December 2018

HHA

Autumn Music in Boston, 2018

Schoenberg in the opera often mentions Mahler, and we see his name projected on the back screen—a great Austrian Jewish composer who preceded Schoenberg in coming to America. Since James Levine’s day, the Boston Symphony has not given us Schoenberg (though Verklärte Nacht or the Five Pieces for Orchestra, or Gurrelieder might seem a good fit for Music Director Andris Nelsons). But the BSO does consistently perform Mahler, and in recent weeks gave us the huge, choral Second (Resurrection) Symphony and the tuneful and popular Fifth (whose Adagietto for strings is used so poignantly in Luchino Visconti’s film Death in Venice).
Dance

Paradise Not Found: “Utopia” by Valerie Green/Dance Entropy at Danspace Project, St. Mark’s Church

The work asks “what does Utopia mean to you?” The standard definition of Utopia is an imagined place or state of things in which everything is perfect. What I saw was seven dancers, (five women, two men), in vaguely Greek white costumes dancing with long, cylindrical poles.  The dancers gave the premise a good try but the end result was bland. The poles, made by visual artist Keren Anavy, as well as the “rocks” that later became lighted headdresses, took over. The dancing seemed in service to the props so the concept of exploring a “perfect place” got lost in the shuffle. In fairness, there wasn’t much shuffling but rather too many repetitive, unimaginative steps with a few lovely interludes, notably when a man and woman briefly danced a tender pas de deux and later when the troupe ran in place with the poles serving as trees flanking each dancer.
HHA

A Crop of Recordings XXIV: Rued Langgaard, Ruth Gipps, Hubert Parry, Vilhelm Stenhammar, and Witold Lutosławski

“Let me please introduce myself. I am a gentleman of wealth and taste. And I laid traps for troubadours….” So goes the Rolling Stones song, Sympathy for the Devil. Danish audiences never quite knew what to make of Rued Langgaard, at once romantic composer and obsessive throwback to apocalyptic Christianity. His Sixth Symphony, officially termed “The Heaven-Rending,” later came to be known as “The Antichrist.” The Danes, hearing the struggle in his music and perhaps a bit fundamentalist at the time, were never sure on which side Langgaard stood! Langgaard was passionately convinced Satan operated in modern life as power behind the scenes, devilishly pulling the strings of music, culture and government—and was ultimately responsible for the First World War. A special culprit and convert to this evil, in Langgaard’s eyes, was Carl Nielsen, the celebrated Danish composer of his day, whose modernism and humanism Langgaard alternately copied and excoriated. These views and other personal eccentricities, plus music which over time gradually became episodic and minimalistic, ensured Langgaard would remain unpopular in his home country.
Music

The Utah Symphony with Andrew Litton, conductor and Philippe Quint, violin in Bernstein, Corigliano, and Tchaikovsky

There's something a little otherworldly and disorienting about Salt Lake City, I'm tempted to say, especially if you aren't Mormon or familiar with the ways of the LDS Church. It's unusual to encounter a spotless downtown in any American city, of course, but you do wonder at times if Salt Lake is a Hollywood set designed to make one's own sense of human imperfection uncomfortable. Utah, in general, is almost too beautiful to be real—but the city is curiously empty—even in the Bermuda shorts weather of late October. Immensely wide, perfectly laid-out avenues are nearly people free. (The "don't walk" signs count down from 30). There are few homeless people visible, though sometimes they are the only citizens seemingly present, horizontal black marks visible on distant sidewalks.
Theater

Man and Monster—A Dark Comedy: Dr. Jekyll & Mr. Hyde at the Soho Playhouse, closing December 15

Start with the title: Dr. Jekyll & Mr. Hyde: A Comedy. Indeed, this production, based on Robert Louis Stevenson’s anything-but-amusing novella, has many funny (and even more quirky) moments beginning with the opening scene in which Jekyll and an unidentified woman watch a fumbled public execution. The particular, wacky charm of the show stems from the fine interplay between Burt Grinstead, playing Jekyll and Hyde and Anna Stromberg playing everyone else—Jekyll’s maid, Poole;  a London Bobbie, Jekyll’s friend and many other characters, each identified by a single costume piece or prop. Grinstead and Stromberg also wrote the script that centers around duality and the nature of morality while Stromberg directed.
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