Category Archives: Current Affairs

FIRST NIGHT OF THE PROMS: HOLST, WILLIAMS, MEREDITH: BBC SYMPHONY ORCHESTRA AND CHORUS, NATIONAL YOUTH CHOIR AND PROMS YOUTH ENSEMBLE CONDUCTED BY SAKARI ORAMO ·

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Live at BBC Proms: BBC Symphony Orchestra and Chorus, National Youth Choir and Proms Youth Ensemble conducted by Sakari Oramo in music by Holst, Vaughan Williams and Anna Meredith.

From the Royal Albert Hall, London
Presented by Georgia Mann and Petroc Trelawny

Oliver Knussen: Flourish with Fireworks, Op 22
Vaughan Williams: Toward the Unknown Region
Holst: The Planets

  1. 9.20 pm
    Live Interval: On the opening night of the 2018 BBC Proms, Georgia Mann and Petroc Trelawny look forward to two months of world-class music-making in the company of guests, and go backstage to chat to some of the performers in tonight’s Prom.

c.9.50 pm
Anna Meredith: Five Telegrams
BBC co-commission with 14-18 NOW and Edinburgh International Festival

National Youth Choir of Great Britain
BBC Proms Youth Ensemble
BBC Symphony Chorus
BBC Symphony Orchestra
Sakari Oramo (conductor)

An all-British season launch, featuring two major figures who composed responses to the First World War. Holst’s much-loved The Planets (premiered in 1918) and Vaughan Williams’s choral masterpiece Toward the Unknown Region contrast with a new work by Anna Meredith, featuring the National Youth Choir of Great Britain and the BBC Proms Youth Ensemble. Five Telegrams draws on communications sent by young soldiers in 1918, taken from a British Field Service Postcard.

REVIEWS:

FIRST NIGHT OF THE PROMS, REVIEW:  A BOLD AND IMAGINATIVE MUSICAL EXPRESSION OF THE END OF WWI

(Ivan Hewett’s article appeared in the Telegraph 7/14.)

The First Night has two important jobs to perform: to make a big splash, and to set the tone and signal the big themes of the coming season. The second half of this year’s first nightpromised to do both, spectacularly.

It was a brand-new piece named Five Telegrams, commissioned in commemoration of the end of the First World War, a major theme of the season.

It was a big bold statement, involving two choirs as well as a BBC Symphony Orchestra heavily reinforced with extra trumpets of the BBC Proms Youth Ensemble, and moving imagery projected onto the curved walls and hanging mushrooms of the Albert Hall by the co-creators of the piece, 59 Productions.

(Read more

PROMS 2018 REVIEW – OPENING NIGHT DUTIFULLY HONOURS MUSICAL GREATS                                

(Andrew Clements’s article appeared in the Guardian, 7/13.)

The visuals were mostly abstract, but here and there one caught a hint of something more concrete, a suggestion of maps and gun placements in one movement, a tangle of lines suggesting messages running down telephone wires to the front.

Meredith’s  musical idiom is a pop-flavoured minimalism with hints of Steve Reich, which doesn’t lend itself to lyrical effusion – an advantage in this piece, where feelings tend to be obliterated by the machinery of war.

Even so, one sometimes felt her usually buoyant inventiveness was hampered by the need to serve a symbolic purpose.

As for the  visuals, they were so beautifully decorative that one sometimes forgot their sinister implication. Nonetheless this was a spectacular and brilliantly conceived start to the season.

(Read more

(Photos–top to bottom–Classical Iconoclast, Telegraph, BBC)

 

 

ADAM RAPP: ‘THE SOUND INSIDE’ WITH MARY-LOUISE PARKER (SV PICK, MASS.) ·

(Jesse Green’s article appeared in The New York Times, 7/3; via Pam Green.)

WILLIAMSTOWN, Mass. — It’s pretty easy to stun an audience into the kind of silence about which people say, “You could hear a pin drop.” Just a well-timed slap will do it.

But there’s a deeper kind of attention in the theater: the kind that comes from withholding the blow. When an audience is focused on what might be coming instead of what already came, you can hear a pin not drop.

