From the Archives: Rock Icon Frank Zappa Referees Tribute to Edgard Varèse

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Q2 Music and the New York Public Radio Archives are thrilled to present a pristine, rediscovered recording of the legendary Tribute to Edgard Varèse concert, hosted and spearheaded by Frank Zappa. Previously only available as a lo-fi bootleg, the performance was recorded on April 17, 1981 at the now-defunct Palladium rock club in New York.

The concert featured Joel Thome's Orchestra of Our Time and included a young Marin Alsop, now music director of the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra, as concertmaster, and composer Tania León as orchestra manager. 

Zappa's love for Varèse began long before he became the mustached icon of eccentric rock and jazz. In fact, it began when he was about 13, after he read an article about a New York record store that somehow managed to sell an album called "Ionizations: The Complete Works of Edgard Varèse, Volume One." The magazine labeled the music as an unpleasant mashup of drums and sounds, a description that inspired Zappa's obsession to find it—which he did, finally spotting the formidable, mad scientist-like face of the French-American composer hiding among the LPs in a hi-fi store. The young Zappa listened to "Ionizations" religiously, leading to his discovery and embrace of other modernist composers and styles.  

Varèse helped opened the floodgates to Zappa's musical world. In a letter he wrote to the composer, he said, "I have been composing for two years now, utilizing a strict twelve-tone technique, producing effects that are reminiscent of Anton Webern." Soon, Zappa himself became a beacon for young musicians (like John Luther Adams), but he never let Varèse be forgotten. He quoted his hero on the back of his early LPs: "The present day composer refuses to die. - Edgard Varèse "  

This concert contains language that some listeners will find objectionable.

Complete Program

Ionisation, for percussion ensemble
Density 21.5, for solo flute
Intégrales, for small orchestra
Offrandes, for soprano and chamber orchestra
Déserts, for winds, percussion and electronic tape