April 30, 2009
Has San Francisco Opera's audience finally developed the nose to sniff out when it's being milked? Are enough people, like me, not at all enthusiastic to plunk down cash to see this stodgy Mansouri production remounted for the fourth time in twelve years? Conducted by the uncomprehendingly over-employed Marco Armiliato? Even the curiosity factor of hearing Adrianne Pieczonka's local debut in the title role doesn't seem to be selling the seats, though that's pretty much the sole reason to see it this time around.
Don't get me wrong- if this was a production of Tosca to get excited about I would be the first one getting myself in a lather about it, but it's not. It's just tried-and-true programming designed to sell seats- like much of next year's season. If it's not working, perhaps the strategy needs to be reconsidered.
Does anyone remember the good ol' days when the summer season held at least one opera to get excited about? Something by Janacek or Berlioz, perhaps a Luisa Miller? Is Porgy and Bess really going to be the high point of this summer? Mario! Mario!
The ad says "Please Hurry. Offer expires midnight May 15th, 2009." That's two weeks from today. Yes, hurry, otherwise you'll have to wait until it comes back before you know it.
April 25, 2009
Yan Pascal Tortelier was the guest conductor and he's one of my favorites because he always strikes me as being completely and enthusiastically engaged with the music. He also makes these unique movements with his hands as if he's composing little pictures of the sounds - this note's a square, while this one has a round shape to it, etc. This was certainly the case with Bizet's L'Arelesienne music. At times Tortelier literally jumped in time to the music, leading a full-blooded account of the piece. Unfortunately the horns needed to have their blood-pressure lowered because they were blaring and too loud from their first entrance and almost spoiled some terrific contributions from elsewhere in the orchestra, especially Tim Day's excellent flute. By the end of the five pieces the percussion and horns threatened to spin totally out of control but somehow Tortelier managed to reign it all back in.
Paul Jacobs was the guest artist for the organ concerto. As I'm not a huge fan of sacred music and have rarely seen the inside of a church for any reason that doesn't have to do with art or architecture, classical music composed for the organ is not something with which I have much experience so I confess to a certain ignorance surrounding it. Jacobs' playing struck me as quite good, but the piece itself was something that I can't admit to liking at all. Yes, it contained those massive Bach-like power chords we all know, which sound pretty incredible coming from Davies' Ruffati organ, the largest in North America, but it also contained all the seeds for what would develop into a certain genre of rock I have little taste for, prog-rock. Now I know where Kansas got its inspiration for "Carry on My Wayward Son," definitely a contender for worst rock song ever. Parts of it also bopped along with these happy notes I associate more with a Hammond B3 and I was reminded of the Ray Charles song "At the Club" and one part even had me thinking of Dionne Warwick singing a little prayer for me. All of this seemed inappropriate to my ears and the piece left me feeling uncomfortable because the musical combination of the organ and the strings just didn't work for me at all and pairing the organ with the timpani sounds even worse. It's the aural equivalent of drinking red wine while eating a chili cheese dog- some things just shouldn't be attempted. However, the viola part at the end did remind me what appeals to me about Poulenc in the first place.
Vaughan Williams' The Lark Ascending gave Nadya Tichman an all-to-rare opportunity to take the limelight and she played it with delicate beauty and sweetness. I have always admired Tichman and thoroughly enjoyed being able to see this talented player take center stage. Her playing contained a grace and clarity of tone that perfectly suited the piece, and she and the orchestra succeeded in bringing out the transcendent quality of a work whose familiarity can often doom it a less careful and nuanced performance. Tichman received a warm ovation from the audience afterward.
Vaughan Williams' Symphony No. 4 in F minor closed the concert (but not the evening). Concertmaster Alexander Barantschik took his chair for the first time of the night and for some reason that struck me as having an unsporting tone to it. I'm sure there was a valid reason why he wasn't onstage during Tichman's moment in the spotlight, but it left a taste that wasn't pleasant to ponder. Once again the horns were way too loud, effectively braying at their entrance. This piece has a schizophrenic, uneven quality to it that left me somewhat baffled as it progressed. The last movements were combined, but that didn't prevent my impression that it's as if the music itself can't figure out whether it's supposed to be a march or a scherzo. It's both triumphant and paranoid in alternating 10 second intervals. Finally it pulls itself back for a sly aside, but only to fall into some silly oompah music. Finally it builds to monster climax for a pretty hot finish, but I was left with no desire for a second round. That being said, there was exceptionally fine playing from principals William Bennett and Stephen Paulson.
