George is famous among music circles for writing a steady stream of music for himself and other artists, including jazz, progressive and rock. But in recent years his composing has progressed to new venues that allow him to integrate his music with characters, emotions and action.
He has teamed up with writer Anne Bertram for his biggest project to date, “Empire Builder,” a modern opera that explores the railroad’s role in the concept of manifest destiny through the eyes of Chinese immigrants and displaced Native American tribes. George brings “Empire Builder” down many musical paths, from rock, pop and R&B to gospel and blues, even folk and country.
Some compositions require full immersion. His admiration for the poet Rainer Maria Rilke, for example, inspired a trip to Prague, where he walked the streets Rilke walked and visited the places Rilke did. That interaction with Rilke’s world helped him write “Autumn Song” a song cycle based on the poetry of Tennessee Williams and Rainer Maria Rilke, which made its premiere in Cape Cod September 2012 at the Tennessee Williams Theater Festival, and the following year in Berlin.
He collaborated with lyricist Jim Payne to write “Stations of the Heart,” a song cycle based in the style of the Great American Songbook, created for vocalist Ann Michels and being developed for an eventual off-Broadway run.
“I take a theme and develop a number of songs over that subject matter,” George explains. “The Rilke poems deal with life, spirituality and hardships he went through. ‘Stations of the Heart’ is about the different stages of love, from first love to breakup.”
His arranging skills are also in demand, and he has put them to work arranging music for a diversity of high-profile projects including the Chanhassen Dinner Theatres’ stellar production of “Swing!” the Minnesota Orchestra’s 2011 “’80s Rewind!” show (sweet dreams are made of this) and, in summer 2010, four songs for the renowned Glacier Symphony’s concert to celebrate the 100th anniversary of Glacier National Park.
George’s composing talent has been called upon to produce scores for projects including the Minnesota Jewish Theater Company’s Ivy Award-winning “Woman Before a Glass,” creating original scores for two Saint Paul City Ballet performances and writing music for “My Dear Lewis,” a figure theater/puppetry show that made its New York City premiere in 2011 and has shown in Seattle, Amsterdam and Taiwan.
George never misses an opportunity to put some humor into his work. He composed original jazz slapstick for Kenny Ahern, a former Ringling Bros. And Barnum & Bailey clown. Kenny has taken his own physical comedy show from Moscow to Hong Kong, and audiences across the globe have loved the musical accompaniment George wrote for the show.
Regardless of what George is writing or arranging – a movie or theater score or music for his own recording – he adapts to the demands of the project while subtly infusing each with his own artistic voice. “I look at it as developing the relationship between the music, the movement, the meaning and the words and showing off that compositional style.”