That’s the silence — a beautiful hush of dread and wonder — that envelops “The Sound Inside,” Adam Rapp’s astonishing new play now receiving its world premiere, under the masterly direction of David Cromer, at the Williamstown Theater Festival. For its entire 90 minutes you are dying to know what will happen even while hoping to forestall the knowledge.

So is Bella Baird, the 53-year-old fiction writer and Yale professor who narrates much of the play. As the action starts she has received a terrible cancer diagnosis with little chance of survival.

(Read more)

Photo: The New York Times

***** OBISESAN/ISANGO ENSEMBLE: ‘SS MENDI: DANCING THE DEATH DRILL’ (SV PICK, UK)  ·

(Bridget Minamore’s article appeared in the Guardian, 7/6.)

Zamile Gantana takes a crate, sits in the middle of the stage, and gives a straightforward but lyrical explanation of what happened to the SS Mendi. In 1917, a total of 823 South African men boarded the ship to aid the British war effort; a month later, more than 600 of them drowned after a collision. “This is our lament for the souls of the dead, to bring them peace,” Gantana says. From this opening scene, the South African theatre company Isango Ensemble transfigure the idea of lament, turning grief into something poignantly beautiful, darkly funny and, at times, sharply angry.

The script follows a dozen or so men on the ship including an outspoken priest, a teenager told his presence brings bad luck, a mixed-race recruit and a white officer. Adapted by Gbolahan Obisesan alongside the 14-strong ensemble, the play shows the racist indignities the men faced on board before their tragic deaths.

Mark Dornford-May’s direction, combined with Lungelo Ngamlana’s choreography and Mandisi Dyantyis’ musical direction, is extraordinary. Using few instruments and scant props, the world around the Mendi, from train journeys to bird sounds, is realised using movement, music and voice work.

(Read more)

Photo: The Times of London

BIZET/ HAMMERSTEIN: ‘CARMEN JONES’ FROM JOHN DOYLE AT CLASSIC STAGE COMPANY (SV PICK, NY) ·

(Ben Brantley’s article appeared in The New York Times, 7/27 via Pam Green.)  

By the time the woman in the cafe starts to sing that the music has taken over her body — her bones, her stomach, her heart — you’re in no position to question the diagnosis. You’ve been feeling that same, gut-deep response almost since the first notes were sounded in “Carmen Jones,” which opened on Wednesday at Classic Stage Company.

This may also be the moment at which you accept for good that John Doyle’s transformative revival of this once-shunned, sui generis work from 1943 — a strange hybrid of opera (the score is that of Georges Bizet’s “Carmen”) and musical theater (the lyrics are by Oscar Hammerstein II) — isn’t going to be embarrassing. It is, on the contrary, sublime.

There’s no point trying to resist such sheer, distilled beauty. Your chances would be about as good as those of our helpless hero in escaping the erotic pull of the show’s title character, thrillingly embodied here by Anika Noni Rose.

And it all could have gone so wrong.

 (Read more)

 

INSIDE THE JIMMY AWARDS: 7 DAYS WITH THE MOST TALENTED THEATRE TEENS IN THE COUNTRY ·

(Natalie Walker’s article appeared in Vulture, 7/3; via Pam Green.)

For a certain group of musical theater fans, Christmas comes in June.

This Christmas has everything yours does. It has beloved songs. It has lights. It has pageantry. It bestows gifts. It involves pilgrimages across great distances. It is the Jimmy Awards, and it is the most wonderful time of the year.

“What are the Jimmy Awards?” you ask, like an innocent child.

Short answer? They are the high-school Tonys.

