I was Lenny’s assistant with Michael when we prepared the premiere of this set of eight songs for mezzo-soprano, baritone and piano four-hands. “Nachspiel” is the last one which has no text and all singers (and pianists, and perhaps the audience) humming together. It is so exquisitely written, touching and beautiful.
“Nachspiel” from Arias and Barcarolles by Leonard Bernstein
One of the joys of my work on The Complete Lyrics of Alan Jay Lerner was getting to know Love Life and 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, fascinating, flawed shows that don’t have original cast albums. Both are concept musicals with brilliant songs, unusual structures, and pointed social critiques. Love Life, a dark, time-traveling “vaudeville” about marriage and money, written with Kurt Weill, had a respectable run in the 1948-49 Broadway season. 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, a collaboration with Leonard Bernstein, was a series of vignettes (many to do with federal tolerance of slavery) from the lives of several Presidents, First Ladies and a fictional pair of African-American servants, within a meta-theatrical frame. After disastrous tryouts, it limped to Broadway, opening on May 4, 1976 and closing on May 8.
A few songs from Love Life were covered by pop singers, notably “Here I’ll Stay.” The most enduring song from 1600 is “Take Care of This House,” which Abigail Adams sings to a runaway slave child who becomes a White House servant. A song about cherishing the highest intentions of America’s founders is always relevant.
I like Julie Andrews’ rendition very much, and it includes the verse.
A very informal performance of “To Make Us Proud” from 1600 by WQXR’s Jeff Spurgeon.
From Charles Cermele, Lincoln Center’s Producer of Contemporary Programming
The universal appeal of these lyrics and the musical sophistication of this composition attract singers and musicians from many musical genres. The blues-inflected chord changes make it a favorite of jazz musicians, and vocalists are drawn to the emotional truth underlying the clever word play. “Some Other Time” was written for the 1944 musical On the Town by Leonard Bernstein with lyrics by Betty Comden and Adolph Green. Three sailors on 24-hour shore leave in New York City meet three women before returning to their ship to leave for war. Omitted from the film version, the song is shared by four characters in the stage musical, knowing they may never see each other again, but hoping to catch up some other time.
It was the late 1980s when I first heard this performance by Tony Bennett and Bill Evans. I was a performer in my late 20s and the story of young people faced with their possible final goodbyes rang terribly true to me as I lost friends and lovers to AIDS. I began using “Some Other Time” as the encore for my solo concerts, unsure how long we had to enjoy this beautiful song. In this recording, Bill Evans communicates so much in the very last moments of his performance. Tony Bennett sings the final notes. The piano goes softer and higher up on the scale until it disappears completely in the middle of the melody. And then a final, isolated chord.
Music by Leonard Bernstein
Lyrics by Betty Comden and Adolph Green
Oh It’s Summer! And time for all of our many summer music festivals! I’m in Santa Fe where they are offering up Candide, Madama Butterfly, Ariadne auf Naxos, and Dr. Atomic, among other goodies. Their production of Candide is closer to Voltaire than the Americanized jokey versions I’ve seen in our country lately. It is stylish, and the production is aesthetically very beautiful and creative (thank God). It opens this weekend, so here we go. Lots off us saw this conductor on youtube a few years ago acting out the music of “What’s The Use?” from Candide. It’s over the top, but what’s amazing is how he stays in the piece, actually giving lots of stylish information to his orchestra while being entertaining. I can only imagine what he did with the “Auto da Fe”. So here it is, thanks to these performers, lyricist Richard Wilbur, and birthday boy approaching his 100th, Leonard Bernstein. If you haven’t read Jamie Bernstein’s book yet, go grab a copy.
