Since first achieving fame as a teen pop sensation in the 1950s, Neil Sedaka has kept America singing for six decades. He brings the timeless hits of his storied career to Heinz Hall to perform with the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra during the PNC Pops weekend May 12-14.
The concert will begin with a first half directed by Assistant Conductor Andrés Franco and featuring the orchestra performing solo. Sedaka and guest conductor Jeffrey Reed join the orchestra in the second half to perform songs from Sedaka’s catalog such as “Breaking Up is Hard to Do,” “Love Will Keep Us Together,” “Laughter in the Rain,” and so many more. The orchestra will also perform the classically-trained Sedaka’s first symphony, “Joie De Vivre.”
Showtimes are Friday, May 12 and Saturday, May 13 at 8 p.m., and Sunday, May 14 at 2:30 p.m. Doors open one hour prior to concert start times. A Pops Talk will be held on stage following the Friday performance only. Pops Talks are free and open to ticketholders.
The Pittsburgh Symphony would like to recognize and thank PNC for its 2016-2017 title sponsorship of PNC Pops. Fairmont Pittsburgh is the official hotel of the Pittsburgh Symphony. Radio station WQED-FM 89.3 and WQEJ-FM89.7 is the official voice of the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra.
About the Artists
Singer. Songwriter. Composer. Pianist. Author. NEIL SEDAKA’s impressive 60-year career ranges from being one of the first teen pop sensations of the ’50s, a successful songwriter for himself and other artists in the ’60s, a superstar in the ’70s, remaining a constant force in writing and performing presently. This is all thanks to the countless songs he has written, performed and produced that continue to inspire artists and audiences around the world.
Sedaka was born on March 13, 1939. His interest in music began at the young age of eight, when he would listen to The Make-Believe Ballroom. But, it was not rock and roll, but classical music that would shape Sedaka into the musician he is today. By the time he was nine years old, he had already begun his intensive classical piano training at the prestigious Juilliard School of Music. At 16, Arthur Rubinstein voted Sedaka as one of the best New York high school pianists. Though Sedaka considered pursuing a doctorate in music, his next choice became his chosen vocation.
Eager to gain acceptance from his peers at Abraham Lincoln High School, Sedaka began performing rock ’n roll outside of his classical training. At this time, he would form the doo-wop group The Tokens; they would record two singles that would go on to be regional hits. But, it was his introduction to his young neighbor, Howard Greenfield, by Greenfield’s mother, that began one of the most prolific songwriting partnerships of the last half-century that sold 40 million records between 1959 and 1963.
Sedaka and Greenfield became one of the original creators of the “Brill Building” sound in the late fifties and early sixties when they were the first to sign with Don Kirshner and Al Nevins at Aldon Music. Aldon Music would go on to sign Neil Diamond, Carole King and Paul Simon among many others, and they became the center of the pop world.
Sedaka catapulted into stardom after Connie Francis recorded his “Stupid Cupid.” She then sang the theme song Sedaka and Greenfield had written for the 1960 MGM spring break classic, Where the Boys Are, which would be her biggest hit. Rhythm and blues stars Clyde McPhatter and LaVern Baker also scored hits with his songs. As a result of these hits, Sedaka was able to sign a contract with RCA as a writer and performer of his own material. Sedaka soon recorded chart toppers “The Diary,” “Oh! Carol,” ” Stairway to Heaven,” “Calendar Girl,” “Little Devil,” “Happy Birthday Sweet Sixteen,” “Next Door to an Angel” and “Breaking Up Is Hard To Do,” songs that have become a part of peoples’ lives and can instantly take listeners back to special moments.
In 1964, the direction of American music changed drastically when The Beatles launched The British Invasion. It became very hard for most male solo artists to continue to pursue their career in music. Due to his many talents as a songwriter, Sedaka was able to prevail, writing hit songs for such artists including Frank Sinatra (“The Hungry Years”), Elvis Presley (“Solitaire”), Tom Jones (“Puppet Man”), The Monkees (“When Love Comes Knocking at Your Door”), and The Fifth Dimension (“Workin’ on a Groovy Thing”).
