POSTED ON JANUARY 25, 2012:
Ears and No Fears
Aural treats and Bertolt Brecht in a good mood
Many in the Tulsa audience may know more about the football stats of Mr. Time ToBow, er, um, I mean, Mr. Tim Tebow, than the composer, Brahms. But to classical music fans, missing the one afternoon performance of the utterly dynamic Miro Quartet, presented by Chamber Music Tulsa, would be like missing the Super Bowl . . . so to speak.
Touted as one of America's highest profile groups in the chamber music scene today, the music is far from inaccessible. The program of the 3pm performance at the Williams Theatre of the Tulsa Performing Arts Center starts off with the appetizing Quartet in E-flat Major, Op.33, No.2, by Haydn. It's a piece also known as "The Joke" for its signature composition, dotted with notes of humorous arrangement, full of that glorious, heavenly sound that one would expect from a chamber music concert. One note while attending, and without giving the joke away, be sure to stay for the "end credits."
Haydn was a bit of a prankster back in the day. The quartet piece written in 1781, but before that, Haydn, impish scoundrel that he was, had been expelled from the choir of St. Stephens Cathedral in Vienna for lopping off the pigtail of a fellow choir member. Oh, the indignity!
The second course on the bill of fare is the Phillip Glass Quartet No. 5. Glass' work, which can be described as minimalistic, cyclical, and possessing a measured ebb-and-flow. His Quartet No. 5 is in five movements, which vacillate from dark and foreboding to Hollywood soundtrack: splashy and triumphant. Glass's work was featured in the movie The Hours in 2002.
For dessert, a Brahms brulee: Quartet in C Minor, Op.51, No. 1. Brahms took great pains and many years to complete this piece along with his Second String Quartet in 1873. This Quartet is also in four movements, in traditionalist style, and like the towering inferno of a well-made baked Alaska, is simply sublime, yet wildly engaging.
This complete Sunday feast for the ears can be consumed in one sitting at the Williams Theatre of the Tulsa PAC on Jan. 29 at 3pm.
Desperately Seeking Wisdom
King Solomon scratches his head in disbelief at the choice in front of him: which of the women who have come to his throne for judgment, is the rightful mother of the baby before him? What if the choice of woman is not "deserving" or worse? One may hark back to days of daydreaming in Sunday School class at such a story, but the version of the Bertolt Brecht classic The Caucasian Chalk Circle in which this story is retold, is far from Sunday School simplicity or tradition. This is gritty, street theater meets rock opera with a spoonful of comedic sugar to make the arsenic go down.
"The story struck a chord with me, since the questions it asks are the same questions we seem to be asking as a society at the moment," says director Frank Gallagher or the play, set in post-financial collapse America.
"Very few people in the world now would agree with the political choices Brecht made. But at heart he was an idealist. He believed societies could be both wise and just. Right now, in this country, we're having a debate about what that means.
"The one thing both the right and the left agree on is that we seem to be moving away from justice and wisdom. The question we have to answer as a nation is whether we're going to take something we love and, in Grusha's words, 'tear it to pieces' by fighting over it,"
Heller Theatre takes the timeless classic of the usually dark works of Brecht and turns it on its head, transfiguring Chalk Circle into a metaphor of the uncertainty of our times. This may make a shrewd observation of our current condition, but what can a Tulsa audience latch on to in this production?
"I think the question Brecht is asking here is this: Is it worthwhile to commit an unselfish act? Brecht definitely would agree that 'No good deed goes unpunished,' so why should we do good deeds? Grusha saves the child, and almost dies as a result. Is that wise or foolish?" Frank said.
Out, Loud and Proud.
Caucasian Chalk Circle is set in a small bar, as a street theater troupe performs the play using music, clowning, storytelling, comedy and drama. Described as a "play within a play" it also features original music by Damion Shade.
"Chalk Circle has quite a bit of narration, written in verse and meant for musical accompaniment. In addition, there are three actual songs sung by the characters. Unlike most of Brecht's work, the original music isn't normally used in production, instead the music is different with every group.
"Shade--who sings and writes music for two Tulsa bands, The Savage Young and Ithaca--has written some amazing stuff for our show, tailoring the style to the character. So Grusha's songs are delicate, hopeful melodies. Azdak's song is bluesy, sarcastic, in-your-face. And the narration is a blend of early American gospel and contemporary urban that's completely unique.
"That said, the play is not a musical. Characters don't talk to each other in song, they don't reveal their inner thoughts, and there's no dance. As Brecht himself said, 'it's a play with music'."
One actress making the leap from the Queen of Hearts in children's theater last August, to the ragingly-selfish Governor's Wife, among many other colorful characters is local actress Rebekah Liston.
"It's funny! You'd think that with a seemingly-intimidating playwright like Brecht, the play would be dark, dreary, and work to watch it and dig through all the metaphors and deep, underlying meanings. I did, when I auditioned for the show. "But this show is actually hilarious. There are more humorous moments than heavy ones, and I think that the audience will be surprised by how much fun it is. The journey of the play goes from over-the-top farce to some truly tender moments and back again," Rebekah said.
"I hope that this play helps Tulsa audiences grow braver in the kinds of plays they choose to watch. Brecht is challenging, but we've made his play very accessible. I hope that the people who come to see this show will be willing to try out even more 'weird' shows in the future."
Caucasian Chalk Circle opens Friday Jan. 27 and runs through Feb. 4 at The Henthorne Performing Arts Center. Performances are Jan. 27-28, 31 and Feb. 3,4 at 7:30pm and Sunday Jan. 29 at 2pm. Tickets are $10 for adults. A talk back with the director and cast will be held after the Saturday evening performances.
Public television plays them frequently. Their range swings from swing to jazz to children's music to master classes and workshops. They are the making the rounds across the country to entertain and educate on the history and delights of a " brass section chamber music ensemble" with a little Cole Porter thrown in for good measure. They are the five man powerhouse of the St. Louis Brass Quintet.
Many of the compositions for this group of renaissance horn blowers were written by trumpet player Allen Dean. The pedigree of these players are top notch, many of them from large symphonies. From Bombay to Norway, this group has performed over 2700 engagements in 41 years.
Will this group find the right balance between Gershwin and Baroque? Only the ear will know. It should be a merry night of music making at the Encore Series of the Broken Arrow Performing Arts Center, Jan. 26.
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