Posts Tagged ‘Early Music’

Mini-review – Twelfth Night (with Mark Rylance and Stephen Fry) – Apollo Theater

December 1, 2012

As this show is a transfer from this fall’s production at the Globe, it seems a bit late to be getting in a review of Twelfth Night – it’s already transferred to the Apollo and opening night has come and gone. But I hadn’t seen it yet … well, okay, I saw a production of it a few years back, and to be honest I’m not much for this play. I don’t like seeing Malvolio abused and the central story is not really compelling. But, well, there was Mark Rylance to consider … he is truly an amazing actor. That said, I wasn’t willing to play groundling to see this show at the Globe, and the Apollo transfer is mostly sold out and unaffordable. But then a friend really wanted to go (he liked another actor in the production), and he didn’t care about the price, and so I went and wheedled the people at the box office for returns and suddenly there I was with a pair of tickets in “row O (extra legroom, amazing)” with ace views … and my friend was stuck at the airport due to a royal cock-up with Iberia and missing the show.

Now, really, I have written more than I have to say in the review. ARGH. It’s because I’ve been sick lately and my energy levels have been crap. I’ve managed to keep seeing shows but it’s basically like I’m propped up with a stick and I fall over afterwards. Bonus: I am fully open to being emotionally receptive to a show. Negative: writing is very, very hard.

The Twelfth Night seems to be the first Shakespeare I’ve ever seen that’s been fully, 100% period, bringing me back to the days when I was poring over my husband’s costume history books while he was in graduate school and I was learning about how sleeves could be tied on and slashed to show the wearer’s wealth. As a bonus to the delicious costuming, the whole thing was accompanied by proper period music. My god, what a treat! Sackbuts, archlutes, and shawms ahoy! And for fun, there were two little split-level buildings on the side of the stage where audience members were packed in eyeball to eyeball with the actors. What fun! If those are the day seats, I’ll warn that the view will be very odd and you will miss some stuff, but the opportunity to have Viola launch herself at you or hold Sir Toby Belch’s bottle of booze is not to be sniffed at.

Despite the high attention to period detail, this felt like a stripped down production, with sets mostly consisting of a table and benches with one rotating shrubbery. The focus is meant to be the play, and it felt a bit like the all-male cast was meant to further keep your attention on the words and less on the stage dressing. However, having a man in the role of Viola (Johnny Flynn, ever so yummy) made the complexity of a character that is a woman pretending to be a man … while _played_ by a man … just a tiny bit more brain bending than it would have been otherwise. One of the very best scenes in this production is where Orsino encourages Viola-disguised-as-Cesario to sympathetically mope about love unrequited … while Viola all but pants with desire. In this case, Orsino (Liam Brennan) most intriguedly checks Viola out, as if to say, “Is there something here I’m not getting?” And we’re of course wanting to shout, “For God’s sake, she’s really a girl! Only … it’s a guy! But she’s still really hot!” And the whole thing about collapsed into Victor/Victoria all over again.

Meanwhile, Rylance was, er, fine as Olivia, moving around like he was wearing rollerskates, absolutely as buried in the role as he was in Rooster, with not a bit of Rylance visible, really, through the black gown and veil. But oddly, amongst these many fine actors, it was Olivia’s maid Maria (Paul Chahidi) I loved the most, charming and hammy and giggle-making. Chahidi was no longer a man in a dress but just a funny, funny actor with a role that let him/her fill the stage with personality. It just was not what I expected, that this lesser character in the side plot would be the one that had me sitting in my (very comfy) seat and just basking in her glow: but so it was. Overall: a well-executed production, but not an unmissable one, though this will be the Maria by which I shall judge all others. And Flynn: well, if I figure out what bar the cast hangs out at after the show, as soon as I’ve shaken off this damned illness I’ll be having a pint there regularly, say around 11 PM.

(This review is for a performance that took place on Tuesday, November 27th, 2012. It continues through February 9th, 2013.)

