published Friday, February 3rd, 2012

Breaking down the music at String Theory


What: String Theory performance, "What Makes It Great" program.

When: 6 p.m. Thursday.

Where: Hunter Museum of American Art, 10 Bluff View.

Admission: $25 nonmembers, $20 members.

Phone: 267-0968.


Rob Kapilow didn't want classical music to be something people listened to because they should.

"I knew from my teaching experience that it wasn't that hard to get people to actually get (classical music)," he said. "So I gradually decided that was going to be my mission in life."

With his "What Makes It Great" program, which will be presented Thursday in a String Theory performance at Hunter Museum of American Art, Kapilow seeks to break down works of music to make them comprehensible.

Kapilow will perform with violinist Bella Hristova and pianist Gloria Chien.

He became aware of the need for such a program, he said, in his mid-20s, when conducting the Broadway production of "Nine," and serving as professor and conductor of the Yale Symphony Orchestra.

Despite the hectic schedule, conducting on Broadway gave him food for thought. "Every night, people would pay staggering sums of money to come to those shows, but most importantly the audience got it."

Far fewer people "got it" when he conducted Beethoven symphonies in New Haven, he said. "You could just feel the music going over people's heads."

He realized the work was much more satisfying if the audience was able to listen actively.

"I don't want to do this if people can't get it," he said. "It seemed to me like the Emperor's New Clothes. Everyone was pretending, and I couldn't bear it."

Each evening of "What Makes It Great" focuses on one piece of music, generally fairly short. Kapilow dissects the piece, then it's played, then there's a Q&A.

"A lot of great music requires a sort of musical memory," he said, referring to how classical music, unlike pop or traditional, often does not have repeated refrains.

He is developing a series on PBS in which he wants to be like a "Sister Wendy for classical music," referring to Sister Wendy Beckett, a British nun and amateur art historian.

"She's very unpedantic, utterly unacademic," he said. "When I started taping NPR shows, every time I would say a term that the general public wouldn't understand, they would hold up a (sign) that said 'No.' "

Kapilow is also the creative director of the Family Musik series, which seeks to bring classical music to more young people. Nicknamed "The Pied Piper of Classical Music," Kapilow was the first composer permitted to set a Dr. Seuss work -- "Green Eggs and Ham" -- to music.

With programs like Family Musik and "What Makes It Work," Kapilow is able to continue the joy he found in teaching.

"I'm always a sucker for every movie that has a teacher in it who gets students turned on (to learning)."

His goal, he said, is to make that sort of impact on the lives of people who read his books, hear his albums and attend his concerts.

about Holly Leber ...

Holly Leber is a reporter and columnist for the Life section. She has worked at the Times Free Press since March 2008. Holly covers “everything but the kitchen sink" when it comes to features: the arts, young adults, classical music, art, fitness, home, gardening and food. She writes the popular and sometimes-controversial column Love and Other Indoor Sports. Holly calls both New York City and Saratoga Springs, NY home. She earned a bachelor of arts ...

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