Lincoln Center Festival 2011: Ballet, Bruckner, Brook, Druid, Merce, Ruders, Shakespeare…

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The Winter's Tale, Royal Shakespeare Company, David Farr, director. Photo Alessandro Evangelista.

The Winter's Tale, Royal Shakespeare Company, David Farr, director. Photo Alessandro Evangelista.

This year the Lincoln Center Festival will be longer and richer than ever. It will offer 116 performances by ensembles and artists from some 20 countries, and will include 6 World, North American, U.S., and New York premieres unfolding in seven venues on and off the Lincoln Center complex. In spite of all this cultural wealth, it doesn’t seem at all like the rat race one experiences at some other festivals. Perhaps its length—five weeks now—works in its favor…and not every festival has to have a fringe. The Lincoln Center Festivals are always built around a distinct pattern that gives it a core structure the festival-goer can fan out from into a variety of artistic adventures. This year the core consists of three programs in dance, theater, and music by three world-class organizations: The Cleveland Orchestra under music director Franz Welser-Möst will offer a Bruckner Festival, not a traversal of the ten symphonies, but a more focused series, the four fully mature symphonies, Nos. 5, 7, 8 (the original 1887 version), and No. 9, and they will be intertwined with works by John Adams, as an invitation to look at the symphonies as precursors of minimalism. The Royal Shakespeare Company, which celebrates its fiftieth anniversary this year, after some eight years under the directorship of Michael Boyd, will present a representative selection of W. S.’s plays: an early tragedy (Romeo and Juliet), a mature comedy (As You Like It), tragedies from either end of the peak of his career (Julius Caesar and King Lear), and one of the late romances, The Winter’s Tale, all divided among four RSC directors, Lucy Bailey, David Farr, Rupert Goold, and Michael Boyd himself. The RSC will be present in an even more tangible form: performances will take place in a replica of the new thrust stage at Stratford, constructed at the Park Avenue Armory. Finally, and only recently announced, the Mariinsky (Kirov) Ballet will perform a variety of works, including the U.S. premieres of Anna Karenina and The Little Humpbacked Horse, evening-length ballets by critically-acclaimed choreographer Alexei Ratmansky set to the music of Rodion Shchedrin. A third program pairs Alberto Alonso’s Carmen Suite, to Shchedrin’s arrangement of Bizet’s score, and George Balanchine’s neo-classical masterwork Symphony in C, also with music by Bizet. Artistic Director Valery Gergiev will conduct the Mariinsky Orchestra.

A Magic Flute, C.I.C.T./Théâtre des Bouffes du Nord, director Peter Brook. Photo Pascal Victor.

A Magic Flute, C.I.C.T./Théâtre des Bouffes du Nord, director Peter Brook. Photo Pascal Victor.

Another set of performances is hardly less important: the U.S. Premiere of Peter Brook’s A Magic Flute, a condensed version in the spirit of his powerful La Tragédie de Carmen; Druid Theatre Company’s production of Seán O’Casey’s classic drama The Silver Tassie, directed by Garry Hynes; the Royal Danish Opera in the U.S. Premiere of Poul Ruders’ Selma Ježková, with an orchestral concert and an evening of chamber music by the Royal Danish Orchestra; the U.S. Premiere of Yukio Mishima’s The Temple of the Golden Pavilion, directed by Amon Miyamoto and starring Go Morita; Merce Fair, a day-long immersion in performances, workshops, video and art installations, celebrating the artistry of choreographer Merce Cunningham;  rare U.S. concert appearance by the Brazilian singer-songwriter Tom Zé. Along with this David Michalek’s large-scale, outdoor video installation, Portraits in Dramatic Time, will shown each evening from July 5–31 on the Josie Robertson Plaza, the heart of the Lincoln Center complex.

