On this day in classical music: Hungarian composer and pianist Franz Liszt died at age 74 in Bayreuth, Germany. Equally accomplished as a pianist and composer, Liszt left an extensive compositional legacy, including two piano concertos, numerous orchestral tone poems, and countless works for solo piano. The latter includes three suites titled “Years of Pilgrimage,” the well-known “Sonata in B Minor” and several transcriptions of works by other composers. Listen to a performance of Liszt’s transcription of Robert Schumann’s “Widmung.” http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=J5cpTHSLB5I
On this day in the musical theatre: “Avenue Q” opened on Broadway in 2003. A small-scale, small-budget coming-of-age musical that both explores and satirizes the issues of entering adulthood, “Avenue Q” tells its story through the use of puppets. But instead of its animators being hidden from the audience, they’re in full view. Themes such as racism, pornography and homosexuality made it an adult musical. “Avenue Q” won three Tony Awards, for book, score and Best Musical. Most people thought the much talked about “Wicked” would sweep the awards that year but it took home only three Tonys and lost the top award to “Avenue Q.” After a six-year run on Broadway, “Avenue Q” reopened off-Broadway in October 2009 where it continues playing today. Listen to the original Broadway cast sing “Everyone’s a Little Bit Racist” from “Avenue Q.” http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7MSCwOuYajI
Musical musings: Having written the musical “Avenue Q” with the songwriting team of Robert Lopez and Jeff Marx, I’m glad none of us knew what lay ahead once we were done. If we had known, we might have frozen in terror and never been able to finish. Blissfully unaware of our futures, we wrote the show during marathon sessions at Starbucks, in diners, in each others’ cramped apartments. We’d get actors together to perform it, bare-bones, for an audience, and we’d take what we learned and go back to work — at a humid theater festival without air conditioning, at least once in a park, and frequently in our director’s living room because, unlike us, he actually had one. Writing “Avenue Q” forced Bobby, Jeff and me each to develop a strong set of audience-listening ears. During previews off-Broadway, we rewrote nearly half of the show in a month based on what we heard. Was the audience laughing? Did we seduce them into silence? And most important: Were they, on some level, moved? I’ve always felt that what makes “Avenue Q” subversive is not that the puppets swear or have a love scene so flagrant that Tommy Lee would blush. There’s a moment in Act 2 when the audience becomes utterly silent, that beautiful silence when nobody dares cough or rustle, because they’ve come to care about a character going through a difficult time. This character, I might add, is made of foam and fur and googly eyeballs and sits on a puppeteer’s arm. The audience uses its own imaginations, not CGI, to relate to someone who couldn’t be less like them on the surface. What could be more subversive than that? – Jeff Whitty
On this day in classical music: William Schuman’s “George Washington Bridge” received its premiere in 1950. In a program note for his celebrated work for concert band, Schuman wrote: “There are few days in the year when I do not see the George Washington Bridge. I pass it on my way to work as I drive along the Henry Hudson Parkway on the New York shore. Ever since my student days when I watched the progress of its construction, this bridge has had for me an almost human personality, and this personality is astonishingly varied, assuming different moods depending on the time of day or night, the weather, the traffic and, of course, my own mood as I pass by. I have walked across it late at night when it was shrouded in fog, and during the brilliant sunshine hours of midday. I have driven over it countless times and passed under it on boats. Coming to New York City by air, sometimes I have been lucky enough to fly right over it. It is difficult to imagine a more gracious welcome or dramatic entry to the great metropolis.” Listen to a performance of “George Washington Bridge.” http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0GxXelRoDjk
On this day in the musical theatre: Daniel McDonald, an actor who had leading roles in “Steel Pier” and “High Society,” was born in 1960. The Pennsylvania native received a Tony Award nomination for his role as stunt pilot Bill Kelly in “Steel Pier,” a short-lived Kander and Ebb musical about the dance marathons of the 1930s. McDonald played the dashing Dexter Haven in “High Society,” a 1998 musical based on the film “The Philadelphia Story.” McDonald died at age 46 from brain cancer in 2007. Listen to “Dance With Me” (sung by Gregory Harrison and “The Last Girl” (sung by Daniel McDonald) from “Steel Pier.” http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=B21P1psi1yE
Musical musings: “(He) brings an antic, juvenile giddiness to the role played with such sly savoir-faire by Cary Grant,” wrote Ben Brantley of McDonald in The New York Times. “He’s a handsome fellow, right out of an Arrow shirt ad, and he has an appealing voice.”
