2020 will mark the 90th birthday of Stephen Sondheim. A few years ago, concert pianist Anthony de Mare conceived a highly acclaimed Sondheim project, Liaisons, for which he commissioned 36 leading composers from the worlds of classical, jazz, film, pop and musical theater to “re-imagine” one of Sondheim’s songs as a solo piano piece. The result, ultimately released as a 3-CD set on the ECM New Series label, is a remarkable compendium of new music that breaks open the boundaries between musical theater and concert music.
As a piano recital, Liaisons2020 is unique for a few reasons. First is its premise - that Stephen Sondheim, recognized worldwide as a brilliant musical theater lyricist, is here being celebrated as a serious composer. In the words of Steve Reich, even those who don't care for musical theater can see that Sondheim is a great artist, in fact one of the 20th century's great composers.
Second, the project explores the notion of artistic inspiration, collaboration, and the ephemeral way that art moves us. The voice of each composer truly liaises with Sondheim and infuses each piece with a jazz, pop, classical, theatrical, or cinematic perspective while preserving the essence of the original song's emotion, even without the words attached.
And then comes a third layer of influence and collaboration, with each piece brought passionately to life by pianist Anthony de Mare (who also conceived the Project, and worked with each composer directly). As a whole, the concert becomes a multi-layered sonic and emotional experience that captures the essence of the music as well as the ephemeral ways that art can move us, stay with us, and even become us.
Building on the popularity of the project, de Mare has commissioned a handful of new composers for the project in honor of Sondheim’s birthday. The 14 new additions are proving to be as diverse as the first 36 – Jon Batiste, Meredith Monk, Kevin Puts and Timo Andres are just a few on the new Liaisons2020 roster, which is being developed in collaboration with Sondheim himself.
Liaisons2020 can now be combined to form single or multiple concerts that appeal to audiences from across the musical spectrum, and venues can work directly with de Mare on shaping a program best suited to their audience. Multi-media components, ranging from animated titles to exclusive film and audio featuring Sondheim and the composers discussing the project, are also available.
"Not just inventive piano arrangements of the songs but new compositions written in the composers' own styles... It was fascinating to hear how [each] composer approached the song... I loved it."
The New York Times
Photos by Paolo Soriani.
Click on each photo for a link to hi-res download.
"To hear composers take my work and take it seriously... it’s a thrill."
“Just when you thought that there wasn’t anything new in piano recitals anymore, along comes Anthony de Mare…. A first-class pianist whose list of composer friends is a virtual who’s who of American music… each piece is a fascinating exploration of the composer’s style."
– Gregory Isaacs, The Fort Worth Star Telegram
Photo by Rahev Segev. Download a hi-res image here.