Back in June, Jerry Hadley stood before an enthralled audience in the Liverpool Anglican Cathedral and sang the tenor solo in an oratorio written by a boyhood idol.
That idol was Paul McCartney. And the piece, called "Liverpool Oratorio," drew worldwide attention as the ex-Beatle branched into a new musical realm.
"There have been two people in my experience so far that I really felt deeply for," Hadley said. "One was Leonard Bernstein and the other is Paul McCartney. Paul happens to be a composer who's beginning to experiment with a new idiom. I wouldn't have done the piece if it weren't beautiful, sincere and heartfelt. It was a privilege to work with Paul.''
THE PREMIERE, in the city where McCartney grew up and first got together with guys named Lennon, Harrison and Starkey, drew some flack from classical music critics. After all, they implied, what was a mop top doing in the classical idiom? But Hadley, whose own classical music credentials are solid, said he believes the piece is misunderstood.
"I think he made a mistake in calling it "Oratorio,''' Hadley said in a telephone interview. "It held the piece up to a kind of scrutiny and a kind of criticism in England that was perhaps misplaced. The piece is written in the oratorio form, if you define oratorio as a dramatic piece of music without staging. In that case it fits the bill.
"But a lot of people were expecting something in a direct line with all the other great English oratorios. The fact that the piece is so wonderfully unique is that Paul McCartney fills it with great tunes and melodies. He and (McCartney's musical collaborator) Carl Davis crafted the piece into something totally different.''
LIKE MANY, many people his age, Hadley soaked up the music of the Beatles, and he was thrilled to work with one of them.
"You get to know someone as a cultural icon, and then you get to know him as a human being," Hadley said. "At once he's the person you're working with, but then he's standing there as a former Beatle.''
And just how is Paul, up close and personal?
"He's unashamed, in the best sense of the word," Hadley said. "We had a discussion one day, and he was typically self-deprecating. I remarked he should really be able to read music. It's not that complicated. But he said that at this point in his life he saw himself more as a cave dweller painting pictures on the walls of the cave. His music can't get bogged down in the mechanics of it. It has to be spontaneous and not too self-conscious.''
McCartney's "Liverpool Oratorio" featuring Hadley will be out as a recording this fall, and KTWU in Topeka will televise the performance during "Great Performances" at 7:30 p.m. Oct. 30.