Any individual visitor will see this organism in a different way. While I find almost overwhelming pleasure in dance performances of all kinds, my expertise lies elsewhere, and my eyes widen when I contemplate the convergence of the Royal Shakespeare Company, Druid Theatre Company, Peter Brook, and the Kanagawa Arts Theatre. (It just wouldn’t be right if the Lincoln Center Festival offered only English-language theater!) Then, there is the Bruckner: a cycle of Bruckner symphonies is a tremendous opportunity these days, when, I fear, Bruckner has fallen under a bit of a shadow, at least in this country. And finally the U.S. premiere of a new work, Selma Ježková, by Poul Ruders from the splendid Royal Danish Opera.

Poul Ruders, Selma Jezková, Royal Danish Opera. Photo Miklos Szabo.

Poul Ruders, Selma Jezková, Royal Danish Opera. Photo Miklos Szabo.

This should attract strong interest both as a new work from Denmark’s most famous living composer, based on a film by Lars von Trier and as a performance by a team who have earned wide recognition for their work at the Royal Danish Opera. At the center stands stage director Kasper Holten, who was also responsible for a haunting and intelligent production of Robert Schumann’s underestimated opera Genoveva at the Bard Music Festival a few years ago. Their best known effort, thanks to the DVD that was made, was the first Ring Cycle produced in Copenhagen since 1912. The recording of this irreverent, but compelling production has gradually progressed from cult status to a reputation as the most satisfying video treatment of the tetralogy available. Ylva Kihlberg, who sang Gutrune, and conductor Michael Schønwaldt will reappear in Selma Ježková, a dark story of a Czech immigrant who comes to the United States and works herself into exhaustion to earn money for an eye operation for her son, who suffers from the same affliction which she knows will make her blind. The opera is described as intense and condensed, at 70 minutes a good deal shorter than the film itself.  An eclectic composer to say the least, Ruders has written in most of the classical forms music that combines atonality, Romantic expressivity, jazz and other popular genres, as well as motifs from non-western music. Ruders has said “Dancer in the Dark is the ultimate story for an opera. It is condensed and has everything: drama, passion, fear, and death. What more could you desire from an opera?” Kasper Holten says, “Lars von Trier’s story is rich enough for further interpretation. We focus on Selma’s relation to her son Gene. In our staging, we confront Selma with Gene in a kind of purgatory where she must answer for her actions and try to explain her choices to Gene. She is therefore forced to relive her pain once again, with the full knowledge of where things will end.”

The Royal Danish Orchestra will also perform a concert of music by Carl Nielsen and Igor Stravinsky in Alice Tully Hall on July 28 and one of chamber music, played by soloists from the orchestra, comprised of works by Nielsen and Norwegian composer Johan Svendsen (1840-1911).

Franz Welser-Möst, Music Director of The Cleveland Orchestra. Photo Roger Mastroianni.

Franz Welser-Möst, Music Director of The Cleveland Orchestra. Photo Roger Mastroianni.

Performances of Bruckner’s symphonies hardly need any justification, but this cycle by the Cleveland Orchestra of his four most monumental works has an argument. Entitled Bruckner: (R)evolution, the series is intended to bring about a “Bruckner awakening” after a period of neglect, which, as I mentioned above, I have also perceived. Franz Welser-Möst described Bruckner as “a great neglected master and the grandfather of minimalism,” and he plans to reawaken our understanding of his music by juxtaposing the symphonies with works of John Adams: his Guide to Strange Places, Violin Concerto (with Leila Josefowicz as soloist), and Dr. Atomic Symphony. It is significant that Welser-Möst, like Bruckner, was born in Linz, a city with a strong tradition in the ecclesiastical polyphony of the Renaissance and perhaps a strain of mysticism as well. He says, “Now after more than one hundred years, we can discover what he really wanted to express in his music and how original his voice is, and how he was way ahead of his time. I paired Bruckner with John Adams because in many ways Adams is the American musical grandson of Bruckner. When I first heard Guide to Strange Places, I thought immediately of Bruckner. Both composers are like architects that create their music out of small groups of notes, like stones in a building, that they shape and combine in various ways, using different keys and instrumentation until they have the complete work. There is a dark side in John Adams like the dark side in Bruckner. With his harmonic progressions and clashes, Bruckner foreshadowed that the tonal world was coming to an end.” Adams himself said that “Anton Bruckner’s command of large-scale musical form has had a huge influence on my own orchestral and operatic structures.”

