Adam Guettel: Hero and Leander

Written by Steven Blier

Artistic Director, NYFOS

In category: Song of the Day

Published June 8, 2016

I was at a party recently where a friend of the host politely asked me to tell him about next year’s NYFOS concerts. I am not the most comfortable self-promoter, but I took a deep breath and launched into a quick overview of our three subscription concerts. “We’re starting with an evening devoted to the Rodgers family—Richard, Mary, and Adam Guettel. You’ve…heard of Adam Guettel?” “Oh yes.” “I am very excited because I have a few new songs that haven’t been published yet. I am a huge fan of Adam’s, I think he’s one of the best songwriters in the world right now, his harmony, his vocal lines…” My new friend laid his hand on my arm. “Why don’t you tell him yourself?” “Huh?” “Look over by the window—he’s standing right there.”

I hadn’t noticed Adam—and I wouldn’t have recognized him anyway. Adam and I have been warm but casual acquaintances for some years, but I sensed he was a guy who needed a bit of distance around him. He was always somewhat aloof, and somewhat troubled. I knew he was fighting some demons, and that composing was slow work for him. I also heard he could be a prickly colleague. I remembered that he’d been a bit chilly about a performance of his songs I gave at Juilliard eleven years ago. (It had, admittedly, been a dicey afternoon, an ambitious student project where the cast had bitten off more than they could chew.)

Adam was already walking towards me, and he bent over to hug me like an old, intimate friend. He was physically changed—I have not seen very much of him in recent years, and our encounters were always brief. I still remembered him as the James Dean-ish sylph he was in his 30s. The 50-year old Adam I now saw was earthier, somewhat stockier, a touch of salt-and-pepper in his hair—but still as handsome as ever. And the furtive, wounded diva of old seemed to have morphed into a generous, open-hearted life-force.

thumb_IMG_2821_1024I told him about the Rodgers/Guettel program scheduled for November 1 and 3 at Merkin Hall. And I started to gush about the song I played at NYFOS Next in February of 2015, “There Go I.” (I’m saying I premiered it, since I have no evidence to the contrary.) “Oh, I have some more new songs I can give you.” “You…do? You WILL?” “Sure, sure, drop me a note, I’ll be happy to share them.”

For me, it was like getting a $10,000 gift card from Bergdorfs. No, better.

Trawling through YouTube I found the recording Darius de Haas and I made of Adam’s song “Hero and Leander,” from “Myths and Hymns.” If Fauré and Stevie Wonder had had a baby, this is the music that blessed child would have written.

author: Steven Blier

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Called “the coolest dude in town” by Opera News, master collaborative pianist and coach Steven Blier is the co-founder and artistic director of New York Festival of Song. Here on No Song is Safe From Us, Steven blogs about the NYFOS Emerging Artist residencies, writes the engaging and erudite program notes for our Mainstage concerts, and contributes frequently to Song of the Day.


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