Here is one of the strangest living bits of ceremonial history you will ever encounter, along with some fine, nearly forgotten music ever since. The year 1937 witnessed Paris’s International Exposition, the last continental world’s fair to take place before the Second World War, and something of a nervous set piece for political tensions of the day.
Move over Les Miz! The Flames of Paris is an opulent, highly muscular, charged ballet that's mass entertainment complete with sward-fighting, clog dancing, folk music and enough revolutionary zeal to please any audience. It also makes the French Revolution look like an event that took place between dessert and coffee – no guillotines, no blood and almost no tragedy if you don't count the two on-stage deaths that register more as plot lines than emotional grabbers.
On The Town, Leonard Bernstein’s first musical, opened on Broadway on December 28, 1944, during WWII. The show began then and now with the Star Spangled Banner to honor country and the armed forces.
At one point in the entirely delightful Three Acts, Two Dancers, One Radio Host, Ira Glass observes that Monica Bill Barnes and Anna Bass imbue their performances with personality just like “real people” as differentiated from more typical dancers with bland facial expressions who spin around. Bingo. This hybrid of two art forms, dance and radio, is like nothing I've ever seen, and I doubt that anyone else in the large Town Hall audience has either.
Hats off, ladies and Gentlemen! A conductor! And a great symphony! Vasily Petrenko's recent electrifying week with the San Francisco Symphony reminds the listener that Gustavo Dudamel is not the sole "conducting animal" to be found on the musical circuit these days. Esa-Pekka Salonen coined the term a while back, with the impassioned Venezuelan in mind. And indeed, Dudamel is the sort of refreshing performer who has the winds jumping to their feet like jazz musicians and bass players twirling their instruments. He is all about emotion as vitality. But physically, apart from the energy with which he beats time, his manner is unremarkable. The fascination of Petrenko, by contrast, is his ability to reflect every quivering moment of the music somewhere on his face or body, as though he were a disembodied hologram. We joke about people who are "double-jointed." But Vasily Petrenko might as well be quadruple-sprung and then some...this is a man who'd have no trouble tapping three heads, rubbing five tummies and signalling with numerous eyebrows at the same time!