I was listening to the Miró Quartet play the Brahms Quartet in C minor last night, and I had the inarticulate but oh-so-sincere thought: God, I love Brahms. I don’t even believe in God. But I have a longstanding faith in the power of Brahms’s music over me.
The Miró gave a delightful performance of Haydn’s Quartet in E-flat major, “The Joke.” They had the audience chuckling out loud at the end, enjoying the sudden starts and silences, trying to figure out when the piece had finally stuttered its last. And they were joined by Julie Landsman for the East Coast premiere of Gunther Schuller’s Horn Quintet. Which I’ll come back to later, after this derail.
It’s been an embarrassingly long time since I’ve blogged. I just haven’t had my critical thinking cap on. I’ve been voraciously consuming culture: concerts, theater, opera, musical theater, more concerts. I’ve been writing program notes and press releases. And yeah, I’ve been working more hours than I care to think about, but that doesn’t usually stop me from blogging.
Here’s something I can handle: a bite-sized look at some of the things I’ve seen and heard and tasted.
Meg Hutchinson at Club Passim: I enjoyed her songs, her straightforward singing, and her endearing stage presence. But the mellow set by the opener had put me (and my friends) to sleep, and I never quite recovered.
Romeo and Juliet at Yale Rep: I liked the physicality of it, the bodies tumbling and spinning and swinging. The raunchy jokes seemed overdone, but then again, that Shakespeare guy wrote plenty of them into his plays. The production strengthened over the course of the play to culminate in a wrenching final act.
Robert Blocker, piano: Scarlatti is completely underrated. When I have a real piano, I need to read through a stack of Scarlatti sonatas. I feel like a bad pianist for disliking Chopin as strongly as I do. And I’m glad I finally had a chance to hear Ginastera’s first sonata performed live. It was the strongest performance on the program, and I thoroughly enjoyed it.
Trannequin at the Yale Cabaret: So glad I saw this new musical by students at the School of Drama. Love the concept (a star female mannequin discovers and comes to terms with her desire to wear men’s clothing, while another character reveals a past transition and we discover that there’s more than one way to be a trannequin). It’s full of catchy tunes and clever, often hilarious, writing. Some of the key changes struck me as cheesy, a couple of the jokes were too easy, and the ending felt overly pat. But overall the show is witty and smart and so much fun.
Debussy and Mahler with Orchestra New England: Back before recordings, Schoenberg and his buddies would arrange music they wanted to hear for a small enough group to play it at a series of private concerts. Orchestra New England performed two of these arrangements: Debussy’s Prelude to the Afternoon of a Faun and Mahler’s Symphony No. 4. It’s both disorienting and clarifying to hear the pieces reduced to such small forces. The piano often sounds like it’s just there because it can play multiple notes simultaneously, rather than because its texture is musically appropriate, but that’s life. The harmonium, unfortunately, was difficult to hear. The winds, especially the oboe, contributed beautiful color. Soprano Jihee Kim sang the last movement of the Mahler with bell-like clarity and unfailing musicality.
Monodramas at NYC Opera: So glad I saw this triptych of monodramas by John Zorn, Arnold Schoenberg, and Morton Feldman. Each was exquisitely sung, especially the Feldman, and the orchestra played with color and focus. These are piece that really need to be heard live (and I can remember a lot of time spent in a listening room with Schoenberg scores). Schoenberg, by the way, can be a far more interesting colorist than he’s given credit for. I’m used to having narrative, and the Zorn and Feldman don’t exactly provide narrative. Hell, the Zorn doesn’t even have a text. What stood out for me, staging-wise: the projections for the Zorn; the lovely-yet-disturbing red petals falling throughout Schoenberg’s Erwartung; and the bold colors and shapes and movements of the Feldman. But I feel like I’d have to see it at least once more to have anything more coherent to say about it.
These seem to be getting less bite-sized as I go along. Consider the Monodramas a hearty sandwich.
And the reason I don’t have a whole lot to say about the Schuller is that I just need to hear it again to be able to say anything about it. It’s the same reaction that I had to the Monodramas. Julie Landsman’s playing was stunning: she can produce a golden, glowing tone or efface the French horn-ness to blend into the strings. The Miró Quartet turned in a strong performance of the piece as well. They play with a joy that I wish I saw more often on the concert stage.