s and '70s tended to sideline this treasure trove of America's musical culture----but it was always there, ripe for the picking. One who constantly shined a light on this extraordinary musical heritage was pianist/singer/archivist Michael Feinstein. In recent years he has been joined by the likes of Carly Simon, Bette Midler, Gloria Estefan, Barry Manilow, Sting, and, most recently, Tony Bennett in duet with Lady Gaga. Also two of The Beatles--Ringo Starr and Sir Paul McCartney--have recorded songs from The Great American Songbook.
Billy Porter, the star of our next "Great American Songbook" presentation, is a native of Pittsburgh and a graduate of Carnegie Mellon University's College of Fine Arts. He also has certification from the Professional Program in Screenwriting at the University of California at Los Angeles. His life as a performer has taken many roads. He first burst upon the musical theater scene as the Teen Angel in the 1994 revival of “Grease.” Since then he has played leading roles in a variety of works, including “Grease,” “Smokey Joe's Café,” “Miss Saigon” and “Angels in America.”
The year 2013 was a Golden Year for Billy Porter. For his portrayal of Lola, a drag queen in “Kinky Boots,” he received Broadway's 2013 Tony Award For Best Actor in a Musical. That role also earned him the Drama Desk Award and the Outer Critics Circle Award for the Outstanding Actor in a Musical.
Film, television and recording have featured in his performing life as well. On television he has appeared in “Another World,” “The Broken Hearts Club” and “Law and Order,” among other series. His theater directing credits include “The Wiz” and “Being Alive” (a tribute to both Stephen Sondheim and William Shakespeare). He has written a semi-autobiograhical play, “While I Yet Live,” the story of a black, gay Christian in America. He has served as a Guest Judge on “So You Think You Can Dance” and he has made a number of critically-acclaimed recordings, the latest of which is “Billy's Back on Broadway.” Billy Porter's Live From Lincoln Center appearance will include memorable moments from “Cabaret,” “Gypsy,” “Funny Girl,” “Guys and Dolls” and of course “Kinky Boots.”
Commenting in The New York Times on Porter's performance of “Take the Moment” from the Rodgers and Sondheim Musical “Do I Hear a Waltz,” critic Stephen Holden wrote: “His performance created the kind of epiphany that a great voice can conjure out of thin air.”
So, an exciting event awaits us on Friday evening, April 3, at 9 PM on Live From Lincoln Center. Be sure to check your local PBS station for the exact day and time in your neighborhood.
Norm Lewis: Who Am I?
Friday, April 10, 2015
On Friday evening, April 10, our featured artist will be Norm Lewis, whom we met earlier this year at our New Year's Eve all-Gershwin program with the New York Philharmonic conducted by Bramwell Tovey. Among Lewis’ successes on Broadway have been “The Gershwins' Porgy and Bess” (for which he received a Tony Award nomination), “Sondheim on Sondheim,” “Miss Saigon” and “The Who's TOMMY.” Mr. Lewis, a native of Eatonville, Florida (the oldest Black Chartered Municipality in the United States) has appeared in virtually all areas of the entertainment world: stage, screen, television, opera and the concert stage. For his Live From Lincoln Center appearance Lewis will continue our exploration of “The Great American Songbook.”
The first half of the twentieth century, especially the years between the 1930s and the 1950s, were the glory years of American popular music, producing hundreds of songs that have stood the test of time and are now an integral part of “The Great American Songbook.” As a parenthetical observation it should be mentioned that those years were also the years that produced great American Symphonies: The Second Symphony of Randall Thompson, the Third Symphonies of Roy Harris, William Schuman and Aaron Copland; the Second Symphony of David Diamond; the "Romantic" Symphony of Howard Hanson; the First Symphony ("Jeremiah") of Leonard Bernstein – among many others.
It was in 1972 that composer Alec Wilder wrote the definitive book, American Popular Song: The Great Innovators, 1900-1950, describing the history and impact of the Pop music of the period. In clear and colorful words Wilder delineates the common qualities that underlie those great songs: lyrics that more often than not are witty or teasing or celebratory, and music that once heard can never be forgotten. One of the more intriguing elements in Wilder's book is his observation that these songs bear a relationship to classical music in their form and structure.
