The series of concerts of chamber music organized by Musica Viva this year continue with an exploration of, and this time a new commission by, Australian pianist and composer Ian Munro. He has created his second piano quintet (the first composed in 2006 was called Divertissement sur le nom d’Erik Satie) from two earlier works: Dreams, his winning contribution to the 2003 Queen Elisabeth International Competition for Composers, originally meant to be a first movement to a full piano concerto and Drought and Night Rain, originally written in 2005 for the Tasmanian Symphony Orchestra and originally meant to be a beginning to a full symphony. Though it would be nice to hear these symphonic works complete in their own right, Munro has sewn them together skillfully into a chamber music piece. Really this is no different from what Prokofiev did to compose the Romeo and Juliet ballet music, which has a life of its own, so reuse of already composed ideas should not necessarily raise negative thoughts. Munro himself joins with the Goldner String Quartet which is lead by Dene Olding, who often plays first violin in the Sydney Symphony Orchestra, also conducting the SSO earlier in the year, to play his new piece, but we also get the opportunity to hear the Quartet on its own.
Artists like Maria Callas and Vladimir Horowitz seemed to possess as part of their formidable arsenals a kind of palpable risk-taking. Could he actually play it that fast? Could she really get the high note? Alexandra Deshorties is one of these artists. Her performance in the title role of Glimmerglass Festival Opera’s Medea was a real thrill-ride. She entered barely audible, and she made us listen. More than once it seemed like the role was a little much for her. But then it wasn’t. Was this consciously done? Whatever it was, it made the first act of the opera riveting, not just the end. If a word doesn’t make a beautiful sound, she doesn’t compel her voice to make a beautiful sound. Her way of gesturing, equally unpredictable, produced visible responses in the audience members around me. In short, this is my kind of singer.
Nicholas McGegan and his merry band of singers and instrumentalists rolled into Tanglewood on Tuesday night (August 16) to wrap up their tour of Handel’s great opera Orlando after taking it to Germany, Chicago, and New York City. The wear and tear of a tour were nowhere evident in their joyful presentation of music and theatrics—the performers still sounded like they were in the thrall of first love with this rich and rewarding score. The only member of the cast who seemed droopy was the Orlando of Clint van der Linde, and this was clearly the persona that he adopted for the misanthropic hero who seems to have lost touch with his inner Achilles. We had to wait for the mad scene late in the second act to see him take charge of the stage; then, if there had been any scenery, he would have chewed it up.
The stage is stark and cold—dark but visible. Chairs and dozens of musical instruments sit against a circular back wall. At the right, a piano. At the left, a steep, winding staircase with a black, leafy, wrought-iron banister. It twists its way up at least two stories above the stage finally disappearing into the ceiling and a shaft of simulated daylight. We are intrigued, and Ten Cents a Dance, the third and final production on the Main Stage at the Williamstown Theatre Festival, has yet to begin. We know what the instruments are for. Ten Cents a Dance is a John Doyle-conceived and directed musical. As in his revivals of Company and Sweeney Todd, both of which won him a Tony, his singer-musicians accompany themselves.
As curated by Charles Wuorinen (b. 1938), this year’s festival featured music that spanned a half-century, weighted toward the recent past, with a significant number of older composers heard from whose names are still relatively unfamiliar. This could be taken as an effort on Wuorinen’s part to offer recompense to some of his (relatively) neglected contemporaries. Of twenty-three composers performed, only four are 40 or younger, constituting the smallest age-demographic group. Composers in their 50’s, 60’s, and over 70’s received stronger representation. This enabled the listener to revisit the second half of the twentieth century while catching up on recent stylistic developments. The emerging picture was surprising—there was no single pattern of historical development to be perceived. The notion that musical style progresses in clear directions received no illustration; neither evolving serialism, electronics or neo-tonality predominated. mixed influences were so frequently demonstrated, including all of the above in a single work, that each composition could be viewed as sui generis, characterized by a predominating uniqueness of voice but nourished by various twentieth century stylistic trends. What Allan Kozinn, in his review of the festival (NY Times, Aug. 9) dubbed “style wars” can be declared over. Whether everyone is a potential victor remains up to the individual listener to decide.
However, the center movement has always been the most highly regarded of the three, even in Mozart’s day: after its première on December 23, 1785, the audience requested an immediate encore of this remarkable “black pearl.” The muted strings introduce a theme in two sections which is taken up in three variations by piano with increasing intensity and contrapuntal interest and dynamic contrast.
So who was Emily Dickinson (1830-1886) really? She was the “Nobody” from Amherst, MA, the alleged half-cracked daughter of town father Edward Dickinson, who wrote nearly 1800 poems (7 published in her lifetime, but none by her initiative) and the continuing inspiration for poets, composers, writers, readers all over the world. Next to Rumi and Shakespeare, she may not only be the “Queen of Cavalry,” but assuredly the unequivocal Queen of the Pantheon.
He comes out like Oberon, with hair of gold and a light step. It’s a very careful walk he has, nothing fancy, and he sits on the bench with a kind of directness and naturalness of purpose. The first notes are the “Menuet Antique.” I am sitting far away at this point, and I hear the jagged off-beats of the left hand hopping out. It takes no time to be lost in this world, a world of fantastic play and even more fantastic loneliness. Is it Jean-Yves Thibaudet, or is it Ravel? Always, when watching this pianist, I see a solitary soul. Nothing in his biography suggests this kind of singleness, far from it. So maybe it really is Ravel, dreaming in his little house, full of clocks. When Jean-Yves got to the “Pavane,” the sense of hearing an intimacy was complete. He played it at a good clip; but its tale is far from simple, like a Matisse. Ravel’s music is not child-like. It is the music of a child.