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Live Review: Here It Is: A Tribute to Leonard Cohen @ The Kennedy Center — 4/26/24

I recently lost a close friend who died suddenly.  We had been friends for over 25 years, and I miss him and think about him every day, just as four-time Grammy Award®–winning record producer Larry Klein thinks about his friend, legendary singer-songwriter Leonard Cohen, who passed away in 2016.  It is the emotion of that loss that fueled Larry’s musical directorship of the National Symphony Pops Orchestra’s performance of Here It Is: A Tribute to Leonard Cohen at the Kennedy Center on April 26-27.

The NSO performance drew its inspiration from an album of the same name which Larry produced for Blue Note Records and was released in 2022.

“After [Leonard] passed, I found myself wanting to work with his songs on nearly every album that I worked on for a number of years,” Larry explains in his bio in the NSO program. “I decided to see if I could facilitate doing a whole album of his great songs; re-imagining them through a looking glass, and with an eclectic group of great voices that I loved. I approached Don Was [President of Blue Note Records] about the idea, and thankfully he said yes.”

On the album’s creation, Larry says, “it helped keep him in the air around me… the musical language we developed together makes the songs connect with people in a new way.”

Stream Here It Is: A Tribute to Leonard Cohen on Spotify:

The following is a recap of Night 1’s performance on April 26.  As the lights dimmed and anticipation hung heavy in the air, Larry Klein took to the stage, his presence a beacon of reverence and respect. With a recitation of Cohen’s poignant poem “Mission” from the Book of Longing, Klein set the stage for the evening’s proceedings, inviting the audience to embark on a soul-stirring voyage through Cohen’s rich tapestry of emotions.

The journey began with the angelic voice of Grammy Award®–winning artist and songwriter Madison Cunningham, whose renditions of “Dance Me to the End of Love” and “There’s No Way to Say Goodbye” echoed through the concert hall, evoking a sense of longing and desire. With each note, Cunningham transported the audience to a realm in which love and passion reign supreme, setting the tone for an evening of musical magic.

Gregory Porter took the stage next, his velvety voice infusing new life into Cohen’s classics “Suzanne,” “If It Be Your Will,” and “Here It Is.” With each heartfelt rendition, Gregory captured the essence of Cohen’s poetry, his soulful delivery resonating with the audience on a profound level.

Watch Gregory Porter record “Suzanne” by Leonard Cohen for Blue Note Records on YouTube:

Next, the musical power couple Susan Tedeschi and Derek Trucks of the Tedeschi Trucks Band delivered a powerhouse performance of “Anthem” and “Steer Your Way.” With Susan’s soulful vocals and Derek’s virtuosic guitar playing, the duo breathed new life into Cohen’s anthems of resilience and hope.

Susan Tedeschi returned to the stage to perform a soulful rendition of “Bird on the Wire,” a song she regularly covers in concert with the Tedeschi Trucks Band.

Larry Klein came back on stage yet again to introduce the guest musicians performing with the orchestra this evening:  Immanuel Wilkens on saxophone, Scott Colley on bass, Greg Leisz on pedal steel guitar, Kendrick Scott on drums and percussion, Paul Cornish on piano, and Bill Frisell on electric guitar. Following the introductions, the orchestra launched into “Avalanche,” an instrumental song that Larry introduced as one of Leonard Cohen’s darkest songs, noting its topics of depression and hopelessness.

Don Henley took to the stage next, delivering his impassioned rendition of “Waiting for the Miracle” sending shivers down the spine of every listener. With a slide guitar solo by Derek Trucks adding an extra layer of depth and emotion, Henley’s performance was nothing short of mesmerizing.

Don’s next song was “Democracy” which discusses both the failings and the promise of democracy in the United States.  Don noted that the song which Cohen wrote in 1992 was more relevant today than ever before.

As the evening drew to a close, Trisha Yearwood took to the stage, her haunting rendition of “Hallelujah” serving as the perfect finale to a night of musical reverence. With the rest of the artists joining her on stage for the final chorus, the concert hall was filled with a sense of unity and camaraderie, a testament to the enduring legacy of Leonard Cohen.

In the end, as the final notes faded into the night, it was clear that this tribute to Leonard Cohen was more than just a concert; it was a celebration of his enduring spirit and musical legacy. And as the audience filed out of the Concert Hall, their hearts full and their spirits lifted, they knew that they had been witness to something truly special — a night of musical magic that would linger in their memories for years to come.