Sunday, March 31, 2013

The St. Matthew Passion and the will to live

I want to say that the Philadelphia Orchestra's Good Friday performance of The St. Matthew Passion raised my spirits and refreshed my soul, or at least put me in an otherwordly frame of mind, but I'd be exaggerating, if not quite lying. I can't put my finger on why: an undoubted masterpiece (the Sistine Chapel of music) presented by a world-class ensemble, and I wasn't bored for a second, yet the whole affair seemed rather workmanlike and uninspired. It was all too much to absorb, and the essential message seemed to be, "Jesus died because for all the bad things you've done, and he did it without a word of complaint. So if you happen to be suffering, too, you should have the good grace to shut up about it."

I have now seen Yannick Nézet-Séguin in person twice, and I have not been transported either time. There's something stodgy about his conducting, I find, despite his dynamism on the podium and the well-publicized eloquence of his gestures. Still, there was some beautiful singing, and some beautiful playing, and at times, James Alexander's unobtrusive stage directions did enhance the storytelling. Tenor Andrew Staples, as the Evangelist, was given the freedom of the stage. He made a compelling narrator, ringing and expressive, and he worked the crowd like a Bible belt preacher.

I was also taken with mezzo-soprano Karen Cargill. For me, the highlight of her evening was the aria “Erbarme Dich, Mein Gott.” The violin obbligato was played by concertmaster David Kim, and Cargill sang directly to him, swaying in front of his stand while hugging her score to her breast. It was a true, loving duet, and I wanted it to go on forever.

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Wagner, Tchaikovsky at SPSO

The Southeastern Pennsylvania Symphony Orchestra will play orchestral highlights from the Ring April 6 in observance of Richard Wagner's bicentenary, which is coming up on May 22. (Has it been two hundred years already? It seems like just yesterday he was creating the artwork of the future.) The program will also include the Tchike Violin Concerto. ("Tchike," I have learned, is musicians' shorthand for Tchaikovsky. I have never seen that mentioned on any other blog.) Not one of my favorite works, and not one of my favorite composers, but I shall try to succumb. I truly shall.

I have written a preview of the concert, which may be read here. So read it, why don't you?

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Philadelphia Orchestra to perform the St. Matthew Passion

The Philadelphia Orchestra will perform the St. Matthew Passion three times during Easter week. They've brought in a stage director named James Alexander to add some lighting and movement. He spoke to me on March 15 by phone from Glasgow, and the resulting article may be read here. I have little to add, except that Mr. Alexander was a very, very nice guy. At the beginning of our talk, I apologized in advance for my presumption and I asked him what the music of Bach would gain from a staging.

"Oh, no, it's not presumptuous," he replied. "It's a very good question."

We were friends after that. I am planning to attend the Good Friday performance.

Wednesday, March 6, 2013

Shout out to Carl Nielsen

I've written a column published in today's Times Herald. It's a nothing, puff piece on Read Across America and the wonderfulness of books, but I did manage to mention the two little books by Carl Nielsen I've been reading. They were both finds. I stumbled across "My Childhood" many years ago at a Barnes and Noble or a Border's. (I always got them confused.) It was like $17 for a tiny paperback, but I paid it because I knew I would never come across it again. And I was right. It's in English, of course, but I suspect it is not sold in English speaking countries. I have the feeling it’s available only at the gift shops at whatever Carl Nielsen tourist spots there are in Denmark.

Sunday, March 3, 2013

Talk about self-important navel gazing

The New Yorker now has a blog that congratulates its other blogs for their — wait for it — best sentences. Sheesh!

I also think Amy Davidson has too much time on her hands. She is surprised that Seth MacFarlane was crude and sexist? What in heaven's name did she expect?