Saturday, June 8, 2013

Clouds blow away on my last full Spoleto day

That's a wrap

Posted by Jeffrey Day on Sat, Jun 8, 2013 at 11:57 AM

It’s about 11:30 Friday night and I’m wrapping up my final full day at the festival.

As you know the day dawned with nasty weather, but got better; for me, as the weather got better the art declined a bit.

I started in the late morning with the Happy Music for a Crappy Day concert at the Dock Street Theatre - fun and sunny music by Darius Milhaud, Jean-Marie LeClair, Benjamin Britten, and Haydn blew away the storm.

The Milhaud consisted of eight little — and I do mean little, as in about 37 seconds long — pieces played by guys who like to hang out and play this sort of thing for fun: James Austin Smith on oboe, Todd Palmer on clarinet, and Peter Kolkay on bassoon. And they did have fun.

The LeClair was a sonata for two violins (Daniel Phillips and Livia Sohn), a lively Baroque period piece that you could dance to.

The Britten Phantasy Quartet was written in 1932 when the composer was only 19 and is one of his many works featuring the oboe (Smith again, who is the most chill oboe player I’ve ever seen) although the rest of the crew (cello, violin, and viola) get to do some cool things as well. The opening themes are broken down and come back in various guises and while the “Phantasy” of the title may seem to imply casualness, the piece has a very tight structure. That kid Britten was good.

Haydn’s Symphony in F major, No. 94 is well-known, especially by its more informal name “The Surprise Symphony.” The piece goes along nice and calmly, lulling the listener, then — bang, everything comes charging in. It’s said Haydn did this to wake up London audiences who tended to fall asleep during the slow movements and chamber series host Geoff Nuttall encouraged those in the Dock Street to do the same. In this arrangement for chamber group, the “surprise” isn’t all that loud (maybe they should have brought percussionist Steven Schick back for this one), but by that time the concert was wrapping up and the sun had come out.

Since the sun was out and I didn’t have to be anywhere for a bit, I ducked into the Robert Lange Studio gallery where I was completely taken with the paintings by an artist new to the gallery, Michelle Jader. The paintings of figures in motion are done on several layers of stacked sheets of acrylic which reveal the images beneath, as if through a thick fog. It sounds a little gimmicky, but the paintings are excellently executed and honest.

In spite of an extremely annoying technical glitch, the final Music in Time concert turned out to be one of the best in this year’s very good series. This one, like most of the others, spotlighted members of the festival orchestra.

The concert opened with Missy Mazzoli’s Death Valley Junction (for string quartet), inspired by an old opera house she came across in the desert. The 2010 piece was commissioned by Santa Fe New Music, which Spoleto resident conductor and founder of Music in Time John Kennedy runs. I’ve been a fan of Mazzoli’s for a few years, due in part to performances of her work in Columbia as part of the Southern Exposure new music series and the S.C. Philharmonic, but if I’m not mistaken it’s never before been played at Spoleto. Death Valley is both driving and expansive, giving a sense of the open space of the desert, but also the strange setting of an opera house in the middle of nowhere.

Poor clarinet player and composer Gleb Kanasevich couldn’t get the computer to kick in so he could play his piece for clarinet and “tape.” If it had been for actual “tape” he wouldn’t have had to mess around with the computer for more than five minutes before finally giving up and the concert moving on. He came back later with a more cooperative computer and amazing technique — all was forgiven.

Vibraphone player George Nickson took charge performing a moderately interesting solo piece by his friend from music school Andreia Pinto-Correia. He and violinist Samantha Bennett really soared on Paul Lansky’s Hop. Nickson was also impressive in talking eloquently about the piece while moving gears around the stage.

Thinking I might have to leave early to go to another event, I moved to the back of the hall just before the performance of In a Spring Garden by Toshio Hosokawa, composer of this year’s new opera Matsukaze.

It’s a calm, beautiful meditative piece, but not simplistic. I’m very happy I stayed.

Had just enough time to run up to the Rebekah Jacobs Gallery for a look at a Southern photography show. It includes about a dozen small color photos by William Christenberry of the wonderful sort he’s been shooting in his native Alabama for decades, along with large landscape images of South Carolina by Eliot Dudik and of the Mississippi Delta by Kathleen Robbins, both who teach at the University of South Carolina.

Then it was back to the College of Charleston for Indian dance by Shantala Shivalingappa and her musicians (vocals, percussion, flute) who were at the festival in 2008. I was only able to stay for half the show, seeing a dance to Ganesha, one to Shiva, and an amazing drum piece that Steve Reich fans would have appreciated. So I don’t think I got the full impact of the performance.

What prompted me to leave early was something I’d stumbled upon after last Sunday’s Music in Time concert featuring composer and musician Nathan Davis. While I was researching his work, I discovered that he had written music for The Other Mozart, which was going to be performed as part of Piccolo. (Neither Spoleto nor Piccolo mentioned this overlap in any of their materials.) So I messed around with my schedule to make it fit. Davis co-wrote incidental music for the one-woman play about Wolfgang Mozart’s older sister Maria Anna “Nannerl,” herself a precocious prodigy who at a 10 years old toured Europe playing concerts with her brother and father.

The music and sound effects are effective, but the writing and performance by Sylvia Milo are not. For most of the play, she’s planted at the center of the stage surrounded by papers (letters and notices praising her and her brother, letters the two of them exchange about troubles, excitement, opportunities, boredom) spread out around her and a sort of dress form, all of which are used for a pretty visual effect at the end.

The play makes the probably accurate and rather obvious point that Nannerl is forgotten because she was a woman trying to operate in a world dominated by men. The play undermines this very point by speaking about a very famous woman composer and performer from that period. And it could be that her brother was a genius and she was not (which the play also acknowledges.) Maybe a little fiction would have come in handy in writing this play. The biggest flaw is that it does what it accuses history of doing — after the mid-point, it focuses more on Wolfgang than Nannerl, perpetuating the very issue it was trying to solve.

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