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December 2008 Archives

December 20, 2008

Celebrating Elliott Carter and Randy Hostetler

This past fall, the Dresser entered the Living Room of Randy Hostetler where a tenth anniversary concert of experimental music played. Not without regret the event receded into the past before the Dresser could apply her fingers to her keyboard to make note of the October 13, 2008, program held at the Sidwell Friends School in Washington, DC. (Yes, this is the school where President-elect Obama is sending his daughters.) What has brought The Randy Hostetler Living Room Music Project concert back into view was a Library of Congress concert in tribute to Elliott Carter on the occasion of his 100th birthday December 11, 2008.
elliot_carter.jpgA number of people who either participated in or attended the Living Room concert also were seen at the Carter tribute concert reminding the Dresser of the earlier concert. Furthermore, one does not have to search very hard to see that concerts including the music of the wunderkind Randy Hostetler, randy.gifwho died at the age of 32, invariably showcase the music by the esteemed centenarian Elliott Carter. After all, experimental classical music commands a small but rarefied audience.


First the Dresser will talk about the more recent concert which was one of many mounted around the world in honor of Carter. Carter was in New York on his birthday at a tribute concert there. The Library of Congress program was spearheaded by composers Steve Antosca and Judith Shatin both of whom were premiering compositions inspired by Carter's thematic interests in time and wind. The McKim Fund of the Library of Congress commissioned both Antosca's and Shatin's new works. Antosca, as Artistic Director of the accomplished Verge Ensemble (all the musicians who played at the Carter concert were Verge members), was also the concert's co-producer with the Library of Congress.


Verge_LC_11Dec2008_StAntosca-277x426.jpg Antosca's piece "kairos - time outside of time for violin, harpsichord, and computer" opened the tribute. The Dresser felt transported beyond Earth into space. But since the Dresser just read in John Adams's memoir Hallelujah Junction that there is "no music in outer space because there is no air to transport the vibrations," the Dresser must be influenced by György Ligeti's music in Stanley Kubrick's film 2001: A space Odyssey. Antosca's composition seems to be about texture and color, but the underpinnings are complex rhythms. Violinist Lina Bahn and harpsichordist Lura Johnson responded brightly to the computerized sounds manipulated by Antosca from the rear of the Coolidge Auditorium. Verge_LC_11Dec2008_LinaLura_kairos-600x398.jpg


Verge_LC_11Dec2008_Carole_Scrivo-398x600.jpgNext on the program were three separate compositions by Carter: "Scrivo in Vento for solo flute" played by Carole Bean, Verge_LC_11Dec2008_Warner_EightPieces-398x600.jpgtwo movement from Eight Pieces for Four Timpani executed by percussionist William Richards, and "Enchanted Preludes for flute and cello played by Bean and Tobias Warner on cello. Of these three compositions, the Dresser enjoyed best the solo flute number that featured a fluid and seductive melody with odd bursts of tooting. "Scrivo" is based on Francesco Petrarca's (Petrarch in English) lyric sonnet and the Dresser understands the touting to be the wind interrupting the poet's writing.

Verge_LC_11Dec2008_LinaLura_Tower-398x600.jpgShatin's four-movement work Tower of the Eight Winds for violin and piano opened the second half of the program. For the Dresser, this was the pièce de résistance and she would like to hear this again. While Shatin is known for her electronic music, the instrumentation was solely acoustic. The Dresser characterizes the four movements of Tower (all named for specific winds) as follows: "Taku" (a gusty October through March Juneau, Alaska wind): intense, very emotionally engaging; "Barber" (a wind carrying freezing spray): delicate; "Caver" (a gentle breeze of the Hebrides): lyric, especially played by the agile Lina Bahn on violin; and "Williwaw" (a sudden blast of wind originating in the snow and ice covered mountains and moving forcefully through the Aleutian Islands and Straits of Magellan): soulful and strong.

The program concluded with work by Carter--two more movements from Eight Pieces for Four Timpani and A Mirror on Which to Dwell for Soprano and Chamber Orchestra. The latter composition is based on six poems by Elizabeth Bishop. The Dresser liked the setting of the fourth poem "Insomnia" and the fifth poem "View of the Capitol from the Library of Congress." What appealed to the Dresser's ear in both of these settings was the musical texture. Particularly appealing in poem 5 was the voice of the clarinet. The Dresser thinks soprano Kathryn Hearden gave a reasonably good performance of particularly difficult music.


By comparison, the Carter tribute seemed conservative in the wake of the Living Room concert where an empty armchair sat on the stage for Randy Hostetler. Here's a quick scan of what was presented with each composition's date of premier, composer, performing musicians and a short comment.


(2005) by Karlheinz Essl, played by Jenny Lin on toy piano with CD playback.
The Dresser was both fascinated and annoyed with this piece. It was hard to tell where all the sounds were coming from. At first the Dresser wondered if the pianist was playing accompaniment to a recording. Some of the exotic sounds seemed like those from a gamelan ensemble. In one passage, annoying ascending and descending scales seemed like a waterfall. In another passage, the sound produced was like a loudly ticking mantel clock.