Our headliner, Norm Lewis, is one of the Great transmitters of the American Songbook. He began his singing life in church choirs, and in his high school and college choruses. Early in his professional career he served on the staff of the Orlando Sentinel newspaper. Early on, on the path trodden by many of today's younger singer/performers, he was featured as an entertainer on cruise ships. The "Who Am I?" title for his Live From Lincoln Center appearance will be elucidated by songs from such iconic Broadway shows as “Stop the World--I Want to Get Off,” “Les Miserables,” and “Company.” In addition we'll hear music from the Gospel and Soul tradition, including Stevie Wonder's “Knocks me Off My Feet” and “Lift Every Voice and Sing.” One of the highlights is certain to be “I Got Plenty O' Nuttin’” from the Gershwins’ “Porgy and Bess,” which Lewis will sing in two different styles: with the opera aria cum jazzy abandon of the original intent, then switching to a pop and spiritual mode.
In answering the question “Who Am I?” Norm Lewis has written: "My life and work ethic comes from the business world, but I envy those who have been through conservatories, because they've had the choice to delve into character study in a way I never did. But at the same time I've heard horror stories about acting teachers at these places who've said to students ‘You have no talent and you'll never work.’ I don't know if I could have pursued a theater career if I had been told that at a young age.” Fortunately, Norm Lewis took the path that led him to the brilliant career he has enjoyed and that has enriched all of us.
Joining Norm Lewis on stage for his Live From Lincoln Center appearance will be musicians Joseph Joubert, George Farmer and Perry Cavari, as well as Pastor Bobby Lewis and the 15-member gospel choir, the Bobby Lewis Ensemble. So mark your calendars for an exciting evening will Norm Lewis and Company on Friday evening, April 10 on Live From Lincoln Center.
Do please check your local PBS station for the exact day and time of the program in your area.
Richard Tucker Opera Gala: A New Century
Friday, January 23, 2015
The superb American tenor, Richard Tucker, died in Kalamazoo, Michigan in January, 1975 while on a concert tour with his great friend, the baritone Robert Merrill.
Within the year his widow and sons created the Richard Tucker Music Foundation, a “non-profit cultural organization dedicated to perpetuating the artistic legacy of the great American tenor through the support and advancement of the careers of talented American opera singers.” Hundreds of young American singers have benefitted from this support, and each year the Foundation singles out an extraordinary young singer for The Richard Tucker Award in recognition of having “reached a high level of artistic accomplishment and who, in the opinion of a conferral panel, is on the threshold of a major international career.” Among past recipients of The Richard Tucker Award are Renee Fleming (1990), Deborah Voigt (1992), Stephanie Blythe (1999), Dwayne Croft ((1996) and Matthew Polenzani (2004). The crowning event each year is a Gala Concert in Lincoln Center's Avery Fisher Hall in which that year’s Richard Tucker Award recipient is joined by stars from the Metropolitan Opera for a musical extravaganza. Live From Lincoln Center has been present with its cameras and microphones at many of these joyous occasions, and we are pleased to do so again. The orchestra along with the 180-member New York Choral Society, whose Music Director is David Hayes, will be conducted by Emmanuel Villaume, Music Director of the Dallas Opera.
The winner of the current Richard Tucker Music Foundation Award is 30-year old tenor Michael Fabiano, a native of Montclair, New Jersey, who opens the program with the brilliant aria “Tutto parea sorridere” from Il corsaro, one of the lesser-known operas of Verdi. Mr. Fabiano has sung with the San Francisco Opera, the Paris Opera and at La Scala in Milan, among others. He made his Metropolitan Opera debut in 2010.
The 29 year-old soprano, Pretty Yende, is our next artist, with the aria “Qui la voce” from Bellini's I puritani. She is a South African graduate of the Accademia Teatro alla Scala in Milan and has sung the role of Musetta in Puccini's La Boheme with the La Scala Opera. She made her Metropolitan Opera debut in 2013 in Rossini's Le comte Ory.
Bass Ildar Abdrazakov, 38 and a native of Russia, is by now a veteran of most of the world's great opera houses. He made his Metropolitan Opera debut in 2004 as Don Giovanni in Mozart's masterpiece with James Levine conducting. Along with the New York Choral Society Abdrazakov brings us back to Verdi with the aria “Infelice!... e tuo credevi” from Ernani. Later in the evening Abdrazakov will join mezzo-soprano Ingeborg Gillebo for the duet “La ci darem la mano” from Mozart's Don Giovanni.
