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Ellen Mandel: Press


A couple of cold, rainy Sunday afternoons ago, I got dragged to a concert in downtown Washington, and stayed enthralled to hear a striking collaboration: the playful poetry of e.e. cummings set to music by New York composer Ellen Mandel and sung beautifully by Cincinnati baritone and actor Todd Almond.

I discovered that there’s a CD of the same program. It’s called a wind has blown the rain away. I wish I could give it to every poetry lover I know, to remind them that spring is coming. And with this music, sooner than later.
Alan Cheuse - All Things Considered NPR

At "A Night of Song," a concert by two young sopranos at the chapel of St. Bartholomew's Church in Manhattan... I heard a composer who was new to me, Ellen Mandel. Her settings of four poems by E. E. Cummings were ardent and spiky with meter and key changes that felt refreshingly organic. Her music lives in that borderland between theater song and classical song, where singers like Audra McDonald and Dawn Upshaw often dwell. I'd love to hear them sing her work.
Margo Jefferson - New York Times
EE Cummings' work has got to be among the most difficult to set to music. It's strongly visual in its placement. It's complex rhythmically, and has such a strong, innate musicality that doesn't rely on the traditional rhyme but instead through sound and structure, and the confounding of traditional syntax. Nevertheless, Ellen Mandel has such a deep understanding of the work that she's managed to enhance and support it through her 15 compositions on a wind has blown the rain away. I've featured her CD the first of all my dreams in an earlier blog post, and one of the things I mentioned was that Cummings was the star of that CD. In a wind has blown the rain away it's all Cummings. The music is so apt - mimicking the motion and themes of the work without ever detracting from it. Todd Almond's voice is sublime too. The title song is one of my favourites. I've reprinted the entire poem, a Shakepearean sonnet, below, and you can listen to it by clicking onto Ellen's website here (just scroll down - it's the 10th song):
Just back from a great trip to Ireland---- doing five concerts with British baritone Rob Gildon of my songs to poems by Seamus Heaney, WB Yeats, E.E. Cummings and others. During the Festival, Arminta Wallace, of the Irish Times, interviewed me for an article on various people's favorite Seamus Heaney poem.
Follow the link to the whole article----everyone's comments are worth reading!! I'm honored to be a part of it!

Jazz pianist and theatre composer 
“There’s one poem at the moment I love, love, love: I set it to music, because it just pulled me right in. It’s from Clearances, and starts: ‘When all the others were away at Mass. . .’ Heaney describes a Sunday morning when everybody else is out of the house. He’s there with his mother, peeling potatoes. They sit at a table, doing this work, and kind of dreaming. It’s very, very quiet: there’s just the little ‘plop’ of the peeled potatoes as they drop into the cold water, one by one.
“Then it switches to the parish priest at his mother’s bedside, going hammer and tongs at the prayers for the dying. Some people are listening and some are responding, but the poet goes back in his memory to the two of them peeling potatoes, and the last line is: ‘Never closer the whole rest of our lives.’ In my own life, when my mom was ailing, I would sit with her at her little kitchen table – and then when she really was not able to handle her accounts and bills, her younger brother, my uncle, would sit with me at the table, doing that work for her. I became very close with my uncle because of that, so when I saw that poem I thought of it immediately.”
SUNDAY, JULY 29, 2012
Magdalena Ball: Poetry Monday:THE FIRST OF ALL MY DREAMS
I've had Ellen Mandel's exquisite the first of all my dreams on an endless loop in my car. The CD is the most wonderful musical rendering of the poetry of ee cummings, W.B. Yeats, Seamus Heaney, Gerard Manley Hopkins, Glyn Maxwell and some of Mandel's own work too. That kind of line up would be enough to entice me. However, Mandel has managed to enhance the beauty of the work through richly extraordinary musical compositions, and the most amazing vocals by tenor Todd Almond. You can read my full, detailed review of the CD at The Compulsive Reader. Then check out, just for example, the ee cummings poem "stinging gold":
and listen to what Mandel does with it here:
You can check out more of her amazing work with tons of sample tracks at This is truly music for poetry lovers. Go, now, and get yourself a copy. You can thank me later.

