Sunday, December 25, 2011

LDS Washington Festival of Lights concert:: the crowd was huge Christmas night

On Christmas Day evening, I visited the (“free”) 34th Annual Festival of Lights on the Washington Temple Grounds at the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints just north of the Beltway in Kensington MD, website here
The forty minute evening concert (7 and 8 PM) was a Christmas carols recital by Todd Thatcher, with a Steinway piano, drums, guitar (or ukulele) and flute band. (Different artists perform every night.)

I had never been in the auditorium before, and it is impressive. 

The event started right at 7 PM with a two minute "Imax" short film on Christmas at LDS with the idea that "people are more important than things." 

The pianist seemed to be reading a “score” consisting of lyrics and chord instructions, but no staves.  I believe Apple Logic can print scores in this fashion. 

One of the carols was about Joseph, where he sings that he is not the father of his wife’s child, but the child will be his anyway.  This idea has always been controversial and stimulates many sermons.  I doubt the many kids in the audience could have grasped the psychological edge of the carol. But at one point Todd went over to the pianist and “corrected” him. I’ve never seen this happen in a public concert before, but I am used to the more formal behavior at classical concerts. 

The crowd was very large, and the Visitor’s Center scheduled another performance at 9 PM.  I was surprised that the crowd was so large Christmas night.

I also visited an international exhibit of Nativity art, and the line was long. 

There was one Christmas tree decorated with small paintings by a 19th Century Czech artist Mikolas Alem.  I wonder if there any possible relation to my father's family, which finally came over to the US in the 1880s as Baptist. 

The art work at the Visitor's Center will normally inspire a visit. There is one mural that seems to suggest extrasolar planets. 

Finally, I've always loved Facebook-blue Christmas lights (I have normal color vision).

Saturday, December 17, 2011

Gay Men's Chorus of Washington DC gives "Red & Greene" Concert for Holidays at GWU

We all remember the typical colors for holidays, and they overlap. Red and green for Christmas; orange and black for Halloween;  red or pink and white for Valentine’s; red, white and blue for the 4th; maybe yellow for Easter, nothing with purple (maybe Gay Pride Day – lavender).  You need to cover the Rainbow spectrum.
So this weekend, the Gay Men’s Chorus of Washington DC hosts its “Red and Greene” concert at Lisner, link here

The Greene is in fact soloist Ellen Greene, who alternates (singing with a cello soloist Stephen Erdody), the Rock Creek Singers, and the full 200-member male chorus, which donned many outfits, changing quickly. 

The highlights came in the second half. The GMCW sung “A Nutcracker’s Christmas” by Dan Goggin and Tom Sarsany, with eight nuns (echoing Broadway’s “Sister Act”, reviewed here Dec. 1).   There were some lyrics to the effect, "It's better [or "more blessed"] to give than to receive".  I can imagine what some of my Army buddies at Fort Eustis (back in 1969 -- but they more or less knew I was gay) would make of this.  At the end, there was a Winter Party – a White Party, literally, as to the uniforms – with seventeen dancers in mild gender bending.  The Party included a rendition of Lady Gaga's "Born this Way".

The number “Red & Greene” opened, by Marvin Hamisch and Rick East.

Christian Klilovits conducted.

At the beginning of the concert, three DC area high schools with students in attendance were mentioned. One of these was West Potomac High School, in Fairfax County, south of Alexandria. I've discussed my own experiences there on the main "BillBoushka" blog July 27, 2007 and the Issues Blog Nov. 14, 2010.

Sunday, December 11, 2011

First Baptist Church in Washington holds largest Christmas concert ever; Arlington Church performs Britten; notes on NYC "Sleeping Giants"

Sunday, Dec. 11, 2011 was a big day for church Christmas concerts.  And this year two concerts provided a valuable exposure to modern classical music.

The Trinity Presbyterian Church in Arlington VA presented the thirty-minute cantata “A Ceremony of Carols”, Op. 28, by Benjamin Britten (1942), for three –part female chorus. Soloists, and a big harp, based on a book of medieval poems, “The English Galaxy of Shorter Poems” by Gerald Bullett, in eleven sections (processional, recessional in Latin, nine poems in varying forms of Old English – more challenging than what we had to read in high school literature).   Trinity offered adult male voices from age 16-70, doubling the parts in unison, so the effect was to give the sound more bass and sense of mass.  The harp Interlude is quite substantial, like a piano prelude, a bit pastoral.  I think William and Catherine probably know this piece well, but I don't think it go selected for "The Wedding".

The minister, in a Children’s story, explained the significance of Gaudete Sunday, when the pink Advent candle is lit. This is a time when people may need encouragement, even of a personal nature, she said. 

At 4 PM today, the First Baptist Church of the City of Washington DC gave its largest Christmas Candlelight service ever.  The service ran longer, about 95 minutes, and included more music of a modern concert nature, certainly trying to attract the interest of the DC music community. 

