UVM Department of Theatre
Wednesday evening, Sept. 26, I attended the opening performance of the UVM Department of Theatre's first show of the year, Donald Margulies's Found a Peanut.
In his director's notes, Gregory Ramos states: "In order to fuel our production with a theatrical tension, we moved the original date indicated in the script from 1962 to 1964. In the two short years between those dates, the cultural landscape of America changed from the vestiges of the Eisenhower era to the early signs of the cultural revolution. ... Character motivations in our production are informed by the fact that the children in the play are growing up in a rapidly changing world on a theme, I believe, that current audiences can identify with."
I quote Ramos to that extent because it seems to me that (a) it is a subtlety lost on the audience, even for those parts of the audience who were alive then; and, (b) the play stands on its own two feet without that change. It is a play about the tension between good and evil, if you want to reduce it to its common denominator. If it helped the students that is well and good, but if it was thought that there was some weakness in the play itself and I share that thought then why choose this play? Structurally the play seemed to move too slowly initially towards its climax and then to race once it had been reached. Margulies did not let us see how the children reflected what they had been taught by the adults around them... The actors really didn't get a chance to examine core human experience which is as old as Adam and Eve or Cain and Abel. And then there is the offstage child who seems to be the focus of everyone's attention.
The sets were realistic down to several pesky mosquitoes. Costuming, lighting, sound, as well as sets, were as usual and the usual in the Department of Theatre is terrific.
Saving the best for last, kudos to the cast, one and all, for fine performances. Never once did the thought cross my mind that these are actors playing children -- these were children, and in that respect Ramos achieved quite a bit. The success of the plague was brought about by the actors, however, not by changing the date by two years.
The Vermont Symphony Orchestra
Thursday evening, Sept. 27, I was at the Vergennes Opera House to hear the opening concert of the Vermont Symphony Orchestra's 14th annual Made in Vermont Music Festival, called Let us serenade you! Anthony Princiotti was on the podium.
The interests of the evening was the work commission from Vermont composer, Sarah Doncaster, whose work -- Rush Patrick's Vision, which was inspired by the view from the footings of an old farmhouse near Irasburg once owned by Rush Patrick, and now part of the farm owned by Doncaster's family (she and her family and local community members for many years have sponsored the Warebrook Contemporary Music Festival, the brainchild of Sarah Doncaster). Doncaster is a thoughtful composer. In addition to knowing her music to the Warebrook Festival, I have also heard the Settings of the Great O Antiphons that she composed for the choir at the Cathedral Church of St. Paul here in Burlington. Her music is not derivative; it is always pure Doncaster. This piece was no exception. It perfectly reflected what she said as a prelude to the playing of the work, and was warmly received by the audience and the orchestra.
The balance of the program featured works by Hugo Wolf -- his delightful Italian Serenade, which Princiotti had edited. The Serenade for Winds, Cello, and Doublebass by Dvorak is a work of great charm, and they received the appropriate attention that it deserved. The evening closedwith Tchaikovsky's well-known Serenade for Strings.
Princiottis conducting is eloquent, and I find it wonderful to watch, because it so accurately indicates what is in his mind, what he sees in the music, how he wants the orchestral members to react to the notes. The result and this is what makes the risk-taking of reflecting the music so intensely with his entire person more than worth the risk is razor-sharp, written a cool playing when it's called for, and absolutely silken, unpulsed lines when they are called for. Princiotti always brings excitement to the most ordinary pieces of the concert repertoire he makes warhorses look like Triple Crown winners. It is a great pleasure to hear concert of this caliber any time, anywhere.
The Lane Series: Old School Freight Train
Friday Sept. 28, I was at the Redstone Recital Hall at UVM. I heard a perfect TGIF concert by this young group of musicians, a group which started out as pure bluegrass, but now has admitted many more influences into their lives. The result: a totally satisfying concert, one that had people tapping their feet and singing along -- especially when invited to do so.
There were covers of songs by Randy Newman, the Beatles and others, as well as a hymn tune and Celtic-influenced original songs by Pete Frostic, the group's mandolin player. There were other original pieces by other members of the band also. They did play some bluegrass, especially at the end, when they put aside their electronic enhancers and did an encore acoustically.
These five musicians are making a name for themselves, and is easy to see why they play with a huge amount of poise, which the audience loved. This was an unusual beginning for the Lane Series, but they are known for finding the best bet available in every genre ... and they did it again!
The Flynn: Ballet Folklorico de Mexico
Thursday evening, Oct. 4, I joined a large crowd who came to be warmed by the dances and the costumes of old Mexico: the legendary Folklorico from Mexico City that has warmed the stages of the world with brilliant dancing and its brilliant costuming. Since its inception in 1952, under the direction of Amelia Hernᮤez, they have collected and established a living museum of costumes and dance steps and the music that makes dance such a wide part of Mexican life.
The program that they presented moved back and forth through Mexican history from the time of the Aztecs and the Mayans, through the medieval dances that came after the conquistadors had descended on Central America, through the time of the Mexican Revolution in 1910 and beyond and each stopping point in history, in each different section of Mexico we were served up local dance steps, local musical favorites, and the brilliant, almost gaudy, costuming for both men and women. Whether we were entertained by guitars of all sizes, by harps, violins, or a full mariachi group, from the first note we knew we were in Mexico.
The dancers seemed always to be enjoying what they were engaged in, whether they were barefooted or wearing shoes with taps. The vibrancy of the colors was matched by the patterns of the dancers themselves. It was an evening to cherish, and I'm laughing behind me, to the most venerable members of the audience went home warmed by the color, the laughter, the music, the sound of dancing feet and not a few went home clutching pieces of the papers they threw into the audience.
Ol顦lt;p> The Lane Series: Fred Hersch
Friday evening Oct. 5, I went to the Redstone campus at UVM to listen to a wonderful jazz pianist named Fred Hersch. The crowd that was gathered to listen to his music and those of other fellow jazz greats like Billy Strayhorn, Thelonious Monk, and some of the classic jazz numbers such as Autumn in New York and It Might As Well Be Spring went away with the feeling of absolute satiety. This was pure, elegant jazz served up by a master.
Although every single note that came out of the piano keyboard through Hersch's hands was incredibly elegant -- there simply is no other word for it -- it was still nervy music, dangerous music, polyrhythmically crossed, chords that could have resolved in any of a number of ways, but usually resolved in the least expected of ways. This was music that ended when the players said it was over, whether it resolved into the key it began in or not ... and this was romantic music with a capital R, whether it was one of his own compositions that Hersch played or someone elses. To each and every piece he brought strength and grace alike, and it all came out in an unending and even flow.
Personally, in his own music, Hersch is a genuine tunesmith (I can hear Marian McPartland complimenting him on his tunes). The melodies he takes become lyrical frequently, even when they are rhythmically spiky, and he inevitably finds his way at some point in each number to give his lyricism free reign. His own compositions are Romantic in flavor Valentine, Songs without Words, and a piece that came out of his work based on the texts of Walt Whitman -- but in this day and age we need more of the legato, and less of the stridency while keeping the spice of dissonance and the pepper of cross rhythms.
I certainly hope Hersch comes back again ... and soon.