Hidden from small

Pat Metheny and the American Beat, Part II: The Long Road to Verizon Hall

March 23, 2017

How does an idea like Chris Deviney’s, taking three jazz tunes by Pat Metheny and Lyle Mays and arranging them for symphony orchestra, make it to the concert hall? (His Imaginary Day, Duo Concerto for Vibraphone, Marimba, and Orchestra, an arrangement of Metheny and Mays’s music, has its world premiere with The Philadelphia Orchestra at Verizon Hall on March 30, 31, and April 1).

Very slowly, as it happens.

After getting Metheny’s blessing for the project, Deviney began working on the piece, transcribing solos and arranging the music. “Christoph Eschenbach was music director back then. I showed it to him, and he said ‘I think it’s a good piece; we should do it!’ Well, shortly thereafter, he left. That put the Concerto on the shelf for four years or so. Later, Charles Dutoit [then the Orchestra’s chief conductor, now conductor laureate] took a look and said ‘I think it’s a good piece, we should do it, but I can’t because I have too many commitments.’

Marimbaist She-e Wu performs Imaginary Day with Chris Deviney.

“A few more years went by. Finally, when Yannick came on board, I expected the same reaction but he said yes! And for a second I stopped and said ‘Really? You mean you want to do it?’ My favorite phrase is ‘be careful what you wish for; you might get it.’

“At this point, about a year and a half ago, it was only about 85% finished. It had been sitting on the shelf for about eight years, and I realized I needed to get back to work on it.”

One major decision about the piece was easy: Who would play the solo marimba part?

“She-e Wu is one of the top marimbaists in the world! I’ve known her since I came to The Philadelphia Orchestra in 2003. We taught together at Rutgers. Since she left for Northwestern [where she’s professor of music and head of the percussion program] we’ve remained friends and have performed together. She’s a fantastic musician! And I couldn’t think of anyone better to perform it with.”

Deviney admits that the long delay from green light to these performances is partly his fault. “I could have done it at the Mann, which is usually one and done, but with a brand new piece, I didn’t it want to get just one rehearsal. I kept holding out for a subscription week. Other orchestras had offered to do it as well, but I really wanted to do it with Philadelphia first. I really wanted She-e, too; that’s kind of how it took this long.”

Was it worth the wait? “I’m trying to not be too overwhelmed with the thought of it; I’m trying to focus on performing it. It won’t really sink in till after that last concert.”

Next: What it sounds like.

(The Philadelphia Orchestra performs Imaginary Day, Duo Concerto for Vibraphone, Marimba, and Orchestra, based on the music of Pat Metheny and Lyle Mays on March 30, 31, and April 1. The program also includes Dvořák’s “New World” Symphony and Bernstein’s Prelude, Fugue, and Riffs for Solo Clarinet and Jazz Ensemble. Bramwell Tovey conducts. For tickets and more information, please click here.)