Monday, June 14, 2010

Henze on ICE, Actually Anything on ICE

A good reason to visit Greenwich Connecticut.

I roll into Penn Station and act like I own the place, because I don't want anyone to detect I no longer live there. I am excessively put out. I wear heels. I am tall. I know where I'm going. I am on the phone. I won't look at you.

But I try too hard. I am an ex-New Yorker. I refrain from suggesting meeting locales because they may no longer be hip. They may no longer exist. I am attracted to major shopping areas. I call the 1/9 the red line. I drop my car keys in the middle of Whole Foods. Worse, I no longer like New York. It contains multitudes. I used to like New York because it was crowded and impossible to figure out. Now I don't like New York because it is crowded and impossible to figure out.

Yet another reason to visit Greenwich Connecticut.

On Saturday, I clumsily made my way to Grand Central Station. It's been years since I was there. What the hell is Metro North? Like a tourist, I gawk at the beautiful ceilings until realizing I look like a tourist. I have no idea where I'm going. Connecticut is a state. Shouldn't I be going to LaGuardia?

If I were a New Yorker, I would have known that Connecticut is merely a train ride away from Manhattan. On a Saturday, you can catch a 6:10p train and be in Riverside, CT by 6:55p. Arriving at the train platform, you can mount the stairs to find a little country road that has all the cuteness of the country (stone walls, looping vines, cats in the road) and all the convenience of fat pensions (a Balducci's greets you at your destination; watch that you don't hit a road sign while checking your Blackberry). About a mile down the road is the Theater at St. Catherine of Sienna, where the Greenwich Music Festival has erected a small but efficient playing stage.

Last Saturday my travel companion and I took the train to catch the International Contemporary Ensemble in a version of Hans Werner Henze's El Cimarron. The program book blurb calls the piece "a remarkable work of music-theater narrating the true life of Esteban Montejo." Montejo is an Afro-Cuban born a slave on a sugar plantation in 1860 who escapes to live in the jungle. During one of the most beautiful moments in the piece, Montejo, the narrator, lies down in the middle of the stage to converse with the birds. In one of the more shocking moments he talks about how he occupies himself in the absence of women (it involves horses). For my money, El Cimarron is the best kind of opera, by which I mean it is musical and theatrical, and involves extended vocal technique. It is short rather than long, impressively well acted, cheap, intimate and just as involved with story as with music. The libretto isn't always weird enough to be interesting, but this particular staging included some of the most compelling choreography I've seen recently -- look out for this fellow, Zack Winokur, the choreographer.

It's hard to find adequate praise for the musicians of ICE. As I've swooned about them before on this blog suffice it to say here that in this case Nathan Davis (percussion), Dan Lippel (guitar), and Claire Chase (flutes) do Henze better than Henze even deserves. Claire also played an instrument that looked something like the Guitar Hero version of a Bandoneon with greater enthusiasm and sex appeal than the composer could possibly have envisioned.

I'm sorry to say the piece has concluded its run but if you're in New York, check out the ICE/Jasperse collaboration that's coming up -- it was very good in Chicago.