Monday, January 26, 2009

Five Hundred Twenty-Five Thousand Six Hundred Minutes

So began the second act of the Broadway musical Rent which I saw last night at the very nice, brand new, Durham Performing Arts Center. This venue gives Durham a performance space on par with Raleigh's Memorial Auditorium. The acoustics in the space and the comfort of the seating combined with great vantage points for most seating locations makes this a nice place to see a performance.

On to the show. Winner of the Tony Award for Best Musical and the Pulitzer Prize, this incarnation of Rent (loosely based on the opera La Boheme) finds cast memebers Adam Pascal and Anthony Rapp reprising the roles they originated on Broadway. The narrative role of Mark Cohen (Anthony Rapp), a filmmaker, holds this whole play together through narration so it was a pleasure having the original seasoned Broadway performer in this role. The other role in this tandem of Broadway vetrans was that of Roger Davis (Adam Pascal), a musician who is HIV positive. This whole show is based on the chemistry of the relationships between love interests and friends. The previous experience of these two key cast members together made the rapport between the characters of Roger and Mark as friends seem so very natural. The show centers around a group of friends and their reaching for a creative open lifestyle that affords them freedom, money, love and creativity all the time. Of course, there are difficulties around each. There is a lesbian couple and a gay couple and they each have relationship issues like normal couples but also have other issues like HIV. In the end their relationships to each other as a group of friends strengthens eventfully through the loss of one of their number named Angel. The music for the night was performed by a terrific band consisting of a rock quartet plus a keyboardist/pianist. Adam Pascal(Roger) actually played guitar so it made him that much more believable in the role when he sang and played. A superb performance from everyone with creative staging and some great singing moments heralds a fine start to Durham's soon-to-be-tradition of hosting fine theatrical events in their new building.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Inauguration Day

"Our challenges may be new. The instruments with which we meet them may be new. But those values upon which our success depends — hard work and honesty, courage and fair play, tolerance and curiosity, loyalty and patriotism — these things are old. These things are true. They have been the quiet force of progress throughout our history. What is demanded then is a return to these truths. What is required of us now is a new era of responsibility — a recognition, on the part of every American, that we have duties to ourselves, our nation, and the world, duties that we do not grudgingly accept but rather seize gladly, firm in the knowledge that there is nothing so satisfying to the spirit, so defining of our character, than giving our all to a difficult task. "

- President Barack Obama's inaugural address, 01.20.09

Saturday, January 17, 2009

Midori and Brahms

So the program at Memorial Hall Thursday was described as a program of music composers sharing a kindred spirit. I would say the program had a consistent thread but essentially was fulfilled in the first half of the program. The featured performer was the prodigy Midori. Now fully matured and in her mid 30s this is an artist who has the emotional depth and the technical facility to really interpret music. The program began with Dvorak's Slavonic Dances. Three of them to be precise with the first and third being precisely played and very much of a whirling dance feel. The second piece was of another sort entirely. The Slavonic Dance in F Major Op. 4 was played with the feel of an adagio movement inbetween these other two dance pieces making a concerto of sorts of the three. The beautiful melody and harmonic structure of this second dance piece would set the stage for the Brahms Violin Concerto that followed.

Enter Midori attired in a gauzy white and black patterned gown to quietly stun the room into the best kind of musical submission. Intensity with focus is the only way to explain how this piece was played. The Brahms Violin Concerto seems to be very much a players piece of music with lots of room to showcase phrasing and dynamics. The first movement began with what could almost be called a call and response format where the orchestra and the soloist each essentially played in response to the other. The segments of Midori's violin being emphatic in both body language and expressive playing. Midori does not just play she becomes the music at times. Thoroughly at home in the moment you never get the sense that she's doing anything but being a pure conduit for the music itself. So as for pitch and technique and tone, astounding on all counts. Lovely, resonant sustained high notes as well as clear,pleasing phrasing all around. After the first Allegro movement I could have gone home happy it was so terrific. The following Adagio gave us another view of the composer and the artist both stretching out harmonically. After this beautiful respite the intensity rose again for the final Allegro. This third movement was more integrated than the first as far as the playing went, soloist and orchestra together more. I must say the the North Carolina Symphony rose to the challenge of the dynamics within this piece beautifully under the guest conductorship of Michael Christie. This performance was another great evening of music from the N.C. Symphony season.

Tuesday, January 6, 2009

Dead Sea Scrolls

The North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences hosted an exhibit of the Dead Sea Scrolls through Sunday of last week. I decided to go the last day and mentioned to my son that we were going to see the Dead Sea Scrolls that day. A couple hours later he asked "what is this dead sea monkey thing we're going to see." So I had him google Dead Sea Scrolls before we went. Crowded with last minute viewers like myself the exhibition was still enjoyable as they strictly controlled the number of people who could go see the scrolls themselves as the room had to be temperature controlled. The leadup to the scroll room was a informative exhibit about Qumran (the place where these scrolls were found) and the people who might have created them. The scrolls themselves seem to have been hidden due to the advancing Roman army who were well on their way to destroying the second temple (and destroying everything in their path, including Qumran). These texts are the oldest known examples of verse from the old testament. Some 1,000 years older than any previously known written examples at the time they were found. Some of these fragments date back to 1 BCE. These scripts were the original books of the old testament in copies, Genesis, Isaiah, Exodus, Deuteronomy along with some communal rules and communal prayers. Those who wrote these believed they were the true people of God and that others were less faithful to the true calling of the teachings in the Old Testament. Turns out Duke University had a chance to buy a large collection of the Dead Sea Scrolls in the 1950s but declined the purchase. Some antique manuscripts from the Duke Collection were on display in this exhibit. Another surprise were that these scrolls were written on leather not parchment. Their preservation in cool caves inside of clay jars made their survival that much more likely than a paper equivalent.