Blog Archives

Leonard Slatkin receives Deems Taylor Award

Already the recipient of numerous musical awards throughout his illustrious career on the podium, Detroit Symphony Orchestra and Orchestre National de Lyon Music Director Leonard Slatkin now must make room on his mantel for a literary award.

On Nov. 14, ASCAP will be honor Maestro Slatkin with a Deems Taylor Special Recognition Award for his first book, Conducting Business: Unveiling the Mystery Behind the Maestro, published by Amadeus Press.

Drawing on his own experience on and off the podium, Slatkin brings us into the world of the baton, telling tales of some of the most fascinating figures in recent musical history, including Leonard Bernstein, John Williams, and Frank Sinatra. He takes readers to the world’s great concert halls, orchestras, and opera pits, as well as to soundstages in Hollywood.

Along the way, Slatkin recounts his controversial appearance at the Metropolitan Opera, his creation and direction of summer music festivals, and a shattering concert experience that took place four days after 9/11.  Life in the recording studio and on the road, as well as health issues confronting the conductor, provide an insider’s glimpse into the private world of these public figures.

Covering everything from learning how to read music to standing in front of an orchestra for the first time, what to wear, and how to deal with the media, Conducting Business provides a unique look at a unique profession.

Established in 1967, the ASCAP Foundation Deems Taylor Awards honor the memory of the composer, critic, and commentator, who died in 1966. Taylor was President of ASCAP for six years.

Upon learning of the honor, Slatkin said, “Deems Taylor was an important voice in American music. He was highly regarded, both as a commentator and as a composer. Receiving this honor in his name in most humbling.”

More information about Conducting Business can be found at conductingbusiness.halleonardbooks.com.

 

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JRB Plays JRB

Guest Blogger: Jason Robert Brown, composer of The Last Five Years and 13Take a look at his blog!

My editor at Hal Leonard, the estimable Rick Walters, called me in 2010 with the idea that we should do a book-and-CD folio of me playing accompaniments to my own songs, with a male and female edition. I thought it was a fantastic idea, and now it’s finally out in the world!

Here’s the great news: If you’ve already got the sheet music, you can purchase the tracks (individually or collectively) on iTunes. And if you don’t have the sheet music, you can get any individual song on SheetMusicDirect.com, or you can order the book-and-CD package from Amazon or at your local sheet music retailer!

I’ll put links for all the songs at the bottom of this blog, but first, here’s an excerpt from my introduction to the book:

My favorite musical theater composers have all been formidable pianists: Leonard Bernstein, George Gershwin, Stephen Sondheim, Frank Loesser, Cy Coleman. When I was supposed to be learning Bach and Mozart for my piano lessons, I was instead spending countless hours playing through West Side Story and Sunday in the Park with George, relishing the challenge of reproducing the sounds I heard on the original cast albums and movie soundtracks. Meanwhile, I was writing songs inspired by my pop heroes: Billy Joel, Elton John, Carole King, Stevie Wonder – again, a group of pianists of great technical facility and truly individual style.

Over time, I developed a very specific personality of my own as a pianist, something that doesn’t sound quite like anyone else. Of course, anything that is unique is going to be difficult to reproduce, and so it is with the notated piano parts of my songs. I work very hard to ensure that the written accompaniments really represent what I might play on any given day, and so there is a lot of detail – to some pianists, a daunting level of detail indeed. For twenty years now, I’ve had singers tell me that they can’t find pianists who can play my songs “right.” It’s hard enough singing my material properly under the best of circumstances, but when the accompaniment isn’t correct – when the singer doesn’t feel supported by the pianist – it can make some of my stuff all but impossible to learn.

Hence these two volumes, which consist of eleven songs each for male and female voices (based on the gender for which they were originally written). The intention wasn’t to provide performance tracks – I firmly believe that my songs, like all the best musical theatre songs, depend on a give-and-take between singer and accompanist that can only be achieved live. Nor was the intention to document some “definitive” version of these accompaniments; I’m not sure I believe in such a thing. Simply put, these recordings are just one additional tool to help pianists and singers better understand and implement my intentions and style, to be used in conjunction with the published sheet music and the cast albums and solo recordings on which those songs have been featured.

The best versions of any of my songs are the ones where the musicians (singers included) are deeply engaged with the emotions and the passions hiding underneath and around the written rhythms and pitches and lyrics. It is my hope that the recordings collected here help singers and pianists alike to bring these songs to life in their own way. Enjoy!

