A Composer Whose Time Has Come | The Reader's Guide Feature | Chicago Reader

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A Composer Whose Time Has Come


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In January 1999 author Barry Singer published an appreciative essay about composer Vernon Duke in the New York Times. Duke, a Russian emigre who lived in Paris in the 1920s and New York after that, was a classical composer who also wrote some of America's most unforgettable popular music--pieces like "April in Paris" and "Autumn in New York." He collaborated with lyricists like Ira Gershwin and Ogden Nash, hung out with Prokofiev, and published "serious" music under his Russian name, Vladimir Dukelsky, but he "never caught on as a brand-name composer" of either classical or popular music. Singer speculated that his beautiful but melancholy work may have been better suited to 1999 than it was to the 1930s. Duke's widow, Northwestern University graduate Kay Duke Ingalls, liked the essay so much she contacted Singer, presented him with an unpublished Duke score written in 1949, and asked him to turn it into a musical about turn-of-the-century Parisian muse Misia Sert, whom Duke had known during his years in Paris. Born in Russia and originally married to critic and publisher Thadee Natanson, Sert hosted a salon that included the likes of Nijinsky, Ravel, Debussy, and Gide; she was painted by Toulouse-Lautrec and Vuillard, and immortalized in a 1904 portrait by Renoir. This week Ravinia Festival's Steans Institute for Young Artists will present a world-premiere workshop performance of Misia, with Singer's book and lyrics, Duke's score, and Singer directing soprano Sylvia McNair in the title role. Performances are at 8 PM September 13 and 14 in Bennett-Gordon Hall at the park, Lake Cook and Green Bay roads in Highland Park. Admission and parking are free on a first-come basis. Call 847-266-5100 for more information.

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