On this day in classical music: Sigmund Romberg was born in Hungary in 1877. He came to the United States in 1909 and became well-known as a composer of popular operettas. Among his numerous hits were the operettas “The Student Prince” (1924), “The Desert Song” (1926) and “The New Moon” (1928). Jeanette MacDonald and Nelson Eddy were devoted champions of Romberg’s music and frequently performed his songs. Romberg died in New York City in 1951 at age 64. Listen to Gordon MacRae sing “The Riff Song” from “The Desert Song.” http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PHAQYJrhxuU
On this day in the musical theatre: Disney’s “Beauty and the Beast” closed on Broadway in 2007 after a phenomenal 13-year run. Despite being shunned at the 1994 Tony Awards — it only took one award, for costume design and received mixed reviews — “Beauty and the Beast” resonated with the public who helped make Disney’s first Broadway musical the eighth longest running show. The first national tour was also well-received and like its Broadway counterpart, highly profitable. Listen to Burke Moses of the original Broadway cast sing “Me.” http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3Y5riINpUx8
Musical musings: In 2001, theater maven Peter Filichia came up with a month’s worth of lessons that “Beauty and the Beast” explores. There are lessons here that anyone would be prudent to adopt.
1) Don’t be deceived by appearances.
2) It’s okay to be different from the rest of the people in your town.
3) The handsomest guy is not the best.
4) Inner beauty is more important than outer beauty.
5) Be kind to your parents.
6) Sacrifice for your parents.
7) You can’t force love.
8) Home is where the heart is.
9) Books take you to wonderful places.
10) Ignore what people say about you if you like yourself.
11) Parents should take pride in their children.
12) Be polite to those you don’t like.
13) Be sincere.
14) Control your temper.
15) Ordering people around is rude.
16) Say “Please.”
17) Say “Thank you.”
18) Might does not make right.
19) Don’t give up.
20) Give people a chance.
21) Give people a second chance.
22) Act like a gentleman.
23) Learn to say you’re sorry when you’ve done something wrong, even if you did it inadvertently.
24) A good person is better to his enemies than a bad person is to his friends.
25) Learn to control your tongue.
26) Teach those who don’t know what you do.
27) Books can take you away and make you forget for a little while.
28) An unpopular person only needs to find one other to feel a great deal better.
29) Speak from the heart.
30) If you love someone, set her free.
On this day in classical music: Johann Sebastian Bach died in Leipzig in 1750. More than a century after he was buried at St. John’s cemetery, his body was exhumed and reburied in St. Thomas Church where he has served as cantor. Although considered an accomplished organist, Bach didn’t receive his due as one of the baroque era’s great composers until the early 19th century. Felix Mendelssohn was largely responsible for reviving Bach’s music, begun in 1829 with a performance of the “St. Matthew Passion.” Two decades later, the Bach Gesellschaft was founded in an effort to promote his works. A comprehensive edition of Bach’s works was published in 1899. Bach’s compositional output is enormous and includes “The Well-Tempered Clavier,” numerous inventions and sinfonias, several dance suites, the “Goldberg Variations,” many sonatas, six solo cello suites, a wealth of cantatas, passions, masses and oratorios. Listen to a performance of the “Little Prelude in C Major, BWV 553.” http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fraT8PeozYM
On this day in the musical theatre: Cole Porter’s “Kiss Me, Kate” closed on Broadway in 1951 after a 2½ year run. While Porter produced a dozen musicals between “Anything Goes” in 1934 and “Kiss Me, Kate” in 1948, none approached the classic status of “Anything Goes.” “Kiss Me, Kate” is a musical based on Shakespeare’s “The Taming of the Shrew” that focused on a troupe of actors whose conflicts on and off stage provided the show with much of its humor. Porter’s score was brilliant and made hits of “Wunderbar,” “So In Love,” “Were Thine That Special Face” and “Too Darn Hot.” “Kiss Me Kate” was the first musical to be awarded a Tony Award for Best Musical. It won four other awards, including one for Porter’s score. The original production starred Alfred Drake, Patricia Morison, Lisa Kirk and Harold Lang. “Kiss Me, Kate” has had two Broadway revivals, the first, a one-week disappointment in 1952 and a widely acclaimed production in 1999 that ran for more than two years. Listen to Howard Keel sing “Where Is the Life That Late I Led?” http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=e_ui18maOq0
Musical musings: The electric excitement that comes to the theatre when everything goes right was present last night with the arrival of “Kiss Me, Kate.” From the opening number it was obvious to everybody that the first-nighters were seeing a smash hit of epic proportions, and nothing occurred throughout the evening to let them down. “Kiss Me, Kate” is beautiful, tuneful, witty, gay, high-spirited, and delightfully sung, acted and danced. Again the American musical comedy proved itself the best in the world. – from Richard Watts Jr.’s opening night review in the New York Post.
