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Where Music Is The Star

Proud to represent its founders, The Rodgers & Hammerstein Concert Library is also home to orchestral works of Berlin, Kern, Weill, Porter, Lloyd Webber and others. Theodore S. Chapin, President and Executive Director of The Rodgers & Hammerstein Organization, looks back at the birth of The R&H Concert Library and the extraordinary contributions made to it by orchestrator Robert Russell Bennett.

The R&H Concert Library came into being on July 22, 1948. That night, Richard Rodgers conducted his first "Rodgers & Hammerstein Night" at Lewisohn Stadium in upper Manhattan before a crowd of 20,000, launching a summertime tradition that would last more than a decade with Rodgers himself frequently wielding the baton.

 

The morning after the concert, Rodgers' librarian unpacked the materials (arranged for the concert by the composer's longtime collaborator Robert Russell Bennett), put the scores on a shelf, and began spreading the word to other orchestras that they too could play the music of R&H. One request came in; then another, and another, and voila! - The R&H Concert Library was born.

To put the founding of the R&H Concert Library in context, we must remember how phenomenal was the success of the R&H collaboration. There had been hit musicals before OKLAHOMA! of course, but none had quite the same impact across the board, and none jolted popular music in quite the same way. The demand for songs from OKLAHOMA! was unparalleled and it grew exponentially as CAROUSEL, STATE FAIR, et. al. came on the scene.

Coinciding with the R&H years, more and more orchestras programmed popular music as part of their repertoire and, as the Pops spread, so did the desire for R&H material to help fill the bill. Always ready to oblige, Rodgers polished up earlier pieces, like "Slaughter on Tenth Avenue" (ON YOUR TOES, 1936), and had them prepped for concert usage. In these purely orchestral forums, the arrangements took on renewed importance.

Although some of these early concert arrange-ments were created by Johnny Green (for the Hollywood Bowl in particular), the majority came from the prolific pen of Robert Russell Bennett. Having been schooled in classic musical forms, Bennett proved ideally suited to the task of bringing melodies created for the theatre into the musically grander setting of the concert hall - a skill supporting an artform that is an artform unto itself.

Robert Russell Bennett (1894-1981) was one of Broadway's preeminent orchestrators for more than five decades, with over 300 Broadway musicals to his credit. He wrote about the challenges of his chosen profession in an extraordinary book, Instrumentally Speaking: "The concert audience is made up of true music lovers," he says at one point, "and music is what they come to hear. In the pops concerts of symphony orchestras, the music itself is the star. If there are singers, the words they sing are not the feature as in the theatre. They are an important part of the orchestra."

He goes on to summarize (and in a self-deprecating manner, minimize) the philosophy of orchestrators by saying: "Those of us whose lot it has been to carry a thousand or more songs and dances to the orchestra have learned a lesson that keeps hovering over this entire monologue: the one thing an orchestration can not furnish is the music. The music is what there is to say. The orchestration is how you say it."

It is no surprise that Bennett orchestrations are the foundation of The R&H Concert Library; the Bennett legacy has also provided a foundation of learning for subsequent generations of orchestrators. Coming full circle, in the current production of SHOW BOAT (see cover story), Bennett's orchestrations credit - one of his earliest, dating back nearly 70 years - is shared with one of today's top orchestrators, William David Brohn, who calls Bennett "my hero and later mentor."

Contact The R&H Concert Library at 229 West 28th Street, 11th floor, New York, New York 10001. Phone: (212) 268-9300; Fax (212) 268-1245.

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