Sunday, June 26, 2016

Yale at Norfolk

This afternoon David and I heard an interesting program of contemporary music at the Yale Summer Music School at the Ellen Battell Stoeckel Estate in Norfolk, CT. Mrs. Stoeckel left her enormous estate including the large concert hall to Yale University to be used used as a summer music school. Battell Chapel at Yale is named for her father.

The composers represented were members of the Yale Faculty: Aaron Jay Kernis, Martin Bresnick, David Lang, Hannah Lash, and Christopher Theofanidis.

Image result for alan jay kernis photos

The program opened with Mr. Kernis's Second Ballade, a work for 'Cello and piano. The performers were Nicoletta Favari, piano and Anna Suda, 'cello. The work seemed to be of two dimensions, one, what was going on in the 'cello and the other what the piano was doing. They occasionally met somewhere in the middle. The performers did a good job with the work.

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Next came Josephine the Singer based on a story by Franz Kafka about a tiny Mouse Diva. I've worked with Divas but none of them were mice. This work was composed by Martin Bresnick. The violinist was Lili Sarayah. The piece begins with the violinist playing tiny, scraped sounds in harmonics- very mouse-like. Eventually it opens up to a fuller sound in the middle and comes back to the mouse sounds at the end. One hearing was enough for me.

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Then came Unchained Melody by David Lang. The composer explained that he gave the percussionist seven pitches on the marimba to do what he wanted. His task was to always hit a different percussion instrument whenever he played one of the seven notes. I only picked out four different pitches, played on various small instruments that were spread out on a music stand, There was also a bass drum and an unsnared drum. Basically the percussionist makes up the piece as he goes along, choosing his instrumentation and rhythm (I guess) as the piece progresses. The percussionist was Christopher Salvitto and was excellent. The piece goes on for too long and, as the composer said, it would be different at any hearing. So the percussionist is as much the composer as the 'composer'. I put this in the compositional 'Less work for Mother' category.

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Then we heard Hannah Lash's Leaves, Space for Harp and Bass Fiddle. The performers were Joseph Rebman, harpist, and Samuel Babinski, bassist. This was a rhapsodic work which worked well for the two instruments, not requiring a lot of technique from either. Having heard Ed Baker play with Yevgeny Kutik a couple of weeks ago, this was a very different sort of performance. An occasional melody in the bass, quite a lot of pizzicato, some strumming from the harp, not one glissando! That is, after all, something the harp can do that no other instrument can duplicate. Years ago, in my mis-guided youth, I played the harp. This young man used the same technique I was taught, that of Marcel Granjany, where as you pluck a string you bring your finger back to the palm of your hand, creating a rich sound. The other technique being taught at the time was that of Nicolo Zabeletta, where you pulled the string away from the harp, making a louder but harsher sound.

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The program ended with Christopher Theofanidis's Flow my Tears for solo viola. This again was a more romantic piece played well by Alfonso Noriega-Fernandez.

I am assuming this represented the entire Composition Faculty at the Yale Conservatory. I did not hear a lot of widely different musical ideas being floated about. It was an interesting afternoon.

Wednesday, June 22, 2016

Kimberly Akimbo

Kimberly Akimbo is an odd play by David Lindsay-Abaire, who won  a Pulitzer Prize for his play Rabbit Hole in 2007.

Last night in Barrington Stage's production at the St. Germain Stage I was both interested and puzzled at the performance.

Image result for debra jo rupp  Debra Jo Rupp

The cast included Debra Jo Rupp as Kimberly, Chris Thorn as Buddy, Jessiee Datino as Pattie, Adam Langdon as Jeff, and Jessica Savage as Debra.

Image result for chris thorn actor  Chris Thorn

The plot centers around Kimberly, who has the Hutchinson–Gilford progeria syndrome. This disease was first detected in 1886 and the symptoms consist of the rapid aging effects of the bodies of children, most of whom only live into their teens or early twenties. It is extremely rare, occurring only once in about eight million people.

Image result for jessiee datino   Jessiee Datino

As you might guess, this gets the plot of the play off to wild beginning.

Image result for adam langdon  Adam Langdon

Pattie, Kimberly's mother is pregnant again and seems to be accident prone. Throughout the play her hands are wrapped in large bandages after her surgery for carpal tunnel syndrome, caused by a long time job of pumping creme into Twinkies knock-offs. Later in the play she wears a large 'boot' on one foot plus a neck brace after falling off a loading ramp at the hospital. In short, she is a mess!

Image result for jessica savage  Jessica Savage

When Debra Jo Rupp first appeared with Christ Thorn, who plays her father, I whispered to David, 'Why is that older woman playing a high school girl?'

A bit later the playwright explained that Kimberly was affected by Progeria, which helped the casting make sense.

Jeff, a fellow high school student, is writing a paper on Progeria and wants help from Kimberly to complete his study of the disease. She seems perfectly happy to discuss the syndrome with him.

Debra shows up; a tough, ex-con sister of Pattie, who has a plot to rob a bank. She has stolen a US Postal box, which she wheels onto the stage on a dolly, planning to extract the checks she finds in envelopes, somehow get rid of all the writing on each one except for the signature, rewrite them made out to Jeff and have him cash them at a bank.

So Debra, Kimberly and Jeff are the 'criminals' in the plot and Buddy and Pattie the unknowing bystanders.

Are you still with me?

Each member of the cast was excellent in his or her role, which included  much intentional over-acting, a lot of very loud talking and almost too much physical movement, especially in Act I, and a lot of very funny lines written by Mr. Lindsay-Abaire. For instance, Kimbery explains to her father not to worry if she has sex with Jeff because she went through menapause at age 12.

It took quite a lot of discussion in the car on the way home between Barbara, Paul, David, and myself, to try to sort the whole thing out.

Apparently Pattie had been impregnated for Kimberly's birth by a neighbor in Secacus, NJ, who was later killed by Debra, but who carried the gene for Progeria. This caused the family to move to Bogota, NJ, the scene of the play. Her current pregnancy by Buddy will supposedly not produce another child with this syndrome.

The three 'criminals' get the money from the bank, argue over how to split it, and finally Kimberly and Jeff run off with the entire swag and head for Six Flags Amusement Park, a place Buddy has promised to take Kimberly for years and never has.

The ending reminded me of the end of Gian-Carlo Menotti's The Old Maid and the Thief, which I produced years ago in New Jersey, and which, co-incidentally starred Barbara's husband as Bob. In the opera the Old Maid's maid Letitia and Bob run off with the swag.

The play was directed by Rob Ruggiero and was very fast paced in Act I slowing down a bit in Act II. I'm still not sure what I think of it as a stage work. I doubt that it is Broadway bound, but it's anybody's guess.