Posts Tagged ‘Arvo Part’

To Russia with Love

Tuesday, October 8th, 2013

By Rebecca Schmid

Vladimir Putin has given the western world much reason for protest over the past year. There is the law banning homosexual “propaganda.” Two members of Pussy Riot still sit behind bars. According to some residents (and ex-residents) of the former Soviet Union, Russia is reverting to a full-blown totalitarian dictatorship. The businessman Michail Chodorkowski still sits in jail on dubious charges. Just last week, the government charged a Greenpeace ship crew with piracy following protests over an oil rig. Freedom of speech is not a given even on the internet.

Gidon Kremer, with his concert To Russia with Love at the Philharmonie yesterday—exactly seven years after the murder of journalist Anna Politkowskaja—set out to raise general awareness of the declining state for human rights. The foyer was lined with the stands of NGOs and non-profits: Amnesty International, Reporters without Borders, Osteuropa. A giant canvas hung for visitors to sign their name to the cause. But Kremer’s main motivation behind the concert, as he explains in an online video, was to counter the notion of music as entertainment. “Music should serve as a vehicle for expanding our emotions and confirming our ethics,” he says. He brought together coveted soloists with his ensemble Kremerata Baltica for a beautifully curated program that was streamed live on Arte .

It almost felt like a guilty pleasure to enjoy the artists under the circumstances. As Emmanuel Pahud and Khatia Buniatishvili performed a transcription of Lenski’s famous aria from Eugen Onegin, the flute’s luxurious tone bordered on the overly sentimental. Buniatishvili, in a floor-length, low back gown, also gave a virtuosic if flashy account of the agitated final movement from Prokofiev’s Piano Sonata No.7. But, following the impassioned speech of human rights activist Svetlana Gannushkina, the music served a clear dramaturgical purpose. The concert opened with a poem by Herta Müller which resembled more of an informative speech: “Putin thinks he is the law…intimidation is daily fare.” Kremer led a soulful reading of the third movement from Mieczysław Weinberg’s Sinfonietta Nr.2 which gave way without a pause to an eerily hushed Allemande from J.S. Bach’s Cello Suite Nr. 2 with Nicolas Altsteadt as soloist.

The cellist immediately switched to a bold, insistent tone for the last movement of Gubaidulina’s Seven Last Words, joined by bayan soloist Elsbeth Moser, who provided everything from atmospheric to ripping textures against glassy strings. The appearance of a Ukranian girls’ choir in traditional costume for Pärt’s Estonian Lullaby took on an appropriately ironic, if not tragic tone. It is worth noting that although the composer lives in Berlin, his work is rarely performed here.

Kremer’s lyrical taste in contemporary music found further expression in the premiere of Giya Kancheli’s Angels of Sorrow, dedicated to the 50th birthday of Chodorkowski. The Georgian composer blends solo violin, cello and piano into transcendent textures with choir, xylophone and string ensemble. When the approximately 20-minute piece breaks out into angry passages, they are quickly countered by celestial responses. A percussive melody to bass drum lends passages of the final section a Dies Irae quality, but the soothing choir and solo violin, even as it is reduced to wispy pizzicato, seem to reassure the listener that the heavens will have their way.

The second half of the program included moments of sardonic humor. Kremer, to impromptu accompaniment by Daniel Barenboim, took a deliberately modernist approach to the Rachmaninov/Kreisler Prayer which more often assumes the guise of feel-good film music. Martha Argerich brought playful energy to Shostakovich’s First Piano Concerto alongside the ironic interjections of trumpeter Sergei Nakariakov. Music from Russian composer Leonid Desyatnikov’s score to the film Target ended the evening on an upbeat note, from the free, tonal invention in Vivaldi’s January to the street scene of his Foxtrot.

Barenboim and Argerich joined for an encore of Schubert’s Grand Rondo in A-major, having warmed up to an even more gentle performance than last month at the Musikfest. Perhaps audiences in Berlin are simply spoiled, but one couldn’t help but perceive the music as an empty crowd-pleaser. As the listeners rose in enthusiastic applause, the atmosphere was one of prosperity and pride—less self-reflection than self-congratulation. A journalist sitting next to me noted how poorly Berlin’s Russian community was represented in the audience. Even intentions as sincere and courageous as those of Kremer’s intentions cannot escape the bourgeois trappings of classical music consumption. But he might have taken a step toward forcing the world to listen with different ears.

