Greenwich's Rob Mathes receives his first Tony Award nomination...
April 28, 2015 

Rob Mathes' music career, a string of one crescendo after another, peaked again Tuesday when the Greenwich native received his first Tony nomination, for Best Orchestration for the Broadway musical "The Last Ship," scored by Sting.

Fittingly, the news came to him while he was staying at Sting's London home.

"Sting's people called me," Mathes said Tuesday afternoon. "I was at his piano."

In addition to Mathes' nomination, Sting was nominated for Best Score.

"I am beyond thrilled and humbled," Mathes said. "I have been working with Sting for five years on a work that I truly feel is Sting's finest."

The show received some mixed reviews, and had a short run on Broadway - lasting three months with Sting joining the cast to keep it from closing sooner, but its music was critically praised.

"As everyone knows, getting everything right in the making of a musical is sometimes impossible," Mathes said.

"That said, every night at the Neil Simon Theatre we had people in tears and completely enthralled with the world Sting grew up in: the industrial landscape of Newcastle, England, at the end of the era of English shipbuilding."

The songs in the show "came from Sting's blood and bones," Mathes said. "Orchestrating them in the vernacular of Northern English folk music with melodeons, fiddles and exotic percussion instruments living alongside the musical warmth and sweep of Broadway and modern Pop with cellos, guitars and synths was both a challenge and a joy."

Last weekend, Sting and Mathes brought the music of "The Last Ship" full circle to its place of origin - Sting's hometown of Newcastle, performing three concerts at a hall there called the Sage Gateshead, with Sting narrating for the first time.

"The crowds were incredible and it was quite moving to perform it in his hometown, and [actor] Jimmy Nail's hometown," Mathes said. "Jimmy performed with us along with all the folk musicians who are on `The Last Ship' album ... It was an incredible time."

Mathes' career has seen many of those: Arranging the national anthem at the Super Bowl, directing President Obama's inaugural celebration and helming several Kennedy Center Honors ceremonies to name a few, plus working with a range of artists from Bruce Springsteen and Lou Reed to Vanessa Williams and Renee Fleming.

He heard from many friends he made along the way Tuesday.

"From Kathie Lee Gifford, and messages from everywhere ... phone calls from (Broadway star) Brian Stokes Mitchell and from Sting and an email from legendary director Joe Mantello congratulating me," Mathes said. "It was quite heady and I am so grateful."

Mathes can remember his, at the time, unlikely introduction to Broadway.

"My best friend in the world, the wonderful actor Jeb Brown, now starring in `The Undeniable Sound Of Right Now' at the Rattlestick, dragged this rock/jazz kid into town to see Sondheim and Bernstein when we were kids," he said. "Never in a million years would I have thought I would ever be a part of that extraordinary world. To now be Tony nominated is, well, beyond beyond."

(c) Greenwich Time by Anne W. Semmes

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