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Newsday Pulitzer Prize winners

Newsday Pulitzer Prize winners

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Published by Sheila Miller

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Published by: Sheila Miller on Aug 12, 2010
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Music and libretto by FerruccioBusoni. Production by Peter Mussbach. WithKatarinaDalayman, Robert Brubaker, DavidKuebler and Thomas Hampson. MetropolitanOperaOrchestraand Chorus conducted byPhilippeAuguin. Attended Monday’s opening.Metropolitan Opera, Lincoln Center. Repeated onFriday, Tuesdayand Jan. 20, 25 and 29.
By Justin Davidson
ERRUCCIO BUSONI’S operaDoktor Faust” is deeply re-spected and rarely seen. Seven-teen years in gestation and stillincomplete at the composer’sdeath in 1924, an obsessive visionary’smagnum opus finally emerged ontothe stage of the Metropolitan OperaMonday night, in a production thatseemed sure to send the work scuttlingback into the shadows.Busoni’s libretto, based not on Goet-he but on 16th-Century puppet plays,is grimly high-minded, his music bela-bored to the point of rigor mortis. Theopera opens with more than an hour of throat-clearing — two prologues andan intermezzo before the first corescene (not counting a spoken introduc-tion that Busoni wrote and the Metomitted). It then slouches reluctantlytoward midnight, postponing the finalcurtain with oblique soliloquies andslow-motion processions. A few epi-sodes might potentially come alivethe contrapuntal melee betweendrunken Protestant and Catholic stu-dents and the humorously stately cor-tege that ushers the Duke and Duch-ess of Parma toward a blighted wed-ding day.New York City Opera staged thismurderously difficult work with a cer-tain ramshackle nobility and breath-less flair in 1992, raising hopes that alittle more money and a surer hand onthe podium might really make it shine.The Met has spared no expense in stul-tifying the work, assiduously obscur-ing most of whatever qualities thescore has.Director Peter Mussbach introducedhimself to the company with a wintry,slag-colored production first seen inSalzburg in 1999. Mussbach interpretsDoktor Faust” as a hallucination,which allows him to conjure up a surre-alistic vision that doesn’t square withthe scores academic solidity. Faustand Mephistopheles wander stifflythrough a black-and-white fantasy-land dressed in long, gray coats andmatching fedoras. Every so often, thestage spews smoke, snow or fire. Onone painted flat, a dramatically fore-shortened room is carpeted in fluffyclouds, on another, a nighttime land-scape resembles an enlarged computerchip. Occasionally, a note of uninten-tional realism intrudes: The curtaincomes up on graying piles of snow thatlook exactly like those currently decay-ing on the sidewalks of New York,which undercuts the dreaminess.When James Levine pulled out oconducting Doktor Faust,” pleadingsciatica, the opera lost the man whobrought it to the Met and who mighthave made a more powerful case forthe score. Philippe Auguin bravelyagreed to make his company debutunder these inauspicious circumstanc-es, took over rehearsals with only afew weeks’notice and promptly causedthe first performance to sink intoquicksand. Busoni’s frequently stark,nocturnal orchestration blurred into amass of soft, velour sound. Intentional-ly or not, Auguin applied Mussbach’sdream concept to the music, indulgingin somnolent tempos and smudgingthe composer’s exacting counterpoint.Undeterred, Thomas Hampson sangthe title role with his usual ac-tion-hero bearing, but his perfor-mance, like Busoni’s music, wound upsounding lethally studied. Faust is al-ternately defeated and manicallyself-satisfied, but Hampson neverabandoned his diplomatic equipoise.Robert Brubaker, his voice gaunt andangular, was more convincingly Me-phistophelian, but the part’s gruelingdemands got to him, and he spent abad 10 minutes croaking.Katarina Dalayman took the opera’sonly female part the Duchess oParma — and brought a welcome re-spite from so much baritonal sobriety,mooning over the unlovable Faust.The Met’s intrepid chorus made mostof its (sometimes inaudible) contribu-tions from offstage, but when it materi-alized, it did so with customarygusto.
A Surrealistic ViewOf One Mans Hell
Photo by Winnie Klotz / Metropolitan Opera
Thomas Hampson is “Doktor Faust” at the Met’s production at Lincoln Center.
