Robert Kapilow: What Makes It Great? The Music of Stephen Sondheim
“Robert Kapilow: Clear
Thinking About Mixed Sondheim
"What I want most of all, By Glen Creason
Time flies when you are learning while being entertained and Robert Kapilow’s series “What Makes It Great” in its thirteenth year at the
Kapilow said it and it is hard to deny that Sondheim stands high above his contemporaries for memorable compositions and risk taking shows that have left an indelible mark on this wonderful American art form. Not since Richard Rogers and Oscar Hammerstein has the musical stage had such a treasure of songs as have flowed from the pen of Sondheim. It is a tribute to Kapilow’s skills that he is able to demonstrate this great genius by using just a few songs out of the hundreds that date back to “A Funny Thing Happened to on the Way to the Forum” in 1962 to “Road Show” in 2009. This Kapilow master class was probably inspired by the fascinating, recently published memoir “Finishing the Hat” that was explained with piano and voice on this night.
The beauty of any Kapilow show is his empathy for the composers and insight into the process of creating the structures of musical art. On this evening he started with the most well-known of all Sondheim songs “Send in the Clowns” from “A Little Night Music” which is full of a sort of trademark longing and lack of resolution. Kapilow shows how the song is antithetical to the standard approach seen in almost all previous musical song writing. The quote from the poet W.H. Auden sums up the genius accomplishments of such songs as “clear thinking about mixed feelings.” After explanations the song was performed exquisitely by soprano Sally Wilfert whereupon you could have heard a tiny pin drop in the big hall.
The second song was “Finishing the Hat” from “Sunday in the Park with George” that won Sondheim a Pulitzer. Once again we find subtlety and ambiguity that put edges of emotion on the lyrics. Another wonderful singer Michael Winther put a shine on this twenty-six year old lovely by just singing it as written. “Too Many Mornings” from “Follies” is an absolute heartbreaker as the lady Sally longs for “what might have been” and even “the selective memory of nostalgia” cannot bring back to life. The final piano punctuation by Kapilow after Miss Wilfert’s silken solo sent serious goose bumps from the orchestra to the back row.
The last song showed the versatility of Sondheim with a light-hearted romp from “Company” called “Getting Married Today” that while comedic was packed with wisdom.