About The Other Side of Broadway

In the summer of 1994, I walked into the living room of Barry Tuckwell, world-renowned French-hornist and then conductor of the Maryland Symphony Orchestra, with the score to Charles Strouse's Concerto for Piano and Orchestra under my arm. I was there to pitch my performance of it to him. As I took a seat, I noticed the vocal selections from Strouse's musical Annie on the piano, and thought, “This bodes well.” Tuckwell's step-daughter had performed in a local production of the show. I also knew that the symphony board member who had helped me get the appointment with Maestro Tuckwell, had been the college roommate of Strouse's collaborator, lyricist Lee Adams. All these connections were great, but the bottom line was that Tuckwell had to like the piece and he had to want to do it. After I played highlights from sections of each movement, Tuckwell asked, “This would be a world premiere?” When I answered in the affirmative, he replied, “Let's give it a go.”

The idea for The Other Side of Broadway was born in 1995 when I performed the world premiere of Charles Strouse's Concerto for Piano and Orchestra. The Concerto had never been publicly performed, though Strouse wrote it when he was a 22-year-old student. He had studied with Aaron Copland, David Diamond, and other eminent classical composers and pedagogues. Strouse is not the only theatre composer with classical training.

It seems that throughout recent history composers have been labeled as either ‘pop’ or ‘serious’ as a result of their first successful effort. Many of these composers have outstanding abilities in both areas but are considered suspect by the purists when they dare to ‘cross over.’ It is everyone's loss when only one side of a composer's work is heard and appreciated. As a crossover artist myself, I have a great respect for the creators of both classical music and musical theatre. Through my associations with many of the great Broadway composers I have learned of their ‘other sides’ and want to share them with the public.

Like the composers whose music I champion, I have had one foot in the classical world and one foot in the world of musical theatre during my entire career, working on productions as diverse as Die FledermausJesus Christ Superstar and . I have won awards as a classical composer and as a music director for the theatre. I have given solo classical recitals in the United States and Europe, and played for or music directed musical theatre productions on both continents. Because of my writing and performing experience, I am conscientious about composers' intentions and remaining loyal to them, without compromising my own creativity as a performer.

The Other Side of Broadway presents performances in an informance format, with the performer speaking briefly to the audience about each piece and its composer before playing it. Our intention is to entertain and educate audiences about this little-known but worthy repertoire, thereby developing new audiences for both classical concerts and theatre productions. A panel discussion with the composers and the performer(s), moderated in New York by Howard Kissel of the New York Daily News, was a part of each of our New York piano concerts. Our touring concerts close with the 'Broadway side' of one of the composers whose classical music was heard earlier in the evening.

We also make recordings and videos to preserve this music so that current and future generations will have a better understanding of the culture of our time. We are also pursuing the possibility of print publication of the previously unpublished works that are performed. I have had a lifetime commitment to 20th-century composers and their music, and I truly believe our performances and recordings will provide a much needed bridge between two areas of music that need not be separated.

The Other Side of Broadway is a unique project providing an outlet for established and emerging composers alike to have their works heard by new audiences. Our concert in November of 1998 received very positive response from the press and the public in general. In the post-concert discussion, moderator Howard Kissel said, "Let me start by saying this is the most refreshing concert that I have been to in a long, long time—to hear so much good music, all of which was so enjoyable, so stimulating—that is not something that we hear often. So, my thanks to Barbara. . . . I looked around and people were really listening; no one was fidgeting, no one appeared to be there out of a sense of duty. This is the what a concert is supposed to be." The composers were equally enthusiastic about the experience. Charles Strouse said, “Anybody who gives composers of any stripe an ability to have their music heard is wonderful..” “I could finally sit back and hear someone else play [my Sonata for Cocktail Piano],” remarked David Shire. Harvey Schmidt said, “It's made me think seriously about doing more. . . . It was exciting.”

Jay Alan Zimmerman said, “Being a part of this concert not only raised awareness of my work in the public's eye, but gave me something I could never have anticipated: a new self-awareness about my career and the realization that perceptions of ‘Jay Alan Zimmerman, the composer’ were changing. Thus I began the transformation from ‘emerging’ composer into ‘established’ composer.” This is indeed what I intended when I decided not just to play works by composers of first-class productions. One of the important purposes of The Other Side of Broadway is to showcase the talents of a lesser-known theatre composer who can, in this setting, ‘ride on the coattails’ of the established writers.

We gave our first college concert in October of 2000 at Wilson College in Chambersburg, Pennsylvania. On the program were works from our previous two New York concerts. Featuring the music of Charles Strouse, he appeared at the end of the concert singing songs from his musicals as he accompanied himself on the piano.

Through my own research and conversations with colleagues and other experts, I am aware of enough repertoire to keep The Other Side of Broadway going for many years. We have focused on solo and duo piano works and art-song cabarets thus far, for obvious economic reasons, but have plans to expand into chamber music and, eventually, into piano/orchestral concerts. The emphasis will continue to be on living and recent composers. I have presented music by composers whose work I know from working with them or working on their shows, but I would welcome suggestions from people I haven't contacted and from new and established theatre composers who would like to have their classical works heard.

Currently, we are actively seeking bookings for our concerts throughout the United States, Canada, and Europe. In this way we also hope to build audiences as ambassadors for Broadway and American classical music.

— article by Barbara Irvine

Barbara Irvine is a music director/pianist who is Project Director/Pianist for The Other Side of Broadway. You may reach The Other Side of Broadway by phone at (646) 265-9004 or by e-mail at theothersideofbroadway@verizon.net.

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