Friday, December 8, 2017

The Hour When No Sex Comes In: a dystopian anthem spurred by the ongoing sexual-assault crisis

The Hour When No Sex Comes In Make us each a sandwich, please, with lots of ham and cheese, And serve tomato soup from a large bowl, When the devil comes to dine, make sure the long spoon’s mine: I’m told he has designs upon my soul. And when I heard Old Scratch, I knew I’d met my match Because he shared his plan most diabolical; With every word he said, the hair upon my head Was standing at attention — every follicle. He said I’m just in time to counteract the crime Of behavior that’s so often predatory: I’ve a universal drug that will neutralize the tug Of desire that destroys the way to glory. And the whole human race will shelter in place Free from the threat of sexual attraction; The terror of the hunted will be chemically blunted, The hour when no sex comes in. And all the victims laugh as they frolic on the path Once cleared for men with every rub and grope; There’ll be chaste hugs galore, air kisses by the score As libidos sink beyond the range of hope. And the population boom will implode around the world When humanity slides into stagnation; Chastity’s blank flag will be everywhere unfurled As all salute the end of propagation. It seems that men with power have stained their shining hour In fits of entitlement delusion; There may be no escape from the culture of rape Till Eros slinks off sulking in seclusion. Some will say it’s global madness, a revulsion from sin Others say it must be something in the water: Nonetheless, the lustful choir will haste into the fire Like a sacrificial lamb to the slaughter. And pornographic ploys will bore all teenage boys, As men they’ll never know what they’ve been missin’ Women pinch themselves and squeal, and they’ll know that it’s for real The hour when no sex comes in. The universal mood will delight in solitude ‘Cause we know that men won’t ever stop desiring, So the drug works, squelching lust, and the chain of life goes bust And extinction seems a fate well worth admiring.

Wednesday, December 6, 2017

'The Ballad of Jimmy Levine" borrows an old Irish tune to address the implosion of a musical career

The Ballad of Jimmy Levine Jimmy Levine was a prodigy born, A musical rose with no evident thorn, But as his career was on the incline A secret life led Jimmy Levine. So Jimmy Levine as a rising star Goes to music camps where young men are: He knows so much, his art is so fine: “I’ll use it to advantage,” says Jimmy Levine. He joins the Met, a conductor of taste; The baton he favors is below the waist. He gives old operas a bright new shine: “I’m a golden boy,” says Jimmy Levine. Jimmy Levine has the singers’ love: “So sensitive, we just work hand in glove.” Another sensitivity he works to refine On the bodies of boys, does Jimmy Levine. When the Brahmins in Boston wanted somebody new They had to have Jimmy, though the rumors flew. “If we offend the maestro, he might decline!” So the symphony board went with Jimmy Levine. Old Jimmy Levine won’t do what he oughta: He’s gone to the bridge, and jumps in the water; Denying it all, gives the downbeat sign: “There’s mud on the bottom,” says Jimmy Levine.

Tuesday, December 5, 2017

'Fellow Travelers' recording confirms my positive impression from its staged premiere

Given that the romantic emphasis of opera tradition needs new arenas if the genre is to have current vitality, "Fellow Travelers" stakes out a strong claim.

First performed in Cincinnati 18 months ago, the opera now enjoys public permanence in a sensitive new recording on Fanfare Cincinnati (the recording wing of Cincinnati Opera, the work's producer). Adapted by Gregory Spears and Greg Pierce from a 2007 novel by Thomas Mallon, "Fellow Travelers" tells the story of a promising but doomed love affair between two men in an era when homosexuality in government was among the red flags lofted by Cold War paranoia.
Hawk (Joseph Lattanzi) eyes Timothy (Aaron Blake) on park bench at Dupont Circle.

