About this Recording
8.573490 - Piano and Orchestral Works - SEDAKA, N. / EMERSON, K. / ELLINGTON, D. (Manhattan Intermezzo) (Biegel, Brown University Orchestra, P. Phillips)

Manhattan Intermezzo
American and British Works for Piano and Orchestra


This is a recording of rediscovery. As the title indicates, all four works on this recording share a connection with New York City. The works by Neil Sedaka and Keith Emerson have each been recorded only once before, with the composer at the keyboard. This is the second recording of Duke Ellington’s New World a-Comin’ as arranged and recorded by Maurice Peress with pianist Sir Roland Hanna and the American Composers Orchestra in 1988. Rhapsody in Blue, which has been recorded countless times, is reinterpreted on this recording by Jeffrey Biegel in a way that brings a strikingly new perspective to a familiar masterpiece.

Neil Sedaka (b. 1939) Manhattan Intermezzo

Neil Sedaka was born in the Brighton Beach section of Brooklyn, New York, on 13 March 1939. Trained in his early years to be a classical pianist, as a teenage virtuoso he was selected by Arthur Rubinstein to play on WQXR, New York’s leading classical music station. By the age of thirteen Sedaka had also begun writing songs, setting lyrics by his high school friend Howard Greenfield, who remained his lyricist until 1972. Sedaka and Greenfield were original creators of the “Brill Building” sound in the late 1950s and early ’60s, when they were the first to sign with Don Kirshner and Al Nevins at Aldon Music, which went on to sign Neil Diamond, Carole King and Paul Simon. In 1958, Sedaka and Greenfield had their first major songwriting success with Stupid Cupid, which Connie Francis recorded. Early hits included The Diary, I Go Ape, and Oh! Carol in 1959; Stairway To Heaven in 1960; and, in 1961, Calendar Girl, Little Devil, Happy Birthday Sweet Sixteen, and Where the Boys Are, which Connie Francis sang in the hit teen movie of the same title. In 1962, Breaking Up is Hard to Do, which became Sedaka’s signature song, was his first song to reach No. 1 in the charts, with Next Door to an Angel climbing to No. 5 that year. Beyond the US and UK, he also enjoyed great success in Italy, Latin America, Japan and Australia. The arrival of The Beatles and the British Invasion caused a temporary decline in Sedaka’s career from the mid-1960s until the mid-1970s, when Sir Elton John signed him to Rocket Records, which led to the No. 1 hits Laughter In the Rain and Bad Blood, and a revival that has lasted ever since. To celebrate the 50th anniversary of Sedaka’s show business début, a Lincoln Center concert in October 2007 emceed by David Foster featured Connie Francis, Natalie Cole, The Captain and Tennille, and Clay Aiken. During his long career, Sedaka has also had close associations with Elvis Presley, Frank Sinatra, Carole Bayer Sager, The Carpenters, and many other pop stars.

Manhattan Intermezzo, composed by Neil Sedaka in 2008 (with orchestration by Lee Holdridge) is, in the composer’s words, “a journey through the musical diversity of Manhattan. As a lifelong New Yorker, I wanted the audience to feel the spirit of the city, exploring its melting pot of nationalities. I tried to incorporate the sounds of the city where I was born: Latin, Asian, Russian, Broadway, and the New York of today and yesterday. Having studied at The Juilliard School of Music in New York, I was exposed to and inspired by many different composers. I wanted to write something that was clearly American in style and feel, but still keep it distinctively Neil Sedaka. Writing pop songs is one thing. But composing a serious piece gave me much more creative freedom. I am very proud of this work.”

Sedaka’s recording of Manhattan Intermezzo, made with the London Philharmonic Orchestra at Air Studios in London, is the final track on The Real Neil, an album released in 2012. On this new recording, pianist Jeffrey Biegel, with the composer’s approval, plays his own embellished version of the piano part.

“What a wonderful recording of Manhattan Intermezzo, with a virtuoso performance by Jeffrey Biegel. The orchestra is magnificent. This is a real feather in my cap!” – Neil Sedaka (June 2015)

Keith Emerson (b. 1944): Piano Concerto No. 1

British keyboardist and composer Keith Emerson was born in the UK in Todmorden, Yorkshire, on 2 November 1944, and raised in the seaside resort of Worthing, West Sussex. With the foundation of the classical piano training he received as a child, Emerson created a personal style that combines classical music, jazz and rock. Renowned as one of the premier progressive rock keyboardists, Emerson performed extensively on the Hammond organ starting in the late 1960s, and in 1969 became one of the first musicians to perform live on the Moog synthesizer, which he incorporated into his concerts with The Nice and, later, Emerson Lake & Palmer, the supergroup he co-founded in 1970.

In 1971, Emerson moved his family to Sussex, England, and bought a 9-foot Steinway concert grand piano that he installed in a barn studio next to the family’s main house. In his words, “There I would sit and write. Surrounded by nature and away from the madness of touring I wrote a bunch of piano sonatas, which slowly combined to form a Piano Concerto.” Before the Concerto was finished, Emerson’s Sussex home caught fire due to faulty wiring. “The last movement was written in the only anguish and hopelessness that anyone would feel when the family home just about survived an enormous fire. I was away from home when this happened and so was my family. But, the surrounding neighbours inspired comfort to rebuild and I constructed the final movement and the house.”

