Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Two African-American brothers from Chicago excel in classical flute, clarinet

Tonight, NBC Nightly News presented two African-American brothers from Chicago who both play woodwinds in different symphony orchestras (Seattle and the Metropolitan Opera in New York).  They are Demarre (flute, Seattle) and Anthony McGill (clarinet, at the Met), 37 and 33.  Ron Allen prepared this report for NBC

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The brothers are also mentioned on “The Grio” here

Both were shown participating in elementary school music education programs.  (I am reminded of the Young People’s Concerts at the Minnesota Orchestra, for which I worked as a caller from 2002-2003.)
Major literature for the clarinet includes the Mozart Clarinet Concerto, Sinfonia Concertante and Clarinet Quintet;  Brahms Clarinet Quintet, and the Clarinet Concerto by Carl Nielsen, which is a bizarre work. 

Mozart offers two flute concertos,, and Nielsen also offers a flute concerto, which is again rather original in concept, but rather playful.

I suspect these brothers know the music of Carl Nielsen pretty well.   

Monday, February 25, 2013

"The Book of Mormon": The World according to Joseph Smith, and the LDS Church as per Southpark

The Broadway musical “The Book of Mormon” bears the same relationship to the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints that “Sister Act” (Dec.1, 2011) bears toward the Catholic Church and Vatican establishment.  BOM, however, is even more “explicit” and “irreverent”, with plenty of R-rated references and language.  Despite its popularity, anti-LDS satire does not impress quite as much with either the stagecraft or music as the anti-Vatican work.  BOM does, however, manage to ridicule logical flaws in LDS beliefs and theology. Imagine a musical on the Church of Scientology next!
The musical, still in its record run at the tiny Eugene O’Neill Theater (Jujamycn link), is by Trey Parker, Robert Lopez and Matt Stone, associated with South Park.
Matt Doyle is overwhelming as the virile young elder Price, and his less winsome sidekick Cunningham got a spirited singing from Will Blum.

The relationship between the two “elders” when the church sends them to Uganda on their mandatory missions, becomes the focus of the story. Cunningham worships Price through upward affiliation as having the manliness that Cunningham lacks. That’s visually apparent.  Price wants out and has the nightmare, one of the best sequences in the musical technically. Cunningham, left alone without his best friend, discovers a new self-confidence by rejecting the “we’ll give you the words” idea and by then making up vulgar stories to impress the natives.

The musical brings up the anti-gay issues early in the first act, but never takes up the anti-gay bill in Uganda (taking up female circumcision instead), and veers away from the gay problem generally.  But it’s fair to compare the musical to movies like “The Falls” (movies blog, Feb. 18) and “Latter Days”. The musical does have a lot to say about the culture of hucksterism and proselytizing that spills over into American business life.  

Some of the most powerful songs are "Man Up!" and "I Believe".  
The link for the musical is here.

The link for the theater chain is here. Imagine that "The Iceman Cometh" here.  A man walks into a bar and you have a five hour play.
The physical crowding in the theater is remarkable.  There is a system to get people through concessions.  The soft drinks have a sippy lid which I have never seen before, so you can take thmem back to your seats.
The art work in the “Heavens” was interesting, with a lot of different extra-solar planets hanging in the sky.  Some of them would be tidally-locked, with rings of civilization. Every good Mormon gets his own M-star planet in the afterlife. The musical does raise some questions about "what is an angel". 

Sunday, February 24, 2013

Sunday church at a coffee concert, OR "The World According to Timo"

Today (February 24, 2013), pianist and composer Timo Andres gave an hour long Sunday morning “coffee concert” in at the Walter Reade Theater at the Lincoln Center.  The event is followed by coffee and doughnuts (not too good for hypoglycemia, I used to say at business walkthrough meetings!). This is Timo’s first concert at the Lincoln Center of which I am aware (I don’t know whether there were earlier ones, as when he attended Yale).  So this was an important event for him, and the concert was full and sold out.  It was a good idea to get the tickets bought online by midweek ahead.