Sometimes called "the lavender scare," the labeling of homosexuals as security risks was part of Sen. Joseph McCarthy's intense campaign against communists and others thought to be undermining the republic. "Fellow Travelers" views the peril through an intimate lens. Pierce's libretto sets characters before us who sum up the spectrum of attitudes toward same-sex relationships in the welter of careerism and self-righteous posturing that characterizes Washington, D.C., to this day. The two central characters have their mutual attraction fatally compromised by the reigning atmosphere of repression in the early 1950s.

I saw the second performance of "Fellow Travelers" at the Aronoff Center for the Arts. Visually and acoustically, the production carried the feeling of chamber opera, and that intimacy has been preserved in the recording. The listener must supply the subtle cross-cutting of action and memory that director Kevin Newbury managed skillfully on the stage. But following the libretto, plus noting  the skillful linking of the two planes of action by Spears' music, should remove any confusion for those who know only the two-CD set, which comes from the premiere performances.

The score, indebted to neo-classical Stravinsky, is less angular than the master's and more reliant on flow than the feeling of a mosaic. The opening scene, when Hawkins Fuller (Joseph Lattanzi) opens up conversation with Washington newcomer Timothy Laughlin (Aaron Blake), establishes a steady pulse, with brief phrases of ornamentation around it. As the sophisticated Fuller draws out the shy Laughlin, there are hints of the contrast in their personalities that stood out for me on repeated hearings: After the departing "Hawk" advises the squeaky-clean Tim to "finish your milk," you hear a sarcastic dig from the orchestra.

Later, a blossoming duet illustrates the lovers' different responses to their first sexual experience. Timothy, grateful that Hawk has opened up a job for him as a Michigan senator's speechwriter, and working to keep his religious qualms at arm's length, rhapsodizes; his partner celebrates "you and me and the boys." The following scene, a monologue for Timothy alone in a church, has some piquant, warm writing for woodwinds as the vocal line signals that the provincial young man is feeling more rapture than the conviction of sin he has been taught.

Strains in the relationship play against a backdrop of the interrogation Hawk undergoes as his promiscuity has aroused official suspicion. His loyalty is under question by Timothy as well. In a scene focusing on the lovers' first spat, there's a significant pause in the musical flow when Tim says to his lover: "You could learn a thing or two, Hawk." It's a clever signal by Spears and Pierce that Tim's naivete is not ironclad, and his moral compass, while no longer pointing toward Catholic doctrine, is firmer than Hawk's. That discrepancy will prove to be the undoing of the relationship.

The slide projection of the lavender scare's victims in the last scene is of course not available to CD listeners. Yet the larger milieu, and the threat that McCarthyism posed to so many people, is indicated by the party and senatorial office scenes. These episodes generate an extra stir, a frisson of excitement, in the orchestra, which seems to be under conductor Mark Gibson's superb control. The dramatic import of the singing comes across in all roles, and the cohesiveness of voices and accompaniment never slackens in this recording.

Yet there is restraint even when the scenario opens up into the larger world. It's an effective reminder that gossip, despite its connection in Washington to large-scale trends and events, operates close to individual lives and does its damage there. The creators of "Fellow Travelers" have managed to keep the focus on the central relationship and not been tempted toward spectacle, even with the opera's setting in the nation's capital at the height of what has been somewhat operatically dubbed "the American century."

Monday, December 4, 2017

Bloomington visitors celebrate Reformation anniversary with examples of its musical legacy

Concentus, a choral and instrumental ensemble of Indiana University, capped three performances labeled simply "Reformation" Sunday afternoon at St. Paul's Episcopal Church, supplemented by Alchymy Viols and special guest, cornetto
Dana Marsh led Alchymy Viols and other Early Music Institute musicians last year at a courthouse concert in Bloomington
virtuoso and scholar Bruce Dickey.

The concert here, conducted by Dana Marsh, was a well-assembled sampler highlighting milestones of early Baroque music as developed by German Protestant composers. Protestantism turns 500 this year. This program's  music reflected the influence of Italian masters  — much of it firsthand in a tradition notably extended through Handel and Mozart — of choral and instrumental textures and expressive splendor on musicians from the other side of the Alps.

