Monday, October 12, 2015

The Liaisons Project:
Entering the World of the Song

Liaisons is the perfect name for this project, as each of thirty-six composers has created original pieces that have "loving relationships" with songs by Stephen Sondheim.  NPR reporter Ari Shapiro hears composers working with Sondheim's music in the way that Sondheim works with the music of composers he admires.

[Photo: Anthony DeMare, from Boise State Public Radio]

Each composer has, in the words of a Sondheim lyric, entered the world of the song, "coming back to this one from that."  They return with pieces that build on as little as a measure or two of accompaniment, or pieces that elaborate a single song to capture the sweep of an entire story.  All the pieces demonstrate techniques that Sondheim himself uses to get, as he says, "maximum development of the minimum of material" (see my article on How Sondheim Found His Sound).

The results are sometimes so far afield from their sources that I, who have known the songs for decades, had to check the track listing to know what song had inspired what piece.   But all the pieces show seriousness of purpose, personal reflection, and care in execution. 

Pianist Anthony DeMare commissioned and recorded the first pieces over four years ago; I'm proud to have been one of the contributors who responded to a crowd-funding campaign to complete the project.  The result is the best tribute of all to the composer-lyricist whose artistic integrity and generosity in collaboration have by now inspired generations of admirers, emulators, and teachers.

Back when I was the first kid on my block to own the LPs of A Little Night Music, Company, and Follies, I wanted my guy Sondheim to be as popular as those guys who wrote Hello, Dolly! and Jesus Christ Superstar.    I wanted to see his music on the Billboard Charts.

Well, this tribute, which has indeed hit the Billboard charts, is more satisfying than popularity.  This project distills generations' appreciation for both Sondheim's achievements, and Sondheim the man.

See my Stephen Sondheim page for other articles about Sondheim, his music, and his shows.  

Sources consulted
Liner notes by Mark Eden Horowitz 

Ari Shapiro's interview on NPR's All Things Considered

Review by John Kelman.

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