Weekly Update, July 16, 2013

French kiss at the Bach Festival

Our new page-header is the creative work of Carey Crockett, well-known for his huge involvement in local theater—he’s currently finishing up the scenic art for MPC’s new production of Les Miserables—as producer, director, actor, designer, scenic artist, graphic artist and illustrator, such as his design for our pages.

Scottish-born composer Thea Musgrave attended the opening night concert of the Carmel Bach Festival to hear, and lecture on, her Festival commission, Largo in Homage to B.A.C.H. (See a review of the concert on our Music Reviews page.) The prolific and energetic 85-year-old composer (86 at month end), who has made her home in the U.S. since 1972, was a pupil of Nadia Boulanger, famed mentor to many important American composers. At Tanglewood she studied with Aaron Copland. She has also conducted major Thea, CS imageperformances by the Philadelphia Orchestra, San Francisco Symphony and Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra, and many more here and abroad, including major music festivals. She has taught composition at universities on both coasts. (Portrait photo by Christian Steiner.) Peter Mark, her husband and founding music director of Virginia Opera, attended the Carmel opening-night performance with her. Musgrave has composed more than a dozen operas and a vast catalog of instrumental works. (At the interval of the Saturday Bach Festival concert, I asked her if she composes at the piano. “I don’t hear so well,” she said, then, pointing to her head, “I compose here.”) Musgrave is the recipient of many honors and awards, including, in 2002, Commander of the Order of the British Empire (CBE.)

In April, Harmonia Mundi released Musgrave’s newest CD, “Chamber works for oboe,” (Harmonia Mundi HMU 907568) which contains a generous eight pieces featuring oboist Nicholas Daniel, along with members of the Chilingirian Quartet and several other collaborators. (“Now that’s an oboe player!” Musgrave declared during our chat.) Daniel’s collaboration with Chilingirian players in Cantilena (2008) is aL093046756826s sonorous as Musgrave’s new Bach Festival piece, and as richly woven. The following piece, Niobe, (1987) for oboe and pre-recorded tape shows a startlingly different aspect of Musgrave’s artful imagination, with the same degree of expressive authority. Niobe, as the Greek legend goes, lives in eternal lamentation over the loss of her children, slain by the hand of Apollo. In Musgrave’s piece, Daniel keens with grief while the tape creates sounds like bells, wind, rolling thunder and mysterious watery waves. Another ‘memorial’ on the CD, Threnody for clarinet and piano (1997) was revised in 2005 for cor anglais on which Daniel is equally at home. There are those who rush to equate music with emotions. In this case, Musgrave seems to agree, and to add acting-out as well. Her Night Windows pieces (2007) are respectively named Loneliness, Anger, Nostalgia, Despair and Frenzy. Her Take Two Oboes (2008) includes Pompous, Expressive, Serene (which isn’t always serene) and Frisky. And clearly she revels in wind instruments, adding flute, clarinet and a second oboe to the mix. Musgrave has a crystal clear understanding of the oboe’s capability (as she does for just about every instrument) from its long-limbed melodies to its skittering virtuosity. The latter is proven with dazzling chases in Impromptu No. 1 (1967) for oboe and flute.

Due to an injured wrist as the result of a fall, and necessary physical therapy, Marin Alsop has had to withdraw from next month’s Cabrillo Festival of Contemporary Music. In her stead are Carolyn Kuan, conducting the weekend of August 2 & 3, and Brad Lubman, conducting on August 10 & 11. Kuan was hand-picked and trained by Alsop as the Festival’s Associate Conductor. Lubman, former Assistant Conductor at Tanglewood, is also a composer. “While I am deeply disappointed that I can’t conduct this year’s Festival, the adventurous program that we’ve put together will delight and surprise in the way only Cabrillo can,” said Alsop. “And I have the greatest confidence in Carolyn and Brad to bring this new music to life.”

A slew of new reviews can be found this week. On our Theater Reviews page, Philip Pearce complains about the opening show in the 2 X 4 Bash at The Western Stage. On our Dance Reviews page, Rob Klevan describes the PUSH Physical Theatre that opened Summer Arts at CSU Monterey Bay, and then catches up on two of the concerts in that series on our Music Reviews page. (Scroll down past my own Bach Festival review to read Rob’s coverage.)  

Scott MacClelland, editor