After the concert, Davies hosted its second "After Hours" event. Taking place on the 2nd tier, the bars are open, the floor is lit in a soft pink neon glow and live musicians take the stage next to the balcony on the Grove Street side of the building. The band NTL, comprised of SFS musicians Bill Ritchen on bass, Ray Froelich on drums, Christina King on electric violin along with Neal Walter on guitar played metal tinged jazz-rock fusion that worked really well on a crazy quilt set list that included snippets of the Vaughan-Williams symphony, The Knight's Dance from Prokofiev's Romeo & Juliette, Jeff Beck's "Freeway Jam," Led Zeppelin's "Kashmir" & Simon and Garfunkel's "Scarborough Fair" among others. People even danced on the floor set up in front of the band.
This being San Francisco, there was of course someone who felt the need to take to the floor by himself and perform his "interpretive dance" for us during the Simon & Garfunkel. Has anyone identified this particular gene and can anything be done to splice it with the one which gives a person rhythm? I have yet to see an interpretive dancer in San Francisco who possesses both.
My first impression of NTL was pretty good and I would go see them at another venue given the opportunity.
After Hours is a great idea and I think it should held regularly. I for one, love the idea of being able to have a drink at the hall rather than go somewhere else afterwards and have never understood why Davies and the War Memorial let Absinthe and Sugar take all easy that revenue out of their pocket, especially on Friday and Saturday nights. But the bar needs to serve better drinks (and move a lot faster) - Jack Daniels and Bud? Come on, this is San Francisco- we expect better than that. Well, at least I do.
The next one is scheduled for May 22nd and Mason Bates is going to dj after he performs downstairs with the SFS during the main event. I think this one is going to pretty hot and I look forward to it. Yuja Wang will also be appearing in concert that night.
April 24, 2009
After the concert, probably around 10 p.m., NTL hits one of the balcony levels to turn Davies Symphony Hall into another sort of concert venue altogether, delivering some "in your face" music. NTL is made up of San Francisco Symphony musicians performing a hard-edged jazz-rock fusion. It's going to be really interesting to see how and where their various influences intersect.
Last time they did this the house was packed, so the thriftiest deal for tonight, would be buying last minute rush tickets at the Box Office for $20, keeping in mind there is a limited quantity and section based on availability and go party with some classic people.
You need a ticket from the performance to get into the Hall, even if you don't attend the concert- but why wouldn't you want to do both?
April 23, 2009
Christopher Guest, Michael McKean and Harry Shearer, aka Spinal Tap, aka The Folksmen rolled into Oakland's Paramount Theater last night on their "Unwigged and Unplugged" tour. Performing songs from the movies This is Spinal Tap and A Mighty Wind as well as other material such as the Elvis-influenced "All Backed Up" and a cover of the Stones' "Start Me Up," the trio managed to deftly walk the line between a giving true musical performance and staging a parody. Actually, they made it look pretty easy.
Shearer has such a gift for not letting the down the mask that for me it's always been difficult to see the the line between his real and performing persona. I mean that in a complimentary way. He's marvelously fun and he had the crowd laughing all night long.
There was hip-hop version of "Sex Farm" complete with human beatbox via Guest that was pretty awesome, though for me "Start Me Up" was probably the musical highpoint of the evening. I have to admit I was disappointed to not hear "Stools.". Regardless, I was impressed by the quality of musicianship and vocals throughout the entire performance.
There was a too-brief Q & A toward the end, though I don't remember what any of the questions were (this was a Tap gig, after all, even it wasn't turned up to 11).
Shearer is writing a blog about the tour and his entry about Paul McCartney stopping by their rehearsal is a pretty cool read.
April 21, 2009
April 19, 2009
On a certain level this requires an actor of unique abilities since one can never really know how an audience is going to respond to being provoked and in that sense this is a play that would likely reward being seen more than once if you're into that kind of thing, which I usually am. The play can be experienced at least two ways, probably more. One, is to take at relative face value and see it as one young man's (picture Holden Caulfield at 25) realization that the future essentially holds nothing for him and watch him as that inner terror is unleashed outward in alternating currents of sardonic commentary and emotional pleading.
