RIVETING CANADIAN COMPANY DRAWS CHEERS AT
By Lawrence Budmen
Becket, Massachusetts, USA – In 1931 modern dance pioneer Ted Shawn bought the mountaintop Carter farm (known as Jacob’s Pillow) in the hills of western Massachusetts as a retreat. That same year Shawn directed the final rehearsals of his famous Denishawn Company there. In 1933 Shawn formed an all male dance company and staged summer lecture-demonstrations that became the genesis of the Jacob’s Pillow Dance Festival. Today that great tradition continues as Jacob’s Pillow has become home to the cutting edge choreographers and innovators of contemporary dance.
On August 17 Les Grands Ballets Canadiens de Montreal graced the stage of the Jacob’s Pillow Ted Shawn Theater (America’s first theater designed especially for dance). This brilliant company is redefining ballet with original works by path blazing European choreographers. The Dutch choreographer Didy Veldman’s “TooT” is a witty, poignant, kinetic work that mixes elements of a dance class and circus with social satire. “TooT” is both a hard edged commentary on the relationship of the individual to society and a celebration of movement in all its forms (with elements of Cirque de Soleil). Set to Shostakovich’s Jazz Suite No.2 and the music of the New Age rock band Belanescu Quartet (which features violins and cellos as well as guitars and synthesizers), the ballet was a dazzling showcase for the extraordinary Canadian dancers. Veldman is a genius of choreographic movement! Her thought provoking ballet was paired with the gifted Belgian choreographer Stijn Celis’s brilliantly original version of Les Noces. Celis reinvents Igor Stravinsky’s landmark score with riveting, ritualistic dance movements that perfectly dovetail the pounding, rhythmic precision of the music. Several layers of meaning form the subtext of this Russian wedding’s massive frenzy. Anik Bissonnette and Callye Robinson brought supple, boundless energy and strongly theatrical personalities to the pivotal roles of the bride and groom. The entire company danced splendidly and received a cheering ovation. Celis’s visionary Les Noces makes Bronislava Nijinska’s original version seem a historical relic. Revolutionary dance by a stellar company!
At Tanglewood’s Seiji Ozawa Hall in Lenox, a concert of Stravinsky’s vocal music on August 14 proved an insightful counterpoint to Celis’s ballet. The resonant, beautiful voices of the Tanglewood Music Center Vocal Fellows launched a three hour marathon with the mystical Russian Credo. The virile, rich bass voice of Charles Temkey was a standout in the anti-war satire How the Mushrooms Went to War. Stefan Reed revealed an agile, high, light tenor sound in the lovely Pastorale (1907). Violinist Katherine Bormann displayed lovely tone, patrician phrasing, and strong technique in the Divertimento for Violin and Piano – a 1932 transcription of music from Stravinsky’s ballet The Fairy’s Kiss, based on themes by Tchaikovsky. The opulent Verdian soprano voice of Michelle Johnson embraced Two Poems of Konstantin Bal’ Mont. The elegant Cat’s Cradle Songs (1915) were a winning showcase for the wonderfully rich mezzo-soprano of Abigail Fischer whose plush vocal quality is similar to Frederica von Stade. The dulcet vocal beauty and textual clarity of tenor Michael Kelly was stunning in the narrative of Jesus from Ricercar II (1952) – atonal music that is truly moving. Mezzo-soprano Helene Couture brought warmth and passion to three Shakespeare settings. Stravinsky’s austere 1968 orchestral settings of two lieder by Hugo Wolf were sung with shining tone and dramatic conviction by baritone Alexander Hurd. Conducting Fellow Steven Jarvi worked orchestral magic with the student ensemble. Faculty member Jay Wadenpfuhl led the TMC Vocal Women in a superb, stirring rendition of Four Russian Peasant Songs (1954) for a light up the sky finale!
Musical settings of Cervantes’s Don Quixote formed the bill of fare on August 12 at the Koussevitzky Music Shed. Manuel De Falla’s one act opera “Master Peter’s Puppet Show” was utterly delightful under the masterful baton of Rafael Fruhbeck de Burgos. Unlike the composer’s familiar folkloric ballets “The Three Cornered Hat’ and “El Amor Brujo” the score for “Master Peter” is spare and harmonically astringent – music that pays tribute to Renaissance polyphony and Baroque ornamentation. The Bob Brown Puppets (directed by Judy Barry Brown) created a witty, wonderful world of fantasy that encompassed both the puppet play and Don Quixote’s dreams and visions. As the composer requested, the singers sang their roles seated among the orchestral musicians while the puppets portrayed the characters. Soprano Awet Andemicael sang the narrative role of The Boy marvelously. Her fluent, electrifying coloratura roulades had that elusive star quality. Tenor Peter Bonder brought incisive declamation to Master Peter. David Wilson-Johnson’s warm baritone was mellow and eloquent as Don Quixote. Fruhbeck de Burgos perfectly delineated the score’s acerbic harmonies, percussive rhythms, and subtle instrumental touches. The bracing harpsichord, trumpet, and string combinations really sizzled. Richard Strauss’s Don Quixote tone poem was an eloquent companion piece. The Boston Symphony’s sensuous strings, glittering harps, and stirring brass had a field day in this showpiece. Fruhbeck de Burgos (a protean Strauss conductor) led an exciting performance of Strauss’s sprawling score. Substituting for Trulus Mork who cancelled due to illness, cellist Jian Wang displayed a light tone but brought innate musicality and poetic phrasing to Strauss’s final tragic pages. Violist Steven Ansell’s richly textured, aristocratic viola sound lent luster to Strauss’s musical depiction of Sancho Panza. Violinist Malcolm Lowe’s sweet tone was Vienesse indeed. A stimulating program!
