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

Recorded Live at The Palladium on April 17, 1981

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Tuesday, September 09, 2014

Musical Mavericks Edgard Varèse and Frank Zappa Musical Mavericks Edgard Varèse and Frank Zappa (Varèse by Roy Hyrkin / Zappa Courtesy of the Zappa Estate)

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

Hosted by:

Frank Zappa

Produced by:

Alex Ambrose, Tobin Low and Marcos Sueiro Bal

Comments [6]

Carl Edwards from Inwood

Seconding H. Marenstein's suggestion-- that this link be preserved in perpetuity. Wonderful performance. Great recording. My lucky day!

Dec. 30 2014 04:01 PM
Rick Borman from Naples FL

I had the very good fortune of attending this event. I was in NYC for the day from CT and walked by an open stage door. When I popped my head inside and sat down in the 14th row to catch some of the dress rehearsal, there was Frank. We asked him what was going on. He told us about the tribute. We were immediately interested as I knew of Frank's deep love for Edgar Varese's music. As it turned out, it was also a funder for Varese's wife who had been left with little money after Edgar's death. Frank, I believe, also helped her with cash flow over the years.

There was a reception after the concert at Mamma Leoni's. We had time to catch up with Frank and Joel Thoeme. Frank talked to me a bit about his upcoming orchestral works that he had commissioned in London.

All in all a fascinating evening. History was made and thankfully recorded by the wise folks at WQXR that night.

Dec. 01 2014 12:53 PM
joe ray

Great archival document. The article that Zappa read about the original Varese recording wouldn't have used the word "mashup" in it! Jumble perhaps.

Sep. 30 2014 10:07 AM
Benjamin Mawson from Gosport, UK

Thank you so much for this beautiful broadcast. I have been awe-inspired by Varese for many years, and an amused enjoyer of Zappa - who I fear I had not paid enough attention to - but this has given access to new perspectives on both extraordinary musicians, really inspiring broadcast!

Sep. 10 2014 06:59 PM

Thanks, that's the plan! We're glad you're enjoying the show as much as we are.

Sep. 09 2014 04:50 PM
Harry Marenstein

Please keep this link up forever and ever.

Sep. 09 2014 04:13 PM

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