I’ll cover the works in reverse order.  The last work was the Chopin Polonaise-Fantasy in A-flat, Op . 61, composed in 1846, near the end of Chopin’s life.  Chopin can seem trivial to me, sometimes, in some of the salon pieces, but in his larger piano solo works he usually works up to violent or heroic climaxes.  This work is more introspective, with mood swings, and a somewhat ambiguous conclusion (there is one final fortissimo chord in the treble), and not a huge emotional release, like some of the others (especially the Ballades and full Sonatas).  The work, in a word, sounds weird!  It should not be confused with either of the two well known Polonaises.  Here, in a Fantasy, the Polonaise rhythm gives the opportunity to make use of complex triple time.  (Compare to Brahms, or even to the Tchaikovsky Third Symphony.) Andres has been writing about the last, and little known, Chopin nocturnes and I would love to hear them.

The next-to-last work is Three Mazurkas, but British composer Thomas Ades (b. 1971).  They are prototypical,  and pianistic.  Curiously, the last one, in slow tempo, may be the most effective.
The second composition was “Forest Scenes” (or “Waldscenen”), Op. 82 (1848-49), by Robert Schumann.  Andres likes sets of miniatures (see my entry here Dec. 11, 2010).  There are nine pieces, and the march-like eighth (the “Hunting Sons”) echoes the March of the big C Major Fantasy. 

The concert opened with Andres’s own “At the River” (2011). Timo’s music does stay with the ear and music memory (mine, at least) with only a few hearings, which speaks well for a composer.  This piece is characteristic of him, in that it builds up in little repeated motives that become themes.  There is a central hymn theme that seems to be based on a repeated note (the music is inspired by rural religious tradition in America, back to the Civil War, as captured by Charles Ives).  By happenstance, I recently listened to “In the Moonlight”  (from “Modern Family”) by comic musician (piano and guitar) and actor Reid Ewing, where there is a similar theme.  I was struck by how similar thematic material can either evoke religious sense of devotion and submission, or an assertive idea of charisma and even seduction.  It’s all about context.  Andres takes the hymn-like idea back into a world of fragmentation and lonely introspection.  Toward the conclusion, my ear also picked up the descending figure from Schoenberg's "Pelleas et Melisande"  (the same descending "in the moonlight" motif).  In the end, will the world be all about connectivity?  In any case, the work set up a mood of “Sunday morning church”, and quite ecumenical.

The link for the series at Walter Reade, here
During the concert, Timo used the iPad as the “page turner” for his own and the Ades work.  I don’t know how the iPad knows when to turn the pages. The piano was a Yamaha.  The stage is rather spartan, with block woodwork behind.  

Andres has mentioned some changes with Sibelius music composition software on his blog, and since I use this at home, I’ll have to look into this carefully soon, and report. 

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

"Shakespeare's R&J" plays at Signature Theater in Arlington VA

The Signature Theater in Arlington VA has been presenting “Shakespeare’s R&J”, a layered setting of Shakespeare’s “Romeo and Juliet” as adapted and directed by Joe Calraco. 
The adaptation presents four young men attending a strict Catholic boarding school.  As they wprk out relationships among themselves and rebel against authority, they act much of the Shakespeare play, each of the men playing several characters, including female ones like Juliet.

But there is no “drag”. The men start in out fully dressed on formal school suits with sweaters and full undergarments (they could almost be Mormons). 

The play is a bit like the film “Private Romeo”, reviewed on my movies blog June 5, 2012.

The stagecraft is interesting. This time, Signature has converted the theater to an arena stage, with a lot of woodwork including a balcony. During one intimate scene, a tress of candles comes down.  There are few props (they include a red sash), but there are interesting effects to simulate a storm. The red cape is useful for the "Queen Mab" act. 

The contact among the four actors is quite physical and intimate, within certain limits.
The four parts are played by Alex Mills (Romeo), Jefferson Farber, Joel David Santner, and Rex Daugherty.
Signature’s link (running through March 3, 2013) is here

After the show, there was an audience Q&A with the actors tonight.

Signature offers a YouTube video with similar conversations with the actors:

The music is by Gabriel Mangiante.  Sometimes it sounds “Renaissance”, but in one curious passage it presents a  Britten-like eclectic slow melody on solo piano. 

