Phone Rings, Door Chimes, in Comes Company!

by Sedgwick Clark

Stephen Sondheim’s Company, with a book by George Furth, is a hilarious, wickedly insightful take on marriage and the difficulty of commitment. It seemed to this adoptive New Yorker the essence of his new home. I saw the original production three times in 1970. At the second one I was in the front row, on audience left. Act II opens with a show stopper called “Side by Side by Side,” which concludes with the entire cast spread across the stage, kick stepping. Right above me was Barbara Barrie as Sarah, the karate wife, at whom I was staring, utterly captivated. She looked down at me and winked. You can’t get that on TV or in the movies!

In the days when record companies thrived, the New York Philharmonic’s unforgettable 1985 performances and RCA recording of Sondheim’s Follies started the trend of Broadway-musical recordings by top orchestras. In 2000 the Philharmonic performed the composer’s Sweeney Todd, with a CD released on the orchestra’s own label. This week the Philharmonic is mounting a semi-staged version of Company on April 7th at 7:30, 8th at 8, and 9th at 2 and 8. Paul Gemignani conducts, and Jonathan Tunick, who orchestrated the original production, will ensure that it sounds as it should.

But something’s missing: As of this writing–3 p.m. on opening night–it may not be recorded. It will not be broadcast on the orchestra’s regular radio series. There won’t be a CD. No PBS Live from Lincoln Center. In an article today about how the cast has rehearsed everywhere but together until dress rehearsal this morning, the New York Times reports that a video will be filmed and shown in movie theaters in June. But the word from the Phil’s p.r. department is still that “the details are being worked out, so we cannot confirm anything yet.” I don’t believe for a moment that the New York Philharmonic is going to mount this Sondheim masterpiece and not make it available in some form. Stay tuned.

Denk Again

I had my say in this space about American pianist Jeremy Denk’s Zankel Hall recital on February 24, but I can’t resist a quick comment about his Carnegie Hall recital debut, replacing an ailing Maurizio Pollini, on March 27. He played Ives’s Piano Sonata No. 2, “Concord, Mass., 1840-60,” on the first half. I had listened to his recent recording of the “Concord” for comparison just before setting out for Carnegie. Excellent though the recording and its discmate, the First Piano Sonata, are, Denk’s live traversal was even better–naturally expressive playing, with soulfully nostalgic pianissimos that contrasted perfectly with fist- and armfuls of wild Ivesian fortissimos. Unlike so many pianists of his generation, his sonority never turned harsh in climaxes. He achieved a singing, almost orchestral sound out of an American Steinway that I assume was Carnegie’s house piano–far superior to the disconcertingly mushy Hamburg Steinway played by Yevgeny Kissin three weeks earlier on the same stage. Denk always made sure that Ives’s allusions to Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony, “Bringing in the Sheaves,” “Columbia, the Gem of the Ocean,” and others were audible in the layered textures. And was that really “Autumn in NewYork” that Ives keeps slipping in?

The second half was Bach’s Goldberg Variations, which Denk had played in his Zankel recital. I was pleased to note that the initial statement of the theme seemed to move more comfortably than his ultra-slow tempo of before . . . or was I just used to it this time? Whatever the case, the performance as a whole was no less involving, and more than once my eyes rolled at his digital perfection in volatile passagework. Denk was called back again and again, and you know what he played for an encore? Not Bach, but “The Alcotts” movement from the “Concord” Sonata.

An exhilarating afternoon!

Do They Really Mean That?
On Tuesday (4/5) AOL Video ran the following piece about Air New Zealand’s new passenger comeon:

Airline Creates a Very Unique New Seat
An airline creates a new type of class that combines two seats and allows couples to lay together

You’re watching Airline Creates a Very Unique New Seat. See the Web’s top videos on AOL Video

A Schoenberg Trend?

In the next four days, three works by Arnold Schoenberg, the classical king of audience anathema, will be played at Carnegie Hall. Granted, the artists are all stars, works by perennial favorites dominate the programs, and these are not among the Austrian master’s difficult works. Still, today’s artists like–perhaps even love–20th-century music, want to play it, and damn the torpedoes. So on April 7, Leif Ove Andsnes will perform the Austrian master’s Six Little Piano Pieces; James Levine will lead the MET Orchestra in Five Pieces for Orchestra on April 10 at 3:00; and the Tetzlaff Quartet will offer the meatiest Schoenberg work, his 45-minute Quartet No. 1, at Carnegie’s mid-size Zankel Hall at 7:30.

No Joy in Muncie

I was very sorry to see in on March 28 that my home town’s symphony orchestra cancelled its final concert of the season to save $35,000 and not add to its $100,000 deficit. It’s an all-too-typical story: A well-to-do Muncie music lover and his wife used to kick in extra funds in tight economic times, but they died over the past two years. They had lived in Muncie all their lives and were well-known and beloved pillars of the community. Apparently the members of their large family who have remained in Muncie have other commitments.

Looking Forward

My week’s scheduled concerts:

4/7 Avery Fisher Hall. New York Philharmonic/Paul Gemignani; soloists. Sondheim: Company.

4/11 Thalia. Cutting-Edge Concerts/Victoria Bond. Works by Brian Ferneyhough, Jeffrey Mumford, Harold Meltzer, Victoria Bond.

4/13 Metropolitan Opera. Berg: Wozzeck. James Levine, cond.; Meier, Skelton, Siegel, Held, Fink.

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