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Thursday, September 01, 2011

Comments on Leah Maddrie's Chasing Heaven and Sondheim's reaction to an article on the Gershwin Estate's Porgy and Bess Revamp

I composed music for an upcoming Fringe Fest play that meditates upon the Suzan-Lori Parks/Gershwin Estate collaboration (the play is Leah Maddrie's "Chasing Heaven."), so I've been considering this Porgy and Bess revival since January. How can I begin to share the treasure-trove of inspiration Gershwin's piano music provides? He teased from an equally-tempered-tuned instrument (and he accurately notated) the "blue-note" sounds of inspired voices discovering hypnotizing rhythms and melodies.

One thing "Chasing Heaven" and its dramaturg, Trevor Weston, announces is that Heyward's "Porgy" was site-specific, taking place on an island of Gullah people off Charleston. George Gershwin even visited there to research their inspired music.  (They are arguably responsible for introducing the rhythm in the 1920's dance craze called The Charleston!)

But Gershwin's accurate music notation was part of his gift to the world. His intuitive creative powers kept rising as he embarked upon to his next big project, Astaire and Rodgers' Shall We Dance! ... and as is so often the pattern with leading radical musical innovators, he passed away shortly thereafter...

The Gershwin/Heyward Porgy and Bess is a great script and score. What could be more broadway-worthy than to reinterpret its story in the wake of Top Dog/Underdog, Scarlet A, Girl 6 and other pieces by Suzan-Lori Parks?

The Porgy and Bess score notates the grandeur generated by powerful singers orchestrally accompanied. In order to reproduce that effect, it's best to follow the score. Hopefully in this version everyone will sing and play all the notes because they do work well together, as they do in the romantic score Sondheim notated for Sweeney Todd.

May I also suggest a creative reinterpretation of the romantic script and score Richard Wagner wrote for that great German folk opera, Tristan and Isolde?   (The lyrics could use an overhaul...)

As for a genius assembly of sounds originated by other relatively obscure musicians, the song cycle I adore (and recommend) is Beggars Banquet by The Rolling Stones.  (I'm suggesting that it sounds like a Muddy Waters record... and their cover of Prodigal Son is an almost note perfect reprodcution of the original...yes?)