January 17, 2011

The Musical That Almost Wasn’t: “My Fair Lady”

Broadways most enduring (and endearing) musical

Julie Andrews, the original Eliza Doolittle
Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein said no.  Noël Coward refused to write it, too.  Rights issues, the break-up of writing team Alan Jay Lerner and Frederick Loewe and complications over adapting George Bernard Shaw’s play Pygmalion to the musical theater form all threatened to keep My Fair Lady from being born.

Shaw’s original play lacked key elements considered essential to the romanticism of the musical theater stage.  The main story was not a love story, and there was no subplot or secondary love story.  There was no place for an ensemble.  Admitting defeat, Lerner and Loewe set the project aside and later the collaborators separated.  But during the ensuing two years, Lerner’s thoughts often returned to the task of adapting Shaw’s play as a musical.  When he and Loewe later reunited, he had solved many of the dilemmas that had daunted the team earlier.  “All we had to do was add what Shaw had happening off stage.”  They then began excitedly writing the show.

However, Chase Manhattan Bank was in charge of the rights to Pygmalion and those rights were being sought both by Lerner and Loewe and by MGM, whose executives called Lerner to discourage him from challenging the studio.  Loewe said to Lerner, “We will write the show without the rights, and when the time comes for them to decide who is to get them, we will be so far ahead of everyone else that they will be forced to give them to us.”  In the end, Loewe’s prediction was right--My Fair Lady belonged to them.

Noël Coward was first offered the role of Henry Higgins, but fatefully suggested instead that the team cast Rex HarrisonMary Martin was courted to be the first Eliza Doolittle, but refused the part.  Young Julie Andrews was cast instead after the team “discovered” her in her Broadway debut in The Boy Friend.  It took hearing only two of the songs to hook director Moss Hart.

My Fair Lady opened March 15, 1956 and ran for more than 9 years and 2,717 performances, making it the longest running musical at the time.  It has won seven Tony Awards, two Theatre World Awards, two Drama Desk Awards, five Olivier Awards, the film version won eight Academy Awards and My Fair Lady has been nominated another 14 times, giving it the most accolades of any production.  And all for a show that almost never was.

This weekend, join an orchestra of 35, a cast of 25 and relish in the magic of Eliza Doolittle’s transformation from cockney flower girl to a sophisticated lady of the ball as Broadway In Concert presents this most beloved of American musicals.  And in a harkening back to the days of the show’s original run, Sarah Uriarte Berry (who plays our Eliza Doolittle) was coached in the songs by Marni Nixon, Audrey Hepburn’s singing voice for Eliza in the Academy Award-winning film.

Sarah Uriarte Berry (Eliza Doolittle) – Broadway In Concert’s Hello Dolly, Broadway’s The Light in the Piazza, Beauty and the Beast, Les Miserables.

Paul Schoeffler (Henry Higgins) – Broadway’s Rock of Ages, Sweet Charity, Beauty and the Beast, Victor/Victoria, Sunday in the Park with George.

Andrew Boyer (Alfred P. Doolittle) – Broadway In Concert’s Music Man, Broadway’s 2000 revival of Music Man, Gypsy with Patti Lupone.

January 22 & 23, 2011 ONLY
408-286-2600, Ext 23

January 4, 2011

“One Never-Ending Concert:” A conversation with Adam Golka

Adam Golka, Pianist
23-year-old Adam Golka is the winner of two of America’s most prestigious musical awards:  the 2008 Gilmore Young Artist Award and most recently the 2009 Max I. Allen Classical Fellowship Award of the American Pianists Association.  His professional career jumped into high gear in 2003 when, aged just 16, he ranked first in the 2nd China Shanghai International Piano Competition.  Since then, this truly prodigious prodigy has performed more than 300 concerts with such acclaimed orchestras and festivals as the Atlanta, Houston, Dallas Symphonies, the BBC Scottish Symphony, National Arts Centre Orchestra of Ottawa, the Shanghai Philharmonic, the New York City International Keyboard Festival, the Ravinia Festival.  Closer to home for us, he has appeared with Music@Menlo and worked with San Francisco Opera’s Donald Runnicles.

