1956: Neil Sedaka Plays Debussy and Prokofiev at WQXR

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Over the course of five decades, Neil Sedaka's career has undergone several major phases, including as a teen pop star in the late 1950s, a mature crooner in the '70s and as one of the legendary '60s songwriters emanating from New York's Brill Building. While the public knows him for such pop hits as "Breaking Up is Hard to Do" and "Calendar Girl," less known is his background as a classical pianist who studied at the Juilliard School.

In 1956, a 16-year-old Sedaka was one of 15 young people selected to appear on WQXR's educational competition program "Musical Talent in Our Schools." Sedaka attended the Abraham Lincoln School in Brooklyn where, he was already getting a start on writing pop music -- "ballads and musical-comedy material," as he said in his remarks. But here the precocious teen sticks with the classics, performing works by Debussy and Prokofiev. It clearly paid off: Sedaka won the contest, whose judges included none other than pianist Arthur Rubenstein.

Neil Sedaka's Top Five Works and Performances

1)  Frederic Chopin - Ballade No. 1 in G Minor, Op. 23 (Vladimir Horowitz, piano)
2)  Gustav Mahler - Symphony No. 5: Adagietto
3) Neil Sedaka - archival recording of Sedaka playing Prokofiev
4) Sergei Rachmaninoff - Piano Concerto No. 3 in D Minor, Op. 30
5) Neil Sedaka - Manhattan Intermezzo

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Comments [14]

Stella McBride from UK

Neil Sedaka is simply a musical genius,and is recognised as such the world over.Even now, after all these years in the business he still has such a passion and wonderful talent. His music is ever evolving.
Music IS Sedaka!

Dec. 27 2011 03:47 AM

My Aunt Pauline married into the Gormezano family who, in turn married into the Sedaka family. These were both Sephardic Jewish families and the Gormezanos had another well-known member of the family, Edith. (better known as Eydie Gormé!)

(On Wikipedia, I see it's misspelled as "Garmezano" in another of their famous howlers.)

I didn't go to Lincoln High School for some reason but was at Lafayette, also in Brooklyn where our local celebrity during my time was Sandy Koufax but my sister, a few years before, went to the same high school with Vic Damone (then Vito Farinola.).

Clearly, Brooklyn holds some sort of magic!!!

Nov. 25 2011 03:31 PM
Michael Meltzer

Greetings and belated congratulations to classmate Marion Finger.
Madison also gave us City Opera diva Elaine Malbin (also of Cunningham Jr. High School), Cousin Brucie (Bruce Morrow), Senators Charles Schumer, Bernie Sanders and Norm Coleman (ex of Minnesota), Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Garson Kanin, Stuart Damon, Frank Torre, Judge Judy, as well as aforementioned Carole King,to name a few.

Nov. 23 2011 04:25 PM

It was great to hear Neal Sedaka playing classical music. I was very surprised to hear that he is an accomplished pianist! BRAVO!!

Nov. 23 2011 03:40 PM
Harry Weiss from Ridgewood, NJ

I made a mistake - Its not New York Intermezzo its is Manhattan Intermezzo, my apologies to all who will read my comment.

Nov. 23 2011 03:25 PM
Harry Weiss from Ridgewood, NJ

I got into my car today and heard Neil Sedaka. Wow, I use to use his pop music to make out and certainly dance. Never even thought he was a classical trained pianist. OMG, New York Intermezzo! Sounds of Gershwin, Porter and others.
I grew up listening to concert music (I worte concert music, NOT CLASSICAL MUSIC as it depicts to particular 18 and 19th. century time, and now to listen to New York Intemezzo, what a delight. I need to listen to it more to find out its nuances and its style.
Just brag a little - my son is an accomplished oboe player - makes me proud.

Nov. 23 2011 03:22 PM
Marion Finger

What a great beginning for us. I went to Madison and was one of the 1955 group of those chosen to perform on WQXR as part of the "Musical Talent In Our Schools" series, having played for Artur Rubinstein, Rudolf Serkin and Abram Chasins.

Nov. 23 2011 02:33 PM
Silversalty from Brooklyn, next to B at Nathan's

Based on the ads I heard, Sedaka's selections program will be broadcast at 2:00 PM today (Wednesday Nov. 23).

Nov. 23 2011 08:52 AM
Silversalty from Brooklyn

Here's to Lincoln
Cheers to Lincoln
Raise her banners (colors?) high

At least three and possibly five Nobel Prize winners went to Abraham Lincoln High School. No vouchers. No "select" students. Just your "average" neighborhood high.

I thought Carole King went to Lincoln but apparently she went to Madison. I think Barbara Streisand and Neil Diamond went to Erasmus. Beverly Sills too!?? (Via Wikipedia. I won't do a wiki check on ALHS. That would be cheating.) But with a steady population of around three million people in Brooklyn you're bound to get more than a few "one in a million" types.

I hope I get to hear the Manhattan Intermezzo.

Nov. 18 2011 07:05 PM
Ruy Mauricio de Lima e Silva from Paraná - Brasil

I absolutely ignored Neil (or Mr.Sedaka) had such substantial backgrounds.He was one of our teen idols in Brazil,at the end of the 50's until the British Invasion. By then, my heart would "skip a beat"(as was common in the lyrics) at the very first measures of "Stairway to Heaven" or "Happy Birthday Sweet Sixteen". Now with this precious WQXR archive, things become more clear.Congratulations, Wise Cupid!

Nov. 18 2011 12:44 PM
arthur alex from New York


Nov. 18 2011 08:02 AM

A wonderful broadcast. Mr. Sedaka was already a local legend when I attended Lincoln High School in the 70's. Hooray for Mr. Sekada and the New York City Public School system!

Nov. 17 2011 08:08 AM
Karen T. from Bayonne, NJ

How lovely to start my day being introduced to the young pianist!
This performance of Neil Sedaka, first being interviewed and modestly listing his accomplishments was so enlightening as well as entertaining and inspirational.
Thank you.

Nov. 16 2011 09:45 AM

Absolutely brilliant playing, Mr. Sedaka. Your soft spoken words were behind a tiger at the keyboard, lyrical, sensitive yet fearless of the pianistic demands. That you studied with Edgar Robert and then Adele Marcus is evident in this truly mature performance. It is wonderful that WQXR has shared this legendary broadcast with your many fans worldwide, who know you as a pop music legend, and can now hear the gifts underneath the classic songs. It is gratifying to witness your return to the classical style and wish you the best of everything in your ever evolving career in music.

Nov. 16 2011 07:38 AM

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