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Bill Murray Goes Classical? Hey, Why Not?

Bill Murray's latest project finds him singing Gershwin and Bernstein with classical cellist Jan Vogler.
Andreas Rentz
Getty Images
Bill Murray's latest project finds him singing Gershwin and Bernstein with classical cellist Jan Vogler.

What will Bill Murray do next?

The beloved actor's curiosity seems boundless. It should be no surprise, then, to learn that his new project finds him paired with a classical cellist.

Jan Vogler and Murray met a few years back on an overseas flight, where the seeds of an idea were planted. The result is New Worlds, their new show which makes its U.S. debut at Festival Napa Valley on July 20, and will be released as an album in August. The performance features Murray singing a little Gershwin and reciting a little Whitman. Vogler, along with violinist Mira Wang and pianist Vanessa Perez, provide a soundtrack of Schubert, Bach and Piazzolla.

Murray isn't new to either singing or poetry. As Nick the Lounge Singer, he crooned the Star Wars theme on Saturday Night Live. In the film Lost in Translation, he sang a wobbly yet wistful version of Roxy Music's "More Than This."

Poetry also figures into his career already. In Groundhog Day, Murray recited a poem in French to Andie MacDowell. But more serious endeavors include his longtime support of the Poet's House, a poetry library in lower Manhattan where he once gave an impromptu reading of Emily Dickinson and others, to a group of giggling construction workers.

Vogler, who routinely plays with top orchestras around the world, wrote earlier today in an email to NPR that working with Murray is an experience full of the unexpected.

"Last June," Vogler wrote, "he sent me a text message one day: 'Meet me at the Manhattan side of the Brooklyn Bridge.' I went there and had no idea what to expect."

Turns out it was the annual Poetry Walk, sponsored by the Poets House. "We all walked across the Brooklyn Bridge, listening to Walt Whitman poems on both sides of the river," Vogler says. "It was a magic day, and the surprise effect contributed to the beauty of it."

It was also remarkable to Vogler, a German musician steeped in the central European classics, how easy it was to choose the repertoire for New Worlds with Murray.

"We met up and we listened to a lot of music," Vogler recalls. "He is so musical and would whistle a tune as soon as I would mention it. We found our common favorites and started talking about literature. It was surprising how much we agreed on the choices of both literature and music."

New Worlds will tour in Europe and North America this summer and fall, with a final stop at Carnegie Hall Oct. 16.

What's next for Murray after this chamber music and poetry hootenanny is, most likely, anyone's guess.

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Tom Huizenga is a producer for NPR Music. He contributes a wide range of stories about classical music to NPR's news programs and is the classical music reviewer for All Things Considered. He appears regularly on NPR Music podcasts and founded NPR's classical music blog Deceptive Cadence in 2010.