Last night the New York Festival of Song saluted Ned Rorem on his 90th birthday year with a special concert at Merkin Hall. I was delighted to be there for the festivities. NYFOS co-director Steven Blier provided informative notes in the program describing the long relationship between Rorem and NYFOS, which has presented special birthday celebration concerts for him several times over the past few decades. All deserved, of course, as Rorem is one of our musical treasures. The maestro himself was present to enjoy the program and acknowledge the plaudits of the audience at the end.
Two excellent singers were recruited for the occasion: Mezzo-soprano Kate Lindsey and tenor Andrew Garland. Blier and his co-director, Michael Barrett, were at the keyboards, dividing up the collaborative duties and joining together on the two-piano pieces. Performances of Rorem songs were interspersed with readings from his diaries, interviews, and articles, and there were interludes of songs by other composers who bore some relationship to Rorem as influences, mentors, friends and rivals. By sheer coincidence, it seems, all the composers on the program were, to some degree at least, gay, which turned it into a very gay-friendly evening indeed.
An event like this prompts the question whether any enterprising record label will take up the venture of a complete recorded edition of Rorem’s songs, since he’s written hundreds of them, many not readily available on current releases. (It would help if all the historical releases from LP days could be digitized and made available….)
Now that Carter is gone, Rorem becomes in a sense the dean of American composers, and it would also be great if instrumentalists and orchestras would take up his work as well. As a youngster first coming to grips with “classical” music, I was not partial to vocal music and so didn’t really come into contact with his work until I picked up an LP that included his 3rd Symphony (Turnabout). I fell in love with the piece, and that led me to his songs and helped me to develop interest in the American art song repertory. Rorem’s instrumental music is always conceived vocally, even if singers are not involved, since that is the modality for his musical thought.
The concert was being recorded, and I hope that it achieves a release to the public soon! I want to hear it again!!