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Happy birthday • Brooklyn Paper

Happy birthday

John Corigliano

During its 2008 season, the Brooklyn Philharmonic honors a great contemporary American composer — and a Brooklyn native — who turns 70 this year.

Although John Corigliano is no stranger to honors — he’s won several Grammy’s, a Pulitzer Prize for his “Symphony No. 2” (2001) and an Academy Award for his score to Francois Girard’s 1997 film “The Red Violin” — the composer told GO Brooklyn that it is extra special to be feted by his hometown.

The centerpiece of the orchestra’s Corigliano birthday celebration takes place at the Brooklyn Academy of Music’s opera house on Feb. 2, as his concerto for flute and orchestra, “Pied Piper Fantasy,” is performed in a world premiere staging, directed by David Herskovits of Fort Greene’s Target Margin Theater.

Corigliano’s “Pied Piper Fantasy” was written at the behest of world-famous flutist James Galway, who premiered it at the Hollywood Bowl in the summer of 1980 with the Los Angeles Philharmonic. Based on Robert Browning’s legendary poem, “The Pied Piper of Hamelin,” Corigliano’s work concludes with high drama that rarely occurs in the concert hall: after ridding the town of rats, the piper leads the children away — and actually exiting from the stage are the flutist-piper (Alexa Still, at this performance) and the child performers.

The Midwood H.S. graduate’s piece was chosen for Saturday’s program after Corigliano and Brooklyn Philharmonic Musical Director Michael Christie discussed what would complement the legendary “Symphonie fantastique” by Hector Berlioz.

“We batted around both of my symphonies and other works of mine, then our discussion turned to how the Brooklyn Philharmonic is justly famous for taking many works and adding extra-musical things to them — and my ‘Pied Piper Fantasy’ is a natural for that,” Corigliano said in a recent telephone interview from Nashville, where he was at a recording session of his oratorio “A Dylan Thomas Trilogy.” “There’s already the built-in participation of children in the piece, so it lends itself to that kind of Brooklyn Philharmonic idea where their additions to the original score further illuminate the concert experience.”

Although musically, the Berlioz and Corigliano works are dissimilar (Berlioz’s symphony, which premiered in 1830, is noted for its radical notions of harmony and unusual blendings of different instruments in the orchestra), the concert’s title, “Painters of Sound,” alludes to the fact that both composers are unusually adept at handling large orchestra palettes.

“Along with being large in their orchestration, both of these pieces are very colorful and are also programmatic, since they both tell stories,” said Corigliano.

Unlike the music of “Pied Piper Fantasy,” how the plot unfolds onstage is not sacrosanct.

“Over the years, we’ve developed — through many different performances — various lighting cues and how the actual plot occurs, especially what happens with the children performers,” Corigliano explained. “Each orchestra is free to adapt it: they see what I suggest, and they either can do that or other things in the same spirit.”

Although not tipping his hand before the premiere of his own staging of the work, director Herskovits discussed the “number of challenges” he has encountered so far.

“One is narrative: how much are we trying to tell the story and how much are we leaving to the music? Balancing what we see and what we hear is of deep interest to me, since all theater is a struggle between the eye and the ear and getting them working in a useful relationship is the fun of what I do,” he admitted during a break in rehearsals.

“The composer wants this presented in a certain way.” Herskovits continued. “[Corigliano]’s obviously thinking about it visually as well as musically, and that’s exciting — I’d like to tease that out a little bit, so that we don’t feel we’re just visualizing the music.”

The Brooklyn Philharmonic presents “Painters of Sound: Corigliano and Berlioz” at the Brooklyn Academy of Music’s Howard Gilman Opera House (30 Lafayette Ave. at Ashland Place in Fort Greene) on Feb. 2 at 8 pm. Tickets are $20-$60. For more information about other Corigliano-themed concerts, call (718) 488-5700 or visit www.brooklynphilharmonic.org.

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