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Arts & Entertainment Preview - June 1999

Classical Music
B Y   A U S T I N   B A E R

The Émigré Experience

  The maestro MTT

Like George Balanchine, like Vladimir Nabokov, Igor Stravinsky bore Russia with him to America, and the cultural landscape was never the same after. This month the San Francisco Symphony and its ebullient maestro MTT (does anyone spell out Michael Tilson Thomas anymore?) give Igor the Great the sort of festival he deserves. The wild man who set the globe atremble with Le Sacre du printemps (still crazy after all these years) rubs elbows with the creator of the fleet, delicate Pulcinella, an homage to the proto-Mozartean Pergolesi. The composer's multifaceted American period will be represented by pieces for Barnum & Bailey, Broadway, and Hollywood. The nimble Agon and the sleek, driven Symphony in Three Movements, scores revered by balletomanes, who know them as choreographed by Balanchine, will be played as well -- no doubt a deal better than is usual in the theater. The perennial favorite L'Histoire du soldat will get an airing, and Grace Cathedral will reverberate with the master's often austere religious work. Occasions to experience Stravinsky in the round are surprisingly rare, so MTT's festival qualifies as quite an event. (Providentially, RCA Victor Red Seal has just stocked the record chains with a new three-CD set of Stravinsky by the San Francisco forces.) There is, we might add, a personal connection. Growing up in Los Angeles, the budding maestro met and heard Stravinsky on many occasions, and gained a firsthand impression of the music's folkloric, swinging quality, which cool, analytical modernists tend to overlook. For program details and tickets call 415-864-6000.


Trisha Brown's L'Orfeo  

Much as books are judged by their covers, opera productions are often judged by photographs and out-of-town press. Dangerous, of course. But the images of the traveling L'Orfeo of Monteverdi -- directed and choreographed by the postmodern dance luminary Trisha Brown, in her first such effort -- look so ravishing that caution is lightly thrown to the winds. Designed by Roland Aeschlimann, the scenes look at once cool and rich, abstract yet effortlessly mesmerizing. The musical responsibilities rest with the baroque specialists of the Concerto Vocale and the Collegium Vocale under their leader, René Jacobs, formerly a countertenor, now a maestro full of vibrant, idiosyncratic ideas. (The ensemble's recording of Mozart's sly, diabolical Così fan tutte on Harmonia Mundi documents Jacobs's style in all its occasionally exasperating fascination.) Reviews from abroad have been ecstatic for L'Orfeo, and notably for Simon Keenlyside, who sings the mythic bard. June 10-13, at the Brooklyn Academy of Music, American audiences get to weigh the evidence firsthand (718-636-4100).

Aspen at Fifty

  James Conlon conducts

Somewhere along the way, from the opening evening with the violinist Sarah Chang and friends to the concluding concert rendition of Verdi's Aida, the fare at the fiftieth Aspen Music Festival is bound to tempt serious music lovers of almost any stripe (June 24-August 22; 970-925-9042). From the baroque Bach and Rameau to the twentieth-century classics Copland and Stravinsky and beyond, the programming covers the spectrum. Ritual Incantations, a cello concerto by Augusta Read Thomas, receives its world premiere on July 16. Belladonna, a new opera by Bernard Rands to a libretto by Leslie Dunton-Downer, follows on July 29 and 31. Inspired by Plato's dialogue The Symposium, in which such banqueters as the sage, wrinkled, dirt-poor Socrates and the gilded young military hero Alcibiades debate the nature of love, Belladonna moves the time to the present day and gives the floor to a predominantly female cast. The composer's cultivated mind and gracious musical voice ensure results as illuminating as they are bewitching -- not least for the orchestra, which includes some of the most promising young instrumentalists from conservatories around the world, all summering as students at the Aspen Music School. Music, more than most disciplines, is a communal affair, in which masters and emerging talents refresh one another's art. Certainly it is so in Aspen, where those who by day are students and faculty meet by night, in performance, as fellow musicians in the orchestra. Any lack of experience on the part of the junior members is compensated for by their joy of discovery -- which in turn fires up such maestros as Yuri Temirkanov, James Conlon, and James Levine, himself an Aspen alumnus, returning this summer after an absence of twenty-five years. Heaven is the destination in Mahler's cosmic Symphony No. 3, and for the audience, Levine's account (August 1) is bound to be tremendous. For the orchestra, it should be something more.

Austin Baer is a writer based in New York.

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Photo Credits -- MTT: Terrence McCarthy. Aspen: Klaus Rudolph. L'Orfeo: Johan Jacobs.
Copyright © 1999 by The Atlantic Monthly Company. All rights reserved.

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