Bernstein’s Candide at the Berkshire Theatre Festival, starring Julian Whitley

The story of the creation of Candide is a fascinating but hardly edifying one, considering the result: a series of miscellaneous libretti and various combinations of musical numbers, none of which are really satisfactory. Nonetheless, it is hard not to become engaged in its rag-tag series of satirical scenes adapted from Voltaire’s classic novella, and it is even harder not to fall in love with the music, which is stage Bernstein at his best. A cult has grown up around it, and Bernstein himself was especially fond of the score, returning to it several times, including at the very end of his life, when he conducted a concert version at the Barbican, which was videotaped and recorded.

Selig sind die Toten – What Schütz Taught Brahms

Brahms, always a musical preservationist, revered the liturgical works of Heinrich Schütz (1585–1672), the greatest German Baroque composer before J. S. Bach. When Brahms penned his crepuscular Ein deutsches Requiem, much of his intention – musically and textually – was modeled after careful study of Schütz’s longest work, the Musikalische Exequien (Musical Exequies) of 1636. Both works are titled similarly (for Schütz’s Exequies is “in Form einer teutschen Begräbnis – Missa,” in the form of a German Burial Mass)

Duet for One, by Tom Kempinski

There’s a built-in mystery about psychotherapy that benefits a play like Duet for One. Diving into the unconscious is an exciting, risk-filled exploration that’s bound to uncover hidden demons. Finding out where the bodies are buried never ceases to create a frisson. But on the opposing side, this exploration is mostly of interest to the patient, not to outside observers. Psychotherapy is solipsistic. We have our own diving expeditions to go on, never mind a third party’s. Duet for One needed a bit of extra insurance, and it got it. When Tom Kempinski’s two-character drama first appeared in 1980, a guilty element of voyeurism helped fuel its success. The principal character is a famous musician sidelined by a diagnosis of multiple sclerosis. All of England knew that she was a stand-in for the great cellist Jacqueline du Pre, whose career was tragically cut short by the same disease; she succumbed from it in 1987 at the age of forty-two.

The Brentano String Quartet at Tannery Pond Monteverdi, Haydn, and Beethoven

One of the best things about being alive in this difficult age is our current wealth of string quartets. In no other area of music is there less cause for nostalgia. The Emerson and and Takács Quartets are not the only discouragements to the wistful dusting-off of one’s Budapest and Amadeus Quartet recordings, although I’m sure I’ll never neglect the Busch Quartet. The Brentano Quartet, founded in 1992, is one more bracing reason to be content living in the present. Contemporary string quartets tend to play as a collection of brilliant, highly developed individuals, who happen to be so good at what they do, that they can play with perfect ensemble. I recently observed how this marks a generational difference with older quartets like the Juilliard, who concentrate on ensemble. The Brentano is entirely of its time in this respect. The individual players’ virtuosity, strong individualism, and their particular art of ensemble are equally impressive. The achieve their ensemble through strong interaction rather than through imposed discipline. In terms of timbre the result is a distinct sound for each instrument within a general predilection for contrasting the dark tones of the lower strings with brilliant high notes. This gave them all plenty of room to inject colorful nuances into individual phrases and notes. In the balanced acoustic of the Tannery this all sounded quite magnificent.

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