Long answer? Founded in 2009, the National High School Musical Theatre Awardsspotlight and celebrate the best of the best in high-school musical theater. There are now 40 participating regions across the nation; each of these chapters hosts its own awards ceremony, selecting one actor and one actress to represent the region on the national stage in New York City at the Jimmy Awards. (The Jimmy Awards are so called not because of the ubiquity of Thoroughly Modern Millie in high schools circa 2009, but because of legendary theatre owner-producer James M. Nederlander, a passionate advocate for arts education and funding until his death in 2016). Participating students are flown to New York for a week; they stay in the dorms at New York University, and rehearse every day in the Tisch building. The show itself takes place at Broadway’s Minskoff Theatre, where the nominees perform in group numbers throughout the first act — half of them in featured medleys, half of them in a larger production number. During the intermission, a judging panel of respected theater artists select eight finalists to present solos. From these solo performances two winners — one male-identifying actor and one female-identifying actor — are determined.

(Read more)

**** O’NEILL/MCHUGH/ COMYN: ‘ASKING FOR IT’ (SV PICK, IRE) ·

(Peter Crawley’s article appeared in the Irish Times, 6/18.)

This gruelling adaptation of Louise O’Neill’s novel is alarming for good reason

Asking for It ★★★★
Everyman Theatre, Cork  

Emma O’Donovan, a fifth-year schoolgirl with brittle self-esteem, has become accustomed to seeing herself through a cascade of images. She is a model of beauty picked over by a neurotic mother; the “queen bee” of her Cork school, admired by an audience of lusty boys and resentful girlfriends; a social media darling who is even a billboard model, a dream to be possessed.

At a pivotal moment in Louise O’Neill’s sensational 2015 novel, Asking For It, however, Emma looks at a stream of degrading, dehumanising images, widely shared online, and does not recognise herself. “She is an It,” Emma says of the figure, the victim of a gang rape. “She is a thing.”

(Read more)

 

REVIEW: ‘ON A CLEAR DAY,’ ETERNALLY ODD, GETS YET ANOTHER LIFE ·

(Jesse Green’s article appeared in The New York Times, 6/28; via Pam Green.)

Bizarre subjects are no deal breaker for musicals; think human meat pies and philosophical felines. But few shows have as bewildering a topic as “On a Clear Day You Can See Forever,” the 1965 jaw-dropper about ESP, telekinesis and past-life regression that’s a weird mix of laughably earnest woo-woo and chipper Broadway savvy.

For the savvy, we have the score to thank: a treasure trunk of standards with music by Burton Lane and lyrics by Alan Jay Lerner. Songs like “Hurry, It’s Lovely Up Here,” “What Did I Have That I Don’t Have?” and “Come Back to Me” are so catchy and well constructed that, stripped of context, you’d have no idea they were originally attached to such strange ideas. (In the musical, “Hurry, It’s Lovely Up Here” is sung to a flowerpot.)

For the strange ideas, Lerner has to take the blame. It was he who, obsessed with the New Age fads flitting around the era, devised a story — about a love triangle among a psychiatrist, his patient and her former incarnation — that became, over the years, Broadway’s pity project: the Golden Age book most in need of rescuing.

My conclusion, based on the 1970 Barbra Streisand movie, the 2000 Encores concert starring Kristin Chenoweth, the complete rewriting of the show as a Harry Connick, Jr. vehicle in 2011 and the cute revisal that opened at the Irish Repertory Theater on Thursday, is: It can’t be fixed. The pleasures of “On a Clear Day” are so intertwined with its absurdities that no theatrical version can separate them. You have to enjoy it for what it is, or not.

(Read more)

THE LOST STORY OF JAMES JOYCE’S DAUGHTER AS A PARISIAN DANCER ·

(Deirdre Mulrooney’s article appeared in The Irish Times, 6/21.)

James Joyce’s daughter Lucia was a remarkable dancer – something that has been buried in her troubled historye

Lucia Joyce, born to James Joyce and Nora Barnacle in Trieste in 1907, has captured the imagination of many writers and artists as tragic muse. Film-makers, dramatists and novelists have projected everything from Mills & Boon-style narratives where the real protagonists are famous male writers – Samuel Beckett, one of Joyce’s many boyfriends; and her father – for whom she is just a bridge, to unfounded stories of incest and child abuse, to comic-strip extravaganzas.

