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Arts & Entertainment Preview - November 1998
B Y A U S T I N B A E R
Recycling the Ring
Der gerettete Alberich (Alberich Saved), a new fantasy for percussion and orchestra by the American composer Christopher Rouse, begins where Wagner's Ring of the Nibelung leaves off: in a blaze of transcendence meant to express the redemption of the world through love. Consider the irony: what sets Wagner's four-day saga of cosmic calamity in motion is Alberich's renunciation of love -- an act by which he hopes to gain universal power. As Rouse has observed, the evil dwarf is the single major character of whose fate Wagner leaves us in doubt. By the final curtain the hero lies slaughtered, the heroine has hurled herself on his funeral pyre, and the gods, too, have gone up in flames. Does the villain live to fight another day? Rouse floats the possibility, appropriating fragments from Wagner's epic for a pendant decidedly his own. The part of Alberich in this twenty-two-minute sequel belongs to the percussion phenomenon Evelyn Glennie, to whom it is dedicated. Rouse denies having had in mind any detailed scenario, but in the solo that comes right after the opening Wagner quotation, the battered schemer is all but visible before us, scraping back to life from stunned defeat to set out on a rampage. Few listeners will fail to catch his surprise reincarnation as a rock drummer -- the one narrative vignette the composer does acknowledge. This nifty new vehicle, first heard in Cleveland, should give Glennie a long ride. Now Alberich reaches the Philadelphia Orchestra, which offers premieres at home (November 5-7; 215-893-1999) and at Carnegie Hall (November 10; 212-247-7800).
Junior Paganinis have been showing up with alarming frequency lately: teenage fiddle virtuosi of nigh on diabolical proficiency, whom audiences, the press, and record labels waste no time elevating to the empyrean. Corey Cerovsek is stealing into the public consciousness more quietly. November, a fairly typical month, brings recitals in Omaha; Morrow, Georgia; and La Crosse, Wisconsin; plus the Sibelius Violin Concerto with the Syracuse Symphony in
upstate New York. Low-visibility gigs, but over time Cerovsek may well prove to be one of the two or three most respected names in his crowded field. A recital in New York City with his sister, Katja Cerovsek, bore witness to his imaginative reach. At one extreme the Michelangelo-esque drama of the Kreutzer Sonata unfolded with all the fire and individuality that Beethoven demands. At the other Messiaen's limpid Thème et Variations received a reading of calm, smiling rapture. Taken all in all, Cerovsek's playing conveyed a relaxed civility, a mastery borne with grace. If these in turn suggested intellectual horizons of unusual breadth, the impression was not misleading. Eight years ago, at age eighteen, the young concert artist completed the course work for doctorates in both music and mathematics at Indiana University. Though music-making has pushed formal academics aside, his passion for interdisciplinary inquiry has by no means subsided. Links between philosophical and physical representations of time and space are on his mind of late. Does such study affect his playing? Cerovsek does not hazard a guess. Mental gymnastics are as indispensable to him as music."If I practiced eight hours a day, I might become two percent more accurate," he allows. "But I'm against the notion of music as sport."
Soul Music (ca. 1152)
After seven centuries of neglect, the good abbess Hildegard von Bingen (1098-1179) is enjoying a vogue that many a saint might envy. In her long and pious life she churned out reams of prose and poetry, much of it drawn from her own mystic visions. She set oodles of it to music, too. Beyond the fact that it was all monophonic, we will never know how it sounded. Her notation specifies pitches only, not rhythms. To what extent instruments played along with the voices is likewise dismayingly open to conjecture. Undaunted, an ever-widening circle of antiquarian performer-scholars are offering their reconstructions to ever-widening circles of enthralled listeners. Sequentia, the Cologne-based early-music ensemble, spearheaded the Hildegard renaissance in the early eighties with Ordo Virtutum, an allegorical Play of the Virtues in which the fallen soul is called back to salvation by the dulcet homilies of more than a dozen such personifications as Charity, Chastity, Hope, and Fear of God. (Interference from the Devil comes in the form of shouting; no music for him.) This month, in the wake of their second recorded Ordo (on Deutsche Harmonia Mundi), Sequentia visits churches in Durham, Boston, St. Paul, Ann Arbor, Kansas City (Missouri), Stanford, and Los Angeles with a staged production of the work. Between processionals this talky proto-opera is a fairly static affair, but when the voices of Sequentia's Virtues peal forth, their ravishing purity revives for a blessed spell a long-gone age of faith.
Austin Baer is a writer based in New York.
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