West Side Story at the Lyric Theatre; Lane Series continues to impress

Humanities Program Concert Series
On Sunday, November 4, at 4 p.m., I attended a program organized by pianist Paul Orgel entitled "In Honor of Gy__ Ligeti, Students, and the 20th Century". The program was an extremely satisfying one on a number of levels. Orgel's preliminary remarks and the remarks made during the concert itself by Orgel and Michael Arnowitt were all of great value in helping to understand the music, especially the music of this Hungarian composer, Ligeti, whose music is comparatively unknown to the average audience member. Even with the better-known composers such as Paul Hindemith, Igor Stravinsky, and B_ Bart__the works themselves were less well known and well worth the hearing. Rachael Elliotts playing of the Sonata for Bassoon and Piano (1938) was a beautifully performed work that captured the essence of the bassoon in all of its aspects. Her performance was exactly on the mark, and was a pleasure to hear. The Piano Sonata (1924) by Stravinsky was exceptionally well played by Xiudan Lin, whose work I've heard before as accompanist for Bella Voce, the women's chorus. This event he embodied his interest in Bach, but slightly skewed towards the 20th century by such things as final cadences that seem to come out of the blue harmonically. Wesley Christensen, clarinet, played Three Pieces for Clarinet Solo (1919) by Stravinsky also was given a totally satisfying performance. Stravinsky's interest in quirky melodies and in jazz rhythms all came across in the playing. And finally, to end the first part of the concert, Orgel himself played Six Dances in Bulgarian Rhythm (1940) from the last book of Mikrokosmos. They received a performance of great elegance and rhythmical tautness, two talents that Orgel always has at his command. The second half of the concert was devoted to the music of Ligeti. Musica Ricercata (1951-1953) opened the second half. This work, comprised of 11 sections, started with a single pitch A -- played in varying rhythms in all octaves of the piano. The last movement employs all 12 tones -- all the black and white keys -- between octaves. Not only was the music remarkable, but the players themselves were remarkable: they are all students of Orgel's, and they played with the same incisiveness, command and understanding that Orgel brings to his playing. The first piece was played by Quinn Parker, who had been studying for a year, and the last two by Katie Jordan, who has been studying with Orgel for eight years. In each and every performance there was appropriate vigor and/or legato, and the music always moved forth with a purpose. Michael Arnowitt is a pianist of amazing abilities. His playing of Five _udes by Ligeti was a culmination of the afternoon in terms of satisfaction for the audience and in terms of the presentation of the music by Ligeti and the others. Arnowitt's talent is absolutely stupefying, and his commentaries are always useful, insightful, and tinged with his own interests. For example, it was very much to the point that Arnowitt mentioned the fact that Ligeti had wanted to be an engineer. His music is frequently about structure and about the solving of riddles and "what ifs" -- the kind of problem-solving that resulted in the Ricercata and _ude 3. His playing of the various movements -- he played _des 2-5 and10. There was a large audience at the concert, as there deserved to be, for the entire afternoon without exception was memorable for the music played and for the talent displayed by the performers. It was as good a concert as one could possibly expect, never once lapsing from professionalism and musical talent. Lyric Theatre
Lyric Theatre presented West Side Story last week at The Flynn Center for the Arts from Thursday through Sunday. I attended the opening night performance. The major distraction for me throughout the evening was the orchestra's off-pitch playing, especially in the strings. The orchestra also lacked a driving quality that even in its most lyric moments could have benefited the performers on stage. Casting a show is always a problem: compromises always have to be made when you are looking for people who can act, dance and sing all at one time. In casting this show, there are always extra problems, because the performers have also to have the appearance of being in their late teens or early 20s. Given those parameters to deal with, lyric did a reasonable job. Add to this the inevitable opening-night jitters, and there were bound to be some small minuses in the show. The two best singing scenes for me were "Officer Krupke" and the scenee that just preceded it, the dream ballet, especially Betsy Whytes off stage singing, probably the best solo singing of the evening. Tim Wagoner and Leila McVeigh were Tony and Maria, the doomed lovers. They obviously have the range and except for jitters on opening night committed themselves well. The Anita of Jenn Cranmer was as hard boiled as it needed to be, with a nice underpinning of lyricism. All the rest of the principles handled themselves well. A special notice to King Milne as Doc, who had the task of making us weep at the end of the show which he did. Sets, costumes, lighting -- they deserve the special mention that they always do in a Lyric Theatre production. I recently saw a splendid production of Diary of Anne Frank that posed a problem for me similar to the one presented by Lyric's production -- the show is now 50 years old, and we are bombarded even in the daily news with violence that far surpasses the dance violence in "Story". I should hate to think that this vivid telling of the Romeo and Juliet story should become simply a museum piece, produced merely for its antique quality. But that's what is going to happen unless companies move to enliven the knife-sharp rhythmic drive of the entire score, even when it is at its most lyrical. That's a real challenge not only to companies such as Lyric Theatre, but to any group that sets forth to re-create this show. Thanks to the good people at Lyric Theatre -- they gave us a production that worked hard to be the best possible production in the world. The Lane Series
This week my need for TGILS was particularly strong, and their presentation on Friday night, November 9 in the University Recital Hall fulfilled all of my needs and then some. The names Harry Manx and Fred Eaglesmith were not familiar to me, nor was their music. By the end the evening, that lack of familiarity was clearly over turned, and I also knew one other thing about them: they were both very sincere and funny men. Manx specializes in folk music and music for guitar and banjo, as well as music for the Mohan veena, a 20-stringed combination of sitar and guitar played on the lap, as indeed Manx played most of the instruments that he played. He's a gifted player, of that there is no doubt whatsoever. He played music by other composers as well as his own, and now and then he betrayed a very dry wit. He was a perfect transition from the noisy week to a quieter moment in time. More than that, however, his music beguiled and delighted, and I was sorry to see him reach the end of his set. Eaglesmith is totally opposite in appearance, and he plays only the one instrument during a show, the guitar. One almost has the impression that his music is secondary to his quite acerbic wit -- and boy is he going to hate that word "acerbic" -- since he sees himself as the voice of the common man, a claim that can be laid to by many Nashville singers as well as people like Bruce Springsteen. Eaglesmith dresses the part -- sleeveless shirt, Levi's, etc. -- a real country farmer. And like rural comics, he's always sneaking up on you with the lines, and then sitting back and watching your reaction. Most of his songs had that same comic bent. There were moments, however, when he was very serious -- one such was when he was talking about the destruction of the small town and singing a song like his "White Rose". One quote in his biography I think is very much to the point: "Fred Eaglesmith is what Bruce Springsteen aspires to be, the voice of the small-town common man." That's from a Nova Scotia newspaper. I don't think I could do any better. The Lane Series has outdone itself so far this year in providing all kinds of entertainment, especially entertainment that doesn't always get a hearing from a series like the Lane. My hat is off to all of those involved in this exploration of the other kinds of music. Briefly Noted
The Viva La Voce Puppet Opera will be presenting two performances of its mixed media production of Johann Strauss II's "Die Fledermaus" in FlynnSpace this coming Saturday and Sunday, November 18 and 19 at 8 p.m. The production features puppets together with live actors and singers to bring the story and some of the musical highlights from this beloved Opera. For information and tickets: 859-0344 or 656-4487 and don't forget that the holiday season is fast upon us with its period of offerings to fit the holiday season.

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