A Singer’s Notes 58: Music in the Theatre

“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.

A Singer’s Notes 57: Just Plain Good

Sometimes you want to go into the theatre to have fun, to have sweetness, to hear a song you know, to listen to the ease of the artists. I saw this in three splendid evenings late in the summer. Two of these were at Barrington Stage. “See How They Run” was technically superb. The hijinks and gags worked like a well-oiled machine, never a hitch. This farce is particularly endearing if you know Noel Coward’s “Private Lives”. Bitter-sweet references to Coward’s play keep it grounded in some kind of reality which is lyrical. I love a good gag. A gag well-executed is an artistic triumph.

Vasily Petrenko and Joshua Bell in a Russo-English Program with the SF Symphony: Shostakovich, Tchaikovsky, Glazunov, and Elgar

Hats off, ladies and Gentlemen! A conductor! And a great symphony!

Vasily Petrenko’s recent electrifying week with the San Francisco Symphony reminds the listener that Gustavo Dudamel is not the sole “conducting animal” to be found on the musical circuit these days. Esa-Pekka Salonen coined the term a while back, with the impassioned Venezuelan in mind. And indeed, Dudamel is the sort of refreshing performer who has the winds jumping to their feet like jazz musicians and bass players twirling their instruments. He is all about emotion as vitality. But physically, apart from the energy with which he beats time, his manner is unremarkable.

The fascination of Petrenko, by contrast, is his ability to reflect every quivering moment of the music somewhere on his face or body, as though he were a disembodied hologram. We joke about people who are “double-jointed.” But Vasily Petrenko might as well be quadruple-sprung and then some…this is a man who’d have no trouble tapping three heads, rubbing five tummies and signalling with numerous eyebrows at the same time!

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