Rachael Worby, the Visionary Behind Muse/ique's Summer of Sound and the World According to Leonard Bernstein
July 8, 2015 by Ellen Dostal
Rachael Worby. Photo by Anacleto Rapping ©2011
When it comes to music and the city of Los Angeles, Muse/ique Artistic Director and Conductor, Rachael Worby, has a vision. With her upcoming Summer of Sound program, that unique vision means that everything, including the location, is carefully chosen to make sure the audience takes in the ephemeral nature of the event wholly and completely before it vanishes into thin air, hopefully transforming them in the process.
Muse/ique Executive Director Brian Colburn elaborates. “Rachael is brilliant at curating to the environment so we create our ‘pop-up’ experiences as improvised venues in recognizable urban locations where audiences have a real world connection. It gives them a much deeper sense of empowerment with the music and, in a way, it disarms them.”
“It gives them a different sense of their city, their community, and their place in it,” adds Worby. “Anything can happen when those elements collide. The idea that people are surprised and thrilled to be places that they don’t usually go is part of the fun.”
One of those unusual places was a recent concert Worby held at the Rose Bowl, however, this time the concert took place not in the stadium but in the visiting locker room.
“All of our audience members had been to the Rose Bowl many times before for concerts and football games and various other occasions,” she says, “but they had never been to the locker room. There they were, going through the tunnel underneath the stadium to the locker rooms, drinking wine in the shower stalls, and being ecstatic with the experience. As Brian said, we keep them slightly off their guard. They know where they are yet they aren’t where they’re accustomed to being. That sense of wonder is something they then bring with them to the live performance so they’re more ripe than any audience with whom I’ve ever had the occasion of interacting with. They’re ready for ‘what else is going to happen, how else are you going to surprise us now.’ It keeps us all, the people who are listening and also the people who are performing, completely alive to the moment.”
For PLANET/BERNSTEIN, Muse/ique’s 2015 Summer of Sound series, the concert location is the Beckman Mall Lawn right outside Beckman Auditorium and the focus is Leonard Bernstein.
“It’s a beautiful grand lawn but it’s also in the center of their energetic campus,” says Colburn, “so it’s really a different kind of setting for an outdoor summer concert. It’s not pastoral. It’s lovely yet it has the whole feeling of Caltech. In the beginning we were working with all of these sort of cosmic charts and universe synonyms. Rachael is the one who reminded me that when we go to Caltech there’s always a nod to science and the environment. That’s how we curate the environment. So Rachael was talking about what kind of phenomenon scientifically does Leonard Bernstein most personify and she said it’s like gravity, like attraction.”
“One of the things I’m going to start the program with is a quote by Carl Sagan,” Worby says. ‘If you wish to make an apple pie from scratch, you must first invent the universe.’ I’m going to make that. That’s Lenny.”
Described as a musical party in three parts, the series will explore the creative genius of Leonard Bernstein from three different aspects. In the first, COSMIC/COLLABORATION on July 11, Worby focuses on the people whose lives intersected with Bernstein and the impact those relationships had on his work.
“We’re examining him in three of 3 billion ways,” she explains. “When we were in the earliest stages of talking about this program, I said we could do something called Planet Bernstein every year forever, like Star Wars. We could keep bringing out new music and new forms of inspiration because there is so much to choose from, but we decided to focus on three aspects of his life; one being all the people – musicians, poets, dancers, choreographers, singers, and friends – whose lives affected him, and whose lives he impacted. That’s why we call it Collaboration.
What his recording of Tchaikovsky’s Violin Concerto with Isaac Stern did for that piece is historic. Of course it was a beloved part of the repertoire prior to that but that recording was amazing and their collaboration over many years was stunning. Their friendship from the moment they met was solid and robust so for us to pay homage to Isaac Stern and his friendship with Bernstein by performing a movement of that piece was important to us.”
