From Oscar to Stephen and back

By: Greg Campbell

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One of the things I love about the music business is the connections over generations of music making. For example, when I was in college at the Peabody Conservatory, my piano teacher Patricia Graham studied with Leon Fleisher, who studied with Schnabel, who studied with Leschetizky, who studied with Czerny, who studied with Beethoven. That means I'm only six degrees of separation from Beethoven! It's like that Kevin Bacon game people used to play a few years ago!

I know this is all silly, but it illustrates that names like Sondheim, Beethoven, or Oscar Hammerstein II were not just historical figures. They were real-life people, and the art they created flows through generations of performers from the stage to generations of audiences. Each generation brings something new to the stories or performs the music uniquely, creating traditions and making these works part of our lives. 

Our ‘Sound of Music' production is one such example. You may remember that we ended our 2022-2023 season with Sondheim on Sondheim. It was a great production and featured some touching moments about the life of Stephen Sondheim. One story stuck out to me. After Sondheim's parents separated, Stephen and his mother moved to Buck's County, New York. Their neighbors were none other than the Hammersteins. Oscar became a surrogate father to Stephen, introducing him to the world of musical theatre and teaching him how to write great lyrics to musical theatre numbers. 

And now we present The Sound of Music, bringing our Sondheim on Sondheim experience full circle. The Sound of Music premiered in 1959, just two years after the breakout success of Stephen's West Side Story. Further, the conductor for our Sondheim on Sondheim was Andy Einhorn, who premiered the show on Broadway and worked with Mr. Sondheim himself. Additionally, Rachel Bay Jones, who was in our cast for Sondheim on Sondheim, is currently starring in Here We Are, Mr. Sondheim's last known musical. This means we here at Lyric Opera and you, our audience, are only three degrees of separation from the original creators of The Sound of Music and just one degree of separation from the premiere of Sondheim's final known work, the final chapter of a performing arts legacy that started as a neighborly act. You can start to see how art connects us to our shared humanity and the past, present, and future.

Musicians, conductors, composers, lyricists, singers, the audience, and all the folks on and off stage are all connected over the generations. For organizations like Lyric Opera, it is a joy to bring these seminal works of art to life to continue passing on these stories and music to the next generation of audiences and performers.  We hope you'll come to the show and become part of a tradition that continues.