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Judy Collins’ Love Letter To Stephen Sondheim

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Photo: Judy Collins
Judy Collins

The names Judy Collins and Stephen Sondheim most often bring to mind "Send in the Clowns," a song Sondheim wrote for his 1973 musical “A Little Night Music.” It became a pop hit when Collins recorded it two years later. Collins, who grew up in Denver, says she has been in love with Sondheim’s music ever since.

On Sunday night at Boettcher Concert Hall in Denver, she will perform what she calls "a love letter to Stephen Sondheim," with the Greeley Symphony Orchestra. A DVD of the concert is scheduled to come out later this year. Collins also has a new album, set to be released in June, called, “Silver Skies Blue.” It’s a collaboration with singer Ari Hest.

Collins spoke with Colorado Matters host Ryan Warner.

Judy Collins on hearing “Send in the Clowns” for the first time:

“I was in my apartment, and my friend Nancy Bacal … called me up and said, ‘OK, I’m sending over this record of this cast album, and I want you to play this song.’ I had no idea who Sondheim was, I didn’t know what ‘A Little Night Music’ was…. She sent it over, and I put the needle on the cut, and I played ‘Send in the Clowns.’ And I said, ‘Oh, well. This is it.’ … And the rest is history. It was an awfully good song.”

On the challenges of singing songs by Stephen Sondheim:

“I have spent the last couple of years working on these songs. And this has been a great lesson for me. They’re not a walk in the park … although I’ve been able to make them sound easy and accessible. But the clarity is so important, and the lyrics are so important, and they must all connect together and make a whole.”

On collaborating with singer Ari Hest for her upcoming album:

“When we recorded ‘Strangers Again,’ I told him I wanted to sing it before Diana Ross got ahold of it, because it’s such a good song. And then we decided that we would try writing together. And I’ve never really done that, writing and then putting an album together and singing together. Our voices match in a way that I’ve never actually found anybody else that matched as well. It seems to work. He’s brilliant. He’s half my age. He’s a young, wonderful, up-and-coming singer…. He’s a quiet sort of fellow. He’s not as outrageous as I am.”

On how her perception of romantic love has evolved over time:

“I had a very chaotic early experience with romance. And not too successful, [despite] lots of brilliant moments…. But I’ve been involved with and married to the same man, Louis Nelson, for 38 years. I always say, that’s really quite a record for a hippie. I find romance and excitement in my work, and I think he would say the same thing. He’s also an artist…. We’re very devoted to what we do.”