A first-generation American, Golka comes from an immigrant family of Polish musicians.  His mother is a piano teacher, his father a trombonist who now makes his living as a piano technician.  And older brother Tomasz Golka was recently hired as musical director of Riverside County Philharmonic, to fill the void left when Patrick Flynn, their musical director and a frequent Symphony Silicon Valley guest conductor, died suddenly.

Here are Adam’s thoughts on music, life and the difficulty of playing favorites:

Your repertory this season includes many different solo works and concertos by Beethoven, Liszt, Tchaikovsky, Rachmaninoff, Ravel, and others.  Do you have a favorite composer or set of works that has captured your heart?

I am very promiscuous with my musical loves.  Bach, Mozart, Beethoven, Schubert, Chopin, Schumann, Brahms – these seven composers’ masterworks leave me in a never-ending state of awe.

Was there one singular moment or one piece of music that triggered your interest in music?

I could say that I remember one, not necessarily so significant piece of music, that got me drawn into music when I was about five years old.  The 6th and last Romanian Dance by Bartok, which is an obligatory piece for piano competitions.  My mother Anna is a piano teacher and she had 30 students coming to the house and taking lessons.  So they’d be preparing for this local contest and many of her students would play this same piece and I sort of picked it up by ear a little bit.  I remember that I was just crazy about it and I couldn’t stop playing it.

That was when his mother discovered his perfect pitch, his nearly photographic memory – and his passion for music.  “”I always tried to get him interested in other things, “ Anna Golka says.  “Baseball, karate, astronomy.  I told him he might come to a time when he couldn’t play the piano.  He looked at me and said ‘When the day comes that I can’t play the piano, I will die.’ “

Who are your favorite non-classical artists?

Well, I occasionally listen to past and present jazz legends like Tatum, Peterson, Fitzgerald, Monk, Jarrett and Mehldau—with enormous enthusiasm.  But I must admit that I am generally quite one-track minded.  There is simply so much “classical music” (I hate this designation; I prefer “art music”) that I am always dying to hear that I never find the time or energy to explore music of a more popular nature.

Some feel that there is no need to record classical music any more, that it’s all been done before.  What do you tell them?

Why did Monet paint lilies over and over?  Why was there an American remake of Tarkovsky’s Solaris?  Why are so many films based on books already written, so many songs based on poetry already written?  I cannot answer this question practically, because art is not practical.  People need to say the same things over and over, and in their own unique way.  And that is beautiful.

If you hadn’t chosen music, what do you think you would do right now?

Well, it’s hard to answer this question…  Perhaps I feel like music chose me, and not the other way around.  I couldn’t and wouldn’t be anything other than a musician.  However, if I had the voice for it, I’d love to be a singer—maybe of Wagner.

This past year marked quite a few great firsts for you:  Your Carnegie Hall debut and collaborating with your brother Tomasz to play both of Chopin’s published concertos at the Chopin Society’s 200th Birthday Celebration of Chopin.

For a musician, Chopin’s music is like looking at the Pyramid of Giza.  Chopin is poetry at the piano.  It’s very moving.  It was quite an exhilarating experience celebrating the composer’s birthday this way:  My brother and I are developing a history of playing these pieces together.

You father is a trombonist, your mother a pianist, your brother Tomasz a violinist as well as a conductor and composer.  Did you try any other instruments before settling on the piano?

Yes, violin.  And my condolences to all who have heard me play it!

Is there a musical philosophy that you live by?

I treat my life as one never-ending concert.  In my preparation for concerts I try to find things to latch on to that will help me lose myself in the music and that will help keep an intense level of concentration.  Hopefully it works and my involvement leads me to moments of great mystery and revelation.  When those moments happen, I develop an unquenchable thirst for more and greater moments.

JOIN ADAM GOLKA JANUARY 15 & 16 with Symphony Silicon Valley
    BUY TICKETS Or call 408-286-2600, Ext 23