Sedaka’s journey continued in the UK with the release of his album Emergence in 1972. This was the first step of redefining himself as a solo artist. It was Elton John who decided to sign Sedaka to his up-and-coming record label, Rocket Records, and begin to re-introduce Sedaka to American audiences. The two albums he recorded for the Rocket label, Sedaka’s Back in 1974 and The Hungry Years in 1975, both became top selling albums around the world. His comeback was further heralded by two of his songs co-written with Phil Cody, “Bad Blood” and the quintessential “Laughter in the Rain,” both reaching the #1 position on the music charts. In Rolling Stone magazine, Sedaka was hailed as “the new phenomenon.” The song “Breaking Up Is Hard To Do” was re-released as a ballad in 1975, and made music history when it reached #1 on the charts, becoming the first song recorded in two different versions by the same artist to reach #1. During this time, Sedaka also helped to launch the career of the Captain and Tennille with their version of his “Love Will Keep Us Together,” which won a Grammy Award for Record of the Year for this worldwide, number one hit.
The accolades showered on Sedaka have been numerous. Among the honors he has received, Sedaka has been inducted into the Songwriter’s Hall of Fame, has had a street named after him in his hometown of Brooklyn and was given a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.
With a career spanning six decades, a rare feat in the entertainment world, Sedaka never ceases to amaze. He shows no signs of slowing down. Neil has appeared on FOX’s hit Television show American Idol, as a guest judge – in which Clay Aiken would perform Neil’s “Solitaire,” which saw an inevitable release, reaching #4 on the Hot 100 Singles chart, and was one of the Top Selling Singles of 2004.
On June 10, 2004, he received the Sammy Cahn Lifetime Achievement Award from the National Academy of Popular Music/Songwriters Hall of Fame at the organization’s 35th annual induction and awards ceremony in New York. Named for the former president of the Songwriters Hall of Fame, this award is given to individuals in recognition of their outstanding achievements in furthering the successes of songwriters.
In 2006, Sedaka concluded a 10-city tour of the United Kingdom, where he filmed a Live Concert at London’s Royal Albert Hall for PBS (which was released as Neil Sedaka: The Show Goes On – Live at the Royal Albert Hall). During this historical evening, Sedaka was presented with The Guinness Award for his song “(Is This the Way to) Amarillo,” as the best-selling single of the 21st century in the UK, a song that was originally performed by Tony Christie more than 35 years ago.
On April 24, 2007, Sedaka released The Definitive Collection, a career-spanning retrospective released in honor of his 50th anniversary in show business. The Definitive Collection debuted at #22 on the Billboard Chart.
On October 26, 2007, Sedaka was honored with a tribute at Avery Fisher Hall at New York’s Lincoln Center. Neil Sedaka: 50 Years of Hits, a benefit for The Elton John AIDS Foundation, showcased Sedaka’s songs, with performances by Connie Francis, Dion, Paul Shaffer, Natalie Cole, Clay Aiken, Renee Olstead, and Captain and Tennille. The evening was hosted by Cousin Brucie Morrow and David Foster. Sir Elton John and Barry Manilow sent video tributes in their absence.
Sedaka has been married for 54 years to his wife, Leba, and they have two children: daughter Dara is a recording artist and vocalist for television and radio commercials, and son Marc is a successful screenwriter in Los Angeles. Sedaka has three grandchildren, twin granddaughters Amanda and Charlotte, and a grandson, Michael.
Inspired by his grandchildren, Sedaka released Waking Up is Hard to Do, a collection of Neil Sedaka hits that have been reinvented as children’s songs. Waking Up is Hard to Do was a family collaboration, in which Sedaka’s son Marc adapted four of his father’s classic songs, and Sedaka’s five-year-old granddaughters made their recording debut as his backup vocalists. Since the release of the CD, Imagine Publishing has begun releasing a series of books based on these songs. September 2010 saw the release of Waking Up Is Hard to Do. Its follow up, Dinosaur Pet, featuring Marc’s new lyric to “Calendar Girl,” was released in May 2012 and peaked at #3 on The New York Times Bestseller List.
In May 2010, Sedaka was awarded The Special International Award from The Ivors, honoring excellence in songwriting. On October 8, Sedaka was the Variety Club’s recipient of The Silver Heart Award, for his outstanding service to the music industry and his charitable work.