While I personally feel that these observations hit home, I think they should be put into context. I won’t enter into the subject of Bruckner’s constant revisions and their effect of the reception of the symphonies—which is most likely very little. Even editions that contain interventions from others are effective enough with general audiences. It’s when one gets to know the composer and his works well that one starts to get fussy. Ultimately Bruckner suffered from insecurity, and he was all too open to the advice of conductors, students, well-wishers, and ill-wishers. The great Bruckner scholar William Carragan reports that “Leopold Nowak, the director of the Collected Edition from 1951 to 1991, speaking to me directly: ‘Sie sind alle Originalfassungen!’ That is, they are all original, that is, authentic versions, and they should all be treated with respect.” For the most part, there is no evidence that the composer was certain that that any particular version was definitive. In some cases the earlier versions seem more characteristic and convincing than the later ones, as we see in Welser-Möst’s adoption of the “original 1887 version” of the Eighth, published by Nowak in 1972 from Bruckner’s MS. But the neglect we speak of has nothing to do with that. there is simply a perceptible thinning out of performances. As someone who lives between Boston and New York I noticed that James Levine has little affinity with Bruckner, as much as he loves Wagner and Mahler. On the other hand, Herbert Blomstedt led the BSO in an unforgettable performance of the Seventh only a few years ago at Tanglewood. He received one of the most extensive ovations I have ever heard from a Salle Pleyel audience after his Bruckner Fifth. In fact, after the concert, he said that he was concerned about how this unfamiliar, un-Parisian work would go over. Kurt Masur, who was Music Director of the New York Philharmonic until 2002 and has hardly disappeared since, is another one of the great Bruckner conductors. Christian Thielemann has been among the staunchest Brucknerians of a younger generation. I have heard superb Bruckner from Eschenbach and Dohnányi, which brings us to the Cleveland Orchestra’s own distinguished tradition in Bruckner. George Szell’s extraordinary understanding of Bruckner only emerged in his later years, when his commercial recordings of the Third and the Eighth were issued. Szell’s Cleveland Orchestra had a lighter, tighter sound than the dark Viennese sound Dohnányi introduced and which Welser-Möst has cultivated further, and this lightness and nervous precision of their playing under Szell amazed listeners at the time. Dohnányi was as devoted to Bruckner as any conductor, and he has performed all the symphonies from the Third on relatively frequently. His recordings remain among the best, and they have plenty of company from conductors as alike or different as Furtwängler, Horenstein, Jochum, Böhm, Knappertsbusch, Giulini, Lopez Cobos, Tintner, as well as the said Masur and Blomstedt. There is evidently no risk of Bruckner’s oeuvre fading from human consciousness, but still, I won’t dispute that something more than a gentle prod is in order. Above all, I think very highly of Franz Welser-Möst, and I believe his combination of steady discretion and Furtwänglerian expression will produce fascinating results in Bruckner.

Leila Josefowicz. Photo Deborah O'Grady.

Leila Josefowicz. Photo Deborah O'Grady.

