In the Twenty-First Century, a festival of contemporary music needs a point of focus. A broad or representative survey is impossible; there are simply too many wildly varied approaches to music-making out there than can be sampled even in a festival twice as long as the six-concert event this summer at Tanglewood. By choosing composers who have been fellows there, the organizers John Harbison and Michael Gandolfi offered a musical profile that was primarily American and tended toward the conservative side, especially compared to past festivals which a greater representation of new European music. Also shown was the arc of American musical thinking over about four generations.
HIP (Historically Informed Performance) is not so hip as it used to be. William Christie does Baroque opera with cutting edge directors. René Jacobs records a Matthew Passion with tempi that rival Furtwängler’s. The information age was what made historically aware performances possible. It did not give us all the answers. In fifty years will we have HIP performances that are more like the 16th or 17th century than they are today? And how will the information we gain then be applied? Will not the actually application of it be indelibly tied to the decade?
Tony Simotes’ location for Shakespeare and Company’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream was a voodoo-haunted New Orleans. The best part about his production was he gave it to us straight. The supernatural characters, Oberon and Titania, were clarified and humanized into something that almost approached matter-of-factness. This made me hear the play very differently. The set was bright and golden; the action direct. The rustics, for once, did not overplay, and Bottom the Weaver, in a beautifully-heard dream speech took us on a journey into mystery and something beyond the bright, clear world the production favored. It was clarifying to see a straight-out production which was at ease with its eroticism, more interested in direct energy.
It has been said that the sign of a good musical is when the audience leaves the theatre humming a tune from the show. Not so with Stephen Sondheim. His ability to dazzle us with his lyrics, his verbal brilliance and wit, causes us to ponder his lyrics on the way up the aisle and wonder how he pulls it all off.
The village of New Marlborough lies on Route 57 about fifteen minutes east of Great Barrington. Its principal feature is the village green, where the well-known Inn on the Green stands next to the historic Meeting House. The latter is the home of New Marlborough’s enterprising “Music and More” series, directed by Harold F. Lewin, which is now in its twenty-third year and aims to bring “a diverse and distinguished group of authors, actors, musicians, artists and films to the Berkshires.” Having attended many concerts and other events at the Meeting House, I can certify that its intimate setting provides a generous but clear acoustic and a warm, friendly atmosphere, and that Mr. Lewin has fully justified the stated intention.
Music has no morality. It hangs around with the villains, and it blesses the good. It makes whatever you are “more.” June Moon by Ring Lardner and George S. Kaufman, at the Williamstown Theatre Festival, has, like so many shows of its vintage, the ghosts of European operetta along for the ride. It is a show with no outright villains, only cardboard ones, and the good boy and girl end up together, as they must in this kind of tale. Innocents are the story. They overcome all the impossibilities. Can there be anything more difficult in the acting profession than playing an innocent well?
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