For me, this didn't work because the play feels too precocious or even worse, condescending. One can almost see behind the mask of the playwright as if Eno was thinking aloud to himself, structuring the words and the character to make it all so very deep, profound and disturbing and in the end it's like being lectured to by someone who thinks he's the smartest person in the room.
The problem for me is I have a friend who often is the smartest person in the room and when he gets drunk this play is pretty much what he sounds like, though my friend has more experience, a larger vocabulary and is much more confrontational when he's had a few. As you can imagine, this isn't a pleasant experience and it's not enlightening or thought-provoking but it is tedious and it leaves me depressed after witnessing him in his cups, brilliant and insightful as his ravings can be.
The other way one can read this play is as an exercise in making the audience self-conscious of itself and viewed this way this play is something of a miracle, though I have no idea if that's Eno's or Cutting Ball's intent. Never have I been so aware of the precarious nature of what can take place between an audience and an actor as well as how I felt as a distinct member of an audience and how my individual presence and the distinct personalities of others could or did influence what was taking place in front of and around me. In that way, it's a theater experience I'm unlikely to forget.
I just wish the play itself made me care more about the character or the audience or even my own impending trip into an empty void, but sadly it didn't.
April 18, 2009
The twenty-foot-wide stage was lit in rainbow colors and Alan Held, who was portraying Wozzeck in this dream, actually looked more like James Morris, only shorter. Marie was played by Salma Hayek. As usual during a performance of Wozzeck, many people walked out before it was over, but I thought it was great. All of my immediate family was in the audience, sitting in lawn chairs placed on wooden rafters. The music actually sounded more like Rosenkavalier and there was an unscheduled intermission when the stage caught on fire, which was extinguished by Donald Runnicles.
Many in the audience ate popcorn in those old style red and white bags and one elderly lady started talking during the performance. She was threatened with physical violence if she didn't shut up, not by me, but I was in full agreement with those who were threatening her. She placed her face on the floor of the wooden risers and started to cry, a position she remained in until the performance ended.
There were no curtain calls. I awoke as I was leaving the garage with the rest of the audience.
Last night I had shrimp and scallops for dinner at the Elks Lodge. I haven't had scallops in about 20 years. Maybe I shouldn't try that again, though I can't say the dream was unpleasant as it was so bizarre I actually enjoyed it.
When I woke up the second time and warmed up my coffee, I turned on the radio broadcast of Siegfried and thought "what the hell is this? A recording from 1930?"
It sounded terrible. Morris sounded terrible. The orchestra sounded like it was in fragments. Toward the end of the first act it came together, and maybe it was just my sometimes poor reception of KUSF, but does anyone else think this sounded like crap? Act II is about to start, but it's a beautiful day and I have better things to do than visit a cave.
April 15, 2009
These large, beautiful and compelling photographs are by Christy Rogers . The models are underwater and the shooting is often done at night. These are just meant to give you and idea of what they look like- the picture are approximately 3'x4'. I don't want to rip-off Christy's work and I couldn't do it justice to try to accurately give you an idea of how gorgeous her work is, go check out her website. The exhibit is appropriately called SIRENS.
I spoke with Christy briefly about the picture below because it has a Gerhard Richter beautiful but scary as hell quality to it and I wanted to know how she achieved the effect of the torn-looking flesh. It's all in the lighting and the water movement. Stunning.
Christy was really kind and very straightforward, answering all of our questions with disarming warmth and openness. After thinking about that for awhile, I wasn't really surprised by that because you can see those qualities in the work.
The picture below made my friend Karin want to pose for her.
I'm ignorant on many aspects of contemporary art, so I don't pretend to get it, but I do know what I like and the art below was particularly interesting to me because it thrills at first sight. Unfortunately I've misplaced the notes with the artist's names. Please post a comment if you can identify them (these are relatively accurate representations):
We had to agree to be patted down and have our belongings gone through before we could enter this bar with the keyhole doorway. Couldn't figure out why once we were in. Everyone seemed pretty low key. I love bars filled with well thought-out kitsch. What I couldn't figure was why the this bar had not one but two televisions in it, which reason enough to leave, but both were tuned to sports. So we left without even ordering a drink. I hate bars with TVs in them. Not cool.
This painting actually includes asphalt on the canvas- I guess that's an appropriate medium for LA art.
