Composer Ned Rorem was born on October 23, 1923. With all the attention that has been lavished on the double bicentennial of the births of Richard Wagner (May 22) and Giuseppe Verdi (October 10), not to mention the centennial of the birth of Benjamin Britten (November 22), there is some risk that Rorem may be unduly overlooked. Indeed, here in my home town of San Francisco, I have had sorrowfully few opportunities to write about performances of his music, particularly his art songs that had been so significant in establishing his reputation.
To be fair, however, there has recently been a “new group in town” that has brought Rorem into the “great tent” of the repertoire they have prepared out of a sense of personal pleasure. The group is a duo that calls itself One Great City, and they are very much out of the ordinary without ever being provocatively so. Both of them, Timothy Sherren and Alexandra Iranfar, play guitar; but Iranfar also sings, sometimes while also playing guitar. As might be guessed, most of the recital material involves arrangements, most of which have been prepared by Sherren.
One of the highlights of their debut recital, which took place last November, involved Iranfar singing five of Rorem’s songs to Sherren’s arrangements of Rorem’s original piano accompaniment. One of these was actually Rorem’s own arrangement of Stephen Foster’s “Jeanie with the Light Brown Hair.” The others were “For Susan,” “Love,” “I Am Rose,” and “Alleluia.” Later this month, on Friday, October 25, One Great City will make their debut with Old First Concerts, one of the most established and impressive series of chamber music performances in San Francisco; and they plan to revisit these Rorem songs on a date that will be exactly two days after his birthday.
Other events that will be held in recognition of the occasion include the following:
- The Institute for New Music, which is part of Northwestern University’s Bienen School of Music, will be performing Rorem’s music at concerts on October 10 and 11.
- On October 17 there will be a commemoration honoring Rorem at the third annual Art Song Symposium at Texas State University.
- The Curtis Institute of Music will celebrate Rorem’s birthday with two performances of Evidence of Things Not Seen on that specific date.
- A full recital of Rorem’s songs will be given by Phillip Cheah and Trudy Chan on November 1 at the Church of St. Luke in the Fields in New York.
- On November 5 the New York Festival of Song will present the program Ned is Ninety, which will include works by not only Rorem but also other composers who were his colleagues and friends.