It’s often said that Stephen Sondheim — the much-honored composer of many Broadway shows — writes music that could just as easily be enjoyed as “art music” in a concert hall.
Indeed, just this month, the New York Philharmonic gave a concert performance of Sondheim’s dark masterpiece “Sweeney Todd,” a musical that’s also been performed in opera houses on occasion.
On Saturday and Sunday, March 29 and 30, pianist Anthony de Mare visits the Mondavi Center with a solo concert program that takes the idea of featuring Sondheim’s music in a concert context a step further. Titled “Liaisons: Re-Imagining Sondheim for the Piano,” the program features the music that resulted when de Mare invited 36 contemporary composers to take a Sondheim song and transfer it to a solo piano setting.
The result is an homage to the depth and complexity of Sondheim’s melodies, which are performed at the keyboard, without lyrics. Sondheim gave the project his blessing; in fact, he said at the premiere of the program at New York’s Symphony Space in 2012, “to hear composers take my work and take it seriously … it’s a thrill.”
The program includes some of Sondheim’s most famous tunes — like “Send In The Clowns,” which became a pop crossover hit recorded by many vocalists — as well as less familiar songs.
Among the composers who got involved were William Bolcom, Mason Bates, Fred Hersch and Frederic Rzewski, all of whom have appeared at the Mondavi Center in recent years. De Mare is now touring “Liaisons,” which he is recording and ultimately will release as a three-CD album.
Local audiences also may remember de Mare’s appearance at Mondavi in 2009, in a concert that celebrated American music as part of a piano festival.
Both the 8 p.m. Saturday concert and the 2 p.m. Sunday performance will be in the Vanderhoef Studio Theatre at the Mondavi Center. Each performance will be followed by an onstage conversation between de Mare and pianist Lara Downes, a Mondavi Center resident artist.
Tickets are $42 general, $19 for UC Davis students, available at www.mondaviarts.org or 530-754-2787.