Michael Feinstein, the multi-platinum selling, five-time Grammy-nominated entertainer is regarded as one of the premier interpreters of the American popular song.
Now, thanks to Michael Feinstein’s American Songbook, a three part PBS documentary series, (which aired this past month) which showcased him not only as an entertainer, but also as a “history sleuth” who searches out and saves the treasures of classical American popular music, his position as one of its chief preservationists has been reinforced.
His commitment to celebrating the American popular song and preserving it for the next generation was formalized in 2007, when he created the Michael Feinstein Foundation. It will be located within a 6,000 square foot space at The Palladium, a $118 million concert hall, which is part of The Center for the Performing Arts in Carmel, opening in January, 2011.
Eventually the public will be able to view many rare collection items on display at the foundation’s museum, and learn more about the “Soundtrack of America”. Academic and amateur researchers, as well as performers, will have access to the Great American Songbook Archive, where they will see (and hear) collection items firsthand. Working in tandem with The Center for The Performing Arts the foundation will also offer educational programming about the Great American Songbook.
If Feinstein’s choice to locate his foundation at the Palladium was not enough of a coup, the fact that he will also serve as its Artistic Director and frequently perform there as well, is the veritable icing on the cake.
Organizers hope that Feinstein’s cachet and involvement will help the Center achieve national and international notoriety and eventually become known for first rate programming and high artistic quality.
This past Sunday, the Palladium at the Center for the Performing Arts announced itsinaugural season, offering 20 concerts, representing five distinct series: Classics, Great American Songbook, Jazz Roots, Country and Dance.
Highlights include the Vienna Boys Choir, St. Petersburg Philharmonic Orchestra, and Cleveland Orchestra in Classic series, Diane Reeves featured in the Jazz Roots series, Jane Monheit and Nikki Yanofsky, and a Great American Songbook evening with Feinstein. Vince Gill and Clint Black will be headlining in the Country Series.
It was also announced that the Indianapolis Symphony Orchestra will present two of its 2010-2011 Classical concerts at the Palladium. The first concert will feature Indiana native, Joshua Bell, performing Tchaikovsky’s Violin Concerto, and also Tchaikovsky’s Fourth Symphony, led by Austrian conductor Christoph Ebertle, on May 5th at 7:30 p.m. The second performance, led by ISO Conductor Laureate Raymond Leppard, will be presented Sunday, June 19, 2011 at 3 p.m. and will feature Beethoven’s Eighth and Ninth symphonies, along with the Indianapolis Symphonic Choir and a cast of accomplished soloists.
Recently, the examiner spoke by phone with Feinstein about all of his aforementioned pursuits and activities. They reveal not only an artist with a mega-successful, multi-faceted career, but also a passionate guardian of music history with a higher calling.
examiner: What kind of feedback have you received about the Michael Feinstein American Songbook PBS series?
MF: It’s been fantastic. Such nice comments from so many people. You know the thing about TV is that it’s very personal, so I’ve gotten very personal notes from people sharing their experiences about the music or being raised on it by their parents. They’ve offered me collections of music and have connected with me in just wonderful ways?
examiner: Were you pleased with the series itself?
MF: I am pleased. I have to give full credit to Amber Edwards [producer & director] and her company, Hudson West. I told her that it was going to up to her to make editorial decisions because it would be too difficult to do so. I certainly don’t like watching myself but I am pleased with the results because of the ratings, the television reviews and I must say…the uniform, universal response to the show has been beyond wildest dreams. This music that I’m involved in is not mainstream anymore and to find so many people, who like these shows and resonate with the music, is a tremendous gift.
examiner: So you’ve heard from lots of collectors who watched the series?
MF: It’s mainly been from people who’ve inherited music from their grandparents or they find in the attic…not knowing what to do with it and not wanting to throw it away. Some people say, “I’ve been trying to figure out what to do with this music. Would you be interested in it?” Some I am. Some I’m not. One lady in Long Island…her father died some months ago and he had a collection of British and American big band 78s and she said she just wanted to pass it on to a place where it will be appreciated.
examiner: Do you have help?
MF: I don’t have enough help. It’s really just something that’s started to build. I’m still trying to figure out how to handle it. Sometime I’ll need to somebody to make a contact ahead of me, just to get a sense of whether the content is of interest or not. I just don’t want to miss any opportunity to come into contact with something that could be significant so I’m doing most of it myself.
examiner: Have you moved into the foundation offices yet at the Palladium?
MF: It’s still under construction. Doris Anne Sadler [Excutive Director] is still working out of her home. Currently we have the collection in various buildings in safe storage situations so sometime next year we’ll be moving in.
examiner: Have you visited the Indiana Historical Society and could it serve as a model for the foundation?