Special thanks to Rick Walters and Joel Boyd at Hal Leonard, as well as Andy Waterman, who engineered these recordings at his beautiful studio in Chatsworth, CA. It was a real blast getting to play these songs, and I hope you’ll love singing along with them!

To buy the full collections from Amazon.com, here are the links:

Jason Robert Brown Plays Jason Robert Brown: Men’s Edition with CD
Jason Robert Brown Plays Jason Robert Brown: Women’s Edition with CD

 

One of the most frequently produced new musicals of the last decade, 13 is a rollicking musical comedy featuring a cast exclusively made up of teenagers. Thirteen 13-year-olds, as a matter of fact.

Evan Goldman is two months from turning 13 years old, living happily in New York City, the greatest city on Earth, when his world is blown apart by his parents’ divorce, and he is dragged away from home to live with his mother in a small town in the Midwest. Facing a new life in a new place where the customs and culture are utterly alien to him, and with his bar mitzvah getting closer every day, Evan has to navigate who he wants to be versus who he really is, and see if he can make it through the fall without losing the best friends he’ll ever have.

David Popper: Cellist and Composer

Janet Horvath_019#2 4x5Guest Blogger: Janet Horvath is the author of Playing Less Hurt. Here is an excerpt of her article on David Popper at Interlude.

David Popper

Composer and cellist David Popper is well known among cellists. His High School of Cello Playing is our Bible—40 Études comprising every acrobatic feat of cello pyrotechnics.

Popper was born among the narrow streets of the Jewish ghetto of Prague, Czechoslovakia June 16, 1843. David was five years old when in 1848 the Hapsburg emperor granted civil equality to the Jews and their isolation in the ghetto ended. The gloomy, unhealthy homes of the ghetto made a lasting impression on Popper despite the fact that most of his music is cheery and uplifting. The family was able to move out of the area when Popper was eight years old. By then employment restrictions had been lifted and some trades were permitted, as was being a musician.

Popper’s father was a Cantor—the religious leader who sings the prayers in the Synagogue. At a very young age Popper began to imitate his father’s singing. Popper’s talent was such that he was allowed to study with the famed cello pedagogue Julius Goltermann, (a name cellists are familiar with due to his cello compositions.)

In December of 1862 Popper was bestowed the coveted title of “Kammervirtuoso” by Prince Constantine Hohenzollern-Hechingen. In appreciation, Popper composed a series of pieces that are among his most cherished works Arlequin and Papillon from the Six Character Pieces. Conductor Hans von Bülow, heard Popper perform and was so impressed with the young man that he helped arrange a concert tour for Popper, his first, in 1863. As a solo cellist Popper had the opportunity to try his own compositions as well as to perform the major works for cello and orchestra. He was always dedicated to the music of his time, premiering several new cello concertos.

Find out more about David Popper on Janet Horvath’s blog!

Playing Less Hurt

Making music at any level is a powerful gift. While musicians have endless resources for learning the basics of their instruments and the theory of music, few books have explored the other subtleties and complexities that musicians face in their quest to play with ease and skill. The demands of solitary practice, hectic rehearsal schedules, challenging repertoire, performance pressures, awkward postures, and other physical strains have left a trail of injured, hearing-impaired, and frustrated musicians who have had few resources to guide them.

Playing Less Hurt addresses this need with specific tools to avoid and alleviate injury. Impressively researched, the book is invaluable not only to musicians, but also to the coaches and medical professionals who work with them. Everyone from dentists to orthopedists, audiologists to neurologists, massage therapists and trainers will benefit from Janet Horvath’s coherent account of the physiology and psyche of a practicing musician. Writing with knowledge, sympathetic insight, humor, and aplomb, Horvath has created an essential resource for all musicians who want to play better and feel better.

Arvo Pärt – The Bach of Our Century

Janet Horvath_019#2 4x5Guest Blogger: Janet Horvath is the author of Playing Less Hurt (Hal Leonard Books). Below is an excerpt from her blog on Interlude. Please visit her blog to read the whole article.

It is said that Estonian composer Arvo Pärt is the Bach of our century. An unassuming man with furrowed brow, a big bushy salt and pepper beard, and serious contemplative demeanor, this contemporary composer, does not tend to make people want to run the other way. Even non-classical music fans know and love his music. Transcendent, spiritual, otherworldly and soothing are words that jump to mind when describing Part’s accessible music.