The service opened with a first-ever instrumental section.  Dr. Lawrence Schreiber performed an organ “sonatina” called “Il est ne le devin enfant” by Marcel Dupre, ending in a majestic but conventional fugue.  (Remember that composer’s notorious and bombastic “Cortege e Litanie”?)  The Brass Ensembles and Handbell choirs alternated groups of familiar carols, mostly arranged by Jim Lucas.

The conventional carol service followed,, with "O Come All Ye Faithful" as the processional.  (I was ready for Sir Hubert Parry's "I Was Glad" -- really; It's loud, and virile!)  But it would quickly offer major highlights. The offertory was a piano solo “Noel Novelette” by Emma Lou Diemer,  performed by Lawrence Schreiber.

The Runnymede Singers (Facebook site), conducted by Cory S. David, performed carols by John Rutter  (“Candlelight Carol”) and Mark Miller (“Christ Is Born”). 

The Friday Morning Music Club Chorale  (link for club) performed “Sweet was the song” by Jay Althouse, and then some plainsong.   I recall the Club from piano lessons in the 1950s. 

The service closed with Deborah Miller, soprano, and the combined choirs singing the closing passages from The Christmas Cantata, bringing the event to a rousing (or perhaps rowdy) close.  “There will be dissonance, there will be polytonality, there will be constant tension in the music.”  The final fortissimo chord has a dissonant note in it. 

One year ago today, which was Saturday Dec. 11, 2010, I “Amtaked” to NYC to hear a pre-purchased concert in which Timo Andres performed his “It Takes a Long Time to Become a Good Composer” (as I recall, sponsored by the Metropolis Ensemble). Today, I found his discussion of its relationship to Schumann’s “Kreisleriana” on a “Sleeping Giants” page at WQXR, here. The comment that Schumann was at his best with miniatures and wrote in “fractals” is interesting.  (An onion is an example of a fractal, isn't it?  But so is a tree.  Maybe self-similarity generates entire universes.) Schumann is not Brahms, he is Schumann – but he could turn on grandeur with big forms sometimes: the big Piano C Major Fantasy (yes, the March is a "miniature"), and my favorite Second Symphony (C Major) – not just the famous Romanza, but the telescopic Finale, which attains incredible grandeur at the end with very simple manipulations of a very personal theme (it was probably a song).  

My own mother, then 97, had gone into a Hospice the day before (Dec. 10) – but I made the Concert with a one day trip, the concert experience (overlooking Central Park, almost literally) becoming a kind of personal memorial. The closing of the Schumann #2, through the Hospice bedside sound system, with me there, was the last music she would hear.  She would pass away Dec. 14.  

I’ve gotten to know Timo's “Shy and Mighty” from the Nonesuch CD over the past year and a half, and I now think the work is really stronger if played at once, and that it ought to be choreographed.  A one-hour ballet experience with a two-piano suite in many short movements, all stylistically and philosophically related, makes real sense to me.   (No, there’s no part for a “Black Swan”, and it’s not quite a “Rite of Spring” – although Stravinsky’s ballet sounds very compelling on the piano, actually – as movies about it have shown.) This might be the best way to get it more performances, especially on college campuses, and outside NYC.   There are many small choreography collaborations around the country. I even remember, in ninth grade, that my chorus teacher had composed a piece called "Ballet Music" which she brought in one time and played for me.

Readers may enjoy this blog posting from June 2011, "Get Classical" -- discussion of doing both performing and composing (after introducing the "Ecstatic Music Festival").

Friday, December 09, 2011

"The Crucible", by Arthur Miller, presented by Washington-Lee High School (Arlington VA) in an emotional production

Washington-Lee High School in Arlington VA, from which I graduated in 1961 (old building shown below), presents “The Crucible” by Arthur Miller as its “fall play” this year in its new theater (in a new high school building).  It’s directed by Keith Cassidy.

The program notes discuss well the way the play presents, with a setting in Massachusetts in 1692 with the Salem witch trials, an allegory to McCarthyism which was in full swing in 1952 when Miller wrote the play.
It’s amazing today, when anyone can write and self-publish and self-produce on the Web (and the current bill in Congress SOPA puts that in jeopardy – see my “BillBoushka” blog), that people could be blacklisted from working in Hollywood at all if they didn’t confess “something” before the House Committee on Un-American Activities, and then “name names”.  The same sort of thing went on for years in the military with its campaign to pretend it did not have gays, even worse under “don’t ask don’t tell”, recently repealed. 

The production contained the usual four Acts (I think without the addendum near the end of the second Act -- ), and lasted about 2-1/2 hours with the intermission (which gave the presentation the character of two acts with two scenes each, as in opera). The "wide screen" stagecraft was extensive (plenty of crosses and nooses), and the acting (sometimes off-stage in balconies), particularly the “screaming”, passionate.  Most of us know the tragic end, where John Proctor (Jeffrey Warren) tears up his confession in order to avoid the public shaming for something he did not do.  The phrase “hang ‘em high” occurs (itself the name of a famous western).  The gallows come down in silence, but it is a kind of American Lynching.  Proctor’s actor is rather heavily made up for the final scene, with watercolors on his wrists to simulate blood.  A lot of cameras went up when he appeared for the scene.  I remember in seventh grade feeling uncomfortable about putting goo make-up on my hands for the innocent musical "The Sunbonnet Girl".

