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Bobby McFerrin can't wait to fun around with Mozart

| Thursday, May 19, 2005

Bobby McFerrin calls right on time for his interview -- but identifies himself as Roberto Ferrini.

It's an alter ego he likes to employ, and anyone who's been to one of his shows knows Bobby McFerrin has a lot of characters to draw upon. It's also another manifestation of his playfulness, which is in abundance during his performances.

The 10-time Grammy winner returns to the Heinz Hall podium Wednesday for a program of classical music he loves, leavened by a segment in which he'll employ his incredible four-octave voice and improvisatory skills with members of the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra.

McFerrin's love of classical music runs deep, back to his parents who were opera singers. His father Robert McFerrin Sr. was the first black to solo at the Metropolitan Opera in New York City. Bobby studied clarinet and piano as a child, but became a star as a singer with incredible range -- four-octaves in notes and able to encompass a world of styles from jazz to world music. His "Simple Pleasures" album, a tribute to music of the 1960s, won a Grammy, while the song "Don't Worry, Be Happy" won for Grammys for record of the year and song of the year in addition to being a worldwide best-seller.

Yet even after his extraordinary success as a singer and improviser in the 1980s, he felt the need to pursue classical studies -- working on conducting with Leonard Bernstein, Gustav Meier and Seiji Ozawa.

McFerrin made his podium debut in 1990 with the San Francisco Symphony and later served as creative director of the St. Paul Chamber Orchestra. His upcoming program at Heinz Hall features Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart's "Eine kleine Nachtmusik" and Symphony No. 40 in G minor. The G minor is one of four Mozart symphonies in his repertoire, he says, and was requested by the symphony.

"I love Mozart so much I could devote the rest of my life to conducting his music," McFerrin says. "It's absolutely serious fun. There's something in Mozart that's very compatible with me, the way he swings and rocks. There's a lot of air, breathing room, in his music. It's lots of fun, very energetic and joyfully interesting. I love where his music goes, the moods he emotes."

McFerrin says Pittsburgh might be his last classical conducting concert before his yearlong sabbatical that begins in September. His book is full of jazz gigs this summer in America and Europe, including collaborations with Chick Corea in Germany.

He plans to use his sabbatical for writing and recording.

"I want to take a year off and write my next album in the studio next to my house. I never get to use it because I'm never here. I don't have the concept for the album yet."

McFerrin is a private person who's been married for 30 years and has three children, but prefers to say no more about his family. He likens his studio/study to a chapel, which houses his books and scores, an upright piano, synthesizer and 32-track recording equipment.

He calls it "a very simple setup that works for me."

Additional Information:

Details

Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra

With: Bobby McFerrin, conductor.

When: 7:35 p.m. Wednesday.

Admission: $15 to $45.

Where: Heinz Hall, Downtown.

Details: 412-392-4900 or www.pittsburghsymphony.org .

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