Below is Morganne, Universal Chanteuse- who was the most fabulously dressed woman I saw all night. Naturally she was in the French gallery. Amazing outfit. I even got to write on her beige suede boots that matched her hat and the lining of her tres cool jacket. Her whole ensemble just rocked it. I wish she lived in San Francisco, because the only women around here that look this great are usually trannies.
My own addition to the cybersphere of what must by now be one of the world's most photographed buildings but there is something about Walt Disney hall that makes one want to touch it and take pictures of it. It's like a beautiful woman. This building is perfect- inside and out.
The Mistress of Malibu, Ms. Tracy Testin
The coolest man in LA via Detroit, Mr. Jeffrey Malinowski
This is the North Hollywood Metro station at mid-day on a Saturday. Notice how nice and clean and shiny it is. Rides are $1.25 for a nice clean, fast train that actually takes you places you want to go. That this might actually exist one day was unthinkable when I was growing up and living here and is probably the single greatest sign that LA has really evolved into an amazing and forward-looking city. BART/ MUNI riders, yes, it is okay to weep at the realization that Los Angeles has superior forms of mass transit than the Bay Area. Who would have ever believed it?
April 14, 2009
Next came the four-part Violin Concerto, written for Leila Josefowicz, which was only completed last month- so close to the premiere the notes on the piece had to be inserted into the program. That Josefowicz committed this hugely demanding piece to memory in such a short time and played it with thrilling brilliance, solidifies my opinion of her as one of today's top-tier musicians. She's in a class by herself.
Salonen's program notes describe this music better than I can, so I'll leave that to him, but Josefowicz was a woman on fire. Her left hand stalked her violin's neck like a tarantula loaded on adrenaline and crack, playing with an intensity that was thrilling to watch and hear. She tore through the fast parts and then the orchestra's strings would answer her in huge sweeping swell of minor chords. The use of a full drum kit in the 3rd movement, Pulse II was an exhilarating addition. The orchestra was marvelous throughout, especially the bass and horn players. The only time I can remember being so enthralled by a new work was at the premier of John Adams' El Nino.
During the intermission I wondered how Beethoven's 5th was going to work after what preceded it. I remembered a performance I once attended in SF where Temirkanov led the SFS through a blazing account on Shostakovitch's 8th, then followed it with the 5th and Beethoven actually seemed puny in the comparison rather than complimentary. The programming worked however. The LA Phil performed the 5th as a kind of straightforward, this needs no fuss from us because it's already perfect showcase of how well this orchestra can play. The tempos were consistent, every nuance emerged but was never fussy or precious. There were no winks, nothing cute. Just musical muscle being flexed. They made Beethoven sound relevant and contemporary.
There were well-deserved standing ovations after every piece. Hopefully KUSC will re-broadcast it and if they do, don't miss it. A lot of the LA Phil's live work is also able on Itunes. This was only third time I've seen Salonen conduct the LA Phil. The previous times were the Tristan Project two years ago and a Beethoven's 9th awhile back. These performances rank among the very best I've ever had the pleasure of experiencing.
And so a great era concludes this week.
April 13, 2009
Last year LA Opera's Recovered Voices program was a doubleheader featuring a throwaway (The Broken Jug) and a masterpiece (The Dwarf). Both were directed by Darko Tresnjak, who also directs this year's model, Walter Braunfel's The Birds. I'll give Tresnjak credit for at least not repeating himself. The staging of these three operas have absolutely nothing in common, and that's a pity because The Birds never comes close to the complete success of the The Dwarf.
On the positive side, there are three vocal performances in this production that soar. In the role of Good Hope, Brandon Jonvanovich's rich tenor projected well in this large hall. I've only seen him once before, but his Pinkerton in SF Opera's Butterfly two years ago gave little hint of the terrific voice he displayed Saturday night.
Désirée Rancatore, whose turn as Gilda in Rigoletto I missed when she was last here in SF, also delivered a very strong performance. She has a very high soprano of the sort that often becomes annoyingly shrill after three notes, but she sang with beautiful clarity and an even tone throughout the evening. Her diminutive presence onstage only added to her convincing portrayal of the Nightingale.
Baritone Brian Mulligan's Prometheus drew hearty and justly deserved applause. Like Jovanovich, here is definitely another younger male singer worth keeping an eye out for. Mr. Gockley, can't you cast these fine singers in anything else besides 2nd tier Puccini roles?
