July 2010

A London Summer with Huntley Dent

Daniel Harding, Renaud Capuçon, and the LSO play Bruch’s Violin Concerto No. 1 and Bruckner’s Seventh

Dandies and philosophers. I hate the use of the word “warhorse” to describe beloved music that is taxed by being overly familiar. But almost nobody refers to the Bruch violin concerto in any other way. It’s a frayed Victorian valentine, relying on luscious melody, the scent of heliotrope, and moonlight over the Tyrol as its claim to fame. The young French violinist Renaud Capuçon accepted this without a blush or smirk. He was determined to give a reading as gorgeously romantic as taste would allow. His success centered on a honeyed but never syrupy tone. More than that, he knew how to blend into the orchestral strings, which served not to drown him out but to amplify his sound. (Here I think Capuçon was taking advantage of the three years when he served as first among equals as concertmaster of the Gustav Mahler Youth Orchestra.)
A London Summer with Huntley Dent

Tennessee Williams’ Spring Storm at the National Theatre

Not out or proud. In his mid-twenties Tennessee Williams went to a playwriting workshop in Iowa and produced a nearly three-hour-long drama that was caustically received by his tutor and fellow students. Chagrined, he consigned it to the bottom drawer while mining many of its motifs for his acknowledged masterpieces, The Glass Menagerie and A Streetcar Named Desire. Nothing more was heard of Spring Storm (1937) until twenty years after Williams’s piteous accidental death in 1983. Salvaged from his archived papers, the play was given a reading in New York and a couple of regional stagings, to no great acclaim. Critics called it intriguing juvenilia.
New York Arts

Achim Freyer’s Rocky Horror Ring takes over Los Angeles!

Dressing up in a monkey suit is a time-honored profession in Hollywood. Many is the young actor or layabout who has earned a few dollars by dressing up as a gorilla — or Batman or Chewbacca — and going out into the streets with pamphlets to spread the good news about some new deli or used car lot or strip show. For a while, gorilla suits were popular in the studios as well. (That’s a whole genre that’s almost entirely forgotten today.) I reflected on this, as, on the eve of Das Rheingold, I drove along Sunset Boulevard, observing the crowds of tourists in front of Grauman’s Chinese Theater, along with a group of people dressed up as comic book heroes who were available to pose with the visitors. I wondered if any of them thought about the impoverishment of the imagination that these comic book figures have brought to the movies. Humphrey Bogart, Barbara Stanwyck, Walter Huston, and Bette Davis all created characters in their own way, even if they remained recognizable as themselves in their parts. We know what to expect from Batman and Darth Vader simply by their costume, their design, or merely the outline of their shadow on a fictitious pavement. Characterization and acting are superfluous, even though some of these characters have human vehicles, who are dutifully provided with origins, relationships, and dilemmas, by screenwriters who know that they can only sink so low.
Music

SF Symphony: Michael Tilson Thomas conducts Berlioz, with Sasha Cooke, mezzo, and Jonathan Vinocour, viola

With the conclusion of last week's Symphony performances, the official concert year in San Francisco has come to a vivid but unexpected close. Normally, at this time of year, one anticipates listening to a monumental end-of-season work, but logistical difficulties this time prevented the orchestra from putting on Berlioz's elaborate dramatic symphony, Romeo et Juliette. Not to worry!

A London Summer with Huntley Dent

Temirkanov and the Philharmonia in Tchaikovsky and Prokofiev

Remains of the day. The socialist romance still lingers around Royal Festival Hall, whose lower reaches are done up with cafes and bars open to the outside, welcoming jostling crowds in flip flops and t-shirts. Concertgoers gingerly thread their way through this perpetual beach party, trying not to look elitist in polished brogues and Stella McCartney tops. I was defying jet lag to hear the elegant Philharmonia play its last concert of the season under Yuri Temirkanov, and happily, the music delivered even more than it promised. Temirkaonov and his younger peer, Valery Gergiev, are the twin pillars of post-Soviet conducting. For any rival to poach on their private reserve – all of Russian orchestral music – runs the risk of serious embarrassment.
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