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Review – Jordi Savall and Rolf Lislevand – BBC Proms, Cadogan Hall

August 22, 2008

On Monday, I did the unthinkable : I skived out of work to go see a concert over my lunch hour. Now, in the States, I wouldn’t have considered this too unusual, as in a downtown location I could have easily walked to a concert in a plaza or something (a treat I frequently indulged in back in my days temping at a law office in Seattle), but in London, this required a half hour tube journey to make it to my destination. With time getting to the tube and then to the hall, suddenly my lunch “hour” was two and a half hours long … but, to see Jordi Savall, I was more than willing to push the limits of what was an acceptable time to be away for lunch.

To some degree, to appreciate why I considered it worthwhile to upend my entire day (and race, panting, up several flights of stairs), you have to understand how I feel about Jordi Savall’s musicianship. He is … an artist. He is perfection. He occupies the throne of exaltation previously reserved for the likes of David Bowie, Siouxsie Sioux, and Perry Farrell (and now occupied by Carlos Acosta and Arianna Lallone and Bill Viola, gods who walk the earth alongside us mere mortals).

I spend many of my days at work listening to Otto’s Baroque Music on 1 FM (the irritating commercials are almost made up for by the great music), and I can always tell when Jordi is playing. Maybe it’s something about how he records his music; frequently, the sound quality is so intimate I can hear the light movements as the bow starts to move across the strings, and often even the breathing of the man who holds that bow. It is not like being in the same room as the player; it’s like sitting directly in front of him, like being able to feel the vibrations in the fabric of your clothing. It’s amazing. (It’s also nicely described here if you want to hear someone else rhapsodize about him – it’s not just me.)

I realized one day, sitting here at my computer, that now that I live in Europe, I can get that feeling much more directly by actually going to see him play. I don’t know rich classical musicians; sitting around cloistered away is not how most of them live – they play and they teach. So, as I mentioned in July, I looked and found his touring calendar online, and, much to my delight, discovered he was going to be in London … performing a “BBC Proms” lunchtime concert (whatever it is that a Prom is, it doesn’t seem to have anything to do with wearing long dresses and tuxedos and dancing). I marked it on my schedule, promised my boss I’d make up the lost time … and waited for August 18th to finally roll around.

The concert itself was in Cadogan Hall (pronounced Ka-dug’gin, like “a jug in”), delightfully situated a quick sprint to the right of the exit of Sloane Square tube station. And it’s gorgeous inside, a nice rake so the seats had a good view of the stage, and the upper balcony gorgeously curved around the lower floor – I would recommend it for any concert (of the sort I enjoy, at any rate).

The performance itself was the music I’ve learned to love over the last 15 years, primarily Marais and Ortiz, with Savall on his lovely, English-made viol, and Lislevand alternately on guitar and archlute. A BBC presenter introduced it while I was finding my seat, and talked about each bit of music and its composer – a nice touch, I thought, since I so frequently know nothing more than what I read about them in the program notes (when they bother to make them!). Jordi was also interviewed, which I found very charming (and probably shouldn’t have surprised me, this being a radio show, which I might not have realized – I thought it was just a concert series) – I felt like he was trying to describe the infinite when he was talking about music, and that words were just about not good enough to put the content of his head and heart out there to the world. In addition to the ever popular Preludes and Musettes from Marais’ third book and the Hume pieces I’d heard last winter at St. John’s Smith Square, I also got to here “La Sautillante,” which was new for me, and I was pleased as if I’d found a rare B-side in a record shop.

All in all, the concert wrapped up very nicely within an hour, and I was able to rush back to work and get on with my day … knowing, full well, that when I go back to think about what I did that day, the only thing that I will remember in the future – possibly the only thing I will remember about this entire week – is the gorgeous hour I spent in Cadogan hall listening to the best viola da gamba player in the world doing what he is most brilliant at; making ancient music come to exquisite life.

