Results tagged “shostakovich” from ARTicles

The difference between going to a concert given by a great string quartet, like the Pacifica Quartet, and even a very good one, like the Belceas, is that in the presence of great musicians, you forget about everything but the music itself.  I'm not saying you don't notice the players' lovely individual characters, or the way they beautifully interact with each other, or even the fact that they are all terrific musicians; these are factors, inevitably, in the way you take in the music at a live concert. But when the musicians are as dedicated, as talented, and as cohesive as the Pacificas are, what finally comes through is the pure expression of the composer's gift. All intermediary considerations drop away:  you do not ask yourself how well this interpretation works, or which of the four musicians plays with the most originality, or even whether this performance accords with your preconceived idea of the piece.  For the duration of the concert, the performance is the piece, pure and unadulterated by any considerations of individual ego or pyrotechnic display.

Or so I felt on Saturday night at the Peoples' Symphony Concert in Chelsea, when the Pacificas performed three of my favorite pieces of quartet music:  Haydn's Op. 76, No. 4, Shostakovich's Second Quartet, and Beethoven's Op. 132.  All critical sensibility dropped away, and I simply relaxed into the pleasure of hearing these gems played perfectly, one after the other.  The Haydn is something I listen to all the time on my iPod; it is part of the background music of my life.  The Shostakovich is dear to my heart: though it was only the composer's second venture into the form, I think it's in some ways the most stirring of his fifteen quartets (and the Pacificas, in my opinion, play it better than anyone else, living or dead). The Beethoven, though undeniably one of his late great quartets, somehow gets shamefully neglected in my internal list of music I care about; it always takes hearing it again, especially in a beautiful performance, to remind me that it is indeed one of the best.

I was thinking approximately these thoughts as we were approaching the end of the powerfully wrenching Heiliger Dankgesang movement in the Beethoven, when suddenly the stage lights went out.  They didn't go out with the abrupt shock of a power failure:  they faded, as if on a predetermined schedule, and at first the audience evidently thought the Pacificas had decided to use lighting effects to echo the music's somber, contemplative mood.  But I know the Pacifica Quartet too well to think they would ever stoop to such flashy tricks, and soon everyone realized that this "trick" had gone on too long.  The Pacificas bravely continued playing in the dark to the end of the movement. Then they paused, and a member of the Peoples' Symphony Concerts staff--the only member of the staff, if I can judge by the fact that he collected tickets, arranged the stage backdrop, and informed us where the bathrooms were--came to the stage and announced that since he couldn't figure out how to turn the stage lights back on, the concert was over.

I consider myself a socialist at heart, and I like the idea of a concert series that charges $13 per ticket and holds its events in high-school auditoriums.  But incidents like this repeatedly prove to me that if something is called the Peoples' This or That, disorganization and incompetence are likely to ensue.  I hate to say that we must have administrative dictatorship and wealthy patronage to make arts presentation possible.  Surely there is some other alternative--some way the People can sponsor the best in musical performances without allowing the lights to go out.
November 11, 2012 6:34 AM |
As some readers of this space may already know, my two favorite choreographers in the entire world are Mark Morris and Alexei Ratmansky.  So it was wonderful to see both of them on the same program, as part of American Ballet Theatre's brief but intense fall season at City Center.

I have followed Mark Morris's own modern dance company religiously since 1990, but the piece on this past weekend's program--Drink To Me Only With Thine Eyes--was made for ABT in 1988, so I had never seen it before.  It is a treat that bears frequent rewatching, because the delicacy of the mesh between music and dance gesture (Morris's specialty, this time built on the piano etudes of Virgil Thomson) emerges only gradually over repeated encounters, and also depends in part on the rhythmic skill of the particular cast.  It is Morris's most Balanchinian ballet, I think, employing many abstract patterns and a lot of couple dancing, frequently placing ballerinas on a tilt, and exhibiting great respect for existing ballet traditions--almost too much respect, I sometimes felt, in comparison to Morris's more adventurous later works in the genre, like Sandpaper Ballet and Beaux (both made for San Francisco Ballet).  But this is merely an observation, not a complaint, for the charm and loveliness of the dance give it a kind of permanent freshness.  Drink To Me reminded me in this regard of Shostakovich's First Quartet--a tentative and endearing venture into a new form by an artist who would ultimately develop complete mastery of that form, displaying youthful ardor, careful restraint, and the early signs of the distinctive artistic personality that would soon emerge full-blown.

Shostakovich may have been on my mind because Ratmansky's new piece--a world premiere, part of a trilogy that he plans to complete by ABT's next season--was set to Shostakovich's Ninth Symphony.  Ratmansky and Shostakovich go way back, and their collaborations are always successful.  I think Symphony #9 might be their best yet.  It is a complete thrill from beginning to end, and so complicated that even after two viewings I could barely grasp its full dimensions. Like the music, the dance ranges from cocky glee to moody anxiety, with room in its vast expanse for the collective celebration of joint purpose, paired intensities of sexual attraction, and even solo contemplations of individual moods.  Some gestures are outright comic, others quietly moving.  The relationship of the corps dancing to the duets and solos is nothing short of brilliant:  they are equally necessary and equally worth watching (which is hard for an audience member to do when they are all going at once).  The complexity of Ratmansky's weave--darkening as the dance progresses, acquiring an element of the fearful and the grotesque even as it continues to simulate and at times achieve cheer and enthusiasm--is perfectly suited to Shostakovich's tone; it explained the symphony to me in a way I have never understood it before.  For this alone I would be grateful, but to have Ratmansky's terrific choreography as well (always true dance, never mere pose or show-trick, as ballet so often is) gave me that marvelous feeling of liftoff that only the very best dance works can supply.     
October 22, 2012 7:06 AM |


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