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Amram-ing at Symphony Space with prayers from our youth

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“Had the election gone the other way,” said Peter Yarrow, formerly of Peter Paul and Mary, the evening would’ve felt very different. As it was, the Nov. 9th benefit concert for the environmental Clearwater foundation at New York City's Symphony Space was a quirky, gloriously whacked tribal reunion of nearly every lefty folksinger you ever admired but feared was dead. You see, the good don’t always die young. Pete Seeger, age 93, came out of retirement to sing “Turn Turn Turn,” having rediscovered and dusted off some five verses written by … [Read more...]

Elliott Carter’s story of a real man

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  The scene was Carnegie Hall in the wake of a snow storm, roughly a decade ago. The Metropolitan Opera Orchestra under James Levine had just played a knockout performance of Carter's Variations for Orchestra. Months before, I had interview Carter in his Greenwich Village apartment a few weeks after the death of his wife. As one can imagine, he didn't look so well. I worried that the still-earthy, hearty, unpretentious Carter would die soon, as so often happens when the elderly lose a longtime spouse. He related that he'd only … [Read more...]

Phil Kline’s staged song cycle: Better seen or heard?

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Phil Kline’s far-flung output is like a family with many parents. While many composers find a creative vein and mine it for as long as possible, Kline is more conceptually similar to Stephen Sondheim or Igor Stravinsky, establishing stylistic and emotional perimeters for each new work and creating a language that best inhabits it. Out Cold, his new 10-song cycle I heard Oct. 26 at the Brooklyn Academy of Music performed by singer Theo Bleckmann and the ACME ensemble, was a bigger departure than usual, if only because his tendency toward … [Read more...]

Hans Werner Henze: The last interview?

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Nobody should be surprised that Hans Werner Henze had a world premiere in Berlin  - Ouverture zu einem Theater - only days before he died on Oct. 27 in Dresden. He was unstoppable: Illness nearly killed him when he was between acts in the composition of his 2007 opera Phaedra - an experience that changed the flavor of the piece but certainly didn’t curtail it. Though other composers in his lifetime have been as industrious as Henze – Benjamin Britten, Elliott Carter – none of them logged so much musical mileage over such diverse terrains … [Read more...]

Great music – and opera – at the end of the line

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Options have run out, but existence drags on anyway. Such is the dilemma dramatized in two new music-theater pieces, the recently premiered opera Dog Days by David T. Little (seen below), and the theatrical song cycle Out Cold by Phil Kline (which will be premiered Oct. 25-27 at the Brooklyn Academy of Music, paired with his penetrating Zippo Songs, based on desperate texts by US soldiers in Vietnam). Both works are populated by people in extreme distress. Basic sustenance - sometimes emotional, sometimes physical - is in question. Dog … [Read more...]

Le Poeme Harmonique and the Venice we never knew

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La Poeme Harmonique, a France-based early-music group that I would get on an airplane to hear, has become an annual visitor to Columbia University’s Miller Theater, and this year, achieved a visibility milestone: Two full-house performances of its program Venezia. No doubt La Poeme Harmonique will soon take its place in New York alongside Les Arts Florissants as one of the brand names in early music, and in a market that lags considerably behind Europe, where some of the most interesting music making is happening among groups that find … [Read more...]

Allan Kozinn: Will he be muted or amplified?

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Is New York Times classical music critic Allan Kozinn being silenced with a reassignment as cultural reporter? Not if anybody plays their cards even remotely right. Rather than being muted, Kozinn could well be amplified with a larger, broader platform. As a longtime New York Times reader who believes that the publication's strength and quality can only help bolster the newspaper industry at large, I'm tentatively hopeful about Kozinn's reported release from the daily reviewing grind. When I go through a stretch of writing nothing but … [Read more...]

When Broadway babies grow up – and keep getting better

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Not all Broadway babies of a certain age look or sound like Patti LuPone and Mandy Patinkin. Many should be so lucky. But an alternative pairing is holding forth at the near-Times Square cabaret 54 Below this week through Aug. 25: Faith Prince and Jason Graae in a joint concert titled The Prince and the Show Boy.  It reminds you how durable these two "certain age" talents are. If born in a previous era, they'd be in Broadway shows as constantly as Barbara Cook once was. And for years, Prince, in particular, was regularly on that landscape. Both … [Read more...]

Operatic survival in the Rockies with a poisoned kiss

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The Central City Opera has survived Colorado’s gambling boom and now, as the town around it fades, is operating at a world-class standard – in what feels like the height of sociological incongruity. This summer’s production of The Turn of the Screw, Benjamin Britten’s elusive opera about children possessed by ghosts, took me deeper into the piece’s darker-than-dark heart more than any previous encounter – on a brilliantly sunny Wednesday afternoon while, outside, denizens of the lingering gambling trade were dropped off and picked up by … [Read more...]

Operatic divinity in New Jersey: Should Jesus and Mary sing coloratura?

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The divine is insinuating itself into opera – and in doing so, is creating dramatic reversals of what certain kinds of music say and do. Though gods and goddesses were onstage almost exclusively in Baroque opera, everybody knew they were just us in disguise - and in the real world of church politics, they wouldn’t even rate the first stage of beatification, much less the canonization process that took poor Hildegard of Bingen something like 800 years to achieve. Last weekend at Princeton’s McCarter Theater, American Opera Projects … [Read more...]

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