Another young veteran of the international operatic scene is the 36-year old Maltese tenor, Joseph Calleja, who is next in line with one of the all-time favorite tenor arias, “E lucevan le stele” from Puccini's Tosca. Mr. Calleja has sung with the world's principal opera companies and made his Metropolitan debut in 2006 as the Duke in Verdi's Rigoletto. The Conductor for Calleja's first recording, the esteemed Riccardo Chailly, remarked: “For some time now I have not heard such a talent at this young age, with a sound harking back to a quality I thought we had long lost.”
Soprano Angela Meade along with mezzo-soprano Jennifer Johnson Cano and the New York Choral Society offer “Esprits de l'air” from Massenet's Esclarmonde. Miss Meade was the 2011 Richard Tucker Award winner and she has since gone on to grace the concert and operatic stages of the world. Among her many engagements this season is a series of performances of the Verdi “Requiem” with Alan Gilbert and the New York Philharmonic. Jennifer Johnson Cano made her Metropolitan Opera debut in 2009 in Mozart's The Marriage of Figaro and since then has appeared there in Hansel ad Gretel, Das Rheingold, Gotterdammerung, Madam Butterfly and The Bartered Bride.
A relative newcomer to American audiences, 31-year old Norwegian mezzo-soprano, Ingeborg Gillebo, the Zerlina to lldar Abdrazakov's Don Giovanni, is a mainstay of the Norwegian Opera Company and has sung Cherubino in Mozart's The Marriage of Figaro under James Levine at the Metropolitan Opera.
At the age of 46 Serbian baritone Željko Lučić is the elder statesman among the evening's singers. He has appeared with many of the world's leading companies and made his Metropolitan Opera debut in 2006. He will sing one of the hits from the baritone repertory, “Nemico della patria” from Giordano's Andrea Chenier.
Joseph Calleja returns for another favorite tenor aria, “Pourquoi me reveiller” from Massenet's Werther, followed by Lebanon-born Canadian soprano Joyce El-Khoury, a particular favorite of the late conductor Lorin Maazel, who chose her for important opera and concert performances. She and Michael Fabiano will sing the duet “Toi! Vous!” from Massenet's Manon.
“Pace, pace, mio Dio” from Verdi's La Forza del Destino is the vehicle for Angela Meade's final solo appearance.
Our program concludes with two items from the repertory of Spanish zarzuela and the American Broadway stage. Joseph Calleja sings “No puede ser” (It cannot be), probably the best-known of all the works by the Spanish composer Pablo Sorozabal from his zarzuela, the nautical romance “La taberna del Puerto.” And Pretty Yende winds up the festivities with an aria most appropriate to her name, "I Feel Pretty" from Leonard Bernstein and Stephen Sondheim's West Side Story.
But our extravaganza is not quite finished: As an encore a sextet of singers regales us with the Act II Finale from Donizetti's Lucia di Lammermoor.
Quite an evening awaits us on the telecast of the Richard Tucker Music Foundation Gala Concert Friday evening, January 23 at 10:00 PM. Please check with your local PBS station for the exact date and time in your neighborhood.
New York Philharmonic New Year's Eve: Gershwin Celebration
with Dianne Reeves and Norm Lewis
Wednesday, December 31, 2014 at 8 PM
Ever since our very first telecast in January 1976, when the New York Philharmonic played under the direction of Andre Previn and Van Cliburn was soloist in the Grieg Piano Concerto, it has been our pleasure several times each season to bring you concerts by the New York Philharmonic on Live From Lincoln Center. On December 31, 1984 our cameras and microphones were in Avery Fisher Hall to inaugurate what has since become a fruitful tradition: the Philharmonic's New Year's Eve Concert as a highlight of the PBS end-of-the-year schedule. That tradition will continue on Wednesday, December 31 with an all-Gershwin program to be conducted by Bramwell Tovey and with singers Dianne Reeves and Norm Lewis as soloists.