But minimalism? Last year I experienced quite a revelation in hearing Bruckner’s very earliest version of his Third Symphony for the first time in a performance by the American Symphony Orchestra under Leon Botstein. The better-known later versions of the Third, like the Fourth, show relics of the Austrian symphonic tradition we know well from Mozart, Beethoven, and Schubert, with Ländler and other dance-like or folkish evocations of national tradition. It is astonishing how deeply woven these elements are into the earliest version, and how hard he worked to eliminate them in the later versions. Here one can see Bruckner at the crossroads. It seems inevitable that he would develop as he did, but if he did not, if he continued to develop these local qualities further, he would have evolved into a sort of Austrian Dvořák. With his Fifth, Bruckner finally rooted it most of it out, following, in his inspired way, the pure polyphonic traditions of the choral and organ music he had grown up with. Whether this is really minimalism or not, it is a process of reduction and the elimination of ornament. The simplicity of a Bruckner score is almost disorienting, as we observe him intertwining short phrases into longer structures which undergo constant metamorphoses as they move towards climax and conclusion. If a juxtaposition with the music of John Adams helps us to listen in a new way, so be it. In recent years Haydn, Beethoven, and Brahms have cohabited most fruitfully with Schoenberg. At that Paris concert I mentioned there was a most enlightening pairing of Bruckner’s Fifth with Stravinsky’s Concerto for Piano and Winds. Indeed, Stravinsky approached brass choirs in a strikingly similar way, and that opened our ears for what was to come.

The Royal Shakespeare Company comes to New York in celebration of its fiftieth anniversary and the inauguration of its newly rebuilt theater. As I mentioned, a replica of its stage will be constructed in the Park Avenue Armory, so that American audiences can experience the physical renewal of the theater, almost as if at first hand. This is a celebration of something new even more than it is of a tradition, and it isn’t hard to understand why the RSC are willing to go to such lengths to demonstrate their confidence in the future to Americans, whose time-honored passion for Shakespeare has been rekindled in recent years by Shakespeare initiatives all over the country. Who else is prepared to make the trek out to Stratford-upon-Avon? In fact Shakespeare’s birthplace is only a two-and-a-half hour train ride from London, but it feels remote nonetheless. The trip would have taken over two days for Shakespeare, and he himself gave a feeling for this provincial remoteness in the rarely-performed Induction to The Taming of the Shrew. In fact the spirit of a place often overpowers such conveniences as the M40 and tourist buses.

This isn’t the place to discuss Reverend Gastrell’s mulberry tree, Garrick’s Jubilee, the Shakespeare Memorial Theatre, or anything before 1961, when the RSC was founded, for the purpose of establishing a permanent company, based both in Stratford and in London, that would develop a consistent style in production and acting, which is what founding director Peter Hall thought was necessary for Shakespeare. Directors like Hall and John Barton took great pains to develop a method of delivery that did justice to Shakespeare’s language and versification and was easily understood by a modern audience. The star system which had dominated earlier generations of Shakespeare production in Stratford as much as elsewhere was avoided in favor of a repertory company, in which the mostly young actors alternate in major and supporting roles. In fact there was generally a creative symbiosis in RSC productions between modernity and a recognition of Elizabethan/Jacobean dramaturgy. Most productions by English companies today are founded on the methods the RSC developed in the 1960s and early 70s, and many of today’s leading actors spent formative years there, including Patrick Stewart, Ian McKellen, Judi Dench, and Helen Mirren.

Romeo and Juliet, Royal Shakespeare Company, Rupert Goold, director. Photo Ellie Kurttz.

Romeo and Juliet, Royal Shakespeare Company, Rupert Goold, director. Photo Ellie Kurttz.

In spite of opposition from the National Theatre, which wanted to remain the only subsidized company in London, the RSC’s base at the Aldwych Theatre and later at the Barbican Centre were essential. There the company could branch out beyond Shakespeare and his contemporaries, and its mostly young actors could keep in touch with the center of the theatrical world in the capital. The actors may well have felt isolated out in Stratford during the long months of gruelling work for modest pay, not that Stratford was inaccessible to the London critics. The reach of the RSC continued to expand until 1980s, when financial and artistic problems began to mount. As Artistic Director Adrian Noble undertook radical changes, including a departure from the Barbican and London altogether, which only made things worse. Michael Boyd took over a disastrous situation in 2003 and has been methodically working to restore the RSC to health. Although Boyd and his RSC rediviva have already enjoyed spectacular successes, most notably the 2007-08 Histories Cycle, the five plays coming to the Armory—Romeo and Juliet, As You Like It, Julius Caesar, King Lear, and The Winter’s Tale—coincide with the reopening of the main theater building in Stratford and are clearly intended to show what the new company can do. Some of the productions have received an enthusiastic press back home, but not universally: there is, as there always will be, in the case of a national institution many care about passionately, some controversy. King Lear, in particular, has been favorably compared to the great Donmar Warehouse production which recently closed at BAM. As with the Bruckner series, Lincoln Center is giving us an opportunity for immersion, and we can come away with our own opinions. I wouldn’t recommend missing any of these productions. Sweltering at the Armory will never have been so sweet.