MF: Yes, I’ve been to the Indiana Historical Society. It’s wonderful. This is a step by step process and the most interest that we’ve garnered is with the Bob Grimes Sheet Music Collection which is one of the greatest assemblages of American popular music. People constantly say, “When it is going to be available,” so we are very mindful of making the material available as soon as possible. It going to take a little while longer but the whole point is that this material be available in every way, because otherwise it’s worthless.
examiner: Do you foresee interactive exhibits at your foundation headquarters like those at the Indiana Historical Society?
MF: Absolutely. We live in an age when media and the digital world makes it possible to present a lot of information at a kiosk and we’ll definitely have that as we evolve because I have a lot of video and audio resources. You know, there is a website, Michael Feinstein American Songbook in connection with the PBS series that already has several thousand pages on it with video clips and audio clips. That’s sort of a virtual site in connection with the foundation site that will mirror in many ways what we hope to do with the physical space.
examiner: I understand that your foundation is interested in presenting an American Songbook Festival? What would it entail?
MF: The genesis for it came from awareness that there’s never been a full-fledged celebration of the American popular song anywhere that I’m aware of. It’s extraordinary to me that there are all sorts of music festivals but I’ve never seen one that centered around American popular music…so we will create collaboration. We haven’t the final nuts and bolts…made the specific choices yet but the whole idea is to celebrate all the different permutations of American popular music…how it’s affected all of us…in the words of Irving Berlin, “History makes music and music makes history.” How this music mirrors everything that is going on in our country and how one type of music is connected to another. Tin Pan Alley music is connected to Country Western into Blue Grass to Folk to Jazz. It’s all interconnected in one way or another, so it will really be a celebration of our American musical heritage that from the creation of Tin Pan Alley. I’ll be bringing in a lot of my friends to appear in these shows. People well known and lesser known talents who are just great interpreters of this music. We’ll do celebrations of songs writers and World War II and maybe The Andrews Sisters, Duke Ellington, Fats Waller. I’m doing some shows in New York at Jazz at Lincoln Center, where I’m Director of American Popular Song where we’re doing a show, Black and White on Broadway. It’s a celebration of African American songwriters who wrote songs that whites sang on stage and vice versa so that the whole examination of culture…how the melting pot has has been affected by this music. As far as where it will be presented, we’re still looking at options. It’s a question of how big we want the first one to be because the worst thing you can do is have a grand design and not fulfill it so that the big questions, how much can we practically present in the first year?
examiner: What can people expect in terms of the Palladium’s design?
MF: The design of the building is extraordinary. The concert hall, the Palladium, can stand proudly in comparison to any other edifice anywhere in the world. I hope that people will be able to appreciate the extraordinary time, and craft and labor that’s gone into the creation of this structure. Every detail has been so carefully thought through and acoustically we have all worked with brilliant sound designers and acousticians and tried to prepare for any kind of music. It’s a stop by step process which evolves as the hall is built because acoustics are a science. There are many things cannot plan on a piece of paper because once the building is constructed it takes on a life of its own, so then it becomes a process of tuning and tweaking. In the next month, I’m coming over for the tuning of the hall which is going to be the process of physical and acoustic manipulation of the space to create optimum sound for many different types of music. Recently I was at the Steinway factory in Astoria, Queens and I was choosing several pianos for the Palladium and the goal was to choose two very different pianos that would give disparities of choice to anyone who wishes to play an instrument. One of the pianos is one I chose to have a big sound so when there is a soloist with a symphony orchestra it will be a piano that sounds good in tandem with the orchestra and will have a beautiful singing tone for the hall. The other piano has a softer, warmer tone for chamber music or solo recital. And so, it’s all about imagining and listening to the different sounds of the instruments and then to the best of our appraisal, decide what will work best while visualizing the different kinds of music that will fill the hall.
examiner: As Artistic Director of the Palladium, what is your vision?
MF: It’s an oft used word but diversity is really the key to the success of any place. Any successful performance hall that has any sort of life or longevity survives because it is a combination of presenting familiar music that the community wants, that represents all the different types of musical choices that people want to hear…musical diversity that exists in the world. And then bringing in new artists, new music, new dance companies and things that people might not be as familiar with but will be introduced to. The idea is to get people to trust who we are bringing into the hall so if someone buys a subscription to any type of music, there will be several key works and orchestras and couple of things that will be fresh and new that people will say, “Oh, that sounds interesting. I don’t know what that is but I’ll try it.” So it really is a process that takes experimentation, takes time and great thought, and it’s all about balance. And it’s extremely exciting and challenging for me on this side of a venue because as an artist, I’ve had the advantage of having played in many halls and seeing what other places have brought in. Now being involved in the actual nuts and bolts of booking and arranging a schedule that will reflect what many people want is an extraordinary challenge and one of the most exciting things I’ve ever done.
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