Indiana native Bruce Dickey now lives in Italy.
Foundational at the start, the concert opened with Martin Luther's "Ein feste Burg ist unser Gott" (A Mighty Forgtress Is Our God), with settings by Caspar Othmayr and Michael Praetorius indicating how interpretation of texts became embedded in German composers' treatment of them, in contention with the chorale mainstream. Satan's"great strength and much deceit" (in their German equivalent) is repeated at greater volume. The solo soprano's entrance in the second verse underlines human helplessness in this battle against "the old, evil enemy" before introducing humanity's advocate, Jesus Christ, who will turn the tide of battle.

Solo singers and the 18-voice choir displayed their unity and precise balance throughout the program, which showcased, with the insertion of interludes, the guest artist Dickey, whose mastery of the cornetto was on conspicuous display throughout. The cornetto is a wooden trumpet with a cup mouthpiece and a sound that has some of the articulate force of its brass successors but whose construction brings to the fore a mellow, sometimes plaintive tone.

It had the latter quality particularly in a solo piece with simple organ accompaniment by the 16th-century composer Ascanio Trombetti. More central to its tradition, and fully displaying Venetian splendor, were a couple of canzonas by Giovanni Gabrieli for two cornetti, three sackbuts (early trombones), organ, and strings. This music is usually heard today arranged for modern brass ensemble. Dickey was also in the spotlight with the program's other cornettist, Etienne Asselin, as their complementary voices were positioned on either side of the organ, played by Ken Yeung.

Heinrich Schütz found particularly stimulating his studies with Giovanni Gabrieli, bringing back to his homeland inspiration for  music that has led to his reputation as the major German composer before J.S. Bach. Performance of his "German magnificat" was one of the most impressive demonstrations of the performers' collective strength under Marsh's guidance. The meaning of the text was put across eloquently in the successive entries of the lines about the generations who will call Mary blessed. When God scatters the proud, the crucial word "zerstreuet" is repeated forcefully. When the Almighty leaves the rich empty, or sends them empty away (as the King James Bible has it), the scoring is bare. With the doxology tacked on to the end of Mary's song of praise, extra majesty pours forth from singers and orchestra alike.

Sometimes Schütz micromanages the texts effectively. When "Unser Wandel ist im Himmel" (Our pilgrimage is to heaven), the opening line ascends tortuously. At the end, a clear distinction of "weak" and "strong" expressivity occurs on the words "untertänig" (subservient) and  "machen" (make), respectively.

The climax of the concert was radiantly presented with the performance of Praetorius' complex setting of "Wachet auf, ruft uns die Stimme," with its well-placed high points of majesty, ending with an unstinting song of praise. Without any sign of forcing, the glory highlighted by the text was evenly produced at the summit of the musicians' well-honed blending. Finally, a wonderful Schütz setting of Psalm 150 highlighted the composer's resourceful imagination. The praise is antiphonally presented, and the tone pictures are vivid as the litany of praise proceeds: The sackbuts are of course prominent when praise by brass instruments is indicated.

All instruments gain in prominence in the next few lines, and the evocation of the dance yields a dance-like animation. Particularly clever is the way voices and organ are poised in resonant alternation to render two lines relating to cymbals, which can thus be evoked without any futile attempt at mimicry. For the very end, there was a smooth transition into a speedier tempo and rocking triple meter for the concluding "Alleluia!" This quincentennial observance could hardly have ended better.

