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“Don’t make me go out there alone!” — Leonard Bernstein’s last tango with ‘Candide’

By the time he made his way to the podium, Leonard Bernstein was clearly in trouble.  Well after the entrance applause died down, he needed to compose himself, and he aggressively massaged his forehead just for a minute. But in stage-time, it seemed more like ten. He was about  to begin a concert performance of Candide with the London Symphony Orchestra and an all-star cast. Would he make it through the next three hours? Given the uncertain delivery of his spoken introduction, would he make it through the next sentence? This … [Read more...]

David Lang holds no prisoners in his new, gloves-off opera

David Lang's music is too pleasurable to be called experimental. Though his language takes the minimalist aesthetic to a very personal place — the little match girl passion being a prime example — it's the message, not the music, that may make some listeners uncomfortable. As much as his new opera prisoner of the state feels like a major stylistic move toward mainstream tonality, it's a continuation of his fusing of the message with music that best conveys it. Premiered June 6-8 in a more-than-semi-staged version by the New York … [Read more...]

Goodbye to the commercial music industry, hello to the rock stars next door

The New York City subway is not, on any given day, the place to hear the music you need. It’s public in the extreme — in one of the world’s most public cities. And yet that’s where music ambushed me, a few months ago, in the form of a singer-guitarist whose high, sweet voice seemed to address my psyche with disarming directness. He was hoping for $1. I gave him $5. He gave me a CD, maybe so that I wouldn't forget him. And I won’t — in contrast to so much other commercial music that doesn't even go in one ear and out the other. Those … [Read more...]

The opera that dares you to like it – and so you do. Defiantly.

Never has an opera dared me to like it as much as Chunky in Heat.  The title sounds almost like a riff on “Chucky gets lucky,” the ad slogan for the comedy/horror film The Bride of Chucky. But no, it’s Chunky — about a supposedly overweight teen-age girl who is figuring out modern life from the vantage point of her backyard swimming pool. Seen May 31-June 2 at the Flea Theater in a production by Experiments in Opera, the score had no fewer than six composers — Jason Cady, Paula Matthusen, Erin Rogers, Aaron Siegel, … [Read more...]

Puritans on the verge of a nervous breakdown (and what they have to tell us): Axis Theatre Co. and Romeo Castellucci

The early New England settlers are looking more complicated these days, existing in a state of checkmate that defies their strongest faith. As kids, we’re taught how courageous the "pilgrims" of these religious sects were, with their willingness to brave the unsettled New World (not to mention the Boston climate) for the sake of freedom of worship. And even today there's some prestige in being able to say that your family "dates back to the Mayflower." Two recent theater pieces deliver a horrific portrait of the Puritans' lives, depicting … [Read more...]

Music that sends cats hunting

Now that Yannick Nézet-Séguin is one of the best-liked conductors on the planet, he can afford to come out – as a cat person. The music director of the Philadelphia Orchestra and Metropolitan Opera recently paid a visit to the Pennsylvania Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (PSPCA) and brought with him a playlist based on the musical responses he and his partner Pierre Tourville have witnessed with their three cats, Mélisande, Rafa and Rodolfo. "I wanted to do my part," he said, in a widely-published statement, "to make … [Read more...]

King Lear with Glenda Jackson and everything else that’s happening now

Great Shakespeare plays take the color of their surroundings – if the production is doing its job, and Broadway’s new King Lear is accomplishing that. But then how could any alert, modern Lear production avoid the current parallels with lines such as these? “’Tis the time’s plague when madmen lead the blind.” “Get thee glass eyes and, like a scurvy politician, seem to see the things thou dost not.” The theater world is inevitably referring to the production now in previews at the Cort Theatre as “the Glenda Jackson King Lear”, … [Read more...]

Renaissance polyphony as the eternal frontier of self-discovery

New York Polyphony’s concert on Feb. 16 gave listeners many excellent things to agree upon - even though reactions were probably as numerous as the ears that heard it. This charming male foursome specializes in 15th- and 16th-century Renaissance polyphony, frequenting composers with strange names and music relatively rarely heard in recent centuries. This particular program at New York City's Church of St. Mary the Virgin (presented by the Miller Theatre at Columbia University) was titled "Music Over the Alps" — a conceptual … [Read more...]

Messiaen in a crypt: New meaning to ‘the end of time.’

Olivier Messiaen's Quartet for the End of Time made a high-prestige appearance Feb. 5 as the one and only work in concert series known as The Crypt Sessions - a sought-afte insider ticket for a few years now, presented at the Church of the Ascension Crypt in Harlem by the non-profit organization Death of Classical. Always a thoughtfully-curated series, this concert had the kind of repertoire, performing space and penetrating performance that yielded fresh questions about the nature of, well, everything. The lineup of strong personalities but … [Read more...]

Bang on a Can composer Julia Wolfe ignites the New York Philharmonic

History would seem to be in the re-making at the New York Philharmonic.  The new Julia Wolfe multi-media oratorio Fire in my mouth, premiered Jan. 24-26 at Lincoln Center, commemorated the 1911 Triangle Shirtwaist Factory Fire in a spirit that can make critics cringe preemptively. How many socially responsible pieces have implored us to weep, pray and feel guilty to what amounts to a pathos-laden film score? Instead, this piece was a breakthrough, something perfectly in step with 2019 with smartly-channeled passion that carries the … [Read more...]

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