A Singer's Notes by Keith Kibler / Music / Theater

A Singer’s Notes 58: Music in the Theatre

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Leonard Bernstein

“We Are Women: A Bernstein Cabaret”, a concert of Leonard Bernstein’s songs in The Colonial was one of the two or three best things I have heard this summer. Many thanks to the Berkshire Theatre Group for giving this to us. Here were four singers – here were four actors. I have rarely seen such a finished understanding of how one kind of vocalism becomes another. With the excellent Michael Barrett on piano, Alan R. Kay on clarinet, and John Feeney on contrabass, we heard a great deal of one of the maestro’s finest compositions, “Trouble in Tahiti”, and a superior selection from other shows. The songs were introduced by Leonard Bernstein’s daughter, Jamie Bernstein. There was not too much talking. All was natural as if the songs were new-minted. Each of the singers made a comprehensive narrative of the material and seemed to be singing it before they made any sound, and long after. This concert wasn’t a succession of excerpts, but searing moments that also had naturalness. I wish each of my students could have heard this concert.

Michael Bello, Mark Gionfriddo, Marie Eife, Michael Barbour © Berkshire Theatre Group 2012

Speaking of which, and also thanks to Berkshire Theatre Group, I attended an interesting and charming afternoon of Jerome Kern with the apprentice actors/singers and their superlative pianist Mark Gionfriddo, directed by Michael Bello. The always knowledgeable Neil E. Ellenoff introduced the selections. It was lovely to come to The Colonial on a beautiful day and hear an easy-on-the-ear recital such as this. Marvelous also was the way that the young artists took to this material, the music of their grandparents.

Christopher O’Riley, photo © Mitch Weiss

Always enterprising, the company also engaged an old friend, Christopher O’Riley, pianist extraordinaire, and host of NPR’s “From the Top”. I loved most of all his beautiful arrangements of music from Radiohead and other alt-rock groups and jazz musicians. His introductions were full of detailed surprising and interesting information which showed to me that he is still the pupil of our one-of-a-kind mentor Gunther Schuller, a great musician who taught us to see what was great in many different kinds of music. Chris’s arrangements mesmerize the listener. He is able to take the repetitive bent of most rock songs to another level, and with subtle variation make it speak a kind of private expression which seems close to him. One saw this particularly in his physical aspect while playing the pieces. Always a refined colorist, these arrangements showed him to be a refined composer. Like Ariadne’s thread, sound went through all these pieces, a kind of private beauty.

I thought Mary Guzzy’s “Clara”, a play about Clara Schumann, was quite the best of these events that I have seen at Ventfort Hall. The narrative is cunningly put together, and lends itself very well to this treatment. Sarah Jeannette Taylor played all aspects of the role with clarity, form, and passion. She kept you involved in the changeable events of this most important of pianists’ life. Mr. Wieck, Clara’s father, Robert Schumann, her husband, and Johannes Brahms, perhaps her young lover, were vivid presences in her acting. One felt like one was in the company of august persons, not listening to a long one-woman show. Not an easy task! Ms. Taylor impressed.

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