Song of America

Sometimes Google Alerts is good for something (instead of just letting me know about my own posts), as I recently found out about the existence of my page at the Song of America website. This is part of a project sponsored by Thomas Hampson’s Hampsong Foundation, with information about composers and the poets they have set, audio and video resources, and more. There’s also a Song of America radio series.

Saturday Doubleheader

It was a musical doubleheader in New York for me last Saturday as I attended both the Met matinee and the NY Phil in the evening.

I am not a big Puccini fan, (even though I cry at Bohème) but I was very impressed by Fanciulla, the last performance of the run at the Met. This was a strong cast, especially Deborah Voigt.  She sounded great, singing with both power and beauty of sound. The range of expressive types Minnie has to project is remarkable: she is playful, steely, vulnerable, kind, heroic, and Voigt conveyed them all. The theme of the piece is Wagnerian – a man redeemed through a woman’s love – but this time the woman survives to get her man, not just redeem him. Alex Ross smartly observes how Minnie beats the men in the piece at their own games (both literally – a poker game – and figuratively) “and then breaks down their macho codes”. The first and third acts end in a remarkably low key manner, with the ambiguities of the final curtain nicely summarized in the figure of the sheriff, left alone on stage, handling a gun, still wanting to kill the tenor, but unable to move. Ross found fault with the production, and it is on the literal side, at once a bit stiff and very busy. Voigt remarks in an interview how she has to handle tons of props in this staging. She seems to spend a long time in the first act putting away whiskey glasses. I suppose this is necessary given the amount of drinking that goes on – per capita at about at the level of an Albee play.

In the evening I heard two men named Thomas – Hampson’s Kindertotenlieder was deeply affecting, and Adés played his piano concerto with video, a collaboration with Tal Rosner. I am an Adés fan, but I was not consistently held by this piece. Anthony Tommasini’s review makes the music sound much more varied than it seemed to me. Too much of the work involved streams of regular durations, often layered against similar streams moving at slightly different speeds, but still lacking in sufficiently characterized rhythmic profile. Still, there was much to admire when the rhythms were less static. I found the video was at its most compelling when most dense, with various geometric patterns intricately overlaid. However, there were also brief moments that were dangerously close to screensaver images, or the visualizer in iTunes, or even the abstractions that accompany the Bach toccata and fugue in Disney’s Fantasia.  I appreciated the fact that the music and image were closely coordinated. I always hated the way the jump cuts from frantic activity to stasis in the Godfrey Reggio/Philip Glass collaboration Koyaanisqatsi are not quite in sync, but that is not the case here.

Update: hear the Adés on Instant Encore here.

Crumb’s Songbooks in LA, NYC, Ojai

Delia Casadei has a fine piece on George Crumb in the LA Times. It is especially nice to see the Songbooks getting such high profile performances, particularly by Upshaw and Hampson. (Nothing against Tony Arnold, who is quite fabulous and deserves the kind of recognition Upshaw and Hampson have achieved.) Dawn has narrowed down her list of composers a bit in recent years (as I know all too well), good to see George is still on that list. And Hampson’s advocacy of American music has tended toward more conservative composers.

It will be interesting to see what Sellars does in staging the pieces. A performance of one of these Songbooks involves a huge array of percussion that is already quite arresting, visually; I don’t know the Ojai stage, but I wonder how much room there will be – literally and psychically – for a staging.

I previously posted about George’s American Songbooks here. (photo: Peggy Peterson/Bridge Records)