Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Late entry

A little info on the most recent item to land on my Top 10 for 2009, Kyle Bartlett's "The Lost Child." I wasn't familiar with "The Enigma of Kaspar Hauser," the Werner Herzog film that was a point of inspiration for Bartlett's opera; it's now on my Netflix queue, hopefully to arrive soon.

It's an unconventional opera, to say the least, featuring a flute-playing actor (or acting flutist) with electronic enhancements, an actor playing multiple roles who also sings, a percussionist, and a bevy of pre-recorded and altered sounds.

Bartlett set the tale in a futuristic surveillance society and portrayed the Hauser figure, Ana, herself. Ben Pierce played the Shadow Man, who brings Ana to Nuremberg; the Sector Manager; the Big Brother-ish figure of The Authority; and Doctor Nassar, who teaches Ana language and attempts to integrate her into society.

As Ana, Barlett convincingly expressed fear, doubt, anger, confusion, curiosity and rapture. After the show, she claimed to have just been making it up as she went along. She was similarly casual about her flute-playing, which drew heavily on extended techniques, including vocalizations, keyslaps, and pitch-bends.

The electronic elements mimicked firing synapses, disconnected thoughts and, during scenes of Ana's introduction to language, the acquisition of vocabulary. I could even detect stray German amid the fractured phrases and processed natural sounds, though I'm not sure if the phrase "Verstehen sie" is original to the Herzog film.

In short, the opera was compelling both musically and dramatically. The primordial elements - of exploring one's origins, or of acquiring language for the first time - echoed other, non-vocal works on the concert, particularly the violin-and-cello duet "Night Vision." Even simple elements, like changes in wardrobe or shifts in Bartlett's approach to her instrument (from unadorned notes to hissed and spat effects back to notes again), conveyed an unforced sense of significance. I don't have much else on my slate for the rest of the year, so "The Lost Child" will probably be the last concert I see in 2009 - and one of the best.

Monday, December 14, 2009

Top 10

The Crossing, David Shapiro's "It is time," Presbyterian Church of Chestnut Hill, January 4.

Bang on a Can All-Stars, Michael Gordon's "For Madeline," Perelman Theater, February 28.

Curtis Opera Theatre and the Opera Company of Philadelphia, Alban Berg'sWozzeck, Perelman Theater, March 13.

Symphony in C with harpist Bridget Kibbey, Sebastian Currier's "Broken Minuets," Perelman Theater, April 16.

Greater South Jersey Chorus, Aaron Copland's "At the River," National Gallery of Art in Washington, DC, April 18.

The Crossing (again), works by Kile Smith and Joby Talbot, St. Peter's Church, June 10.

John Vanderslice and band, "Exodus Damage," Johnny Brenda's, June 11.

Sonic Liberation Front, "Jetway Confidential No. 3," Institute for Contemporary Art @ UPenn, July 29.

Asphalt Orchestra, works by Mingus, Bjork, Bregovic, et al., 30th Street Station, August 7.

Kyle Bartlett, Benjamin Pierce and Kristopher Rudzinski, "The Lost Child," Settlement Music School, Mary Louise Curtis Branch, December 13.

Honorable mention: Academy of Vocal Arts, "Lucia di Lammermoor," May 5, Helen Ward Corning Theater.

Conflict-of-interest mention: All solo arias and recitatives, as well as the Baroque horn solo, during Choral Arts Society's performance of Bach's B minor Mass, First Baptist Church of Philadelphia, May 9.

Tuesday, December 08, 2009

Before year's end

I'm holding off on posting my Top 10 list of the best performances I saw this year. I pondered the timing of year-end lists last year, and even though the usual critical heavy-hitters have already weighed in several weeks before the end of the year, I'm seeing two concerts this weekend that I hope might crack the Top 10.

First, on Saturday, a concert of Baroque music by Symphony in C with soprano Julianne Baird, which I previewed for the Courier-Post on Sunday. I'm interested to hear how a pared-down Symphony takes to Baroque style, while vocal fireworks from Baird are a given. 8 p.m. Saturday at Rutgers-Camden; I'll be reviewing for the C-P.

Second, on Sunday, a showcase of works by composer Kyle Bartlett. Kyle's a friend and an invaluable resource and sounding board on new music, both in general and in Philly. Before we met last summer, she described herself, via e-mail, as an "absolute hard-ass when it comes to aesthetics." This hard-assery has undoubtedly served her well as she's worked on "The Lost Child," an opera for solo flute with electronics, actor and percussion funded by the Independence Foundation Fellowship in the Arts program.

Another endorsement has already come in from the West Coast. Anyone near Philly should make it to this one. 8 p.m. on Friday at Settlement Music School's Germantown location (6128 Germantown Avenue, Philadelphia), and 7 p.m. on Sunday at the Queen Village location (416 Queen Street). Both are free.