Archive for August, 2015
Permit me to indulge in a one-sided argument…or a rant, as I believe it’s called in the blogging world—which is not ours at New York Arts and The Berkshire Review!
Opera in the United States is particularly unsettled at the moment, if not in trouble. Both audiences and sources of funding are on a downward curve, although the better-managed companies seem to be coping. The biggest beast of all, The Metropolitan Opera, compromised by the bad judgement of its General Director, Peter Gelb, is the most worrisome of all.
British playwright Mike Bartlett’s fast-paced short play, An Intervention, closes with a black slapstick routine worthy of Buster Keaton and Harold Lloyd. In the final scene, Character A, as she/he is called, brings out a ladder. Since we know A to be a troubled alcoholic, the conclusion we are meant to draw is obvious. A mounts the ladder experimentally, then retreats. Character B arrives. A scene ensues. A, fortified by tequila chugged straight from the bottle, mounts the ladder again. Lights flash in our faces, and a noose appears from nowhere. A puts it round her/his neck. B, remorseful, tries to stop his friend. The ladder topples and B is left holding A by the legs—a balancing act standing between A and death. The play closes as B sets his far-fetched and not-very-promising solution, A realizes that there will be no solution to his drinking problem, and the two reaffirm their mutual love, which has been so severely bruised over the past 45 minutes.
This year’s Festival of Contemporary Music at Tanglewood was celebrating the 75th anniversary of the founding, by legendary BSO Music Director Serge Koussevitzky, of the Tanglewood Music Center, one of the great arts educational projects in this country and still going strong. Curated by composers and Tanglewood gurus John Harbison, Michael Gandolfi, and Oliver Knussen (who couldn’t attend or conduct as scheduled because of a visa problem), it was on the whole one of the livelier festivals—more focused if not quite as eclectic.
Beethoven’s String Quartet op. 131 makes Horatios of us all. We stand by, we listen to prophetic greatness, we try to respond, but it eludes us. Hamlet tells us there are more things he could say if he had more time. Doesn’t this sound like the Quartet? In the midst of sublimity, Beethoven finds humor. And most Hamlet-like of all, the serious and the risible are jam-packed together, with no recovery time for the listener. The time is short. The Mirò Quartet made this doubly so. The performance had an irresistible forward motion. Even the great set of variations were fleet of foot somehow. Every time I hear this piece I am bewildered. They made it clearer. Partly it was a relentless energy, but mostly it was their ability to make even what silence there is in the piece forward leaning.
If I were one of those opera aficionados who thrives on adding unusual operas to a list, I’d be in heaven. I saw two opera productions this summer — not by Puccini, Verdi, Wagner, or Mozart, but by Friedrich von Flotow and Edith Smyth — and I’d never seen either of them before. One of them was typical summer entertainment, a light and charming comedy, in a modest, stripped down production; the other just the opposite — a grim tragedy that looked as if a lot of money had been thrown at it.
It was my pleasure to hear another Mohawk Trail Concert in Charlemont on Saturday evening to hear cellist Matt Haimovitz. Matt is a local favorite, and he spent several years teaching at UMass Amherst. My particular interest in attending was to hear the Francis Poulenc sonata. The slow movement of this piece I have loved, especially the last few bars. Why?
The week from Sunday July 5 to Friday July 10 at Tanglewood afforded the opportunity to compare one of the world’s great orchestras (the BSO), most of whose members have honed their style and sense of ensemble over many years, to an ad hoc group of very talented young pre- or new-professional players who have been cobbled together into an orchestra in a few days. Regular readers know my inclination toward such ensembles; I seek out the TMC Orchestra concerts more regularly than I do those of the BSO, and last summer’s appearance of the National Youth Orchestra was a highlight of the season.
Gunther Schuller was the toughest mentor I ever had. He expected professionalism from day one—no introductory foolishness. Gunther challenged us, particularly at New England Conservatory, to do things we thought we were incapable of. What other conservatory would put on performances of Wozzeck and Gurrelieder within a few months of each other?