The cast of singers for this production is really strong. The opera contains two beautiful arias and one terrific duet, and some music that passes pleasingly enough, though it won't strike anyone as being terribly original or particularly memorable. The orchestra sounded terrific under conductor James Conlon.
So why doesn't this fly?
Because Darko has laid an egg. Sorry, I couldn't resist at least one stupid pun.
In the pre-performance interview Conlon made much of the fact that Act 1 was written before WWI and Act 2 was composed after the war ended, strongly suggesting hearing The Birds as a musical metaphor for Europe's pre- and postwar experiences or collective mindset. My expectations were raised at that comment to expect a bifurcation in the opera along the lines of Fidelio but I simply didn't hear it. Braunfels also changes Aristophanes ending to reflect a grimmer contemporary postwar reality, but these implications never added up to anything that was worked out on the stage. The metaphors never leave the nest.
Also clipping the wings of this production are an unfortunately long and pointless ballet. The ballet sequence should have been re-thought. Better yet, it should have been cut. Gads, yes, I said cut it out! Blasphemy! It stops the action cold, as all ballets do in all operas. The twelve minutes could have been used to greater effect by illustrating some of the darker implications in the source material. How did a ballet end up in a 20th century work anyway?
More problems are an uninteresting, almost juvenile-looking set, and costumes that contained no elements of surprise, except Prometheus, who looked totally out of place (see Brian's review at Out West Arts for some perfect descriptions) and costumes that were lacking imagination or surprise.
These flaws/ shortcomings might have been less magnified if I had not had a seen both Die Walkure and Leila Josefowicz's stunning performance at Disney Hall the day before. Given the brilliance of those events, it's quite possible The Birds may have been cooked from the start. Finally, thanks to the Opera Tattler and Brian for joining me post-performance for drinks, food and conversation.
April 12, 2009
The problem is the first act, which is one of the most static stagings I've ever seen. There were static bits in Rheingold as well, but they worked for me because it showed the gods paralyzed by their own identities, acts and choices. In Walkure that approach doesn't work in the first act because we are supposed to be witnessing the flowering of a lust that results in, well, gotterdammerung. Yeah, it's incest and all that, but it's molten love all the same. Place Siegmund and Sieglinde at opposite ends of the stage for an hour and there's not a lot of tension building to match the music. The picture to the left is about as hot as it gets, and that cool blue light is a constant through the first act.
Additionally, while everyone is correct about the astonishing ability of Domingo at 68, he took awhile to warm up and his voice wasn't nearly as strong as when I last saw him in this role a couple of years ago in Costa Mesa. Anja Kampe, normally a singer whom I really enjoy, seemed completely unable to handle the vocal requirements of the role, though I've heard her quality seems to change from performance to performance. The staging gives you little else to go by however, so when the voices aren't there, it becomes, well, very slow going. Eric Halfvarson's Hundig was as good as expected.
Acts 2 and 3 were an altogether different story and returned to the level of greatness achieved in Rheingold. Vitalij Kowaljow's Wotan had confidence and range- he was completely convincing in voice and acting. The Wotan of these two operas is in distinctly different circumstances and Kowaljow's performance conveyed all the conflicts that come out during this part of the Ring. I think it's a brilliant portrayal. To my surprise, the afternoon's best singing came from Michelle DeYoung as Fricka. She was perfect and has definitely laid claim to the role.
So yes, I haven't mentioned Linda Watson's Brunnhilde, the star of our show. My opinion- fair. Act 2 went fine, she delivers the Hojotohos with force and power, but during Act 3 she was pinched at the top and her pairing with Kampe and that leads to "O hehrstes Wunder! Herrlichste Maid!" was not the gorgeous moment one hopes for (indeed, perhaps it's the musical highlight of the entire Ring). The remainder of the afternoon saw no turnaround in the vocal department from her.
Since Walkure is a much different dramatic set up than anything else in the Ring, it's essentially one confrontation between people in love (familial, sexual, romantic, etc.) after another, it is a different animal to stage. There are no dragons, rainbow bridges, giants, dwarfs to make a big show of things. It has just one murder, and of course the Valkyries set piece, which was the highpoint of the staging, with the various limbs of heroes scattered all around the ever-present disc that forms the stage. When the Valkyries depart the stage an indelible visual moment is created. The fire surrounding Brunnhilde at the end was beautiful, but the effect was lessened by the fact that not all of the lanterns came on when they should have and one didn't come on at all, despite the harried attempts of a member of the stage crew. Achim Freyer's production is good, but overall it doesn't achieve the glories of his Rheingold in execution or imagination.
