Should Art be merely an escape or refuge from the realities of our difficult times? In the 1940s, the debate heated and divided artists, musicians and scholars. In Wallace Stevens’s essay “The Noble Rider and The Sound of Words,” the twain are resolved in the idea that art, even “abstract” art can assume the role of social commentary only through innate and ineffable transformations of reality rather than by any explicit agenda dogmatically imposed by the creator. Great art could not be manhandled ideologically. How this solution might apply to opera of the past becomes the task of the director and musicians in balancing the surprisingly diverse elements of the music’s intent, the libretto’s intent, the historical context, and, yes, the composer’s objectives, if any. It is not surprising that Stevens regarded that an artistic creation had its own life apart from the creator’s wishes. Thus, we have the license for interpretation and deconstruction that has become the hallmark of Regietheater in our times.
Each member of the Martinez-Urioste-Brey trio is a virtuoso in his or her own right. Carter Brey is quite accustomed to blending in an ensemble as he has been Principal Cellist of the New York Philharmonic for a decade and a half. From the outset, one noted a very different chamber style which emphasized instrumental autonomy rather than an imposed “lead and follow” ensemble
While spending almost twenty years closely listening to Bach’s more than two hundred cantatas bewildered some of my friends would decry my project and say, “They all sound alike – how can you tell them apart?” These people, sophisticated music lovers who simply did not care for the Bach vocal repertory, refused to admit they glossed over these works in a superficial way. To my ears, of course, each and every cantata had uniqueness that clearly articulated it from the rest of the pack. Yes, there were many structural similarities, and Bach’s musical language is the unifying tongue, but, to say Bach’s cantatas all sounded alike seemed heretical, born of inferior taste and auditory skills. Years later, when I started watching birds, I came upon the family of yellow warblers, illustrated in Roger Tory Peterson’s definitive field guide. Boggled by the subtle markings which distinguish these birds, it seemed that page after page pictured the same damned bird, and I recalled my friends’ remarks about Bach’s vocal works.
However, the center movement has always been the most highly regarded of the three, even in Mozart’s day: after its première on December 23, 1785, the audience requested an immediate encore of this remarkable “black pearl.” The muted strings introduce a theme in two sections which is taken up in three variations by piano with increasing intensity and contrapuntal interest and dynamic contrast.
The opera reveals Strauss’s ruminations of several spirits of the musical past: his own, in part, as well as those of Mozart and Wagner. There are references to Daphne, Tristan und Isolde, Die Zauberflöte, Das Rheingold, and, in Jupiter’s galling fall and mortal return to Earth, to Die Walküre. One might justifiably claim that much of this work is derivative, but Strauss never fails to ravish us with breathtaking melody and sumptuous harmony.
Remembrance, subtly woven throughout the program, began with a celebration of the centenary of Menotti’s birth. Later, Ives’s songs captured the passing of small-town American innocence. Virgil Thomson’s witty caricatures remind us of our friendships; and finally, in Alan Smith’s song cycle, the loss of life and love in the time of war is vividly portrayed.
Francesca Zambello’s first season as Artistic Director of Glimmerglass will unfold very soon. Indeed, much in Cooperstown will be transformed by her vision, if not her brand of exciting and eclectic taste. At a gathering in Millbrook, New York, Ms. Zambello, undaunted by a leg cast and crutches from a fall earlier this year, pitched the lineup, and gave a clear and unequivocal justification for the launch of the newly dubbed “Glimmerglass Festival.” Ms. Zambello, who has an infectious sort of down-to-earth enthusiasm, is determined to make Glimmerglass a major draw. No longer merely a season of repertory operas clustered around weekends, the Festival will strive for wider audience appeal, and more lectures and recitals. Promoting Lake Otsego as a destination, it is hoped the rural beauty of the area will attract NYC visitors for long weekend stays.
Nothing in recent Berkshire performance memory could have prepared me for the extraordinary elegance of today’s recital with renowned gambist Wieland Kuijken, recorder virtuoso Eva Legêne, and harpsichordist Arthur Hass. Mr Kuijken, if you don’t know already, is a member of the renowned Belgian family of period musicians that includes violinist/conductor Sigiswald and flautist Barthold. Dutch-born Eva Legêne, a student of Frans Brüggen, was formally a professor of music at Indiana University and the Royal Danish Academy, and now lives and gives master classes in Germany. Arthur Haas, a student of Alan Curtis and Kenneth Gilbert, performs widely in Europe and teaches at Berkeley, Amherst, the Eastman School, and Stanford.