'Way Up There'

'Way Up There'

MUSE/IQUE's Rachael Worby gets ‘Lost in the Stars' with Patti Austin Saturday at Caltech

By Carl Kozlowski 06/26/2013

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Rachael Worby is a woman who likes to take chances as much as she enjoys striving for perfection. Throughout her 30-year career as a conductor and musical director, her tireless work ethic has driven her to lead first the Wheeling Symphony in West Virginia, then the Pasadena Symphony and POPS to artistic greatness.

But even her time with both of those orchestras could not have prepared music lovers for the bold leaps Worby's been making in the past three years as the founder of MUSE/IQUE. Combining her own classical orchestra with an eclectic array of guest musicians and singers, Worby has created sonic events that draw national attention for their unique nature, and this Saturday night she'll be at it again, this time debuting "Lost in the Stars," featuring the vocal talents of veteran jazz and pop artist Patti Austin, on the grounds of the Caltech campus in Pasadena.

"We play on a gorgeous spot on the lawn in front of Caltech's Beckman Auditorium, with almost the best acoustics I've ever heard outdoors," says Worby. "Everything we do at MUSE/IQUE is rooted in the tension between seeking perfection, which is one big goal, and taking risks - which, of course, risks that perfection. It's very important to me that people be awakened and open to listening, so there is a great vulnerability between using the musicians onstage, what I call the musicians listening in the audience, and music that goes on between us."

Worby notes that the reason the Caltech lawn provides such an excellent space for music lies in the fact that the lawn is surrounded by buildings on all four sides, while the lack of a roof creates the effect of sounding like music halls of the pre-Industrial Revolution era, when trusses were created to maximize acoustics.

Her selection of Patti Austin as the season's first guest artist fulfills a long-held dream of hers to work with the acclaimed singer, whose extensive stylistic range will complement the MUSE/IQUE orchestra on tunes including The Beatles' "Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds," Bill Withers' "Lean on Me," George Gershwin's "Slap That Bass" and "Way Up There" by songwriter Tina Clark, who wrote it as a tribute to the fallen Space Shuttle Challenger.

"In between, she is singing three or four other pieces, like Ella Fitzgerald's ‘Mr. Paganini,' which we are pairing with Paganini's Violin Concerto," says Worby. "It should be a fun and interesting evening and one that awakens the senses."

There are plenty of other musical adventures ahead for Worby and her ensemble this summer, including the show "Moving Pictures" with guest cellist Matt Haimovitz on July 27, and "Lose Your Senses" with guest singer Ellis Hall on Aug. 17. The July show will feature the world premiere of "Sleepwalking" by composer Peter Golub, who heads the film composition program at the prestigious Sundance Institute.

"It's a piece full of wonder and humor accompanied by an 8-minute film called ‘Sleepwalking' that features clips of everything from Olivia de Havilland sleepwalking as Lady Macbeth to Olive Oyl sleepwalking off a diving board and into a swimming pool," says Worby. "There's pathos, empathy, humor and music from the films ‘Deception' and ‘Russia House.' We're opening with a refreshing new look at Vangelis' ‘Chariots of Fire,' which had a tremendous impact on the world when it was released and in my opinion deserves to be heard ever more often."

"Moving Pictures" will also reteam Worby with her longtime friend, comedic actress Wendie Malick of "Just Shoot Me" and "Hot in Cleveland." Malick will recite a version of Benjamin Britten's 1946 "A Young Person's Guide to the Orchestra," which gained renewed fame last year through its extensive use in the movie "Moonrise Kingdom." Malick will be reciting a newly rewritten version created by TV writer and creator Matt Nix of the USA series "Burn Notice," which should help make a modern audience more attuned to the piece.

The upcoming collaboration with Malick will be a decidedly more lighthearted one than their last professional endeavor together, when they teamed up as part of a powerful tribute to the victims of 9/11 on that tragic day's 10th anniversary. Performing at sunset in front of the Pasadena Civic Auditorium, MUSE/IQUE led a rapt audience through an emotionally charged program that included Malick dramatically reading the lyrics to The Beatles' classic song "Blackbird" in conjunction with a solo cellist.

That night also featured a choir singing Paul Simon's classic tune "America," with harmonies by acclaimed choral orchestrator Jeremy Bernstein, before concluding with "This Land Is Your Land," by Woody Guthrie. The fact that Worby was selected to create and oversee the city's official memorial response to America's most devastating attack spoke volumes about her influence on the area's cultural scene.

"That tragedy has always been one about which I care about deeply," recalls Worby. "All the work I do with young people in foster care and all of my life is born of this notion that nothing heals like live music. When it comes to anything that's devastated the human race, my first response is always live music."

Wrapping up MUSE/IQUE'S summer season is the show "Lose Your Senses" on Aug. 17, when the orchestra will team up with veteran soul and R&B singer Ellis Hall for an evening that combines the music of soul and Motown with classical greats. Worby plans on having the pop portion of the evening focus on two blind singer-songwriters, Ray Charles and Stevie Wonder, and will actually have the orchestra perform a song blindfolded.
"It's one thing to talk about a blind musician; it's another to be blind," says Worby. "I'm hoping audience members will also close their eyes, not only to focus on the music but to emphatically not see. We'll also have the Selah Gospel Choir, 45 voices strong, setting the scene, bringing us from the world of spiritual to gospel to Motown, because there is a link to all those forms of music. In addition, we'll explore the music that inspired Ellis to be a musician, including Beethoven and Vivaldi."

Ultimately, Worby is a woman seeking connection with her audiences, whether with the hip Hollywood crowd she mingles with now alongside the Crown City's music lovers, or the fans she accrued back in West Virginia. She honors that influential time in her career by keeping a West Virginia area code for her cell phone number and the state's license plate on her car, a sign that she holds her audiences in the same high esteem anywhere she goes.

"I try not to worry about the future in any respect and focus definitely on the present," says Worby. "I simply work very hard in the present to create what I consider to be vital, entertaining and informative live music events. The response is enormous, always selling out and our audience has all ages, races and cultures come out." 

MUSE/IQUE presents "Lost in the Stars with Patti Austin" at 7:30 p.m. Saturday at Caltech's Beckman Mall,
332 S. Michigan Ave., Pasadena. Tickets are $35 to $96. Call (626) 539-7085 or visit muse-ique.com.

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