Ute Lemper committed one small oversight when she agreed to forsake her New York home tonight to perform here with the Lexington Philharmonic.
“Somehow this performance was booked without the consent of my children,” said the internationally acclaimed singer, actress, visual artist and songwriter. “When they found out, they said, ‘You won’t be here for New Year’s Eve?’
“Actually, I used to be able to see the fireworks out my kitchen window, but now it’s all downtown. I thinking I’ll just bring my children with me and we will celebrate in Lexington. I think you should be having some better weather there.”
Times Square, it seems, will just have to make do this year without Lemper, widely recognized as one of the foremost revivalists of Kurt Weill songs and German cabaret music of the pre-war Weimar era. But such accolades merely represent the starting point of a remarkable career as one of the most versed and versatile crossover artists of the past 50 years.
Lemper has eight touring repertoires at her disposal, which run from separate programs devoted to Weill and political poet/playwright Berthold Brecht to shows featuring the tango music of the great Argentine composer Astor Piazzolla, string quartet sets (where she sings everything from Debussy to Billie Holiday) to programs that set the stylistically disparate poetry of Charles Bukowski and Pablo Neruda to music. There are orchestral collaborations, as well, like the one Lemper will perform with the Philharmonic. That program will be split evenly between the French chanson music of Edith Piaf and Jacques Brel and the songs of Weill and Brecht she grew up with in Germany.
“It has been my mission to further the revival of this music,” Lemper said of the latter repertoire. “Artists like Weill were forced to leave Germany after the Weimar era. Much of his music was hid away after World War II until the 1980s, so there was a great responsibility on my part to be a tool for this revival. I love performing this music for my generation and for the world.”
But even Lemper’s wildly diverse performance repertoire doesn’t signal the artistic range her career has explored. Initially a student of dance, she has been celebrated for a variety of stage roles. She has portrayed Sally Bowles in the original Paris production of Cabaret and then played Velma Kelly in Chicago, which took Lemper to London (where she won the Lawrence Oliver Award) and New York.
“I never cared much for the musicals, I must tell you. Performing a show eight times a week got to be almost boring. When you do that for three months in order to get to the bottom of a character, it becomes very difficult and very hard on your voice.”
Then how about a more exclusive and singular engagement, like Roger Waters’ 1990 staging of the Pink Floyd epic The Wall at the site of the Berlin Wall?
“He (Waters) was trying to get performers representing different countries. I was quite visible in Europe then, so I was invited. It was unlike anything I had done, but I was very grateful for the experience and the opportunity to meet all the other wonderful performers (which included Van Morrison, The Band and British actor Albert Finney).
Awaiting Lemper in 2015 is the completion of a new recording of music she wrote based on The Alchemist by Brazilian author Paulo Coelho, a project the singer views as “a collaboration of the soul.”
But there was still jet-setting to do before Lemper brings 2014 to a close in Lexington. In the weeks leading up to tonight’s Philharmonic performance, she performed her program of Neruda love poems in Paris, presented Last Tango in Berlin (a mix of Piazzolla and chanson music) in Geneva and sang her Berlin Cabaret Songs show in London.
“It has been such a long, wonderful journey,” Lemper said of her career. “But as I get older, my hunger for this kind of musical exploration only gets more intense.”
The Lexington Philharmonic with Ute Lemper perform 7:30 p.m. Dec. 31 at the Lexington Opera House, 401 W. Short. Tickets: $25-$75. Call (859) 233-4226 or go to www.lexphil.org.