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An evening with Mr. Keith Emerson


I had the utmost good fortune to attend a spectacular event on Saturday evening, October 11, 2014. Billed as…Keith Emerson in Person: The Classical Legacy of a Rock Star. The South Shore Symphony of Long Island, NY (Scott Jackson Wiley, Music Director) provided a wonderful program that truly represented the Classical side of Mr. Emerson’s music career.

Edit — see YouTube performances (see link at end of post)

Early life inspiration
It was Emerson, Lake and Palmer’s album Pictures at an Exhibition that introduced me to the super group and kick started my heavy interest in orchestral works as well. The original work by Mussorgsky was written for solo piano, but it is Ravel’s orchestration that we are more familiar with today. And prog-rockers are probably even more familiar with the ELP version.

Pictures has become my all-time favorite large musical work, yet Saturday evening’s performance by the South Shore Symphony, was my first concert experience with the full work. It was delightful. And hearing it – seeing it – played live by an orchestra was just one of many delights that I encountered that evening.

As a skeptical person I usually avoid talk of mystical and fantastic things and I don’t use certain words much but the word that I keep coming back to as I try and describe my experience: Magic. Very odd for me to write that, however it’s a word I use in an attempt to convey something that is so personal that using only words to describe just falls short.


Three String Quartets — Emerson:
A Cajun Alley

The quartet’s performance was really fine, with a lot of heart and soul put into it. That is not easy to do with only a week or less to learn to the music and prepare for two performances. The musicians are volunteers so you know they play for the love, not the money (much like iOS musicians),

I think the musicians may have been a bit inspired by working with their guest of honor…who came on stage during the 3rd string quartet, waved at the crowd and then joined the 4 string players on the gorgeous Steinway big momma Grand Piano that dominated center stage.

Glorieta Pass — Emerson conducting his on orchestral work.

With the Steinway lid down in the closed position, Mr Emerson took up a position centre stage and faced the orchestra, (which revealed the sequined backside of his black evening jacket). With baton in hand he proceeded to conduct his work, Glorieta Pass. This was another piece that was familiar to my ears; the song Glorietta from Keith’s The Christmas Album and this orchestral work were based on work done for a soundtrack for a movie that was never made. I am glad it was not a throw away, it’s a beautiful, very moving piece (yes the spellings for Glorieta are different on album and in that evening’s programme).

Piano Concerto No 1 — Emerson
Piano: Jeffrey Biegel

Jeffery Biegel is one of the preeminent pianists in the world today. With Emerson watching and listening in the wings, Jeffrey and the orchestra dove right into Emerson’s Piano Concerto No 1 — a piece that I fell in love with, way back when. This is from the ELP album Works Vol 1, recorded with a full orchestra but ELP performed it live that way only a few times — but you can hear on the ELP album — Works Live. This was a dream come true, and Mr. Beigel performance was magnificent.

— Intermission —

Pictures at an Exhibition — Orchestra

Keith ran out just before the maestro was ready to begin and shouted to the audience, with a bit of cockney, “We’re gonna give ya some Pictures at an Exhibition” a joke reference that most of the full house of 700 would understand, not so much for anyone else.

Improvisations on Copland’s Fanfare for the Common Man, and jam session with Keith Emerson.

The stage setup included a drum kit a dedicated bass player and featured several solos from various orchestra members. And not to be missed was the fact that yes indeed, a synthesizer made an appearance; some type of Korg keyboard sat atop the Steinway when it was rolled back on stage following “Pictures.” It produced the typical brassy synth lead sound for Fanfare that we have come to expect. It did sound really good too.

Piano Solos — Keith Emerson.

Keith at the piano with the orchestra and audience all around watching him perform. The selection included a most beautiful solo piece from the ELP album Black Moon called Close to Home. And then another item from my ultimate wish list; Keith Emerson played Tarkus – solo piano – live right in front of me. Oh my. In a night of gifts, and birthday celebrations, this was, for me, the most special of all.

These two night’s were also billed as a celebration of Mr. Emerson’s 70th birthday (which is coming up November 2, I believe), and so with that, twice we sang a birthday song (once during the show and then again at the after show where Keith signed autographs, etc. It was really fun).

Another highlight was when Mr. Emerson received an honorary plaque and something, maybe keys to the city? From the mayor or Rockville Center, NY — which took the guest of honor by surprise.

It was an evening filled with humor, excellent music, and fond memories. My main takeaway was the inspiration I gained and my memory is filled with the overall warmth of the event — from the other fans like Scott, and Randy that I chatted with — to the general peaceful/artistic vibe that permitted the theatre.

This was unique, special and truly one of the greatest events that I have ever experienced. And to think, if it was not for the much dreaded business travel that I endure, I would not have made this event. Austin, TX to Long Island, NY is a very long distance.

I’ve got a new song and video up — for Halloween. Check the video page (link at top of page).

Performance of Emerson’s Piano Concerto no 1 from 11Oct14

Be seeing you,
— Bourne 24OCT14