Born in 1961, Heggie studied piano and composition at UCLA, and after school, he toured with his mentor—and future wife—the acclaimed pianist and composer Johana Harris. But Heggie’s concert career was cut short by a neurological condition that left him unable to play piano. It was a personal crisis: he was married to a woman 48 years his senior who knew he was gay, and he had dedicated his life to music but was left without the ability to pursue it as a career. Then Harris died in 1995. Heggie wanted to stay close to music, and he landed in the public relations department of the San Francisco Opera. In the mid-1990s, his condition improved, and he began to write and play music again.
Composing music outside the tutelage of his mentor and without the pressures of an academic environment left Heggie free to pursue music that spoke most directly to his own sensibilities and passion. “I didn’t write for almost five years,” he says. “And when I started writing again, I was going to write what I wanted to write about, and not to impress a professor. I grew up loving musical theater, so that’s a huge influence. So are films. Then I found chamber music and symphonic, and then I found my home in the opera house. And while I appreciate everything that academia has done for me, that is not the real world.”
The Radio Hour
The Radio Hour – the world’s first-ever “choral opera” – is a compact work for silent actress, with running narrative and commentary from a choir. The program is rounded out with four mostly art song-based works in varied arrangements, several with choral elements.
The vaunted John Alexander Singers perform brilliantly. It is Alexander, the conductor here, who originally suggested the idea of a pioneering choral opera to Heggie. Susan Graham, one of America’s most beloved mezzo-sopranos, is heard in three of the shorter pieces; Pacific Symphony members provide deft instrumentals.