I’ve been trying to absorb the fact that NYFOS is approaching the end of our 30th season. It’s a little beyond me, I admit. I’m the kind of person who might take a half day off after a big project, but after that, it’s on to the next. But celebrating a 30th anniversary is maybe a good time for some reflection. The original idea for our concert on April 24 at Merkin Hall was to have one song from each season. It would be too long—we’d have to skip some years. But as good as it felt on paper, it wasn’t a practical idea. Still, we’ll be having many of our favorite artists join us including soprano Julia Bullock. Julia is a force on stage, and in the six or so years we’ve been working with her, she has not only given us some exquisite performances, her career has also taken off in a big way. She one of our favorite colleagues as an artist and a person. Do yourself a favor and get thee to Merkin Hall on April 24. Here she is singing Bernstein’s “Somewhere”. I hope you aren’t suffering from Bernstein fatigue yet, but this performance is a keeper. I was in San Francisco for the live performances of West Side Story. Julia had only one thing to sing— “Somewhere”. She stole the show. Since it’s only a clip, I’m adding a bonus—it’s a surprise and a plug, showing Julia’s range.
To celebrate NYFOS’s 30th Anniversary Season, Song of the Day is featuring some selections from our commercial recordings.
“Dream With Me” was originally written for Leonard Bernstein’s Peter Pan to be sung by Wendy. It was dropped from the show before production, and was recorded for the first time by Judy Kaye on NYFOS’s Grammy-winner album Arias and Barcarolles. It is exceptional for its soaring line of almost operatic breadth.
It’s the big Bernstein year. Steven Blier and I have already done a passel of LB shows, with more to come this winter and next fall. But here’s a beautiful rarity from his Peter Pan. Most folks don’t know it, since it didn’t have a big run on B’way. He wrote half a dozen songs for Boris Karloff’s show (he was Hook, of course), but as always, Lenny delivered some keepers. Here is “My House” from Peter Pan. It’s Wendy’s song, and I think she’s hoping her home will be be built with Peter Pan. But as Lenny said to us several times ”Yes, but Peter was otherwise occupied” or something to that effect. This is an almost virginal and lovely performance by a very young woman who gives this song its innocent due. Happy New Year, everyone. Go build your house of love, please.
From his 1977 song cycle Songfest, “A Julia de Burgos” uses the text of poet Julia de Burgos.
Jack Gottlieb describes the cycle terrifically:
Originally commissioned to be a work in celebration of the American Bicentennial Year (1976), Songfest could not be completed in time. Although the commission was vacated, the idea persisted: to draw a comprehensive picture of America’s artistic past, as seen in 1976 through the eyes of a contemporary artist. The composer has envisioned this picture through the words of 13 poets embracing 300 years of the country’s history. The subject matter of their poetry is the American artist’s experience as it relates to his or her creativity, loves, marriages, or minority problems (blacks, women, homosexuals, expatriates) within a fundamentally Puritan society.
This particular song portrays the voice of a woman who has broken free of societal roles and expectations. She sings that through her art, she is authentically herself and is not at the ownership or disposal of anyone or anything. Julia de Burgos was a Puerto Rican civil rights activist who lived from 1914-1953. Traveling between Puerto Rico, New York, and Cuba, she was fully involved in the nationalist philosophies that defined her life. It is important to remember that women’s suffrage in the United States was at a boiling point during her life, with the 19th Amendment arriving in 1920. Julia’s perspective as a minority activist woman during the first half of the century is indeed a defining artistic perspective to encapsulate America’s past.
This terrific remastered original cast recording from the 1953 rendition of Wonderful Town portrays Wreck, a guy who describes his fame and glory days as a student because of his ability to pass the ol’ pigskin. In this hilarious song, Wreck can’t spell, read, or write… but he introduced Albert Einstein, passed the bar exam, had every girl he could ever want, and got every scholarship… because he could pass that football!!
Bernstein had an amazing knack for capturing the humor of everyday life. The relatability of his characters make his theater works timelessly relevant.
Perhaps Bernstein’s most well-known work, “Somewhere“ has an inherent timeless relevance. It expresses the hope of a world in which conflict is absent and people are able to live without prejudice and hatred. Bernstein spent his entire life being involved in social justice both in the U.S. and abroad. He was famously quoted, “This will be our reply to violence: to make music more intensely, more beautifully, more devotedly than ever before.” It is chilling how necessary and relevant these words are to our world today.
This recording of the incomparable Jessye Norman dates from 1993.
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