News

Blitzstein at Tanglewood, 1946

“The Cradle That Rocked” Radio Documentary Now Airing in the US

Guy Livingston‘s 4-part radio documentary series on the life and work of Marc Blitzstein is now airing on radio stations around the United States, via the WFMT Radio Network. The series had its American broadcast premiere on Illinois’ WILL radio on March 5. Episodes three and four can be heard Sunday March 19 and 26, respectively, at 8:00 pm (CST). The program will air on other stations around the country through out the year, so be sure to your check your local public radio station’s listings for air dates. Additionally, all four episodes are available to download as podcasts via iTunes, or listen online anytime.

Previously Unknown Blitzstein Manuscript Comes to Light

A previously unknown manuscript piano score for Blitzstein’s early ballet Cain surfaced this summer. The owner donated the score to the Kurt Weill Foundation for Music in October 2016. The 115-page manuscript in red and black ink post-dates the full score, currently held in the Blitzstein papers at the Wisconsin Center for Film and Theater Research, whose holdings also contain another holograph piano vocal score.

Jehovah addresses Cain.

Composed in 1930 for a competition sponsored by the League of Composers, Cain retells the biblical story of Cain and Abel and the first murder. Heavy in allegorical implication, Blitzstein wrote in his preface to the synopsis, “Cain is a tragic ballet. Its philosophy is that we are all killers, and that murder is our heritage.” The work is structured in twelve sections divided into two parts separated by an interlude and runs approximately 30 minutes in duration. The ballet requires twelve solo dancers, a company, and one singer – a baritone representing the voice of Jehovah, heard only through an amplifier from off-stage (the vocal part is notated in red in Blitzstein’s piano score; see accompanying image). As usual with Blitzstein, the scoring is lavish: sixteen winds, fourteen brass, two percussion players, piano, and strings. Blitzstein began a version for smaller orchestra; that unfinished score is also held in Wisconsin. Both piano manuscripts bear Blitzstein’s notes on a concert suite derived from the work, but the movements and ordering differ slightly.

Detail of Blitzstein’s notes for a suite.

Blitzstein dedicated the work to his future wife, Eva Goldbeck, and in a letter to his sister, Jo, wrote of his progress on the piece, “It will be a wow; or at any rate the work and love going into it deserve a wow.” Upon completion, he wrote again to Jo, describing it as “the best thing I have written in my career.” Despite such high expectation by the composer and the admiration of several of his colleagues, including Copland, Nadia Boulanger, and interest from Stokowski, the work never received a complete public performance in Blitzstein’s lifetime.

Little is known of the score’s provenance. The donor acquired it in the 1950s from an unknown estate as part of a larger lot of published and manuscript music. The score then lay forgotten among the donor’s belongings until he rediscovered it this summer and contacted the Kurt Weill Foundation. The find presents a potentially interesting discovery in tracking this early composition which the promising young composer invested with such high hopes. The question as to why Blitzstein created two different piano vocal scores for the same, unpublished, unperformed work demands musicological inquiry; comparison of the two scores may yield new insights on Blitzstein’s technique and creative process. Inquiries are encouraged; the score currently resides at the Weill-Lenya Research Center at the Foundation offices in New York City (wlrc@kwf.org).

Blitzstein at the BBC, 1943
Blitzstein at the BBC, 1943

The Cradle that Rocked: Blitzstein Radio Documentary Airs Friday

Guy Livingston’s four-part radio documentary on the life and works of Marc Blitzstein, The Cradle That Rocked: Rediscovering Marc Blitzstein, airs this month as part of his American Highways program. The series will air on Fridays on Concert Zender Radio, beginning October 14 at 18h00 Central European Time (12:00 noon EST), and be made available as podcasts via iTunes after airing. Broadcasts on the WFMT network in the U.S. will follow.

The program will survey Blitzstein’s life and work, with episodes on The Cradle Will Rock, Regina, his adaptation of The Threepenny Opera, and his unfinished opera Sacco and Vanzetti. Highlights include historical recordings of Blitzstein and his contemporaries — including Paul Robeson performing and Leonard Bernstein in conversation with Studs Terkel — and interviews with such experts as Jamie Bernstein, Sarah Fishko, conductor John Mauceri, and composer William Bolcom.

Here’s the teaser from American Highways:
“This is the story of a great musician who embraced all the colorfulness of American life. Composer Marc Blitzstein has been largely forgotten, but in the 1930s he was famous for his political musical, The Cradle Will Rock. In the 1940s he was famous again for his Airborne Symphony, written in London during the war. And in the 1950s he made headlines once more, this time for his brilliantly funny and sarcastic adaptation of Kurt Weill’s Threepenny Opera. And yet, he is virtually unknown today. Jewish, gay, and a stubborn political activist, he was on the margins of the arts world in his lifetime. Although championed by Leonard Bernstein, he had trouble getting his career off the ground, and many of his musicals failed after a few performances. And his death was so tragic that it haunted his legacy for decades. This radio feature aims to celebrate his life with humor, storytelling, and vintage audio, as a new generation discovers his music. Join pianist Guy Livingston for four feature-length episodes, as he recounts the astonishing musical adventures of an American original, Marc Blitzstein.”

