Renowned composer, conductor, commentator, and author Rob Kapilow gives greater meaning to Walt Whitman’s remark, “To have great poets, there must be great audiences.” As Kapilow puts it, “To have great music, there must be great listeners.” Through his radio show, ‘What Makes it Great’ featured on NPR and through his books, Rob assists audiences how to articulate the wonder and power of music.
Rob Kapilow will continue his popular series for the holiday season as Celebrity Series of Boston presents, ‘What Makes it Great with Rob Kapilow: Britten’s Ceremony of Carols’ taking place on Friday, December 5 at New England Conservatory’s Jordan Hall at 8 p.m. Visit celebrityseries.org for all the details!
Exploring a myriad of carols written from medieval poetry, Rob will bring these lovely, classic carols into a whole new light! Considered a 20th century masterwork of the Christmas season much more reflective of Chaucer than of Shakespeare, ‘Ceremony of ‘Carols’ contains eleven gorgeous movements such as ‘There is a Rose,’ ‘A freezing winter night,’ “As dew in Aprille,’ and ‘Spring Carol.’ To bring these Benjamin Britten’s gorgeous carols to life, Rob Kapilow will be joined by the acclaimed chorus, ‘Voices Boston,’ (formally known as PALS Children’s Chorus!)
I had the honor of speaking to Rob about ‘What Makes It Great,’ its background, and how he explores music.
Tell me a little about ‘What Makes It Great.’ How did you come up with that concept?
I first started out right out of college when I got hired at Yale as a professor. I came back and did the symphony there for six years. Then I got this chance to conduct on Broadway and for two foolish months, I tried to do both jobs at the same time. So I’m teaching, conducting symphonies and Beethoven during the day, and then I would take the train down to New York and conduct ‘Nine,’ the Tony award-winning musical at the time on Broadway.
Going back and forth between those two worlds led me to think of some uncomfortable and unavoidable truths. The truth is every single night, millions of people were willing to pay exorbitant sums of money to see the show, but most importantly, they got it. You can really feel when the audience gets the musical language of the piece that you are playing or the music you are conducting. They knew when to clap and responded to interesting riffs in the orchestra. They got that music.
Then we would go back and conduct this classical music. There just wasn’t this same sense that people actually got it. There were a few people that spoke the language of classical music as fluently as they spoke the language of Broadway, but it just wasn’t the same sense of getting it.
Going back and forth each day between those two worlds, one world where people got it and really responded in their native language and one world where there was kind of polite applause really was very thought provoking. It made me want to do something about it.
Interestingly enough, I ran across in Boston at the time a quotation on a message board outside of a church that summed up for me what ‘What Makes it Great’ is all about. It was a quote from Walt Whitman and it said, ‘To have great poets, there must be great audiences’ or in my version, ‘To have great music, there must be great listeners.’
I truly understand your point. I find that sometimes in a classical setting, the music is a little more abstract. You don’t know exactly how the piece works, but it is beautiful.
The idea is very simple, to get people to get it. It is very easy to do once you take a piece apart and break down a lot of that fourth wall. There’s so much ‘I should get it or I should understand and when am I supposed to clap?’ A lot of classical music has nothing to do with music itself. The idea is to take people inside that piece of music, look at it from the inside out, and then get them to hear it with new ears.
Visit celebrityseries.org for more information and click here for tickets to ‘What Makes it Great with Rob Kapilow: Britten’s A Ceremony of Carols’ at New England Conservatory’s Jordan Hall on Sunday, December 5!
Join Celebrity Series of Boston and give back #GivingTuesday Tuesday, December 2! Click here for more information and learn more about this movement at givingtuesday.org.