The play has run in New York, off-off-Broadway in Hell's Kitchen in a simple theater, in Chicago, and London. 

Today, “Romeo and Juliet” is often taught in ninth grade English.  Teachers have to explain that Juliet would have been considered underage by today’s legal standards.  When I was subbing, I sat in on one regular teacher’s introduction, but at another school (West Potomac High School, near Alexandria VA, which I have written about before on the blogs) I once had a class for two days where the student s were taking turns reading from the play.  The seemed to enjoy Act II, as I remember.  

Students are probably becoming aware that "Romeo and Juliet" lends itself to gay adaptations, because of the "forbidden love" theme, as well as family authoritarianism and feuds.

I have seen the Berlioz dramatic symphony "Romeo and Juliet" performed by the Minnesota Orchestra (probably around 2002).    

Thursday, February 14, 2013

"Angels, Demons, and Savages": Valentine's Dance Trilogy presented by Phillips Collection (for painters Ossorio, Pollock, Dubuffet)

Tonight, I attended a performance of a “Valentine’s Dance Trilogy: Angels, Demons, and Savages”, by the CityDance Conservatory, to celebrate the art  of Ossorio, Pollock and Dubuffet, at the Phillips Collection in Washington DC.

The five sections were a Prelude, “Angels and Wings”, “Demon Spirit”, “Burtal Beauty (Demons)”, and “My Heart Has Four Corners”.

The performance was preceded with a solo electric cello concert by Wytold, (Resident Artist, Strathmore AIR Program, at the Mansion), a suite of his called “Do You Know?”, a ground bass with variations, often using sequences of four repeated notes.

The dancers, some of whom are teenagers, are Brittany Goodman, Alexandra Grayson. Katherine Koegel, Mica O’Brien, Dana Pajarilaga, Holly Blackweidler, Matthew McLaughlin, Brian Galvez..

Each ballet dance movement was performed with an appropriate abstract painting in the background.
Galvez had the wings of angels drawn temporarily on his back.  Unlike the Washington Post preview picture, the men wore trousers, but no tights.  The dancing obviously required athletic precision and considerable upper body strength.

The auditorium (two floors down below) and stage are small, and the performance was sold out. It was impossible to see all of the dance through people in front.  The stage needs to be higher. 
It’s curious that one of the leading characters in my novel manuscript (Angel’s Brothers) has a college student of partly Hispanic origin, who may (in the context of the “science fiction” of the novel) become an “angel”.  But there are no obvious markings in the novel.

There was a panel discussion after the dance program (30 minutes).  One of the dancers said that it was possible to interpret one of the numbers ("Savages") in terms of rejection in a relationship and even domestic violence, but it didn't have to be seen that way.  I didn't see much of the "Rite of Spring" in this setting.  The "Demon Spirit" number used a passage from Debussy's piano "Arabesque" repeatedly.  
The exhibition of the three painters is on the top floor (link).   The work has various materials, including coal dust and sand in one work by Dubuffet.  A piece by Ossorio is called “Martyrs and Angels”. 

Curiously, I didn't see any "no flash photography" signs on the premises.  Obviously, original paintings like some of these must not be exposed to flash.
On the second floor, there is a photography exhibition on environmental themes, with a photo of the BP oil spill disaster in 2010, and a photo by Burtynsjy of an open pit gold mine in western Australia hundreds of feet deep.  Wonder about mountaintop removal?

I used to go to piano and chamber concerts at the Phillips Collection in the fall of 1962, when I was a patient at NIH, an episode in my life that I have covered elsewhere in these blogs.

City Dance at Strathmore has this website

Wytold’s website is here. His music was used in the Sundance film “Blood Brother” which I have not yet seen.  (I just “saved” it in my Netflix queue.)  Yes, I wonder why does  someone have just a “one word name”.  But so does “Cher”.  Or “Beyonce”.  Or the film director “McG”. 

 Ed Harris directed and acted as "Pollock" in a 2000 film by that name (Sony Pictures Classics).  I saw it in Minneapolis.  
.Update: Feb. 16, 2014

There is a review of "Blood Brother" on my Movies blog today, and Wytold's cello suite is used throughout the film. 

