All the best wishes for the holidays from the Berkshire Review! For more about the artist, Joanna Gabler, see Nature Transfigured.
We thought this extraordinarily sensitive and intelligent performance of Brahms Second Symphony from Chapel Hill, North Carolina would be an appropriate seasonal treat for our readers. Listen for the accents which add tension and enliven the broad tempo of an approach which is basically lyrical and analytical, as well as the pointing of the harmonies and the expressive transitional passages. You can easily understand what inspired Dvořák in this symphony.
Last week’s program at the San Francisco Symphony carried a sense of celebration with it. John Adams was in attendance, giving luster to the orchestra’s new performance and recording of his “Harmonielehre” under the direction of Michael Tilson Thomas. (Edo De Waart taped the piece in his final year as Music Director, when Adams was composer-in-residence.) There has always been a tendency to rally around the orchestra in San Francisco — cultural boosterism being one of the old-fashioned charms of this now rather important city, which sometimes still thinks of itself as a town and behaves like one in its enthusiasms — and John Adams is a local hero in the orchestra’s history. But the spontaneous applause I heard on Saturday seemed to go beyond these boundaries. It is a though, from the standpoint of an audience, Adams were being hailed for having rescued contemporary music — and indeed, he just may have.
A year ago, when Frank Gehry was commissioned to design the new business school for the University of Technology, Sydney (UTS) he was asked if he liked the proposed site. His response — “I like the problem” — was both diplomatic and revealing, for UTS, the youngest of Sydney’s four major universities, exists in a part of town with a lot of likable problems. Like NYU, UTS is an urban university with no real campus. This lack is no problem if you have a Washington Square Park, an expansionist attitude and a Greenwich Village to compensate, but UTS is stuck in a defiantly unlovely part of Sydney. Even if it had the beautiful lawns and gracious old buildings of the nearby University of Sydney, UTS would struggle to maintain a physical identity among the dense but generally mediocre surroundings to the west of Central Station. In a sense UTS’ problem is a condensed version of central Sydney’s more persistent malaise; it is not a place where people linger. While Gehry might seem an obvious choice for any university looking to promote, as the current jargon goes, “stickiness,” UTS and Gehry are in fact an ideal match. As his now-unveiled design for what will be known as the Dr. Chau Chak Wing Building reveals, he has solutions to their problems.
To create a seamless, whole Nutcracker, Peter Wright and John Macfarlane have married the ballet’s greatly varied styles, scenes and tones, with their own greatly varied décors, colours and styles while melding reality with fantasy. Not fantasy in the sense it’s often used these days to describe something frivolous and unreal, but the act of creating a subworld (to refer to Tolkien’s On Fairy Stories) full of wonder, inspiring curiosity with a self-propagating energy and its own internal logic or rules which allows more than the mere prosaic “suspension of disbelief,” but draws us in, absorbs us, allowing us to keep our belief and private imagination intact as we participate. And it leaves a piece of itself with us for a long time afterward. Their ballet is naturalistic too, certainly organic, as if it grows and comes alive, the décors and costumes showing a deep observation and understanding of nature, often recalling Robert Herrick’s poem Delight in Disorder. Each scene changes naturally and smoothly with the music, lightly carrying and passing on the momentum of wonder however great the change in tone. Recognizable historic and stylistic fragments — subtle but familiar images or patterns — thread through the piece. They deftly weave many other threads through the whole ballet to connect discrete dances and divertissments and make them seem all of a piece. Fore example, Clara dances in almost every scene, adapting to and relishing the different styles of the Spanish, Chinese, Flower Fairy etc. dances while retaining her character’s personality.
In recent weeks the Boston Symphony Orchestra has celebrated the 200th anniversary of Robert Schumann’s birth with performances of the four Symphonies and the Piano Concerto, with mixed, eventually quite good, results.
For my part I could not be more pleased that the Cantata Singers, following their usual custom, have devoted this season preponderantly to the music of Ralph Vaughn Williams. Sir Colin Davis’ powerful rendition of his Sixth Symphony with the BSO in 2007 was memorable, but not nearly enough to counterbalance the neglect Vaughn Williams’ music currently suffers in the United States. In Boston, there is bound to be the odd choral work cropping up in one church or another or on the programs of the many secular choral groups in the area, but the Cantata Singer’s focus on Vaughn Williams in their 2010-11 season is none the less welcome.
Amidst the patchy availability of important Hollywood films of the golden age, it’s sometimes surprising what turns up. Douglas Sirk fares better than most directors — his characteristic melodramas are available in well-produced editions. Beyond the famous films of his mature period — Written on the Wind (1956), All that Heaven Allows (1955), Imitation of Life (1958) (perhaps the ne plus ultra of weepies) — some more obscure Sirks are available, gems like All I Desire (1953), curiosities like the western Taza, Son of Cochise (1953), and the fascinating, startlingly bitter screwball comedy No Room for the Groom (1952).