13. October 2012 · Comments Off on Neil Sedaka Goes Classical · Categories: Read Online

Manhattan Intermezzo is the new piano concerto by Neil Sedaka, a 19-minute uber-bonus track on his new album, The Real Neil. Now it would be easy to be cynical about this piece, one of the silver-tongued songwriter’s first attempts to write what he calls “something serious”. I’m not claiming Manhattan Intermezzo is a piece that takes the concerto genre to places it has never been before, or that it marks a high point in contemporary composition. Far from it, given the music’s unabashed nostalgia and easygoing tunefulness. But the concerto is a sincere attempt to write something on a different scale, by a musician who told me: “My great love is classical music, and I’ve gone back to my roots with this piece.”

Sedaka won a scholarship to the Juilliard School, New York, studying there during his childhood and early teens. “I played a vast repertoire of Rachmaninov, Schumann, Chopin and Bach.” In fact, he describes his longer-than-half-century career in pop almost as an accident: “I discovered I could write songs and sing, so it all took off in that direction. It was my son who said, ‘Dad, you should try to write something classical.'”

It could have been very different. In 1956, his teacher sent a recording of the 17-year-old Sedaka playing Prokofiev’s fiendish Third Piano Sonata for submission to the Tchaikovsky Conservatoire in Moscow. Sedaka was accepted to play for a place at one of the most prestigious and competitive classical music hothouses. But a couple of weeks before he was due to go out to Russia, “I was disqualified, because they had heard that my name was associated with writing American capitalistic rock’n’roll.” It’s a tantalising thought, what Sedaka would have become in the classical world if that Moscow experience had worked out differently.


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