Posted on March 22, 2014 at 3:45 am
And so it came to pass that 52 musicians and 35 singing actors, the vast majority of whom were not even born when Songs for a New World debuted in 1995, convened on the stage of the auditorium at Winston Churchill High School in Potomac, MD to perform an explosive and emotional concert of the music from my first show, and I got to stand on stage with them.
Rolando and Kristofer Sanz began Young Artists of America three years ago, bringing together the finest young musicians and actors in the Washington DC corridor, and by the time they reached out to me about doing a concert of Songs, I had already heard about the amazing work they’d been doing. Nothing is more satisfying to me than watching young people get inspired by the kind of music I love, and nothing makes me happier than conducting big orchestras, so I signed on immediately.
I began building the large-scale orchestrations in 1999, when the Cathedral of St. John the Divine asked to use “A New World” as the opening of the New Year’s Eve Concert for Peace on the eve of the new millennium. I had so much fun writing the chart that I’ve continued adding orchestrations over the years, and now I can actually see my own growth as an orchestrator over the course of the show. (There are still five songs I haven’t orchestrated, but I have a plan for doing them in the near future!)
The vocal challenges are readily apparent, not just for young singers but even established professionals – the ranges of the songs are quite wide, there are mountains of lyrics and dense complicated harmonies, and the sheer stamina to get through these very long pieces is daunting. But the instrumental challenges are in some ways even harder to surmount, especially for classically-trained players – the rhythms are heavily syncopated and need to be played with great assurance, there’s a lot of very fast fingerwork, the brass ranges are lip-bustingly high, and the energy required to get through an entire show of highly dynamic (by which I mean “loud”) music is Olympian. This is not music for the faint of heart.
Suffice to say that the singers (under Rolando’s direction, with the guidance of Maureen Codelka) and the orchestra (under Kristofer’s) were more than up to the task. I arrived and warily took up the baton, fearing the worst, and was instead rewarded with a rich, confident sound from an enthusiastic and passionate group of musicians. I was honored to stand in front of that orchestra and share my music with them.
For the show, the kids were joined by three amazing women, local DC professionals who inspired the kids by performing alongside them. I had heard of Tracy Lynn Olivera when she played Cathy in The Last Five Years in its DC premiere in 2005, but here she was nine years later, delivering a scathingly funny Mrs. Claus in “Surabaya-Santa,” which had an extra kick since Tracy is seven months pregnant. The amazing Rachelle Fleming did a towering (get it?) rendition of “Just One Step.” And I had never heard of Nova V. Payton, but I will never forget her now – I have never heard a more surprising, more committed, more musical performance of “The Flagmaker, 1775” in my life, and I don’t expect to any time soon. When all three of these powerhouse singers joined the choir of kids for “Hear My Song,” it felt as magical and complete as any version of this show ever has.
It took a lot of adults to make these kids sound so professional and confident, and I extend many thanks to them, particularly Jay Brock, who directed the evening, and Jennifer Boudrye, who keeps the whole organization running – I have to single out my protegé from the original Broadway orchestra of 13, Adam Kaufman, who came to Maryland and played my grueling piano parts with aplomb and barely broke a sweat. We were all enormously grateful for his nimble fingers! (Thanks also to YAA alum Michael Mainwaring, who did a sizzling “Steam Train.”)
Photo credit: Carmelita Watkinson
But ultimately, it was the kids that brought this show to life, and I was so proud of all of them for their beautiful performance, and so moved by the love they had for these songs I wrote when I was only a little bit older than they are now.
The members of the Young Artists of America Youth Orchestra (Kristofer Sanz, music director; Francisco Cosio-Marron, orchestra manager):
Anna Rose Chi **
Hannah Kim *
Sophie Wunderlich *
Brian Kim *
Noriko Katagiri *
Alex Fairhall *
Amanda Dusold †
Neil Luo *
Ari Allal †
Grace Chan *
Dinia Yeo †
Anand Upender *
Anthony Cosio-Marron *
Leo Simon *
Steven Walker †
Electric and Upright Bass
Chris Chlumsky †
Chris DeChiara †
Dylan Barber †
Matthew Albright †
** = concertmaster
* = principal
† = guest mentor
And the Young Artists of America Vocal Ensemble (Maureen Codelka, vocal director; Rolando Sanz, artistic director):
You can find Joel Markowitz’s euphoric review of the evening at DCMetroTheatreArts.com, but you can also take it from me: it was a hell of a show.
(You can see more photos here!)
As if that wasn’t enough for one weekend in DC, I had one other engagement: on Monday night, I did a solo concert as a benefit for the Red Branch Theatre Company, where I was joined by the cast of their upcoming productions of The Last Five Years and john and jen, as well as a chorus made up of 12 of their wonderfully gifted alumni. Here was the set list:
I Could Be In Love With Someone Like You (from Wearing Someone Else’s Clothes)
I Love Betsy (from Honeymoon In Vegas)
Long Long Road (from Wearing Someone Else’s Clothes)
It All Fades Away (from The Bridges of Madison County)
She Cries (from Songs for a New World)
A Part of That (from The Last Five Years) [Jennifer W. Culotta]
The Old Red Hills of Home (from Parade)
Being A Geek (from 13)
Wondering (from The Bridges of Madison County)
Caravan of Angels
Moving Too Fast (from The Last Five Years)
Hear My Song (from Songs for a New World) [Stephanie Williams, Kurt Boehm, Patrick Prebula & Danielle Sherry with the DLC Alumni Chorale]
Someone To Fall Back On (from Wearing Someone Else’s Clothes)
Thanks to Stephanie Williams and Tiffany Underwood Holmes for taking such great care of me and my music, and thank you to a wonderful audience at RBTC for putting up with me being a little rusty – I hadn’t done a solo concert in over a year!
I had a sensational weekend in the Washington DC area, with some incredible young performers and some truly inspiring mentors and teachers. I can’t wait to go back!
(In the meantime, you can come see my new Broadway show!)