Find more information and where to listen here.

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Kurt Weill Foundation Invites Grant Applications for Blitzstein-related Projects

Planning a performance of or a project relating to Blitzstein’s music next year? You may be eligible to apply for funding from the Kurt Weill Foundation for Music.

The Kurt Weill Foundation is dedicated to promoting understanding of Weill’s life and works and preserving the legacies of Weill and Lenya. In 2012, KWF was gifted a 50% share of the Marc Blitzstein estate, and in 2013, projects and performances of Blitzstein’s work became eligible under the grant program. Recent projects to receive grants include Curious Flights’ performance of Airborne Symphony, Bronx Opera‘s and Maryland Opera Studio‘s productions of Regina, The Orchestra Now‘s November 6 performance of Orchestra Variations, and the forthcoming radio documentary on Blitzstein’s life and work by radio host Guy Livingston.

Applications are now being accepted for performances and initiatives occurring between 1 January 2017 and 1 July 2018. Funding is awarded in the following categories:

  • Professional Performance
  • College/University Performance
  • Media
  • Scholarly Symposia/Conferences; Educational Outreach; Community Engagement
  • Kurt Weill Mentors
  • Kurt Weill Dissertation Fellowship
  • Publication Assistance
  • Research and Travel

All application materials must be received by 1 November 2016 to be considered. Complete information may be found at www.kwf.org/pages/grant-program.html or email Brady Sansone, Director of Programs and Business Affairs, bsansone@kwf.org.

Blitzstein and the cast of "The Cradle Will Rock", 1937

2016-17 Season Performance Preview

The 2016/17 season offers performances of both well-known and rarely-heard works by Blitzstein, from the purely orchestral to the profoundly political, and all that lies between.

  • The Orchestra Now performs Orchestra Variations

The Orchestra Now (TŌN), a program of Bard College, performs Orchestra Variations at New York City’s Rose Theater, 6 November, conducted by Leon Botstein.

Written in 1934 and largely inspired by Aaron Copland’s Piano Variations, Orchestra Variations consists of a theme and twenty variations. Despite initial interest from conductor Leopold Stokowski, the work was never performed during Blitzstein’s lifetime. It eventually premiered in 1988 at Carnegie Hall on a concert by the American Composers Orchestra with conductor Dennis Russell Davies.

TŌN performs this rarely-heard piece alongside better-known works by Blitzstein’s contemporaries and close friends, Leonard Bernstein (Jeremiah Symphony) and Copland (Statements for Orchestra and Appalachian Spring Suite).

  • Radio Documentary on WFMT

Radio host Guy Livingston will release a four-part Podcast about Blitzstein’s life and music as part of his American Highways series. Each episode explores a particular work or period in Blitzstein’s life, including The Cradle Will Rock, Regina, Airborne Symphony and his friendship with Bernstein, and his unfinished opera, Sacco and Vanzetti, a project steeped in political controversy and aborted by his tragic and untimely death. The radio-documentary will be broadcast on ConcertZender Radio in the Netherlands and distributed on the WFMT radio network in the US in October. Listen to a preview of the full documentary, here.

  • The Cradle Will Rock and a Year of Politics

Even more prescient during this election year, Blitzstein’s attack on the plutocracy, The Cradle Will Rock, will be seen in several productions, including: Kent State University, 21 & 25 September; Cast Aside Productions (Portland, ME), 14-23 October; Boston University, 13-18 December; Connecticut College, 4-5 March; Ithaca College, 1-8 April. These productions, all with piano-only accompaniment, build up to the major Blitzstein event of the season next summer, when Opera Saratoga presents the work as it was originally intended – fully staged, with the original orchestration. Opera Saratoga Artistic director Lawrence Edelson directs, with John Mauceri conducting, 9-16 July, 2017.

Visit the performance calendar for more information and a complete listing of Blitzstein performances coming up this year.

Inaugural Marc Blitzstein Award Granted at 2016 Lotte Lenya Competition

The 2016 Lotte Lenya Competition, sponsored annually by the Kurt Weill Foundation for Music, featured a new award honoring the legacy of Marc Blitzstein. The award recognizes an outstanding performance of a selection from a “Golden Age” musical. The inaugural award went to bass-baritone Bradley Smoak of Cary, NC, for his performance of “Pass the Football” from Wonderful Town. Smoak, whose career to this point has primarily been in the world of opera, exhibited his crossover appeal with what the judges described as a “spectacular performance” of this classic Bernstein/Comden and Green number.

The Lenya Competition, founded 1998 in honor of singer/actress (and wife of Kurt Weill) Lotte Lenya, recognizes talented young singer/actors who are dramatically and musically convincing in repertoire ranging from opera/operetta to contemporary Broadway scores, with a focus on the works of Kurt Weill. The addition of the Marc Blitzstein award to the competition further highlights the artistic connection between Weill, Lenya and Blitzstein and their shared aesthetic philosophies.

