Articles written for AUFBAU by Leonard J. Lehrman

AUFBAU 67:15 July 19, 2001 p.13
The (Musical) Joy of Shakespeare
Stanley Silverman's Compositions for the Bard

If the goal is to introduce young people of all backgrounds to the joys of listening to the words of Shakespeare, sung, one could hardly find a more promising vehicle than "Shakespeare and Our Planet." The Lincoln Center Institute for the Arts in Education presented the program, built around musical settings by Stanley Silverman (b. 1938), in a showcase at Juilliard this past week.

Except for Goethe and Heine perhaps, no poet's works have been set more often than those of the Bard [changed from bard] of Stratford-on-Avon. Stanley Silverman had trunkfuls of material to draw on, from incidental scores to Stratford, Ontario productions dating back at least as far as the 1968 Midsummer Night's Dream.

New Yorkers will recognize his sure theatrical hand from his Richard Foreman collaborations like Elephant Steps and Doctor Selavy's Magic Theater in the 1970s, his Golem and Black Sea Follies of the 1980s, and his recent award-winning orchestrations for Paul Simon's Capeman [and "You're the One"]. Pierre Boulez conducted his music with the New York Philharmonic years ago, while his 1989 piano trio has been recorded and performed widely.

Twenty-three numbers on texts from nine plays and one sonnet--out of about 70 Shakespeare songs by the prolific Silverman--were given delicious renditions by five singers and three instrumentalists [of all colors]. David Oei led the ensemble from the Yamaha synth, occasionally using the harpsichord stop to supplement the piano sound, with Jay Elfenbein on viola da gamba and Tim Ries alternating among flute, piccolo, clarinet, and soprano sax.

First Gregory Rahming, the one ["legit"] professional singer, [who happens to be West Indian,] sauntered out to deliver "O Mistresse Mine" by Shakespeare's contemporary, Thomas Morley, in a mellifluous bari-tenor, followed immediately by baritone Jeremy Schonfeld [(the one Jewish member of the cast)] in a salsa version of the same text by Silverman--composer of all the remaining music on the program.

The reedy tenor of Andrew Wright then launched into "Where the Bee Sucks," descanted by "ding-dong"[s] of [from] [Cuban] soprano Claudette Sierra and [black] mezzo Kia Goodwin. After a few madrigal-style numbers, the women had their chances to shine too, in solos like the tango setting of "Come Unto These Yellow Sands" and the blues ballad, "Concolinel," from The Tempest and Love's Labours Lost, respectively. Sierra was especially poignant in the slightly mournful beguine setting of the "Willow Song" from Othello. [Ending "A Little Tiny Boy," also known as "The Wind and the Rain" with the sound of a rainstick was a particularly deft compositional touch, along with other occasional hand-held percussion.]

Most effective were the extended ensemble numbers like the calypso "Under the Greenwood Tree," the Renaissance gigue [complete with Scotch-snap of] "When Daisies Pied," and the finger-snapping mock-60s-rock "It Was a Lover and his Lass." [Occasionally a ballad would follow another ballad, or the same singer would perform two like numbers in a row, leading one to feel that perhaps as many as three or four numbers might be advantageously cut (a judgment with which the composer concurred in a post-performance interview). And one number--only one--could be faulted for poor prosody--the word "converting" in "Sigh No More, Ladies" should not have been accented on the first syllable.

But] the charm of the performers made all the songs sound as if they had been written for them, even though only about half a dozen of them actually were. The work is to tour numerous schools, climaxing in a benefit for the institute in March, featuring James Taylor and others. Catch it whenever and wherever you can. For further info call the institute at 212-875-5535 [or log on to]

--Leonard Lehrman

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