Dave Kehr, the curator of MoMA's fascinating series of recently rediscovered and restored films from Universal Pictures, has decided to bookend the month-long event with musicals, the last genre most people would associate with the studio that produced Dracula and Frankenstein. It begins with the much-anticipated premiere of the restoration of King of Jazz (released April 19, 1930), a musical review dominated by the expansive figure of Paul Whiteman, the band leader, today best remembered as the patron of George Gershwin's Rhapsody in Blue. The audiences at the two sold-out screenings this past Friday and Saturday—at least on Saturday, when I was present—applauded with a warmth that went beyond the aesthetic or the historical. Each one of the twenty individual acts in the movie received its own applause, as if we were back in a vaudeville house of yesteryear. We even laughed at the jokes, some of which were decidedly musty.
It would be hard to peg with certainty the guiding concept in Michael Tilson Thomas' recent choral program for the San Francisco Symphony. As so often with MTT, the selections appear a sophisticated grab bag. But intuition suggests the topic of nature and the metaphysics which spring from appreciating it. Thomas' introductory remarks for each piece certainly leaned in this direction. Mounting the podium, he reached for his mike and held it like a weapon overhead. This can often result in a verbal concert and the disapproval of old ladies in the audience. But the nature of the music was such that his remarks were appreciated and not too long.