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Archive for May, 2011

New Faces Choreograph for the Australian Ballet in ‘Bodytorque’ (CORRECTED)

The Australian Ballet has of course a long history of commissioning new works, often from Australian choreographers. For the last several years, the Company has encouraged this activity under the ‘Bodytorque’ moniker — five dancers from the company with an interest in choreography are given the opportunity to create a short (15-20 minute) ballet with dancers from the company, which they produce for the general public in a smaller theatre (smaller than the opera house, anyway) — a safe enough environment for experimentation. We balletomanes get the opportunity to see fresh creativity and serious, experimental modern ballet choreography and dancing, as well as what the future holds for the larger national company. This year’s program is certainly varied in inspiration and execution even though, or perhaps because the scale of the productions is small. Some have plots and some have concepts, more like ‘interpretive dance,’ if I can use that term without a negative connotation.

James Taylor. Photo: Danny Clinch.

Tanglewood 2011 Summer Season Schedule (Third Revision): Dutoit, Krivine, Graf, and Storgårds to fill in for Levine’s major concerts

This preview of this year’s Tanglewood season has been revised twice already, and here come James Levine’s cancellations of all his Tanglewood engagements. The Pelléas et Mélisande will be replaced by a TMC Orchestra concert. The other programs will proceed as scheduled. Levine’s replacements will be announced in June. I’ll discuss the wider implications of this later in The Boston Musical Intelligencer. In the last version of this preview I introduced the following paragraph to mitigate the peevish tone in which I began. It still holds true, I think.






Nicola Roy as Agnes and Peter Forbes as Arnolphe appear in Educating Agnes, by Liz Locchead, directed by Tony Cownie, at the Lyceum Theatre in Edinburgh. Photo Douglas McBride.

Educating Agnes at the Royal Lyceum Theatre

“You have to laugh,” Horace (Mark Prendergast) says to Arnolphe (Peter Forbes), the antagonist of Molière’s play, newly translated into rhyming couplets by the Scots Makar Liz Lochhead and revived by Tony Cownie for the Royal Lyceum Theatre in Edinburgh this spring. This adage is repeated twice more, and the audience must take comfort in it. The world of Educating Agnes is disturbing, devoid of human feeling, and the only coping mechanism for both the audience and the characters is to laugh. The Royal Lyceum Theatre in Edinburgh is perfectly suited to taking on this type of 17th-century drama, both in atmosphere and sheer theatrical clout.






Beethoven’s Last String Quartet, Mozart, the Renaissance and Ian Munro with the Brentano String Quartet

The string quartet often served as a kind of guinea pig for composers’ experimentation and innovation, especially in the Classical period, and the peculiar bright, sometimes astringent (generally in a good way) sound of this arrangement of instruments foreshadows that of 20th Century Music. (Scientifically, this sound partly owes the violin’s unique quality that its first harmonic can be louder than the fundamental, though this depends a great deal on personal style). A good example is perhaps Mozart’s String Quartet no. 19 in C major K465, dubbed ‘Dissonance,’ which many balked at when first played. Mozart and Haydn, and later also Benjamin Britten, were keen violists, and they sometimes played the alto part in their own and their friends’ works, entrusting the first violin to a professional musician while retaining some control over the piece’s early performances. Perhaps if Schoenberg could have participated in the first performances of his atonal music it would have had more early success.






Omar Sangare

U.S. Department of State features Omar Sangare for a video project that will appear as part of President Obama’s trip to Poland in May 2011.

Williams College professor, Omar Sangare, who is currently starring in John Guare’s “Erased” with Glenn Fitzgerald at the Atlantic Theatre Company, has been selected by the U.S. Department of State for a video project that will appear as part of President Obama’s trip to Poland in May 2011.

This series of short documentaries focuses on Polish Americans who contribute to the innovation, creativity and vibrancy of America, featuring a wealth of prominent Polish Americans who are proud of their heritage while having an impact on America’s social and cultural fabric.






Two Hearts, Four Hands are Better Than One: Two Piano Recital with Pascal and Ami Rogé

While a piano soloist has special control over their music, and complete polyphonic music at that, that is to say melody, harmony and range and all the parts or ‘voices’ where contrapuntal, and this endows the pianist also with solitude, there is a romance fundamental to piano music, the two hands creating a relationship and complementing each other, at the very least in register. Piano music for ‘four hands’ is then even more romantic, the chamber music-wise relationship of the two musicians, the complexity of the music and the ease with which it can slip into a thick intensity, a knife’s edge from chaos, the twice infinity combinations of expression, unanalyzable on the fly and loss of a degree of control, leave even more to faith, and make this music an especially creative performing art form. This is partly why Mozart called the organ the ‘king of instruments,’ though a pair of pianos of course has fewer stops, it is capable of greater percussion and so a peculiar rhythmic sense which the organ can’t express in the same way. On top of all this, Pascal and Ami Rogé chose some very difficult music for this concert, which showed off their technical ability, but more importantly gave them the material to produce a vivid operatic sound, singing duets in their fingers while playing the orchestra part as well.






Mahler’s Ninth. Vladimir Ashkenazy Conducts the Sydney Symphony Orchestra

Richard Strauss once wondered about Mahler, to his face I believe, ‘Why don’t you write an opera? You could write such a good opera since you’ve put on so many at the Wiener Staatsoper.’ He didn’t understand and Mahler got pretty angry. In a way Mahler’s symphonies are operas without singers, a sort of total art, in a subjective sense — if that term doesn’t require total sensory stimulation — with vivid use of color and articulate deep expression. The level of abstraction attained by giving up words and human voices enabled him to express more faithfully what really gripped him. The Ninth, like all good symphonies, even more so for Mahler’s but especially in his Ninth, it is a multitude of contents, often all at the same time — ambiguity and paradox seem easily expressed, even refined in Mahler. Vladimir Ashkenazy’s and each of the instrumentalists’ attention and care for each melody, theme, chord and layer in the music make this so clear even as the complexity of the music seems to nourish them; they generously create something fascinating and consoling to listen to — in fact partly because of its complexity it sticks with the listener long afterward.






The western flank of the Sydney CBD seen from Pyrmont. Barangaroo is the blank concrete expanse at center left. Photo © Alan Miller 2010.

Barangaroo: Not so Fast?

The saga of Sydney’s Barangaroo has finally reached the point where its twists and turns are no longer predictable. The developer Lend Lease and its resolutely faux design, once paced to a seemingly unassailable lead by a compliant government and a shameless PR operation, has punctured a tire. Without a spare tube or pump, they wait by the side of the road for a team car which itself has been totaled. Meanwhile “sandal-wearing, muesli-chewing, bike-riding pedestrians” are gaining fast. No one knows how many kilometres there are to go. Consider recent events: