Barney Frank’s Philly jazz show gets a thumbs-up on the hep-cat meter

October 8, 2017
by David Patrick Stearns, Music Critic
Philadelphia Inquirer
Full Article

Photo: Sharon Torello

The coincidence couldn’t have been planned.

Outfest 2017 was throbbing away on 12th Street on Sunday afternoon while retired Congressman Barney Frank, whose work helped bring public LGBT activities into the mainstream, was a few blocks away at the Kimmel Center, having been tapped as an unconventional narrator for an offbeat piece of jazz/orchestra music, Gunther Schuller’s Journey Into Jazz.

The occasion was a concert by Chamber Orchestra First Editions, whose mission is both modern music and early Mozart, cheek by jowl, founded and directed by James Freeman. Both Freeman and Frank were classmates at Harvard, and while looking for a narrator for Schuller, Freeman speculated that Frank might have the time available after retiring from about four decades of public life in the Democratic Party. And there he was on the Perelman Theater stage for the third in a series of Philadelphia-area concerts.

The Sunday performance was a success. Schuller’s piece tells the story of a misfit kid trumpeter who evolves into a jazz Jedi, accompanied by a symphonic jazz panorama that felt so fresh you’d never guess the piece was written in 1962. The piece benefited by the gravel that Frank’s voice has acquired over the years, and his bluff, no-nonsense manner plus regional accent (New Jersey) assured that the story would never lapse into sentimentality.

But, at age 77, does Frank have a new career path? Nah. Though he seems perfectly at home in front of an audience, he isn’t a performer, but a get-down-to-business guy who probably is not about to master a more artificial style of presentation. And would we want him to? He is who he is, and has basically lived the message of Schuller’s Journey Into Jazz, which is “be yourself.”

As a companion piece to Schuller, Gabriel Globus-Hoenich’s Shattered Stones, a work for jazz quintet and string orchestra commissioned for the concert, arrives in an era when jazz-symphonic synthesis is no longer rocket science. This piece favored the jazz quintet over the orchestra — fine! — and succeeded as much on the charisma of the performers as the music itself.

Mozart would seem to be an incongruous presence here, but was wisely positioned at the top of the concert (Piano Concerto No. 12, K. 414) and at the end (Symphony No. 29 K. 201). The concerto went well enough with Swarthmore faculty member Andrew Hauze and First Editions associate conductor Heidi Jacob, though Hauze’s piano technique isn’t refined enough to make every note count in Mozart. Also, the middle movement’s unusually slow tempo enlarged the expressive playing field in ways the performers didn’t justify.

The symphony was quite a different story. Though his public life has been mainly with modern music, Freeman is hugely passionate about Mozart in general and this symphony in particular, projecting a ruggedly dramatic point of view and a sound world that’s distinctive to this piece. Whatever his tempo choices, they came off as electric. He also drew from his players a level of playing and exterior polish that I wish the higher-profile Chamber Orchestra of Philadelphia could achieve in this repertoire.

PREVIEW: Barney Frank Narrates “Journey Into Jazz” Performances This Weekend in Philadelphia

Photo: Sharon Torello

WRTI, Susan Luis
Complete Article

Former Congressman Barney Frank will be on stage at Chamber Orchestra FIRST EDITIONS concerts in Swarthmore, Haverford, and Center City on October 6, 7, and 8 to narrate a classic 1962 work in the style of Prokofiev’s Peter and the Wolf, but with a jazz twist.

Gunther Schuller’s Journey Into Jazz explores one boy’s journey from classical music to jazz. WRTI’s Susan Lewis talked with Frank about his surprising role in this production, and the parallels between music and politics.

Chamber Orchestra FIRST EDITIONS kicks off its third season with a program exploring the synthesis of classical music and jazz—called “third stream music”—with performances of Schuller’s 1962 classic Journey into Jazz, and the premiere of a composition for jazz quintet and string orchestra by drummer Gabriel Globus-Hoenich. Also on the program, early works of W.A. Mozart, including the Piano Concerto No. 12 with pianist Andrew Hauze and Symphony No. 29, written at age 18. A half-hour discussion with Rep. Frank and the musicians will precede each concert. Details here.

From Politics to Music: How Barney Frank was drawn to this role.

In 1936, Prokofiev wrote an orchestral work for narrator and orchestra with musical depictions of fairy tale characters that engaged generations of listeners, including retired Congressman Barney Frank, who served 16 terms in the U.S. House of Representatives.

