Listening Week 3: Music of the Night

Pops at home: Listening Week 3: Music of the night

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Great Performances from The Boston Pops, selected by Director of Artistic Planning, Dennis Alves.

Over the next eight weeks, we’ll share some favorite Boston Pops Orchestra recordings, conducted by the orchestra’s three most recent (and most famous) conductors: Arthur Fiedler, John Williams, and Keith Lockhart. We’re grateful to have the opportunity bring you joy with weekly musical treats during these unprecedented times.

Music of the Night

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John Williams conducting, 1996


The Boston Pops sincerely thanks Richard and Nancy Heath, Sidney and Deanna Wolk, and an anonymous donor whose gifts supported the Boston Pops’ Student Conductor Program. Support of emerging artists is foundational to the Boston Symphony Orchestra, and we look forward to a time when we are able to once again make music with the students of Boston Arts Academy, BYSO’s Intensive Community Program, and Muniz Academy.
New arrangements and works for the Boston Pops are generously supported by the Cecile Higginson Murphy Pops Programming Fund.

"Music of the Night" contains selections from some of the best and most popular composers in Broadway history at its publication in 1990, including Jule Styne, Stephen Sondheim, Leonard Bernstein and Andrew Lloyd Webber.
The music covers 45-years of musical theater, and it also features music from several that won the Tony Award for best musical of the season.

Even though the melodies range over six decades, none of the music is dated. Each song evokes the excitement of walking into a Broadway theater, listening to the opening bars of the overture, watching the curtain come up and looking on as great performers and great musicians create a magic that no movie or television screen can match--the magic of live entertainment. In a time where we are bereft of live entertainment and substituting archival material and digital performances, we remember with joy and look forward to the time when we can again enjoy ‘the smell of the greasepaint and the roar of the crowd.’

What could be more appropriate for the first number than the rousing, upbeat tune that Judy Garland made famous in a 1944 MGM film and that rolled onto Broadway in late 1989 in the stage adaptation of the movie. It's "The Trolley Song" from Meet Me in St. Louis, written by Hugh Martin and Ralph Blane.

We then move into the 1987 fairy-tale musical Into the Woods. The song "No One ls Alone" is a quiet and yet optimistic affirmation of the need for, and presence of, other people--a gentle rejoinder to those who complain that Sondheim's music lacks melody …and a comforting reminder in these times.

From Sondheim it's a natural jump to Jerome Robbins, because the two worked together on Gypsy, West Side Story, and A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum. He stands as one of the geniuses of the American musical theater, and "Gotta Dance, a Tribute to Jerome Robbins" covers only a few of the great hits with which he has been associated as director and/ or choreographer. After being away from Broadway for 25 years-since Fiddler on the Roof, the Tony-Award winner in 1964-he returned triumphantly in 1989 with Jerome Robbins' Broadway, a compendium of great dance and song numbers from 11 of his hit musicals. The show won the Tony Award for best musical, and Robbins was named best director, winning his fifth Tony. Here the Pops presents, for starters, "Gotta Dance" and "Papa, Won't You Dance with Me?" from Look Ma, I'm Dancin' and High Button Shoes, two of his early shows from the 1940s. (Robbins received his first Tony, as best choreographer for High Button Shoes in 1948.) Then comes the "Tonight Quintet" from West Side Story, his second Tony winner for choreography. There's a generous sampling of "Comedy Tonight" from Forum (1962), which Robbins came to at the last minute, after its disastrous Washington tryout, and helped turn into a Tony winner and a Broadway success. Gypsy, another Robbins directorial credit, is represented by "Small World" and "Rose's Turn.” To conclude, there's "Sunrise, Sunset" from Fiddler (music by Jerry Bock; lyrics by Sheldon Harnick), which gave Robbins both the directing and choreography Tonys, and finally 'I’m Flying" from Peter Pan (1954).

It's an appropriate final number for this group, because if ever there was someone who in one magnificent way never grew up, who focused all his life on his boyhood dream, it is Robbins. Just before the opening of Jerome Robbins’ Broadway, he reminisced about his early years in Weehawken, New Jersey: "I used to come to New York to audition for shows, and not get them and go back to Jersey and look back at New York from the Palisades and say, 'Well, I'll be back tomorrow, and study some more, and maybe I'll get into a show sometime." Did he ever.

"I Dreamed a Dream" is Fantine's sad and haunting melody from Les Miserables, the international hit, based on the classic Victor Hugo novel, that won the Tony Award as best musical in 1987. The music is by Claude Michel Schonberg, who with Alain Boublil created the opera-like work in Paris. They went to turn it into a smash in London (where Patti LuPone sang the role of Fantine) and a multi-season sensation still on the boards in New York.

Whenever Leonard Bernstein, one of the most innovative and influential composers in American musical history, dropped his classical baton and picked up his Broadway pen, he created music different from anything else that had been heard on the musical stage in its truly orchestral sound and its balletic nature. His first show was On the Town in 1944 (which was also the first Broadway musical to be choreographed by Jerome Robbins); his most famous was West Side Story in 1957.

In "Bernstein on Broadway” On the Town is represented by two complementary song and dance numbers. "New York, New York" is a joyous paean to the glories of the big city as a trio of sailors begins their very eventful 24-hour leave. The evocative "Lonely Town" is a look at the other side of that same city, at how lonely it can be without love. From West Side Story there's the ironic and rhythmically Latin tribute to "America” which was performed by a bunch of beauties debating which was better: the isle of Manhattan or their home island city of San Juan, Puerto Rico. The emphasis on the dance beat in this song is not accidental: critics consider West Side Story the first Broadway musical more about dance than either story or song, and most of the credit for that goes to Robbins. Incidentally, West Side Story didn't win that season's Tony; The Music Man did.

Classic melodies that transcend time, for this year or any year. To go back to Leonard Bernstein and Jerome Robbins-and the lyrics of Betty Comden and Adolph Green -"New York, New York, it's a hell of a town." And one reason it's a hell of a town is that right in the middle of it is Broadway.

-Text edited from Mervyn Rothstein’s 1990 liner notes to reflect the current times and these selections.

Archival images courtesy BSO Archives

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