Ned Rorem is 90!

Ned Rorem, ninety years young(Photo: Ned Rorem)
Ned Rorem, ninety years young(Photo: Ned Rorem)

Ned Rorem, a Quaker from Chicago out of Richmond, Indiana, he of the exquisite choral music and art songs, he of the sexually explicit published diaries, of some of the best music criticism ever, is tuning 90 on Oct. 23.

Hard to believe. The last time I saw him in person — admittedly a while ago — he looked 35.

A few years ago I asked a mentor of mine for an introduction to Rorem. I was given an address and wrote. Back came a hand written note, thank you, thank you… now go away and leave me alone.

Fair enough.

Rorem’s purely orchestral music is unjustly neglected. There are three symphonies and a piano concerto among them, all worthy of repeated hearings. I suspect their neglect comes from a lack of glamour attached to the genres, which doesn’t jibe with the sophistication of the songs and the pungency of the diaries. Never mind. Go listen to them.

Setting the Score: Essays on Music, is a must for all music lovers. Topics range from Toscanini to the Beatles and Barbara Streisand. Here are a few bon mots: 

On a revival of Samuel Barbe’s Antony and Cleopatra : “The overall sound is hyper romantic, out of Gliere via Elgar and a Hollywood soundtrack”

“Mick Jagger’s inability to revamp plagiarism into personal style because of superficial (even dishonest; he’s a white Englishman) instinct for choice makes his performances bad.”

On Jesus Christ Superstar: “Meanwhile, the oratorio, though not solid nourishment in our time of famine, is welcome as champagne during a drought.”

In his eighties Rorem made a beautiful opera out of Thornton Wilder’s Our Town. He is a master at word-painting in music, as a devotee of Ravel and Poulenc and a protegé (love-hate) of Virgil Thomson must be.  This is my favorite Rorem:

I wish Ned Rorem would bottle whatever it is keeping him so bonny and busy at age 90. For our own rejuvenation, his music is there, and the diaries, witty and appalling all these years later.

Comments