Friday, October 31, 2008

Pollini at Strathmore

Anne Midgette saves me a bit of trouble with her spot-on review of Maurizio Pollini's recital at Strathmore two nights ago:
Pollini thinks in phrases, not in notes...If music is made up of sentences, these were translating the content into a whole new language. And yet it never felt as if the pianist were being whimsical, imposing a point of view simply for the sake of being different.
Contrast this to Allan Kozinn's NYT review of the same show at Carnegie Hall the other week:
If you like this aspect of Mr. Pollini’s style — his forcefulness and muscularity, and his ability to create the sense that the piano is inadequate to the music’s demands and his own — his tendency to apply the same expressive effects to every work on the program was not a deal breaker...the sameness of his interpretive approach from work to work struck me as a flaw that even the great — and very real — Pollini aura could not overcome.
Kozinn has every right to find Pollini not his cup of tea, of course, but I fear he is trading in the fairly tired Pollini "debate". Pollini is a challenging artist, but not because he offers extreme perfection at the expense of warmth or sentimentality. Rather, it is because he challenges his audience to think "bigger" about the works he plays, for lack of a better word.

Its a hard thing to describe, as AM duly acknowledges, but when he is really successful, the feeling is akin to the revelations one is used to feeling more often in literature or architecture: when you really understand a work as the sum of its parts, and the genius in their relations. Achieving this--making that architecture audible to an audience--requires an absurd level of consistency and control. The second things fall out of proportion, the audience goes back to understanding a piece as simply melody plus harmony, color plus tempo, etc. Anyone not at the pinnacle of virtuoso technique wouldn't be able to even consider such ambitions for the repertoire he plays. Again, AM hits it when she says that his performance was hardly note perfect, but conveyed the "concept" of perfection.

Now, sometimes his interpretations require a lot of work on the part of the audience, because to express the design that he wants to, he needs to contradict the CD playing in our head. Sometimes its successful, sometimes its not. It's a tricky business. But we shouldn't assume for a moment that what we're hearing is anything as mundane as an "effect" that didn't come off right or didn't get enough attention. Pollini is a man with a project, and his interest lies in a very different space than isolated effects.

I could rundown the different pieces in detail, but I really ought to go back to work, so I'll just say: the Appasionata was probably the pinnacle in all around mind blowingness; the Tempest bores me these days but it was good; the C Major Fantasy reading was probably the most 'challenging' by the meaning above, but perhaps the one that will stay with me longest; Pollini's Chopin, which closed the concert and accounted for all the encores is a really unique and special thing, and I'm not going to ruin it by going on about it anymore.

Also notable from the department of ironic bad concert etiquette: some classical music dork's cell phone went off during the Beethoven, and I'm pretty sure the ring tone was from some other Beethoven piano piece. Is that more or less embarrasing than "Who Let the Dogs Out"? Not sure...

Update: Great rundown from Charles Downey at Ionarts here.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Norn 3: Cut the damn string already...

Cute video from the New Yorker here. I was initially skeptical of the Palin-Brunnhilde angle (has she learned anything, really?) but I do like Pal-hilde as downfall of the Republican party, her zealotry igniting the flames of wingnuttery to engulf the once god-like party, now undone by the hypocrisies etched on its speer.

McCain as Siegfried is pretty good, but he of course can't blame a magic potion for turning out to be kind of a dishonorable asshole (I suppose they still have a couple days to float that, tho). Also, god willing, the press will not be charitably inclined towards any 'redemption in defeat' BS after he eats it on Tuesday...

Thursday, October 23, 2008

New Violetta...New Atomic

Someone please talk me out of faking sick so I can take in one of the non-sold out Harteros Violettas. Only another Traviata one hears oneself saying, but then there is the terribly overwhelming b-cast the other night, and this awfully tempting review from JSU:
To my mind it's a miracle that one who can be the rare sort of person Harteros' Violetta is onstage, opening long-unheard sonic-expressive vistas in the part, can also sing well and powerfully enough to be a star in this house.
Dang it.

