Home » Uncategorized » Hershy Kay and “Cakewalk” Ballet Suite

Hershy Kay and “Cakewalk” Ballet Suite

Hershy Kay (November 17, 1919-December 2, 1981) was an American composer, arranger, and orchestrator, particularly for the stage, who was most noteworthy for the orchestrations of several Broadway shows, and for the ballets which he arranged for George Balanchine’s New York City Ballet. Born in Philadelphia, PA, on November 17, 1919, the son of a Philadelphia printer, Kay became a student at Philadelphia’s Curtis Institute (1936-1940) where he studied cello and composition under Randall Thompson, in whose classes he was a fellow student of Leonard Bernstein. In New York he played in various pit orchestras and started arranging music to escape playing the cello. Self-taught as an orchestrator, for his first professional project Kay orchestrated several songs for Brazilian soprano Elsie Houston’s show at the Rainbow Room in 1940.

When Leonard Bernstein commissioned Kay to orchestrate his musical comedy On the Town in 1944, based on the ballet Fancy Free, Kay became one of the most sought after orchestrators on Broadway. Later collaborations with Bernstein include Peter Pan (1950) and Candide (1956). Kay also did orchestrations for Marc Blitzstein on Juno, Harvey Schmidt on 110 in the Shade, Cy Coleman on Barnum, and Andrew Lloyd Webber on Evita. In 1951, Kay put together the ballet Cakewalk on a commission by the New York City Ballet Company with choreography by Ruthanna Boris. It was first performed on June 12, 1951, with Leon Barzin conducting at New York City Center. The score is based on piano pieces by Louis Moreau Gottschalk and included are also three minstrel tunes of the period. The orchestral suite from the ballet was first performed on December 2, 1952, in New Orleans, LA, by the New Orleans Philharmonic-Symphony Orchestra conducted by Alexander Hilsberg. In 1954, George Balanchine commissioned Kay to compose the score for his ballet Western Symphony, a toe-tapping take on American history set in the Old West with arrangements of traditional American melodies.

Kay later wrote the score for Balanchine’s Stars and Stripes, based on John Philip Sousa’s music. He created ballet scores for other companies too, like the Joffrey Ballet; Royal Ballet, and Royal Danish Ballet. A composer in his own right, Hershy Kay’s reconstruction and orchestration of Louis Moreau Gottschalk’s Grande Tarantelle, Op. 67, for piano and orchestra on July 24, 1957, later choreographed by Balanchine as Tarantella, led to a renewed interest in Gottschalk’s music. Kay also composed music for an LP, Mother Goose, with the actors Boris Karloff, Cyril Ritchard, and Celeste Holm in 1958. In addition, he re-orchestrated Sigmund Romberg’s music from the 1924 operetta The Student Prince in a 1963 Columbia Masterworks recording of selections. Other well-known works include The Concert (1956) after Chopin, Who Cares? (1970) after Gershwin, and Union Jack (1976) based on British folksongs, along with many film scores and original compositions. Kay died on December 2, 1981, in Danbury, CT.

The following works by Hershy Kay are included in my collection

Cakewalk, Ballet after Music of Louis Moreau Gottschalk (1951): Suite.
Stars and Stripes, Ballet after Music of John Philip Sousa (1957-8).

—material selected, adapted, and edited from several different sources

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