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Shostakovich’s Symphony No. 14

Sometimes the best consolation is through misery. I’ve salved a broken heart with Schubert’s Winterreise, and recently mourned the death of Democracy with the Berlioz Requiem. But the grieving that’s needed now is going to infect us for a while, even as we regroup and strategize the new fight. So we need something affecting and profound.

Russian composer Dmitri Shostakovich fought that fight all his creative life, most famously beginning in 1936 when his music was denounced by Pravda (“Muddle instead of music”) in an unsigned piece that probably originated with Stalin himself. It was touch and go for the rest of the composer’s life, as he was forced to redeem himself periodically with music that could be judged by one of the asinine Soviet committees as being not too “formalist.”

By 1969, the 63-year-old composer was seriously ill and contemplating his own death. But he characterized his Symphony No. 14, written over a short period of time, as a protest against death—as well as against persecution.

“It’s a very dark piece,” says Ann-Marie Barker Schwartz, who, as director of the Siena College Music Series, chose the work for the 8 PM concert tonight (Thursday) at the Troy Savings Bank Music Hall. “It’s also very moving and a little frightening.”

The work, clearly inspired by Mussorgsky’s “Songs and Dances of Death” (which Shostakovich orchestrated in 1962), is a setting of eleven fairly morbid poems by Lorca, Apollinaire, Küchelbecker and Rilke, with accompaniment by an orchestra of strings and percussion.

Featured in the performance are two former Glimmerglass Opera Young American Artists: soprano Erika Rauer and bass-baritone Daniel Gross (pictured). The Franciscan Chamber Orchestra will be conducted by Lanfranco Marcelletti.

“The orchestra and singers are thrilled to be playing this work,” says Barker Schwartz, who herself is a violinist with the ensemble. “It’s a piece that doesn’t get programmed very often, but is a profound experience for players and listeners alike.”

Although Shostakovich’s original manuscript featured Russian translations of the poems, he soon gave approval to a version presenting the poems in their original languages, which is what we’ll hear at tonight’s concert.

There is a dramatic progression in the work, both in the texture of the various combinations of voices and instruments and in the textual movement from 20th-century Spain to the Rhine of the middle ages. The final four sections chart a particularly poignant path, as a sarcastic verse by Apollinaire (“Reply of the Zaporozhean Cossacks to the Sultan of Constantinople,” a piece the composer also saw as a portrait of Stalin) gives way to a celebration of the artist (“O Delvig! Delvig!”) and then Rilke’s reflection of an artist’s death, before ending with the sardonic drumbeats underscoring “Death is immense/We belong to him/Of the laughing mouth.”

A free preconcert talk will be given at 7 PM at St. Paul’s Episcopal Church (Third and State streets, a block from the Music Hall) featuring soprano Phyllis Curtain, who sang in the U.S. premiere of the symphony, and Maestro Marcelletti.

The Franciscan Chamber Orchestra will perform Dmitri Shostakovich Symphony No. 14 tonight (Thursday) at the Troy Savings Bank Music Hall (Second and State streets, Troy). Tickets for the 8 PM concert are $23 (students $10); call 273-0038 for reservations.

—B.A. Nilsson

Olivia Newton-John

We’re going to take things back about a quarter-century, to a place where nobody dared to go. A place where a million lights danced. A land of hopes and dreams—and expertly choreographed roller-disco. They call it Xanadu.

Back in 1980, Olivia Newton-John was hot—as an actress and singer, that is. Her star turn as Sandy in Grease had her in high demand, the soundtrack album was selling by the truckload, and audiences wanted more. What they got was a Xanadu—a “dazzling romantic musical comedy” (the filmmakers’ words, not ours) about a reincarnated Greek muse, a visibly uncomfortable Gene Kelly, and a whole bunch of rollerskating. We’re not sure what that all was supposed to add up to, but we do know that while the half-baked film essentially halted Newton-John’s acting career in its tracks, it did add some great musical moments to her singing career, including the sublime title song (a collaboration with Electric Light Orchestra). And we still can’t get over the crush that our inner 5-year-old has on her.

Back in the here and now, the still-stunning Aussie will perform selections from her 30-year career—presumably including some of those Grease tunes—at the Palace Theater this Friday night (Nov. 12). She will be accompanied by the Albany Symphony Orchestra. Tickets for the 7:30 PM performance are $60 and $50, and are available at the Palace box office or by calling 465-3334.

Sisters of Swing

The brassy exuberance of the Andrews Sisters is an indelible part of 1940s, World War II-era pop culture. Whether popping up as the musical relief in Abbott and Costello comedies, performing USO shows for the troops or singing Christmas carols with Bing Crosby, the Andrew Sisters were everywhere. The fact that we still remember them owes as much to their personalities as it does to their often ear-defying vocal gymnastics.

Both are honored in Sisters of Swing, a tribute to Patty, Maxine and LaVerne that opens tomorrow night at Capital Repertory Theatre. It will be interesting to see how the show will balance their razzle-dazzle musical fun with the fact that the three sisters didn’t actually get along all that well. Ah, but that’s show biz!

Sisters of Swing—The Story of the Andrews Sisters opens with preview performances tomorrow (Friday, Nov. 12) through Tuesday (Nov. 16); the regular run begins Wednesday (Nov. 17) and continues through Dec. 19 at Capital Repertory Theatre (111 N. Pearl St., Albany). Performances are at 7:30 PM Tuesday through Thursday; 8 PM Friday; 4 and 8:30 PM Saturday; and 2:30 PM Sunday. Preview tickets are $30-$25; regular-run tickets are $40-$32. For reservations and information, call 445-7469 or visit www.capitalrep.org.


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