Posts Tagged ‘Woody Allen’

New York Was His “Howieland”

Wednesday, February 29th, 2012

by Sedgwick Clark

It’s a most improbable New York story: Broadway salutes a theater critic, of all things, by dimming its lights during prime box-office time prior to curtain. How often has that happened? No one would have been more astonished to receive this honor than its recipient, Howard Kissel, theater critic of the New York Daily News for 20 years, who died on Friday (2/24) at age 69 of complications from a 2010 liver transplant.

Howard and I shared a Midwestern upbringing and undying gratitude for living in New York City and being able to partake of its wonders. He was as unassuming, knowledgeable, and gentlemanly a member of the Fourth Estate as one could imagine. His critical judgments were direct, perceptive, and never gratuitously personal, laced with a droll, understated wit that always left one smiling. I had met Howard at the Russian Tea Room back in the 1970s when he was arts editor of Women’s Wear Daily and W magazine but only got to know him well in the ’90s. In between, he appeared in his one and only film as Woody Allen’s manager in Starlight Memories (1980). He wrote a biography of David Merrick and a study of Stella Adler’s teaching techniques. We saw each other frequently at Carnegie Hall and Lincoln Center, when we would compare notes and I could grill him about shows I should try to sandwich between my concertgoing. I never received a bum steer.

An S.R.O. audience at Howard’s funeral yesterday shared many tears and much laughter as he was remembered. His sisters, Anne and Judy, affectionately eulogized their big brother, saying that he always seemed to be from another planet, which they called “Howieland.” A friend recounted that Howard had been on a list for a liver transplant for some time, but when the hospital finally called he discovered he had tickets that evening for City Center’s Encores! presentation of Stephen Sondheim’s cult musical Anyone Can Whistle and opted for the show. It would be months before he got a second chance for a new liver.

Musical America was fortunate to have Howard writing theater reviews for its Web site on occasion in recent years, and he blogged under the title “The Cultural Tourist” for the Daily News and, more recently, the Huffington Post, in which he filed his last, bittersweet entry three days before his death. Both the News and the Times printed obits worthy of his charmed life.

And then, on Tuesday at 7 p.m., Broadway dimmed its lights for a minute in recognition of one of its own.

Looking Forward

My week’s scheduled concerts:

3/2 Carnegie Hall. Vienna Philharmonic/Lorin Maazel. Sibelius: Symphonies Nos. 1, 5, and 7.

3/5 Zankel Hall. Making Music, Jeremy Geffen, moderator. Soloistes XXI. Saariaho: Echo; Nuits, Adieux; Lonh; From the Grammar of Dreams; Tag des Jahrs.

3/6 Carnegie Hall. Boston Symphony/John Oliver. Tanglewood Festival Chorus/John Oliver. Christine Brewer, soprano; Michelle DeYoung, mezzo; Simon O’Neill, tenor; Eric Owens, bass-baritone. Beethoven: Missa solemnis.

Precision Isn’t Everything

Friday, August 5th, 2011

by Sedgwick Clark

We’ve been in the thrall of “perfect” playing for so long that sometimes it takes a less than precise ensemble to remind us of genuine character. The Royal Danish Orchestra, under its music director Michael Schønwandt, had it in spades last week in its delightful program of native son Carl Nielsen’s strange little Pan and Syrinx and his irresistible Clarinet Concerto, followed after intermission by Stravinsky’s complete Pulcinella.

Nielsen’s tongue-in-cheek sense of humor informs both of these works. Nila Parly’s program notes on Pan and Syrinx tell us that “Five days prior to the premiere, Nielsen’s daughter, Anne Marie, was married to Hungarian violinist Emil Telmányi. Nielsen had been slow in granting his permission for the marriage, and the fact that his wedding gift to the young couple was the dedication of this particular symphonic poem about a lascivious musician who pursues an innocent nymph and transforms her into his instrument, speaks volumes about Nielsen’s own perceptions of his son-in-law.” Perhaps, except that Telmányi soon became his father-in-law’s closest friend and a lifetime champion, performing and recording his Violin Concerto and other works as well as conducting the first performance of the Clarinet Concerto.

The clarinet is hardly overrun with solo vehicles, yet Nielsen’s high-spirited, thoroughly engaging concerto is not often played. (Nor, mysteriously, is his more playful Flute Concerto.) He had intended to write concertos for all his friends in the Copenhagen Wind Quintet but only finished two before his death. Both pieces were impishly tailored to their soloist’s personalities. The hot-tempered clarinetist’s fiery solo line was challenged by the subversive rat-a-tat-tat of a snare drum; the fastidious flutist was pursued by a buffoonish trombone, interestingly the instrument that Nielsen himself played in military band.

