Classical Music, Opera, Theatre, Photography, Art, Books, Travel, Food & Drink – the View from Western New England

Archive for November, 2012

Victor Borge "shakes hands" with Lang Lang.

…and just what is Fame? Long live Victor Borge! Lang Lang joins MTT and the SF Symphony in Cowell, Prokofiev and Rachmaninoff

Long live the spirit of Victor Borge!

“What?” you say.

This odd notion popped into my head recently, as I witnessed for the first time pianist Lang Lang perform live. In town at the beginning of November to play the Prokofiev Third Concerto with the San Francisco Symphony, he was such a stunning and (to me) unexpectedly enjoyable success, that I found myself pondering the very nature of musical stardom, almost as much as the music itself…





Maxwell Mackenzie, Burning Man from the Air

“Helter-Shelter,” An Exploration into the Organization of Temporary Communities. Photographs by Maxwell MacKenzie, AIA Headquarters Gallery

Moving is part of our cultural heritage. We are restless; we are adventurous; we move to find better opportunities or just to explore. We have pushed the boundaries of this country west and north and south. We abandoned farms in droves and moved into urban areas at the same time exiting cities to build rings of suburbs. We have forsaken homes altogether to live on the open road, inventing recreational vehicles and trailer parks. Recently, thousands of Americans with bad mortgages have been forced to give up their homes, clinging to their RVs like life rafts in a storm. In good times and bad, it seems, we are on the move.





Tenores de Aterúe

Tenores de Aterúe, Friday, November 30th at 8 pm, St John’s Church, 35 Park Street, Williamstown

Tenores De Aterúe formed in 2008 and have become somewhat of a sensation. Their YouTube videos have gone viral in Sardinia, as they are the first non-natives ever to attempt the unusual cantu a tenore quartet vocal technique, which involves harmonic throat singing in parts! The effect is something otherworldly, often sounding more like instruments than human voice! Sardinian song will be showcased, complemented with some choice Corsican and Italian gems.





Sergei Rachmaninoff.

Vladimir Ashkenazy and the Sydney Symphony’s Tchaikovsky Mini Festival Opens with Manfred and Rachmaninoff’s Fourth Piano Concerto, Scott Davie, Piano

Rachmaninoff’s 4th Piano Concerto didn’t deserve to be cut. It seems to have received, in any version, the homeric epithet “Rachmaninoff’s least popular” since it wasn’t popular at the première (1927) and wasn’t much more loved after the revisions (1928 and 1941), but this is perhaps as much due to the immense and perennial popularity of the 2nd and 3rd as any intrinsic quality of the 4th, and the unpopular label seems now to be beginning to give the original version a little bit of underdog cred. The original longer version was only published in 2000, and this performance, according to the Sydney Symphony, is the first of this version in Australia. It is a fascinating case of audience expectations based on a composer’s perceived style and the composer worrying too much about pleasing them. Luckily the original was not lost. Even so it is not very long, though it does have a leisurely, operatic quality to its pacing, almost a Mahlerian pace, but with its drama turned in, more psychological and untidy than the other concerti, and so it is not as exciting as the other concerti. It does not have too solid a form holding it together, it doesn’t tell a ‘story’ with beginning middle and end as the others do more obviously. It is not linear, or at least it is taller than it is long with all those enormous, thick, rich chords which defy a simple analysis and the long runs of impossibly fast notes which are not exactly melodic — maybe more harmonic as they ring in that resonant Steinway piano — but the melodies in the piece with the exception of the opening one are more like fragments of leitmotif without staging to help explain them. The opening theme returns here and there but it seems odd in its return, almost an interruption of the of the pensive, contemplative revery of the music, almost like the sudden landing of an eagle, or an angel, or a strange golden shaft of light. But the 20th century romantic music doesn’t need a strict form since Rachmaninoff’s concept is not architectural or plastic. The wonderful thing about music is that you don’t have to worry whether it will stand up.





Senta et le Hollandais à L'Opéra de Montreál. Photo Gary Beechey.

Un Vaisseau fantôme inoubliable à Montréal…mais comment tuer Senta?

Le but principal de cet article et de louer jusqu’au cieux une représentation tout à fait remarquable—inoubliable, dirais-je—du premier oeuvre canonique de Wagner, mais c’est bien une mise-en-scène contemporaine—une mise-en-scène laquelle rend justice aussi bien à la problématique sociale de 1840 qu’a celle de nos jours—surtout à propos de la rôle des femmes dans la famille, le mariage, les moeurs bourgeois, et l’argent. Dans ce contexte le problème qui me frappe d’abord est celui de la mort de Senta, parce qu’il semble que les metteurs en scène de nos jours se sentent fort mal à leur aise avec sa mort telle que Wagner l’avait conçue, où elle se jette dans les flots tourbillants nordiques. S’agit-il de la vraisemblance, du goût, ou bien des frais toujours montants de l’assurance qui découragent la saute d’une soprano importante même d’une distance de deux mètres? Voyons.





Elliott Carter (1908-2012)

Tough Love: The Music of Elliott Carter

Elliott Carter, who died on November 5 a little over a month before his 104th birthday, wrote music that is tough to love: it can be thorny, knotty, dense, complex, brainy, abstract, atonal, harsh, jagged, and sometimes genuinely off-putting. It has no intention of seducing listeners, of attracting love through flattery, cajolery, putting on a song and dance, of singing “let me entertain you.” It is also prismatically colorful, rich in varied gestures, dazzling, continuously stimulating, full of the liveliest contrasts, always connected to human utterances, capable of suggesting a complete personality in micro-seconds. Its complexity is layered, and every layer speaks in a different voice, each voice constantly modulating itself in response to the others in ways that often seem all-too-human, reacting defensively, opposing, ignoring, or criticizing, harping, deploring, chuckling ironically, cackling, and on occasion, agreeing.

[caption id="attachment_20387" align="aligncenter" width="600"]Elliott Carter (1908-2012) Elliott Carter (1908-2012)[/caption]





Pride @ Prejudice at the Capital Repertory Theatre

A Singer’s Notes 61: Pride@Prejudice: A Romantic Deconstruction at the Capital Repertory Theatre

If ever you doubted Shaw’s quip that we Americans are separated from the English by a common language, Capital Rep’s romantic deconstruction of Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice will convince you. As usual in these combats, the English come out on top. They speak paragraphs; we blurt out half-sentences. They have a kind of linguistic patience equipping them to wait forever for the end of most any sentence. To us, when we read the novel it seems like we spend most of our time waiting.





Claude Debussy.

Originality and Humanity: Anthony Marwood, Violin, Aleksandar Madžar, Piano, Play Beethoven, Debussy and Schubert

Huntley Dent has written on these pages “two musical instruments rise above all others in their humanity — the violin, because it comes closest to imitating the singing voice, and the piano, because it comes closest to conveying human nature.” So in the simple pairing of the two, a pair of thoughtful and sensitive musicians can ‘say’ more while ‘speaking’ less than many symphonies. Such are Anthony Marwood and Aleksandar Madžar, who play with such humanity to a listener, with originality and directness, with much thought and care. They play with emotional directness even while bravely and generously plumbing the emotional complexity and ambiguity of the difficult music they have chosen.