Saturday, October 15, 2011
Currently I can't get over Cass McCombs' "You Saved My Life" (MP3) which is . . . well, I don't even know how to explain it. Like a slow dance, written to his wife (?), about the effect she's had on him. This song stuck out to me since the first listen, and I can't stop going back to it.
Other than that, I've been putting Shara Worden on repeat, partly because she provides some great creative fodder for the novel I'm writing about disappearance and the underworld. Her voice is the ivory centerpiece of Penelope by Sarah Kirkland Snider, and it's absolutely affecting. The album is like a strange sister to Hadestown by Anais Mitchell--like some strange inversion of everything that album does. Hadestown is an ensemble that explores the tale of Orpheus and Eurydice in depression-era America; Penelope is a long monologue, Worden singing as the title character trying to get Odysseus to remember himself at the end of the weary journey in The Odyssey, set in modern times. The lyrics are fascinating and the arrangements beautiful. Highly recommended.
I think I'll be able to describe my experience a bit easier with some distance from the whole thing. I'll keep you posted.
Also, there's Worden's new album as My Brightest Diamond, "All Things Will Unwind". You can feel Worden's new life as a parent throughout: it's like a love letter to her new child, yet still very strange, very MBD-esque. I'm still not sure how I feel about it, but I made Chicken Tikka Masala listening to it the other night and started dancing randomly, so it's got something.
Here's an MP3 of my favourite song on the album, "Reaching Through to the Other Side" (MP3).
Keep on. Is there any new music that's affected you lately?
Thursday, September 8, 2011
Sweeney Todd @ Drury Lane Theatre, Oakbrook IL
September 1, 2011
This blog is named “Aesthetic Experience” so I feel marginally bad posting about an un-aesthetic experience. But here it is, for your enjoyment or lack thereof.
On our first night back in Wheaton my junior year, my roommate Ryan showed me a filming of the original 1979 staging of Sondheim's infamous "Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street". It was gross, offensive, and absolutely enjoyable. Len Cariou's portrayal of the psychopathic Sweeney was disturbing in his resolve, his vengeful strength incarnate in his forceful vocal work. Angela Lansbury's Mrs. Lovett, the cheery cannibalistic sidekick who gleefully serves customers human meat pies, was and continues to be a highlight. I'm not one to sing musical numbers, but I do remember singing "A Little Priest" with my friend Steve in the car while waiting for our friend at the airport (I was Sweeney and he was Mrs. Lovett, of course).
Tim Burton's 2007 rendition of Sweeney Todd was also quite enjoyable. Johnny Depp is an amazing actor, and with Alan Rickman as the lecherous Judge Turpin and Helena Bonham Carter as Mrs. Lovett, it did some sort of justice to the original production, though I know it didn't satisfy the theatre snobs out there.
At the end of Blade and Alyssa's wedding rehearsal dinner, the waiter approached us with a handful of tickets. "Would anyone like to see Sweeney Todd?" he asked. I raised my hand, and he handed me ten. "Take your friends," he said. Hey! Free tickets. That's pretty great, amirite? I got several other friends together and we tripped out to the Drury Lane Theatre at 1:30pm on a Thursday. I sent the others in and waited for the one running late, so I missed the first half hour. The sounds were there--the opening dirge, the loud whistle, so loud I heard it out in the foyer area reading my Salman Rushdie book.
We came in during Pirelli's presentation of his piss-mixture. My eyes scanned the stage for Sweeney Todd--he was in this scene, wasn't he? After surveying the crowd, I realised with dawning disappointment that the rather eccentric looking man, spare-framed and gangly, was in fact the infamous Sweeney Todd. His disposition, his performance, everything about him, was anything but imposing. The man--Gregg Edelman--was eccentric. He was a bit strange. And he had none of the charisma Len Cariou brought to the role. His musical performance was more than wanting: there was no purpose to his movement, no hubris, no conviction. This was no hero of Sondheim's Victorian greek tragedy. His skin, pale, his eye odd, and indeed he swung his razor wide in "Epiphany". Perhaps too wide. Considering Depp's acting in the theatrical take:
Edelman flailed his arms horizontally, then occasionally diagonally, with a dead expression, off-tune, hardly a barber, much less a demon. It was disappointing to say the least. What should have been a passionate, defiant, hateful scene was more or less bland and uninteresting.
