BMOP and Mark Morris

By LLOYD SCHWARTZ  |  May 31, 2012

The last work on the program was the newest, 2000 Pulitzer Prize-winning composer Lewis Spratlan's big orchestral tone poem, Apollo and Daphne Variations (1987). More like the Carter than the Stravinsky, with its rich textures and unexpected narrative turns, it writes Spratlan "mines the heart of European Romanticism." The main theme, he told the audience before the concert, was written as a kind of challenge for one of Spratlan's Amherst students — a 16-bar passage that depicts the aggressor Apollo and his chaste victim, who gets turned into a laurel tree to avoid the god's clutches. That theme, Spratlan's note continues, "appears in its original form as a piano solo" and "emerges from the tonal mist as a kind of found object." It comes quite early — maybe four or five minutes into the piece — and sounds like a section from a lost piano work by Schumann. You think you've heard it before — but it couldn't have been from Davidsbündlertänze or Kreisleriana — could it? It's an inspired imitation and the most breathtaking, daring moment in this thoroughly impressive score.

Mark Morris's music making

Since the Mark Morris Dance Group always performs with live musicians, I've often thought that the musical portions alone would make eminently satisfying if unusual concert programs. I especially felt this on their recent Boston visit (see Marcia B. Siegel's dance review in the May 25 Phoenix). The pieces were a selection of nine of Beethoven's Scottish folk-song settings (for a 2010 dance called The Muir), the Piano Trio No. 5, in E, Opus 83, by Johann Nepomuk Hummel, prolific composer, piano virtuoso, student of Haydn, and friend of Schubert (for the rollicking 2011 Festival Dance), and Erik Satie's expansive cantata Socrate,a setting of selections from three Plato dialogues (for Morris's 2010 Socrates).

The Beethoven songs were eloquently organized by Morris into a haunting quasi-narrative, moving from celebrations of love (including the irresistible "Sally in our alley"), a farm girl's regret that she hadn't loved her farm boy enough now that he's gone off to be a soldier ("Jeanie has not Jeanie been since Jamie went away"), vigorous rants against flirting, vigorous praise of drinking, to the final dark elegy for the many lives lost on the "Muir" (moor). These were enchantingly sung by soprano Kristen Watson, tenor Matthew Anderson, and baritone Michael Kelly. Too bad the words were hard to hear, given how far to the side the singers were in the Cutler Majestic pit (Anderson was the major exception, projecting every syllable of "Sally"). Violinist Georgy Valtchev, cellist Paul Wiancko, and pianist Colin Fowler (who's married to former Morris dancer Julie Worden) were the energetic accompanists.

The Hummel has three movements: Waltz, March (a very slow march), and Rondo: Polka (which had one of Morris's most delightful images — a reemerging row of constantly changing dancers speeding across the stage, with every other dancer spinning around in a circle). The music isn't Mozart, or Beethoven, or Schubert, but it's somewhere among all of them, and non-stop delightful. Valtchev, Wiancko, and Fowler played with freewheeling spirit.

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