On this day in classical music: Hungarian composer and pianist Ernst von Dohnanyi was born in 1877. He was a classmate of Bela Bartok at the Budapest Academy of Music. As a conductor, he championed Bartok’s early works. Dohnanyi remained in Hungary during the Second World War but came to the United States shortly thereafter. He divided his time between conducting and composing. While Dohnanyi produced a fairly substantial body of work, he is perhaps best remembered for his “Variations on a Nursery Tune,” a set of theme and variations for piano and orchestra on “Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star.” Dohnanyi’s grandson is conductor Christoph von Dohnanyi. Listen to Phillip Fowke perform the finale of the “Variations on a Nursery Tune.” Bryden Thompson conducts. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GTnr5HrtCXw
On this day in the musical theatre: In 1982, “Little Shop of Horrors” opened at the Orpheum Theatre, an off-Broadway house. With music by Alan Menken and lyrics by Howard Ashman, “Little Shop” was based on Roger Corman’s 1960 budget film. The musical’s premise — a nebbish flower shop assistant discovers that a new plant he picked up only thrives on blood — helped turn “Little Shop” into a cult favorite. The musical would play 2209 performances before closing in 1987. A revival opened on Broadway in 2003 but only lasted 11 months. “Little Shop” quickly became a popular show for stock and community theaters. Its score produced the rousing “Suddenly Seymour” and the heartfelt ballad “Somewhere That’s Green.” Listen to Ellen Greene sing “Somewhere That’s Green.” http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RctkAoTHHrc&feature=youtu.be
Musical musings: The show is, in essence, the timeless Faust legend given classical Broadway shape by a first rate book-and-lyric writer and transformed into something new by the application of a fresh and consistent style. Every element of it, from the cartoon-like punch of its dialogue to its litany of television and pop-culture references, to its amazing catalogue of early ’60s musical idioms, combines to give it a unique and irresistible identity. In many respects it seems to be built entirely out of the found materials that wash around in the head of every baby boomer who grew up on AM radio and drive-in movies, but it is so cunningly built that it moves you even as it is having fun with itself. It sends up stereotypes and then sells them to you as if they were flesh and blood. – Jack Viertel
On this day in classical music: Distinguished string bass player and conductor Serge Koussevitzky was born in Russia in 1874. He joined the Bolshoi Theatre Orchestra at age 20, succeeding his teacher Josef Rambusek. Koussevitzky moved to Berlin not long after the turn of the 20th century and studied conducting with Arthur Nikisch. In 1908, Koussevitzky made his professional debut conducting the Berlin Philharmonic in Rachmaninoff’s “Piano Concerto No. 2 in C Minor,” with the composer as soloist. In 1920, Koussevitzky left the Soviet Union. From 1921 to 1929, he organized the Concerts Koussevitzky in Paris, performing new works by Prokofiev, Stravinsky and Ravel. Koussevitzky succeeded Pierre Monteux as music director of the Boston Symphony in 1924. During his 25-year tenure in Boston, Koussevitzky continued his practice of introducing new works to the orchestra and public, among them, Ravel’s “Piano Concerto in G,” Gershwin’s “Second Rhapsody,” Prokofiev’s “Symphony No. 4,” Hindemith’s “Concert Music for Strings and Brass” and Stravinsky’s “Symphony of Psalms.” Koussevitzky also commissioned Ravel to create an orchestral arrangement of Mussorgsky’s piano suite “Pictures at an Exhibition.” While many other versions of “Pictures” have been written, Ravel’s orchestration is the most often performed and recorded. The Boston Symphony’s summer home, Tanglewood, in western Massachusetts, became a haven for aspiring conductors. Among Koussevitzky’s students there were Leonard Bernstein, Samuel Adler and Sarah Caldwell. Koussevitzky died in Boston in 1951. Listen to Koussevitzky and the Boston Symphony perform Beethoven’s “Egmont Overture.” http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iXGeWN3_gQU&feature=results_video&playnext=1&list=PL8026A0CBA570FB3C