Here’s the program, which, with luck, might be available to download on the BBC website:

* Ortiz: Passamezzo antico; Folia; Ruggiero Romanesca; Passamezzo moderno (Savall and Lislevand)
* Hume: “A Souldiers March”; “Harke, harke”; “A Souldiers Resolution” (Savall)
* Marais: Pièces de viole, 3è livre – Prélude; Muzettes I/II; La sautillante (Savall and Lislevand, I think)
* Sanz: Jácaras; Canarios (Lislevand)
* Marais Couplets des Folies d’espagne (Savall and Lislevand)

Review – 2008 York Early Music Festival, first weekend – Jordi Savall, Emma Kirkby, and Handel’s “Israel in Egypt”

July 7, 2008

This weekend I took a break from the many delights London has to offer and headed up to York for the first weekend of the York Early Music Festival. I had first heard about it when doing a search for Jordi Savall, when I ran across his touring calendar and … look, there he was going to be in York, which is quite a bit easier for me to get to than, oh, Oslo. And since I hadn’t really been getting my early music fix in London, I thought, why not just do a whole weekend? This became an even more exciting possibility when I realized the program Jordi was going to be performing was one I desperately wanted to hear (music of Marais! the “apotheosis of the viol,” indeed!) and that Emma Kirkby was going to be performing the next day. (She is one of two singers I actively follow, the other being Ellen Hargis.) It was kismet! I booked the time off work and booked train tickets at the earliest possible moment.

What I did NOT do was book tickets for the Jordi Savall concert, which sold out some two months before I made it to York. (I was trying to split up the costs of the trip, but apparently I made the wrong decision about what to get “before” and what to get “after.”) I was on the waitlist, but on the very day of the concert, as I was heading north, I had not been called and there had only been one pair of tickets returned! The Kirby ones and tickets for Handel’s “Israel in Egypt” on Saturday had already been purchased (as had my train tickets), so with a worried heart I headed north, figuring … well, it was still going to be a good trip, and there was always the ghost walk if it completely fell through …

As it turned out, there was only one person ahead of me at the York Minster and I had no problems getting two tickets. In fact, as it was mostly general admission, I found my very early self sitting in the third row – in the lovely building that is the Chapter House of the York Minster, all Gothic carvings and stained glass and a lovely arched dome overhead to just make the atmosphere perfect. I can’t really say that atmosphere extended to the acoustics, however, as they seemed, even in the third row, to be muddy at times, but it often seems that is the case with early music – the instruments just aren’t as piercing as later ones, and a chattering harpsichord can easily drown out the whispers of an archlute.

The program: well, it was everything I had hoped for and the first half of the program (which started with the Marais, “Suite d’un Gout Etranger”) pretty much justified the entire trip. Jordi Savall is the master of the viol, and to hear him playing pieces that Marais, the master composer of the viol, created to “stretch the skill of those who do not like easy pieces” was heaven. At one point (I think the “Allemande La Superbe”), I heard such unusual combinations of notes and techniques that it was like falling out of my own consciousness and into another person’s body. Were these things possible? Can you really play all SEVEN strings at the same time, in harmony with a bow? I was floored. I was in the room with the master. Jordi Savall, Arianna Lallone, Carlos Acosta – there are very few artists who have left me with the gap-jawed feeling I get when I feel I am witnessing genius.

Frankly, after this opening left me weak-kneed and gasping for air, I felt there was little hope of equalling it during the rest of the show. That said, Rolf Lislevand, who provided a lovely accompaniment to Jordi during most of the show, got his chance to rock out solo and took the bit in his teeth and ran. His Spanish guitar suites practically set his strings on fire – I suddenly felt like I was watching some super band at Glastonbury getting an ocean of people up and jumping. Jason and I walked out of the hallway fanning ourselves. Early music: who could ever think it would be so hot! (The audience, of course, expressed its state of rapture by not even breathing, as near as I could tell, during the performance.)

The rest of the evening was fine but I’ll move on to discussing the next evening’s performance: Emma Kirkby and Peter Harvey with a few members of the London Baroque performing songs of the Jewish exodus (as written by 17th century German composers, i.e. Heinrich Schutz and friends). This performance was in the Salvation Army Hall of York, on Gillygate street; as we walked in, I was finding myself remembering the fiery Major Barbara of Shaw’s play and thinking of her preaching away inside of this very building. That said, it was QUITE warm in the building and I think it was affecting those of us in the balcony seats rather negatively – there was much more shifting and coughing, as well as plenty of fanning.

