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As a highlight of its 2014 Spring Festival, "Sleeping Around: the Cultural Lives of New York's Hotels," Symphony Space presents Virgil Thomson and Friends at the Chelsea Hotel on Thursday, May 8, at 7:30 pm, in the Leonard Nimoy Thalia.

The program, curated by Artistic Director Laura Kaminsky and noted composer/pianist Jed Distler, includes music by Thomson, Aaron Copland, Lou Harrison, and Paul Bowles, plus Gerald Busby and Scott Wheeler, who will lead a panel discussion on Thomson's music. Along with Distler, soprano Kamala Sankaram and violinist Julie Rosenfeld will perform a selection of chamber and vocal works, listed below. Between pieces, video and audio interviews with Thomson will be presented, bringing this legendary figure to life. Tickets are $32, $27 for members, and $20 for those 30 and under, available at

Thomson (1896 - 1989), a critic for the New York Herald Tribune as well as a highly influential composer, lived at the Chelsea Hotel from the 1940s until his death. Noted John Rockwell in his New York Times obituary of the composer, "Beyond his work, Mr. Thomson was a magnetic force within the social world of American intellectuals, with his sharp tongue, twinkling eyes and owlish face and figure. His dinner parties at the Chelsea Hotel were the stuff of legend. He seemed, up to the very end, to know everyone in the worlds of music, art, dance and letters."

Biographer Paul Wittke observed, "Entering his apartment on the ninth floor, you walked into a past era which was very European, and left contemporary obstreperous New York far below... To these rooms like pilgrims to a hermitage came the elite of the day - Stravinsky, Boulez, Beecham, Oscar Levant, Bernstein, Tennessee Williams, Philip Johnson, Peggy Guggenheim, Edward Albee, and others. They came for...debonair conversations and fabulous food. Thomson was an amazing cook and could whip up a gourmet meal with a few cans from the supermarket. Always impeccably dressed, he reigned like a beloved maharaja, although his activities were more restricted than in former years. Like Truman Capote, whom he resembled in size (5'2"), he was to the manner born, his chic parties a social event."

Along with his groundbreaking operas on texts by Getrude Stein, Four Saints in Three Acts and The Mother of Us All, Thomson may be best known for his series of brief musical portraits, for solo piano, of people in his circle. "Virgil Thomson and Friends at the Chelsea Hotel" pairs a number of these musical sketches with their subjects' own music. The program includes:

Virgil Thomson (1896-1989)
A French Boy of Ten: Louis Lange (1935)
Karen Brown Waltuck: Intensely Two (1981)
Señorita Juanita de Medina accompanied by her mother (1928)
Miss Gertrude Stein as a Young Girl (1928)
Gerald Busby: Giving Full Attention (1981)
Gerald Busby (b. 1935)
Orpheus (2006, texts by Keith Waldrop)

Virgil Thomson
Solitude: A Portrait of Lou Harrison (1945)
Lou Harrison (1917-2003)
Grand Duo for violin & piano (1988)
1. Moderato 3. A Round

Virgil Thomson
Scott Wheeler: Free-Wheeling (1981)
Scott Wheeler (b. 1952)
How Many Miles to Babylon?, from the opera "Democracy" (1998, texts by Romulus Linney)
Oriole and Keeping the Sabbath, from "Sunday Songs (1999, texts by Emily Dickinson)

Virgil Thomson
Souvenir: A Portrait of Paul Bowles (1935)
Paul Bowles (1910-1999)
Four Preludes (1947)

Virgil Thomson
Madame Marthe-Marthine (1928)
Cliquet-Pleyel (1928)
Henri Sauget: From Life (1928)
Persistently Pastorale: Aaron Copland (1942)
Aaron Copland (1900-1990)
Hoe-Down, from "Rodeo" (1942)

Symphony Space traces its beginnings to a free marathon concert, Wall to Wall Bach, held in 1978 and organized by co-founders Isaiah Sheffer and Allan Miller. The music marathon then drew thousands of visitors and has since become one of the organization's signature events. Today Symphony Space presents more than 600 events each season, including music, dance, theater, film, and literary readings. Some of its best known programs include Selected Shorts, a reading of short stories by stars of stage and screen, and one of the most popular series on public radio; the Thalia Film Club, a trendy film club hosted by Marshall Fine featuring pre-release screenings and behind-the-scenes conversations with film stars; Just Kidding, one of the most talked about family entertainment series around town; and, more recently, The Music of Now, presenting an eclectic range of music in all styles and sensibilities, focusing on emerging artists and unusual work.

Symphony Space is located at 2537 Broadway at 95th Street. Box office hours are Tuesday through Sunday, 1 pm - 6 pm, open two hours prior to performances and events. Tickets can also be purchased through, or by calling 212/864-5400.

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