The music of George Gershwin and the New York Philharmonic share a long and distinguished career. His Piano Concerto was premiered in December 1925 by the New York Symphony (which later merged with the Philharmonic), with Gershwin himself at the piano. In the early 1930's all-Gershwin programs were highlights of the Philharmonic's Spring and Summer concerts in the City's Lewisohn Stadium, usually with Gershwin playing his “Rhapsody in Blue.” The Broadway stage was enriched by a seemingly endless series of superb Gershwin musicals, and he appeared many times on national radio broadcasts that originated in New York’s radio studios. Gershwin, a native New Yorker, reflects in much of his music the vitality and 24/7 energy of the city.
Conductor Bramwell Tovey made his debut with the New York Philharmonic in 2001. Three years later he was invited to return to the Philharmonic and become the conductor for a new Spring and Summertime series, “Summertime Classics.” Those concerts have since become treasured events on New York's musical calendar. Maestro Tovey, since September 2000, has been the much-admired Conductor and Music Director of Canada's Vancouver Symphony Orchestra. And in 2008 he was named Principal Guest Conductor of the Los Angeles Philharmonic’s Hollywood Bowl Concerts. This past summer he made his debut at Tanglewood, the summer home of the Boston Symphony Orchestra, conducting a much-admired concert performance of Leonard Bernstein's “Candide.”
I serve as Moderator for Tanglewood's Friday evening pre-concert Roundtable discussions, and the evening before the “Candide” performance Maestro Tovey was one of my guests. I seized the opportunity to ask him a question which had long puzzled me: “Maestro, are you related to the formidable British writer and musicologist, Sir Donald Francis Tovey?” Ever the performer, Maestro Tovey took his time replying. After a long, pregnant pause, he finally gave a four-word answer: “No, I am not.” I detected that he had been asked that question dozens, perhaps hundreds of times!
Singer Dianne Reeves comes from a musical family. Her father, a fine singer, died when she was two years old. Her mother played trumpet, a cousin was a keyboard player and record producer, and an uncle was a bass player in the Denver Symphony Orchestra. She herself knew at an early age that she wanted to be a singer “when she grew up.” The trumpeter Clark Terry became her mentor and between 1983 and 1986 she toured as a lead singer with Harry Belafonte. At the 2002 Winter Olympic Games in Salt Lake City Dianne Reeves sang at the closing ceremony. As a recording artist she is a four-time Grammy Award winner for Best Jazz Vocal Performance. The music of Gershwin is in her bones.
For his part, baritone Norm Lewis has had a distinguished career as both a singer and actor. Since making his Broadway debut in 1993 in The Who's “Tommy,” he has been featured in “Miss Saigon,” “Chicago,” “Les Miserables” and in a number of starring roles in the New York Public Theater's summer season performances of Shakespeare in the Park. Lewis has played Porgy in Gershwin's “Porgy and Bess” on a variety of stages. For his portrayal in the 2012 American Repertory Theater production he was nominated for a Tony Award; as Outstanding Actor in a Musical by both the Drama Desk and the Outer Critics Circle; and for Distinguished Performance by the Drama League.
The New York Philharmonic's all-Gershwin program on New Year's Eve will bring us the Cuban Overture, the concert suite that Gershwin himself drew up out of his music for “Porgy and Bess,” the rousing “Strike Up the Band” and a cornucopia of Gershwin songs from the great American Songbook.
So celebrate with us the exit of the year 2014 and the arrival of a better (we hope) 2015 with the New York Philharmonic, conductor Bramwell Tovey and celebrated singers Dianne Reeves and Norm Lewis---all on Live From Lincoln Center on Wednesday evening, December 31. As always I urge you to contact your local PBS station to get the exact day and time for the telecast in your local area.
Happy New Year!!
MARTIN BOOKSPAN was Commentator for Live From Lincoln Center for 30 years, since its very first broadcast in January, 1976 until our 30th Anniversary broadcast in 2006. Martin's lifelong love and appreciation for music and all the performing arts have fueled and shaped his distinguished career in both print and broadcast media, which has included associations with the Boston Symphony, the New York Philharmonic, classical music radio station WQXR, and television Channel 7 News and Channel 11 News in New York City. He is the author of 101 Masterpieces of Music and Their Composers (Doubleday) and Consumer Reports Reviews: Classical Recordings (Consumers Union), as well as biographies of Zubin Mehta and André Previn, written with Ross Yockey.