The Fellows of the Tanglewood Music Center Orchestra held center stage on August 15 at Ozawa Hall. Fruhbeck de Burgos lent surging momentum to Beethoven’s Symphony No.6 in F, Opus 68 (Pastoral). The conductor’s transparent, invigorating approach astutely balanced the bucolic high spirits of the peasants’ dance with the flowing lyricism and serenity of the hymn of thanksgiving. The splendid orchestra (which included two horn players –Ryan Gruber and Maria Harrold – who are incoming Fellows of Miami’s New World Symphony and harpist Yumiko Endo Schlaffer, a former NWS member) shone gloriously in Strauss’s Don Juan. The stentorian horns sounded full and clear. Fruhbeck de Burgos led a characterful, intensely romantic performance. His interpretation of the Suite from Strauss’s opera “Der Rosenkavalier” was vivacious and bracing. The waltz rhythms had real verve. Violinist Heather Wittels played her solos with warmth, grace, and honeyed Viennese lilt.
An August 13 matinee at Ozawa Hall brought the Boston University Tanglewood Institute Young Artist’s Orchestra. Composed of gifted high school students from across the United States, this ensemble proved superior to many university and professional orchestras. Indeed there was remarkable playing from all sections of the orchestra. David Hoose, conductor of the Boston University Symphony Orchestra, led these young musicians in an exhilarating traversal of the Symphonic Suite from the film “On the Waterfront” by Leonard Bernstein. Hoose perfectly captured the jazzy, snappy impetus of the score. Yet his reading was also moving, haunting, and romantic. The perfect sound portrait of Bernstein! Mitchell H. Dvoracek played the sonorous opening horn solo superbly. Sibelius’s Symphony No.2 in D Major, Opus 43 received a stirring, intense, emotional performance. Hoose’s taut, fiercely unsentimental approach was exciting. The entire concert was a real sleeper!
The New York based Orchestra of St. Luke’s made a guest appearance on August 21 at the Koussevitzky Shed. This excellent chamber orchestra boasts first rate section leaders – especially concertmaster Krista Bennion Feeney. Conductor Peter Oundjian proved to be a less than stellar musical presence. Formerly first violin of the Tokyo Quartet, Oundjian is Music Director of the Toronto Symphony. (Last season he directed a lackluster program of Janacek, Stravinsky, and Brahms with the New World Symphony in Miami.) The concert opened with a charming reading of the Overture to “Il Signor Bruschino” by Rossini – marked by spirited orchestral playing. In Beethoven’s Symphony No.3 in E-flat, Opus 55 (Eroica) Oundjian conducted a series of episodes rather than the sprawling paragraphs that comprise the symphony’s four movements. The Marcia funebre lacked depth and was strangely unmoving. Throughout the performance the percussion was over dominant. Despite strong orchestral execution (particularly by the horns) this Eroica was ultimately threadbare. Mozart’s powerful Piano Concerto No.24 in C Minor, K.491 was given a towering performance by Peter Serkin. A true master of the keyboard, Serkin is one of music’s most original interpreters and thinkers. The opening Allegro was played with the commanding power of Beethoven. Serkin’s deeply searching view of the Larghetto brought forth the pathos and tragedy behind the graceful classicism of the principal melody. The concluding Allegretto brought powerhouse, heaven storming virtuosity. Serkin is an artist of the highest order!
Mozart in the patrician manner was on display on August 14 at the Koussevitzky Shed when Sir Andrew Davis conducted the Boston Symphony in a Salzburg style Mozart matinee. The relaxed graciousness of the Overture to “The Impresario” was an engaging prelude to the Concerto in C for Flute and Harp, K.299. This delightful score really took flight. Sir James Galway’s light, sweet, glorious flute tone spun radiantly through the vast space. BSO Principal Harp Ann Hobson Pilot played her elaborate solo part with crisp elegance, elasticity of line, and gorgeous tone. Davis offered a large orchestra version of the Symphony No.38 in D, K.504 (Prague). There was power to spare in the opening Adagio-Allegro. Big in scale as well as numbers, the orchestral playing was full and rich. Davis captured the drama behind the elegance of the Andante and attacked the Presto finale with vigor. Surrounded by mountains and greenery, Tanglewood is a unique musical venue. Great music making in a remarkable space!