“On the other hand,” she smiles, “He and John Lennon, and Yoko, lived in The Dakota in New York City at the same time. They were neighbors. They used the same elevator and they became friends. Such close friends in fact that when John and Yoko gave birth to Sean, Leonard Bernstein wrote a lullaby for him. So we want to pay homage to that friendship by playing “Imagine” by John Lennon. Bernstein had a great respect for John Lennon’s writing. He even compared the Beatles as lyricists to Robert Schumann. He would say, ‘Listen to these internal rhymes. This is what Schumann did. Look at these melodies. This is a Schumann song. It’s like lieder. He was a genius.’ ”
Part II of the series, JAZZ/GENESIS on August 8, will focus on the influence of jazz on Bernstein, including songs by Dave Brubeck, Gerry Mulligan, Miles Davis, and George Gershwin. Bernstein’s On the Waterfront will be a central part of the program and Dee Dee Bridgewater joins the show to sing some great jazz tunes and standards.
“Probably the greatest influence on Bernstein as a composer was the influence of American jazz,” Worby says thoughtfully. “In fact, he wrote a piece for Billie Holiday called “Big stuff” and that piece, which most people don’t know, is sung by Billie Holiday as a prelude to the performances of Fancy Free, his ballet he did with Jerome Robbins, all the time. I also have some great recordings of him in the studio with Ornette Coleman and Miles Davis, with Miles saying ‘that’s not right, that’s wrong, stop, no.’ It’s all jazz. It all came from Gershwin, from Cole Porter, from Dave Brubeck. If you listen to the harmonies of songs like “I Can Cook Too” from On the Town or “Big Stuff,” or “On the Waterfront,” which is a central part of the program, you’ll hear the infusion of jazz.”
The final concert on August 29, IN/SIDE STORY, is a tribute to Bernstein’s West Side Story with fresh interpretations of familiar songs like “America,” “Gee, Officer Krupke,” and “Cool” plus performances of “Somewhere” and “Maria” by opera singers Naomi O’Connell and Brenton Ryan.
West Side Story is a retelling of Romeo and Juliet and Worby says this is Muse/ique’s way of paying homage to both of those stories.
“In fact, we’re going to be showing a clip from Baz Luhrman’s film Romeo + Juliet and we’ll be playing Henry Mancini’s Theme from Romeo and Juliet as part of the program. There’s no question that Shakespeare and Bernstein and Luhrman really do spend a large portion of the storytelling on what it means to be marginalized. Also, subliminally or not, if there is an American artist who is on the scale of influence of a Shakespeare, it’s Leonard Bernstein.”
When asked what inspires Worby to create, she pauses.
“I would have to say, honestly, that I’m inspired by the San Gabriel Valley, Los Angeles County, and Southern California. I came to California with great trepidation but shortly after I arrived, which was now about ten years ago, I came to understand that if ever I were going to reinvent myself as I so deeply wanted to do and actually become the artist and leader and curator I dreamed of, it was going to be right where I was. There’s something about California that embraces unusual ideas and the people who are in our larger community are ready for those ideas. They’re hungry for them. My bust is not going to be on the walls of any museum but in the way that I toil and work, I have found that the greater Los Angeles area is my inspiration.”
As for what she hopes audiences will take away from the performances, she says, “I hope they leave with a renewed sense of possibility in the world because they have a renewed sense of self and a renewed sense in that of their ability to command information that they didn’t know they had. They may walk in saying something like – well I’m here but jazz isn’t for me, or well I’m here but I’m not really a string quartet kind of guy, or well I’m here but Latin music is not my bag, well I’m here, but…and then they walk out saying, well, I never knew that was what a string quartet could be, oh that’s a saxophone, or, that’s a bassoon? I thought it was a giant clarinet. And suddenly they all hold information that they didn’t hold sixty or seventy-five minutes before that and they feel good about themselves. My experience is, the better I feel about myself, the more I want to do for others.”
Words to inspire us all.
* * * * * *
PLANET/BERNSTEIN, Muse/ique’s Summer of Sound outdoor concerts take place on the Beckman Mall Lawn at Caltech, 332 S. Michigan Avenue, Pasadena, CA 91106. For more information, visit Muse-ique.com.
July 11, 2015 – Part I
August 8, 2015 – Part II
August 29, 2015 – Part III
Grounds open at 5:30 for mingling and dining. At 7:30 the exhilarating, non-stop 90-minute adventure in sound begins. Bring your own picnic or call the Kitchen for Exploring Foods at 626-793-7234 to pre-order gourmet boxed meals.