Thursday, November 18, 2010

Two for the Show

We have just returned from several days in New York City. Ostensibly our reason for the trip was to hear the brilliant young violinist, Yevgeny Kutik. The Ferris Burtis Foundation has been helping Yevgeny in his education and career for a number of years and I try to attend as many of his performances as possible.

It turns out that we got two brilliant performers for the price of one. On Tuesday night we were able to get tickets for Stephen Sondheim's brilliant piece of musical theatre, A Little Night Music, which is based on Ingmar Bergman's film Smiles of a Summer Night, which, in turn, is based on Shakespeare's A Midsummer Night's Dream. Not a bad plot line!

An excellent cast portrayed the various characters in the play. But the standout was eighty-four year old Elaine Stritch as Madame Armfeldt! Talk about investing one's self in a role, she commanded the stage in each of her appearances. In 'Liasons', she was on stage alone for a good seven minutes mesmerizing us poor mortals in the audience. I don't know when I've been more captivated and moved by a performance.

From the rest of the cast I especially admired Stephen R. Buntrock, who played and sang the part of Fredrik Egerman. Both his singing and acting were superb.

The one fly in the ointment was Bernadette Peters, cast as DesirĂ©e Armfeldt, but actually playing Bernadette Peters. She has a limited dramatic range. As Alexander Wolcott once said of Tallulah Bankhead: 'She ran the gamut of emotions from A to B.' The original production, which I saw in 1973, starred Glynis Johns, Len Cariou, and Hermione Gingold in the leading roles. Bernadette is no Glynis, trust me.

But that Elaine! What a trouper! What a performer! I guess when you have been doing something for as long as she has, you just know how to get it right. She's a remarkable lady!

Then on Wednesday night, going from the sublime to the even more sublime, we heard Yevgeny Kutik in concert at The National Arts Club in Gramercy Park.

This historic building, once the home of Samuel Tilden, is not the ideal place to hold a concert. The concert room is a rectangular space with folding chairs, much like the concerts I hold in my music studio. But Yevgeny surmounted all odds, playing like a cross between an angel and a demon. Opening with several Preludes from Opus 34 of Shostakovich, and continuing  with Beethoven's Sonata # 3, Largo from the Bach third Sonata for Solo Violin, the amazing Schnittke Sonata No. 1, two excerpts for solo violin from Tchaikovsky's Swan Lake, and ending with the Wieniawski Polonaise No. 1, Op. 4. It was a brilliant program in every way.

His fleet-fingered pianist was Akira Eguchi, who played very well but I much prefer the work Yevgeny does with his long-time piano partner, Tim Bozarth. Familiarity breeds other things besides contempt. 

One distraction was the fact that in a near-by room some group was having a lively, and very audible, dinner party.This bit of poor planning on the part of the National Arts Club distracted me, as I'm sure it did many others in the audience, but Yevgeny has the ability to go so deeply into the music that a bomb could go off and he would not hear it. What an amazing young man. And what an incredible musician. What amazing concentration! Now I want to hear him in Alice Tully Hall and Jordan Hall and with a major symphony. He is more that ready for the big time.

So we heard two performers, born almost a century apart, whose commitment to their art is so enormous that they can bring their audience completely into their heart and hold them there. Bravo to both of them.