Saturday, February 20, 2016

two concerts, an operetta, and a message

I mentioned in connection to seeing Carmen that I don't get to much opera, but I make an exception - if it counts as opera - for Gilbert and Sullivan. Last weekend B. and I saw Ruddigore, probably their most under-rated, from the Lamplighters. Very well-sung, it was better-sung than -acted. I've noted that Gilbert characters should be unconscious of the absurdity of their actions, but it's funnier if they're armored in a serene self-confidence about it. It helps when uttering lines like "You've no idea what a poor opinion I have of myself, and how little I deserve it." Dick Dauntless, for instance, thinks he's noble because he always follows his heart's dictates, and doesn't notice that what it dictates is that he should be selfish and conniving. He should bask in that nobility, and not just be there and sing well. It would also help if he could dance a hornpipe, an ability of the role's creator that Sullivan exploited.

That was on Saturday, with a friend. Sunday was Valentine's, but we've learned not to celebrate on that day: it's the worst day of the year to dine out romantically, and in any case B. couldn't be out in the evening because of work hours on Monday. So that's why I went by myself to not one but two chamber music concerts that day, which I reviewed, grabbing a quick meal at a favorite unpretentious Chinese place between.

At the first concert, however, I received a Message. One of those occasions where God, the universe, or somebody seems to be telling you something. It came in the form of a pile of brochures which must have been left at the table by guest violist Barry Shiffman, because he's the director of what the brochures were for, the Banff International String Quartet Competition.

I'd heard of this. I knew it was prestigious and held in the Alberta Rockies and that Shiffman's old group, the St. Lawrence Quartet, whom I know well from their Stanford residency, won it long ago. It's only held every three years and this summer is it. But it had never occurred to me until I saw this audience brochure that it was something I could attend, and not for much money considering that it includes a week's room-and-board, and 14 string quartet concerts. Nor had I realized until I read the list of past winners that I've heard half these groups and they're all really good.

But what really sold me was a quote in the brochure from a journalist describing it as Bayreuth for string quartet music. I know people who've been to Bayreuth and who've had a transcendent aesthetic experience. That sounds great except that I'm not interested in listening to a lot of Wagner. But string quartets are more my speed. Here's the last competition's winners in a Beethoven finale: I want to hear more people who can play like this:

So I accepted the message, I made my reservations and I'm going.

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