Musically, the performance by the orchestra was superb and the muffled sound created by hiding the orchestra was not apparent at all this time. What was apparent however, and this something LA Opera needs to FIX NOW is that background noise that sounds like an old air conditioner that was audible throughout the entire performance (and present again on Saturday's performance of Die Vogel. It's white noise and it's hugely distracting. PLEASE FIX THIS!
One last comment. I hardly ever go to matinee performances because of the audience one usually finds there. When Domingo bowed out of the final two performances, I changed my tickets because, well, given a choice between Christopher Ventris and Domingo, who are you going to choose, right? So I ended up at the matinee. The audience was hands down the most obnoxious, rude, loud and inconsiderate to which I have ever seen been subjected. Hey stupid lady in seat 1 of row L- if you hadn't been eating your lunch out of a paper bag during the entire 3rd act, your hands probably wouldn't have been dirty. And exactly what the fuck do you think your husband was going to do about it anyway? As for the two biddies who kept talking in row M until you were shushed, you really need to stay home, because it's obvious you too are way too old to learn any new etiquette tricks. Appalling. Simply appalling.
April 7, 2009
Okay, can the operamasochists please all line up on stage left? David Gockley will take you to a nice, safe, warm and expensive seat where you can watch Angela Gheorgieu sing La Rondine. Again and again and again.
Operadoms, step to the right. Freyer and Domingo will show you to your seats.
It's entertaining to read these comments, but listen up- go see this if you can- if it's only half as good as Das Rheingold was, it's still going to be better than almost anything else you're likely to see before next fall. I'll be seeing it tomorrow and yes, I'll tell you what I thought of it, too.
April 5, 2009
The first piece was Haydn's Symphony No. 52, oddly enough being played for the first time by the SFS. I guess when a composer has more than 100 symphonies to choose from it can take awhile to get to some of the lesser-known ones. I don't consider myself to be a tremendous Haydn enthusiast but I do love the clean, crisp precision of his music. Even pieces I'm unfamiliar with have an almost unmistakable quality about them which make them easily identifiable as being his.
This symphony treads the border between Baroque and Classical styles, especially in the second movement's adante, and thankfully, since I'm not a huge fan of Baroque music it falls more on the classical side. The fourth movement was played with an almost incredible speed and fluidity by the orchestra, yet everything emerged with impressive clarity.
For the second piece Leila Josefowicz came onstage looking, and there's simply no other way to put this, incredibly hot. Thankfully she had her hair pulled into a girlish ponytail, otherwise she would have looked more like a runway model than a musician and I would have been distracted throughout a knockout performance of Thomas Ades' brilliant but difficult Concentric Paths concerto. This three part work, with two fast, short movements framing a slow middle, allows the violinist almost no respite. The slow movement, entitled Paths was the center around which Rings and Rounds revolved. Riddled with a sense of unease and angst, with sudden percussive barks coming at unexpected moments, this music is simultaneously gorgeous and scary.
Josefowicz attacked this piece with intensity and verve. All the more impressive because on her current tour she is performing 10 different concertos by 9 composers ranging from Beethoven to Salonen. She played with fierce dedication. I couldn't help but wonder how she's committed so many works to memory. The SFist has an interesting interview with her where she remarks about her preference for memorizing scores for a performance. Consider me a fan.
After the intermission, Gaffigan led a crystal clear account of Mozart's Symphony No. 39, which at one point had me unintentionally smiling. I looked around the audience to see if I was the only one who was being completely carried away by this performance. I wasn't- I could see smiles throughout the hall. James Gaffigan- best wishes on your next endeavors, and please come back soon.
April 4, 2009
The LA Phil date is a matinee (11 AM!) so if you live in LA and have a suggestion for a Thursday or Friday night performance you think is worth checking out do let me know. Otherwise, I'll probably make a trip over to Pink's and indulge my chili dog habit- one that I unfortunately can't indulge here in San Francisco because one simply cannot get a decent chili dog anywhere in this City- and that is a damn shame.