Further Resources
About the Lotte Lenya Competition.
Read the complete press release.
Watch Bradley Smoak’s performance.

Maryland Opera Studio presents “Regina”

The University of Maryland Opera Studio presents Blitzstein’s Regina for four performances April 8 through 16.

Regina opened on Broadway in 1949,at a time when composers sought to create works which openly challenged the boundaries between opera and musical theater. Blitzstein especially defied conventional genre categories with his dramatic works. The Cradle Will Rock arguably set the stage for the opera-on-Broadway trend, later followed by Menotti, Weill, Bernstein and others. Bernstein, Blitzstein’s colleague and close friend, regarded Regina as Blitzstein’s first truly successful attempt to create a work that satisfied the demands of both opera and Broadway audiences, calling it “a kind of apex, a summation of what Blitzstein has been trying to do.”

Maryland Opera Studio’s production also seeks to bridge the divide between opera and theater, and will bring together a cross-disciplinary team of students from the UMD School of Music and School of Theatre, Dance, and Performance Studies, including singers, jazz musicians and theatre design majors. From lighting and set design to costume creation and choreography, students involved in Regina will gain hands-on experience in every element of opera production and performance. As part of MOS’s “Opera Resonates!” series, the April 10 performance will be preceded by a discussion titled “Regina: Is It All Black and White?” exploring the opera’s treatment of racial and social issues still relevant today.

UMD received a Kurt Weill Foundation grant for university performance, one of four KWF grants awarded this year for performances of Blitzstein’s works.

Resources

Event listing on the performance calendar.

Press release from the University of Maryland.

“Mack the Knife” Added to National Recording Registry

Essential Renditions by Armstrong and Darin Honored

The Library of Congress announced the 2015 additions to the National Recording Registry. High on the list for 2015 are covers of “Mack the Knife” by Louis Armstrong and Bobby Darin, who between them did more than anyone to make the song one of the top hits of the 20th century. Established in 2000 under the National Recording Preservation Act, the Registry honors recordings recognized for their cultural, artistic and/or historical significance to American society and the nation’s aural legacy. The Library of Congress preserves for posterity each recording named to the list. The Registry, according to Acting Librarian David S. Mao, “helps safeguard the record of what we’ve done and who we are.”

“Mack the Knife” started life in 1928 as “Die Moritat von Mackie Messer,” the opening number in The Threepenny Opera. The song did not attract much attention in the U.S. until Marc Blitzstein’s English adaptation of the show opened off-Broadway in 1954 and ran for 2,707 performances, setting the record at that time for longest-running musical. Armstrong’s recording, completed in a single evening in September 1955, propelled the number into the pop pantheon and added an enduring twist to Blitzstein’s lyric: Lotte Lenya’s presence in the studio during the session (see photo at right) prompted a shout-out from Satchmo, who added her name to Mack’s conquests.

lenya mack the knife(Lenya contributed vocals to a different recording made during the same session.) Darin’s version topped the charts in 1959 and became his signature number. “Mack the Knife” has been recorded hundreds of times, but Armstrong and Darin made it an international hit. Lenya remarked, “A taxi driver whistling his tunes would have pleased [Kurt] more than winning the Pulitzer Prize.” Adding to that honor, inclusion in the registry seals Weill’s and Blitzstein’s permanent place in our nation’s aural legacy.

On a related note, this is not the first entry in the Registry for Blitzstein. The original cast recording of The Cradle Will Rock was named in 2002.

Features

Read the announcement from the Library of Congress.

 

Regina (1949 Broadway), Ballroom scene. Image courtesy of Photofest.

All Eyes on Marc Blitzstein in 2016

Marc Blitzstein receives some well-deserved attention this year with several notable performances scheduled throughout 2016, heralding a year of renewed interest in this often overlooked composer. Two productions of Regina take the stage in the first half of the year: Bronx Opera mounted two performances, January 16 & 17 at Lehman College (Bronx, NY); four performances will follow at the University of Maryland, College Park, April 8-16. On May 28, Curious Flights Symphony Orchestra and Festival Chorus in San Francisco will give the West Coast Premiere of The Airborne Symphony, with Alasdair Neale conducting. In the fall of 2016, Dutch radio network ConcertZender will broadcast a four-part series on Blitzstein’s life and works. All of the above projects received funding through the Kurt Weill Foundation’s Grant Program, marking the first year that the KWF has awarded funding for Blitzstein-related projects, which became eligible under its grant program in 2013.

In addition to the grant recipients, two other Blitzstein performances are on the calendar for 2016: Another production of Regina will appear onstage at Anderson University (Anderson, IN) February 19 through 21. Even Germany will get into the act when the annual Kurt Weill Fest Dessau offers a program featuring songs by Blitzstein and Weill on 28 February, performed by Alen Hodzovic and Rebecca Jo Loeb, with pianist James Holmes. Meanwhile, Blitzstein’s adaptation of Threepenny Opera remains an audience favorite.