Tuesday, December 28, 2010

The Atlanta "Nutcracker"

The Atlanta Ballet’s “Nutcracker” is creative and engaging.  It is choreographed by Artistic Director John McFall, and differs from the Balanchine version.  The story is set in St. Petersburg, Russia and the colorful costumes reflect appear authentic to the period.  The original “Nutcracker” was not specific to time or location so a little creativity is welcome.  My only criticism of the choreography is that the Divertissement of the second act seem disconnected from the story of the first act.  In fact, Marya mirrors some of the solo of the Sugar Plum Fairy- I was not sure what that was all about.  Also the wonderful coda, of the Fairy’s dance, played by the celesta, was not used in this version.  The Atlanta Ballet was fortunate to have it own orchestra accompany the story.  This is so much better than having a recording. 

Several of the dancers were outstanding.  Cortney Funk and Tommy Panto were outstanding in the Spanish dance.  Panto performed some outstanding kicks.  Stephen Word was funny and creative as Mother Matruska.  He inserted contemporary mannerisms that were wonderful, e.g., he pointed to an audience member and with his finger to his ear, mouthed the words “call me.”  Jonah Hooper was a polished Cavalier, although the choreography did not allow him some of the flashier moves familiar in the Balanchine version.  Trepak was a gymnastics routine with comedy built in.  The crowd liked it- I didn’t. 

The performance took place at the Fabulous Fox Theater in Atlanta.  The Atlanta Ballet scheduled 23 performances of “The Nutcracker.”  I attended a Thursday performance and the theater was packed. 
The Fabulous Fox is a historic venue.  It has nearly 5000 seats, and it seems to be perfectly preserved from its days as a movie palace (see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fox_Theatre_(Atlanta,_Georgia).  I took a few pictures before the photo Nazi’s nixed my efforts.  The style of the theater is not to my taste, but the fact that it remains as it was is a real tribute to the community.
This “Nutcracker” is well worth spending a few hours to enjoy it and the Fox Theater. 

Monday, December 20, 2010

A Great Holiday Gift

New Trinity Baroque (NTB), conducted by Predrag Gosta, presented its Baroque Candlelight Christmas concert last evening. The program included:

• Georg Friedric Handel:

Concerto for Organ in F major, "The Cuckoo & The Nightingale," HWV 295

• Johann Sebastian Bach:

"Jauchzet Gott in Allen Landen," cantata for soprano, trumpet and orchestra, BWV 51

- intermission -

• Johann Sebastian Bach:

"Wachet auf, ruft uns die Stimme," Chorale Prelude for Organ (Schübler Chorale No. 1), BWV 645

• Antonio Vivaldi:

"Gloria" for soloists, choir and orchestra, RV 589

This was a wonderful concert in a nice setting, St. Bartholomew’s Episcopal Church in Atlanta. The Handel was performed by Brad Hughley on the church’s Rosales Organ. The music is delightful, well-known, and here, played sublimely by NTB and Mr. Hughley. Amanda Pepping, of Georgia State, played the natural trumpet. After a few warm up problems, Ms. Pepping mastered the devilish instrument admirably. The Bach Cantata was performed by the NTB, Miss Pepping and Wanda Yang Temko, soprano. Ms. Tempko is well-known around Atlanta and has developed an international career also. Her voice is smooth, well-controlled, and warm. She is not the least breathy. Her performance of the “Alleluia” at the end of the Cantata was exciting. I was fortunate to sit in the first row, middle seat during the performance and her voice was thrilling.

The Bach Chorale is a very familiar piece that was played in a clipped style by Hughley, which was entirely appropriate for this baroque masterpiece. Too often it is played in a bloated romatic style that makes it “pretty” rather than authentic. Hughley provided both- pretty and authentic.

The Vivaldi was performed with a small chamber choir, which was entirely appropriate for the setting and for the small size of the NTB. I recently heard the Gloria performed by the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra and Chamber chorus, which was a large-scale concert performance. Bopth approaches are valid, but the NTB performance was so intimate that it provided an opportunity to share what the experience must have been like in the royal courts of Vivaldi’s day. The chamber choir at times had to struggle against the volume of the NTB, but this is a miner quibble. The soloists for Gloria were Tempko and Zorica Pavlovic. The power of the voices of these two women was perfectly suited to the music.

The conductor of NTB is Predrag Gosta, who gives a brief review of the music before each performance. His enthusiasm for what is does is palpable. And he does a lot, from controlling the house lights, to helping move the harpsichord off the stage. He deserves much credit for the success of the NTB. In spite of it being made up of contract players, the NTB plays as if it were a well-established period orchestra. Gosta should take pride in what he has accomplished.

This was a great concert.

