YOU ARE HERE: LAT HomeCollections

THE CUTE ONE GOES CLASSICAL : Roots of McCartney's 'Liverpool Oratorio' Reach Back to 'Yesterday' and Beyond

October 22, 1992|ROBERT HILBURN | Robert Hilburn is pop music critic for The Times.

These are good times again professionally for Paul McCartney, and you can sense it in his relaxed, even playful manner on the phone.

The 50-year-old ex-Beatle is calling from a Sussex, England, recording studio to talk about the West Coast premiere of his "Liverpool Oratorio" Saturday at the Orange County Performing Arts Center in Costa Mesa.

But it takes a couple of minutes before he settles down and addresses the questions. He opens the interview with a series of inside jokes, puns mostly--all delivered in an exaggerated English accent.

One reason for his good spirits is that McCartney is putting the final touches on an album that will be released early next year--an album that will be his most widely anticipated collection in years.

It's the studio follow-up to 1989's "Flowers in the Dust," his most acclaimed work in a decade, and it comes after a triumphant world tour that demonstrated for a new generation of rock fans that McCartney--and not just the late John Lennon--was responsible for much of the Beatles' most stirring music.

McCartney--who is married with four children--was so delighted by the last tour that he plans to tour again in support of the new album, a surprise given that he has only toured the U.S. twice in the 22 years since the breakup of rock's greatest band.

Meanwhile, McCartney's first classical work has traveled the world. The oratorio, commissioned three years ago by the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic to celebrate its 150th anniversary, made its debut to mixed reviews last year in the huge Liverpool Anglican Cathedral, where McCartney--a Liverpool native--once failed a choir audition.

McCartney wrote the oratorio with Carl Davis, associate conductor of the London Philharmonic Orchestra. The work, which has been performed in more than a dozen cities, including Tokyo, London and New York, is a story about the search for love and faith that opens in Liverpool in 1942, the year of McCartney's birth.

The former Beatle was on hand for the 1991 premiere, but he hasn't attended other performances and says he does not expect to be present Saturday when William Hall conducts the Master Chorale of Orange County and the Boys of the Costa Mesa Children's Choir. (A spokesperson for the Master Chorale, however, says that seats have been reserved for McCartney.)

Q: Why weren't you intimidated when approached by the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic?

A: I don't know. The first time I even thought about that was about half way through the writing. I was in a pub, just killing some time before going to see Carl, who lived around the corner. I was having a drink with this Irish actor and he said, "Boy, you must be intimidated by this." And I remember, I thought, "No, not really."

To me, it was more a feeling of being afforded this incredible luxury . . . the idea that people would just play and sing what I asked them to. That was so inviting for me because normally I tend to play and sing what I write. So, the idea of having a whole orchestra do it was like a gift or something.

Q: But didn't you worry what the critics would say? Any pop or rock star stepping into the classical area is a big target, especially a former Beatle.

A: It's hard to explain, but I just didn't think about it, even the night of the first performance in Liverpool. In some sort of innocent/ignorant way, I'd forgotten I would be putting it out there for every Cambridge matriculation exam on the planet. Of course, I was foolish not to expect the critics to go after it--but I suppose it was just a safety valve in me, something that just says, "Don't worry about it."

If I had been worrying about the critics' reaction all the time, it would have taken a lot of the excitement and fun out of it. In the end, you just do the best you can and then let everyone else have their say. It was the same with the Beatles.

Q: Why haven't you gone to other productions of the oratorio?

A: That was always the deal with it. I didn't want it to have to depend on my presence. I wanted it to be able to stand on its own so I could go on with the other things I want to do. I would like to check in once a year just to see how it is going, but my own schedule takes over, which is the case now. I'm just finishing the sequencing on the album today, and then there's the tour planning. But I understand some of the (productions) have been quite amazing. In Tokyo, for instance, I would loved to have seen the Japanese chorus all singing, "I was born in Liverpool."

Q: How did you get involved with Carl Davis?

A: The orchestra asked me through Carl. I didn't really know him, but I had seen a couple of things in newspapers that were quite complimentary. I thought he would be good to work with because he was supposed to be the consummate writer-downer, and that's what I need more than anything. . . . someone who can write music.

Q: The music is credited to you both. Was it 50-50?

Los Angeles Times Articles