A R T S & E N T E R T A I N M E N T
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A composer doesn’t have to be dead to be in thelimelight. These days, some star soloists andconductors are pushing the works of composerswho are alive, well and still writing.
T’S A GRANITE FACT of acomposer’s life that musicdoesn’t take place on the page.Even after that last double barhas been written and the date of a work’s completion ceremonial-ly inscribed, the score existsonly as an abstract idea. Desk drawers all over the world arefilled with theoretical sympho-nies and silent operas, but thecomposer becomes a true creatoronly when symbols become sound.For much of the last half-century,carrying out that metamorphosis wasconsidered a secondary task, best left tospecialized technicians. The bulk of new-music performances took place incloistered settings, with audiences of connoisseurs and musicians who pridedthemselves on being able to satisfy thecomposers’most excruciating demands.But the last couple of decades havetransformed that situation, as a per-ceived crisis in classical music hasproved to be an opportunity. Someenterprising performers have inter-preted the decline in the educatedlistener as license to assume thataudiences have few preconceptions.Where nobody is famous, neither isanybody obscure. Suddenly, theunknown, living composer has afighting chance.The vast majority of performersstill draw their repertoire from theranks of the dead, but a few starsoloists and conductors haveyanked living composers into thelimelight. The violinist GidonKremer tirelessly pushed the musicof the late Alfred Schnittke whilethe Russian composer was alive.The cellist Yo-Yo Ma has champi-oned some fresh voices, and hisnew Silk Road Project has commis-sioned pieces from a far-flung slewof unknowns. And while the orches-tra world as a whole tends to bedeeply suspicious of composers who
Newsday Photo / Bruce Gilbert
Familiar with bars of both music and jurisprudence, lawyer-turned-composer-conductorHarold Meltzer runs Sequitur, an ensemble that presents songs in a range of styles.
Living Proof 
Newsday Photo / Ari Mintz
Pianist Anthony De Mare, who also is a singer, dancer and actor, has coaxedcomposers into tailoring their pieces to his many talents.
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Alice Tully Hall Photo
Scottish percussionist Evelyn Glennie has made it clear to her public that living composers are indispensable to her art.
still walk the Earth, several of Ameri-ca’s leading conductors — MichaelTilson Thomas, Esa-Pekka Salonen,Christoph von Dohnányi, LeonardSlatkin and James Levine — havepowerful attractions to and strongtastes in today’s music.Even specialized new-music per-formers, who once had to eke outsustenance at the margins of theconcert world, have now lured a pub-lic that comes to hear them play,regardless of what’s on the program.It’s the Kronos Quartet that sellstickets and CDs, not the legions of composers who have fur-nished the group with mate-rial. Most startlingly, theScottish percussionist Eve-lyn Glennie has drawn newcrowds into the concert hallfor a novel genre: the percus-sion recital.A phenomenal musicianwho crams the stage withinstruments and then im-bues them with an unsus-pected expressive range,Glennie has made it clear toher public that living com-posers are indispensable to her art,since not many of the famous deadones wrote for solo percussion. Ithelps that part of her appeal lies insheer choreographic spectacle. Sheglides, barefoot, across the stage withmotions as meditative and precise asthose of a tai chi artist, glittering inher rocker pantsuit, her face obscuredby effusive auburn hair. She prowlsamong her forest of instruments,finding objects to shake and tap anddunk in buckets of water, or elsedances, dervishlike, from one end of an oversized marimba to the other,hurling mallets at the keys.That visual theatricality is an ines-capable part of Glennie’s act, butothers have adopted it as a deliberatestrategy for packaging new music.Bathed in changeable dramatic light-ing, loosely linked by a narrativethread and staged by a director, theconcert now often becomes a show.The Gogmagogs, a troupe of London-based string players, fiddle atfull tilt while they skip, dip, contort,converse and clomp across the stagein