On this day in the musical theatre: Hollywood director Blake Edwards was born in Tulsa in 1922. He began his career as an actor but soon shifted his focus to directing and producing. He first gained significant attention for his 1961 film “Breakfast at Tiffany’s.” Edwards is perhaps best known for his “Pink Panther” films starring Peter Sellars. From 1969 until his death in 2010, Edwards was married to Julie Andrews. She appeared in several of her husband’s films, including “Darling Lili,” “10” and “Victor/Victoria.” Edwards adapted “Victor/Victoria” for the stage in 1995. The production, which featured music by Henry Mancini and Frank Wildhorn, marked Andrews’ return to Broadway, her first since starring in “Camelot” 35 years earlier. The show ran just short of two years.
Musical musings: When Julie Andrews was the only cast member nominated for a Tony Award in 1996, she made headlines when she took herself out of contention. Following a Wednesday matinee, Andrews explained her decision: “I have searched my conscience and my heart and I find that sadly I cannot accept the nomination. I prefer to stand instead with the egregiously overlooked.” Andrews considered “Victor/Victoria” an ensemble show, many of whom she felt deserved to be nominated: “ ‘Victor/Victoria’ is a collaboration: designers, choreographers, directors, cast and crew, an extremely happy and successful family, which makes it especially sad that so many of my colleagues have been ignored by this year’s nominating committee. I could not have done this alone.” Despite her decision, Andrews’ name remained on the voting ballot. It’s also likely she would have won the award. Donna Murphy won for her role as Anna Leonowens in “The King and I.”
On this day in classical music: American composer Douglas Moore died in New York in 1969. Moore studied with Ernest Bloch at the Cleveland Institute of Music and made his conducting debut with the Cleveland Orchestra in 1923. From 1926 to 1969, Moore was a member of the music faculty at Columbia University. A noted composer of operas, Moore is best remembered for “The Devil and Daniel Webster” (1938) and “The Ballad of Baby Doe” (1956). Listen to Beverly Sills sing the “Willow Aria” from “The Ballad of Baby Doe.” Douglas Moore makes the introduction. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IqEe4ib1LDg&feature=related
On this day in the musical theatre: One of the greatest musicals of all time opened on Broadway in 1975. “A Chorus Line” made its off-Broadway debut on April 15 at the Joseph Papp Public Theatre. Conceived and directed by Michael Bennett, this backstage look at the joys and hardships of Broadway dancers was so successful that a Broadway transfer was arranged. With music by Marvin Hamlisch and lyrics by Edward Kleban, “A Chorus Line” would become one of the longest running shows of the American musical theater. In 1983, “A Chorus Line” passed the record previously held by “Grease.” The musical would hold that record until “Cats” surpassed it in 1997. The musical, which won nine Tony Awards, virtually shut out most of its competition. Stephen Sondheim’s “Pacific Overtures” won awards for costume and scenic design and George Rose took the Best Actor Tony for his role as Alfred P. Dolittle in a revival of “My Fair Lady.” While Kander and Ebb’s “Chicago” lost all 11 of the categories in which it was nominated, a 1996 revival finally received its long overdue acclaim by winning six Tony Awards and ultimately passing “A Chorus Line’s” run. “Chicago will celebrate its 16th anniversary in November. Today, “A Chorus Line” is the fifth longest running musical, having been surpassed by “Chicago,” “Les Miserables,” “Cats” and “The Phantom of the Opera.” Watch the finale of “A Chorus Line,” the inimitable “One.” http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NtInDkT7GHQ
Musical musings: If you glance at the logo of “A Chorus Line,” you see a uniform line of faceless dancers. But wait, no they’re not. Each one holds himself or herself a little differently. It’s there if you look. The slim, strawberry-blond Trish Garland stands ponyish and shy with one knocked knee. There’s a very personal flair about Thommie Walsh’s scarf, and a proud challenge in Ron Dennis’ black chest. Statuesque Kelly Bishop stands with the sensuality of a fallen Miss America. Sammy Williams, the one with the moustache, seems to asking for something. It’s in the way he holds his head. Before they speak, before they move, before they even appear on the stage, the dancers on that logo are telling who they are. They may be just another chorus line, but each is special. – from On the Line – The Creation of “A Chorus Line.”
