Sunday, October 23, 2011

Celebrating Ned Rorem's 88th Birthday!!!

Beverly Wolff, Donald Gramm, Phylis Curtin and Ned Rorem, 1960's
Regular readers of this site know that we love to honor and celebrate the art of song. There have been few greater composers of American art song than Ned Rorem, who celebrates his 88th birthday today. 

Rorem's catalog of art songs includes more than 500 works. "Evidence of Things Not Seen," his evening-length song cycle for four singers and piano, represents his magnum opus in the genre. The New York Festival of Song premiered the cycle at Weill Recital Hall of Carnegie Hall in January 1998. New York magazine called "Evidence of Things Not Seen" "one of the musically richest, most exquisitely fashioned, most voice-friendly collections of songs I have ever heard by any American composer;" Chamber Music magazine deemed it "a masterpiece."

Baritone Christopher DeVage sings "Dear, Though the Night" from Rorem's "Evidence of Things Not Seen":

Rorem's most recent opera, Our Town, which he completed with librettist Sandy McClatchy, is a setting of the acclaimed Thorton Wilder play of the same name. It premiered at the Indiana University Jacob's School of Music in February 2007 and has enjoyed subsequent performances with the Lake George Opera and Aspen Music Theater Center, North Carolina School of the Arts, Opera Boston, and Festival Opera in Walnut Creek, California. 

His 80th birthday in 2003 resulted in a number of celebrations, including the Curtis Institute of Music's "Roremania," a two-week celebration encompassing works in every genre. The birthday season brought a trio of new concertos from Rorem: Cello Concerto, commissioned by the Residentie Orchestra and the Kansas City Orchestra for David Geringas; Flute Concerto, commissioned by the Philadelphia Orchestra for its principal flutist Jeffrey Khaner; and Mallet Concerto, commissioned for Evelyn Glennie by the Madison Symphony Orchestra and the Eos Orchestra. 

His most recent publication, "Facing the Night: A Diary (1999-2005) and Musical Writings," chronicles Rorem's dark journey after the death of 32 year companion, Jim Holmes. In his diary, "Lies,"  Rorem said: "My music is a diary no less compromising than my prose. A diary nevertheless differs from a musical composition in that it depicts the moment, the writer's present mood which, were it inscribed an hour later, could emerge quite otherwise. I don't believe that composers notate their moods, they don't tell the music where to go - it leads them....Why do I write music? Because I want to hear it - it's simple as that. Others may have more talent, more sense of duty. But I compose just from necessity, and no one else is making what I need." 

Baritone Donald Gramm sings Ned Rorem songs:

Rorem was born in Richmond, Indiana on October 23, 1923. As a child he moved to Chicago with his family; by the age of ten his piano teacher had introduced him to Debussy and Ravel, an experience which "changed my life forever," according to the composer. At seventeen he entered the Music School of Northwestern University, two years later receiving a scholarship to the Curtis Institute in Philadelphia. He studied composition under Bernard Wagenaar at Juilliard, taking his B.A. in 1946 and his M.A. degree (along with the $1,000 George Gershwin Memorial Prize in composition) in 1948. In New York he worked as Virgil Thomson's copyist in return for $20 a week and orchestration lessons. He studied on fellowship at the Berkshire Music Center in Tanglewood in the summers of 1946 and 1947; in 1948 his song The Lordly Hudson was voted the best published song of that year by the Music Library Association. 

In 1949 Rorem moved to France, and lived there until 1958. His years as a young composer among the leading figures of the artistic and social milieu of post-war Europe are absorbingly portrayed in "The Paris Diary" and "The New York Diary, 1951-1961."

He currently lives in New York City.

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