Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Opera Cabal and Time Travel

Opera Cabal's final performance of USW sold out Galapagos Art Space last night. Due to some last minute tinkering (on a whim, Alex & I ordered a giant 7X10 screen that hung under the disco ball in the center of the space and looked like one of those awesome LCD display screens at the Super Bowl, plus Habib jerry-rigged the onstage scrim to sweep up and down like a massive sail, and the bartenders dyed the water under the audience's seats black, the better to reflect all the projections in the piece) the show was, in short, spectacular. Yesterday I didn't like New Yorkers. Today, I'm in love with them.

From a personal standpoint, I highly recommend doing something interesting enough that people you haven't seen in half a lifetime are tempted to come and hang out to see it. I thought I'd died and gone to heaven yesterday -- but literally. Every 10 seconds someone I hadn't seen in between 5 and 12 years walked past me and then we recognized each other ... and then had nothing to say. Excellent!

Things that don't change in a city that is otherwise always changing:

I hit up the Verb café in Williamsburg this morning, an old haunt of mine from 2005. Back in the day, when most other coffee houses, especially hip, progressive ones like the Verb (started by the man who married the girl who played the crazy pretty princess in The Neverending Story) were sporting fancy hi-speed wireless internet access, to get internet at the Verb you had to walk out of the cafe and down a weird, slightly deserted hallway to this grungy little tech hole called the internet garage to buy -- in person -- a faded little internet day pass (User Name: BH#cInQ$3h, Password: IcY*007) that didn't even work 60% of the time. It was very 1998 in 2005. In 2010, lo and behold, the internet garage is still there, and you still have to walk back in time and give your paper money to Marty McFly to be able to use the internet. In spite of this, to all you friends of mine who pooh-pooh Williamsburg and refuse to go there anymore because it's so developed, GET OVER IT. New York will always be developing. Williamsburg is awesome, even with all the strollers, and there is no competition for the runny oatmeal at the Verb.

Saturday, February 13, 2010

Opera Cabal rehearses USW in Oberlin

In preparation for a move to Chicago (February 19 & 20) and NYC (February 22), Opera Cabal spent the last week rehearsing its newest work, USW, here in snowy Oberlin. USW was commissioned and written by & for Opera Cabal in 2008 by Lewis Nielson, chair of composition at Oberlin Conservatory. We spent the summer workshopping the piece at High Concept Laboratories (one of Kevin Simmons' many projects) and are now putting on the finishing touches.

Some photos from the production process this winter, c/o Kevin Simmons...

Me, playing Rosa Luxemburg.

Sarah Kozinn, our new actress, cowering next to the newly-built chair.

Me, trapped behind the scrims.

Chair building.

Me & Sarah: hair-pulling (yes, these things are ALL in the show).

And finally, our creative team, from left: Habib Azar, director; Sarah Kozinn; Lewis Nielson; me, floor; and Molly Feingold, assistant director.

Friday, February 5, 2010

Peter Maxwell Davies in NYC

I left for New York at the beginning of the week intending to interview Peter Maxwell Davies (whose mid-century, incendiary works for theater are the subject of my dissertation). (BD, I have you alone to thank for this. You know who you are :) In 1969, Davies left Manchester and retreated, literally, to the Orkney Islands, where he now lives with his partner, Colin Parkinson. Instead of interviewing Davies, I spent two hours talking to the two of them about Orkney -- Davies' cow, who lives with them, is affectionate & pliable and stays with the neighbors when its two dads are out of town. Colin owns goldfish that are a foot long, and nearly twenty years old. Both have eaten swan. No one in Orkney locks his doors at night, and Davies has been known to wander into neighbors' houses to make himself a sandwich.

But it's not as if any of this is incidental to Davies' career, which is overwhelmingly public -- apart from being Master of the Queen's Music, Davies' Orkney Island Festival has attracted the likes of André Previn and Vladimir Ashkenazy. Rather, Davies' career is a remarkable instance of how to disappear completely and still remain in the public eye. I, being very much the perpetual traveler due to all this Opera Cabal fuss, spend inordinate amounts of time with inordinate numbers of people & in the intervals when I'm not, feel like climbing into bed with a shot glass and noise-canceling headphones. Davies has managed to strike a balance. When he's not jet-setting across the Atlantic or meeting disorganized graduate students in music, he's chilling with a cow, a couple of goldfish and a sunset (and, of course, the company of a compulsive urge to compose). But the two clearly enable one another. It's time to move to Orkney.

Rebekah Heller in concert

As if I needed further evidence of the superiority of the I.C.E. musicians, not only as musicians, but also as human beings, enter Rebekah Heller.* I heard Rebekah, a bassoonist, last week in a private concert along with fellow I.C.E.'er William McDaniel (piano) that included works by Vivaldi, Edgar Guzman (a special 2008 commission that called for amplified bassoon, coordinated with live tape loop), Gubaidulina and Astor Piazzolla.

It was an exemplary concert in every conceivable way. I'm obviously a fan of intimate spaces and here there was intimacy to spare. I'm also a fan of performers who not only know how to speak about complicated music in uncomplicated ways, but can do so and disarm their audience in the process. And the programming was superb -- if I may attempt to package and resell the effectiveness of the arc of the evening's concert for my fellow musicians:

Start with 1 something that shows off a technical & lively command of the instrument, followed by 2 a total contrast, in this case the arresting quality of VERY new music, followed by 3 an emotionally unchecked outpouring of virtuosity and, then 4 end with tango, because it's just awfully sexy.

*Don't believe me? Check out the dueling oboes concert at MoCP next Friday, February 12. And don't get there late, because you may not get in.