|Composer Dick Tunney, left, holds his 70-page|
score as pianist Jeffrey Biegel prepares to join the
members of Orchestra Kentucky for the afternoon
rehearsal of Tunney's Peanuts Concerto
It has been quite a journey.
We broke the news about Dick Tunney’s commissioned Peanuts Concerto-to-be back on January 30, 2018, and followed with updates as the project progressed. (Click on Peanuts Concerto, in the labels below this entry, to read all previous installments.)
By late summer, the premiere date had been set for March 23, 2019, with Orchestra Kentucky, under the baton of conductor/music director Jeff Reed, at the Southern Kentucky Performing Arts Center (SKyPAC) in Bowling Green, Kentucky. The keyboard soloist: newly minted Grammy Award-recognized pianist/composer Jeffrey Biegel (for having performed as a soloist on Kenneth Fuchs’ Spiritualist Piano Concerto, which took this year’s Grammy for Best Classical Compendium).
Tunney and his wife Melodie were on hand, of course: both for the evening performance, and the earlier afternoon rehearsal. Who could blame him? The Peanuts Concerto represented a year of his life, and now he had the opportunity to share this newborn child with the world at large.
First, though, he spent the afternoon helping the orchestra fine-tune the performance.
|Tunney and conductor Jeff Reed, taking a break|
prior to the evening performance.
“When I’m able to attend a ‘first’ rehearsal,” Tunney explained, “I’ll typically sit in the house with a pencil and some Post-it Notes, and make notations on the score, of corrections or other things that need to be addressed. There were a few things to fix, but — largely — what was on the page, was what I wanted.
“The bigger purpose for sitting through the rehearsal is to help with interpretation. During the first run-through, some tempos were a little quick, and the orchestra lost Guaraldi’s ‘groove.’ The bottom line for classical musicians playing jazz is that it must ‘feel’ right. Much of that can be accomplished by ensuring that the tempos are correct. There’s so much nuance to jazz, and when juxtaposed with the precision of performing classical music, the result can make for some interesting moments.”
All too quickly, it was time to don formal attire for the concerto’s world premiere.
“Jeff [Reed] asked me to introduce the piece,” Tunney continued. “I gave a short introduction to Peanuts and Charles Schulz, and then a few sentences about Guaraldi. I concluded by talking about the task of juxtaposing iconic jazz piano with the symphony orchestra.”
The performance was well attended. “SKyPAC seats 1,800, and I estimate it was 75 percent full. That’s a very respectable audience for Bowling Green.”
|And it all comes together! Jeff Reed, standing in front of the orchestra and screen,|
conducts the Peanuts Concerto while soloist Jeffrey Biegel performs at the piano.
Patrons — and Tunney — enjoyed an unexpected bonus. Thanks to some necessary behind-the-scenes permissions, Peanuts Worldwide allowed the use of still images of Schulz artwork, which were displayed at appropriate moments during each of the concerto’s three movements. “At least half a dozen times, when an image appeared with the appropriate song, you could hear the audience ooh and ahhh. It was quite touching.”
Indeed, everybody clearly enjoyed the performance.
“The evening went well,” Tunney enthused. “I was extremely pleased with the interpretation, and the entire performance. The Second Movement was absolutely breathtaking, and the Christmas Movement was charming beyond my hopes. Jeffrey [Biegel] played with such artistry and musicality, and the familiar melodies brought a smile to every face.
“The audience applauded between each of the movements … and you know, in some stuffy classical circles, there’s always the question of whether to do that. I choose to call this an enthusiastic response, along with an immediate standing ovation at the conclusion, with a curtain call for conductor and pianist.
“The legacy of Vince Guaraldi’s music was honored, and placed on the proper pedestal.”