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Wednesday, February 22, 2017

Out in the Cold

A YOUNG MAN, spurned by his beloved, sets off on foot across a chilly winter landscape, exploring a range of volatile emotions as he surveys the countryside. Dogs bark at him as he halts by them; a cemetery casts an inviting spell. These are elements of Wilhelm Müller’s “Die Winterreise,” a cycle of poems set to music by Franz Schubert in 1828.

Photo by B. A. Nilsson
Tenor Ian Bostridge, a frequent “Winterreise” performer, combined personal impressions of the work with an insightful historical and philosophical overview in his book Schubert’s Winter Journey, wherein he notes that it’s “Odd ... perhaps, that we always give the cycle in a warm hall, that we never feel the cold or live in the silence of the snowy landscape. How often do the audience really imagine it? Should it be part of the recipe?”

We got the answers on Saturday, Feb. 11, when baritone Christopher Herbert gave a brilliant performance of “Winterreise” in Saratoga’s Spa State Park – outdoors, in the snow, clad in duffel coat, boots, and watch cap.

Monday, February 13, 2017

All in the Family

A BEAUTIFULLY ACTED, cracklingly funny study of some of the indignities of dating had its world premiere at The REP last week, shrewdly melding two disparate demographics through a story that probably plays out in one form or another in many a family: the search for love after the death of a longtime partner.

Sol Katz (played with irascible cheerfulness by Barry Pearl) isn’t so busy mourning his just-deceased wife that he hasn’t time to ramp up a romance with bridge partner and longtime friend Edie (Cheryl Stern) – to the horror of his son David (Brian Sills), who deftly undermines the relationship.

Bob Morris, who has written often for the NY Times Sunday Styles section among many other publications, captured this autobiographical story in his memoir Assisted Loving; adapting it for the stage has given him the opportunity to broaden characterizations beyond the confines that memoir imposes, inviting us on a two-hour journey through some difficult and compelling character developments.

Thursday, February 02, 2017

Happy Heifetz Birthday

THE FANTASTIC FOOLISHNESS of Groundhog Day has been worsened for me since my early teens, when I fell under the spell of violinist Jascha Heifetz and soon realized that my coevals didn’t know who he was and had little interest in sharing my enthusiasm – and chattered each February 2 about a rodent in Pennsylvania.

Heifetz was born in Vilna, Lithuania, on this date in 1901 (some say 1900), studied in St. Petersburg with the renowned Leopold Auer, from whose school enough famous violinists emerged to prompt George Gershwin (a Heifetz friend) to write a song in 1921 titled “Mischa, Jascha, Toscha, Sascha,” a tribute to the renown of Elman, Heifetz, Seidel, and Jacobsen. Heifetz made his American debut in 1917, became a citizen of this country soon thereafter, and concertized and recorded into his early 70s, when he decided he couldn’t maintain his own high standards.

He shares a birthday with Fritz Kreisler, another extraordinary fiddler, but my household celebrates the Kreisler birthday on February 1. In lieu of cake, I offer a morceau by Mozart:

Tuesday, January 31, 2017

Walled Off

Oh, No, Not Poetry! Dept.: One of the most unique theatrical/musical events I’ve ever been involved with takes place (as of this writing) quite soon, when Musicians of Ma’alwyck join forces with Nacre, a Saratoga Springs-based dance troupe, and Creative License, an Albany theatrical company, to present a program titled “Suite of Love” at 7:30 pm Sat., Feb. 11 at the Cohoes (NY) Music Hall and at 2 pm Sun., Feb. 12, at Schenectady County Community College. A dozen musical works ranging from Henry Purcell to Cole Porter will be performed by a trio of flute, violin, and guitar (my arrangement for them of “Night and Day” contains an obscure musical surprise) between scenes of narrative verse performed by a quartet of actors, myself among them. And there is an impressive variety of dance to the words and music and even moments of stillness. I also crafted the texts for this event, which look at a variety of the manifestations of love and its exciting offshoots, and offer below one of the more overtly political poems.

I EMIGRATE towards your heart
But you Ellis Island me with suspicion.
Do I look like you? I don’t.
Does it matter?

It matters to me, says your eye –
Which, as a child, saw beauty alone
But since has been carefully taught
That beauty resembles your twin.
No touch of the tarbrush,
No renegade blood.