[Alchymy Viols photo by Tae-Gyun Kim]

Saturday, December 2, 2017

The rogue who celebrated himself as Master of the House in 'Les Miz' can't hold a candle to Time's wannabe Person of the Year

Person of the Year Welcome to all, losers as well: Salute the President, isn’t he swell! As for the media, fakers and crooks: We sure don’t need ya, we hate your looks: As for this gent, it’s quite evident No American should resent that he should be… Person of the Year! Why not jump the gun? He knows he deserves it more than anyone. Person of the Year! Wants that cover slot: Time has featured him before, so now, why not? Everybody loves an Alpha male, Every woman’s groping friend: He’ll do just what he pleases, And Jesus! He won’t need ‘em in the end. Person of the Year! He’s the people’s choice In some echo chambers he’s the only voice: He alone can fix it: make the nation great. Taking care of poor folks? — that’s the nanny state. The Times and CNN’s the enemy: But they hang upon his every tweet: Though he’s gotten twice as wordy, Lordy, how he knocks them off their feet! Person of the Year! Why not jump the gun? He knows he deserves it more than anyone. Person of the Year! Wants that cover slot: Time has featured him before, so now, why not? Time says he’s mistaken; their pick will come December 12th But Donald isn’t patient, he’d sacrifice a Haitian for himself! [pause] Native code-breakers, he loves you all (That’s Andrew Jackson up on the wall): The President shares his Pocahontas slur: It’s not about you — it’s him, and sort of her. Sure, your goose was cooked, your bounty turned to gruel; Your ancestors were rooked so whites like him could rule. Riches are forthcoming, wealth beyond belief; He’s your benefactor, though he seems a thief: In his tiny hands lies your destiny: Is there anyone more qualified than he… You’re better off than Muslims, whom he’s bound to libel, Retweeting hate videos: Quick, run for your Bible! Person of the Year! Quick to catch your eye, Go beyond just browsing, be prepared to buy: Savor his selection by a magazine that’s fake. You say you’ve had too much of him? Give me a break! Never mind how much trouble other people say he’s in He’s got lawyers on the double, Sorting campaign rubble, Neutralizing General Michael Flynn. Person of the Year! He’s the people’s choice In some echo chambers he’s the only voice: He alone can fix it: make the nation great. Taking care of poor folks? — that’s the nanny state. He hates athletes who kneel when Old Glory unfurls: Government’s his oyster, and he’s collected all the pearls. Person of the Year! Quick to catch your eye, Go beyond just browsing, be prepared to buy: Savor his selection by a magazine that’s fake You say you’ve had too much of him? Give me a break! He doesn’t know shit from shinola So he ratchets up our fear Make way for his base to extol a Bloated orangy rock ‘n’ roller He’s infectious like ebola — this Person of the Year.

Friday, December 1, 2017

With distinction, Dance Kaleidoscope joins other performing arts organizations in mounting a seasonal program

The mystery and the fun of the season make up Dance Kaleidoscope's new program, which marks a return for the
contemporary-dance troupe to a Christmas show after many years. "A World of Christmas" opened Thursday evening on Indiana Repertory Theatre's Upperstage and plays there this weekend and next.

Irresistible: The exuberant company representation of a Hawaiian song.
It was gratifying to see a work revived from David Hochoy's early years in his fruitful tenure as DK's artistic director. His setting of Benjamin Britten's "Ceremony of Carols" was first staged 20 years ago. As he told the audience in a question-and-answer session during intermission, "there's a lot of Martha Graham in it." He was not far then from his employment as a dancer and rehearsal director with this seminal figure of his art form, and her enthralling gift for representing ritual has come down to Hochoy as part of the Graham legacy.

Britten's setting of old English carols for boys' choir and harp is a rare example of Christmas music I never get tired of. Oh, I suppose hearing it every day from Advent through Epiphany would become tedious. But it is one of those nearly perfect Britten compositions in which his prodigious technique and his inspiration are in perfect sync.

The words of the carols are properly somewhat distant from what we see in Hochoy's setting, but there is a fine congruence between them that allows the music to flower wholly in dance terms for this gifted company. Indeed, gifts are the keynote: a sculptural gift  created by Herron High School students is carried by each dancer in procession down the theater's aisles and set down in front of the square stage. At the end, the gifts are placed onstage by the troupe before it leaves (to Britten's recessional music). The items are bathed in light as if to indicate that the ritual of gift-giving has been made subject to a peculiar blessing.