Sunday, February 10, 2013

"Next to Normal" plays in northern VA (Alden Theater)

It’s interesting to see a Broadway show in a local suburban legitimate theater, especially a rock musical. And it was interesting to see “Next to Normal” on a Sunday afternoon, the day after seeing the film “Side Effects”, as if this show could make a “II” movie. 

I saw it in McLean VA (in NW Fairfax County) at the Alden Theater of the McClean Community Center, directed by Lisa Anne Bailey and David Rohde, performed by the McLean Community Players (link). The original music is by Tom Kitt, and the Book and Lyrics are by Brian Yorkey. At this venue, the show runs one more weekend (through Feb. 16).  
The show has two acts, and a very large number of short songs, and is almost entirely sung.  The story concerns the mental illness of Diana Goodman (Nicky McDonnell), who seems not to accept the loss of her son as a baby due to an unusual intestinal disease, and sees his teenage ghost (Nick Du Pre), who functions rather like the character Sam in the 1990 film “Ghost” (with Patrick Swayze). Her marriage to Dan (Brent Stone) still functions (the bed is on the stage, arranged to show most of the parts of a suburban home), and daughter Natalie (Catherine Callahan) struggles with mom’s problems while dating a somewhat ungamely Henry (Alex Stone). 
It’s a while before we learn what is going on, bit the psychiatric stuff comes on fast, with doctors.  You expect to see Jude Law (from “Side”) to walk on stage and sing at any moment.  They give Diana electroconvulsive shock therapy (simulated on stage), and for a while the resulting amnesia relieves her of her grief.

It’s a little unsettling to hear such lilting music to such a tragic subject.
A suburban theater can’t have its own orchestra, which of course makes the musical presence more effective when possible. 
The actors all wore wires and tiny mouthpieces. I’ve never seen this before on stage and have no idea how it works or why it’s necessary.
The official touring website is here

There was an interesting little problem as I entered the theater.  An elderly woman right behind me wanted physical assistance being seated.  This isn’t something that I feel very comfortable being confronted with.  But a big strong teenager suddenly came in behind her and provider the assistance.  I don’t think this has ever happened this way before right next to me in a public venue.

The McLean Community Center has a small art show upstairs, showing the drawings of Rosemary Luckett and gold-leaf-paintings of Thomas Xenakis.  Luckett has an item demonstrating the problem of nuclear waste (“Atomic Angel”).  Xenakis exhibits work in Bzyantine style with mystical themes, like “The Tree of Life and Death”, “The Beauty Between Heaven and Hell”, “Oasis”, and “Food Chain”. 
This morning, I had attended the Vienna Presbyterian Church (5 miles away), and a brass band played a symphonic overture (very familiar sounding , sonata form, C Major) by Victor Ewald.  This was a case of a familiar work by an obscure composer. 

Thursday, February 07, 2013

"Shear Madness" is an audience participation mystery at Kennedy Center; Afghan music by Sarmast moved to Concert Hall

Tonight (Thursday, February 07, 2013) I attended an “audience participation” stage comedy in the small (and newly constructed, as of November 2012) Kennedy Center Theater Lab, on the terrace level. 
The play is “Shear Madness”, by Paul Portner. 
You walk into the amphitheater and see an intimate stage, a hair salon, decked out in garish colors (especially pink).   I’ll give a link for the characters here. Tony (Brad Letson) is the stereotyped gay hairdresser who runs the place, as the other characters play “we come and go”.  Pretty soon Nick (Thomas Keegan), a cop, comes in and wants a shave.  (The play doesn’t go into a space that it could here.  Think about it – repeatable shaving isn’t possible in a stage piece, at least without props.)  There is some dicey comedy, mention of Sweeney Todd, while we hear Rachmaninoff Preludes (from Op. 23) coming into the space from apparently an upstairs apartment.  Soon we learn that the elderly female concert pianist who lives upstairs has been murdered.  Someone in the salon has to have done it.