The opening of the concert was four songs on exactly the same text – Psalm 137, “An den Wassern zu Babel” (“By the waters of Babylon/ there we sat down and wept, when we remembered Zion./On the willows there we hung up our lyres …”). Reading the accompanying translation, I was actually quite confused and didn’t realize we were going back onto the same text again and again – it was like Groundhog Day. Once I realized what was going on, I was able to settle down into the pleasure of hearing them side by side, but I utterly lost the benefit of the first one altogether. The final version, by Franz Tunder (whom I’d never heard of before), was completely bizarre – like hearing a normal song played backwards. I’m not sure what was really going on in Germany at that time – the program notes describes a world of rich musical interaction and all of the composers played knew each other – but Tunder seemed to have been in a world of his own. Perhaps he was playing little jokes in his music, such as by hiding mathematical formulas in it or something of the sort.

I have to admit that I don’t really care for German music in general – like Flemish paintings, it just leaves me dry. That said, I found this music, about crying for a fallen country, oddly resonated with me on my country’s Independence Day – it seemed to me to reflect my feelings about a broken state with no hope for the future, a country that had once been great – a source of inspiration, a “beacon of hope” – and now was just a wreck of its former self. A song about Jerusalem being like a woman who’d been widowed and left alone and friendless (by Buxtehude) was particularly sad. Still, my overall feeling was it’s too damned hot in here and even though I enjoyed listening to both singers, I was just desperate to get out of the building and couldn’t realistically comtemplate going to see the lute quartert (Chordophony) that was happening at 10 PM – I needed to reduce my core temperature stat.

My final night in York was spent at the Minster (again!), this time in the main hall, watching the Yorkshire Bach Choir and Yorkshire Baroque Soloists performing Handel’s “Israel in Egypt” – the original, 1739 version that debuted in London (at the Theatre Royal Haymarket, I think). The first section was, like Buxtehude’s “Klagelied” (of the night before), a piece originally written for someone’s funeral – in this case for his patroness, er, Queen Caroline, I think (I’ve stuffed my program notes into a bag somewhere so I can’t say definitively, but the web is out there if you want to figure it out for yourself). The second section was about the plagues that decended on Egypt when Moses was trying to convince the Pharoah to “set my people free!” This music had lots of great illustrative effects for things like falling balls of fire and, er, biting lice and flies (I swear you have to have a good English accent to sing about lice and flies for five minutes with a straight face – an American just wouldn’t have the gravitas to pull it off).

The accompaniment seemed much more evolved than the German music of the night before – to me, music of the late 1600s can sound kind of tweedly and formless, like it doesn’t have a through line but just makes random harmonies. (The program for the German music mentioned its “expert counterpoint,” but I’m afraid I’m too uneducated to pick it out myself.) The cathedral made the organ sound amazingly resonant, like a pudding with some surprise tasty crunchy bits (as if from toffee or coconut) and the orchestra really blended with the organ well. And it was easy to hear the relationship of this music to “The Messiah.” That said …

I had been rained on SO HARD earlier in the day that it seemed like the life had just been washed out of me. Classical music is something I really have to be in peak form to appreciate – well slept and preferably in a fairly good mood. I’d been having an excellent time and mostly getting enough rest (Bowman’s Guest House was delightfully quiet), but walking back to the hotel soaking wet had worn me out and a nap, tea, and dinner hadn’t restored me. I wasn’t spacing out as the music plays, which happens to me sometimes, but I wasn’t really there – I wasn’t connecting to what was happening, probably in part because I didn’t have a person that I could focus on (and I’m not really that keen on hearing biblical texts sung). It’s possible that I just generally am not a good person for choral work and should stick to smaller ensemble stuff. So … at intermission we headed out the door and off to someplace warm (the complete opposite of the night before!) to sit and have a pint or two and play some cards. I’m sorry, Yorkshire Baroque Soloists and Yorkshire Bach Choir, you were all doing fine, but I was not audience enough for you. I hope we shall meet again when I haven’t spent a very recent hour walking around in wet clothing and losing all of my passion for life.

Overall, the weekend was just great – I loved York in both its wet and dry modes and the music I went up there especially to see was very enjoyable. I liked the the programmatic theme for the festival (“Exiled: Music in a Strange Land”), also. With luck I’ll be back next year – or maybe even for their festival in December!