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Bacharach’s Back

At 83 years old Burt Bacharach will return to Australia in April to tell us once again that what the world needs now is love, sweet love. Kathryn Edwards reports.

Legendary composer Burt Bacharach will return Down Under with his magnificent band and singers on his Farewell to The Symphonies Tour for concerts in five cities with the Adelaide Symphony Orchestra, Orchestra Victoria, West Australian Symphony Orchestra, The Sydney Symphony and Queensland Pops Orchestra.

During his previous sold out visit, the ultra-cool, cult hero was honoured with his eighth Grammy and proclaimed The Greatest Living Composer (2008 Recording Academy Lifetime Achievement Award) at the 50th Grammy Awards. He is also the recipient of three Academy Awards.

Bacharach has had a significant influence on the musical world since the 1950s and 1960s, when he achieved his biggest musical hits. He found a winning formula for how to produce great tunes, and began churning out hit after hit.

Although, according to Jim Koehne, former artistic director of the Adelaide Symphony Orchestra, it has taken some time for people to appreciate exactly what Bacharach achieved and what was unique about him. At the time [1950s and 1960s] people were swept up with this incredible string of hits, one after the other, that he’d produced during this incredibly fruitful time. In terms of what significance he has, I think that’s only starting to become recognised in the last decade or two, Koehne said.

Bacharach continues to set industry records and creative standards. He broke new ground with his Grammy awarded 2005 album, At This Time, taking on social and political issues in his first-ever lyrical collaborations. And his Grammy awarded musical Promises, Promises, returned to Broadway last year and earned four Tony nominations.

Throughout his career Bacharach, who has written over 500 compositions and produced a phenomenal catalogue with more than 70 timeless hits, achieved a classical type of pop music which found him an audience that spans all ranges of musical tastes and knowledge. Six decades into one of song writing’s most successful and honoured careers, he has contributed to the careers of Frank Sinatra, Tom Jones, Barbra Streisand, Dusty Springfield, Neil Diamond, Dionne Warwick, Aretha Franklin, Elvis Costello, Diana Krall, REM, Sheryl Crow, Gene Pitney, The Beatles and Ronan Keating.

What is unique about Burt is that he has a classical background, so what he brings to writing pop songs is a real sophistication, a lyrical skill that is the fruit of having some training and being a trained composer, Koehne added.

You’re either a classical composer or a pop composer, but in Burt Bacharach you have somebody who is both, who brings to pop music a kind of classical sensibility, and it gives an almost classical type of pop music. People are now seeing that as something that??s really special, something that??s been missing in music for a long time, and so that??s why he??s able to appeal to an audience that goes across lots of generations or different tastes of people.??

Bacharach might have been expected to be a good writer, as the only son of the late syndicated fashion columnist Bert Bacharach. From an early age, though, he demonstrated more interest with musical notes than with words. Most of his songs have been collaborations with wordsmiths, including many written with Hal David. That particular pairing resulted in scores of Top 10 records , with Dionne Warwick alone, Bacharach and David scored an incredible string of 39 chart records in 10 years.

According to Koehne, Bacharach’s partnership with Warwick and David was a stand-out period of time in his career.

He had classical training, and then he spent years working in Tin Pan Alley which was just a factory for producing songs, and there were all sorts of people who worked there and they just churned out songs every day, Koehne said. Burt had been working hard basically for years, had a few hits, like Magic Moments, and then suddenly he got this partnership with David and Warwick, everything came together, and that’s when he really had his big climax and nearly all the great songs come from that time.

Bacharach started taking piano lessons while in primary school. His family had moved from the US state of Missouri to New York, where he spent most of his youth. An avid fan of bebop music, Bacharach was influenced by such legends as Dizzy Gillespie and Charlie Parker, two musicians he credits with having a major impact on his career.

After graduating from high school, Bacharach studied at McGill University, the New School for Social Research in New York and Mannes School of Music, where his training included music composition with such famous teachers as Darius Milhaud, Boguslav Martinu and Henry Cowell.

He began his career as a conductor and arranger, and toured widely for three years as accompanist conductor for the legendary Marlene Dietrich beginning in 1958. As a teenager, he was composing songs, and by the late 1950s some of his songs were hitting the charts in performances by artists from different segments of the popular music field. Soon afterwards, he established himself as one of the music industry’s top writer/ producers, working with singers like Chuck Jackson and, of course, Warwick.

Although his first love remains writing, Bacharach feels performing is another bonus of his illustrious career. He continues to do scores of concerts around the world each year. He is one artist who will always remain in the limelight no matter what endeavour he pursues. In 2007, Burt was so inspired by his Sydney Opera House debut with the Sydney Symphony, that he specifically composed an eleven and a half minute orchestral piece, For The Children, which had its Australian premiere on his second sold-out tour, six months later. Burt’s first live album was recorded on this tour and the thirty-eight track double CD, Burt Bacharach Live at the Sydney Opera House, was released internationally in October 2008, to five star reviews.

Anyone Who Had A Heart will be entranced throughout every sophisticated and magical moment that is Burt Bacharach, his sensational band and singers with our orchestras, in concert from 16 April until 1 May. Bacharach’s music spans a long period of time and encompasses much of the 20th century. Koehne says audiences can expect to hear a superb assemblage of artists and singers, and fantastic charts; that is the arrangements of his music that he has supervised and put together himself, using all his skills and training as a classical composer.

For Burt this project is about creating the legacy to himself, so he’s trying to create these definitive versions for the farewell concerts that are the way he wants his songs to be remembered. They’re very classical, very sophisticated, and bring together well-crafted performances, which is really what it’s about.