Tuesday, June 27, 2006
HOM returns (again), Fünf jahre, Golijov, Frisell-O-Rama, split personality
Next, my review of Osvaldo Golijov's Ainadamar has now been posted at WBUR Online Arts. I could kick myself for missing an actual performance of the opera not too long ago in Manhattan, but the new DG recording--with Dawn Upshaw and Robert Spano conducting the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra--is pretty generous with the thrills and chills. I began this way:
For most composers, geography is destiny. Even Schoenberg--whose innovations were supposed to release music not only from its diatonic prison but from the local idiom of late Romanticism--always sounds, well, German. Still, no living composer has demonstrated this truth as emphatically as Osvaldo Golijov.You can read the rest here.
Born in La Plata, Argentina in 1960, he was weaned on a distinctive musical diet: one part Bach to one part Astor Piazzolla. Yet his parents were both Eastern European Jews, and Golijov's curiosity about his bifurcated heritage brought him to Jerusalem in 1982. Later he moved to the United States to study with George Crumb, whose dissonant procedures are still audible in an early piece like the "Yiddishbbuk" (1992) for string quartet. What characterizes his mature sound, however, is a freewheeling fusion of Latin rhythms and Sephardic cantillation, plus a kitchen-sink approach to technique. If it works, he embraces it--and this hearty pragmatism extends to the laptop computer, which Golijov has called "a folkloric instrument of our time."
Meanwhile, I wanted to mention another musical event, which I attended (with two lovely ladies) on Friday night: a tag-team recital by the Bill Frisell Trio, Kelly Joe Phelps, and Petra Haden. Readers of this blog will be familiar with my fanatic devotion to Frisell and Phelps. And while I haven't delved as deeply into Haden's work, I've got a very soft spot for her nutty acapella version of The Who Sell Out. Anyway, the show at Symphony Space put me in seventh heaven from the very first note, when the combined forces launched into "Big Shaky" (a tune from Phelps's impending release Tunesmith Retrofit). Thanks to a crystalline sound mix, you could hear it all: Phelps's gorgeous fingerpicking, Frisell's lyrical, wacky comping, and the superbly responsive rhythm section of Kenny Wolleson on drums and Tony Scherr on bass. True to form, Frisell kept shiftng the spotlight. Haden did many of the songs from her 2005 duet album with the guitarist, including a limber, loopy take on "Floaty"--you could see a big grin creep across Frisell's face when he switched on the fuzzbox--and a rambunctious "I Don't Want To Grow Up." She also sang the old Carter Family chestnut "Single Girl, Married Girl" (not a very positive take on matrimony, by the way) with twangy harmonies from Tony Scherr.
For me, in fact, Scherr was the real sleeper of the evening. I've always admired his work with Frisell, but on Friday he exuded a goofy charm that was irresistible. Twice he stepped into the spotlight: once to sing "Whiskey Girl" (with Haden's doleful fiddle in the background) and again for "Come Around" (from his own CD, which I'm now going to buy). On the latter tune he traded instruments with his employer and treated the audience to some delightfully scuzzy sounds on what looked like an old Gretsch: scrubby chording, overdriven slide, and his own hangdog vocals. Three cheers! As for Frisell himself, he uncorked an exquisite version of "A Change Is Gonna Come" and an appropriately apocalyptic "A Hard Rain's A-Gonna Fall." (Say, maybe that was the secret theme of the evening: the word gonna.) The ensemble wrapped things up with a rousing "I Shall Be Released"--the only three-part harmony of the evening, alas--and I left the theater feeling like life was pretty good after all. My single regret: they weren't recording this tremendous summit. Unless they were.
One final bit. I was paging through Howard Pollack's Aaron Copland: The Life and Work of an Uncommon Man, an assiduously researched but somewhat disorganized biography, and came across this excellent nugget:
While out in Hollywood scoring The North Star for Samuel Goldwyn, [Copland] met Groucho Marx at a recital that included his Piano Sonata. When during the intermission Marx expressed surprise at the work's modern language, Copland explained, "Well, you see, I have a split personality." "It's okay, Copland," responded Marx, "as long as you split it with Sam Goldwyn."
Tickets are $22 advance, $26 day of show. MASS MoCA is located in northern Berkshire county. For more information, call the box office at (413) MoCA-111 or visit us online at www.massmoca.org.