Judith LeClair & Robert Walters at Hidden Valley

By Monica Mendoza

MORE SURPRISES and hidden gems were uncovered at the latest concert, Monday evening, in Hidden Valley’s Masters series. Instead of just one musician being featured, this particular concert offered the talents of two, Robert Walters on the English horn and Judith LeClair on the bassoon. In addition, two talented accompanists helped to bring the music to life.

Masterclasses are about training the next generation of musicians and music lovers, and the first pieces presented by Walters in his masterclass concert were written by his father, also named Robert Walters. Pianist/composer Edward “Teddy” Niedermaier provided accompaniment. This lovely and metaphorical ‘passing of the torch’ from father to son could not have been more appropriate for the setting. Titled On Being Alone and Lullaby, these two compositions deserve to be staples of English Horn repertoire.

What happened next was, in Walters’ own words, “a rare occurrence in nature.” He was speaking of a composition for two English Horns and piano, a true rarity. Composed by Josef Suk (Antonín Dvořák’s son in law), Intermezzo: Die blinden Spiellente was a one of the highlights of the evening. Walters was joined by fellow English horn player Thomas Moore, and their tones had two distinct qualities, but they blended together seamlessly like the two hands of a pianist. Within the acoustics of the room, the piece had an ethereal, fairy-tale quality to it.

Walters’ final piece of the evening was a Sonata for English horn and piano, composed ten years ago by none other than Teddy Niedermaier on a commission from Hidden Valley. It is always a privilege to hear a composer discuss their works, and Niedermaier spoke briefly about his composition, a piece with the idea of a romantic style sonata with contemporary harmonic sensibilities.

After a brief intermission Judith LeClair came onstage with pianist Zsolt Balogh, who was celebrating his birthday that day. The first piece that she presented was a romantic era composition by Eugene Jancourt (famous for “not that much,” LeClair jested). Jancourt may not be a composer that any of us have heard of, but the piece presented, Solo No. 2 Op 52, had all the drama and emotional intensity of an opera overture. Not only was it highly expressive, we were also treated to a show of the technical mastery LeClair has over her instrument.

The penultimate piece of the evening was an arrangement of Francis Poulenc’s Sonata for Flute and Piano. As a flutist myself, when I saw this item on the program I was quite intrigued, and was looking forward to it. It is difficult to take a piece written for one instrument and transfer it to another, but for the most part it worked. Poulenc’s witty style of composing suits the bassoon, often nicknamed the ‘clown’ of the orchestra. The only place where I feel it fell short was at a critical spot in the third movement. In the original, this is a place where the tension is at its highest, with the flute repeating a fragment of melody, each time a half step higher. This ramps up the stakes, so to speak, because it pushes the limit of the flute’s range. In this transcription for bassoon, this section was placed in the middle of the instrument’s range, and therefore lacked that urgency. That being said, it was a treat to hear this piece through a new lens, especially with LeClair’s terrific playing.

The final piece was an arrangement of Johannes Brahms’ Academic Festival Overture, featuring three students from the bassoon masterclass, with LeClair, Emmali Ouderkirk and Soo Yeon Lee on bassoon and Jeffrey Wasik on contrabassoon. It was the perfect end to the evening, and it was lovely to see the pride that LeClair has for her students. After the past few concerts in the Hidden Valley Masters series, I am looking forward to the next recital on July 2nd, featuring Emil Khudyev on clarinet.

 

The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time

By Jocelyn McMahon

BASED ON the best-selling novel by Mark Haddon, PacRep’s production of The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time, adapted to stage by Simon Stephens, crosses genres and stops at nothing to transport its audience into the mind of Christopher Boone, a young man who clearly doesn’t fit the societal mold of normal. The vision of director Kenneth Kelleher is effective and the execution of this piece allows the audience to see through the lens of Christopher, a 15-year old genius who excels in mathematics (or “maths” as the play is set in Swindon, England) far beyond his years, and dreams of being an astronaut, but struggles with social interaction in a mannerism we can infer is some sort of autism similar to Asperger’s. Though the show begins at a seemingly awkward plot point, Christopher standing over a neighbor’s dead dog whom he is accused of killing, allow about 15 minutes for the unusual pace and narration of the show to sink in. Twists and turns begin popping up in Act 1, drawing such a climactic conclusion that one almost wonders—but certainly doesn’t wish—if it is already the end of the show.

The set and technical design by Patrick McEvoy is reason enough to make the trek out to see The Curious Incident of the Dog. The set, although deceivingly simple, we come to find is much more complex, much like the mind of Christopher, consisting of many hidden exits and latches in addition to a rotating stage. The detailed projections of constellations, outer cosmos and mathematical formulas add an amazing visual dynamic that give us a peak into Christopher’s eidetic way of thinking.

But as an actor, not a mathematician, my favorite part of the show (if I had to pick) was the detailed movement directed by Anne-Marie Talmadge. The intensely precise choreographed action added yet another level of visual and emotional stimulation that gave the ensemble purpose and allowed them to become more than their brief characters. As part of the storytelling process, these actors provided an almost Greek choral-like sense not seen in many modern plays. This tactic allowed the audience to be transferred into a sense of realism without set changes or any major props.

Add an original score by composer David Eakin to the mix, the convincing yet realistically varied accents that can only come from hours of dialect work, plus the use of the live animals, so that when the lights come up it might take one a moment to realize you are in fact still in Carmel, not England.

Yet with all the visual stimulation along the way, the emotional verity is not lost at any point in the production. The casting choice for Christopher is absolutely critical in any production of Curious Incident for he is literally in every scene and has a line count that I can’t even fathom memorizing. Noah Thompson is phenomenal in the role and even through his character’s seeming lack of day to day emotion, he still comes to be our hero and breaks our heart as he discovers the truths of adult life.

A particular stand-out is the scene in Act 2 in which Christopher finds himself lost in the hustle and bustle of a London Train Station for the first time; the accuracy of this moment makes us understand Christopher’s fear and therefore appreciate his bravery that much more.

One of the most climactic moments is after Christopher discovers his father Ed, played terrifically by Rob Devlin, has been holding back truths in order to protect him. It’s a dilemma we all face in life; when is it okay to lie? Devlin accurately portrays both the frustration and affection felt by a father who is in over his head, but tries his best each and every day to make the right choices for his son. Judy, Christopher’s mother, played by Julie Hughett, is another difficult role conveyed wonderfully with multiple layers that peel back scene by scene. As we watch the adults in Christopher’s life fall from their pedestals, we see them display their humanity through the weaknesses and struggles they face.

Another solid acting choice, Malinda DeRouen, plays Siobhan the gentle, soothing therapist that helps narrate part of the story when reading Christopher’s book. Her scenes help unfold some of Christopher’s issues and though characteristics portrayed show similarities to Asperger’s syndrome, his diagnosis is never directly established. This enables the audience to focus on Christopher’s story, not his “disease.” Dealing with touchy subject matter can be like playing with fire, but Thompson’s portrayal is understated and his mannerisms realistic, not as caricature.