Cheryl Sparks' costumes — white and flowing, formal yet timeless — seem just right for both the vigorous and the contemplative movements. Space is never an alien element in Graham-inspired choreography; it's always embraced, commanded and filled by every gesture. This imposes reverence upon the design, in that even movement that emphasizes struggle (though that's at a minimum in this piece) takes in the world through which it passes and makes it in some sense holy.

"Wolcum Yole!," the cheerful first piece after the procession, places the 10 dancers as greeters of the season as well as of each other, establishing a feeling of community thoroughly at home in the Christmas season. As the work unfolds, the audience is brought into a balanced presentation of both individual and collective celebration. Caitlin Negron has the spotlight in a solo to the carol partners of "That Yonge Child" and "Balulalow," with the climactic, spinetingling line "The knees of my hert sall [heart shall] I bow." Back-to-back showcases for the women ("As Dew in Aprille") and the men ("This Little Babe") are well-judged. Vivacious choreography never loses its duty in this piece to represent formal devotion.

Suggesting the glory that was Graham: A transfiguring moment in "Ceremony of Carols."
The interlude harp solo is the occasion for a fine duet by Timothy June and Mariel Greenlee. That segues into "In Freezing Winter Night," with the company creating a breathtaking vehicle for a Greenlee solo in which, with her colleagues' unstinting support, her feet never touch the ground. The well-designed tension of this episode never had a hint of shakiness or strain Thursday night. This was crucial for representing the one place in "Ceremony of Carols" in which heaven and earth, including the contrast between the infant Jesus' humble condition and the promise of his kingship, is juxtaposed. We are reminded that the justification for such extreme inequality of circumstance is not of this world, despite what today's political climate seems to recommend.

The work ascends from this mystery into the pure praise of "Deo Gracias," with the company in full celebration, putting a seal on the exuberance first established by "Wolcum Yole." The conveyance of the gifts to the place where the givers had just been was one of those still moments, without a human being in sight, that paradoxically hold up what dance at its best has to offer.

Emily Dyson put detailed expressiveness into a Norwegian song.
After intermission came "World of Christmas Kaleidoscope," a series of short pieces assembled over the span of 1994 to this year by Hochoy, with the superb team of Laura E. Glover (lighting) and Sparks (costumes) allowing the troupe to live up to its name in the heartiest international way. Barry Doss designed the whimsical costume for Greenlee in a solo as a street-wise Sugar Plum Fairy, with such fey touches as a glitter-covered ball cap worn backwards and, on her back, gauzy fairy wings.

Hochoy distributes eminence adroitly among his dancers, but it's such a pleasure to see Greenlee move into a position of dazzling virtuosity and charm of the sort once represented by Liberty Harris. Capable of statuesque charisma, tragic resonance, pizzazz, and saucy humor, both dancers have created many indelible DK memories over a span of three decades. What a tradition!

Tragic resonance got a rest in this show, and after her solo, Greenlee was mostly engaged in displaying signs indicating the national settings of "World of Christmas Kaleidoscope"'s component dances, though she joined in company numbers, including the blissful finale,  "Silent Night," preceded by a raucous Hawaiian neighbor, "Mele Kalikimaka."

The audience gets to appreciate the rest of the troupe in such solos as Stuart Coleman's, to Elvis' idiosyncratic version of "White Christmas," and Emily Dyson's in a buoyant dance to a Norwegian song, "The Bells Are Ringing."  There was a proper touch of effort and struggle in a Spanish song depicting Mary and Joseph's search for lodging in Bethlehem, danced in complementary light and shadow by Negron and June.