The flowing vocal line and piano suggesting rainfall for the title song is particularly good, as is the hymn-like music for "i am a little church." "when faces called flowers" is also memorable. Each of the remaining twelve is equally natural. The melody lines seem to grow out of the texts of the quirky poems, and the piano creates atmosphere and lends drama.

This organic style is perhaps the result of the composer's experience writing songs for plays -- dozens of them, such as Molière's Imaginary Invalid, Dylan Thomas' Under Milkwood, Beckett's Waiting for Godot, a couple by Tom Stoppard and Shakespeare, among others - performed in NYC and all over the country. A collection of these is available from the composer on a CD entitled Every Play's an Opera, and they, too, display an amazing variety.

Mandel’s jazz background is likewise evident, yet these are true "art songs," not merely songs from musical theater or for a lounge. She seems to be among those composers, like Franz Schubert, Gabriel Fauré, and Ned Rorem for whom writing songs seems to come naturally and whose songs seem to marry the music to the texts seamlessly.

Almond's voice is perfect for these works, too, and his theatrical background stands him in good stead: he knows just how to interpret the songs.

The CD simply blew me away at first hearing and continues to do so numerous listenings later!

The accompanying booklet has lovely and appropriate photography both outside and inside (as does the tray card), and well-written succinct bios of the poet and the performers. Get yourself a copy ASAP if you are a fan of great song.
Review of MEDEA: Even the horror-movie elements in Medea (that flesh-eating dress, for example) are turned to a high theatrical effect that is underscored by Ellen Mandel’s eerie original music.
Wilborn Hampton - New York Times
Ellen Mandel:
“This composer’s music for the Jean Cocteau Repertory Theater has been remarkable for consistent invention, compositional resource, and apt theatricality. So attention should be paid as she branches out now with musical settings of ten e.e. cummings poems on behalf of a new dance by Lonne Moretton.” Kerner, Village Voice

a wind has blown the rain away:
“That’s the collective title for 14 songs by the freshly inventive and emotionally on-target composer, Ellen Mandel, from poems by e.e. cummings. Todd Almond sings them, with the composer at the piano.” Kerner, Village Voice
Leighton Kerner - Village Voice

Looking back at the 128 performance reviews I wrote for in 2017, these shows were outstanding and quite memorable

Ravishing performances, magnificent direction and dazzling production design all make this a glorious revival of Molière’s classic comedy of hypocrisy, Tartuffe.

The enticing opening tableau is a visual spectacle. Clad in period dress, the frozen ensemble of ten is dimly bathed in light to the blaring sound of baroque music. The rousing original music by Ellen Mandel, heavy on the harpsichord, is the perfect accompaniment to the actions and is proficiently realized by her modulated sound design.

Review of Rutherford & Son:
“Ellen Mandel’s sound design, combining industry and domestic heartbreak, is particularly effective.”
Levett - Backstage
the first of all my dreams...
Multitalented composer Ellen Mandel joined me recently in the studio for the mastering of her gorgeous project, entitled "the first of all my dreams." The project is basically piano and voice, featuring tenor extraordinaire Todd Almond.

This is the second collection of songs for piano and voice from Ellen. The first was exclusively settings of the poet ee cummings. This one includes ee cumming texts, but also some Yeats, and some original Mandel text. On the instumentation side, she stretches out the piano/vocal thing this time out, to include some bass and also a guest vocal or two.

I have been working with her for almost 15 years, and I can say the music is some of her best. Very American sounding in spots, with beautiful introspective moments, as well as exuberance and subtlety. Perfect for its subject matter, tasty, nostalgic, full of sentiment and power, this music will definitely be on my playlist at home in the future. I don't say that about too much stuff that I work on.

The really good thing? She didn't make me turn it up to 11.....

CINDY REILLY… has all the quality of a Broadway musical.

Written by Players artistic director Gus Kaikkonen and acting company member Kraig Swartz, with music by composer Ellen Mandel, CINDY REILLY is based on Cinderella. Evil stepmother Lulu Reilly owns the Hotel Reilly, where her daughters, Polly and Ethylene, live. Cindy Reilly, based on you-know-who, works as an accountant in the basement where her friends, a rat, a squirrel and a cockroach, keep her company.

