The Philadelphia Orchestra
Charles Dutoit, conductor
Jeremy Denk, pianist
Verizon Hall, Philadelphia Oct. 8
New York based pianist and star blogger Jeremy Denk seems to like the sixth borough, otherwise known as Philly, performing at Verizon Hall for the third time in the last two years. He was in front of Charles Dutoit and the Philadelphia Orchestra very much the showman. He played to a sparce Friday afternoon subscription crowd, the center of an interesting, not entirely cohesive program of Liszt, Prokofiev and Henri Dutilleux. Dutoit wanted, however obliquely, to highlight musical connections between these works and the maestro is also kicking off a season long examination of French composers.
Dutilleux, now 94, is musical heir apparent to Ravel and Debussy, whose music drew inspiration from the impressionist painters. Dutoit chose his 70s composition ‘Timbres, espace, movement, ou La Nuit Etoilee, which demonstrates that the composer is also compelling not derivative of those composers. He cites Van Gogh’s Starry Night, abstractly, one guesses, because the music is a sound Rorschach of moods and visuals.
Dutoit essayed an eerily airless start to Timbres. Metallic f/x and percussive novas flare from nowhere to keep you off-center, but more intriguing are dense orchestral passages sounding like inverted melody lines. A 12- strong cello section fronted, instead of a standard line-up with violins-violas, but this configuration almost vaporous in the first section (Nebuleuse). The cellos weighed heavily in during the second half (Constellations) dramatically with basso bowing reminiscent at points to Bernard Hermann’s film score to Psycho. By the end, the orchestra crystallized the sound and vision, but it seemed coldly academic.
The atmospherics of the Dutilleux are a million miles from the Franz Liszt’s Piano Concerto No 1, a virtuosic showcase for Jeremy Denk, and he delivered, even with some campy affectations (rapturous facial expressions and dancy arms). Liszt was at risk of listing. But, Denk had moments of sublime engagement with the orchestra, highlighted by muscular trio phrases with principal violin David Kim and cellist Efe Baltacigil. In the central solo section, Denk stripped away any velvet drapery with unfussy technique and authentic passionato.
Dutoit is so adroit going beneath the surface on an easy crowd pleaser like Prokofiev’s ballet score to Romeo and Juliet, giving all parts equal musical space (unlike Riccardo Muti erratic rendition here last winter with the NY Phil). Juliet’s theme as vibrant as the court processional and the tempo precision during Tybalt’s swashbuckling demise, keeping the ballet narrative vivid. Dutoit also igniting a glowing sonority in the strings. The original fab Phils are performing this program in Denk’s neighborhood at Carnegie Hall this week.
Heading the cast of 20 is Broadway actor CJ Wilson as Macbeth and Jacqueline Antaramian (9 Parts of Desire, Scorched) as Lady Macbeth.
The Wilma Theater opens its season with Macbeth, directed by Blanka Zizka, co-founder of the company has been staging plays for thirty years, but has never tried Shakespeare. Zizka spoke by phone this week about the challenge for her.
“I was actually afraid of doing Shakespeare simply because I am Czech, a foreign born American. I basically learned English by doing theater and watching television and reading papers. For me doing Shakespeare seemed to me going into even another language.”
Bucking centuries old tradition. Zizka doesn’t avoid saying the title Macbeth aloud instead of referring to it as ‘the Scottish play.’ She’s not buying into the supposed ‘curse’ that hovers. “I don’t think there is a curse. I think the play has a lot of physical stuff- the fights and witches flying for instance. There are just different physical demands in the play and more things can go wrong, so these superstitions go on.”
Hers is a contemporized Macbeth with high concept, stark designs by Mimi Lien and costumes by Oana Botez-ban. Zizka further defies those backstage jinxes with daredevil choreography by Brian Sanders, who has devised supernatural illusions for those ‘weird sisters’ stirring up the cauldron. Sanders is coming off his hugely successful homoerotic dark dance piece Sanctuary, at the Live Arts Festival.
But Zizka’s focus is also on the relevancy of the poisonous politics of a ruthless king and queen and a country imperiled by their hunger for power. “I’m always interested in looking at plays that depict a world that is changing. And how that impacts individual lives. Macbeth sure does that. It starts at the end of a civil war and a country that is dealing with a tyrant. It‘s not that different than many of the contemporary plays I‘ve directed at the Wilma.”
“I’m not defining the time in Macbeth exactly. by putting this at the end of the 20th century. and putting it in an unnamed country, so that, for instance, the soldiers aren’t identified, they are more of a militia than a particular army
If you, like me, have wondered about how riotous it actually was on May 29,1913 at Théâtre des Champs-Élysées in Paris during the premiere of the Stravinsky’s ballet Le Sacre du Prentemps, the film Coco & Igor answers that question. The opening twenty minutes not only offers a thrilling and plausible depiction of the audience revolt, it is a solidly filmed reconstruction of Nijinky’s explosive ballet. Not a small achievement.
But from there, Coco & Igor, directed by French filmmaker Jan Kuneon unfolds into a pretty vapid account of the affair between fashion pioneer Coco Chanel and genius composer Igor Stravinsky. The screenplay by Chris Greenhalgh, from his novel, depicts these two luminaries with only a glancing resemblance to their actual lives.
Chanel invites the struggling Stravinsky family to take her villa outside of Paris, so Igor, a Russian émigré whose wife is terminally ill, can work and not have to worry about finances or bowing to the classical music establishment. Interesting enough, but all just a set up so Igor and Coco can orchestrate their affair. Even though she mounts him on the piano (while he’s banging out a rewrite of Le Sacre!). Despite this, there isn’t much heat to this relationship. It’s more interesting when Coco wants to derail it. Chanel may be Igor’s patron but, she cooly informs him “I won’t be your mistress.”
Stravinsky’s wife (played by Elena Morozova) tolerates the affair while battling tuberculosis. She sulks about like an escapee from a Berman film as Igor becomes a bourgeoisie bore. Mads Mikkelsen (Casino Royale) is too handsome a version of Igor and he fails to give him much dimension past intense Dostoyevskyean looks.
Anna Mouglalis (Romanzo Criminale) does better as Coco, even with self-conscious scenes of her choosing the scent that becomes Chanel no. 5, for instance, you can’t take your eyes off of her. Her husky voice and smoldering presence captures Coco’s allure, so the clammy dialogue is easily ignored.