Notes from Maestro Lipari

During this time when we are not presenting live concerts on a regular basis, our music director and conductor, Peter Lipari, will share personal and musical thoughts with you here!

Lin-Manuel Miranda's Music - July 2021

In the past week, I went to the movies and saw In the Heights by Lin-Manuel Miranda. He is the most celebrated young composer of musicals of his generation. He was born in 1980 (I was already in college) and has already won a Pulitzer Prize, two Laurence Olivier Awards, three Tony Awards, three Grammy Awards, an Emmy Award, a MacArthur Fellowship, and a Kennedy Center Honor.

By the way, he also wrote Hamilton!! That musical garnered a ridiculous amount of attention. Ground-breaking in the way only Sondheim and Rodgers & Hammerstein could muster, this composer continues to ride the waves of the best folks in their profession.

In the Heights was totally new to me. My brother and sister, who went with me, knew the show backwards and forwards and saw it several times in live performances. Our reactions were different except that we all loved the film, for different reasons, of course.

Staged works of art affect me like almost no other. I viscerally to respond to drama and suspense, and I am the biggest cry-baby when I'm in front of a Rom-Com or even a documentary about the plight of endangered animals in the wild.

We are living in an exciting time, that's for sure. Musicals are becoming movies as often as anyone who is under the age of 100 can probably remember. It's all great news for our culture and our profession.

Enjoy.

Together Again and Mahler Memories - June 2021

I'm very excited about the concert we will present July 31 at Cantigny Park. I have a special place in my heart for one of these works; the Adagietto from Mahler's Symphony No. 5.

Gustav Mahler has been in my life throughout my career. I've conducted all of his numbered symphonies (except Symphony No. 8, which is aptly nicknamed Symphony of a Thousand because of the forces is takes to perform it!) as well as a number of his smaller-scale works. I lived in England from 1989-2001, following a Rotary International scholarship year and attended many concerts and operas and even rehearsals while living and working in London. I even acted as assistant conductor for a fledgling ensemble called the Mahler Philharmonic. Unfortunately, it never performed a concert, but it was the plan to perform all of Mahler's symphonies in a single year! I look back on that plan with a smile.

One of my exciting Mahler memories included his Symphony No. 2 "The Resurrection." I was attending the rehearsals in February 1989 of the London Philharmonic with Klaus Tennstedt. He was a marvelous conductor and had a passion and reputation for works of Mahler. Tennstedt wasn't always easy to follow, however. In the last movement of that great work, some instruments appear offstage. The Royal Festival Hall in London didn't afford an adequate sight line to its backstage area and during rehearsals the off-stage players continued to miss their entrance because they couldn't hear or see! They tried and failed several times and the Maestro called for a break. Seeing that I had a score in my arms and knowing me from several conversations during my time in London, he asked me what the problem was, and I told him. (The truth would have included how hard it was to follow him even onstage, let alone backstage! But I didn't say that.) He responded in a thick German accent, "Ok, after break we try again a few times and YOU conduct them!" Well, it worked. Not only were the London Philharmonic players unpretentious enough to accept the help and advice of this young American nobody, but they took me for a beer after BOTH performances to show their appreciation! That was a time I won't easily forget. I hope you can join us for our "come-back" concert.

The Imperial March from Start Wars - May 2021

John Williams has composed legendary movie scores, including the music for the Star Wars series. In the video you'll find here, I share my thoughts on The Imperial March, written for Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back. And you can watch Williams himself conducting a performance of that piece, with some very special on-stage guests, here.

The Music of Jack Heggie - May 2021

In April, I turned 60, and although I personally don't like to celebrate my birthday, I have used my April and May posts as an opportunity to examine 1961 and the composers that were born or died in that year.

Jack Heggie is an American composer born in 1961 in West Palm Beach. After several years working in public relations, Heggie was encouraged by the famous opera singer Frederica von Stade to enter a composition competition and he won! As luck would have it (and this usually only happens in the movies), the general director of the San Francisco Opera set up a meeting with Heggie and the librettist and playwright Terrance McNally. The outcome of that meeting became a commission to write a full-length opera (again, this usually only happens in the movies). That collaboration produced Dead Man Walking. It was made into a movie in 1995 and the opera was written in 2000 and based on a book by Sister Helen Prejean. The opera came to Chicago Lyric Opera in November of 2019. As part of Lyric's promotional activities, they presented the cast singing a few excerpts from the opera and a panel discussion that actually included Sister Helen Prejean. It was a fascinating evening and seeing the opera was a real life-changer for me!

If you want to read more about the opera's history, check out this posting under "Early career." If you want to listen to some of the music, which I highly recommend, check this out.

The Music of Percy Grainger - April 2021

In April, I am turning 60, and although I personally don't like to celebrate my birthday, I'm using it as an opportunity to examine 1961 and composers who were born or died that year.

Percy Grainger (1882-1961) was an Australian composer and pianist. He was deeply committed to folk music, particularly from Great Britain. Interestingly, his music was also wildly experimental in many ways. He was very diverse and innovative in all his work. I particularly like his Lincolnshire Posy, which cut a new path in compositional technique. Here is a representative recording of that piece, showing the conductor's score. Listen to how free his form is and how he uses tunes that are easy to listen to and absorb (listen especially to movement V at about 10 minutes). Also notice that he was adamant about not using Italian terms for tempo and articulation; he spoke English and wrote music reflecting that. He also had a unique way to write a score; what you see in the video is not how scores normally look, which is with every instrument or group of instruments on a separate line. Even his choice of key signatures and rhythms is unique and makes his music extremely complicated to put together.