In other news, sounds like Dr. Atomic's fundamental crappiness is not succumbing to the Met's shiny new production, despite our fondest hopes.

Watching the neat trailer video, I am re-intrigued the way I was before I actually saw the thing, and entertain ideas of seeing the new production and enjoying it and finding all the disappointment in between has just been a bad dream. But then I try to decide whether I was more bored in 2008 by Dr. Atomic or John McCain's acceptance speech, and I find myself choosing Dr. Atomic. And damn...that is just a tough, tough burn right there.

PS...A: For those of you who have not seen it yet but do have tickets, be warned: close to the end, when you will be praying for the end to come, there will be a countdown bit to the atomic bomb detonation. This countdown is not, I repeat NOT, in real time. It will say 5 minutes, but you still have 20, easy, to endure. Do not be fooled. Thanks to commenter E at Maury's place for reminding us of this. We had clearly repressed it.

Friday, October 17, 2008

What to do with the rest of the year?

A: were you there tonight?
J: duh
A: damn
A: it sounded awesome on the radio
A: KM brought the A-game
J: for serious
J: she was fucking nuts
A: bonus
A: they better not do that shit again for a while if this is it for her
J: I know
A: not many people are going have patience for an adequate salome with this in recent memory
J: I wish I could get a recording of tonight
J: she did some crazy physical things
A: ?
A: huh
A: her debut at the Met was as Donna Elvira
J: I know
A: natch
J: weird
J: she didn't do anything new tonight I guess, it was all just a little more over the top
A: i'm need to come back for those Onegins
J: totes
A: what are you going to do with yourself now?
J: I don't know!
J: worry about the election I guess
A: at least there is still that

Thursday, October 16, 2008

The Last Salomai

Almost at a close. The final "Kopf Des Jokanaan" was marvelous--apparently she's a bass when she wants to be.

Thursday, October 09, 2008


A: catherine and her brother went to see it last night
J: it was way way good last night
A: him: "It was pretty good...I didn't know we were going to see box"
J: hah

Wednesday, October 01, 2008

Things I never got around to posting this summer

July 2

Got to see the last DVo Ariadne at Covent Garden last night.

You know what? I think I'm officially done writing about how new Voigt holds up against old Voigt. Trying to gauge whether a voice is living up to expectations generated by CD recordings of nearly a decade ago is no way to watch or assess a show. Is there a different sound today? Clearly. But time passes and voices change, and unless it's an outright decline issue, there's no use agonizing over the differences.

Anyhow. I enjoyed her a great deal last night. The sound was powerful and big and rich, and far more present than it felt in the Frosch at Lyric. The middle was a bit choppier relative to the soaring top, but one hardly gave a damn by the finale.

As for the less thanked Frosch transplant, Robert Dean Smith: I don't know what was wrong with him in Chicago last year, but you know, between this and his Tristan showing, I may just start going to stuff only because Robert Dean Smith is in it. Is it weird to go to Strauss for the tenor? Be honest.

Zerbinetta was one Gillian Keith, a name I haven't heard before--she served up an admirable enough "Grossmachtige...", but it lacked a certain finesse and didn't inspire that giddy "HOLY SHIT" feeling one hopes for. Life lesson: showpieces only work when they look completely effortless, other wise you kind of just want to tell them there's no need for all the fuss.

I was very partial to Kristine Jepson's Komponist (you may recognize her as a Stefano for a Met R&J). I've been more intrigued by the role since hearing the Troyanos tape on Sirius a few times this spring, and it was fun to hear it live with that in mind, though my opera buddy thought her big notes left a bitter aftertaste.

PS, Covent Garden cheap seats SUCK. They are just armless chairs squeezed as close as possible together and the air conditioning in the upper reaches is pathetic. Plus it is London so everyone has a jacket on because British July is like New York October. Clearly it wasn't enough for the Victorian lower classes to get cholera and spend their childhoods making articifial flowers, they also deserved to be super uncomfortable at the opera. If one can stomach the nausea inducing exchange rate, it is seriously worth it to spring for a lower balcony.