The Nielsen works received superbly committed, idiomatic performances by all, notably the orchestra’s principal clarinetist, John Kruse, in the solo role.

I was sitting way down front on audience right of Alice Tully Hall. Balances would have been better in a central location, but I might not have appreciated as much the wonderful double bass players in my lap or the virtuoso bassoonist in my sideways sight line. Under no circumstances could I have overlooked the fine concertmaster, Tobias Durholm, but never before have I been so aware of his quasi solo role in Pulcinella. On the debit side, while the strings were always expressive, ensemble was untidy at times; moreover, the oboe’s quacking tone was not to my taste, and the flute couldn’t always negotiate Stravinsky’s scurrying passagework. The singers were challenged, as ever, by the composer’s unrealistic demands. This is a really difficult piece! But music was being made, and I walked out of Tully a happy concertgoer.

Woody and MoMA

Sunday afternoon at MoMA followed by Woody Allen’s latest film, Midnight in Paris, turned out to be the most enjoyable artistic couplet since the last time I saw Paris. Entranced in the flesh, so to speak, by Picasso’s Seated Bather (1930) and then seeing it onscreen hours later was a treat available only in New York.

You’re Next! You’re Next!”

. . . shouts Dr. Miles Bennell (Kevin McCarthy) as he stumbles frantically between cars on a California freeway, trying to warn the drivers of impending doom in the classic 1956 sci-fi film, Invasion of the Body Snatchers.

New York Times film critic A.O. Scott did a well-timed piece on this celluloid shocker in the paper’s Web site on Tuesday (8/2), the day of the final congressional vote on America’s debt ceiling controversy. The plot: Seed pods from outer space take root in Santa Mira, California. They reproduce themselves in identical human form, complete with the minds and memories of the local inhabitants—except that they are devoid of emotions and their only instinct is survival. Fifties’ critics saw it as a commentary on McCarthyism or Communism. Today one might imagine the pod people as Tea Partiers or the Republican Party.

I was struck by a readers’ response to Scott from Brian in Philadelphia:

“As far as I’m concerned, ‘Invasion of the Body Snatchers’ has already occurred in my lifetime. As a middle-aged man who can easily remember a time when no one cell phoned, blackberried, or even wore a beeper, I think I perceive what a good many cannot, apparently: That the world is now cluttered with the bodies of people who simply are no longer present.

“If you happen to look up from your glowing handheld device, you too may see them wandering down the street, texting as they walk, oblivious, for all practical purposes, gone. Persons to whom one might pose a question, who stare at you blankly until they’ve removed their earbuds to blearily ask you to repeat yourself. Gamers lost in fantasy worlds, inaccessible, frozen. People who come to a sudden standstill in doorways, persons parked in the middle of public stairways, who have slipped into a cell phone coma, not so much expecting others to accommodate them but unaware that others exist at all. As everyone accepts this as normal.

“It is not my fault that I can see this. ‘Body Snatchers’ conveys what it’s like.”

In a slightly different take on Wednesday’s Op-Ed page, in a piece entitled “Washington Chain Saw Massacre,” Maureen Dowd evoked not only Body Snatchers but also Alien and The Exorcist as well as nearly every other horror film image from Dracula and Frankenstein to “cannibals, eating their own party and leaders alive.” It would be hilarious if it weren’t so true.

Looking Forward

My week’s scheduled concerts:

8/6. Walter Reade Theater. Stravinsky on Film. 2:00: Janos Darvas’s 2001 documentary, Stravinsky: Composer and the composer leading his Symphony of Psalms in Hungary. 4:00: Julie Taymor’s 1992 production of Oedipus Rex and Pina Bausch’s Rite of Spring with the Tanztheater Wuppertal and the Cleveland Orchestra.

8/8. 7:30: Alice Tully Hall. International Contemporary Ensemble (ICE)/Pablo Heras-Casado; Peter Serkin, piano. All-Stravinsky: Study for Pianola; Fanfare for a New Theatre; Lied ohne Name; Epitaphium; Three Pieces for String Quartet; Ragtime; Concertino; “Dumbarton Oaks” Concerto; Eight Instrumental Miniatures; Concerto for Piano and Wind Instruments.

8/8 10:30: Kaplan Penthouse. ICE/Pablo Heras-Casado. Stravinsky: Pour Pablo Picasso; Bach (arr. Stravinsky, ed. Hogwood): Four Preludes and Fugues (sel.); Stravinsky: Epitaphium; Finnissy: Untitled piece to honour Igor Stravinsky; Denisov: Canon in Memory of Stravinsky; Berio: Autre fois: Berceuse canoníque pour Igor Stravinsky; Carter: Canon for Three Equal Instruments: In memoriam Igor Stravinsky; Schnittke: Canon in Memoriam Igor Stravinsky; Stravinsky: Octet.