There was a stunning moment in the Lyric Opera of Chicago’s “Celebrating 100 Years of Bernstein” gala this season. Kate Baldwin, on a brief hiatus from her Tony Award–nominated run in Broadway’s revival of Hello Dolly!, took the stage and delivered an ineffably moving rendition of Leonard Bernstein’s Vietnam-era protest song “So Pretty.” This affecting piece, with lyrics by Betty Comden and Adolph Green, was first heard in 1968 at the Broadway for Peace fundraiser co-hosted by Bernstein and Paul Newman. It was performed then by Barbra Streisand with the composer himself at the piano. The song tells of a land far away with golden temples and pretty people with shining hair—who we are told “must die for peace.” The text concludes with “But they’re so pretty, so pretty. / I don’t understand.”
What Foster is doing is creating his first Broadway musical, a show based on the 1930s’ wide-eyed, Jazz Age flapper animated cartoon character Betty Boop. A creative team of Broadway A-listers has signed on for the project, including director/choreographer Jerry Mitchell, whose work includes the recently premiered Pretty Woman: The Musical, the Gloria Estefan bio-musical On Your Feet, and Cyndi Lauper and Harvey Fierstein’s critically acclaimed Kinky Boots (all three of which had their pre-Broadway tryouts in Chicago). Veteran television scribe Sally Robinson is writing the book, and Foster’s score will boast lyrics by Tony Award nominee Susan Birkenhead.
“It’s my first try at Broadway,” Foster says of the musical, whose subject matter demanded a very original story. “There never was a story because [Betty Boop] is a two-minute-at-a-time cartoon. I knew I wanted to make a step toward Broadway and musicals, and honestly Betty Boop was the first person to ask me. [Laughs.] So we had to create the story. It’s currently waiting for the script’s final punch-up. And then hopefully we’ll jump into a reading and then a workshop.”
When pianist Inon Barnatan returns to Ravinia on July 21, he’ll be there to extend the history of an institution. The festival has been hosting a high-spirited, evening-long celebration of Tchaikovsky every season for now 40 years. The Russian composer’s tuneful, dramatic ballets and symphonies are among the world’s most beloved classical pieces, and every year since the early ’80s, Ravinia’s “Tchaikovsky Spectacular” has ended with a rousing version of the 1812 Overture, complete with live cannons. This summer, for the first time, the ever-popular event occupies a full weekend, July 21–22, with concerts featuring the Chicago Symphony Orchestra and conductor Ken-David Masur. The Violin Concerto—with Miriam Fried, the venerable, 25-year lion of Ravinia’s Steans Music Institute, as soloist—is the centerpiece for July 22, the traditional Sunday concert, and Israeli-born Barnatan is joining the CSO as soloist in the First Piano Concerto.
Imagine for a moment that you’re a jazz pianist/organist. Also imagine that you’ve made a recording, a good part of which is your own material. And while you’re at it, imagine that said recording followed several major public appearances: Apollo Theater in Harlem, Jazz at Lincoln Center, Weill Recital Hall at Carnegie Hall, and even a segment on Ellen (she loved you so much that she gave you a vibraphone!). You also own a music publishing company and have toured abroad, performing in such far-flung places as France, Italy, Morocco, and Japan. Along the way you’ve picked up some major endorsement deals from Yamaha and Hammond.
Because I was a still very young, I chafed at the appropriation of harpsichord music by pianists—especially since I was studying harpsichord—and it seemed rather obvious to me that one ought to perform music on the instrument for which it was composed. This was the bedrock assumption of the “original instrument” school of “authentic” performance practice, which was just beginning to go mainstream at the time and which today dominates the field of Baroque music performance. What I’ve learned since then, however, is that the whole subject is far more complex than it first seemed to me.