Posts Tagged ‘the dessoff choirs’

Performance diary: Rufus Wainwright at Carnegie Hall and the Juilliard Orchestra at Alice Tully Hall

December 23, 2010


December 6 –
I’d heard in advance that Rufus Wainwright was making a strong request to audiences for his current concert tour that they hold their applause during the first half of the show, while he plays the song cycle that makes up his most recent record release, All Days Are Nights: Songs for Lulu. I didn’t realize until seeing the show at Carnegie Hall that he was treating this song cycle as a kind of theater piece. He makes a dramatic entrance in silence, processing slowly across the bare stage wearing a thick black cape with a 20-foot train. He sits at the grand piano and proceeds to perform the album’s dozen songs, while video plays of a gigantic blinking blue eye smeared with too much dark eye shadow.  (Visuals by Douglas Gordon, whose photography also graces the cover of the album.) Three of the songs are adaptations of Shakespeare sonnets; the others are somber, dark, and sad, reflecting as they do on his feelings during the final days of Kate McGarrigle, his beloved mother. They’re not his best songs, not especially melodic, rather monotonous in fact, with florid show-offy piano arrangements and lyrics that sound like hasty blog entries. At Carnegie Hall, with its billowing acoustics, many of the lyrics were as difficult to hear as they are to read in the liner notes of the album, where they are written out in Rufus’s flourish-crazy handwriting. When the set was over, he got up and processed offstage as slowly as he arrived. Many of his diehard fans found this act a little hard to swallow, including me, but it certainly showed off the many sides of Rufus: the self-indulgent narcissist, the diva, the ambitious artist always wanting to stretch himself, the little kid playing dress-up, the grieving son.

After intermission he came back onstage dressed more casually in sweat pants (“don’t worry, they’re very expensive!”) to do a another set of favorites for the fans, again with only piano accompaniment. By himself he did “Grey Gardens,” “Memphis” (his tribute to “another New York legend, Jeff Buckley”), “Going to a Town,” “Cigarettes and Chocolate Milk,” and “Dinner at Eight,” a song about him and his father, Loudon Wainwright III, who was in the audience. Rufus brought out Stephen Oremus, the music director for his remake of Judy at Carnegie Hall, to accompany him on a bunch of Garland standards: “Do It Again,” “A Foggy Day,” “If Love Were All,” and “The Man That Got Away.” And he brought out his sister Martha (who looked fabulous in spangly tights and super-high heels) to sing with him on “Moon Over Miami,” “Complainte pour La Butte” (from the Moulin Rouge movie), and “Hallelujah.” And then of course there were tons of encores, beginning with “Poses,” for which Martha came back onstage, this time with her infant son Arcangelo. “We start ‘em young in the Wainwright/McGarrigle tribe,” Rufus cracked. And then a couple more Judy Garland numbers, “Alone Together” and “You Made Me Love You/Me and My Gal.”

It was a celebratory and fun evening, but I was very aware that Rufus started the second half with “Beauty Mark,” his great zesty song about his mother, and ended with one of hers, “The Walking Song,” about the early days of her courtship with Loudon: in its own way a sweet memorial tribute to a wonderful musician and Rufus’s best friend.

Lots of famous fans showed up for the concert. I saw Antony Hegarty (of Antony and the Johnsons), who was sitting in front of Stephen and Alvaro. I spied Frances MacDormand with her Coen Brother, and I chatted with Laurie Anderson, who was there with Lou Reed. Laurie looked great and remarkably relaxed, considering that she’s been on tour much of the year with three different shows. She told me she just performed at a benefit concert with her dog Lolabelle. I was trying to track Lou’s possible connection to Rufus, and then I remembered that Kate and Anna sang the odd little “Balloon” song on his Edgar Allen Poe album, The Raven.

December 11-12: I got behind on blogging because I had a couple of performances of my own with Gamelan Kusuma Laras at the Indonesian Consulate. It was a long and somewhat challenging program. I wasn’t surprised that several of my friends who came to the concerts had their fill and left at intermission. It was a gas for me. I got to play kethuk on one number (the welcoming music, “Clunthang/Kasatriyan”), and then I sang with a chorus of other folks on three other numbers (in ancient Javanese!). It’s been decades since I did so much singing in such a short amount of time. I was a little hoarse afterwards. And then for days I could not get some of this music out of my head….!

