Sunday, January 23, 2011

Conductor James Bagwell Interview

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Conductor James Bagwell (photo by Erin Baiano); Composer Kurt Weill

Kurt Weill and Maxwell Anderson’s Knickerbocker Holiday

Starring Victor Garber and Kelli O’Hara
January 25-26, 2011
Alice Tully Hall, 65th Street and Broadway

Music director of the Collegiate Chorale, James Bagwell will lead the Chorale, the American Symphony Orchestra (ASO), and a roster of starry soloists led by Victor Garber and Kelli O’Hara in a concert version of another worthy but neglected work by Kurt Weill, Knickerbocker Holiday, which ran on Broadway for 168 performances in 1938.

Holiday follows on the heels of another Weill musical, The Firebrand of Florence, that the Chorale performed in 2009. The Chorale’s busy January continues on the 30th at Carnegie Hall, when it and the ASO perform another forgotten work, French composer Alberic Magnard‘s opera Berenice; two concerts to round out the current Chorale season in March and May.

Bagwell recently spoke about Knickerbocker Holiday and the rest of the Chorale’s 2011 schedule.

Kevin Filipski: This is the second Kurt Weill show that the Collegiate Chorale has done, after The Firebrand of Florence. Is this going to be an ongoing thing with Weill works?
James Bagwell: I don’t know if it’s deliberate, but we certainly are definitely creating a pattern. There are other shows we are interested in doing, so there will probably be more Weill in our future. Choosing Knickerbocker Holiday was easy: one of the Chorale’s missions is to perform undeservedly obscure works, and this piece has no complete cast recording and is rarely performed. So it was quite an opportunity to be able to perform it live because it’s quite a wonderful piece.

KF: For those unfamiliar with the musical, discuss Knickerbocker Holiday in relation to Kurt Weill’s other music.
JB: It was his first Broadway musical, and you can hear how quickly he assimilated Broadway song structures like Jerome Kern or George Gershwin. You can tell that it’s Weill, but he’s developing his own Broadway style with classic songs like “September Song.” It’s also particularly well-written for chorus. There’s quite a bit for the chorus, actually, with equal weight between solo writing and chorus writing.

KF: You conduct the Chorale and the American Symphony Orchestra in Knickerbocker, then Leon Botstein will conduct both on January 30 at Carnegie Hall in Berenice. Talk about your relationship with Botstein and the ASO.
JB: The American Symphony Orchestra is sort of the orchestra for the Chorale, and one of my jobs is to do the choral preparation for their concerts. They do a lot of choral concerts, including their next one of Magnard’s Berenice, which is a more atmospheric than narrative-driven opera, with the chorus writing making the Chorale another instrument in a huge onstage orchestra.

KF: What else does the Chorale have coming up after Knickerbocker Holiday?
JB: On March 10, we’re doing a concert at the Central Synagogue (Lexington Avenue and 55th Street) called We Remember Them, which is choral music written in concentration camps during World War II. There were quite a number of composers who wrote choral music while in the camps. There are some recordings of this music, and so I got as much as I could find. We’re doing music by Viktor Ullmann and by Martin Rosenberg, who set a text by Hannah Senesh, an important poet who was captured and killed by the Nazis, called Blessed Is the Match. Then on May 19, we’re doing an all-Broadway concert at Carnegie Hall with Deborah Voigt and Paulo Szot to finish our season. I’m not sure if Deborah’s going to do any songs from Annie Get Your Gun (which she performs at Glimmerglass Opera this summer). As you can see, we like to be as broad and as diverse as possible in our programs.

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