Sedaka has returned to his classical roots, composing his first symphonic piece, “Joie De Vivre,” and his first piano concerto, “Manhattan Intermezzo.” In October 2010, Sedaka recorded these two pieces with the Philharmonia Orchestra of London at the famed Air Studios in London. “Manhattan Intermezzo” was released on 2013’s The Real Neil.
In addition to his extensive worldwide tour schedule, Sedaka has just released I Do It for Applause, a CD of 12 new Sedaka songs and the official release of “Joie De Vivre.”
“The album is the culmination of 64 years of writing,” says Sedaka. “This is a gift I was born with. My main objective is to always top the last collection, raise the bar and reinvent Neil Sedaka.”
Having completed highly successful first seasons as music director of Tulsa’s Signature Symphony at TCC, as well as assistant conductor of the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra, ANDRÉS FRANCO has established himself as a conductor to watch.
While maintaining his roles as principal conductor of the multimedia project Caminos del Inka, and artistic director of the Fort Worth Symphony Orchestra’s summer festival “Concerts in the Garden,” he continues to delight audiences with his imaginative programming and energetic style.
During the 2016-2017 season, Franco will make debuts with the Boise Philharmonic, Oklahoma City Philharmonic and Texas Music Festival, and will return to conduct the Fort Worth Symphony Orchestra.
A frequent guest conductor in the United States, Europe and South America, Franco has appeared with the Columbus, Elgin, El Paso, Eugene, Fort Worth, Houston, Lake Forest, Mississippi, Saginaw Bay, Springfield, St. Louis and Stockton symphony orchestras; the Chicago Sinfonietta; Orquesta Sinfónica de Castilla y León/Spain; the National Symphony Orchestra of Peru, as well as with the National Symphony, Bogota Philharmonic, Medellin Philharmonic and EAFIT Symphony Orchestra in Colombia. Festival appearances include the Cabrillo, Grant Park, OK Mozart and Oregon Bach Festivals.
Franco formerly served as music director of the Philharmonia of Kansas City, as associate and resident conductor of the Fort Worth Symphony, and as Leonard Slatkin’s assistant conductor during the 14th Van Cliburn International Piano Competition.
A native of Colombia, Franco is dedicated to preserving and performing the music of the Americas. As principal conductor of Caminos del Inka, he has led many performances of works by Latin American composers, such as Jimmy López, Diego Luzuriaga and the famous Argentine composer Ástor Piazzolla.
Born into a musical family, Franco began piano studies with his father, Jorge Franco. An accomplished pianist, he studied with Van Cliburn Gold Medalist Jose Feghali, and attended piano workshops with Rudolph Buchbinder in Switzerland, and Lev Naumov in France. He studied conducting with Marin Alsop, Miguel Harth-Bedoya, Kurt Masur, Gustav Meier, Helmut Rilling, Gerard Schwarz and Leonard Slatkin.
Franco holds a bachelor’s degree in Piano Performance from the Pontificia Universidad Javeriana in Bogotá, Colombia, as well as master of music degrees in piano performance and conducting from Texas Christian University. Franco is married to Victoria Luperi, associate principal clarinetist in the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra.
JEFFREY REED has been bringing back the memories as music director of the acclaimed Orchestra Kentucky. His concert presentations are singularly authentic, recreating the soundtracks of pop music’s greatest decades. From the 1940s to our time, his concerts celebrate anniversaries and popular music milestones, from Elvis, The Beatles and The Beach Boys to The Carpenters and beyond, drawing on some of the nation’s brightest musical talent.
Reed has worked with Glen Campbell, Keith Emerson, Neil Sedaka, Peter Tork, Paul Williams and many others in appearances with his own orchestra and orchestras in St. Petersburg (Russia) and South Korea. He has twice appeared with the Royal Philharmonic at London’s Royal Albert Hall at the specific request of Neil Sedaka.
In the U.S., Reed has conducted the orchestras of Alabama, Augusta, Charleston, Detroit, Louisville, Memphis, Nashville, Omaha, Portland (ME), South Bend and Winston-Salem. In the coming season, his guest engagements include concerts with orchestras in Pittsburgh, Indianapolis, Phoenix, Knoxville, Sacramento and Riverside (CA).
