Saturday, October 31, 2020

words and music

I had a few variably interesting online artistic experiences this week.

Most effective was a brief string-orchestra concert by the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra. I'd read of their series in an article in the Washington Post, and this one looked interesting enough to sign up for. Socially-distanced players in masks, wearing black, spread across a big blank stage. They played the Shostakovich so-called "Chamber Symphony", an arrangement of his inward-dwelling String Quartet No. 8, which came out here with the proper expression of drama. Also the Serious Song of Irving Fine, a post-Romantic work I hadn't heard in, oh, some forty years, plus what I was most there for, two movements from a string quartet by Florence Price, one movement slow and dreamy, one quietly uptempo. Both combined a 19th-century string quartet base with softly swinging melodies and rhythms influenced by African-American folk music, marking Price's kinship with William Grant Still.

One musical talk: Nicholas McGegan, recently retired from leading Philharmonia Baroque, gave one on "Bach and the Dance." This turned out mostly to be about the importance of dance to genteel culture in Bach's time, plus descriptions of various dance forms Bach used in his music, including their appearances sans titles even in his religious cantatas. McGegan didn't address the question I was hoping to hear about, whether the dance-titled movements in Bach's solo violin and cello music are intended to be heard as dance music or are merely nominal titles, a question on which musicologists are at odds. So I asked it in chat. McGegan didn't really address that specific point either, but said he'd led performances of Bach's orchestral suites to which dancing was actually being done.

One literary talk from the Wade Center, on whether reading Lewis's and Tolkien's descriptions of natural landscapes can lead the reader to greater sensitivity to real-world landscapes. Well of course it can. Next question?

And a play. I'd read a rave review of a production by the Mint Theater (of NYC) of Conflict by Miles Malleson, a supposedly unjustly-forgotten 20C British play. Strike the "un" and you have it. Set during the 1923 British general election, it depicts a flighty young well-off woman who's caught between the Conservative and Labour candidates for her constituency. (She wouldn't have had the vote yet, but that doesn't seem to matter.) The Tory is a smug older man who's been genteelly courting her; the Socialist is a rather desperate fellow she meets by contrived happenstance. She runs back and forth between them as each puts his political case to her, rebutting the arguments she repeats from the other one; and this goes on until the Socialist suddenly concludes one of their meetings by saying, "I want to kiss you" and does. Mind, she's given him absolutely no reason to want to kiss her except that she's young and female and in his boarding room, but apparently that's enough. It was enough for me: I turned it off at that point.

Also, I've put my hand back in the classical concert reviewing game with an article for the Daily Journal on local online concerts. For my next trick, I ought to review some of these upcoming events, a prospect - online concerts are not the real live thing, no matter how much I pretend they're alike - I'm anticipating with some trepidation.

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