These works are chamber music, essentially. Works for instrumentalist(s) and actor(s) in which sound, music and spoken word, are traded back and forth, parried, argued about, agreed upon, an expanded dialogue of word-music, music-word, a something new, vibrant, singular.

A Beautiful Deception (Erik Satie)
Eric-Satie-120x120Audiences simply cannot believe that I have not made up the script. I have not! One cannot improve upon Monsieur Satie and anyone who dares must leave the hall! This most idiosyncratic of French artists will not be improved upon. One who eats only white foods, creates his own church with a thousand functionaries (Satie being the sole congregant), who rises at 7:18 a.m., is inspired from 10:13 to 11:47 a.m. and retires at exactly 10:37, who writes his own reviews (who else?)… Read more

A Rare Pattern
Margot-Kidder-90x90A Rare Pattern opens as our unnamed heroine enrolls in Vassar College in the 1920s and follows her life for the next 20 years, through World War II. She experiences a mental collapse during her time at Vassar, an artistic and spiritual crisis, and is compelled to speak her mind solely through the thoughts and ideas of the leading female writers and thinkers of her day, including such luminaries as Hannah Arendt, Jane Austen… Read more

A Second Glance (Harriet Beecher Stowe & Clara Schumann)

A Stopped Clock: From Brahms to Bloomsbury (Dame Ethel Smyth)

Après un Rêve (Nadia and Lili Boulanger)

Beloved Brahms (Eduard Hanslick)
Eduard-Hanslick-90x90The work was originally titled Entelechy, a Greek word meaning completed realization. I was in love with the title, but a Connecticut theater executive director chastised me: What the heck is the piece about? Get the name of the composer or performer in the title, he went on. Well, he was right, and I’ve pretty much done this since but I do use the word entelechy in the script. So there… Read more

Confidentially, Chaikovski ( Chaikovski and Nadejda von Meck)
Young-Chaikovski-90x90Nadejda von Meck was a wealthy widow of 45 when she first encountered Chaikovski’s music. Overwhelmed by the beauty of what she heard, she decided to use part of her large fortune—the greatest fortune in all Russia—to support the composer, age 36. By mutual agreement the pair never met, though they occasionally made eye contact at concerts or at the opera house. Von Meck thought a face-to-face with her “artist/man” would only diminish her in his eyes… Read more

Copland & Me (Virgil Thomson)
Virgil-Thomson-90x90The year 2000 was a bonanza for Aaron Copland devotees with performances, festivals, symposia galore, all celebrating the dean of American composers. There is nothing like a centennial to make the musical establishment go crazy. I had been requested by several organizations to create a Copland work but felt uncomfortable portraying Copland as Copland. It would be caricature, and besides, I most often get inside a character by recollections or parallel remembrances of someone close by. Virgil Thomson fit the bill perfectly… Read more

Dvorak’s New World (Harry Burleigh)
Harry-Burleigh-90x90Anyone who’s ever experienced an American spiritual has Harry Burleigh to thank. No, he did not compose any, for as he stated, “The spirituals were never ‘composed,’ but sprang into life, ready made, from the white heat of religious fervor during some protracted meeting in camp or church.” What Harry Burleigh did was to capture them on paper, and, in deceptively simple but elegant realizations, hand to the world America’s true folk songs… Read more

Go Ask the Little Horned Toad (Maynard Dixon)

Love Letters: Beethoven to Bernstein
Leonard-Bernstein-90x90Ms. Harris, Curator of Musical Letters at the Library of Congress, has her last assignment before retirement: Select a dozen or so of her favorite letters from the million plus in the collection for display in the lobby of the Coolidge Auditorium prior to the famed Friday-night performance series. She’s agonized over her final choices and invites musician friends over to the Coolidge to see their reaction. To her surprise, they’ve come prepared to play appropriate music coupled with the letters to cheer her up with her life’s work at end… Read more

Magdalena Bach’s Will (Anna Magdalena Bach)
Mazurka (Chopin/August Franchomme)
Nevermore: Dreams the Only Reality (Poe and Debussy)

Pardon My English (Ira Gershwin)
Ira-Gershwin-90x90Jim Sinclair, founder and music director of Orchestra New England, and I fussed over several ideas for a proposed theatrical portrait. If memory serves we went through quite a list of composers before Gershwin surfaced. “Yes, he’s our man,” Jim offered up. I concurred, both of us thinking at that point of George, I am sure. As I began to do the research, it was apparent that brother Ira need be the proper Gershwin to tell the tale… Read more

Patience for the Harvest (Jenny Lind and Emily Dickinson)
Remembering Amy (Amy Beach)
Schubert Shadows (Johann Vogl)

Sister-in-Law Beethoven (Johanna van Beethoven)
Nephew-Karl-90x90Before Beethoven’s corpse was yet cold, several of his well-meaning or self-serving friends and confidants removed a dozen conversation books from the composer’s apartment. These confiscated conversation books, writing pads that the deaf Beethoven wrote in to communicate, contained insane ramblings about his sister-in-law and her son, Karl. In 1815, Ludwig’s brother Caspar Carl died at the age of 41… Read more

Sister Mendelssohn (Fanny Mendelssohn Hensel)
Sister Mozart (Nannerl Mozart)
Sisters of the Garden (Sisters Boulanger and Sisters Mendelssohn)
Song Without Words (Paul Mendelssohn)
Suite Success, Unanswered Question (Charles Ives)
Vivaldi’s Four Seasons

The Theatrical Portraits are nearly all monodramas, personal stories of celebrated artists or those who knew them intimately; brought to life in a mix of theater, music, and in some instances visual imagery. These narratives are crafted from original letters, memoirs and biographies. They have had the great fortune of being taken up by many of the finest actors and musicians at work.

Special thanks to the superb biographers, some of them who have become my friends, and most all who sincerely enjoy having their Ives, their Amy Beach, their Maynard Dixon, alive on stage. And, let’s not of course forget the artists’ art, the reason for our collective efforts.