On this day in classical music: French composer Adolphe Adam was born in Paris in 1803. A prolific composer whose output includes numerous ballets and operas, Adam also wrote the Christmas tune “Cantique de Noel” (“O Holy Night”). His ballets “Le Corsaire” and “Giselle” remain staples of the repertoire. Watch an excerpt from “Giselle” performed by the State Ballet of Georgia. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=r2TC-I1RQiM
On this day in the musical theatre: “Flora, the Red Menace” closed on Broadway in 1965 after a three-month run. The show marked the debuts of composer John Kander, lyricist Fred Ebb and star Liza Minnelli. George Abbott and Robert Russell collaborated on the book and Abbott directed. While the show has largely been forgotten, Minnelli took home a Tony Award as Best Actress for her Broadway debut. It also established a partnership among Kander, Ebb and Minnelli that would continue for decades. Minnelli would appear in several other Kander and Ebb shows: “The Act” in 1978, “The Rink” in 1984 and “Liza’s Back” in 2002. She was also a Roxie Hart replacement in the summer of 1975. The title character (played by Minnelli) in this musical is trying to become a fashion designer during the Great Depression. She falls in love with another struggling designer who tries to convince her to embrace his Communist ideals. Ultimately she has to sacrifice one if she’s to find true happiness. The show’s one familiar musical number is “A Quiet Thing” but it didn’t become well known until it was incorporated into Kander and Ebb’s 1991 musical revue “And the World Goes Round.” Listen to Kander, Ebb and Minnelli discuss “Flora the Red Menace.” http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wsLXnCEXCvk
Musical musings: (With) “Flora,” one is reminded of the possibilities that were available in the commercial theatre in the early sixties, when a show by a couple of unknown writers with an unknown star could get to Broadway and have a shot at the big time — all they needed was one good break. With “Flora,” Kander, Ebb and Minnelli got theirs. – Bill Rosenfield
On this day in classical music: French composer Georges Auric died at age 84 Paris in 1983. As one of the lesser-known members of the compositional group known as Les Six (Darius Milhaud, Francis Poulenc, Arthur Honneger, Germaine Tailleferre and Louis Durey), Auric began writing film music around 1930. His best-known composition was the title song from the film “Moulin Rouge.” Listen to Antal Dorati and the Minneapolis Symphony Orchestra perform Auric’s “Overture,” a 1932 work for orchestra. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lfKNfY1a31o&feature=results_video&playnext=1&list=PL734A3C8A41112F34
On this day in the musical theatre: Daniel Radcliffe was born in London, England in 1989. Best known for his role as Harry Potter in the series of films based on J.K Rowling’s novels, Radcliffe made his Broadway debut in September 2008 in the non-musical “Equus.” In 2011, the British actor made his musical theater debut playing J. Pierrepont Finch in a Broadway revival of “How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying.” Radcliffe’s reviews were mostly positive but it was co-star John Larroquette who picked up a Best Featured Actor Tony. Radcliffe adopted an American accent for his role as Finch, an ambitious employee of World Wide Wicket Company. Listen to Radcliffe and the cast of “How to Succeed” perform “Brotherhood of Man.” http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=69WpCBLrdSQ
Musical musings: The evening I saw this production, some technical issue (that was never identified) resulted in a 30-minute delay during the first act. Finally, Larroquette made his way to the stage and joked with the audience after apologizing for the delay. As he prepared to leave the stage, he crouched down and whispered in a loud voice, “My name’s not Dan,” a reference to his character on the television sitcom “Night Court.” By the time I got out of the theater, a larger-than-usual crowd has assembled outside the stage door, hoping, of course, to catch a glimpse of Radcliffe. I eventually crossed the street which allowed me an unobstructed view of the stage door. Several of the ensemble cast members stopped to sign autographs as they left. Later, Larroquette emerged and chatted with the crowd before being whisked away. Finally, the door opened again and Radcliffe appeared. What I hadn’t noticed while watching this scene unfold were the six policemen who had previously blended in with the crowd. When Radcliffe stepped out, they converged near the stage door to guard the popular actor. At first I was a bit mystified by all this security but then it hit me — Radcliffe is indeed an international star who probably does attract his share of stalkers. After signing a few autographs and posing for a few photos, he too was whisked away. What a life!
