Friday August 31, 2012

LENOX

Active is the operative term for the life of Michael Feinstein. Apart from Feinstein's extensive concert and recording schedules, he has been acknowledged for several years as the foremost expert of the lives and music of George and Ira Gershwin, as an archivist of the creative oeuvre of those gifted brothers.

And 2012 appears to be a significant year in this multi-talented entertainer and entrepreneur's career, with a few more milestones to add to his impressive curriculum vitae.

He has accepted the baton of a notable West Coast Pops orchestra, he is the author of a book to be published in October, and great changes are in store for his estimable New York supper club.

More immediately, he will help put the finishing touches on Tanglewood's big 75th-annniversary celebration with a star-studded concert Sunday afternoon at 2:30 in the Koussevitzky Shed.

"Michael Feinstein's Great American Songbook" will bring together the Boston Pops Orchestra under Thomas Wilkins' baton, along with two of Feinstein's favorite women to help with those songs, Christine Ebersole and Betty Buckley.

Promised are selections by the Gershwins, who, as noted, are close to Feinstein's heart, and other scores stacked on the music stands will include those of Cole Porter, Harold Arlen, Duke Ellington, Johnny Mercer, Irving Berlin, Richard Rodgers, Lorenz Hart, Oscar Hammerstein and Leonard Bernstein.


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"Since it's a Great American Songbook tribute, it will be a lot of standards played by that impeccable orchestra," ob served Feinstein with obvious relish during a phone conversation earlier this week from New York.

He mentioned discovering an intriguing version of "They Can't Take That Away from Me" -- "It's Ira Gershwin's arrangement created for Fred Astaire, a gorgeous setting of that song, and I'm looking forward to hearing the Pops play it.

"And, we have a number of other classics that will have great upbeat arrangements and sound wonderful - ‘Embraceable You,' ‘I Love a Piano,' ‘Somewhere' from ‘West Side Story,' as a tribute to Bernstein, and ‘When I Fall in Love,' that beautiful Victor Young/Edward Heyman classic."

Ebersole and Buckley will sing one solo each and duets with Feinstein. And, it has been suggested, if encouraged enough, they will join him in an encore trio.

Everyone's favorite

Ebersole will be performing everyone's favorite railroad song, the old Harold Arlen /Johnny Mercer tune "On the Atchison, Topeka and the Santa Fe," she disclosed during a chat from her home in Maplewood, N.J. "It will be exciting to sing it with the Pops," she said. "My musical director, John Oddo, wrote an arrangement for the orchestra, and then discovered some additional lyrics, as only John can do."

Ebersole said she and Feintein will perform a medley with "Embraceable You" as its cornerstone. "You'll just get a little pinch of me," she laughed.

Wilkins, the music director of the Omaha Symphony since 2005, also has a number of other obligations. He is the principal guest conductor of the Hollywood Bowl Orchestra and is a major figure in the Boston Symphony Orchestra's outreach program, as the Germeshausen youth and family concerts conductor.

As to that new orchestral assignment for Feinstein, he was named principal pops conductor of the Pasadena Pops upon the recent death of Marvin Hamlisch, the composer, conductor and a close friend of Feinstein

Only last month he performed with Hamlisch at the latter's final Pops concert prior to his sudden death Aug. 6, in Los Angeles.

Hamlisch's influence

"It was the passing of our irreplaceable Marvin Hamlisch that has given me the desire to conduct, and every step of the way I will have him on my mind and in my heart," said Fein stein on his appointment.

Asked if this is a new experience, Feinstein said he had never before conducted a symphony orchestra.

"This is a first for me," he said. "I've had 25 years of working with many conductors, but this is the first time of doing it myself," he added, noting that he had conducted big bands.

Special challenges

"This has special challenges, and needs a great deal of preparation," he conceded, vowing, "I will make sure the minute I step on that podium I am ready." He begins next summer, leading three concerts at the Arboretum, a pastoral area he describes as "one of the most gorgeous settings in Southern California, with lush greenery and beautiful peacocks that roam the grounds."

Feinstein's new book, "The Gershwins and Me," which is combined with a new CD of Gershwin standards performed with pianist Cyrus Chestnut, will be published Oct. 16 by Simon & Schuster.

"It's a beautiful book," remarked its author, "with a lot of recollections and memorabilia I've gathered over the years, a chronicle of their lives."

In a unique twist, each of Feinstein's chapters examines a song. "I decided that instead of doing a linear biography, I would use those songs as jumping-off points, making it a little more surprising for the reader, to fit more in style with the society in which we live."

Selection of the specific songs was not easy. "It took a while; it was a winnowing process," he said.

A third major event this year in Feinstein's life is the closing, after 14 years, of his supper club, Feinstein's at Lowe's Regency, known for its intimate cabaret and concert programs that have attracted the most prominent figures of the pop and jazz music world.

"The hotel is closing for remodeling, and so we're moving to another location," Feinstein explained. "We have six possibilities right now. By the end of the year we'll have an official announcement, so we'll be able to continue the continuity of the room."

In the final shows at Feinstein's during the holidays, he will be joined by Ebersole.

"New Year's Eve is a celebration anyway and this year," he said, "will be a divided one, celebrating the old and the promise of the new."



Who: Michael Feinstein with Christine Ebersole, Betty Buckley and the Boston Pops, Thomas Wilkins, conductor

When: Sunday 2:30 p.m.

Where: Tanglewood, Shed, Lenox.

Tickets: $117-$42; lawn $21

How: (888) 266-1200; tanglewood.org; at the Main Gate box office.

Information: (413) 637-1600