The chamber music score, by Connor Browne, is dark in tone, and contains a figure that reminds one of the slow introduction to Beethoven’s Fourth Symphony.   I was ready for the Allegro.

The audience included many members of the Cappies (Aug 5, 2007, "Senioritis"); I'm not sure if they helped produce it. 

When I substitute taught a few years ago, I had an English class where the audio from the last act of the drama was played from a simple CD.  There are lots of discussions centered around moral abstractions.  In the play, I thought a caught a line about having to have permission to write about someone in a pamphlet (imagine that on today’s Internet). It also seemed as though the townspeople make other people’s marriages and relationships very much their business, much as in soap operas. 

There was a major film in 1996 from 20th Century Fox, directed by Nicholas Hytner, of the play, which I saw when it came out at the old National Amusements (now Rave) property in Merrifield, now gone.  Daniel Day-Lewis, so completely body-shaved earlier for “The Last of the Mohicans” (another history lesson) is Proctor, and Winona Ryder (of shoplifting shame later) is Abigail.   I wonder how much of the cast has seen the film (PG-13, just barely).  

Some kids (AviOnyx) made a spoof of the last scene (as another high school English project), emphasizing the significance of publishing Proctor’s confession (as if on Facebook in public mode).  I guess this is a “derivative work”. 

Arthur Miller lived to about 90 (until 2005) and was incredibly prolific as an author.  He was Marilyn Monroe's last husband, and appears as a character (played by Dougray Scott) in the Weinstein Company's "My Life with Marilyn" (reviewed on my Movies blog on Dec. 6).

Sunday, December 04, 2011

Christmas pagaents: simple, homemade stagecraft and music making

Church Christmas pageants are not Broadway, but they’re still 3-D.  Today, the First Baptist Church of the City of Washington DC presented, after the Sunday brunch, “A Living Christmas Card” as part of the “Family Life Christmas Program”, with murals of the manger, wisemen visit and shepherds, and a trumpet solo “Gesu Bambino” by Pietro A. Yon. 

Earlier, in a sermon “The Mountain Climbing Mandate”, pastor Jeffrey Haggray made an allusion to the film “Shame”  (movies, Dec. 3) by mentioning the libertarian concept of “private choices” as often made without empathy or social connection.

Later today, in Arlington VA, the congregations of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints on 16h St (2nd Ward) and Trinity Presbyterian Church held a joint “The Sounds of Christmas: Carols of the Season”.  There was a puppet show as part of the children’s story. There were two musical items outside the usual Christmas carols:  the Combined Choirs sang “Night of Silence” by Daniel Kantor, and Trinity Tollers played (on bells) the Introduction to “The Ringing in of Christmas” by William Payn.

The LDS hymnal does not name music composers of the individual hymns, and many hymns, while familiar, seem to have fewer verses.   

Thursday, December 01, 2011

"Sister Act": a diva "takes the hint" from a convent (Whoopi Goldberg's musical)

Broadway musical, as an artistic form, is different from plays and film in the sense that the music and visual stage effects take off on their own, in a kind of abstraction.  That can mean that eventual film adaptation won’t have anything like the stage effect.

It’s almost impossible to see “The Book of Mormon” reasonably, but “Sister Act”, produced by Whoopi Goldberg and Stage Entertainment at the Broadway Theater, also starts off delving into the ambiguous morality of religious conviction. The music is by Alan Menken, and has several songs that are very familiar, at least one of which commonly plays in (gay) discos and even shows up in Apple Loops.  The lyrics are by Glenn Slater and Cherri and Bill SteinKellner.  And imdb shows a film from 1992 from Touchstone Pictures and director Emile Ardolino with Whoopi as Delores. It does not appear to have the same music.

Now, on stage, Patina Miller plays the diva, who witnesses a mob hit accidentally and needs “witness protection”.  She finds it in a convent, where the Mother Superior tells her to “take the hint” (that phrase could have become a song) about her values.  That is to say, more than perform in life and even pay her dues, she was to go along with God’s plan and be prepared to sacrifice for others, according to a variable personal calling.

But the diva’s values become infectious to the convent, and the comedy takes off, and the songs soar as the sisters sing, accommodating their spiritual values with earthly happiness. Indeed, “Spread the love around.”  At one point, two “bachelors” (a gay couple – J. Edgar and Clyde, maybe) plan to “buy the church” – but they’re so pleased with the collections the diva generates that the church survives.  It gets its new building.  

The stage effects with the Virgin Mary (who seems a bit like a golden calf idol) and all the variable colors dazzle at the end.

Tonight, the theater was honoring World AIDS Day with a special collection. (The seats for the show are reasonably priced.  But $10 for a coke at concessions is just too much.)

The website is this