On this day in classical music: The London premiere of Colin Matthews’ “Pluto — The Renewer” (intended as a contribution to Gustav Holst’s “The Planets”) was given its premiere at a BBC Prom concert in 2000. The work was commissioned by the Halle Orchestra and was intended to create a new finale to Holst’s astronomical suite. (This was six years before Pluto was relegated to “dwarf planet” status. Listen to Sir Simon Rattle and the Berlin Philharmonic perform Matthews’ “Pluto-The Renewer.” http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ikU3wfsq4GE
On this day in the musical theatre: Stephen Sondheim’s “The Frogs” opened on Broadway in 2004. First presented in Yale University’s swimming pool in 1974, “The Frogs” was based on a comedy by the Greek playwright Aristophanes. The musical would have to wait 30 years before it was given a fully-staged production. Nathan Lane headed the cast as Dionysus, the god of wine and drama who travels to Hades to bring back the distinguished playwright George Bernard Shaw. Given Dionysus’ claim about there being a paucity of first rate living dramatists, William Shakespeare also lobbies for the honor. The two writers engage in a battle of wits and after several rounds, the Bard wins. For the 2004 production, Sondheim wrote seven new songs. “The Frogs” had a brief two month run. Listen to the “Invocation and Instructions to the Audience” from a BBC Proms concert in 2010. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UU4xVacjnWE
Musical musings: “When Kent Nagano asked me to add Pluto to ‘The Planets’ I had mixed feelings,” wrote Colin Matthews. “To begin with, ‘The Planets’ is a very satisfying whole, and one which makes perfect musical sense. Neptune ends the work in a way wholly appropriate for Holst — an enigmatic composer, always likely to avoid the grand gesture if he could do something unpredictable instead. How could I begin again, after the music has completely faded away as if into outer space? And, even though Pluto was discovered four years before Holst’s death in 1934, I am certain that he never once thought to write an additional movement. Yet the challenge of trying to write a new movement for ‘The Planets’ without attempting to impersonate Holst eventually proved irresistible. It quickly became clear that it would be pointless to write a movement that was even more remote than Neptune unless the whole orchestra were to join the chorus off-stage. Nor did I feel that I should rely on the astrological significance of Pluto, which is more than a little ambiguous (not that astrologers seem to have problems with a minute planet that they have only just become aware of). The only possible way to carry on from where Neptune leaves off is not to make a break at all, and so Pluto begins before Neptune has quite faded. And it is very fast — faster even than Mercury: solar winds were my starting point. The movement soon took on an identity of its own, following a path which I seemed to be simply allowing to proceed as it would: in the process I came perhaps closer to Holst than I had expected, although at no point did I think to write pastiche. At the end the music disappears, almost as if Neptune had been quietly continuing in the background. Pluto is dedicated to the memory of Holst’s daughter Imogen, with whom I worked for many years until her death in 1984, and who I suspect would have been both amused and dismayed by this venture.”