"Tron: Legacy"- something to avoid

“Tron: Legacy” (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tron:_Legacy) is a sequel to the creative “Tron” from 1982. “Legacy” is an excuse to have 3-D (in order to charge more for admission) effects, a loud soundtrack (the music of which is quite good), and one more movie with the grizzled Jeff Bridges. I used to like Bridges, especially in “Starman”, but lately he has adapted to his casting as the disheveled older guy, who can be be a good guy or a villain. He was particularly awful in “Ironman”, with that ridiculous beard. In “Legacy” he is both a good guy and a villain. For the bad guy he looks like he did in “Starman” ; for the good guy, he is back to being old and grizzled. This movie has more exposition that any in recent memory. The characters have to narrate what is going on since understanding the plot from the movie’s action is simply not possible. The movie seems to be a series of motorcycle races for no immediately obvious reason.

I had read that the 3-D effects were wonderful. It must have been another movie because I sure didn’t see any that were worth the additional $3.00 admission.

While I consider the whole movie to be a waste, there was one grave injustice in it. Olivia Wilde plays a character named Quorra. Wilde is a beautiful and photogenic actress, but in “Legacy” she wears a terrible short wig. It has all of the grace of a straw brush and does nothing to enhance her striking face. But appearances aside, I hope that Wilde begins aiming higher in her choice of movies. “Tron: Legacy”, “Year One”, and “The Next Three Days” a strong resume do not make.

First Plymouth

Last week I was in Lincoln, NE for a few days. It was the best of times and the worst of times. When I arrived the weather was beautiful, with temperatures in the upper fifties. I drove around quite a bit and took some pictures that do not do justice to the beauty of the plains (see photo album). But on Friday night and Saturday the weather turned, well nasty. The wind picked up at the same time the temperature dropped. Then came the ice and snow. The wind and the precipitation created the perfect situation to have my flight back to Atlanta cancelled, as well as those on Sunday. As one flight is cancelled, the next one fills up and it appeared I might not leave until Tuesday. With a bit of planning, I was able to fly out on Monday. But this extended stay gave me the opportunity to brave the bad weather and attend a service at First-Plymouth Church (http://www.firstplymouth.org/).

To see more my my photos of First Plymouth, click here:  http://www.facebook.com/album.php?aid=101221&id=1510516273&l=2211a1f0f6.

First Plymouth is a magnificent building that was finished in 1931. Is architecture reflects early church designs and it integrates beautifully with the neighborhood in which it is located. The interior of the church is magnificent. It is one of the most beautiful I have seen, especially with the addition of the Lied organ. The organ is a large instrument that can be subtle and forceful, when needed. The church is not so large that a large reverberation causes the music to become muddy. The organ supports the Plymouth Brass and Choir quite nicely. The music alone is worth a visit to the church.

The interior of the church is predominately blue, gold, and walnut, which when combined, provides warmth without being ostentatious.

First Plymouth is a first-rate piece of American church architecture and worth seeing.

Saturday, December 4, 2010

A New Take on an Old Tradition

“A Festival of Nine Lessons and Carols” (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nine_Lessons_and_Carols) was performed last evening at the Glenn Memorial Auditorium at Emory University.  It is based on the English tradition but contained many contemporary choral pieces.  The performance was by the Emory University Chorus and Emory Concert Choir, the latter being of some renown in the choral music world.  A brass quartet accompanied some of the pieces. 

I am very familiar with the traditional English version and was somewhat surprised by the introduction of the new works, but it is a University music department-sponsored event, so they probably feel some responsibility to recognize contemporary music.  I really liked “The Dream Isaiah Saw” by Glenn Rudolph.  It was spirited and rhythmic. 

The brass quartet had some major intonation problems, especially the French horn. 

The director was Eric Nelson, who is a professor, choral conductor, church musician, and composer who is director of choral studies at Emory.  He is a self described “passionate apologist for the choral craft and its importance in contemporary society.” It was a joy to watch him turn to the audience to conduct its choral pieces. He did it with obvious joy.
The chorus and choir were very good.  I was surprised how few people of color were in the ensembles, and in the audience, given the demographic makeup of Atlanta.  As has been said, the most segregated hour in the country is between 11:00am and 12:00 pm on Sunday.    

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Spivey, dear Spivey

I attended a faculty recital last evening at Clayton State University, Morrow, Georgia (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Clayton_State_University).  The campus is beautiful- it is full of trees and has a nice pond with nicely landscaped roads throughout.  It bothers me, however, that the President of the University has to have his name listed as Dr. Thomas J. "Tim" Hynes, Jr.  Why the “Tim”.  I never have understood that who thing, but I digress. 

The recital was by Dr. Daniel Pyle.  By the way, I don’t get the whole “Dr.” thing either.  Why not a simple “Ph.D.”?  Mr. Pyle performed on the Albert Schweitzer Memorial Organ.  This is no box of whistles, but a wonderful full-throated organ that has some of the lowest notes I have ever felt.  The program included works by Bach, Reincken, Schumann, and Persichetti.   Mr. Pyle was kind enough to share a bit of musical history about the Bach and Reincken pieces.  The Persichetti piece was the outlier in the program.  He died in 1987 but not before having influence on his students, such as Philip Glass and Thelonius Monk.  I generally like modern composers, but the Sonata played seemed like random (loud) sounds that only an academic could love.  But all in all, it was a nice recital, and Pyle seemed up to the task, although there were occasions where he seemed to have some technical difficulties.  