His pops programming has been nationally recognized. Bestselling author and marketer Seth Godin singled out Jeffrey Reed in his best-selling study of new creativity, “Small is the New Big.” Godin praised his “clever” concerts and praised the “totally different way” Reed approaches programming. Reed is the only musician featured in the book.
In addition to his work with Orchestra Kentucky, Reed serves as principal guest conductor of Symphony Orchestra Augusta for the 2016-2017 season. He has also served as music director of the North Charleston Pops and the Murfreesboro Symphony.
For over 30 years, drummer JAMES VARLEY has been seated behind Rock ‘n Roll legend Neil Sedaka. Playing for one of rock’s icon’s requires not only talent, but the ability to shift musically into many directions. His early music education provided the foundation for his versatile style, studying music at North Texas State and then onto the famed Dick Grove School in Los Angeles. Since the 1970s, Varley has played with some of rock’s biggest names including Jose Feliciano, Seals & Crofts (on their smash hit “I’ll Play For You”), Jaye P. Morgan, England Dan & John Ford Coley, Shawn Phillips, Kim Carnes, Sanford & Townsend Band, Mac Davis and Neil Sedaka. Varley almost missed the opportunity to work with Sedaka entirely. When first approached by Neil, he was juggling tours with Kim Carnes and recording with Sanford Townsend Band. When offered the Sedaka gig, Varley quit the Sanford Townsend Band, only to find out that the drummer who’d just quit working with Sedaka changed his mind and returned to the gig. Luckily, Sanford Townsend reconsidered his resignation and he ended up traveling to Mussel Shoals with the band, playing on their biggest hit, “Smoke From a Distant Fire,” produced by Rock & Roll Hall Of Fame inductee, Jerry Wexler. After that record and tour, Varley toured with country legend Mac Davis and it was during that tour that Neil Sedaka once again approached Jim to play drums, ultimately mapping his career for the next three decades.
The PITTSBURGH SYMPHONY ORCHESTRA, known for its artistic excellence for more than 120 years, is credited with a rich history of the world’s finest conductors and musicians, and a strong commitment to the Pittsburgh region and its citizens. Past music directors have included Fritz Reiner (1938-1948), William Steinberg (1952-1976), André Previn (1976-1984), Lorin Maazel (1984-1996) and Mariss Jansons (1995-2004). This tradition of outstanding international music directors was furthered in fall 2008, when Austrian conductor Manfred Honeck became music director of the Pittsburgh Symphony. The orchestra has been at the forefront of championing new American works, and gave the first performance of Leonard Bernstein’s Symphony No. 1 “Jeremiah” in 1944 and John Adams’ Short Ride in a Fast Machine in 1986. The Pittsburgh Symphony has a long and illustrious history in the areas of recordings and radio concerts. Its “Pittsburgh Live!” series with Reference Recordings has resulted in back-to-back Grammy Award nominations in 2015 and 2016. As early as 1936, the Pittsburgh Symphony broadcast on the airwaves coast-to-coast and in the late 1970s it made the ground breaking PBS series “Previn and the Pittsburgh.” The orchestra has received increased national attention since 1982 through network radio broadcasts on Public Radio International, produced by Classical WQED-FM 89.3, made possible by the musicians of the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra. With a long and distinguished history of touring both domestically and overseas since 1900 — including international tours to Europe, the Far East and South America—the Pittsburgh Symphony continues to be critically acclaimed as one of the world’s greatest orchestras.
HEINZ HALL FOR THE PERFORMING ARTS is owned and operated by Pittsburgh Symphony, Inc., a non-profit organization, and is the year-round home of the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra. The cornerstone of Pittsburgh’s Cultural District, Heinz Hall hosts many events that do not feature its world-renowned Orchestra including Broadway shows, popular touring artists, comedians, speakers and much more. For a full calendar of upcoming non-symphony events at the hall, visit heinzhall.org.
Editors Please Note:
Friday, May 12, at 8 p.m.
Saturday, May 13, at 8 p.m.
Sunday, May 14, at 2:30 p.m.
PNC POPS: NEIL SEDAKA
ANDRÉS FRANCO, conductor (first half)
JEFFREY REED, conductor (second half)
NEIL SEDAKA, vocals
JAMES VARLEY, drums