And now for something completely different. Irish Tune from County Derry has a special place in my heart that I can tell you about the next time we see each other. This is a gorgeous piece and I'm sharing two separate, but equally lovely, arrangements made by Grainger: a string orchestra with a couple other folks and a wind band. I have had many memorable conversations with my son, Dominic, about which arrangement is more beautiful and which arrangement we each prefer.

  • String arrangement is here: Maestro Mark Elder is wonderful and a personal friend. Music starts at about 4 minutes, but I would listen to the intro if I were you...it's fascinating.
  • The wind band version is here, and it's equally gorgeous. Enjoy! (You might notice it's in a different key than the string version.)

If you really like what you hear, here is an hour-long YouTube video with a lot of Grainger. Stay safe and I'll share my thoughts about the second composer next month.

Jermaine Stegall interview, Parts 1-3 - January-March 2021

As part of an ongoing series of interviews with contemporary composers and musicians, Maestro Lipari has recorded a three-part interview with acclaimed Hollywood film composer Jermaine Stegall. Born and raised in the Chicago area, wrote the score for the recently released Paramount Pictures movie Coming 2 America, and has composed music for other studios as well, including Warner Brothers, Lionsgate, Lucasfilms, and NBC Universal Television. See Part 1 of the interview here, Part 2 here, and Part 3 here.

Corky Siegel interview, Part 1-3 - January-March 2021

As part of an ongoing series of interviews with contemporary composers and musicians, Maestro Lipari has recorded a three-part interview with Chicago composer, pianist, singer and harmonica player Corky Siegel, who has appeared in concert with the West Suburban Symphony. See Part 1 of the interview here, Part 2 here, and Part 3 here.

Ludwig van Beethoven - December 2020

Beethoven was born in December 1770 in Bonn, Germany, and throughout his 56 years of life wrote music that is widely loved for its passion and beauty. In a short video, Maestro Lipari shares his thoughts about Beethoven and recommends one of his favorite selections for your listening pleasure.

Holiday reflections - December 2020

"Knowing that December is certainly a month of many celebrations, a quick and easy internet search revealed that there are over 100 of them, both sacred and secular! I remember a very early Christmas in my life when I was a child. The anticipation of Santa coming into our home overtook any other feelings I might have had about the importance of the month's celebrations. And even a couple decades ago when my family was young, the myriad tasks and chores that had to happen, so my children could have those same experiences, seemed overwhelming and even at times, inconsequential.

Now for me, however, December is a time typically for reflection; reflection on what important relationships are in my life, reflection on what brings me joy, or even reflection perhaps on my work or my activities, that are making a positive impact on my community and those around me. Here on our website, we've posted several traditional and non-traditional holiday favorites the West Suburban Symphony and I have recorded over the years for your enjoyment. Be well and take care of yourself, more importantly, take care of someone else. We can't wait to perform for you again!"

A spirit of gratitude - November 2020

"November brings us two opportunities to show gratitude: Veterans Day and Thanksgiving Day. In the spirit of gratitude, I want to share with you some of the things music has brought me. Throughout my life, music has been the reason why I have friends, the reason that draws me to people, the catalyst to find new friends, and the most important reason why I keep friends. I found my soulmate because of music, and our children all have it as a foundation of the careers they are building. For this, I am grateful.

Music is my day job, my night job, my hobby and my obsession. Music is our international language. It doesn't care about our politics (isn't that a relief!), our religion, or our day job. We can discuss our favorite pieces, or composers, or genres without having to be defensive about safeguarding our opinions. For this, I am grateful.

I began life on the podium in my first year of high school. I was Music Director of a show my first year of high school. People trusted me (for better or worse!) which I now find amazing. For this, I am grateful. The first piece I ever conducted was the final movement of Antonin Dvorak's New World Symphony (sorry, it was a band arrangement as we didn't have an orchestra at my school!). I'll never forget that concert. The West Suburban Symphony has played this work in three seasons. Here is one of my favorite renditions, in fact the actual recording I studied as a boy! It's performed by Herbert von Karajan and the Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra."

Musical flavors of the month - October 2020

"Almost every month has a 'musical flavor' to it. Easy examples might be holiday music in December, or patriotic music in July, or even a piece like Beethoven's Pastoral Symphony in the springtime. October and Halloween bring with them many classical and non-classical musical representations. Here are a couple of examples that the West Suburban Symphony has performed from Berlioz's Symphonie fantastique. Since we don't record everything we perform, these excerpts from Berlioz's work are led by my mentor, Leonard Bernstein: March to the Scaffold and Dream of a Witches' Sabbath. When I was young, Disney's 1940 film Fantasia and the wonderful choices of music turned Halloween into a veritable musical carnival! For even more personal listening, here's a link with the West Suburban Symphony playing some Halloween music under my direction."

How Peter Lipari came to be a conductor - October 2020

Hear his personal account, in this short video.