Billboard, July 31, 2004

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Words & Music:

Maestro Costello - Artist Debuts First Orchestral Work

Jim Bessman

A highlight of this summer's Lincoln Center Festival was the series in which Elvis Costello performed three concerts in three nights in July at Avery Fisher Hall, each in a distinct musical environment.

The first was an evening of songs orchestrated for the Netherlands' Metropole Orkest, followed by a night fronting his rock band, the Imposters.

The final performance was the July 17 North American premiere of "Il Sogno (The Dream)," Costello's first full-length orchestral work. It employed the Brooklyn Philharmonic in the adaptation of "A Midsummer Night's Dream" that Italy's Aterballeto ballet company commissioned in 2000.

A recording of the hour-long score by the London Symphony Orchestra will be released Sept. 21 by Deutsche Grammophon. But the music is also available for choreography and concerts (the full score and the concert suite excerpt performed at Lincoln Center) from Boosey & Hawkes, the North American representative of the classical music catalogs of BMG Music Publishing U.K.

"Elvis's [pop] songs are published by BMG Music Publishing [worldwide], but because this is a new type of composition for him, we needed to find a new avenue for promotion," says Mary Madigan, who manages BMG Editions for Boosey & Hawkes in New York.

BMG Editions houses BMG Music Publishing's classical music catalogs (including those of prestigious European publishing houses Ricordi, Durand, Salabert, Eschig and Editio Musica Budapest).

It's Madigan's role to promote BMG Editions repertoire to orchestras, chamber ensembles, opera companies, dance companies and choreographers, as well as festivals such as Lincoln Center's.

" Il Sogno is interesting in terms of the [pop to classical] crossover aspect of Elvis Costello, and in a reverse sort of way for us in the classical world working with an artist from the pop side," Madigan says. "But obviously, we're excited and proud to represent such a talented and intelligent musician as Elvis Costello."

Madigan promoted Costello's ballet at the annual American Symphony Orchestra League conference, which was held last month in Pittsburgh.

"It was a mega-conference, with conferences of orchestras, choruses, dance companies and music critics converging all at once," she says. "We did a press conference and gave out samplers with three selections from 'Il Sogno.' We also cited them in the newsletter that we distribute to 13,000 programmers, critics, etc. While that's something we customarily do, it's new for Elvis Costello."

Madigan now seeks other "good matches" in pairing Costello's piece with appropriate ensembles and "performance opportunities in both the orchestral and dance worlds."

"Il Sogno" is special in that Costello composed and "skillfully orchestrated" it, Madigan adds. "That's not always the case with a pop artist who steps into writing for an orchestra to do his own orchestration.

"Also notable is Elvis' choice of instruments, which besides the standard orchestra calls for a number of saxophones, a drum kit in addition to orchestral percussion instruments, and a cimbalom, which is a Hungarian dulcimer that Hungarian composer György Kurtag uses regularly. So it's not just 'cookie-cutter' orchestration."

Nor is Costello's first foray into the orchestral world a far cry from his pop tunesmithing, Madigan claims.

"The score has a spirit and playfulness in common with his pop music that might not have been expected," she says. "It's very tuneful, with jazz elements and kinetic energy. You definitely feel the impulse to tap your toes-which you feel when you hear his other music."

And while the ballet score is "serious" music, Madigan adds, it lacks a "self-serious tone."

"It's not the product of an inflated ego trying to create something grandiose in another genre, as if you're trying to prove something," she explains. Rather, "it's an extension of the kind of writing he normally does, but in a different color that an orchestra can provide in expressing his compositional voice."

"Il Sogno" now stands to enjoy a dual existence, Madigan predicts.

"It will always be connected to Elvis because it's his creation, but at the same time it will be re-created and given new life with each dance company's new choreography or performing ensemble's new interpretation," she says.

"Whereas with the songs he writes and sings, you always expect to hear him singing them: Even though there are lots of fantastic Elvis Costello covers, it's hard to separate the songs from the man. You wouldn't separate the man from his score, either, but 'Il Sogno' has the potential for a different kind of life."

SINATRAS NEW SET: Elvis Costello's longtime drummer Pete Thomas rushed to Milwaukee after the July 15 Costello concert starring the Imposters. Turns out he has been moonlighting with Nancy Sinatra's band leading into the Sept. 21 release of her Sanctuary album "To Nancy, With Love . . .," which finds the luminous pop icon singing songs by the likes of U2, Pete Vorn and Morrissey, who penned the first single, "Let Me Kiss You," and sings backup on it.

"Morrissey really did her a big favor," says Thomas, who is also on the album and accompanied Sinatra on a recent U.K. jaunt including a Morrissey-sponsored June 20 gig at the Meltdown Festival at Royal Festival Hall.

"It was absolutely great," Thomas says. "All she ever did in England was a TV show 38 years ago, but all sorts of celebrities came out to see her and gave her a five-minute standing ovation when she walked out. She was in tears."

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Billboard, July 31, 2004,

Jim Bessman reports on performances and the recording of Il Sogno.


2004-07-31 Billboard page 42.jpg
Page scan.

2004-07-31 Billboard photo.jpg
Photo credit: Jeffrey Herman


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