2018 LA Gala Honoree: Stanley Silverman

AFIPO to celebrate the composer’s life and career on the occasion of his 80th Birthday year.


This October, the 2018 AFIPO Galas, first in New York and then Los Angeles, will each honor extraordinary individuals whose respective achievements in architecture and music have touched millions of people around the globe. In August, we visited with New York Gala Honoree architect Daniel Libeskind. This month we profile composer Stanley Silverman, the Los Angeles honoree.

On Thursday, October 25, award-winning musician and composer Stanley Silverman will be the AFIPO’s 2018 Los Angeles Gala Honoree. The Gala is recognizing Silverman’s decades of creating music that bridges classical and popular idioms, especially for theater productions and film. The evening’s musical program, performed by a brass quintet of Israel Philharmonic Orchestra musicians, will include one of Silverman’s important works.

The AFIPO Gala, which benefits the Israel Philharmonic’s KeyNote music education program, is the climax of a series this year that marked Silverman’s 80th Birthday. It began at Tanglewood on his actual birthday, July 5, with an evening hosted by James Taylor, and then moved to the Stratford Festival of Canada for a concert performance of the music he wrote for Up From Paradise, his 1980s collaboration with playwright Arthur Miller.

The events, together with the sites that have hosted them, provide a triptych of his landmark career in theater, popular music, and classical music, while also underscoring the enduring quality of the relationships he has formed over the years with artists, arts organizations, and administrators.

Stanley’s son Ben Silverman and Ben’s wife Jennifer are Co-Chairs of the 2018 Los Angeles Gala with Liza Chasin and Matthew Velkes, Kfir Gavrieli, Lynn Harris Leshem and Matti Leshem and Yifat Oren. The AFIPO’s vibrant Young Patrons Committee, notably YPC Gala Chair Zack Cohen, have also been part of the event organizing.

Ben Silverman summed up the depth of his father’s dedication to both professional colleagues and family, which includes his sister Rena, a New York Times staff writer.

“My father has used his love of music to bridge cultures and time periods creating lasting memory,” Ben said. “Our dear friend and former AFIPO President Herman Sandler, and his family, have further connected my own family with the Israel Philharmonic, which is an extraordinary orchestra that connects the people of the world through its brilliant work.”

Silverman, whose classical compositions have been performed internationally by soloists and orchestras including Pierre Boulez, the Kalichstein-Laredo-Robinson Trio, Richard Stolzman and Michael Tilson Thomas, has also worked on projects with Sting, Elton John, Taylor, and Paul Simon, contributing orchestrations to Simon’s Broadway foray, The Capeman.



Born in Harlem but raised in the Northwest Bronx, “the big showbiz corner where the Reiners and the Marshalls came from,” Silverman was the third and final child of Russian immigrants, born 18 and 13 years after his brothers.

Coming from Vilna, his mother carried a musical tradition from the city Silverman says “was called the Jerusalem of Europe.”

“Music was how you got out of the ghetto,” he said. “Jascha Heifetz, Mischa Elman and Toscha Seidel and that whole generation of violinists came out of that little ghetto. My mother played a little piano and was determined that at least one of her children would play music.”

The older boys, who both fought in World War II, had missed out on musical training and so it fell to young Stanley.

“She asked what instrument I wanted to play and because I was 9 and fond of Hollywood’s singing cowboys, and the Western Swing of Bob Wills and the Texas Playboys, I asked for a guitar,” he recalled.

A great jazz guitarist, a war veteran and friend of his middle brother, taught him to play and read music, which would provide a huge advantage for him to get professional orchestra work in his 20s.

As a student at the High School of the Performing Arts in New York he attracted the attention of Michael Gore, the creator of the film Fame, “because my father would drive me to the school every day with all my amplifiers and guitars.” Fame would be set at the school, and Silverman would be the inspiration for the character of Bruno.

He remained a guitarist at high school, composing a couple songs for his senior-year show. After graduation he got a taste of the real entertainment world at Brown’s Hotel in the Catskills.

“I always wanted to be in show business and carried myself that way,” he said. He was introduced to Jerry Lewis through Lewis’ mother, whom his mother had become friends with over shared card games. He has credited the comedian as an inspiration, one which can be heard in the whimsical qualities of some of his music.

He formed his own bands, beginning with a Western Swing group, and played jazz guitar. In 1960 he was a student at Tanglewood, which he describes as “basically about conductors.”

Zubin Mehta was there a year or two before me,” Silverman said. “I was in Seiji Ozawa’s class. They were the stars that came out of there, along with Michael Tilson Thomas.”

In graduate school he studied with Leon Kirchner, who was a student of Arnold Schoenberg, and Darius Milhaud, who worked in films as well as with orchestras, something that really attracted Silverman.

“Milhaud came out of that surrealist Dada movement, which I loved,” he said. “That was really terrific about him. He kind of took a shining to me and we’d go on trips. He was in a wheelchair so I would aide him. Once when he did a Passover I attended, he brought out the tablecloth and his wife warned, ‘Don’t spill any wine: Picasso made this for us!'”

Kirchner was “very disciplinarian” and provided “really rigorous composition training,” he added. “I stayed with it and it led to working with some international heavyweights like Pierre Boulez, Lucas Foss, and Leonard Bernstein.”

During the 1960s, he returned to Tanglewood to teach, and was appointed Music Director of The Lincoln Center Repertory Theater in 1965. It was around this time that he discovered he “was most at home” in the avant garde theater. He worked with Richard Foreman and his Experimental Theater in New York where Elephant Steps “made a big splash,” becoming a career maker for Silverman, Foreman, and a debuting Tilson Thomas.

Around this time pianist Glenn Gould invited him to the Stratford Festival, where he developed great relationships with theater directors Michael Langham and John Hirsch. Back in New York he would help found the Music Theater Group with Lyn Austin and Oliver Smith.

“To pay the bills,” he worked in the classical theater in Canada, the American regionals, and, beginning in the late 1970s, composed film scores for numerous movies, among them Eyewitness, Nanook of the North, Simon and I’m Dancing As Fast As I Can.

He has won the Obie, Drama Desk, Naumburg and Koussevitsky Foundation Awards and been nominated for the Tony and Grammy Award. In addition to The Capeman, his many Broadway credits include Ah, Wilderness! in 1998, Uncle Vanya in 1995, and the famous Lincoln Center revival of Three Penny Opera in 1976, directed by Foreman and starring Raul Julia.

It has been a long and illustrious career enriching the world of music, but those achievements are balanced by his personal success raising his children.

“I remember saying to Leon Kirchner when I was only 25 or something, that my goal was to write 100 less pieces and spend time really enjoying developing my family.” He pauses before adding with a mix of pride and gratitude, “And I did. They came out pretty well.”


The 2018 AFIPO Gala will be at the Wallis Annenberg Center for the Performing Arts in Beverly Hills.  For tickets and other information visit the AFIPO Website or contact our West Coast Office at 310-277-0100 or events@afipo.org.