Legendary singer-songwriter Jimmy Webb is a versatile artist with hits spanning pop, country, disco and rap genres. He’s also the only one who can say that he’s premiered a classical nocturne and had a rap hit with Kanye West (“Do What You Gotta Do” on “Famous”) in the same year. But Webb’s career is full of surprises —and now he can add that classical work to his growing catalog.
He’s composed “Nocturne for Piano and Orchestra (Nocturne for “Lefty”).” He shares his foray into symphonic composition with the local audience at its New York premiere, performed by renowned pianist Jeffrey Biegel, at the South Shore Symphony’s upcoming concert next Saturday, Feb. 25, at the Madison Theatre, on the Molloy College campus, in Rockville Centre.
Known for many legendary hits, including“Wichita Lineman” and “MacArthur Park,” Webb, a Grammy-award winning songwriter and member of the Songwriters Hall of Fame, teamed up with Biegel for this unique project. Following the premiere, and thanks to funding from the Rockville Centre Guild for the Arts, Webb will join with the orchestra to perform some of his hits, including ‘By the Time I Get to Phoenix,’ ‘Up, Up and Away,’ among others.
“Nocturne for Piano and Orchestra (Nocturne for “Lefty”)” was composed by Webb and orchestrated by him with Grammy-winner Jeff Tyzik. Webb dedicated the work to his wife and partner, Laura Savini.
“This music originated in discussions I had with my wife about famous nocturnes, such as ‘Moonlight Sonata’ and others,” says Webb. “The piece depicts different aspects of nightfall; the mathematical exactitude of life in the city; the splendor of night skies and full moons partially obscured by cloud; the gentle rise and fall of human conversation in social gatherings, and the dizzying whirl of waltzing on a seaside esplanade.”
He goes on to say that it’s essentially an opportunity for the listener to contemplate their own experiences during the hours of darkness. The piece also includes a personal tribute to the music of Miles Davis, and the “smoky dives and small clubs” where Webb performed in his early years — “the kingdom of the lonely and disillusioned,” as he calls it.
And the “lefty” in the title? “That’s my wife, Laura Savini, of PBS fame, a raving beauty who is also a southpaw,” Webb explains. “The notes have been inspired by her joy and devotion to art.””
“It was a great pleasure to collaborate with Jimmy Webb on his new multi-faceted composition,” says Tyzik. “I have been a great admirer of Jimmy’s huge body of work since the 1960s and I was honored to be a part of orchestrating his beautiful music for symphony orchestra. Jimmy writes from the heart and continues to be an inspiration for all songwriters.”
Tyzik, a New Hyde park native and fellow Grammy winner, is one of America’s most innovative and sought after pops conductors. He is recognized for his brilliant arrangements and engaging rapport with audiences of all ages.
“Last year, we had a chance to play with Hubert Laws, the great jazz flutist, who premiered music by Claude Bolling with Mr. Biegel,” says Wayne Lipton, president of the South Shore Symphony. “The year before that, we played with the late, great rock legend Keith Emerson, who played his music from Emerson, Lake & Palmer, and Jeffrey performed his piano concerto. And we performed the music of Neil Sedaka with Jeffrey and Mr. Sedaka in attendance.”
But this year’s concert, Lipton says, is something that brings him back to his teenage years.
“I remember growing up in Baldwin in High School, listening to some amazing music by the ‘Fifth Dimension.’ Most of the songs were by Webb, a young composer whose music was filled with harmonies and chord changes that were beyond the norm — it was more complex and deep with emotion and
Lipton recalled that after hearing one of Webb’s pieces he spent weeks trying to learn the chords on piano, something that was difficult for anyone, but especially for him, he said, since he didn’t even play piano. “That song was ‘MacArthur Park,’ a seven-minute piece [sung by] Richard Harris that dominated the airwaves for weeks.”
So when Biegel said that they could collaborate and play the New York premiere of a classical work by Webb, and that he would also play many of his greatest hits with the orchestra, “I was overcome with anticipation and the joy of meeting one of my teenage idols and musical icons,” Lipton says. “Mr. Webb is a genius, and his music, played by him and performed with the 60-plus members of the South Shore Symphony will be a special event in Rockville Centre that is not to be missed.”
Biegel, an internationally renowned pianist, who lives in Lynbrook, and the South Shore Symphony have collaborated on many projects through the years. He studied at the Juilliard School, and is currently on faculty at the Conservatory of Music at Brooklyn College.
Biegel points out that the South Shore Symphony is always open to bringing their audiences more that just the standard concertos. “They’re one of the few orchestras that dare to do something different.”
He was instrumental in bringing Webb into this project. First played with Orchestra Kentucky as a world premiere last October, Biegel suggested to Webb that it would be wonderful to bring the composition to Long Island. Webb was receptive to the idea.
“The sonic landscape of Jimmy’s piece is instantly ear-catching and beautifully laid out for the piano,” Biegel says. “One reason I approached Jimmy is because he is a songwriter, and his sense of melody and harmony suit the genre for piano and orchestra. He treats the piano in a unique style which immediately grabbed my attention the moment I received the piano part.”
What: Jimmy Webb with the South Shore Symphony Orchestra
When: Saturday, Feb. 25, 8 p.m. $100 includes prime seating and a cocktail party; general admission $50.
Where: Madison Theatre at Molloy College, 1000 Hempstead Ave., Rockville Centre. (516) 323-4444 or www.madisontheatreny.org.