With Shakespeare and Company’s Winter Studio Festival of Plays drawing to a belated conclusion, because of a fierce winter storm, and the press announcement of the 2019 season coming up, it seems a particularly opportune time to publish the Podcast of my interview with Artistic Director Allyn Burrows about the highly successful 2018 season.
“Let me please introduce myself. I am a gentleman of wealth and taste. And I laid traps for troubadours….” So goes the Rolling Stones song, Sympathy for the Devil. Danish audiences never quite knew what to make of Rued Langgaard, at once romantic composer and obsessive throwback to apocalyptic Christianity. His Sixth Symphony, officially termed “The Heaven-Rending,” later came to be known as “The Antichrist.” The Danes, hearing the struggle in his music and perhaps a bit fundamentalist at the time, were never sure on which side Langgaard stood! Langgaard was passionately convinced Satan operated in modern life as power behind the scenes, devilishly pulling the strings of music, culture and government—and was ultimately responsible for the First World War. A special culprit and convert to this evil, in Langgaard’s eyes, was Carl Nielsen, the celebrated Danish composer of his day, whose modernism and humanism Langgaard alternately copied and excoriated. These views and other personal eccentricities, plus music which over time gradually became episodic and minimalistic, ensured Langgaard would remain unpopular in his home country.
The names of Belfast-born soprano Heather Harper and Kansas-born tenor James King may not resonate for younger music lovers, but they sure do for folks my age. Harper was the glowing, nimble soprano in Colin Davis’s renowned 1966 recording of Handel’s Messiah and in Davis’s top-flight recording (ca. 1978) of Britten’s Peter Grimes, featuring Jon Vickers. James King was a steady, sturdy singer, though less magical in sound than Harper. Among his memorable recordings are Das Lied von der Erde (with Fischer-Dieskau, Bernstein conducting) and Solti’s Ring Cycle (in which he sang Siegmund to Régine Crespin’s utterly lovable Sieglinde).
I’ve been harping on acoustics in my past few reviews, not only as a personal crotchet (which I must own), but because the issue has been cropping up of its own accord. It’s particularly frustrating that Chapin Hall at Williams is so fine to look at, while its sound it is so dismal, but to be fair, it was built for academic pomp, not music. What’s more the acoustically outstanding auditorium at the Clark is not often used for music. However, Berkshire County people are lucky to be in easy reach of several halls which are among the best in the worldÃ‚Â—I mean not only Symphony Hall in Boston, or the wonderful Seiji Ozawa Hall at Tanglewood, but Mechanics Hall in Worcester (1857, sadly underused for music), the Sosnoff Theater at Bard’s Fisher Center (2003), which I’ve already discussed on several occasions, and the Troy Savings Bank Music Hall, also on the Hudson, built between 1871 and 1875 to the designs of George B. Post. It’s not the only concert hall to have been constructed as a multipurpose building, but its vaulted roof and Greek temple which dominate the rooftops and steeples of this once grand commercial city is unusual. Its acoustics are legendary, and I’ve wanted to hear music there for some time. I’m grateful that my responsibilities to BFA have allowed me to give it a priority, and I’ll most certainly come back regularly to hear this great hall, the excellent Albany Symphony, and as many as possible of the other compelling events it hosts.
If I tell you here is the side of Brahms which kept a score of Parsifal open on his piano, I think we are more than halfway to understanding what Daniel Barenboim has tried to do with this composer and now achieves more fully and authentically than in his Chicago Symphony cycle recorded for Erato several decades ago. The Staatskapelle Berlin has always been a Brahms orchestra of the old school, as Otmar Suitner’s 1984 digital cycle for Berlin Classics, recorded in the Lukaskirche, wonderfully demonstrated, but Barenboim has maintained and encouraged its nutty/creamy sonority to new levels of evocative lushness and subtle woodwind tone coloration. He doesn’t aim to compete for brilliance with the Berlin Philharmonic. Indeed, the sound here boasts a theatrical darkness and elision, first, foremost and nearly always. I imagine this still resembles the burnished sonority my German father heard in Berlin before the First World War.
The best of director Allyn Burrow’s energetic As You Like It at Shakespeare and Company resides in the middle of the show. The quietest of activity focused us on a vexed question: is disguise a better truth? Somehow when I see As You Like It, I am always a little disappointed when Rosalind fits everything together, as if she were ready for a good evening out. Our Rosalind, Aimee Dougherty, masterfully manipulated, lied even, to come to a better end. What I liked most in her superb performance was that little twinge of doubt, just at the end. The big question is, can deception tell the truth? In this case the answer would have to be yes, and this wonderful young actress and singer made it work. (You may also have heard her wonderful voice in the Boston Pops Leonard Bernstein concert a couple of months ago.)