Peter Brook, now 85 and about to leave his position as Director of the Théâtre des Bouffes du Nord, the experimental theater he founded in Paris in 1974, and which has been his base of operations ever since, was previously an important figure in Stratford. He came there as an assistant in 1947, and by 1950 he directed a Measure for Measure with John Gielgud, followed by a string of signature productions: Titus Andronicus with Laurence Olivier (1958), King Lear with Paul Scofield (1962), and Marat/Sade (1964). He became head of productions at the Royal Opera House in 1947, creating productions which shocked as well as impressed. He made notable films, including Lord of the Flies, Marat/Sade, King Lear, Moderato Cantabile, and The Mahabharata, based on one of his major productions at the Bouffes, where he has also done Timon of Athens, The Tempest, Conference of Birds, Woza Albert! and The Cherry Orchard. In the course of this universal theatrical career, Brook has become a legend with his spare, powerful productions.

At the Bouffes he began a series of distillations of classic operas, cut to 90 minutes or less and the central characters, the orchestral score rendered on a piano. La Tragédie de Carmen was brought to the Vivian Beaumont Center to great acclaim in 1983. A Magic Flute is conceived in the same spirit. As Brook said, “This will be a Magic Flute far from the expected. The vast panoply of scenic effects, the heavy and solemn symbolism are all put aside. In their place, audiences will find an ever young Mozart surrounded by an equally young and talented cast of singers and musicians ready, like the composer, to improvise, to transpose, to explore new colors, to juggle with forms. We propose a light, effervescent Flute, where an intimacy with the performers will allow the tenderness and the depth of the score to appear. This Flute takes its place in the Bouffes du Nord’s approach to opera, as in La Tragédie de Carmen and Impressions de Pelléas.”

Seán O’Casey, The Silver Tassie, Garry Hynes, director. Photo Robert Day.

Seán O’Casey, The Silver Tassie, Garry Hynes, director. Photo Robert Day.

The incomparable Druid Theatre Company of Galway, who have recently delighted New York audiences with Enda Walsh’s Penelope, will present Sean O’Casey’s powerful war play, The Silver Tassie, in an epic production directed by Garry Hynes. Described as “the cruelest play in all Irish literature” by Frank McGuiness, the play revolves around the experience of two teenage football heroes in the trenches of World War I and its aftermath during the ensuing period of the founding of the Irish Republic. This grim, hard-hitting subject, now unfortunately as timely as ever, is  enriched by O’Casey’s rich language and a dramaturgy that embraces both realism and expressionism.

On July 16, Lincoln Center Festival will celebrate Merce Cunningham’s lifetime of artistic achievements with Merce Fair, a day of performances, concerts, films, exhibitions, workshops and activities, from 10 a.m. to 10 p.m., filling numerous venues at Frederick P. Rose Hall. The day will be divided into three segments: morning, afternoon and evening, with each day part featuring a range of events in different spaces, some happening simultaneously, some at different times, giving the public an unparalleled opportunity to experience the breadth and depth of Cunningham’s vision and the fruits of his collaborations with musicians and visual artists. The afternoon and evening segments will include live dance performances by Merce Cunningham Dance Company and the Cunningham Repertory Understudy Group.

The Temple of the Golden Pavilion, Kanegawa Arts Theater, Amon Miyamoto, director. Photo Akihito Abe.

The Temple of the Golden Pavilion, Kanegawa Arts Theater, Amon Miyamoto, director. Photo Akihito Abe.

