Burnett Thompson Blog

May 24, 2008

Jasmine Chen & Steve Sweeting at Two Cities

Filed under: music, theater, China Tour 4 — burnett @ 4:03 pm

At Two Cities Gallery in Moganshan Lu, I stopped by to hear vocalist Jasmine Chen and my friend  pianist Steve Sweeting on March 28.  The Gallery was jammed, and I couldn’t even get close to the stage, but I did get a good idea of just what the performers were aiming for.  It was Shanghai eclecticism at its best.  It had a whiff of Barbara Cook with Wally Harper, the legendary duo of the 80’s and 90’s, with a relaxed, unhurried walk through thoughtful and unfamiliar repertoire.  Well,  unfamiliar because half of it was composed and written by the performers themselves, including Jasmine’s  new lyric for the Paul Desmond classic, Take 5.   Jasmine sings with a calm and pure understatement that allows the song to speak for itself. The audience loved this performance.

PROGRAM

莫愁湖边走 Mo chou hu bian zou:  Describes  Mo Chou Lake, (Chinese: “don’t be sad and worried,”)  the writer is  walking by the lake, where everything is beautiful and where one may forget sadness. (more…)

March 1, 2008

Lorin Maazel and Wagner at the Met

Filed under: music, theater, travel — burnett @ 5:23 am

 LM and the Phil in Pyongyang

The night before heading to Beijing for the now famous New York Philharmonic China and Pyongyang tour, Lorin Maazel conducted his last Walkure performance at the Met on Feb. 6.  I was offered a last minute ticket, so jumped on the train and arrived just in time for the curtain.  I am embarrassed to say that this was my first visit to the Met, and my first opportunity to hear the orchestra.  In short, among musicians, this orchestra has often been spoken of as the greatest in the country, if not the world.  I was struck by the impact of the basses and lower brass from my seat (11th row directly behind the conductor).  The singers were outstanding, and the production was old and old-fashioned.  Orchestras always play their best with LM, and I heard one of the finest orchestral performances of my lifetime.  The clarity and execution were foremost, and the sustained winds and strings mesmerizing, an LM trait.  There is a simple purity in an LM performance, that allows the music to just speak for itself.  To hear this particular work in this setting with this conductor…

Listen: Dress rehearsal of Walkure at the Met.  Takes awhile to load, but worth it.

April 16, 2007

Benjamin Britten at Castleton Theater

Filed under: music, theater — burnett @ 6:28 am

Lorin Maazel conducted Britten’s “Rape of Lucretia”� this weekend at Castleton Theater.� This is a weighty piece that creates symbols for the oppression of beauty and purity by the sheer force of power.� The text goes straight for Christian symbolism:� the sacrifice of the pure Christ tied in with the violation and death of Lucretia.� An important distinction is that Lucretia decides that her beauty is a sin because of the lust and violence that it inspired.� The play is seen through the eyes of a man and woman who comprise a sort of chorus.� They are constantly aware of the mirror of the story to their own relationship, and they are as troubled as the viewer by the implications of the plot.� (more…)

May 25, 2006

Britten and Maazel

Filed under: music, theater — burnett @ 6:46 am

Last week, I caught the dress rehearsal and final performance of “The Turn of the Screw” by Benjamin Britten. Lorin Maazel invited a young orchestra, all Juilliard undergrads and grad students, and a young professional cast to Castleton, where they lived and rehearsed for 10 days. It was Camp Maazel. The students were well aware that this was the experience of a lifetime. They had never had anything like this, and likely would never experience anything similar in the future. The truth is, it is possible that this approach to a chamber opera has never taken these dimensions ever. The intensity of the preparation, combined with the intimacy (there were only a thirteen musicians) and the expectations of the conductor produced a refined performance. This is not a review, only a statement of fact.

The students are moving on to Marlboro, Aspen, Tanglewood and other rarified opportunities that the first-water instrumentalists do while wandering to a career. Several spoke of intense activity with their own chamber groups and their burgeoning free lance schedules in New York. As a group, they are very excited about their work, their possibilities, opportunities and music in general. They are very lucky and they know it. The life of a musician is utterly intoxicating when you get off to a good start.

April 22, 2006

The Helen Hayes Awards

Filed under: music, theater — burnett @ 3:42 pm

The 22nd Helen Hayes Awards took place on Monday, April 17. My old friend Joanne Schmoll was a nominee, and I attended the whole evening. The VIP dinner was a “This is Your Life” scenario, with a host of old acquaintances popping up. The ceremony itself was notable because of the onstage music presentation. The orchestra was led by Glenn Pearson on piano, who has a charismatic presence and pulled the whole thing off quite well. George Hummel was the orchestra arranger for the evening, as he has been for countless shows now at various theaters, including Ford’s, Arena Stage, Signature, etc. The orchestra included Sue Kelly on cello, reed players Hummel, Charlie Young, Lee Lachman, trumpeter Dave Detwiler, percussionists Mark Carson and Tom Jones, guitarist Phil Matthieu, and others. The Warner Theater was packed, and at $400 a ticket, quite an impressive display of theater-philia.

The amplification of the orchestra was not good, and although the piano was well mic’d, the orchestra was poorly mixed, and much of Hummel’s work went to waste. How a nameless audio engineer can ruin the work of top performers like George and the others always amazes me. In the studio, there is such infinite attention to detail, but in public performance there is almost always a significant failure. This is not a new problem, but is repeated on a daily basis somewhere in Washington, whether at the military band concerts or at the Kennedy Center.

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