In the mid-1970s, Emerson Lake & Palmer temporarily split up to give each band member the opportunity to pursue individual projects. When it came time for ELP to come back together for their next album, the band members agreed that each would be given a full side of an LP for his own work, with the fourth side of this double album featuring ELP together. The first side of Works Volume 1, as the album was titled, consists solely of Piano Concerto No. 1, a three-movement work that Emerson composed and orchestrated, with John Mayer receiving co-credit as orchestrator. Emerson (as soloist) and Mayer (conducting the London Philharmonic Orchestra) recorded the work in 1977 and performed it later that year in Montreal and in New York’s Madison Square Garden. After the recording was released in 1977 and he had performed the Concerto worldwide, Emerson was able to reflect on the experience, despite the fire, in a positive way: “The magnificent creature on three legs had survived. My Piano Concerto was triumphantly recorded by myself both in studio and live, and premièred around the world.”

Beginning with a skittering 12-tone passage for woodwinds and strings, the first movement (Allegro giojoso) proceeds through a series of contrasting tempi and moods. Along the way, a tonal version of the 12-tone theme emerges, preserving the same melodic contour as the original theme while much more consonant. A return of the 12-tone row, now cantabile and twice as slow, leads to a jig followed by an expansive, espressivo section (Maestoso) marked “con amore, legato”. A grandioso cadenza for the piano soloist leads to a brief coda, based on the tonal version of the 12-tone theme, which concludes decisively in E flat major. The second movement (Andante molto cantabile) is a sprightly miniature in C major lasting less than two and a half minutes. A contrasting middle section in F minor, where the piano solo is accompanied only by a contrabassoon and single double bass, leads to a return of the delicate opening theme in the tonic key. Emerson’s fury about the blaze at his home is reflected in the third movement, Toccata con fuoco (literally, fiery toccata). Beginning with an extremely fast and loud bass line in B flat minor in the solo piano, the finale is mostly dominated by jagged rhythms and spiky percussive accents, with the exception of the brief respite of a short rhapsodic passage approximately midway through the movement, and a majestic theme in 3/4 that brings the finale to a close, in F major, in grand fashion.

Upon being introduced to the Concerto in 2001 by Daniel Dorff of the Theodore Presser Company, which publishes the Concerto, Jeffrey Biegel became a strong advocate of the work, performing it with orchestras throughout the US. Upon hearing it for the first time, he was astonished: “What I listened to amazed me, for its rhythmic vitality, melodic invention and overall appeal. I decided then to take it under my wing and perform it as often as possible. The result of all of this has become a very special friendship with the man behind the music, Mr Keith Emerson. I am deeply grateful to him for allowing me to take his music and bring it to many audiences and to allow this recording to happen.”

“Namely it is Jeffrey Biegel who has captured the beauty of nature and desolation of it all here with a sense of optimism in the final triumphant movement. This is a fantastic recording!” – Keith Emerson (July 2015)

Duke Ellington (1899–1974): New World a-Comin’

In 1943 the African-American journalist Vincent Lushington “Roi” Ottley (1906–1960) published New World A-Coming: Inside Black America, the first of his six books, in which he envisioned improved conditions for blacks in postwar America: “…a new world is a-coming with the sweep and fury of the Resurrection.” In his 1973 autobiography Music Is My Mistress, Edward Kennedy “Duke” Ellington (born 29 April 1899, Washington, D.C.; died 24 May 1974, New York) explains that he composed New World a-Comin’ in 1943 during his band’s four-week engagement in New York “at the Capitol on Fifty-first and Broadway with Lena Horne as co-star…The title was suggested by Roi Ottley’s best-selling book of the same name…It was premièred at Carnegie Hall on 11 December 1943…I visualized this new world as a place in the distant future, where there would be no war, no greed, no categorization, no non-believers, where love was unconditional, and no pronoun was good enough for God. Later, the work was orchestrated for performance by the symphony, and I always remember that even Don Shirley, a pianist with prodigious technique, had trouble with a ragtime ‘lick’ for the left hand.”

At the première, Ellington performed New World a-Comin’ as piano soloist with his fifteen-piece band. In the 1960s, it was revived in an arrangement for piano solo and symphony orchestra that departed considerably from the original version. In spring 1983, Duke Ellington’s son Mercer asked Maurice Peress to reconstruct the original version for piano solo and jazz band. Since Duke Ellington had never written down the piano part, and the 1943 and 1960s scores and parts were lost, Peress worked entirely from a recording of the 1943 Carnegie Hall concert, producing an edition that was performed in the summer of 1983 at the Kool Jazz Festival. Subsequently, Peress expanded the arrangement for full symphony orchestra, precisely following the jazz band arrangement and including his written-out version of Ellington’s solo piano part as played at the première. On the recording that Peress conducted in 1988 with the American Composers Orchestra and Sir Roland Hanna as piano soloist, Hanna improvised the final cadenza. Jeffrey Biegel transcribed Hanna’s cadenza from that recording and, with special permission from Sir Roland Hanna, recreates that cadenza on this recording.

“Beautiful playing…the orchestra as well.” – Maurice Peress (June 2015)

George Gershwin (1898–1937): Rhapsody in Blue

Ever since its première on 12 February 1924 at Aeolian Hall by Paul Whiteman and his Palais Royal Orchestra, George Gershwin’s Rhapsody in Blue has represented the quintessential musical style of New York City in the Roaring Twenties. Despite its familiarity, the original version of Rhapsody in Blue has rarely been heard. When the editors at Harms Publishing Company prepared the Rhapsody for publication, they deleted more than fifty measures in the piano solo part and several bars of orchestral material. According to pianist and music scholar Alicia Zizzo, Gershwin did not direct these changes to the score, and consistently performed it as he had originally composed it. In this performance, Jeffrey Biegel performs the complete Rhapsody in Blue solo part as prepared by Dr Zizzo, whose restored edition of the original manuscript was published in 1996.

Paul Phillips

Close the window