Other members of the cast were more than tolerable, however. Liz McCartney gave a fine impression of Angela Lansbury's Mrs. Lovett, and Kevin Gudahl was convincing as Judge Turpin (though some heavy-handed directing made his contemptible lechery more of an eye-roller than it ought to have been). George Andrew Wolff's Beadle was hilarious and just the right mix of disgusting. When he wasn't attempting a Glasgow/Dublin/Faux-Scottish accent, George Keating's Pirelli was charmingly, alarmingly, endearingly effeminate.
Yet these were minor graces in what seemed to be a breathless and tired reproduction. Jonah Rawitz, playing young Tobias, spent most of his numbers out of breath, as did most of the cast. Acting was ham-handed and lacked nuance, and Heidi Kettenring, playing the "Beggar Woman" was singing in a key all her own.
The set--adequately described as an "abbatoir" by one reviewer--was great, and went down without a hitch. For one of my friends, who had never seen Sweeney Todd before, this production was great. Sweeney Todd is by far my favourite musical, and the caliber of the music is evident despite the obvious tarnish here. Even a mediocre effort can yield a something, though the upsetting series of high school productions say otherwise.
Compare to Angela Lansbury's iconic--though here somewhat frenzied--performance (here with George Hearn rather than Len Cariou)
Some Sweeney is perhaps better than none, and I don't regret going, especially considering that the after-show meal at Culvers yielded a thirty minute conversation with friends exclusively deciding which of our friend group would fit in which Hogwarts house. Oakbrook, congrats for trying, but get a better, more in-tune cast if you want to do Sondheim's dark masterpiece some justice.
Thursday, September 1, 2011
I tracked down a low-quality leak of Bon Iver’s self-titled album near the start of May. My internet connection was terrible—it was Southeast Asia—and I was sort of walking around packing, organizing for my move back to the US while I waited the requisite hour for the album to download. I wasn’t a fanboy of For Emma, Forever Ago despite the high playcount in my iTunes library, but I was intrigued, perhaps more by the thought of having the album several weeks in advance than by the album itself.
In the end, I have to throw these classifiers out because this is, for me, one of those rare albums that I think—and hope—will be relevant in each season. Barbara calls them “life albums”. I’m such a geek that I’ve even made a list of these life albums—cycles of music that I keep picking up no matter the season or year, no matter how long ago I discovered it.
Thursday, August 25, 2011
On June 19, dear friend Kristie and I departed L.A. for Dublin, Ireland. For five days, our group of fellow students took up residence at Glencree Centre for Peace & Reconciliation in the countryside of County Wicklow. A couple of days into the trip, when all three of my roommates were taking an afternoon snooze, I in my wakefulness plugged my newly-acquired Klipsch earphones (snob alert) into my boyfriend’s iPod and listened to Bon Iver, Bon Iver in its entirety. Although my noise-canceling earphones provided measly defense against the loud squeaks that emanated from the beds at Glencree upon slightest disturbance, a big part of me loves that even now I cannot listen to the album without hearing the echoes of those Irish bed squeaks.
A few days later, as our coach bus approached the ancient monastic city of Glendalough, and then a few days after that as our van sped across the northern coast of the island, Bon Iver inevitably provided the soundtrack. Even now, when “Towers” comes up on shuffle in my apartment in California, all in my mind turns to a rush of greens and blues and greys and the reflection of my rain jacket splashed across the bus window.