The retelling is a brilliant update of the old classic. Cindy, sitting behind her desk in her coke-bottle glasses, sings of wanting to be free of her awful job under her stepmother. But she is afraid; life is much safer in the basement with predictable work. With the help of some furry friends and an old cleaning lady whose job she saves, she gets the confidence she needs to dance at the ball with “the rock start formerly known as The Prince.”

Faces tell all among the actors. The stern scowl of Katie Clark as the stepmother, the vacuous eyes of Liz Wright and the vicious sneers of Emily Cramer as the stepsisters, the overconfident grins of Darnell Benjamin as the prince turned rock star, and the hopeful gleam of Claire Philippe as Cindy, make the show an absolute marvel to watch.

The musical numbers are astounding, with the music written and directed by Ellen Mandel. Philippe’s voice is incredible as she sings her opening theme, “To Fly,” and closes with “Find Your Own Voice.” The song “Front Desk,” performed by Philippe and Darnell, could have been heard on any Broadway stage. Elizabeth Hallacy, who plays Mrs. Scrubb, sings a hilarious and literally show-stopping symphony of a spell “Alacazabra” in her attempts to help Cindy get to the ball.

David Beukema, Matthew Zahnzinger and Anne Wisan provide excellent voices and performances as the puppet animals, Ratboy, Floyd Squirrel and Mrs. Maude Roach.

The chemistry between actors is universally good, but this is especially true of Wright and Cramer, who play the two mean stepsisters, Polly and Ethylene Awful. Their meanness is their undoing, and when they can’t gang up on Cindy, they turn their poison on each other, pushing and making faces.

The set, designed by Kaikkonen, excellently portrays the two worlds of the play---the glamorous and phony exterior and the dark, oppressive interior of the Reilly Hotel. Meagan Becker designed the costumes, which fabulously bring the play into the present from the finery of the ball to the working clothes of the office.

Kaikkonen directed the play and seemed to get everything out of the story, the homage to the original, the message of bravery and confidence, dynamic comedy, suspense and a happy ending. CINDY REILLY is a hit.
Dave Eisenstadter - Monadnock Ledger-Transcript (Aug 28, 2008)
Mandel's musical Cindy Reilly won Michigan’s Thespie Award for Best New Play during its premiere run at the Boarshead Theatre.
Lansing State Journal (May 8, 1997)
Ellen Mandel composed and performed music for this production of Fallen Angels, as she did for The Winter's Tale and has done for other productions by the Peterborough Players. If I have not drawn attention to her work before, it is because it has been seamlessly incorporated into the dramatic moment. Here, especially, she blends with Noel Coward's own musical style for a result all the more effective for its subtlety.
Jim Kates - Keene Sentinel (Aug 24, 2006)
EVERY PLAY'S AN OPERA: What I like best are the various cadences and the very skillful performances that seem to come easily. Deceptively so, of course. Take, for example, the sound for "Rough Crossing." It has all the contradictions in Stoppard's characters and the slyness of his satire and parody. Also, one can tell when the Moliere play is in play without observing the sequence in print. The album is one that's best to listen to when some thought is given while listening, although some of the jazzier entries can be enjoyed during complete relaxation. Indeed, they promote same.
CINDY REILLY, a musical version of Cinderella, book and lyrics by Kaikkonen and Swartz, music by Ellen Mandel was a smash hit at the Peterborough Players (NH): "Cindy Reilly has all the quality of a Broadway musical...a brilliant update of the old classic...THE MUSICAL NUMBERS ARE ASTOUNDING, WITH THE MUSIC WRITTEN AND DIRECTED BY ELLEN MANDEL. Claire Philippe's voice is incredible as she sings her opening theme, "To Fly," and closes with "Find Your Own Voice." The song "Front Desk," performed by Philippe and Darnell Benjamin, could have been heard on any Broadway stage. Elizabeth Hallacy, as Mrs Scrubb, sings a hilarious and literally show-stopping symphony of a spell "Alacazabra."...CINDY REILLY IS A HIT.
Dave Eisenstadter - Monadnock Ledger-Transcript (Aug 28, 2008)