What a strange, scary, and remarkable year 2020 has been, in all our lives! The social isolation that I have carried out pretty consistently has led me to look to music even more than usual for solace, enlightenment, and pleasant distraction. I gather that many music lovers have traveled a somewhat similar path since mid-March. My penchant for opera, and for vocal music and for the theatre generally, has led me to get to know a number of recent CD releases, many of which I have reviewed for American Record Guide or for various online magazines.
Those who have read my articles and reviews of the Bach Choir of Bethlehem's work, at least the Christmas Concert and the Bach Festival, will understand just how close these events are to the hearts, not only of inhabitants of the Lehigh Valley, but to an extensive community of Bach-lovers, former members of the local audience and the outstanding, mostly amateur choir, who have moved away, and people who have heard the Bach Choir sing once or twice, or more, and travel considerable distances to attend the concerts.
It gladdens my heart to confirm that Alexander Zemlinsky’s The Mermaid is no longer a “rescue” known only to early twentieth century enthusiasts panning for neglected musical gold. It’s too good for a fate like that. There are 11 modern versions of this work now on Naxos’s streaming site, not to mention live performances on YouTube, most of them, like this one, quite fine. The piece has arrived. It’s a fitting outcome for music which premiered in 1905 on the same program as Arnold Schoenberg’s Pelleas and Melisande and was actually preferred by the audience.
Ax and Ma chatted about their relationship over the years and the personal idiosyncrasies that sustain or annoy them both. To engage novice listeners, the Beethoven’s sonata became the subject of some slightly nerdy talk about the tonic-dominant-tonic arches that propelled the Beethoven’s sonata. Finally, somehow, they drifted to discussing chef Jacques Pépin’s freaky tolerance for seizing hot skillets its supposed relevance in interpreting the piano attacks in the scherzo.
In making this work seem a Romantic tour-de-force, yet being true in spirit to the music’s main mission is really astonishing and tricky to pull off. Having musical taste and a keen insight to Bach’s architecture gives room for his pianism.
Elena Siyanko, Executive Director of PS21, in her introductory comments preceding Alarm Will Sound's performance of John Luther Adams' Ten Thousand Birds, said that this event has been in the works for a year. Its purpose, conceived months before there was any hint in people's minds that the performance would occur under the restrictions imposed by the pandemic which continues without an end in sight, at least in the United States. The particular features of the new performance structure and the determination and resourcefulness of Ms. Siyanko and her staff have made PS21 a pioneer in offering live performances under safe conditions. The performance of Ten Thousand Birds was intended to showcase the new PS21 and its new semi-open performance space to the public. The beautiful grounds surrounding it are in integral part of its design and function in a way quite different from Tanglewood and SPAC, where lawns simply provide expanded seating for those who prefer to be out in the open.
Dan Rose has published another artist book. This one, FACES, is a group of invented portraits that delve into, visually fiddle with, and vainly try to comb over the thinning hair spots of robots—and ask: What are we to make of the evolving relationship between human and robosapiens?
The program in some ways reflected mood swings that strike us these days: melancholy, valediction, the hauntings of past ardors, and the impulse to get the hell out