Santa Barbara, California is not the sleepy town that many outsiders assume. On the contrary, it offers a more diversified and sophisticated array of cultural events than most communities of its size. Thanks to UCSB Arts & Lectures, the University of California’s outstanding presenting organization, both the scholarly and residential population benefit greatly each year from a broad spectrum of hot-topic academic lectures as well as dance, music, and theatre performances, ranging from innovative, cutting-edge companies and ensembles to high-profile, beloved traditional institutions.
There are moments during Kathleen Turner’s stunning performance in Arena’s Stage current production of Red Hot Patriot when you feel as if the fearless, ass-kicking Texas journalist Molly Ivins (who died at 62 in 2007) is still with us. Turner struts the stage in jeans and red cowboy boots spewing words from Ivins’ columns and stream-of-conscious philosophy (skillfully crafted by playwrights Margaret and Allison Engel) that are so biting, so relevant they could have been written yesterday.
The Saratoga Performing Arts Center presents the Philadelphia Orchestra’s three-week residency in tandem with an outstanding chamber music program directed by André-Michel Schub.
I regret that I could not attend a pre=season concert in June, the Buffalo Philharmonic under their Music Director JoAnn Falletta, who has garnered a great deal of respect in the musical world for her work with the orchestra, or last Thursday’s Philadelphia program, endowed with the catchy title, “The Lure of Paris,” in which Jean-Yves Thibaudet joined Stéphane Denève in a program of Bernstein, Gershwin, and Ravel. Many of the programs carry this popular appeal even further.
This year Bard Summerscape’s annual opera and operetta are fused into one in Emmanuel Chabrier’s Le roi malgré lui, a true opéra comique, written for the homonymous theater in Paris. In this genre, with which Leon Botstein indulged New York audiences with Bizet’s Djamileh this past spring, the effervescent humor we associate with operetta meets the more careful writing and construction of opera. As delightful as Djamileh was—and it did offer something more substantial than the Strausses, Offenbach, and Gilbert and Sullivan—Le roi malgré lui is in a different league.
Camille Saint-Saëns (1835-1921) is, like his friend Franz Liszt, an exemplary subject for the Bard Summer Music Festival: his world was large, and he was vitally connected with it. He was recognized as an important composer—the most important French composer—through most of his maturity. He studied with important teachers. He had many friends, many enemies, and many students. His musical output was encyclopaedic. Uncharacteristically for a French composer, he wrote in virtually every form there was to write in. His compositions are in many cases linked to prominent contemporary issues in politics, the arts, and science. He prepared an historical edition of the works of Rameau and revived works by Lully and Charpentier.
This will be an unusually rich summer for string quartets, but Music Mountain will send it into the stratosphere with a schedule in which every concert but one will feature a string quartet, in some cases augmented with a piano, an extra stringed instrument, or winds. The St. Petersburg Quartet, which has been a mainstay of Music Mountain for some years opened the season with a benefit concert including Beethoven Op. 18, no. 4, Tchaikovsky, and the Brahms Piano Quintet with Misha Dichter. The Arianna Quartet followed this with Mendelssohn, Tchaikovsky, Op. 30, and the Franck Piano Quintet with Tanya Bannister.
Like all the great institutions which are celebrating anniversaries this year, Aston Magna’s 40th anniversary season is much like any other. What better way to celebrate an important anniversary than to maintain the quality one has been known for and to reaffirm the founding principles? This year’s season, launched by gala events at Brandeis and at Seiji Ozawa Hall at Tanglewood, will be rich in familiar repertory — Monteverdi, Purcell, Vivaldi, Telemann, the Bach family, and Mozart — and familiar faces: the violinist Daniel Stepner, the gambist Laura Jeppesen, harpsichordist John Gibbons, singers Dominique Labelle, Deborah Rentz-Moore, and William Hite. Of course Stanley Ritchie will be on hand. Some very distinguished artists will be joining them: keyboard players Peter Sykes and Malcom Bilson, and Eric Hoeprich, whose Glossa recording of Mozart’s Clarinet Concerto I just now warmly praised in a review article—and this is only a few.
That Ted Shawn founded the Jacob’s Pillow Dance Festival 80 years ago speaks to how old the art form is. Of course it is difficult to speak of ‘modern dance’ as an art form or even an art movement, when its main characteristic and initial need to exist, a need going back to Nijinsky’s and Diaghilev’s to create Le Sacre du Printemps in 1913, is a highly individual self-expression through movement, though it seems that from year zero as important as this honest self-expression of the choreographer and dancer(s) are common qualities such as a sense of theatre, for like ballet this is theatrical dance, and a degree of training, a technique, even a theory (however batty). Also as important is a company for the choreographer to work with and a school attached to the company, perhaps because of the difficulty to communicate the new choreography and its ever changing styles to the dancers. But one doesn’t want to be too rigid about it. What does “Self-expression” even mean in a cooperative performing art involving many “selves”?