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Review, 8-25: Some Things Old, Some Things New
At the Mostly Mozart Festival, Vintage Morris, No Mozart
By Douglas Frank
Copyright 2004 Douglas Frank
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NEW YORK -- With "Mostly"
now italicized and "Festival" all but removed from its program materials,
Lincoln Center presenting "Dance" at Mostly Mozart is another recent
change, instituted "probably within the past four years," according
to a Lincoln Center publicist. The striking central image from last
year's Mostly Mozart poster captured dancers from the Mark Morris
Dance Group performing "V" in their brilliant cobalt-blue costumes. This year's
poster depicts five musicians and three MMDG dancers in various
positions on and around a park bench, with Louis Langree sitting
in the center of them all, holding a conductor's baton. Thankfully
these newer images have succeeded older ones of Gerard Schwartz
grimacing while conducting the Mostly Mozart Festival Orchestra.
But what's going on here?
One answer is that audiences
for classical music are aging and their numbers are dwindling. The
programming and publicity teams at Lincoln Center deserve credit
for their efforts to bring larger and hopefully new audiences to
hear great works of classical music and see more dance at the same
Watching the performance
by the Mark Morris Dance Group last Thursday evening at the New
York State Theater was something like watching MTV. The only differences
were the music was mostly Baroque, the choreography was by Mark
Morris (does he have an MTV gig yet?) and the musicians performed
the music live. For this alone, and for helping to employ so many
fine artists, Mark Morris deserves to be called a hero. The entire
evening was presented "live and in living color," just as TV shows
were introduced once upon a time before any of the evening's dancers
and many in the audience were born.
The program began with
"A Lake" (1991) set to Haydn's Concerto for Horn and Strings in
D major, which featured an outstanding solo horn performance by
David Jolley. The choreography was straightforward, and closely
followed the music. One could practically close one's eyes and,
without much strain, imagine the dancing on stage. Behold, a fine
solo dancer performing choreography set to even finer music composed
for solo horn. The ensemble dancing often was not together, however,
making "A Lake" a pale-blue blah.
Next was "Marble Halls"
(1985) a musically close setting of Bach's Concerto for Oboe, Violin,
Strings and Basso Continuo in C minor. With up to 10 dancers on
stage, the absence of any partnering seemed dissonant to music that
unites a chamber orchestra with instrumental soloists. One neat
trick was setting three dancers in a line perpendicular to the front
of the stage, one behind the other, each kicking one leg straight
up while at once contracting the torso and head down, in opposite
directions, creating a Momix-like effect. This piece of vocabulary
was woven throughout, as the ensemble ran in an "X" diagonal-crossing
pattern about six times past the point of making a point about running
through many marble halls. The New York State Theater is not known
to be acoustically friendly, and the amplification of Timothy Fain
on solo violin (particularly) and Stephen Taylor on solo oboe did
not enhance otherwise good performances. In fact, one has to wonder
how accustomed these musicians were to being amplified. Passionate
playing, accompanied by leaning backward and forward as passionate
players do, at times brought instruments too close to microphones
and nearly blew out the sound system, or at least some ears.
came "I Don't Want to Love" (1986) set to seven madrigals by Monteverdi.
The dancers wore different white costumes designed by Isaac Mizrahi,
from long-flowing dresses to hot pants; one looked much like a bathrobe.
They acted out the madrigals, interacting in duos, trios, and more,
with Julie Worden being swung in one dancer's arms, or being carried
on his hip, or standing absolutely still facing upstage with her
back to the audience for the duration of another madrigal. So there!
The dancers moved their feet quickly up and down, imitating the
staccato rhythms of "no, no, no, no," from the first madrigal, "Non
voglio amare" ("I Don't Want to Love") from which the dance took
its title. Dancers also fluttered their arms or wiggled their feet
in unison with trills in the music. This particular audience loved
it. The biggest and heartiest cheer of all was reserved for the
Waverly Consort, and deservedly so, as it performed Monteverdi's
music flawlessly. The singers were fantastic!
The final work, "Jesu,
Meine Freude," was set to Bach's famous motet, also of the same
name. The Voices of Ascension, Dennis Keene, artistic director,
took the pit in its Mostly Mozart debut. (It would appear that it
takes a Mark Morris to get one of the premier choral groups anywhere,
approaching its 15th anniversary, presented at Mostly Mozart these
days.) The Voices of Ascension sang cleanly and professionally as
always. But, apparently, without the amplification provided for
the previous musicians, the ensemble sounded a bit thin in comparison
(it had to be that; the singers are strong and skilled, and so is
the director). As the final movement of the motet, an especially
beautiful chorale, came to a close, the dancers formed a lovely
ending tableau. Although they were more separated from each other,
it evoked Alvin Ailey's famous closing tableau in "Revelations."
The program notes were
exceptionally complete, providing many more details about the music
(including all texts and translations) than about the choreography
or the dancers, Joe Bowie, Charlton Boyd, Rita Donahue, Marjorie
Folkman, Lauren Grant, John Heginbotham, David Leventhal, Bradon
McDonald, Maile Okamura, June Omura, Noah Vinson, Matthew Rose,
Julie Worden and Michelle Yard.
Craig Smith held the
baton and conducted the Orchestra of St. Luke's (Donald Runnicles,
principal conductor) in the Hadyn and the two works by Bach, and
joining the Voices of Ascension were Myron Lutzke, cello; John Feeney,
bass; and Robert Wolinsky, organ. The Waverly Consort performed
under the direction of Michael Jaffee, who also played lute and
baroque guitar, and included Gareth Morrell, tenor; Frederick Urrey,
tenor; Thomas Meglioranza, baritone; Elaine Lachica, soprano; Richard
Kolb, theorbo; Edward Smith, harpsichord; and Kay Jaffee, harps.
For more information
on the Mark Morris Dance Group, please visit its Web
site. To read about the Orchestra of St. Luke's, please
click here. For more information on the Waverly Consort,
please click here and for more information
on the Voices of Ascension, please visit its Web site.
Douglas Frank is the artistic and executive director of the Douglas
Frank Chorale. For more information, please click here.
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