Arts & EventsMoriarty's Musings: “An American in Vancouver” and The Seven of Us

Moriarty's Musings: “An American in Vancouver” and The Seven of Us

Moriarty's Musings: “An American in Vancouver” and The Seven of Us

This may very well be the beginning to some low-budget version of Hollywood’s An American in Paris.

You know, the splendid 1951 movie musical based on George Gershwin’s classic ballet? The one with Gene Kelly and Oscar Levant? And, of course, the eternally heart-melting Leslie Caron!

Only this time my film begins in the Warehouse recording studios in Gastown, Vancouver.

I’m not entirely Paris’ penniless painter that the great American dancing star, Gene Kelly, brought to life on the screen.

I can’t get even close to something like that.

I’m 71, have a mild numbness in my right hand and walk with a cane.

And I’m neither the George Gershwin nor Aaron Copland that my Symphony for Strings shared a stage with in Calgary.

I’m the retired actor doing what he loves best: composing!

Here is what Alison Mayes wrote about me in the Calgary Herald in January 1999:

Michael Moriarty claims people today are suspicious of Renaissance men – and he should know.

The award-winning American actor, best known as prosecutor Ben Stone on TV's Law & Order, is a classical and jazz composer, respected jazz pianist, playwright, poet and mystery novelist.

On top of that, he's a freedom-of-speech crusader and a would-be politician.

Succumbing to reality, however, and realizing, after heart failure, that I’m un-electable… so… I’m merely, within Enter Stage Right, a political writer and not President of the United States.

One is… well… at least as Americans are… always allowed to dream BIG!!

Humility is hardly the “long suit” for Americans… but our reach always exceeds our grasp and the results of such ambitions are forever humbling… but… eternally thrilling as well.

Here, however, is the way Kenneth DeLong began his review of my appearance in Calgary:

The Jack Singer Hall was packed Saturday night. The reason, stated simply and bluntly by conductor Kerry Stratton, could not be missed: the presence of actor, jazz pianist, composer, and who knows, perhaps even politician, Michael Moriarty.

Sorry to disappoint you, folks, but I never became the politician I’d promised, let alone Chief Executive of the United States. To that news I am sure millions of Americans and Canadians have given a resounding and rejoicing “Hooray!!!”

You just can’t win ‘em all!

As a composer, Moriarty is not yet in the same league as George Gershwin or Aaron Copland, but he is certainly well schooled, and his Symphony is a perfectly credible piece of music.

Further on he writes:

The four lightly contrasted movements were effectively scored, the thematic development clear, comprehensible and intelligent. Stronger in its lyrical elements, it was the inner movements that made the strongest impression.

Earlier in New York, Leonard Bernstein had heard a Manhattan music school’s recording of my symphony and wrote my agent Robbie Lanz:




Basically, though well constructed, it broke no new ground.

I really hadn’t tried to.

For my Symphony for String Orchestra, I wanted to write something “lovely.”

Indeed it was… and still is. Nothing has changed it on the page except perhaps my desire to be my own copyist. I’m composing all sorts of music every day and cannot wait on someone else’s schedule to have it copied.

These days, however, I’m into string quartets.

What this “American in Vancouver” brought to four string players in a Vancouver recording studio, however, was distinctly my own voice.

Recalling the history of 20th Century music and its revolutions, there was nothing new technically except my signature. No one would ever write for string quartet with quite the same dynamics, frequent double-stops, sudden silences, placed in theatrically long durations… well… I was first trained formally in the theater!

My music has been predominantly self-taught; but what has come to me naturally and enhanced by formal training in London, is my own brand of theater and theatricality.

As the conductor of the second New York performance of my Symphony for Strings, I was introduced as an “entertainer” by the musical director of the Cathedral of St. John the Divine, where the Bachanalia Chamber Orchestra of Nina Beilina performed my work. Though hardly the label I had hoped for, to this day nothing fits me, my soul and my life more completely than the title “entertainer”!

I’ve rarely been boring… even when I’ve tried to be.

When I later heard my Symphony for Strings performed by the Calgary Symphony Orchestra and its large, modern-sized string ensemble, its performance levitated me in the Jack Singer Hall, lifting my soul out of its box seat, as if by the tail winds of winged divinities! My ecstasy would be too obscene for me to describe!!

Is it any wonder, after even 10 years of quasi-absence from classical composing, that I have returned with even greater enthusiasm?!

So there we were: myself, my recording engineer, Adam, his assistant, Ryan and my four splendid string players – Elyse, Llowyn, Sarah and Doug!!

The Seven of Us!!

And I’m in an utterly euphoric state for seven hours: talking to my musicians, listening to their rehearsals, hearing their increasingly more confident abandon – for I had urged them to, like courageous actors, take chances – Adam’s selections for each section of my piece, then dining with them all there in The Warehouse Studio and, finally, hearing Adam put together the final edit of roughly 20 minutes of my music.


It is not a flawless performance… BUT I DIDN’T ASK FOR THAT!



Miles Davis.

No solo performing musician has been recorded live in Europe, Carnegie Hall or the Lincoln Center in New York making as many mistakes… bold and unapologetically huge, obvious mistakes… as has Miles Davis.

I wouldn’t trade those mistakes for any “flawless” performance which the greatest jazz musicians might come up with.


The indelible power of pure courage!

No solo musician carried a more powerful inner vision of performing than Miles Davis. Even his interminably long silences had their force of theatrical intimidation!

“It’s only music, child!”

But what an event we were all part of!

The performance of my Symphony for Strings in Calgary was flawless!

It had to be!!!

That many musicians playing together?!

You must have a piece performed which is that simultaneously precise and brilliant because the “state of the art” for modern orchestras is excruciatingly perfectionist.

But a new, young string quartet?!

Four instruments you can all hear separately?!


A composition with a story to tell?! Perhaps the greatest story ever told: the Easter Weekend of Good Friday, Holy Saturday and Easter Sunday?!

Three movements, now put so closely together in the edit that you might think The Easter String Quartet is one long, 20-minute movement.

Perhaps my implorations to my fine, young musicians were too “American”… but, by God, these four young talents in Canada didn’t hesitate!!

Each one of us pouring our combined vision into the microphones with the essential mark of all performing brilliance: “Controlled Abandon”!

God has blessed this American in Vancouver!

And may God forever bless Canada, all four of my musicians, my recording engineer and his assistant!!

The Seven of Us helped build my increasingly well-known Haunted Heaven.

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