Electric blue pantsuit (2007) by Alexandra Gardner, played by Jennifer Choi on violin and Gardner on computer. jennyalex.jpgThe Dresser found this piece satisfyingly textured with the violin and computer engaging in conversation that included minimalist riffs.

Short Talks, for Piano and Drum (2008) by Greg Sandow, played by Jenny Lin. Although the Dresser found this piece gimmicky--the pianist plays the keys with one hand while the other taps what looks to be a homemade drum that sits in her lap--the piano line was graceful and the drum accents appealing.

Continue reading "Celebrating Elliott Carter and Randy Hostetler" »

December 25, 2008

500 Clown Makes an Elephant Deal

So the Dresser, being bored with the music selection during a big dance party at a fabulous house in DC's Rock Creek Park this holiday season, asked her friend Victoria, what was the elephant deal? OK, here's what the two of them knew going in--the University of Maryland commissioned 500 Clown to do a new work. The work would be developed with selected students during a 500 Clown residency at the University. On December 14, the last day of 500 Clown and the Elephant Deal, the Dresser and her friend Victoria showed up at the Clarice Smith Performing Arts Center Kogod Theatre and in an effort to stay out of the action of the play, the Dresser carefully selected seats, knowing from having seen 500 Clown Macbeth not to sit up front or on the aisle.


In the director's note of the playbill, Leslie Buxbaum Danzig confesses that back in 2006, her group started working with composer/lyricist John Fournier on an idea to adapt Bertolt Brecht's play Mann Ist Mann (A Man's a Man) during a three-year residency at University of Chicago and this is how 500 Clown and the Elephant Deal at the University of Maryland got started. In Brecht's play, one of the characters asks, what is an elephant compared to a man?

Now, what about the elephant deal? OK, the Dresser isn't there yet, just like she wasn't one with the Cajun/zydeco selections at the holiday party. Here is what she knows about A Man's a Man. This comic play about a naïve man who is made into a killing machine premiered in 1926, but between 1924 and 1938, Brecht rewrote the piece at least ten times. One part of the play became a one-act surreal farce called The Elephant Calf. In The Elephant Calf, the naïve man whose name is Gayly Gay is a baby elephant accused of murdering his mother.


Are we there yet--the elephant deal? And why didn't the Dresser ask the hosts of the dance party to play more swing which is what she prefers? Dance etiquette says a dancer needs to shut up and follow; therefore she enjoyed the art on the walls and the pick-up live jamming of folk tunes being done in a backroom of the house. Now here's a sketch of what took place on December 14. Like 500 Clown Macbeth, the first order of business was for the players to interact with the audience and make late-arrivers to 500 Clown and the Elephant Deal part of the show. And this was pretty intimidating because the three players starting the show were dressed in army fatigues and like the opening of A Man's a Man, the soldiers were looking for a patsy.



The next scene (and mind you, all of this show is fluid with no intermission, no set changes, and no pause between scenes) brought Madam Barker (played by 500 Clown Molly Brennan) climbing into the audience from the back of the house (this happened in 500 Clown Macbeth too). She set up the play and acted as a middleman between the soldiers and the musicians who were at the back of the staging area. The setting is East Berlin, this is her cabaret, and she confesses to having done "some terrible things." DSC_0017-preview.jpg

The Madam also asked the audience to invoke their imaginations to provide what might be missing, like the chair she planned to sit on. So while she went on about the missing chair, the soldiers scrambled in the darkened theater and plunked down a chair to the great "surprise" of Mme Barker who thanked the audience for their powers of imagination that had "moved matter" and then the madame pulled on the bodice of her blouse and said, "Now do my tits." (Bada bing! Ah, the burlesque!)


A series of songs, some of them smooth jazz, some of them tango, some of them rock, ensued from this point including one that is about an elephant deal. Name-dropping--Myrna Loy, Oscar Wilde, Mack the Knife--happens. Quotations from known literary works occur--for example, from Robert Frost's poem "The Road Not Taken" came the line "Two roads diverged in a yellow wood." And most importantly a patsy though not really a Gayly Gay (played by 500 clown Adrian Danzig) is found in the audience and his girl friend is dragged into the action of the play.

Eventually the music morphed from delicious original to stolen (shh, don't tell anyone!)--there are riffs on the samba song "Brazil" and "Jumping Jack Flash" (remind the Dresser some time to tell you how in Prague through her bedroom window, the Rolling Stones serenaded her with this song). The Dresser also was reminded of game playing by Cocky and Sir in The Roar of Grease Paint, the Smell of the Crowd--why? Because the rules of the game changed or a new game was called when the alpha male started to lose.

Continue reading "500 Clown Makes an Elephant Deal" »

About December 2008

This page contains all entries posted to THE DRESSING in December 2008. They are listed from oldest to newest.

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