Company triumphs included the droll, gaily costumed, reindeeresque "Here Comes Santa Claus" (the Elvis version again), the evocations of the black church in "Sweet Little Jesus Boy," and, on a smaller scale yet sublimely peppy, a version of "O Holy Night" from Benin (danced by Coleman, Negron, and Paige Robinson) and the reggae-flecked Jamaican declaration, "All I Want for Christmas," featuring Brandon Comer, Aleksa Lukasiewicz, Manuel Valdes, and Marie Kuhns in a cumulative portrayal of spontaneous, mutually supportive energy.

It was the sort of piece you wish could go on forever, but its actual length was surely just about right. And "just about right" is a holiday truth, seasoned with understatement, that's applicable to the whole show.

[Photos by Crowe's Eye Photography]

Thursday, November 30, 2017

Escher String Quartet ascends to the heights of Beethoven in Ensemble Music concert

The Escher String Quartet offered two Viennese classics plus Ades.
"Allegro con spirito" is the movement direction that was clearly embodied as the Escher String Quartet played the first measures of Haydn's String Quartet in G, op. 76, no. 1, on Wednesday evening.

There was plenty of spirit, plus an admirably robust sound, which prevailed throughout the work. Presented by Ensemble Music Society, the American ensemble, in residence at Southern Methodist University in Dallas, projected a variegated, sympathetic concept of Haydn at the top of his form in the genre he practically invented.

The large audience in the Basile Auditorium of the Indiana History Center took to the Eschers immediately as a result. The warm rapport thus established helped sustain its obvious fascination with the late-20th-century piece that followed, "Arcadiana" by Thomas Adès. The English composer wrote this at the beginning of an illustrious career that has carried him to the forefront of contemporary music in the United Kingdom.

The seven-movement suite presents an astonishing variety of idealistic evocations of
The French artist Poussin painted "Et in Arcadia ego" in 1637-38.
journeys to better places of the imagination. These depictions are inevitably shadowed by the death we all know to be our lot, as summed up in the Latin title of Nicolas Poussin's painting, "Et in Arcadia ego," with its central tomb in an idyllic pastoral setting. The work was a specific inspiration for the fourth movement of "Arcadiana." Nicholas Johnson's detailed program notes set every movement of the 20-minute piece in attractive context.

It's remarkable that so young a composer was able to reach out to so many styles of musical expression and fold them into his own language. The hints of older music, sometimes approaching quotation, seem much more successfully bound into something fresh than a few American composers (George Rochberg and Jacob Druckman, for example) achieved while high modernism, keyed to serialism, began breaking down as orthodoxy several decades ago. The wispy phrases of the finale, "Lethe," toy with the polarity of memorability and forgetfulness — an opposition that gives substance to all journeys we may undertake to Arcadia away from this life.

M.C. Escher's "Relativity": Games of perspective

The Eschers lived up to the Dutch artist they honor in their name with the well-knit manner in which they addressed the complexity of perspectives in this work. And all three of the pieces presented harness the centrifugal forces within them to produce coherent narratives, on all of which this quartet shone a bright light. Unanimity of concept and execution characterized the concert, though the Escher lacked the exquisite, unshakable balance of the Danish String Quartet that EMS presented last month.

The most extensive illustration of the Eschers' estimable skills came after intermission. It was Beethoven's Quartet in A minor, op. 132. The formally innovative work features a lengthy slow movement illustrating the composer's gratitude at recovery from a severe health crisis reflective of the horrendous burdens besides deafness that bedeviled Beethoven late in life.

The changing meaning of the two-part process of devout thankfulness and regained strength as the movement proceeds is vital to any performance.  The Eschers showed themselves remarkably patient about illuminating the transformation of the two themes into a conclusive outpouring of gratitude. 

The other four movements also had a complementary vigor and unhurried tension and release about them. Though the ovation was sustained and vigorous at the end, there seemed to be a general understanding that no encore was needed or even appropriate after such a performance of such a work.