Friday, January 27, 2017

Post as Romantic

PROKOFIEV’S FIRST PIANO SONATA is over a hundred years old; he finished his ninth and last in 1947. There hasn’t been a time more tumultuous in music before or since that period, yet he rode through it with his Romantic banner held high. Being Prokofiev, however, he redefined musical romanticism, and his piano sonatas exemplify this progress.

I’m hoping that Alexander Melnikov’s recording of three of those sonatas is the harbinger of more. This Russian-born pianist (a Richter protégée) made his mark with a recording of Shostakovich’s formidable Preludes and Fugues a few years ago, offering performances both electrifying and unifying, letting the composer’s distinctive voice shine in these Bach-homage settings.

That’s also what sets this Prokofiev recording apart from the pack. If you’re looking for music that’s relentlessly pleasant, don’t look here. The sonatas give an illusion of accessibility, but even at their most melodic, those melodies are in service to an architecture of unease.

The composer’s life was bracketed by wars. He exiled himself to Paris between them, but returned to his homeland as it entered its most repressive phase. This is the story being told in the Sonata No. 6, which was finished in 1940. He began work simultaneously on the ten movements that would comprise the sonatas 6, 7, and 8, eventually concentrating on the four for number 6 – and it’s one of the most difficult and disconcerting works in the piano repertory.

Wednesday, January 11, 2017

On the Other Hand

Given the Choice Dept.: When The Alt debuted in New York’s Capital Region last November, I wrote the piece below to celebrate the concept of culinary alternatives.

                                                                                           

WHAT’S THE ALTERNATIVE when your larder isn’t yielding what the recipe demands? We’re familiar with some of the common ones: use white sugar and molasses in place of brown sugar, try yogurt in place of mayonnaise, add a little vinegar to some tomato sauce in place of ketchup – although if you’re running out of ketchup before the tomato sauce is gone, then your diet may need more than this article for help.

Such tips, once buried in the end pages of books like The Joy of Cooking, are now at the easy other end of an online search. But what’s the alternative when you just don’t want to eat a particular item? It’s a more subjective path, but it’s a path that opens new culinary vistas.

For example: You need protein, and you want to turn to the garden for more of it. The leading candidate: Kale. It’s way up there on the green-leafy protein scale, with 2.9 grams of protein in one cup (67 grams) of the chopped-up stuff. The only drawback is that kale is vile, a tough tangle of stems and resistance that probably costs you a gram or more of that protein in chewing alone. The alternative: Arugula. Although it contains only 0.6 grams of protein per cup, a cup of arugula weighs only 10 grams. On an equal-weight basis with kale, 67 grams of arugula contains 4.2 grams of protein, and a mere 6 calories versus kale’s 33. Of course, that’s a hell of a lot of arugula to chew through, and it needs dressing, so there go your calories.

Tuesday, December 20, 2016

For Your Classical Consideration

THIS HAS BEEN THE KIND OF YEAR that imprints its many aspects on all edges of our cultural life, and we need to go into 2017 with music that both heals and inspires. Here are some selections from the past twelvemonth with which to get started.

Lara Downes: America Again (Sono Luminus)


Although this CD was released a couple of weeks before The Election, it couldn’t convey a more necessary post-election message. “America Again” is the title of prolific pianist Lara Downes’s debut on the Sono Luminus label, taking its title from a Langston Hughes poem that asks, “Let America be the dream the dreamers dreamed – Let it be that great strong land of love,” a wish that will be tried and brutalized during the next four years.

The 21 selections offer compelling juxtapositions of works by composers synonymous with Americana and less-familiar voices, as when Gershwin’s “I Loves You, Porgy” (after a Nina Simone arrangement) is followed by Rican-born Angélica Negrón’s “Sueno Recurrente.” The 35-year-old pursued the dream of journeying from one America to another, ending up in Brooklyn with a varied and inspiring career.

Other highlights are Amy Beach’s evocative “From Blackbird Hills,” Duke Ellington’s appropriately titled “Melancholia,” an Art Tatum arrangement of Irving Berlin’s “Blue Skies,” and the traditional melodies “Shenendoah” and “Deep River” – along with short works by Lou Harrison, Florence Price, Scott Joplin, Harold Arlen, and others.