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Remembering Hal Prince

Wed, 08/14/2019 - 11:14

When I was a composition student at the University of Southern California, I was introduced to Ethel Tyne, who had organized a group of friends, all excellent pianists, to get together once a week to sight-read arrangements of symphonies and overtures arranged for two pianos. I became a regular with the group, and when I told Ethel that I had been accepted at the Juilliard School, she said, “When you get to New York, you must call my daughter and son-in-law, Judy and Hal Prince.”

“Are they musicians?” I naively asked.

“You’ll find out what they do,” she chuckled.

So when I arrived in New York in 1972, one of my first calls was to Judy Prince. She was warm and charming and invited me over to the couple’s East Side townhouse. I noticed all the framed posters of Broadway shows that decorated the walls, and I thought to myself, “This couple really enjoys the theater!”

Still clueless as to who they were, I invited them to one of the first concerts I was conducting at Juilliard. Had I known then that I had just met the legendary icon of the theater world, I might have been completely intimidated, but thankfully I was introduced to Hal Prince simply as a friend.

My first impression was of someone who radiated energy and enthusiasm, who loved and knew a great deal about classical music and who had endless curiosity. He enjoyed the concert, and from that day on I was a regular guest in their home. I finally realized the scope of his Broadway activity when my husband and I were invited to a New Year’s party. 

I arrived early, and the first person I saw was a man sitting playing the piano. I walked over, and he casually said, “Hi, I’m Steve, who are you?” That was Stephen Sondheim. The other guests included a who’s who of Broadway. Most of the furniture had been removed from the large rooms, and on every floor there was a scene being performed by cast members from the many shows that Hal had running on Broadway. It was dazzling beyond belief, and I suddenly realized just who my friend was.

After I graduated from Juilliard, I invited Hal’s son, Charley, a budding conductor, to conduct a concert with the Roanoke Symphony, an orchestra in Virginia of which I was music director. Charley and I shared a deep love for Herbert von Karajan’s conducting, and as I had studied with the maestro, Charley was always full of questions about his teaching.

He and the whole Prince family came to Virginia to attend a concert performance I conducted of the Richard Strauss opera “Der Rosenkavalier,” and Charley was excited about conducting the orchestra’s next concert.

I often shared my compositions with Hal and Judy, and when he heard my monodrama “Molly ManyBloom,” based on James Joyce’s “Ulysses,” he wrote to me saying that it was a work he would like to direct in the future. Sadly, that will never be, but knowing that it appealed to him and his unerring theatrical instincts was enough.

When my opera “Travels” was produced by Opera Roanoke in 1995, it was to Hal that I turned for advice on someone to direct the show. He recommended his own assistant, Jonathan Arak, who, having absorbed Hal’s savvy and boldness, brought the opera to life and to a triumphant success.

Hal has touched the lives of many people. In addition to being loved and worshipped by the theater world, his brilliant light shone on his friends as well. I bathed in that bright light, and it has changed my life forever.

Victoria Bond, an internationally acclaimed composer and conductor, premiered her opera “Clara,” about Clara Schumann, at the Berlin Philharmonic’s Easter festival in Germany in April. She lives part time in East Hampton. The producer and director Hal Prince, a winner of 21 Tony Awards, died on July 31 at the age of 91.


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