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Greenwich's Rob Mathes Hits Home With Annual Holiday Concert

Rob Mathes of Greenwich perform at his his annual holiday concert at Purchase College on Dec. 16 and 17.
Rob Mathes of Greenwich perform at his his annual holiday concert at Purchase College on Dec. 16 and 17. Photo Credit: Contributed

GREENWICH, Conn. -- Rob Mathes remembers the first time he performed his holiday concert at the Second Congregational Church of Greenwich in 1994. More than 300 people jammed into the church to hear a young musician who had not yet reached the top of his game.

“I had a bunch of my original songs, some of my arrangements and carols,’’ said Mathes, who is preparing for 23rd annual edition of the concert -- before a much larger audience -- on Friday, Dec. 16 and Saturday, Dec. 17 at the Performing Arts Center at Purchase College. “I was well known enough in town that a bunch of people came. I said if you guys stop coming, I’m going to have stop giving the concert.”

Mathes’ annual show, now in its 21st year at Purchase after two years being performed in town, has become a holiday tradition for families in Fairfield and Westchester Counties. Mathes’ concert is now more rock-oriented and includes some of the best talent in the music industry.

Band members for the concert include world renowned Will Lee on bass, blues guitarist Billy Masters, Sting’s drummer Joe Bonadio, Rick Knutsen on keyboards, and award-winning vocalists James “D-Train” Williams and Vaneese Thomas.

“The holidays are my favorite time of year,” Mathes said. “To be able to return home every December and perform with the best musicians in the industry for our dedicated fans is truly a gift. I look forward to this special tradition as much as anything in my year.”

The concert’s turning point, Mathes said, came in 1996 when Stamford’s Michael Macari asked to film the event. That year’s show included performances by Vanessa Williams, David Sandborn, Michael McDonald and Ossie Davis. The concert was televised on PBS.

“My profile was rising a little bit, and I started working with some famous people,’’ Mathes said. “That show kicked us into orbit.”

It hasn’t stopped, and neither has Mathes’ career ascent. He has been nominated multiple times for Grammy's, Tony's and Drama desk awards and won an Emmy for his work with the Kennedy Center Honors. He has arranged, produced, directed, recorded and performed with some of the industry’s most accomplished artists, such as Sting, Eric Clapton, Fall Out Boy, Train, Elton John, Lou Reed, Tony Bennett, Beyonce and Bruce Springsteen.

In 2009, he directed the Presidential Inaugural Concert at the Lincoln Memorial, and last September, musically directed the Pope Francis Concert for Hope at Madison Square Garden.

He has produced Sting’s last three albums, and was the music director and supervisor on the artist’s Broadway show, The Last Ship, which is headed to London in 2018 or 2019. Mathes and Sting both received Tony nominations for their work on the show.

Mathes developed his musical roots in Greenwich, where his father was the band teacher at what is now known as Eastern Middle School. He credited teachers in Greenwich, specifically Carmel Signa, Ann Modugno and Ray Malone, for helping foster his love and appreciation for music.

“They were fantastic teachers,’’ Mathes said. “But they were teachers who were active artistically in their own lives. They were great musicians and teachers, which is rare. They also knew how to push me. I was a sweet kid, but a bit of a brat. They supported me, but they’d give me a hard time when I needed it.”

Music surrounded Mathes at home, too. All sorts of genres filled his house, from his mother’s passion for Chopin to his father’s appreciation for Bob Dylan. When Rob was young, he spent a lot of time with an aunt who loved Motown and an uncle who loved Frank Sinatra. “I must have listened to Michael Jackson’s ‘Never Can Say Goodbye’ 7,000 times,’’ Mathes said. “I listened to and loved everything about music. I was a man without a musical country.”

Mathes attended Berklee College of Music and initially considered a solo career. “I wanted to be Billy Joel,’’ he said. He tried for record deals, but producers did not know where he fit in musically. “They liked my voice, but they said we don’t know which chart to put you on,’’ Mathes said. “It just didn’t happen. I kept studying, and became obsessed with all kinds of music. I’ve been blessed to wear all these different musical hats.”

Mathes’ association with Sting started six years ago. Chris Roberts, president of Universal Classics and Jazz, made the initial introduction. Chris suggested Sting meet Mathes, who had broad experience in both classical music and pop. Sting asked Mathes to show him some arrangements, but Mathes wanted to go a step further.

He had already booked a record session at Abbey Road in London for another venture. He asked Sting to pay for the studio time and musicians, but Mathes would do the work for free and pay if he wanted to use the work. Sting agreed.

“That was one of the turning points of my career,’’ Mathes said. “His music has meant so much to me. He got the vision, and he heard my passion. It’s one of the great experiences I’ve ever had. Now when I talk to kids, I tell them if you have a crazy idea but you can back it up, go for it. It was one of the goofiest things I’ve ever done, but it paid off.”

Tickets for the concert at The Performing Arts Center at Purchase College are $40, $50 and $75. Click here for complete ticket information and to purchase tickets. A third Holiday Concert in New York City has also been added at 3 p.m., Sunday, Dec. 18, at the Schimmel Center that Mathes describes as being a bit more “rockin.”

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