The recital took place in Spivey Hall (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Spivey_Hall).  A major feature of this small hall is the Organ which was installed by Fratelli Ruffatti of Italy.  The entrance to Spivey Hall reminds me of a Marriott Hotel lobby.  It has that fake Queen Anne appearance with mahogany furniture, tapestries, and brass chandeliers.  Not my taste- at least not this year.   The biggest disappointment to me was the design of the hall itself.  As can be seen in my photos (surreptitiously taken before the photo Nazis came) is an insipid Greek-revival, with trompe l’oeil  paintings on the organ.  While I am sure the benefactors had a lot to say about the design of the hall, it seems like a missed opportunity to design a small contemporary performing space.  Oh well, when I give millions to a university to build a vanity building in my name, I will make it so. 

Oh Charlie....

Every Monday, on one of the hi-def cable channels there is a marathon of the original “Charlie’s Angels” TV shows (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Charlie's_Angels).  The show is mind numbing- much like a shot of novocaine directly to the brain.  But, I like to watch the show because being brain-dead every so often is enjoyable- at least to me, and as long as it is figurative. 

“Charlie’s Angels” cycles through the same actors as the bad guys every three or four episodes.  The music is usually some variation of late-1970’s wah-wah guitars with a disco beat.  It would quite a contest to decide who the worst actor of the three women would be, but my vote would be for Cheryl Ladd.  Whenever she tries to play “dumb” she invokes some variation of a southern accent.  Jaclyn Smith, to her credit, seems continually in a daze.  Kate Jackson was supposed to be the smart one and I guess she earns the title by default. 

The series was somewhat controversial in its time.  It was described as “T & A” or “Jiggle” TV.  These three actresses, and the other actresses who cycled through the show, were simply not built to jiggle or to cause one to focus on their collective Ts and As.  It was the late 1970s and the American public had not yet developed its fascination of having everyone grow to the size of an NFL linebacker.  These were petite women who would not have had a muffin top or camel toe because their stretchy clothing was way too tight.  Kate Jackson, in fact, may have had the tiniest waste I have ever seen on an adult woman.  She also had the shiniest hair, but HD shows that she needed to borrow Katy Perry’s Proactiv solution. 

The “Angels” usually never invoked physical violence, and use their savvy to catch the bad guy.  But there was one episode, the title of which escapes me, that maybe should receive special recognition.  The plot was the usual but it required that Kris (Cheryl Ladd) shoot the villain.  She did, as duty called, but she actually had a reaction to it.  She trembled and needed to be comforted by one of the other Angels because “it was her first time.”  This may be one of the few times on TV where someone seemed to feel remorse after shooting someone, even if it was a bad guy.  I liked that, and it was a moment that made sitting through the episode worthwhile. 

So I will, from time to time, shoot up with the mind-deadener that is “Charlie’s Angels.”  They are a beautiful trio caught in bad scripts- but they have nice hair and small waists.   

Redemption- bah! Humbug

“Skyline” (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Skyline_(film)) is an alien invasion movie starring Eric Balfour AS Jarrod and Scottie Thompson as Elaine.  The movie received almost uniformly negative reviews, but I must differ.  It’s not the worst I have seen, and it is certainly better than any Jennifer Aniston movie.  I like the notion of an alien invasion movie that has no exposition to explain where they come from, or what their intentions are.  No one needs to explain that they come to kill and harvest as many of us as they can.  “Skyline” is certainly not original- it draws its inspiration from “Independence Day”, “Cloverfield”, “V”,   and the last (and worst) of the original “Alien” series.  The special effects are pretty good in “Skyline” and the creatures are frightening and disgusting.  I thought the film did a nice job of showing how totally confused and afraid we would become if these ugly-ass killing creatures descended upon us.  We would be powerless and most sources of information would be shut down.  We would be left to our own devices, which, I am afraid judging by the last election, are not all that great. 

There are things I didn’t like about the movie.  The first is that Balfour and Thompson have no chemistry.  She is supposed to be pregnant but the way the two characters relate to each other, the procreation must have been by way of artificial insemination.  The film also has Jarrod be something of a wimp.  The part of the movie that I liked least was the ending.  If the final ten minutes could have been eliminated and all humans were destroyed, I would have found it more satisfying than what the ending actually was.  Screen writers and directors seem to have a requirement that love has some great redemptive power and can survive through all kinds of adversity, including having your brain sucked out by some horrible looking creature machine.  Given the havoc that was being visited on human by the invaders, I think it would have been every person for themselves and love-be-damned.  Maybe that’s the cynic in me.  I also don’t understand why aliens would back off hurting its prey because she is pregnant.  Does that mean after the baby is allowed to be born; the aliens will then suck out its brain?  Sounds to me like conservatives who want to save the unborn at all cost, and then throw them to the wolves after they are born.  Well, when I write the next installment of “Skyline”, I will correct these problems. 

I did not feel that the 90 minutes spent watching “Skyline” was a total waste.  It was not nearly as bad as watching the president feign anger at republican shenanigans, when he is actually one of them!