What does the music of Charles Ives sound like with an Australian orchestra and a British conductor? Different, one is tempted to to say, but not really. We’ve become used to our Ives done New York style, with Broadway snap and brass. No one gets that wrong. But Ives was a New Englander, and the disruptive elements in his music have perhaps been overstressed. He always explained that bits of band marches and Americana in the Second Symphony were present to remind him of his youth, not shock Horatio parker, his music teacher. And the famous razzy “non-chord” at the end was meant to evoke dance bands sending everyone home with a screech–not annoy the professor!
The fall 2015 orchestral season at Carnegie Hall was dominated by the Boston Symphony Orchestra’s traditional three-concert visit, this time in October, and a five-concert traversal of Beethoven’s symphonies by the Berlin Philharmonic under their outgoing principle conductor/artistic director, Simon Rattle. Both had their joys and peculiarities, but only Berlin confronted us with any actual disappointments.
For a museum that bills itself encyclopedic, the Art Institute of Chicago was long lacking a comprehensive contemporary section to complete its smorgasbord of the world’s greatest art. Last April, plastics tycoon Stefan T. Edlis and his wife Gael Neeson changed all that with a gift of forty-four pieces by such recognized names as Andy Warhol, Jasper Johns, Robert Rauschenberg, and several others. These works are currently on display in the Modern Wing of what TripAdvisor has dubbed “the world’s best museum.” The Institute’s pledge to display the works rather than pack them away was “an offer I could not refuse,” Edlis stated, leaving him and the general public equally happy. Edlis, although still in good health, wanted worthy homes for his extensive collection while still alive. These forty-four works now rest comfortably on the “Big Shoulders” of his adopted hometown.
After a stunning stretch of plays set in the West Country of Ireland, the playwright Martin McDonagh found himself saddled with literary freight. Could he—or did he even want to—extend the legacy of Irish drama into unforeseeable territory? From Yeats onward, the audience for Irish drama had quaffed a brew of poverty and poetry, blarney and eloquence, myth and the kitchen sink. Suddenly, like the young Sam Shepard and his equally meteoric rise, McDonagh found a style no one anticipated, as viscerally violent as Shepard’s, as psychologically edgy, and as recklessly antagonistic toward the audience’s comfort zone.
Marek Janowski Leads the San Francisco Symphony in Pfitzner’s “Palestrina” Preludes and the Beethoven Fourth and Eighth Symphonies
Marek Janowski always brings a convincing German something to our orchestra. Polish born, Janowski was raised in Germany and reigns at the Berlin Radio Symphony–indeed is known throughout Europe for his Wagner, Bruckner, Schumann and Beethoven. He’s even managed to elicit convincing Bruckner from the Suisse Romande in Geneva–that alone surely worth some nation’s Legion of Honor–and every so often does the rounds instructively with us. This time Pfitzner was the centerpiece.
Down in the pit. The misery of being a woman in Nottinghamshire back when coal was king forms the preoccupation of Husbands and Sons, a composite of three one-act plays by D. H. Lawrence. Before they were rediscovered and staged, Lawrence’s dramas were an obscure part of his output, and now they risk being too dated to be vital. Like early Eugene O’Neill, the stage-minded Lawrence of 1911 to 1913, when these plays were written, aimed at naked social realism. The women trapped by brutal husbands working in the colliery stand on the brink of ruination from mining accidents, impending strikes, the cruel work hours that destroyed men’s bodies, and always the shadow of poverty.
True Romance. The essence of Carol, a film much lauded but low grossing (which has become the norm for prestige films at Oscar season) is that it is a lesbian love story as Eric Rohmer might have conceived it and Alfred Hitchcock might have photographed it. The plot is slender. At Christmas around 1950 Carol Aird, an unhappy housewife on the verge of divorce (Cate Blanchett), feels an immediate attraction to Therese Belivet, a much younger sales girl in a New York department store (Rooney Mara). Poised between upper-middle-class privilege of the period, swathed in mink, and her sexual loneliness, Carol initiates a love affair that quickly takes us into literary territory, with the visuals doing much of the poetic writing, in the “camera-pen“ tradition that French critics admired in great American movies.