Shen Wei at the Metropolitan Museum of Art

Tuesday, June 21st, 2011

By Rachel Straus

Shen Wei makes dances that read like landscape paintings. So it made perfect sense when Shen Wei Dance Arts installed itself for two nights (June 6 and 13) at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. The Chinese-born choreographer designs costumes and paints backdrops that fuse with his serene movement style. But rather than making a backdrop for three dances (seen June 13), Shen Wei used a space where marble and bronze statues dwell: the Charles Engelhard Court of the American Wing. It’s a theatrical setting bar none. To live and recorded music for a sold-out crowd, Shen Wei’s 17 dancers initially possessed statue-like stillness. And like the statues in the Engelhard Court, the dancers were mostly naked.

The event marked the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s first foray into hosting a site specific performance. Earlier this year Shen Wei toured the museum, looking for the ideal space to present his choreography, which is influenced by Chinese opera (of which he trained for a decade), calligraphy, and modern dance (of which he performed in his native China). The fact that Shen Wei chose the American wing may say something about his chosen affiliations. In 2000, Shen Wei adopted the U.S. as his home and incorporated ideas from Abstract expressionism, particularly the notion that art need not be representational.

At the Engelhard Court’s western end, a floor to ceiling sheet of glass creates the impression that Central Park is part of the space. The glass roof, where the setting sun’s rays passed through, gave Shen Wei’s evening an added sense of natural beauty. At the court’s northern end, the facade of a neo-classical bank (once located on Wall Street) was used as an entranceway for the dancers. When a naked Joan Wadopian exited via the façade’s grand staircase, she trailed a red swath of fabric. This vision reminded me of a scene from Stanley Kubrick’s “Eyes Wide Shut.”

The most compelling work of the evening, which included the aforesaid exit, was Shen Wei’s restaging of “Near the Terrace.” The 2000 work to Arvo Pärt’s famously sacred, minimalist compositions, “fur Alina” and “Spiegel Im Spiegel,” began with the dancers arranged among the statues like statuary. Standing, sitting, and reclining, they did not move for a long time. Because their bodies and faces were coated in white powder, they resembled Butoh practitioners, renowned for their slow, hyper-controlled motions. Shen Wei’s dancers mesmerized, reminding this reviewer of sleepwalkers. Their faces expressed intense focus. They looked like they were performing a mysterious rite. They became statues that had come to life.

Pianist Avner Arad and violinist Aaron Boyd performed Pärt’s solemn music behind two immense wrestlers. The delicacy of their playing stood in stark contrast to the marble figures in the act of pummeling each other.

Whether intentional or not there were other moments of absurdity. At the near end of “Terrace,” a male dancer donned an enormous red crepe hat. When the colorfully clad man marched forward, it was funny—and a welcome change in a dance where seriousness of intent and slowness of walk reigned.

Two new works, “Transition” and “Internal External #1,” incorporated the screeching electronic sounds made by Daniel Burke. In “Transition” Burke’s music offered a sense of what it would be like to be inside a cyclone. Not so nice. Meanwhile Hunter Carter and Wadopian climbed a ramp and lowered themselves into black paint. The dancers emerged like huge birds that had fallen into an oil slick. Then they executed mechanized movements as though they were robots on an assembly line. Modernity can be killing, this dance seemed to say.

In “Internal External #1” 14 dancers’ sharp and smooth, slow and fast, balancing and falling, solo and group movements were juxtaposed. Burke’s repetitive clanging soundscape evoked an industrial hell. But at the end, there was bird chirping. The company, many of who are new, looked like they could have used more rehearsals; they occasionally looked unsure of themselves.

At these times, my eyes wandered across the crowd. The gala guests and special invitees sat on the first level while the rest stood, watching from the second and third-floor galleries above. This wasn’t just a dance lover’s crowd. What did they make of this evening? My hope is that they saw Shen Wei as a landscape choreographer, an artist whose work is wholly fitting for a museum.