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Queens Chronicle

Area composer worked on revival of ’35 opera

Adapted music for ‘Porgy and Bess’

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Posted: Thursday, March 29, 2012 12:00 pm

Diedre Murray of Laurelton is a cellist and composer specializing in jazz, opera, and contemporary classical music and recently she added one more credit to her more than four-decade body of work.

Murray adapted the music to a new revival of the opera “Porgy and Bess,” re-writing the arrangements, creating new sketch orchestrations and piano vocals.

The performances ran from Aug. 17 to Oct., 2, 2011 at the Loeb Drama Center in Cambridge, Mass. and were presented by the American Repertory Theater. It was directed by Diane Paulus, with the book adapted by Suzan-Lori Parks.

“We did it very fast,” Murray said. “We kept taking ideas and bouncing them off each other. It was wonderful.”

The piece caused quite a bit of controversy when it was originally staged in 1935, with some critics considering it a racist portrayal of African Americans, but now many believe it is visionary.

It is the story of Porgy, a disabled black beggar living in the slums of South Carolina, and his attempts to rescue Bess from her violent boyfriend, Crown, and a drug dealer named Sportin’ Life.

“It’s a product of its time, and it was visionary for its time,” Murray said. “The Gershwins used the real music of the jazz clubs of the era and took African-Americans seriously. It is a piece of art and people have to take into consideration the time when it was written.”

Murray, 60, has been a cellist for more than 40 years, but as time passed, she became more interested in writing music and turned to composing full-time.

To her many credits, Murray has won two Off-Broadway Theater Awards during her career — one in 1998 for “Running Man,” a jazz opera for which she wrote the original story and score with collaborators Paulus and Cornelius Eady and in 2001 for “Eli’s Coming,” for which she wrote the music arrangements.

The main goal of last year’s Porgy and Bess revival, according to Murray, was to introduce the classic to a modern audience. “It’s the great American opera,” she said, “and I felt honored to be involved.”

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