Near the end of July, boyfriend Dave, friend Cody, and I travelled across the desert to Las Vegas for an Avett Brothers concert. Cody is a fellow appreciator of things Bon Iver, so naturally the new album garnered a few plays on the car stereo. Vegas, with its endless strip of factory outlet malls, fast food chains, $3.99 steak buffets, nudie shows, hot desert air, and all manner of indulgence could not be further removed from Ireland. Want to teach a child what the word “antithesis” means? Take her on a trip to Ireland, then to Vegas. Boom, word explained.
Somewhere amid the flood of not-so-positive emotions brought forth by my boyfriend’s spending habits and our friend’s texting-while-driving habits, I found in Bon Iver, Bon Iver an odd yet welcome antidote to the ridiculousness of road-tripping to Sin City to see a band I’d already seen twenty-two times.
--Barbara (posted on her behalf by duke)
Tuesday, August 16, 2011
Of course, I can also imagine myself tramping across radioactive wastelands fighting for survival, with nothing to keep me company but a lonely radio with 3-Dog and the Ink Spots. Same difference, right?
Thursday, August 4, 2011
Event: Rachmaninoff Piano Concerto No. 3 + Tchaikovsky Symphony No. 5
Soloist: Yuja Wang, piano
Conductor: Lionel Bringuier
Orchestra: L.A. Philharmonic
Venue: Hollywood Bowl
Date: 2 August 2011
Seats: Section H, Row 20 (“super seats”)
I do not play any instruments. I have not plumbed the intricate depths of music theory. I cannot tell you which recording and whose performance of such and such piece of classical music is the “best.” (Though a musically inclined friend of mine is convinced I have relative pitch.)
I do know one thing, however. Sergei Rachmaninoff composed music that, for me, constitutes the golden standard of aesthetic experiences. And so it should come as no surprise that when Rachmaninoff is being played in my vicinity, I’m there.
My boyfriend Dave accompanied me on this our first visit to the Hollywood Bowl, an outdoor venue situated in the hills of Hollywood. Its stage has hosted everyone from Frank Sinatra to Elton John (ala 5 grand pianos spelling E-L-T-O-N) to Dolly Parton. In the summertime, the LA Philharmonic Orchestra migrates to the Bowl from the usual venue, Walt Disney Music Hall. All of that is to say: I was beyond excited see one of my all-time favorite pieces of music, the “Rach 3” performed in such an unusual setting.
When 24-yr-old Chinese pianist Yuja Wang walked onto the stage in a tiny, firecracker red dress and 4-inch gold stiletto heels, gasps of delight (and of horror from the snooty types) emerged from the audience. Yeah, she’s hot, and she knows it. But how the heck was she going to pull off playing one of the most technically demanding piano pieces ever composed whilst wearing precious little clothing? Well, she did it... and she did it well. Of course I ‘bout died (in the good way) the instant she began tickling the keys, as the opening measures of the first movement are what drew me to Rachmaninoff so many years ago.
Wang demonstrated a strong yet elegant command of the keyboard—she managed to make even those thunderous, dramatic chords near the end of the first movement seem like child’s play. Of course, some folks in the audience clapped between movements (a pet peeve of mine), but otherwise it was an A+ experience from beginning to end. The famously epic finale was indeed quite epic—especially when Wang immediately leapt from her seat upon firing the final note. The audience showed their appreciation with a lengthy standing ovation. My favorite part? The fact that Ms. Wang did not take herself too seriously. She approached the Rach 3 with appropriate respect and sensitivity, allowing the piece to speak for itself. I think Ms. Wang knew that, in the end, even her itty bitty red dress and glitzy shoes could not overpower the profound beauty of this beloved piece of music.
Following the intermission, the L.A. Phil performed a rousing rendition of Tchaikovsky’s 5thSymphony. Unfortunately, a very distracting “ticking” noise was emanating through the speakers during the performance, perhaps a feedback issue? But at that point, I didn’t really care, for I finally got to see the Rach 3 performed live.