Sunday, August 26, 2012

In the Cards: TITO's stunning 'Waste Land'

A beautiful fall day in the middle of summer at Maudslay State Park, making this August, however splendid, seem a bit sad, perhaps cruel. Not April cruel, with its false hope, coaxed from the dead land, from the forgetful snow, but cruel nonetheless. We’re walking along a damp, fragrant path to the performance site – on time for once, early, in fact, without a care, so it becomes a lovely, leisurely stroll, a point unto itself. We come across a small crowd where the path veers away, lazily, towards the river. Which is strange. Usually you walk right to the “stage” and pull up a bit of lawn. Something else is going on. Obviously. So we wait with the others. As the minutes pass, we debate whether this is part of the production, our wait a metaphor for the uneasy, potent concept of not knowing, about uncertainty, about the future, about life, about death, which lies at the heart of “The Waste Land,” the T.S. Elliott poem, perhaps the most celebrated poem in Western literature, one that has been re-imagined for the stage by Theater in the Open and directed by Stephen Haley, probably best known for his productions of all things Beckett, but whose edgy, vivid, stripped-down production of Sartre's “The Flies” last year set an impossible standard for the future. And this production, an adaptation of a dense, modern poem that is about everything, including nothingness, that, in itself, does not cry out for the stage, that is all wrong for the stage, would certainly pose the same sorts of challenges. Perhaps more, seeing how it's just 400-plus lines, including the Latin opening and the Sanskrit ending, one that takes maybe 20 minutes to read and a lifetime to understand, with no immediately obvious narrative.

Sunday, August 12, 2012

Fan-tastic: Bruisers back together ... for one night

Face it, it’s a fact of life. Sooner or later, you’ll have to drive too far and pay far too much money to see a band — you know, someone from back in the day, one of those bands that struck a nerve, that makes your heart go thumpa-thumpa still, that makes you grit your teeth and  feel those feelings again, the ones that made you feel alive, lighting you up in a way you barely remember now, with the mortgage and health insurance to deal with, right? Even if you weren’t really there, like Dropkick Murphys frontman Al Barr intimated in an interview about, among other things, the Bruisers, the Portsmouth/Newburyport punk band he founded back in 1988, a band that bashed its way out of regional obscurity with a brutal, punishing, as-hard-as-you-can-get street punk sound, a band that built a name for itself here and a virtual cult-status in western Europe. Which is not to say they ever achieved mass popularity of any sort, because they didn't. Despite the legion of fans the Bruisers have now. Which was Barr’s point exactly when he was talking about the last Bruisers reunion. Which was seven years ago, at this point, when the band filled the Roxy, drawing close to 1,000 fans — unheard of in the day, like five times what the band would get, on a good day, back in the day. ”It's cool to like a band when they don't exist anymore, as long as they're not popular," he said earlier this year in an interview for the gimmenoise blog.

Monday, August 6, 2012

It's in with the new at NCMF

What's new with the Newburyport Chamber Music Festival, the intimate classical music series with a rock and roll attitude, as it digs into its second decade? Plenty, says NCMF Artistic Director David Yang in an e-mail exchange from Calabria, Italy, in the Bay of Naples, where the violist chills, so to speak, every summer before the Port music series kickoff, at Festivale d’alla Musica da Camera d’Ischia, a week-long chamber music festival and intensive workshop where Yang has been a coach and performer for years — a cool retreat, he says,  but “hot as hell, actually,” he says, “but a dry heat,”  not that dry heat is much of a comfort. New? There will be new players, in the festival quartet, which will feature two new violinists, and at large, with two hired guns in the house to perform the much-loved Brahms Sextet, among other pieces. There will be new venues, as organizers reach across the river into Carriagetown for its first-ever non-Port concert, a performance benefiting the steeple restoration fund for the historic Union Congregational Church, as well as an open rehearsal at the 14 Cedar Street Artist Studios.  As in the past, there will be a world premiere, another piece highlighted by local texts, this one with Port poet Rhina Espaillat’s  “Three Tenses of Light,” inspired by the paintings of Ipswich artist Andrew Anderson-Bell, which will be lit up by Philadelphia composer Andrea Clearfield, who composed  it specifically for the Port-based  Candlelight Chorale, a 30-voice chorus. Which is certainly new for NCMF.

The (classical) beat goes on at NCMF

You never really know what the Meehan/Perkins Duo is going to throw at you, or even what instruments they might be playing, until the program is in your hand — and even that might not help because the music tends to be, well, either a bit obscure, or so aggressively modern that it’s not even on the pop culture radar. The music could be anything from Joanna Beyer, the grand dame of American percussion music, or, for that matter, anyone from that circle of, sadly, largely unknown composers from the ‘30s, to new music guru/composers like David Lang, best known for his work with Bang on a Can All Stars, or the “superstars” of new music, people like Steve Reich or John Cage, both of whom will be represented when the duo pulls into town this weekend to kick off the second decade of the Newburyport Chamber Music Festival with a slightly stripped-down concert at St. Paul’s Church, a decision based on the size of the venue — or, more accurately, "how big of a box it is, how many of my toys I can fit on the stage," says Todd Meehan.  The instruments could be marimbas, could be gongs. Could be congas, could be flowerpots. Could be anything they can get their hands on. Could, in fact, be their hands. The duo has a “big tent” view of percussion. Anything is possible.