Macca Joins The Choir

Macca on Music

With all of the hoopla and remembrances this month about the 50th Anniversary of the “Beatles Invasion” of the US, I’ve been thinking about Paul McCartney’s post-Beatle, post-Wings, career as a budding classical composer.  Which,  it should be remembered, tended to veer towards choral works like the Liverpool Oratorio and the symphonic poem Standing Stone, featuring the Orchestra of St. Luke’s and New York Choral Artists.

The American premiere of Standing Stone was my first brush with Beatlemania, when I produced the live broadcast from Carnegie Hall for NPR…which the Fleet Street-inspired PR folks for McCartney hyperbolically declared the live web/broadcast as “The Single Largest Classical Music Event in History.”  (Remember, this was 1997, folks, when a “Web Cast” was a totally new phenomenon!).

But I digress.  Here’s the Macca quote, which I think is such a nice summation of why people can be freaky about singing in a choir:

MaccaChoir

As it happened, Standing Stone turned out to be the first of many shows I produced for NPR involving McCartney.  One of the most successful I think was another choral program: A Garland for Linda, a “choral song cycle” written as memorial for Linda McCartney/benefit for The Garland Appeal breast cancer research fund.

The 1999 Album/Concert "A Garland for Linda"The 2000 Garland, which featured contributions not only from Macca but such leading UK composers as John Tavener, Judith Bingham, David Matthews, (not to be confused with Dave Matthews),  John Rutter, Roxanna Panufnik, Michael Berkeley, and Sir Richard Rodney Bennett, was in turn inspired by the 1953 Garland for the Queen, featuring contributions from such composers as Benjamin Britten, Herbert Howells, Ralph Vaughan Williams, Gerald Finzi, and Arnold Bax.  And there was an even earlier precedent, according to the British music blog The Land of Lost Content:

The Garland was commissioned by the Arts Council of Great Britain, to celebrate the Coronation of Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth in 1953. One wonders if that ‘quango’ would be active in anything so ‘establishment’ in our age? The ten poets and ten composers were bidden to create settings for mixed voices. The idea was to craft a 20th century ‘replica’ of the famous The Triumphs of Oriana (1601) which was presented to Queen Elizabeth I. The present series of songs is not a parody of the earlier cycle but it is certainly influenced by it. The madrigal is a creative inspiration for both of these composite pieces.

The Garland program was a live broadcast from the cavernous Riverside Church on New York’s Upper East Side, featuring conductor Helen Cha-Pyo leading the excellent Riverside Choir. NPR’s Susan Stamberg and WNYC’s John Schaefer were the hosts…and we actually broadcast from the 3rd level “side aisle”  on the right side of the church (click here for your handy glossary of cathedral architecture).   The playlist for the complete program is here.…and posted below.  It reminds me that someday I need to dig up the piece that I don’t think was ever recorded: the USA premiere of Peter Broadbent‘s arrangement of Four Songs for Chorus by Lennon & McCartney:

For No One; Here, There and Everywhere; And I Love Her; Good Day Sunshine

Don’t think it ever appeared on a recording.  Peter was really the driving force behind the entire project, as I recall.

riverside2

The Garland project actually turned out to yield a broadcast, a Bob Edwards interview on NPR’s Morning Edition, and even a CD, as we recorded a benefit concert at the Supper Club in NYC that featured a performance by the rather impromptuly-assembled Loma Mar Quartet  of string-quartet arrangements of a few of the pieces.  Alas, no chart action on Billboard, however…

Linda+McCartney+-+Selections+From+A+Garland+For+Linda+-+5"+CD+SINGLE-398473A Garland for Linda Selections CD- back cover Read more

Play in Subway, Win Pulitzer…

Joshua Bell in the DC metro Not quite one year to the day it was published, funnyman writer Gene Weingarten‘s celebrated story about Joshua Bell busking in the Washington Metro wound up as one of six Pulitzer Prizes won by the Washington Post today – an impressive and near-record haul. Even though the little social experiment was in itself something of a failure (hardly anyone recognized who it was playing underneath that Curly W cap, and even fewer chucked in any change); the story itself was a PR bonanza for Bell — and now, it seems, for the author.    BTW, you can hear Bell’s entire subway performance  here.

And if the past is prologue, I’ll bet that the “Joshua Bell Pulitzer” will get a lot more attention than the “official” Classical Music Pulitzer for 2007: The Little Match Girl Passion, by David Lang, commissioned and premiered at Carnegie Hall by Paul Hillier’s Theatre of Voices ensemble.

My piece is called The Little Match Girl Passion and it sets Hans Christian Andersen’s story The Little Match Girl in the format of Bach’s Saint Matthew Passion, interspersing Andersen’s narrative with my versions of the crowd and character responses from Bach’s Passion. The text is by me, after texts by Han Christian Andersen, H. P. Paulli (the first translator of the story into English, in 1872), Picander (the nom de plume of Christian Friedrich Henrici, the librettist of Bach’s Saint Matthew Passion), and the Gospel according to Saint Matthew. The word “passion” comes from the Latin word for suffering. There is no Bach in my piece and there is no Jesus—rather the suffering of the Little Match Girl has been substituted for Jesus’s, elevating (I hope) her sorrow to a higher plane

Nothing against Lang or his work, which sounds interesting enough, t’s just that invariably these Pulitzers go to pieces that have been played once in often out-of-the way locations.  Back in my NPR days, tracking down the actual *recording* of a Pulitzer-winning-composition – and doing it in time for the morning news! – invariably involved a combination of detective work, browbeating, and more than a little luck.

Not so in the Internet age, however.  Want to hear Lang’s piece – or even download it?  Get it here– direct from the Carnegie website.     For that matter, this may be the most information-rich Pulitzer ever — you can even hear an interview with Lang about the creation of the work.

Oh, yeah, and there’s one more musical Pulitzer today – a Special Citation for Bob Dylan – for his “profound impact on popular music and American culture, marked by lyrical compositions of extraordinary poetic power.”

See the complete list of Pulitzer winners here.

PS – nice to see another Hans Christian Andersen piece set to music to some acclaim.   Throughtout his career the Danish writer/poet/playwright collaborated with and was inspired by a number of notable composers – including Mendelssohn, Robert Schumann, and Wagner.     And Lang is just the latest of a long line of musicians who have in turn found inspiration in Andersen’s words.

The Global Village of Music


And now for something completely different: Delighted by a trio of great stories emanting from my old network the past few days. Car horns and tire rims making beautiful music from Ghana, Arkansas high school choristers giving it all they’ve got at the National High School Choral Festival at Carnegie Hall, and Marin Alsop digging her hands into the primordial Russian soil to dissect Stravinsky’s “Rite of Spring.” Brilliant pieces all…and I guarantee the video of the Ghanaian “Por Por Music” on the excellent Smithsonian Global Sound web site will bring a smile to your face. Tag it and share it!
As for the other two audio pieces, Jeff Lunden’s piece on the high schoolers really captures the nervous energy, excitement, and awestruck sensation of what it’s like to be sixteen and stepping out on to a big stage. As for Alsop (I’m a fan, as noted elsewhere in this space) she has both some fascinating observations about the Rite, and as a bonus you get to hear her conduct the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra and the

Peabody Conservatory students in a complete performance.