Photo by John Johansen
Rob Kapilow's What Makes It Great?
Saturday, April 29, 2022
Bing Concert Hall
About the Program
The origins of What Makes It Great?®
During my freshman year at college, I was fortunate enough to take an inspiring art history course with a wonderful professor named Robert Herbert. Before taking the class, I had enjoyed going to museums, liked certain paintings, didn't like others, but overall hadn't given much thought or attention to why. I knew what I liked, and that was enough.
In addition to classroom lectures, every Friday we would go to the Yale Art Gallery and spend an entire session on a single painting. These sessions were a revelation to me. I realized that I had never really looked closely at a painting. I was astonished week after week to realize how much I had completely missed in paintings that I thought I knew. Each week, prodded by the professor's careful attention, a painting would materialize before my eyes as if for the very first time. The course began to teach me the difference between looking and seeing.
What Makes It Great?® began for me with that course. In some ways music poses even more difficulties than art because it refuses to sit still for us. It happens in real time. And in great music, so much goes by—so quickly—that it requires enormous attention to hear it all.
That is what What Makes It Great?® is really about: Listening. Paying attention. Noticing all the fantastic things that might otherwise go by. When you begin to hear the things that make a piece great, it can spring to life as if you have never heard it before.
During each What Makes It Great?® program we take a piece of great music, tear it apart, and put it back together again. We rewrite it, sing it, tap it, clap it: in short, we do everything in our power to get inside to see what makes it tick and what makes it great. Then on the second half of the program we hear the piece performed in its entirety—hopefully with a new pair of ears. If my art history class was about the difference between looking and seeing, What Makes It Great?® is about the difference between hearing and listening.
PROGRAM SUBJECT TO CHANGE. Please be considerate of others and turn off all phones, pagers, and watch alarms. Photography and recording of any kind are not permitted. Thank you.
About the Artists
For over 30 years, Rob Kapilow has brought the joy and wonder of classical music—and unraveled some of its mysteries—to audiences of all ages and backgrounds. Characterized by his unique ability to create an “aha” moment for his audiences and collaborators, whatever their level of musical sophistication or naiveté, Kapilow’s work brings music into people’s lives: opening new ears to musical experiences and helping people to listen actively rather than just hear.
Kapilow’s range of activities is astonishingly broad, including his What Makes It Great?® presentations (now for over 20 seasons in New York and Boston), his family compositions and Family Musik® events, his Citypieces, corporate programs, and residencies with institutions as diverse as the National Gallery of Canada and Stanford University. The reach of his interactive events and activities is wide, from Native American tribal communities in Montana and inner-city high school students in Louisiana to audiences in Kyoto and Kuala Lumpur, and from tots barely out of diapers to musicologists in Ivy League programs.
Kapilow has just been named as the new Artist Partner for the St. Paul Chamber Orchestra for the next 3 seasons, and he is currently an Artist-in-Residence for the Kaufman Music Center in NYC, the Wilma and Clifford Smith Visitor in Music at the University of Toronto, and Artist-in-Residence at the Thurnauer School of the JCC in New Jersey.
Kapilow has appeared on NBC’s Today Show with Katie Couric; he presented a special What Makes It Great?® for broadcast on PBS’s Live From Lincoln Center; and he has written two books published by Wiley/Lincoln Center: All You Have To Do Is Listen, which won the PSP Prose Award for Best Book in Music and the Performing Arts, and What Makes It Great (2011), the first book of its kind to be especially designed for the iPad with embedded musical examples. His new book, Listening for America, which will be published by Norton/Liveright in the fall of 2019, is on the American Songbook.
Rob Kapilow dedicates his summer months to writing and composing new music. He was the first composer to be granted the rights to set Dr. Seuss’ words to music, and his "Green Eggs and Ham" has been called “the most successful piece written for families this half century.” A CD featuring Nathan Gunn and Isabel Leonard in two more of his popular Family Musik® compositions, Chris van Allsburg’s Polar Express and Dr. Seuss’s Gertrude McFuzz, was released in 2014, and his new piece for the 25th anniversary of Ottawa Chamberfest based on Louise Bourgeois’ spider sculpture, “Maman,” received its premiere in August of 2019. He is currently working on a large new piece for the JCC based on immigrant stories called “We Came to America” to premiere in 2022.
Kapilow’s career has been marked by numerous major awards and grants. He won First Place in the Fontainebleau Casadesus Piano Competition and was the second-place winner of the Antal Dorati Conductor’s Competition with the Detroit Symphony. He was featured on Chicago Public Radio’s Composers In America series, and is a recipient of an Exxon Meet-the-Composer grant and numerous ASCAP awards.
Kapilow has conducted many of North America’s major orchestras, as well as new works of musical theater, ranging from the Tony Award-winning Nine on Broadway to the premiere of Frida for the opening of the Brooklyn Academy of Music’s Next Wave Festival, and premieres of works for the American Repertory Theater. At the age of 19, Kapilow interrupted his academic work at Yale University to study with the legendary Nadia Boulanger. Two years later, after graduating Phi Beta Kappa from Yale, he continued his studies at Eastman School of Music. After graduating from Eastman, he returned to Yale, where he was an assistant professor for six years at the university. He lives in River Vale, NJ with his wife and three children.
Sundays with the St. Lawrence
Sun, May 7 at 2:30 PM | Bing Concert Hall
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Fri & Sat, May 19 & 20 at 7:00 PM & 9:00 PM | The Studio