Now the dialogue has lots of cute metaphors, adjusted for Washington DC and its politics (particularly issues like the Fiscal Cliff).  The play, of course, can be fitted to any major city (like the Big Apple). 

Forty minutes into the play, Nick has the audience lights turned on, and invites the audience to participate questioning the suspects.  You really have to pay attention to minute details. 

There is an intermission, where you can talk to the actors.  About 20 minutes after the intermission. Nick takes a vote.  Then the actors ad-lib the ending for the suspect.  It can’t be the cops. 

The entire event runs about 100 minutes.  

The whole setup is like the 1985 Paramount movie “Clue”, where the DCD offers alternate endings. (See movies, Aporil 3, 2012).    
The Kennedy Center had advertised that the Afghanistan National Institute of Music would perform on the Millennium stage.  I got there at 6 PM and found that you had to pick up free tickets as soon as possible after 5 PM to get into the Concert Hall.  I hadn’t noticed that on the Kennedy Center link there earlier this week, but it is there right now (as of 11 PM Thursday night).  I could only see a plasma TV screen with the orchestra from the atrium below the steps and barely hear the music.  I wonder why the Kennedy Center didn’t mount the plasma TV screen on the Millennium stages so that more people could hear it (or play it on their computers in the Hall of State). 
The music program consists of “Da zemong Ziba Watan” by Awal Mir and Saim Sarmast, an Afghan folk song “O Badim Chashman”, an Indian raga, William Harvey’s adaptation of a traditional Lariya for violin, rubab and chamber orchestra, Vivaldi’s Four Season’s (I could hear that on the floor OK), and Sarmast’s adaptation of “Shakako jan”.  All of the music (except the Vivaldi) is based on traditional folk music.
Someone said that the BBC was recording the event, which could mean that it may be shown soon on PBS or HBO.  Here is a good BBC link discussing the Kabul academy, here

Here is a file with MP3 downloads of some of Sarmast’s music, link

This YouTube video seems to play music resembling what was played tonight, link

AlJazeera has a 47 minute film “Dr. Sarmast’s Muisc School”, Afghanistan’s National Institute of Music (ANIM).  That’s the best video I can find quickly and embed to show what is happening.

Monday, February 04, 2013

Model railroad at Antietam Station would appeal to Stephen Hawking

Sunday, I visited the Antietam Station model railroad setup, in Sharpsburg MD, across the Potomac from Shepherdstown, WVa.  Sunday Feb. 3 marked the last show for the post-Christmas season.

There were two tiny toy layouts and an interesting Brio, but the main room expressed a concept I had not seen before.

The “two halves” were fronts for separate railroads.  The larger scale “backside” ran underneath the smaller N-scale, but you could still see it.  It also ran another branch underneath the backside of the smaller layout, in a manner complicated to explain.  There were various tunnels and canyons to peer into.  Imagine waking up in a world like this, going exploring, and figuring out you had been captured and made an exhibit in someone else’s Twilight Zone. 
The two layouts were like “Dominions” in Clive Barker’s novel “Imajica”, to be reconciled only in specialized crossings (like ”The Erasure”).  It’s like being right next door to a parallel universe that is still normally inaccessible.  It’s a nice cosmology lesson. 

Saturday, February 02, 2013

Afghanistan National Institute of Music comes to US, restores musical tradition lost to the Taliban shortly before 9/11

The New York Times has a story about the Afghanistan National Institute of Music on its front page, Saturday, February 2, 2013, by Alissa J. Rubin and Daniel J. Wakin, link here.  

What is particularly striking is that the Taliban had cracked down on music starting in 1996, five years before 9/11,  The Taliban destroyed instruments and copies of music, and physically harassed musicians, all on the theory that music was “un-Islamic”.  It’s the “everyone has to” style of thinking carried to extreme.  It seems that even native music was banned, not just western. There is some concern that the native government and military could have trouble protecting musical expression after the US leaves in 2014, as President Obama has promised.  

The Millennium Stage at the Kennedy Center will present ensembles from the Afghan National Institute of Music on Thursday Feb. 7 free, at 6 PM, link here
The New York Times characterized the group this way. “How do you get to Carnegie Hall>  First enroll at the Kabul Music School”.