an blog | AJBlog Central | Contact me | Advertise | Follow me:

A Soldier’s Tale for Today — Premiered

In PostClassical Ensemble’s new version of Stravinsky’s A Soldier’s Tale, a “cautionary fable” for today, the Soldier weds the Princess – and the narrator continues:

But where’s the fiddle – which won the bride?

It was not to be found inside

And the Devil, where is he?

Awaiting the Soldier – naturally.

With the instrument in hand,

He played, his victim to command.

The Soldier came, dropping his head

Not resisting, hypnotically led.

A dusty road he encountered anew

To the Princess, he did not wave adieu.

The moral of this little tale?

Cherish your fiddle – it’s not for sale.

In other words: SAVE THE ARTS. Our new Soldier’s Tale (for which I wrote a new rhymed libretto) is timely in other ways. As I put it in a program note: “It’s a Covid-period entertainment: compact, flexible, rejecting Romantic symphonic upholstery in favor of a dry, caustic sonority conducive to bitter entertainments, light-hearted yet not evasive.” It’s also greatly abridged and simplified. In a facebook review, Philip Kennicott wrote that Soldier’s Tale “usually feels too long, or too short, sprawling or disjointed, depending on the cuts. But on Sunday it was just right.”

Another thing that seemed right last weekend at the Stone Hill Theatrical Foundation‘s terrific outdoor auditorium near Flint Hill, Va., was coupling Stravinsky with Daniel Schnyder’s Berlin Suite 1920 – adapted by the composer for the same set of seven players, plus Schnyder’s own soprano saxophone. Kennicott: “Schnyder’s suite could be a godsend for groups that program the Stravinsky, and wonder how to flesh out the rest of a program.”

Schnyder – a frequent PCE guest, alongside the phenomenal bass trombonist David Taylor, who also took part – is a master of pastiche: he inhabits multiple musical worlds with uniform facility. Of his Berlin suite, he writes: “Reflecting on a specific past moment, my suite resembles a novel, painting, or movie set in another time. For these other artforms this is totally normal. But for music the idea of depicting a past time in the now has only been practiced with remote Baroque or Classical periods. To my knowledge, this may be the first 21st century composition to look back 100 years to the early 20th century. It is a sound picture or aesthetic audiograph of a time not so remote.”

Schnyder’s suite was also embellished with some narration of my own, read – as was the Stravinsky – by a distinguished stage actor: Ed Gero. It begins:

Berlin! 

Between two world wars, the city of Threepenny Opera and The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari, 

of Bertolt Brecht’s grating lyrics and disheveled voice

of Marlene Dietrich in top hat and trousers, 

a city of broad boulevards and massive stone facades, 

of street fighting between Communists and Nazis, 

of topless revues and streetwalkers for every taste,

of privation so severe and inflation so rampant that Artur Schnabel could be paid for playing the piano with a suitcase of bills 

– and could spend half of them on a couple of sausages on the way home.

Stefan Zweig called it “The Babylon of the world.”

Here’s how movement one of the Berlin Suite looked and sounded, with PCE conducted by Angel Gil-Ordonez:

Comments

  1. Kathleen Hulser says

    Terrific performance. Crisp and tuneful. Love the setting w.rocks, green and the awning blowing gracefully. Dave Taylor, Angel G-O

  2. I saw the Stravinsky in a ramshackle theater in the old city of Palermo, performed by a Polish troup of musicians and actors. Notable among the performances was the devil who entered on a BMW motorcycle and the dancer who performed from her wheelchair. Quite a memorable evening. Oh, and there were more people on stage than in the audience.

an ArtsJournal blog