“One of my favorite pieces when I was .. I don’t know, we’re talking maybe 70 years ago – the narration of Peter and the Wolf …When I was a little boy, I knew what sinister meant, and what happy meant …. It brings back very happy memories for me.”

Barney Frank with WRTI’s Susan Lewis.
Now, another composition, in a similar style, combining narration with music has drawn Frank into a new role. In concerts this weekend by Chamber Orchestra FIRST EDITIONS, he narrates Gunther Schuller’s Journey into Jazz. It’s a work for orchestra, jazz quintet, solo trumpet and narrator.

Together, they tell the story of Edwin Jackson, a boy who loves music and learns to play classical trumpet. Then he discovers a group of boys playing jazz in a house down the street. He desperately wants to play with them but has to learn what jazz is.

“This is very much an interactive piece in terms of the musicians relating to each other. I grew up in the ’40s and ’50s, jazz was very much a part of the scene. It’s a story that talks about people interacting and somebody learning.”

In his government career, Frank delivered hundreds of speeches. He says politics and music have common communication goals:

“Whether you’re an artist or a politician, you want to change the world in some way. So part of your job is to take your conception, your idea, your goal, and without sacrificing your integrity, think about, all how do I maximize the chance that this is going to have the impact I want on my audience, and that’s the commonality.”

“But whatever you’re trying to get across, whether it’s a public policy change, a philosophical viewpoint, a view of human nature in a novel, a conception that’s embodied in a musical piece, your job—if you’re really trying to have an impact—is to shape it in a way that will reach an audience.”

Barney Frank began his career in politics as assistant to the Mayor of Boston. In 1980, he was elected to the US House of Representatives. He retired in 2013. He’s written two books, Speaking Frankly in 1992, and his 2015 memoir, Frank: From the Great Society to Same Sex Marriage.

PREVIEW: Coming up in Philly music: Mozart, jazz, and Barney Frank

Broad Street Review, Tom Purdom
Full ArticleCan a long career in the United States Congress prepare you for a narration gig in a jazz piece? Former congressman Barney Frank will be the narrator when Chamber Orchestra FIRST EDITIONS presents a modern classic, Gunther Schiller’s 1962 “Journey into Jazz.”

Chamber Orchestra FIRST EDITIONS is the latest brainchild of James Freeman, the founding director of Philadelphia’s modern music organization, Orchestra 2001. Every FIRST EDITIONS concert combines modern works with pieces from Mozart’s earlier years. For the kickoff for the group’s third season, Freeman and associate conductor Heidi Jacobs will explore the melding of classical music and jazz. The other modern item on the card will be the premiere of a piece for jazz quintet and string orchestra by drummer Gabriel Globus-Hoenich. Mozart will contribute his second piano concerto, with pianist Andrew Hauze as soloist, and his Symphony No. 29, which he wrote when he was 18. Frank and the musicians will engage in a half-hour discussion before each performance.

Chamber Orchestra FIRST EDITIONS will present Journey from Mozart to Jazz on October 6 at 8pm at Swarthmore College’s Lang Concert Hall; October 7 at 3pm at Haverford College’s Marshall Auditorium; and October 8 at 3pm at the Kimmel’s Perelman Theater. The two college performances are free. Tickets for the Perelman Theater performance are $25 ($20 for seniors and $10 for students) and they’re available online, by calling 215-893-1999, and at the door.

08/14/2017 PREVIEW: Move over Yo-Yo Ma: Barney Frank to front First Editions concert in October

Philadelphia Inquirer, David Patrick Stearns – Full Preview

U.S. Rep. Barney Frank, D-Mass., addresses an audience during Harvard Class Day exercises on the campus of Harvard University, in Cambridge, Mass., Wednesday, May 23, 2012. The event is part of the school’s commencement ceremonies. (AP Photo/Steven Senne)

“Who’d have thought that retired congressman Barney Frank and longtime Philadelphia orchestra conductor James Freeman would take a journey into jazz? Together?

Freeman’s Chamber Orchestra First Editions, which is beginning its third season, announced Monday that Frank will narrate the Gunther Schuller piece Journey into Jazz for three performances Oct. 6-8 at venues in and around Philadelphia.

“Having just ended one career,” Frank said in a statement, “I am happy to make my debut in another branch of public performance — although this one probably won’t last 45 years.”

Frank and Freeman are old friends from their years as Harvard University students. Frank was a member of the U.S. House of Representatives (D., Mass.) from 1981 to 2013. In 1987, he became the first openly gay member of Congress. Freeman had further studies at Tanglewood, and Vienna’s Akademie für Musik, and became professor of music at Swarthmore. He is now professor emeritus.

