Athlone Artists to offer Patrice Michaels’ dramatic concert saluting the life and work of legal pioneer Ruth Bader Ginsburg as part of its Chamber Concert Series
“‘Notorious RBG in Song’ emerged as a loving tribute to its subject, cast in a neoromantic language recalling Samuel Barber and streaked with moments of jazz rhythm and harmony. Justice Ginsburg’s story deserves no less.” – The Chicago Tribune
Athlone Artists is pleased to offer Notorious RBG in Song as part of the Athlone Chamber Concert Series. Patrice Michaels conceived of the “vivid and beautiful” (Classics Today) 75-minute dramatic concert in 2018 to honor the life and work of legal pioneer Ruth Bader Ginsburg in celebration of her completion of 25 years on the United States Supreme Court. Justice Ginsburg, a longtime crusader for equal rights, became a pop culture icon known as “Notorious RBG” (a wry nod to the late rap artist, The Notorious B.I.G.). The musical narrative is anchored by Michaels’ song cycle The Long View, and includes works by contemporary American composers Lori Laitman, Vivian Fung, Stacy Garrop, John Musto, and Lee Hoiby, each celebrating a different aspect of Justice Ginsburg’s values, experiences, and relationships.
“Formidable interpretative talent” (The New Yorker), soprano Patrice Michaels debuted Notorious RBG in Song as a solo program with collaborative pianist Kuang-Hao Huang for an album released by Cedille Records in 2018. Since then, the work has evolved and expanded to include a quartet of singers, with Michaels serving as narrator, featuring video projections by Los Angeles designer Yee Eun Nam, and an optional chamber orchestra.
“RBG in Song is the perfect marriage between art, music and social justice,” says Athlone Artists’ President and Founder Miguel Rodriguez. “The artists bring to life the story of this pioneering American woman and Supreme Court Justice – who also happened to love classical music and opera.”
Patrice Michaels shared a close relationship with Ruth Bader Ginsburg: she’s married to Justice Ginsburg’s son, James. Her familial connections afforded Michaels a unique position to “both immortalize and humanize her mother-in-law” (DC Theater Arts). Michaels says, “I knew I would be sharing stories in song about how much RBG has influenced others, but I was thrilled to learn how much she herself was impacted by her family and formative experiences as a young teacher, mother and lawyer.”
“I did extensive research while creating this work including speaking with Justice Ginsburg, seeking what would be not only dramatically effective but true. This is the true story about her life.” The current narrative of the concert is told in thirteen pieces, all of which directly relate to RBG’s experiences.
The Long View reveals key aspects of Justice Ginsburg’s personal life and career through letters, remembrances, conversations, and even court opinions. The cycle draws on jazz rhythms and harmonies within a contemporary classical context, opening with a song based on a text written when the future jurist — and second female justice in Supreme Court history — was ten years old. It’s a 1943 letter from Supreme Court Justice William O. Douglas to a law school dean that envisions a day when a woman might conceivably qualify as a law clerk at the Court.
Subsequent songs portray Justice Ginsburg’s mother Celia Amster Bader; father-in-law Morris Ginsburg; ever-supportive husband Martin D. Ginsburg; and Anita Escudero, a Spanish immigrant and typist who experienced her political awakening as a new American while transcribing trial lawyer Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s handwritten notes. Comedic songs depict anecdotes from the childhoods of Justice Ginsburg’s daughter, Jane Ginsburg, and son, James.
Interwoven throughout The Long View cycle are songs with music and words directly related to RBG’s life, like composer Lori Laitman’s setting of the Emily Dickinson poem Wider than the Sky, performed at the late Justice’s 80th birthday celebration; Vivian Fung’s Pot Roast à la RBG, which provides a humorous glimpse into the Ginsburg household evening routine circa 1970, archly related by daughter Jane; and Stacy Garrop’s touching My Dearest Ruth, based on the farewell love letter the Justice’s husband, Martin, wrote shortly before his death in 2010.
Since its conception, Notorious RBG in Song has been performed in nearly twenty venues nationwide including the National Constitution Center, Los Angeles Skirball Center, Houston Holocaust Museum, and the National Museum of American Jewish History. Michaels and her troupe are eager to continue to bring this dramatic concert to the many beautiful performance venues in this country, where people from all walks of life come to be engaged and entertained.
“It was a profound privilege to create this project, and it remains a great joy to share the show with audiences all over the country,” says Michaels. “Every time we perform, individuals young and old express how much RBG’s life and work has meant to them. Notorious RBG in Song shares her life story in a way that reminds each of us that one person really can make a difference in the world.”
Michaels concludes, “What I’ve learned through the evolution of Notorious RBG in Song is that a genuine search for truth and fairness never goes out of fashion.”