Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Oy Vay is mir!

Guilt! Gut-wrenching, soul-searching, deep-seated guilt! That's what My Name is Asher Lev is all about.

It tires me out just thinking about it.

The play, produced at Stage 2 of Barrington Stage, which I saw tonight, is based on a novel of the same name by Chaim Potok. It was made into a play by Aaron Posner, who also directed it.

It deals with a young, Orthodox Jewish boy growing up in a rigid, restrictive home in Brooklyn, who becomes a famous artist but loses his orthodoxy in the process, much to his parents dismay.

Adam Green as Asher Lev gives a powerful performance which is practically a monologue. For an hour and a half he relates his trials, tribulations, and guilt as he progresses from a strict observer of orthodox Jewish mores to a guilty, secular artist. This story is very possibly based on Chaim Potok's own life, in which he went through a similar metamorphosis.

Daniel Cantor as 'The Men', portrays Asher Lev's father, his uncle, the Rebbe, and the artist who takes Asher under his wing, bringing about his fall from grace. He is wonderful in all of these personae with minimal changes of costume.

Renata Friedman as 'The Women' is Asher's mother, an art critic, and a naked art model. She is equally good in these roles, with and without her clothes.   

This is a touching story but is a bit awkward as a play with only three actors. When the parents are speaking to Asher when he is six or ten or twelve, he crouches at the side of the stage to deliver his lines while they speak to an empty chair. This really bothered me. Why not speak to him personally and allow the audience to envision him as a child. He would raise his voice in each case to give the illusion of youth which, to me, would be enough to convince me that he was very young. It kept going through my mind, 'Why are they talking to a chair when he is sitting right there in the corner?'

A very bare set consisting of a table and three chairs set the scene for this one act play.

The idea of this kind of guilt is very bothersome to me, probably because I grew up as a Presbyterian. No guilt there! I did attend Union Theological Seminary in New York City where I got my Master of Sacred Music Degree, but somehow I escaped the need to feel this life-crunching guilt. If I hurt someone, I'm sorry about it. But I don't turn it into a life-long beating of my breast the way the characters in this play do.

I think that any society that is rigid and orthodox to this point, be it Jewish, Christian, or Muslim, will produce this kind of guilt. There is more to life than this.

As you can tell, I am conflicted, (guilty?) about this work for the stage. It must have been a powerful novel but in translation to the stage it puzzles me.

Saturday, August 20, 2011

Point counter Point

Today we spent a very pleasant afternoon in the Norfolk Music shed. My second visit there in a week. Today's concert was by the Norfolk Choral Festival which was co-sponsored by the Yale Institute of Sacred Music.  John taught conducting there after he retired from Harvard in 1990.

Today's program was arranged by Simon Carrington, the Director Emeritus of the School.Simon Carrington at the piano

A number of conducting students led a very fine vocal ensemble in works by Victoria, Monteverdi, Legrenzi, Haydn, McDowall, Britt, Reger, and Ives. They were of varying degrees of expertise. All of them seem to want to conduct with cupped hands. This was always a no-no in my studies with various conductors. Elaine Brown, among others, told us that your choir needs to see a point of contact in your hands. We always extended the index finger which Elaine called our 'baton'. If these people were conducting a less professional choir, the result would have been quite different.

The choir had a very good sound. I don't like what the sopranos were doing on high notes: straight tone with no sense of messa di voce. This produces a shrill sound. Boys voices can do this beautifully; adult women have to hold the sound to achieve this, which I find very unattractive.

The soprano soloist, Sherezade Panthaki, sang in a held-back technique, making her sing just under the pitch much of the time. Her high notes were unpleasant. When she had fioratura to sing, she cut way back on her sound which gave a sense of unbalance to her singing.

The instrumental ensemble was excellent. Mr. Carrington conducted a première, House of Clouds, by Colin Britt, which was interesting but not exciting.

All in all it was a pleasant way to spend a Berkshire Sunday afternoon.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011


Tonight, with two friends, I attended a performance of The Game at Barrington Stage. It is a musical (?) re-working of Les Liasons Dangereuse, a novel from 1782 by Pierre Choderlos de Laclos which was made into a play in 1986 by Christopher Hampton in London, and seen on Broadway in 1988 and again in 2008, and also as a film as well.

By mutual agreement, my two friends and I rose as one and left the theatre at intermission. A boring, lack-luster score did nothing to help the disjointed action and plot. Yet again the women of the cast seemed to equate singing with screaming. This is apparently how it's done these days in certain theatres. After last night's superb performance by Sinfonia Baroque, tonight's event represented the polar opposite of that kind of professional quality.

All of the above authors and playwrights must be churning up the earth from their graves.

The set was beautiful, to give the production its due.

Nuff said!

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Philharmonia Baroque


This evening I had the pleasure of attending a concert given by the Philharmonia Baroque Orchestra of San Francisco led by Nicolas McGegan. It was performed in the historic concert hall on the estate of the Batell family in Norfolk,CT. The estate was left to Yale on the condition that every summer the Yale music school would move to Norfolk to hold its classes and concerts. It is a fine hall.

And it is a fine orchestra. Virtuosic in every way. Maestro McGegan seems to be a jolly man who conducts with verve, often letting the orchestra play on by itself once the music is underway. The members of the orchestra seem to be enjoying themselves much more than many more staid groups I have encountered. They play with energy and musicality.

The program contained works by Vivaldi, Corelli, and Handel and was delightful.

The soloist was Diana Moore, mezzo-soprano. Ms. Moore has an excellent voice and amazing fioratura. The bottom part of her voice lacks resonance and body, but the rest of it is fine.


I was especially eager to hear this group since Lorraine has sung and recorded with Maestro McGegan many times.

Recently an album of Lorraine singing with this group included a spectacular performance of Nuits d'été by Hector Berlioz and several Handel arias. This was Lorraine at the peak of her career.

The group was brought to Norfolk by Dominique Lahaussois and her husband David Low. Interestingly enough, he sang in John's University Choir at Harvard in the 70's. He is on the board of the Philharmonia Baroque.

A reception was held following the concert in a wonderful barn on the property of the hosts. A great time was had by all.

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Yevgeny in Prague

I am happy to announce that Yevgeny Kutik will make his début in Prague, Czech Republic next May 23 at the Lobkowicz Palace in Prague Castle. This is a joint effort of the Ferris Burtis Foundation and my dear friend William Lobkowicz.

William Lobkowicz and myself at the Prague Opera House in April.

Recently Yevgeny has performed in London and at the Friedrichsberg Festspiel in Germany. For his complete concert schedule see

The Ferris Burtis Music Foundation is pleased to help brilliant young artists like Yevgeny further their careers.

Gifts to the Foundation may be sent to Maeve O'Dea, Berkshire Taconic Foundation, 800 North Main Street, Sheffield, MA 01257. All gifts are tax deductible.

Proceeds from my newest book, Case Studies in Vocal Pedagogy are also going to the Foundation. For a copy, send a check for $20.00 made out to Ferris Burtis Foundation, to Herbert Burtis, 53 Rood Hill Road, Sandisfield, MA 01255. This will also be tax deductible since all profits are earmarked for the Foundation.

Bravo Yevgeny!