September 29, 2010

Leslie Uggams: A hit from age 6

"Some people paint, some sew...I meddle." (Dolly Levi in Hello Dolly!) Far from the quirky meddler she'll be playing with Symphony Silicon Valley's Broadway In Concert next weekend, Leslie Uggams is often hailed by her co-stars as the “nicest woman in show business.”  A Tony, Emmy & Critics Choice award winner, Golden Globe nominee, star of Broadway, television, film and the concert stage and a tireless advocate on behalf of the elderly and against discrimination, she is a one-woman tour de force.

Her signature smile, warm voice and kind demeanor endeared her to audiences early on. A television star at the age of 6 with a recurring role on the TV series Beulah, she was singing alongside Louis Armstrong, Ella Fitzgerald and Dinah Washington at the Apollo Theater by the age of 9 and making regular appearances on Your Show Of Shows [Video], The Milton Berle Show, and The Arthur Godfry Show.

At 15 she appeared on the quiz show Name That Tune, winning $12,500 to attend school at Julliard and attracting the attention of Columbia Records’ Mitch Miller.  So impressed was Miller that he signed her to a recording contract and made her a regular on Sing Along with Mitch [Video], making Uggams a household name and the first African-American performer to be regularly featured on a weekly national prime time television series.

She made her Broadway debut in Hallelujah, Baby!  “I was 23 and on Broadway in a show written by legends. I couldn’t believe it,” she says [Video of PBS interview].  But the young ingĂ©nue’s fateful first Broadway run was to be even more fortunate, winning her the 1968 Tony Award for Best Actress in a Musical.  By 1970, she had her own musical variety television series, The Leslie Uggams Show on CBS.  Her role as Kizzy in the most watched dramatic show in TV history, Alex Haley’s Roots won her a loyal following as a dramatic actress.  She later starred in the miniseries Backstairs at the White House and in numerous specials, cabaret shows and Broadway turns.

She recently played opposite James Earl Jones in On Golden Pond, co-starred in the Broadway hit Thoroughly Modern Millie and starred as Lena Horne in the pre-Broadway run of Stormy Weather. This spring her one-woman cabaret show Uptown, Downtown--the story of her career--won rave reviews in New York.

Next week she’ll be making her San Jose debut in Symphony Silicon Valley’s Broadway In Concert series as the title character in Hello Dolly!—a role she’s reprising from her acclaimed run at Houston’s Theatre Under The Stars.  Join this Broadway legend in one of the most bouncy, feel-good fun musicals of the Broadway Stage next weekend.

September 16, 2010

Nathan Gunn, Sexiest Man Alive?

Nathan Gunn is one of opera’s most sought-after leading men.  And it's no wonder.  Before you even hear the rich, smooth baritone voice, it's impossible to miss his dashing good looks and silver-screen charisma.  Videos and photos from his run as Billy Budd are all the rage on the internet with Gunn's biceps, pecs and abs all shown to full advantage.  So we weren't surprised to learn that People Magazine named him one of the sexiest men alive in 2008.

The 40-year-old's looks are undeniably appealing, but it's the voice and dramatic soul that have won the American opera star an international following.  With appearances at all the great opera houses of the world, including the Metropolitan Opera, San Francisco Opera, Paris Opera, Bayerische Straatsoper, the Glyndebourne Opera Festival, Covent Garden and the Theatre Royal de la Monnaie in Brussels, Gunn shot to fame as winner of the Met's International Auditions 15 years ago and has been at the top of the opera ladder ever since.  Recently he's ventured outside the traditional classical repertory with semi-staged concert performances, similar to Symphony Silicon Valley's own Broadway In Concert series, of Camelot shown live on PBS and Showboat at Carnegie Hall.

He is also a star of the classical concert stage with appearances with the New York Philharmonic, San Francisco Symphony, Boston Symphony and multiple Grammy-winning recordings with the London Symphony and it's on the concert stage that Gunn first got his start.  "It...taught me how to sing and perform in front of people," he says.  He believes it is far more dramatically challenging to sing a song when "you have to access a character without having to move."  And he owes his operatic success to Schubert, he says, having learned 130 of the composer's songs over some 400 performances while an undergrad at the University of Illinois where both he and his wife now teach.

For our season-opening set of concerts, Gunn will join the orchestra for Mahler's lush but hauntingly intimate autobiographical Songs of the Wayfarer.  Also on tap are the romantic, exuberant Schumann's First Symphony and Beethoven's joyful Seventh Symphony.  Tickets are still available for all three performances September 30-October 3, but are limited on some dates.  More on the concerts

September 2, 2010

Downtown Arts Promotion

A consortium of arts marketing specialists from each of the major downtown performing arts organizations, including the Symphony, hired the staff at San Jose's CreaTV public access channel to put together a promotional video marketing downtown as an arts destination. After months of hard work, here is the result!

Look for new videos coming shortly to the Symphony's official YouTube channel, too.

Vote for Mahler, too

Our season opens with velvet-voiced idol of the Met, handsome baritone Nathan Gunn singing Mahler's haunting and soulfully autobiographic Songs of a Wayfarer.  This year, Mahler would have been 150 years young and in honor of the occasion, record company Deutsche Grammophon/Decca is giving you a chance to vote for your favorite recordings of Mahler's works.  You only have until September 15 to vote and then the winning recordings will be compiled into a People's Edition boxed set of Mahler's greatest works to be released later this fall.

The company has set up a website,, where you can hear all of Decca's Mahler recordings--including rare gems long out of print.  Stream as much Mahler as you like including important recordings that have become virtually unobtainable and legendary performances that are being made available for the first time in digital form.  Then decide for yourself which are the very best recordings in the world.  And let us know your Mahler favorites, too, by leaving a comment below!

Vote for the Symphony THIS weekend

This is it. The Symphony needs your help this weekend. And best of all, you can help right now--in your jammies--right at your computer.  It's the last chance to vote for us on Metro's 24th Annual Best of Silicon Valley survey.  Tuesday September 7th it's all over.

    Vote in Metro's Best of Silicon Valley survey here.

Symphony Silicon Valley is listed in two separate categories:

    Our wonderful free summer music festival "Target Summer Pops" under "Best Local Festival"
    And of course the Symphony itself under "Best Symphony/Classical Group"

Both are on the first page of the survey, but don't forget to vote for other local favorites (your favorite boutiques and restaurants, for example), because you must make at least 25 selections for your votes to be counted.  Everyone who completes the survey will be entered for Metro's free dinning and entertainment giveaways, too.

Help show that the Symphony makes a difference to our community and be sure to vote today.