Ned Rorem, who turns 75 this year, is an unconventional traditionalist– a midwesterner proud of his roots yet enamored of Parisian sophistication and insouciance. Over the course of his prolific five-decade career, he’s provoked, tantalized, and enlightened his listeners, forging a distinctive, emotionally affecting style. He’s indisputably one of the great songwriters of this century, more consistently poetic than Copland or Barber, less of a chameleon than William Bolcom, and definitely more accessible than academic mavericks such as John Eaton. Rorem might have achieved popular success on Broadway; instead he wrote art song after art song, setting them to texts by more than 100 authors. Not all of the songs are first-rate, but most of the ones I’ve heard demonstrate a keen understanding of the meaning of the words and a gift for matching a poem’s metrical structure to vocal contours. Rorem is back in his hometown this weekend for the local premiere of his latest song cycle, “Evidence of Things Not Seen.” Written last year for the New York Festival of Song, the 36 songs for various vocal combinations–with texts by 24 authors, from Whitman to Auden to Paul Monette–traverse the cycle of life from birth to death to renewal. The experienced vocal quartet consists of soprano Sari Gruber, mezzo Delores Ziegler, tenor Steven Tharp, and baritone Kurt Ollmann. Rorem, a noted raconteur, will chat about his life and work with the Tribune’s John von Rhein starting at 5:30 PM. Sunday, 7 PM, Thorne Auditorium, Northwestern University, 357 E. Chicago; 312-661-1028, ext. 11. TED SHEN

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): uncredited photo.