The renowned Japanese director Amon Miyamoto, who made his Festival debut in 2002 with his acclaimed production of the Stephen Sondheim/John Weidman musical Pacific Overtures, returns with the U.S. Premiere of The Temple of the Golden Pavilion which is the opening production of the Kanagawa Arts Theatre, where Miyamoto serves as Artistic Director. Based on the wrenching novel by Japan’s acclaimed writer Yukio Mishima, this groundbreaking play paints an intensely personal picture of Japan in the very troubled time surrounding World War II. It is a stunning tale of the power of beauty and how it corrupts the mind of a young Buddhist acolyte, Mizoguchi, who becomes obsessed with beauty’s destruction. Mizoguchi is played by Go Morita, with the roles of his friends, one representing the power of good, the other of evil, by Sousuke Takaoka and Shunsuke Daito, both rising young stars of film and television in Japan. A deceptively simple set, constantly in motion, is transformed throughout by a play of light, projections and the beautifully choreographed movements of the cast, six of whom, in non-speaking roles representing spirits of the temple, are members of the noted Japanese anokoku butoh dance company Dairakudakan.

The legendary bossa nova musician Tom Zé, now 74, will give one performance on July 31. As the Lincoln Center announcment says, Tom Zé is a bossa-nova iconoclast, an avant-garde troubadour. He first made a name for himself in the 1960s as a leading voice of the Tropicália movement that swept Brazilian music, art, and literature. In the decades since then, this songwriter and multi-instrumentalist has been absorbing and reimagining genres like samba, Brazilian folk music, forró, rock, and pop, resulting in a musician who is distinctly at home in the great tradition of Brazilian music and yet also in a world unto himself. Ze’s unorthodox approach to melody and instrumentation (he’s been known to perform with a typewriter) make for unconventional, eccentric performances. Tom Zé himself calls his art imprensa cantada, or “sung journalism”; a typical Zé show is part music, part comedy, and part lecture on anything from the history of counterpoint to the pitfalls of globalization.

Tom Zé. Photo André Conti.

Tom Zé. Photo André Conti.

A new, large-scale public art installation by visual artist David Michalek will  transform Lincoln Center’s main plaza into an outdoor gallery from July 5 through July 31. Portraits in Dramatic Time, commissioned by Lincoln Center, will feature hyper-slow-motion video performance-portraits by an international array of well- and lesser-known, international film and theater actors displayed on a screen measuring 85 ft. wide by 45 ft. hung high on the front facade of the David H. Koch Theater. The installation will be on view from 8.45 p.m. to 11.45 p.m. Portraits in Dramatic Time continues Michalek’s use of extreme-slow-motion video portraiture begun with the critically-acclaimed Slow Dancing, also installed on the Koch Theater’s facade which premiered at the Lincoln Center Festival in 2007.

Portraits in Dramatic Time, David Michalek, concept and director. Photo David Michalek.

Portraits in Dramatic Time, David Michalek, concept and director. Photo David Michalek.

 

 

Lincoln Center Festival 2011 Calendar

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About the author

The Editor

Michael Miller, Editor and Publisher of New York Arts, an International Journal for the Arts and The Berkshire Review, was trained as a classicist and art historian at Harvard and Oxford, worked in the art world for many years as a curator and dealer, and contributed reviews and articles to Bostonia, Master Drawings, Drawing, Threshold, and North American Opera Journal, as well as numerous articles for scholarly and popular periodicals. He has taught courses in classics, the English language, and art history at Oberlin, Rutgers, New York University, the New School, and Williams. Currently, when he is not at work on New York Arts, he writes fiction, pursues photography, and publishes scholarly work. In 2011 he contributed an introductory essay to Leonard Freed: The Italians / exh. cat. Io Amo L’Italia, exhibition at Le Stelline, Milan, and wrote the revised the section on American opera houses in The Grove Dictionary of American Music. He is currently at work on a libretto for a new opera by Lewis Spratlan, Midi, an adaptation of Euripides’ Medea set in the French West Indies, ca. 1930.

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