A Singer's Notes by Keith Kibler

A Singer’s Notes 48: Simple Gifts – The Knights play Copland, Goldsmith’s She Stoops to Conquer at the National Theatre, London, Live in HD

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She Stoops to Conquer at the National Theatre
She Stoops to Conquer at the National Theatre

I’m sitting now in the late sunlight, looking at my cat’s ear. A translucent point it is with its hairs shining gold. It is sweet, and I am being sentimental. That which is sentimental is always ordinary in some way. Sentimentality is a kind of comfort. I once overheard the great Bernard Haitink say in a rehearsal “What is wrong with sentimentality anyway?” This from a conductor sometimes thought of as sober and straight-laced. There is nothing so remarkable about a cat’s ear, but a cat’s ear in the sunlight can seem something from a better world. I had a feeling like this when the bells started to play in The Knights’ recent performance of Copland’s Appalachian Spring in the Troy Savings Bank Music Hall. We had already heard the old tune several times, and then we heard it with bells. You know the place. The performance was so honest and utterly straight that I heard the jangling as new minted. The old tune was glowing. I never really noticed the bells before; I never really heard them. There is such risk in these few bars. But this is a piece which attains to simplicity and achieves it, and they simply were there. No big event-just the simple sublime, and no other composer hears this better than Aaron Copland. ‘Tis the gift to be simple.

The Knights are often called the future of classical music. They are a youngish band, highly accomplished, and importantly, they play a variety of kinds of music, and they work a variety of kinds of jobs. We heard them in Troy, in the first of many concerts in their ongoing tour. There was every kind of freshness about it, and that freshness is working tonight, wherever they may be. They had a conductor in Eric Jacobsen who is not a pomposo, but a participant. There was nothing done to the music; it spoke for itself. It came out, you might say. The players were just playing. There was joy among them—no faces of routine, no attempts to hide the boredom. If this is in fact the future of classical music, I will be there. There were several post-modern demonstrations of elegant, stunning orchestration—new pieces which deserve to be heard, but the newest piece on the program (by far) was Appalachian Spring, premiered in 1944.

I also took in the National Theatre’s Live in HD-cast of She Stoops to Conquer by Oliver Goldsmith, at the Clark. This was a superb production, and I enjoyed it nearly as much as the audience I was part of three thousand miles away. Maybe more! The caricatures in the play, the mother for example, were wildly theatrical, but somehow never strident. English actors just seem to have a way with this. The lieto finale of the play was not just a performance of happiness, a conclusion which satisfies; it was a serious event, which given the tangle of the play could easily not have happened. It was providence that we saw, sweet providence which doesn’t fail every time. As the play went on it became more singing. The wild and zany music that all the characters sang in the show won out. Energy became tenderness, and tenderness became energy. This was a beautiful performance.

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