Happy Birthday, Stephen Sondheim

Stephen Sondheim, the American composer and lyricist, celebrates his 87th birthday today.

Last summer, there were rumors that a new Sondheim show, currently in the “workshop” phase, would open this year, off-Broadway. With or without a new work, Sondheim’s contribution to American musical theater is undeniable. With Sondheim, the modern, plot-driven musical (a genre which emerged with Jerome Kern’s 1927 Show Boat and matured with Rodgers and Hammerstein) reached its zenith. Sondheim scores such as Sweeney Todd (1979), Sunday in the Park with George (1984), and Passion (1994) are fully integrated and “symphonic,” with small motives developing from one song to the next. Every note and lyric serves character and drama.

For example, listen to the motivic cohesion in Color and Light and The Day Off from Sunday in the Park with George, a musical inspired by Georges Seurat’s impressionist painting, A Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte. Sondheim’s music mirrors Seurat’s shimmering Pointillism while hinting at Steve Reich’s repeating minimalist patterns. Musically, we hear the creative process unfolding in real time as ideas emerge. There’s a visceral sense of the parts becoming a whole.

Something similar happens in Finishing the Hat from the first act of Sunday in the Park with George. Listen to the way the opening chord gradually changes as George flips through his sketchbook. Small motives repeat and develop as George’s thoughts unfold.

Recordings

About Timothy Judd

A native of Upstate New York, Timothy Judd has been a member of the Richmond Symphony violin section since 2001. He is a graduate of the Eastman School of Music where he earned the degrees Bachelor of Music and Master of Music, studying with world renowned Ukrainian-American violinist Oleh Krysa.

The son of public school music educators, Timothy Judd began violin lessons at the age of four through Eastman’s Community Education Division. He was a student of Anastasia Jempelis, one of the earliest champions of the Suzuki method in the United States.

A passionate teacher, Mr. Judd has maintained a private violin studio in the Richmond area since 2002 and has been active coaching chamber music and numerous youth orchestra sectionals.

In his free time, Timothy Judd enjoys working out with Richmond’s popular SEAL Team Physical Training program.

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