Musical tribute to Ruth Bader Ginsburg performed by a Brooklyn College professor who has the gift of fundraising

Opera music

Late Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg speaks at Stanford University in Stanford, Calif. In February 2017. AP file photo by Mario Jose Sanchez

The upcoming world premiere at the Dallas Symphony Orchestra today, October 7, of a classical music piece inspired by the late Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg would likely have been impossible without a group of area lawyers from the Chicago; a Long Island Art Foundation; and an award-winning pianist, composer and music teacher who closed the deal.

This is the art of financing new musical works in the midst of a pandemic.

Even in the best of economic times, it is usually difficult to find funders for new orchestral works.

“You’re looking for support for something that doesn’t exist,” said Jeffrey Biegel, a Brooklyn College faculty pianist and composer who has successfully brought together donors and composers to create more than a dozen musical works. since 1999. “We have no idea what the first notes will look like until we have enough money to pay them.”

During the commissioning of previous musical projects, Biegel estimates that he raised a total of $ 600,000. But with many arts and entertainment nonprofits now weakened by COVID-19 and declining donations as well as event revenues, it has become more difficult to increase the $ 25,000 to $ 100,000 to order. a new work. The industry is still recovering from a loss of about 35 percent of its jobs last September, according to the Center for Civil Society Studies at Johns Hopkins University.

Jeffrey Biegel, pianist / composer and music teacher at Brooklyn College, here at the Cinema Arts Center on Long Island.
Mark Lerner / courtesy of Jeffrey Biegel via AP

Biegel, 60, admitted that for Ellen Taaffe Zwilich’s “Remembering Ruth Bader Ginsburg” to come to fruition, he had to approach it differently.

“This piece marks a point in time when a very important historical figure lived and left his legacy in many ways,” he said. “I thought a piece of music to honor her and commemorate this legacy was in order, and the donors came to help with that.”

Kim Noltemy, president and CEO of the Dallas Symphony Orchestra, said she jumped at the chance to be a part of Ginsburg’s new piece, which premieres in Dallas on Thursday, with one of the favorite singers. of justice, mezzo-soprano Denyce Graves, joining the orchestra in her performance.

Ginsburg’s love for Graves’ work and for opera in general is well known. A night at the opera, she told interviewers, offered a rare break from thinking about the law.

“I just feel like a musical tribute to her is a wonderful way to recognize her love for music and the arts,” Noltemy said.

“We had to find a way to move forward,” said Noltemy, who praised him for quickly restoring the orchestra’s live performance, even though at lower capacities it made gigs unheard of. profitable. “It’s my job and that of my team to find a safe way to do it. But we have to continue this music.

“Remembering Ruth Bader Ginsburg”, co-commissioned by the Dallas Symphony Orchestra, has received support from the American Composers Forum and the Norma and Don Stone New Music Fund. Even so, the project still lacked sufficient funds to be completed.

Biegel turned to the Long Island-based Billy Rose Foundation, which he had previously worked with.

“It was about to fail and it felt like something to me that should be out there,” said John Wohlstetter, president of the foundation, who said his organization had offered a “modest sum” for help keep the project afloat. “It’s the arts in general. We live in an age, frankly, where a lot of the culture is in the sewers. I don’t think any of us are better at it. It’s good to have a new modern job.

Yet in the end, Biegel said, a group of enthusiastic lawyers, rightly so, pulled Project Ginsberg through the finish line.

“It’s the biggest subject with the best team behind it,” said one of them, Todd Wiener of Evanston, Ill..

“I just want to help them get started,” Wiener said. “I would twist the arms of a lot of people I know in the legal community to donate to make sure everything is there for them.”

New York area judges pose with a statue of the Hon. Ruth Bader Ginsburg in City Point, Brooklyn, in March 2021.
Photo courtesy of Bob Krasner

“Remembering Ruth Bader Ginsburg” was written by Zwilich, the first woman to win the Pulitzer Prize for musical composition. Graves, who won a Grammy Award for Best Opera Recording in 2020 as a soloist in “Gershwin: Porgy and Bess,” performed at the Ginsburg memorial service. And Biegel was the pianist in Kenneth Fuchs’ Grammy-winning piano concerto “Spiritualist” in 2019.

Sunil Iyengar, research director at the National Endowment for the Arts, noted that the complications of dealing with COVID-19 can be overwhelming for some artistic groups and require innovative solutions.

“There is a real need to find other new means of income and some social transformation,” said Iyengar. “If there is no substantial support for the resumption of the arts, we are talking about potentially depriving entire generations of artists, artistic workers, artistic audiences and arts learners – and then we impoverish lives. cultural, emotional and intellectual of our country. “

Biegel said the Ginsburg project has enjoyed a wide range of philanthropic support – not just financial assistance. Many artists have contributed their Ginsburg-inspired art to help publicize the piece. He asked Harrison Sheckler, one of his Brooklyn College students, to orchestrate Biegel’s own Ginsburg-inspired piece.

“I said to him, ‘I have no money to offer, but if you do this, any rental or purchase from this arrangement will be shared with you.’ “

Biegel, who will also be performing his own composition “Reflection of Justice: An Ode to Ruth Bader Ginsburg” as part of the Dallas program, said he was delighted that the world would soon hear “Remembering Ruth Bader Ginsburg”.

It is, he said, not only a collaboration of artists but also of donors.

“It’s a lot of work,” Biegel said. “I am not paid to do it. I’m telling everyone – and I’m not saying it in a disrespectful way, I’m saying it in a very positive and productive way – it’s not about you. “