flippers. In “Gobbledygook,” whichthe group performed at ColumbiaUniversity’s Miller Theater last fall,bass player Lucy Shaw slings heroversized instrument on her hip andplunks it on the move, giving newmeaning to the term walking bass. Acellist keeps placidly bowing as heslowly climbs a stepladder. The perfor-mance is a marvel to watch, andsometimes astonishing to hear aswell, though the group has sacrificeda measure of musical finesse andcommissioned easy scores.In New York City, combining newmusic with theater is begin-ning to look like a move-ment. The 5-year-old ensem-ble Sequitur, run by lawyer-turned-composer-conductorHarold Meltzer, presents anannual cabaret of new andnewish songs in a vast rangeof styles linked by a visceraltheme: “Songs of Sex andSolitude” in 1999, “Money”in 2000 and Power” nextfall. Composers have gravi-tated to Sequiturs ethic of eclecticism and its strategyof visual music. For a Merkin Hallconcert on Feb. 27, for example, Ran-dall Woolf wrote “The Trick Is to KeepBreathing,” a piece that involves astring quartet, a contralto, a “turntableartist” recruited from the club sceneand a stage director.Impurity is the point. Sequiturmeasures its success not by the appro-bation of new-music initiates, but bythe number of unfamiliar faces in thecrowd. Meltzer points with pride tothe flocks of ticket buyers who mi-grate to his events from an interest indance, theater and visual art.In a similar vein, the pianistAnthony De Mare has spent 20 yearstrying to merge his powerful virtuosi-ty at the keyboard with his trainingas a singer, dancer and actor. Had hebeen of a less experimental bent,De Mare might have gravitated toBroadway, but instead he has coaxedcomposers into expanding the reper-toire for multitalented pianist. Theever-willing Woolf supplied him withLimbs Akimbo,” which asks thepianist to rise from the bench andtap-dance. De Mare’s standard tourde force is Frederic Rzewski’s“De Profundis,” in which the pianistrecites from Oscar Wilde’s jailhouse journal and sings in a pale falsettocroon, all the while playing the dark,sometimes staggeringly virtuosicnotes.De Mare’s extended pianism culmi-nates in May with a solo show hedescribes as “concert theater” and
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Paul Dresher, above, and hisElectro-Acoustic Band play the musicof English composer Steve Martland.
Fourth in anoccasionalserieson recent developmentsin new music
EvelynGlennie appears in recitalwith pianist Emanuel Ax atLincoln Center’s Alice TullyHall March 25 as part of the“Great Performers” series.For tickets and information,call 212-721-6500.Sequitur presents aprogram Feb. 27 of“American Mavericks,”including Randall Woolf’s“The Trick Is to KeepBreathing” and SamShepard’s play withpercussion “Tongues,” atMerkin Hall, AbrahamGoodman House, 129 W. 67thSt., Manhattan. Forinformation, call212-501-3330.Derek Bermel’s selectedsongs are featured in the Feb.4 installment of thenew-music festival “A GreatDay in New York” at AliceTully Hall. For information,call 212-875-5788. His musicis also featured at TheKitchen, 512 W. 19th St.,Manhattan, March 1-3 as partof the “House Blend” series.For information, call212-255-5793.Anthony De Mare’s soloconcert theater work “PlayingWith Myself” takes place May3-6 at Here, 145 Sixth Ave.(at Spring Street), Manhattan.For information, call212-647-0202.Jin Hi Kim will headline aprogram at Joe’s Pub at thePublic Theater, 425 LafayetteSt., Manhattan, March 9, aspart of the “Composers OutFront” series presented by theAmerican ComposersOrchestra. For information,call 212-239-6200.
Evelyn Glennie: “AfricanSunrise / Manhattan Rays(Black Box) with Dave Heath.Due in March. “ShadowBehind the Iron Sun” (RCA).Solo improvisations:“Drumming(Catalyst),“Street Songs” (RCA), withthe King Singers.Anthony De Mare:“Wizards and Wildmen”(CRI). Music by Charles Ives,Henry Cowell and LouHarrison. FredericRzewski / Anthony De Mare(o.o. Discs). Includes “DeProfundis.”Jin Hi Kim: “Komungo”(o.o. Disc). Just komungo,electric and not. Due inMarch. “Komunguitar”(o.o. Discs). Kim onkomungo, with variouselectric guitarists.“Living Tones” (o.o. Disc).Chamber works with Asianand Western instruments.The Steve Martland Band:“Steve Martland Band” (BlackBox). Debut CD, due inMarch.
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