Dialogue One International Theatre Festival

The pleasant, but potentially mind-numbing routine of holiday entertainment was relieved most satisfyingly this past weekend by Dialogue One, a new international theater festival of solo performances at Williams College. Its founder, Omar Sangare, Assistant Professor of Theater at the College is to be thanked warmly for this serious and extremely stimulating festival, which will be an annual event. It consists of an evening of performances by four of Professor Sangare’s students, Mme. Tussaud, LIVE, which took place on Thursday evening and was repeated on Friday and a day of performances by professional actors from New York, Chicago, and Germany. The festival concluded with a ceremony at which three prizes were awarded by a jury consisting of Williams faculty and students as well as outsiders, one for a student performance, another for a domestic performer, and the third for an international performer. The solo performances were without exception serious, even intensely so, and they provided some extremely welcome intellectual ballast for the season. We had an opportunity to appreciate the impressive talent which exists among the Williams students, both as actors and writers, and to see some of the best and brightest among the young professional actors, who are working in this extremely challenging genre. These were joined by a distinguished mature actor from Poland, Herbert Kaluza, who has been working in Germany in recent years. His linguistic abilities had ample scope in the quadrilingual version of Isaac Babel’s “The Story of my Dovecote.” Americans get regrettably little exposure to theater in other languages, and this solo performance brought together the distinguished traditions of Poland and Germany in a concentrated and accessible form. And what a powerful contrast to the American approaches we’d seen earlier in the day!

Claude Lorrain, Coast View with Aeneas and the Cumaean Sibyl, 1673. Pen and brown ink with gray and gray-brown wash and white heightening on blue paper, 7 1/2 by 10 inches The British Museum, London

Claude Lorrain Landscape Drawings from the British Museum at the Clark

Here in the Berkshires an exhibition of Claude Lorrain, “the Raphael of Landscape-painting,” as Horace Walpole called him, brings his work into especially sympathetic surroundings. The view from Pine Cobble, the steeper faces of Mt. Greylock, or its splendid waterfall remind us readily enough of the grander sights sketched by Claude and his fellow artists on their forays into the Roman Campagna. This natural beauty even nurtures a predilection for landscape, so that local galleries can subsist on landscapes, purveying local views for local walls. Even the Clark is susceptible, if you look over the exhibition schedule of the past few years, in which landscapes or seascapes by Klimt, Calame, Courbet, and Turner have been prominent. Far from cloying, or betraying undue self-absorption, Claude Lorraine: €”The Painter as Draftsman Drawings from the British Museum enhances this harmless local obsession with a comprehensive and coherent view of an artist whose cultural importance is undeniable, however one might discuss his stature as an artist. Claude’s influence has extended beyond art— among certain classes of British society, at least—into the shaping of whole environments and human life within them

Zemlinsky’s Eine Florentinische Tragödie and Der Zwerg at Bard Summerscape 2007

I find myself torn between the temptation to write at length about these fascinating stage works by Zemlinsky and my responsibility to you, our readers, to let you know about this absolutely wonderful evening at the opera, so that you can grab some tickets before they all disappear. Yes, this will have to be short, and it cannot do justice to these brilliant operas or the amazing work all of those involved have put into these splendid productions. The experience was both profound and immensely entertaining.

Tanglewood Festival Retrospective 2007

I’ve already said much more than I ever wanted to about the state of the Tanglewood Festival and the pointless discussion stirred up by a few articles and editorials in the Berkshire Eagle—both in Berkshire Fine Arts and our current Commentary. Since the festival faces no real crisis either in finances or attendance, what matters is the music. This is James Levine’s fourth season as music director of the Boston Symphony. The various difficulties arising from his intense working methods, his health, and, I believe, the evolution of his own musicianship are now in the past. The orchestra and Tanglewood now form a larger part of his commitments. The orchestra now play better than they have in years, consistently on a very high level for Mr. Levine and for guest conductors as well. He conducted more BSO concerts than in previous summers, and he is thoroughly involved with the Tanglewood Music Center. Not every one of Levine’s interpretations may strike every listener as equally compelling, but I know of no one who shows such a passion for music in everything he does. His enthusiasm and high standards have made a most definite impression on Tanglewood, and now one can go there in the expectation of hearing interesting, if largely conservative programs played by the Boston Symphony at the top of their form, not to mention the superb TMC Orchestra and Opera Fellows, soloists and other extras which are making an appearance, most notably the series of world-class early music and historical instrument groups.

Leon Botstein and the ASO with Bard Conservatory Students Triumph in Brahms, Saint-Saëns, Ibert, and Dvorak at Bard’s Fisher Center

It seems particularly felicitous that this first concert review in The Berkshire Review for the Arts celebrates the very fine performances of two young musicians, who are not far from the very beginning of their careers. Pianist Shun-Yang Lee from Taipei, Taiwan, is a student of Melvin Chen and Peter Serkin at the Bard Conservatory of Music, and Korean baritone Yohan Yi is also a Bard Conservatory student. Lee performed this weekend as winner of the Second Annual Bard Conservatory Concerto Competition, and Yi recently performed at the Weill Recital Hall of Carnegie Hall in the Golijov/Upshaw Young Artists concert. This was a great evening for seasoned musicians as well. Leon Botstein led the American Symphony Orchestra in a thoroughly Brahmsian performance of the Academic Festival Overture and a truly revelatory reading of Dvorak’s Symphony “From the New World.”

The Tokyo Quartet

The Tokyo Quartet play Beethoven Op. 95 and Schubert’s Octet at the Norfolk Chamber Music Festival, July 13, 2007

Tradition has been lurking under every stone this summer, between local controversies about change at Tanglewood and the host of anniversaries which are being celebrated, beginning with the 60th of the Juilliard Quartet, the historic 59th of the Bartók Quartets at Tanglewood, Aston Magna’s 35th, and now the 30th anniversary of the renowned Tokyo Quartet’s residence at Norfolk Chamber Music Festival and the Yale Summer School of Music. When they were officially founded in 1969 at the Juilliard School of Music under the tutelage of the members of the Juilliard String Quartet, the world of the string quartet seemed to be thinning out, in spite of the appearance of the Guarneri in 1965, and the youthful, mop-headed string players from the Toho School of Music in Tokyo were most welcome. Cultivating a lean tone and an incisive, energetic style, they seemed the antithesis of the aging Budapest Quartet, which still actively represented the middle European Menschlichkeit of the early twentieth century.

The Sarcophagus of Heinrich Posthumus Reuß

Heinrich Schütz, Musikalische Exequien, Performed by the Aoede Consort under Richard Giarusso in Thompson Chapel, Williams College

The multi-talented Richard Giarusso continues to explore single-mindedly one vitally important and fascinating area in music—the relationship between music and text. Last summer he offered an original and moving interpretation on Franz Schubert’s Schwanengesang, and, before he goes on to Die Winterreise this coming summer, he has given us an all-too-rare opportunity to hear perhaps the most sophisticated and eloquent fusion of text and music before Schubert, Heinrich Schütz’s Musikalische Exequien, a Lutheran funeral Mass to German texts, which Schütz wrote for the funeral of Prince Heinrich Posthumus Reuss, a member of the ruling family of the region in which Schütz was born. The eleven participating singers of the Aoede Consort (based in Troy, New York) and Giarusso’s direction were superb, but first, I’d like to provide some background.

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