December 13: Thanks to my friend Roman, I found myself sitting sixth row center at Alice Tully Hall for a concert by the Juilliard Orchestra, playing two pieces new to me: Prokofiev’s Piano Concert No. 3 and Ravel’s Daphnis and Chloe. Both were fantastic. The Prokofiev turns out to be one of those fiendishly difficult show-offy vehicles for a virtuosic pianist, like Rachmaninoff’s Piano Concert No. 1. In this case, the performer was an unbelievably talented 19-year-old Juilliard student from Virginia named Julian Woo with impossibly long fingers, all the better to play long stretches of crazy cross-handed piano, his fingers literally tickling the ivories, diddlly-diddly-dee. The orchestra, of course, includes basically the cream of the crop of young musicians, passionate and confident and highly attentive, dreamy to hear. And the conductor for the evening is some kind of rising star, Yannick Nézet-Séguin, the Quebecois music director of the Rotterdam Philharmonic who will take over the Philadelphia Orchestra in 2012. He’s a Leonard Bernstein-like dynamo, fantastically expressive, at times leaping off the floor, other times caressing his own cheek to cue the string section. The Ravel was equally exciting and exacting. The excellent programme notes by James M. Keller informed me that Daphnis and Chloe, commissioned by Diaghilev for the Ballets Russes, is Ravel’s longest composition ever with the largest orchestral accompaniment as well, including such rarities as celeste and wind machine. The Dessoff Choirs, which Andy sings with, provided the choral contribution, which consisted entirely of swoony non-verbal aah-ing and oo-ing that at times sounded like the music accompanying certain kaleidoscopic Busby Berkeley dance routines. I’m laughably uneducated at the history and appreciation of the classical repertoire, so I’m glad to get exposed to such treasures, however that happens.

Performance diary: back and back and Bach

May 9, 2010

May 7 – I’m not the kind of theatergoer who sees shows again and again. I have to really like a show to see it more than once. Aside from the Wooster Group, whose every production I have seen three or more times (because I love them so), it’s rare for me to repeat. Same with movies, same with books: I’d rather experience something than revisit something I’ve already encountered, even something I loved. I have seen Fela! three times, and I saw Spring Awakening 4 ½ times (once I employed the time-honored theater-geek tactic of second-acting the show, grabbing a seat in the balcony just to re-live the ecstasy of watching the number “Totally Fucked” rock the house). My friend Tom Dennison is the opposite of me – when he likes something, he likes to watch it over and over. He saw Spring Awakening seven times (and that was after the original cast left), and he’s seen David Cromer’s production of Our Town about a dozen times. I admire that kind of devotion.

My friend Misha Berson, the theater critic for the Seattle Times, was in town this week for her twice-a-year marathon catching up on new shows, and we were supposed to see Enron together. But once they posted their closing notice, it seemed no longer newsworthy to cover, so she switched gears and arranged to see Martin McDonagh’s A Behanding in Spokane. Of course, I had no problem switching gears with you, since I liked the show very much. Seeing it a second time yielded no big rewards, but it was interesting to experience the squeeing of the Christopher Walken maniacs in the audience. Zoe Kazan and Anthony Mackie were very consistent and energized. I got the sense that Walken and Sam Rockwell were laying back, now that the show has been running a while. Not that they were phoning it in, but there was a certain slackness to their energy. Nevertheless, I enjoyed noticing the trade-off: what was lost in a certain kind of Pinter-esque tension, there was a gain in wacky rock-and-roll assurance between those two guys. Walken is so so deadpan, dropping his voice for impact so you have to really lean in and pay attention, while Rockwell relishes playing fast and loose, as if he’s some guy who just wandered onto the set. I did look forward to his front-of-curtain monologue, which does have an explosive impact on the audience. When he says, “I keep waiting for something exciting to happen. Maybe a prostitute will get stabbed…” the audience responds with a combined gasp of horror and surprised laughter. A guy in the balcony got caught up in a bout of barking laughter so helpless that Misha found it creepy, understandably. Classic McDonagh moment.

May 8 – Then Saturday afternoon we reconvened at the Public Theater for my second dose of Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson, which I loved again. I really respect the incredible energy of each individual performer, including the musicians, but of course most of all the charismatic Benjamin Walker in the title role. The staging is tremendous, and the play itself continues to impress me with its daredevil juxtaposition of classic American contradictions – generosity and selfishness, smarts and stupidity, victim and bully. Populism, yeah yeah! I understand they’re putting out an original cast album. Can’t wait! Misha had seen an earlier version of the show in Los Angeles and hadn’t cared for it, thought it was sophomoric and shallow. She liked it much better this time, said they’d sharpened the script, and that the addition of Danny Mefford’s choreography made a huge difference. It is sensational. In the lobby, Misha met a ninth-grade girl who was seeing the show for the third time. I can understand that. There’s a heat and energy to the show that’s just delicious to have blasting at you again and again.

Afterwards, I grabbed a falafel and lemonade at Tahini and then made my way to my next gig, a concert called “The Roots of Bach and Beyond” by the Dessoff Choirs at Calvary St. George’s Church in Stuyvesant Square. Okay, I went because my boyfriend sings with the Dessoff, but I’m so glad I went. It was a beautiful concert, organized and conducted by Patrick Dupré Quigley. The centerpieces were two Bach motets (“Singet dem Herr nein neues Lied” and “Jesu, meine Freude”), one before intermission and one after, each preceded by pieces by composers who influenced Bach: Mendelssohn, Kuhnau, Pachelbel, Schutz, Frescobaldi, and Buxtehude. (I just love saying the name Buxtehude.) Actually, the second half began with “Immortal Bach,” a fascinating, slightly nutty 1988 piece by the Norwegian Knut Nystedt in which the sections hold notes for different intervals. The choir was in fine voice, the acoustics in the church are amazing, and Quigley’s conducting and introductory chats were exemplary. A fine time.

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