It’s hard to believe but Ned Rorem, the Dorian Gray of American music, turns 70 this year. The son of a University of Chicago business school dean, he prepped with organist Leo Sowerby, then headed east–first to New York, where he attended the Juilliard School, then, in the 50s, to Paris, where he studied with Milhaud and Poulenc during the day and frequented salons and clubs after dark. His Parisian adventures are recounted in racy detail in several diaries, which, along with his essays and reviews, established his reputation as a belletrist. Gifted too as a composer, he’s dabbled in many genres, but his strongest suit continues to be songwriting, for which he won a Pulitzer Prize. Rorem’s vocal music is, for the most part, suave, succinct, and compassionate, with a touch of irony. A number of his chamber writings are slated for this birthday salute by the William Ferris Chorale, a survey of the latest, most introspective phase in an illustrious career. To be given their local premieres are Seven Motets for the Liturgical Year (1986) and O God, My Heart Is Ready (1992), both for choruses. Baritone Bruce Hall of Northwestern will be the soloist in War Scenes (1969), an antiwar song cycle set to Walt Whitman’s poetry; and accompanying him at the piano will be the composer himself. In a whimsical vein is What Is Pink? (1987), a cycle of seven choruses for women’s voices and piano. Ferris–who was also taught by Sowerby and shares with Rorem a refined, mildly conservative sensibility–will preside over this timely tribute. Friday, 8 PM, Our Lady of Mount Carmel Church, 690 W. Belmont; 527-9898.

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo/Jack Mitchell.