How did Lucia get to be such a supine, empty space? Apart from Carol Loeb Shloss’s groundbreaking and controversial 2003, biography Lucia Joyce: To Dance in the Wake, you don’t hear much about the facts of Joyce the dancer, who once declared in exasperation, “C’est moi qui est l’artiste,” or “It’s me who’s the artist.” I’m most intrigued by Lucia Joyce the artist in her own right, of whom the Paris Times remarked, in 1928: “When she reaches her full capacity for rhythmic dancing, James Joyce may yet be known as his daughter’s father.”

With her impressive avant-garde dance training, Joyce would have had a lot to contribute to the Abbey Theatre Ballets

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TUNES WITH NO SHOW: THE SONGS CUT OUT OF MUSICALS, FROM FOLLIES TO HAMILTON ·

(Chris Wiegand’s article appeared in the Guardian, 6/19.)

Lin-Manuel Miranda’s Hamildrops project gives his leftover lyrics a new life. What happens to other songs dropped from musicals – and how do their creators feel about them?

 ‘Good songs find a way’ … Trevor Dion Nicholas as the Genie in Aladdin; Lin-Manuel Miranda in Hamilton; and Everybody’s Talking About Jamie, starring John McCrea. Composite: Deen van Meer/Getty Images/Johan Persson

When Hamilton opened in London last year, many in the audience already knew its songs inside out. The 2015 Broadway recording of Lin-Manuel Miranda’s smash hit – about the US founding father who will not throw away his shot – had long since gone triple platinum. With 46 tracks, it boasts more songs than most musicals; the off-Broadway track list was even longer. But Miranda still had leftover lyrics – and the feverish love for his show means new Hamilton material is still being released three years after its New York debut.

Remixes, covers and demos appeared on the Hamilton Mixtape in 2016 and this year Miranda has been putting out fresh Hamilton-related tracks every month as part of his Hamildrops series, which he kicked off with a song – and character – he cut from the show. He had written “Decemberists-esque lyrics” to be sung by Ben Franklin but that founding father was deemed superfluous to the story. Miranda later sent the lyrics to Decemberists frontman Colin Meloy and they collaborated on Ben Franklin’s Song (opening line: “Electricity … Yeah, you can all thank me”). Hamilton fans were duly electrified.

(Read more)

BOOK RAVE: ‘FIELD OF BLOOD, A MODERN WESTERN’ BY WAYNE ALLENSWORTH, ENDEAVOUR MEDIA (REPRESENTATION: MARIT LITERARY AGENCY) ·

Chilton Williamson Jr., at Chronicles Magazine writes:

Field of Blood is one of the best new novels I have read in many a yeara superbly written book by a Russian scholar and analyst who is also a careful artist, a stylist, and a poet in prose and in form who has accomplished what few essayists and nonfiction authors ever succeed at: mastering, with apparent effortlessness, the craft of fiction. . . .

“The novel is a considerable literary achievement as well as an appalling prophetic vision of contemporary America, and of the modern world.  I can think of no more pessimistic view bound between covers, yet the pessimism compels the reader and pulls him in rather than putting him off. . . .

This is a true, and terribly beautiful, novel by an artist of considerable ability. . . worthy of comparison with some of the best American works of fiction in recent times.. . .”  

[Field of Blood: A Modern Western, by Wayne Allensworth (London: Endeavour Media) 213 pp., $7.99]

Allensworth has previously received the following quote:

“Wayne Allensworth provides a powerful and moving meditation on American modernity–part gritty action yarn, part compassionating polemic, part evisceration of spiritual emptiness. Across his grand, boldly-coloured landscapes, confused prisoners of circumstances kill or are killed, while republics and civilizations bleed in and out of each other, and everyone and everywhere is compromised”–Derek Turner, author of Sea Changes, Displacement, and A Modern Journey  

Visit Amazon: [Field of Blood: A Modern Western, by Wayne Allensworth (London: Endeavour Media) 213 pp., $7.99]

Visit Chronicles Magazine

Chronicles entire review

Credit: Wayne Allensworth photo (c) 2017 by Elizabeth Allensworth Merino.  All rights reserved.