Mendelssohn's quartet, written the year of Beethoven's death, asks the question, "Ist es Wahr (Is it true)?" in response to Beethoven's "Muss es sein (Must it be)?" Placed between the two, Puts' piece seemed to be the interior deliberation of someone pondering both questions before answering in the affirmative. CSQ played the second movement of the Mendelssohn with a delicacy that gave it a lush cinematic quality. The fourth movement's distant clarion call suggested to me the answer to Mendelssohn's (and Beethoven's) question was to move forward and never look back.
Lento Assai is the tempo marking for the slow movement of the Beethoven quartet. Before the performance, Puts offered the audience some comments about how the piece came together, saying that he was inspired to use the existing connections between the other works as a starting point for his own. On hearing it for the first time, my opinion is that he succeeded handsomely. This is a piece I would definitely like to hear again and thanks to this program I've been introduced to a composer whose work I'll now be seeking out.
This particular Beethoven quartet holds a special place in my own journey of musical appreciation. Years ago, after ending a torrid fling, I received an anonymous package in the mail containing a copy of The Unbearable Lightness of Being with "Muss es sein?" written in delicate handwriting on the inner jacket. After reading the book (the relevance of it to my life is another post entirely, probably not suitable for this blog), I delved into Beethoven's late quartets with a curiosity that bordered on obsession. Alongside the Ring, I would be in the camp of those who believe these works may be the finest music ever written.
I've always considered this to be a dark work, tinged with mockery aimed at the face of fate, but the CSQ brought out a light, playful and exuberant tone I never really noticed before in the first movement. The second movement was played with great propulsion, with cellist Jennifer Kloetzel creating great churning currents of sound. The slow movement was played with a tender grace, while the fourth movement's motive wasn't scary, but pugnacious and pushy. It was a terrific reading of the work.
As an encore, they performed a seven minute piece aptly titled "Chippewa Song" by an American composer whose name I unfortunately didn't hear clearly enough- perhaps Griffis or Griffiths? Google was no help to me on this one- please let me know if you know the name of this composer.
The audience was filled with a large number of mostly well-behaved students participating in Call & Response, who applauded at the end of every movement- Emmanuel Ax would have been pleased. The Call & Response program deserves real credit and support for commissioning new works and bringing them to the public through a terrific outreach program aimed at younger and student audiences. I look forward to next year's presentation. Check out the Cypress String Quartet's website for more information.
There will be another performance by the quartet on May 3rd at Hertz Hall on the Berkeley Campus with a program of Hayden, Bartok and Beethoven. Check it out here: http://www.calperfs.berkeley.edu/presents/season/2008/chamber/csq.php
April 1, 2009
So please, I encourage you to comment on anything I've written if you feel the urge. This afternoon, through email, I received some pretty insightful comments about "War Music" from someone who also attended last night's performance and whose theater experience far exceeds my own. I won't identify the commenter, as that seems unfair without his knowledge beforehand, though he can identify himself at any time if he likes!I'm posting this because I wish the exchange we had took place in comments section of my blog, because I know my review was pretty harsh and these comments offer a different perspective which I find valuable and informative (and perhaps muffles the sound of my bludgeoning this play, no matter how much it deserves it, which it most certainly does). I hope he doesn’t mind.
I basically enjoyed it, but thought the script should have been tightened and focused a little more. And some of the staging didn’t work for me – the weird dance/fight at the end of Act 1, for example. I give them credit for trying something adventurous with a big cast, rather than another one- or two-person show.
I think a lot of your problems with the play are problems with the source material, which is Logue's version of the Iliad (not the actual Iliad). I haven't read more than snatches of it (one of which involved a discussion of how appropriate his use of "thong" was in his description of Aphrodite), but it is widely praised -- however, that doesn't mean everyone's going to like it. But a lot of what they were doing flowed from that. I don't think the double-casting was meant to indicate specific mirroring of the characters -- I think sometimes it was more for contrast.
I wouldn't try to persuade you that it's better than you thought it -- I see your points and they're valid, but I think sometimes you're criticizing them for things they are deliberately choosing to do -- in other words, you can hate it, but they're not failing at what they're doing, they're just doing something you wish they wouldn't ( bold is mine).
I think this last point is quite valid and captures a certain truth about what I found so loathsome about this play. Point taken- though I still think it’s awful.