The Concert and Opera League tabulates the composers who were featured the most during a year. Beethoven and Mozart of course are ensconced at the top. Not surprisingly, due to Debussy’s birthday this year, he is in the top 10.

Arvo Pärt for the second year in a row, is the most performed living composer at number 54.

Keep reading this article on Interlude!

Making music at any level is a powerful gift. While musicians have endless resources for learning the basics of their instruments and the theory of music, few books have explored the other subtleties and complexities that musicians face in their quest to play with ease and skill. The demands of solitary practice, hectic rehearsal schedules, challenging repertoire, performance pressures, awkward postures, and other physical strains have left a trail of injured, hearing-impaired, and frustrated musicians who have had few resources to guide them. Playing Less Hurt addresses this need with specific tools to avoid and alleviate injury.

Stephen Schwartz: A Creative Force at Age Sixty-Five

Guest Blogger: Carol de Giere is the author of Defying Gravity: The Creative Career of Stephen Schwartz, from Godspell to Wicked. Today, we are celebrating Stephen Schwartz’s 65th birthday!

Stephen Schwartz 2008 - photograph by Erin Dorso

Stephen Schwartz 2008 – photograph by Erin Dorso

A small upright piano arrived at the home of Stan and Sheila Schwartz on Long Island when their son Stephen was seven years old. It wasn’t long before the boy started goofing off from his piano lessons so he could improvise new tunes. No one imaged his creative “noodling,” as he calls it, would become one of his strategies for writing songs for Broadway and Hollywood, including the megahit musical Wicked.

Now, at age sixty-five, Stephen Schwartz still centers much of his work around his pianos, including his two grand pianos at home in Connecticut and one in his New York City office/condo. While writing scores for musicals, he almost never writes notes on paper as a first step. And even though his lyrics have won awards, when he feels his way into a character’s psychology, he likes to keep his hands on the ivories. “It’s my belief that music has a certain internal emotional logic, and therefore it should rule the song,” he says.

Schwartz’s credits to date include numerous stage musicals, such as the Broadway hits Wicked, Pippin, The Magic Show and Godspell. His movie credit list is not too shabby either, including lyrics for Disney’s Enchanted, Pocahontas, and The Hunchback of Notre Dame, and songs for DreamWorks’ The Prince of Egypt.

As he marks his sixty-fifth birthday on March 6, 2013, even with his many achievements he still has no desire to retire. After all, one of his collaborators, Joseph Stein, with whom he worked on The Baker’s Wife and Rags, continued working up until his final days at age ninety-eight. Schwartz is currently penning lyrics for a DreamWorks animated feature as well as songs for a Broadway show about Houdini. (To keep up with his activities, subscribe to The Schwartz Scene newsletter.)

While the songwriter keeps busy writing new musicals, he also takes time to help up and coming composers, lyricists, and librettists through his role as Artistic Director for the ASCAP Musical Theatre Workshop and as President of the Dramatists Guild.

When I was writing his biography, Defying Gravity (Applause Theatre and Cinema Books, 2008), I noticed that Stephen was especially good at talking about his creative process. I decided to include many of his perspectives and tips in a series of “Creativity Notes” so that other writers and fans could enjoy the insights.

For example, one of the challenges that every writer faces is deciding how to work with feedback while maintaining his or her vision for the piece. This is especially critical for success in collaborative arts like musical theatre. As Wicked developed, Schwartz and his collaborator, Winnie Holzman, found it challenging to sort through feedback when everybody around them had opinions. In my Creativity Note about this I included one of Stephen’s reflections about this process: “Ultimately, I think you have to take everything in and understand what in your show is communicating and what’s not—and then write what you think you would like to see, informed, of course, by what you have learned. My experience has taught me that when I write what truly moves, amuses, or interests me, it usually communicates with others.”

As many millions of owners of his cast albums will testify, what Stephen Schwartz writes seems to touch on their own life experience. That’s the magic of creativity at its best.

For more creativity ideas and stories about Schwartz’s creative career, read Defying Gravity and visit the book’s website.

Defying Gravity takes readers into the creative world of Broadway and film composer Stephen Schwartz, from writing Godspell‘s score at age 23 through the making of the megahit Wicked. For this first authorized biography, de Giere draws from 80 hours of interviews with Schwartz and over 100 interviews with his colleagues, friends, and family. Her sympathetic yet frank narrative reveals never-before-told stories and explores both Schwartz’s phenomenal hits and expensive flops. The book also includes a series of “Creativity Notes” with insights about artistic life, and more than 200 photographs and illustrations.