'Peanuts'-Inspired Masterwork by Composer Ellen Zwilich Leaps from Concert Halls to TV


  • newswise-fullscreen 'Peanuts'-Inspired Masterwork by Composer Ellen Zwilich Leaps from Concert Halls to TV

    Credit: Courtesy of Music Associates of America

    Ellen Taaffe Zwilich

  • newswise-fullscreen 'Peanuts'-Inspired Masterwork by Composer Ellen Zwilich Leaps from Concert Halls to TV

    Credit: PEANUTS © United Feature Syndicate, Inc.

    Marcie and Peppermint Patty

  • newswise-fullscreen 'Peanuts'-Inspired Masterwork by Composer Ellen Zwilich Leaps from Concert Halls to TV

    Credit: PEANUTS © United Feature Syndicate, Inc.

    Snoopy

Newswise — Concertgoers have long applauded the orchestral and chamber works of Pulitzer Prize-winning composer Ellen Taaffe Zwilich and television audiences will, too, when "Peanuts® Gallery" airs in October on PBS stations nationwide.

Premiered at Carnegie Hall and inspired by her friendship with the late "Peanuts®" comic strip creator Charles M. Schulz, Zwilich's endearing musical masterwork now takes to the public television airwaves as a joint project of Florida State University's celebrated College of Music in Tallahassee, Fla. -- where she is a distinguished professor -- and WFSU-TV, the Tallahassee station that has produced it. "Peanuts® Gallery" includes Zwilich's original piano and orchestral sketches of Charlie Brown, Snoopy and the rest of the gang, this time performed by the FSU Symphony Orchestra.

Eric Schultz of NJN (New Jersey Public Television and Radio) directed and co-produced the show for WFSU; he's a past recipient of numerous regional Emmy nominations and awards for arts and cultural affairs programming.

It's yet another encore for Zwilich: Academy Award winner, four-time Grammy nominee, first woman to earn a doctorate in composition at the Juilliard School, first woman to win the Pulitzer Prize in music (for her Symphony No. 1) and first-ever occupant of Carnegie Hall's Composer's Chair. Her creations are commissioned and performed by the likes of the New York Philharmonic, premiered by soloists such as Itzhak Perlman, and praised by critics and connoisseurs alike.

"Peanuts® Gallery" began with an unexpected mention in Zwilich's favorite comic strip.

"In 1990, to my surprise and amazement, I found myself in a 'Peanuts' cartoon," she said. "Peppermint Patty and Marcie are at a concert and Marcie says that the next piece is a flute concerto by Ellen Zwilich, who just happens to be a woman. In the final frame, Peppermint Patty, standing on her chair, calls out 'GOOD GOING ELLEN!' Imagine how I felt when I saw this!"

Clearly, she felt inspired. The surprise cameo in "Peanuts®" led her to develop a close friendship with cartoonist Schulz and then, to collaborate with him on the widely embraced and critically acclaimed "Peanuts® Gallery." In it, Zwilich's suite for piano and orchestra helps to tell the story of the journey from comic strip to Carnegie Hall.

"I've tried to capture something in the nature of each 'Peanuts' character in six short musical sketches," she said. The evocative results: "Schroeder's Beethoven Fantasy," "Lullaby for Linus," "Snoopy Does the Samba," "Charlie Brown's Lament," "Lucy Freaks Out," and "Peppermint Patty and Marcie Lead the Parade."

The concert is interspersed with rarely seen video footage of Schulz (friends called him "Sparky" ) his wife and Zwilich. "Although I'm sad that Sparky didn't live to see this video project, he is very much a part of it, not only in spirit but in the wonderful footage we have of him and his characters, and in the on-camera participation of his beloved Jeannie," Zwilich said.

"This was a 'first' for me and I was excited about the idea, as most of my works have been substantial pieces for major orchestras and performers," she said. "I wanted to write something for children that would not exclude adults, something for 'young people of all ages,' just like the 'Peanuts' cartoons in which sophisticated ideas are presented in a light and appealing manner."

PBS will distribute "Peanuts® Gallery" in October to its stations across the country. Broadcast times and dates will vary; viewers should check their local listings.

"I'm very happy that this program was recorded with the Florida State University Orchestra, not only because of my affection for FSU, but also because I hope it provides a subliminal message for young people that orchestral instruments and music are for them, too," said Zwilich, who at one time was a professional violinist. Named a Francis Eppes Professor at FSU, the Miami, Fla., native has earned myriad honors that include a Guggenheim Fellowship and election to the American Academy of Arts and Letters, American Academy of Arts and Sciences and Florida Artists Hall of Fame.

"I'm delighted that, through our station's latest partnership with the FSU College of Music, we can shine a national spotlight on one of our tremendously talented faculty members as well as on FSU itself," said Patrick Keating, WFSU general manager and "Peanuts® Gallery" executive producer. "I hope this project will serve as a model for other productions that showcase the amazing wealth of talent at this university."

So does FSU College of Music Dean Don Gibson. "Florida State University has a long-standing reputation as one of the nation's premiere institutions of the arts," he said. "We are particularly proud of the College of Music's distinguished tradition, which has flourished and risen through the national rankings thanks in no small part to the achievements and stature of artist performer-teachers such as Ellen Taaffe Zwilich."

Good Grief! Peppermint Patty would be proud.

PEANUTS © United Feature Syndicate, Inc.

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