Piecing together Andre Previn’s last work

Piecing together Andre Previn’s last work


norman lebrecht

July 11, 2019

The Boston Symphony have given some details of the patchwork nature of Penelope:

The Boston Symphony Orchestra will move forward with presenting the world premiere of André Previn and Tom Stoppard’s Penelope at Tanglewood’s Ozawa Hall on Wednesday, July 24 at 8 p.m. New to the performance lineup is Boston-born actress Uma Thurman, who will take on the newly created part of narrator, joining the previously announced performers[Renee Fleming]—the Emerson String Quartet, pianist Simone Dinnerstein, and vocalist Renée Fleming, to whom the work is dedicated. Prior to Mr. Previn’s passing in February, the premiere of Penelope was originally conceived as part of Tanglewood’s celebration of Previn’s 90th birthday year. It will now be dedicated to the life and music of this great American musician. A monodrama about Penelope from Homer’s Odyssey, this new work by Mr. Previn and Mr. Stoppard was commissioned by the Boston Symphony Orchestra, the Ravinia Festival, Aspen Music Festival and School, and the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts.

Some Background on the Development of Penelope Since Mr. Previn’s Passing on February 28, 2019
[John Williams]At the time of his death, André Previn was close to completing the composition of Penelope, though the score was still in manuscript form. Upon gathering all the score pages and sketches from his father’s apartment, Previn’s son, Matthew Previn, asked his father’s longtime copyist, David Fetherolf, who is fluent in understanding Previn’s musical shorthand, to create a full working score from the manuscript. In some instances, the composer had written alternate versions and settings of some passages of text. As Mr. Fetherolf delved into the manuscript, it became clear that Previn had still been in the process of deciding whether certain portions of the text would be recited by a narrator or sung as part of the soprano role. Working closely with Renée Fleming, the Emerson Quartet’s first violinist, Eugene Drucker, and pianist Simone Dinnerstein,[Emerson String Quartet] Mr. Fetherolf realized the score, which will be presented at the premiere performance on July 24. As he wrote in his program note, “I replaced many of the sung parts with the other pages I had found with text which was spoken. Some of these parts were accompanied by the quartet or piano, and some were just spoken.” In addition, there were portions of the original manuscript where there were additional orchestral instruments written into the score, possibly indicating that Mr. Previn was anticipating a full orchestration of the work at some point in the future.

“After the loss this winter of my dear friend, the great André Previn, I’m overjoyed that we are indeed able give his last work its world premiere at Tanglewood,” said Renée Fleming in a statement. “With the addition of the incomparable Uma Thurman to the performance with the Emerson String Quartet and pianist Simone Dinnerstein, I know we can give André’s beautiful music and Tom Stoppard’s brilliant text the performance André would want.”

Tanglewood Learning Institute (TLI) Activities in Connection with Performance of Penelope
[Tom Stoppard]One of the leading American playwrights, Tom Stoppard will take part in a Meet the Makers sessions, offering up close and personal conversations with celebrated artists and artisan who dive deeply into the creative process and their incredible work. On Wednesday, July 24, at 10 a.m. in Studio E in the Linde Center for Music and Learning, Mr. Stoppard will share his thoughts about the creative process and the genesis of Penelope, which explores marriage and the endurance of love through the story of Penelope from Homer’s OdysseyMeet the Makers makes its debut this summer as one of the many programs of the new Tanglewood Learning Institute launching this summer during the 2019 Tanglewood season.


  • John Sorel says:

    [[ One of the leading American playwrights, Tom Stoppard ]]

    Oh really? He was born in Czechoslovakia in the 1930s, and came to Britain as a child refugee from the encroaching Third Reich. He has been a British citizen ever since – with an Order of the British Empire to boot.

    • John Rook says:

      Amazing, isn’t it? Beggars belief. As if the basics of nominal research are beyond the grasp of this journalist.

      • norman lebrecht says:

        The text is from the BSO, not Slipped Disc. If you don’t trust this site, please stay away.

        • John Sorel says:

          The attribution of the Release to the BSO is very clear, Norman. No-one has blamed SD, nor would we ever imagine you to be the author of such twaddle.

    • Stereo says:

      The Americans have so few talented artists/playwrights they have to claim other countries talent as their own.

  • Esther Cavett says:

    BTW Happy Birthday to Norman, as Wiki says

    Norman Lebrecht (born 11 July 1948 in London)

  • I want to relate something Previn told me about his 1999 work Diversions, commissioned by the Mozarteum for performance by the Vienna Philharmonic during Mozartwoche: the movement titled “Prologue” is no such thing. This more fully textured movement was conceived and written as a cap to the preceding three movements, the first of which is a Passacaglia and named as such. A few months before the premiere, Previn decided the opening was too somber and that shifting the last movement to the front would work better, and he even gave it the published title. The Salzburg concert went well. But months later in Vienna, where there were two performances, he realized he had made a mistake. He did not correct the sequence however because, he said, the orchestra had become used to it that way, things were printed, and they were about to play a few other dates with Diversions in other cities. ASM probably knows the history too. What I found amazing was that he didn’t seem to really care, six or seven years later! And it is a charming, neatly crafted suite with opportunities for several wind solos.