The piece Frank will narrate, Journey into Jazz, was written by Schuller in 1962, much in the spirit of narrated orchestral works such as Peter and the Wolf, but with music that’s often called “third stream” — an integrated fusion of jazz and classical. Journey into Jazz tells the story of Eddie, a kid who barricades himself in his room, listening to jazz recordings and who eventually joins a group of jazz musicians in a nearby basement.

The program is not out of character for Freeman, who for decades championed a wide range of modern music as conductor/founder of Orchestra 2001. The mandate of First Editions is pairing early Mozart pieces with modern works, which in this concert will also include Gabriel Globus-Hoenich’s newly commissioned work for jazz quintet and a string orchestra. The Mozart works include Piano Concerto No. 12 with soloist Andrew Hauze and Symphony No. 29.

The concerts take place Oct. 6 at Lang Concert Hall in Swarthmore, Oct. 7 at Roberts Hall at Haverford College, and Oct. 8 at the Kimmel Center’s Perelman Theater. The first two concerts are free. The Kimmel Center concert requires tickets…”

February 19, 2017 Review: The Sparkling Flute of Mimi Stillman plus Three Provocative New Works

Broadstreet Review, Tom Purdom – Full Review

“Stillman’s performance at the FIRST EDITIONS concert drew a well-deserved round of applause at the end of the first movement. Stillman has described the slow movement as an “aria for flute”; she gave it an operatic mix of technique and expression, lyricism, and jauntiness…

…The first two pieces at the FIRST EDITIONS concert … both had an edge … perhaps because of the subject matter. Robert Maggio’s Bright Elegy is a memorial to his mother and Ingrid Arauco’s Via Cordis captures the mysticism of the desert…

… Curt Cacioppo’s A Meeting of Souls is essentially a fantasy based on the famous air in the second movement of Bach’s third orchestral suite. Cacioppo wrote it because a conductor wanted to play the suite with a modern substitute for Bach’s original. Cacioppo started with a good foundation and used it to produce something uniquely his own—a true meeting between a modern spirit and one of the greatest souls in music history…

…The concert ended with an eight-minute work Mimi Stillman premiered at a 2015 Dolce Suono concert. Zhou Tian’s Viajeis based on the saga of the Spanish hero El Cid and the trials of his daughters. This is the third time I’ve heard some version of it, and I can understand why Stillman keeps it in her repertory. The flute passages and orchestration evoke all the gallantry and tenderness of the subject.”

February 23, 2016 – Premier concert

Philadelphia Inquirer, David Patrick Stearns – Full Review

Expectations turned upside down at the debut concert of First Editions Chamber Orchestra, newly formed by James Freeman, the man who retired from Orchestra 2001 after 27 years, but who hardly seems through with the new-music business.  Premieres by Cynthia Folio and Heidi Jacob were on Sunday’s concert. . . . But another part of the ensemble’s mandate is performing early Mozart. . . .In the slow movement [Piano Concerto K. 271], Freeman was after 19th-century intensity without ruffling the piece’s 18th-century outer garments.  It worked.  He seemed swept up with Mozart in ways that should have happened years ago.  Piano soloist Charles Abramovic. . . colored the music’s sequential repetition with great insight.  Abramovic often went beyond mere grace and poetry, turning the cadenzas into miniature epics.


The Swarthmorean, Pete Prown – Full Review

Conductor James Freeman is familiar to admirers of Swarthmore College’s resident ensemble Orchestra 2001 (which he founded and served for 27 years as artistic director), but on Friday he brought his latest classical venture to Lang Concert Hall, the Chamber Orchestra FIRST EDITIONS. This ensemble serves to contrast the early work of Mozart with edgy contemporary music in a way that’s both aurally pleasing and educational. . . . The interpretation of early classical-era work was rapturous. . . . After intermission, maestro Freeman brought out the acclaimed pianist Charles Abramovic to perform Mozart’s beloved Piano Concerto in E flat major. With his keyboard virtuosity rippling through the air of Lang Hall with superb accompaniment from the musicians (including several students from area colleges), it was hard not to appreciate the larger context of the moment.  Not only did the audience enjoy wonderful music, but it was all presented on a quiet afternoon for free. As the lights went up and the applause subsided, we were already looking forward to future concerts from the superb Chamber Orchestra FIRST EDITIONS.