Friday, April 3, 2015

Early April Arts Update

I'll try to be relatively brief, but usually I get wrapped up in something or other and go on at length about it.  In general, April doesn't look quite as hectic or overwhelming as March turned out to be, though I do have two business trips that get squeezed in there (they might be helpful in catching up on reading, particularly Of Human Bondage, however) and hopefully a short trip to Montreal.  The latter depends to some extent on whether my daughter gets train sick or not.  We are trying to take a train this weekend to find out, but there is a big difference between a half hour train ride and a 4 or so hour ride.  I may end up going by myself.  No question it would be easier, but it would hardly be fair to the rest of the family.

Anyway, last night I went and saw the UT Symphony put on a quite nice show.  They started off with a rousing William Tell Overture.  Then Mendelssohn's 5th Symphony, which was ok, but I thought there might have been some issues with different sections playing at different volumes.  To be honest, it's not a symphony I am that familiar with.  After the intermission, they did a solid version of Elgar's Enigma Variations.  I've come to really like this piece, and do try to hear it when I can.  Given that it was their last performance, and there were a number of seniors in the orchestra, they did an encore of Elgar's Pomp and Circumstance No. 1.  Boy, that brought me back.  I had already been thinking back to my concert band days (in high school!) and how we had to perform all over the place -- football games, basketball games and of course graduation ceremonies (unless we were graduating, naturally).

I was able to stay awake throughout the entire performance, which was good.  That can be an issue.  Maybe it was slightly to my advantage that the seats were not comfortable at all.  I did pick up a new edition of The Whole Note and saw a few concerts of interest.  The one that caught my attention the most was Sir Roger Norrington coming in next Friday to conduct Beethoven's 5th and Vaughan Williams' 5th Symphonies.  In a way it is tempting, but I did a bit of searching and Norrington is a big proponent of Historically-Informed Performances, and quite frankly I don't think this approach works well with big orchestras.  It makes the most sense for small chamber pieces (trios through sextets).  And while some people are very pleased with his Beethoven cycle, the discussion of treatment of tempos really put me off.  I might still have gone if it were Vaughan Williams paired with something else (even though his Vaughan Williams is not universally considered top-drawer, putting it mildly) but I don't really want to spend the money for a performance with which I am not in sympathy even before it gets going.  (While it is several months off, I'll be seeing the TSO do Beethoven's 5th in the fall, which will surely be more to my taste.)

Tonight, we are off to see the Mendelssohn Choir doing Thomas Tallis’ Spem in alium and Faur√©’s Requiem.  I'm pretty excited about this, even though I am not that big a fan of vocal music, but this did look pretty special.  It turns out the concert is sold out, which reminds me that if I am going to the Tafelmusik concert (Baroque Misbehaving), I probably ought to reserve a ticket soon.

After the concert, I wandered over to Robarts and returned two books and checked out Garcia Lorca's The Public and Dos Passos' The Big Money.  After seeing Blood Wedding at Buddies, I tried to track down my copy of Lorca's 3 Plays.  I'm pretty sure I still have it, but ultimately just checked out a copy from the library.  This led to checking out the rest of his plays.  Interestingly, there are competing versions from New Directions (the ones that Americans are used to) and Metheun (essentially the British version of these plays).  On the whole, I still prefer the New Directions versions, which is why I checked this particular book out of the library.  With respect to the Dos Passos and his U.S.A. Trilogy, I found that the book was just too heavy to cart around, so I have been checking out the individual volumes, which in turn led to the realization that several (but not all) editions of the U.S.A. Trilogy were illustrated with dozens of line drawings by Reginald Marsh.

I have to say I am struggling a bit with the U.S.A. Trilogy.  There are certainly a fair number of positive reviews (one here) but others are far more critical (here (though the reply in the comments should also be taken into account)).  I find that there are a few too many disconnected stories, and the The Camera Eye sections can safely be skimmed.  Some of the Newsreel sections are interesting, but basically they are pretty self-indulgent and don't really add to this opus.  I feel the criticism that 1919 is all about the edges of WWI but combat is never actually seen (aside from some folks in the ambulance corps that have to pick up the bodies) is valid.*  Pretty much everyone is on the make one way or the other, aside from one or two complete idealists (and you can't quite tell if Dos Passos thinks they are just suckers or not).  While Dos Passos is still largely writing from the left here (particularly in The Big Money), you can kind of feel the creeping cynicism about all political movements that later so took over Dos Passos's life that he became a conservative (and even campaigned for Goldwater and Richard Nixon!).  In some ways I see this as a steamier version of Dreiser (there are quite a few women who get pregnant from casual encounters and a bunch of the men get the clap) or a very scattered and more cynical Steinbeck.  I'm glad to finally have read it, but I am quite unlikely to read it through a second time.  On the other hand, the Reginald Marsh drawings were pretty neat (I'll show a few in another post) and I could see flipping through those from time to time.  So I decided to order a copy of the Trilogy that is supposed to have all the illustrations, and I'll report back if I got the right edition.  Fingers crossed.

I am debating it a bit, but mostly likely will go see Boston Marriage next week.  It is the only David Mamet play written with all female characters.  The setting is the Victorian period where a few women have "irregular" habits and debate whether they should marry a man just to cover up their non-normative sexuality (though as noted these men are all off-stage).  While this probably is closer in spirit to Devoted Ladies or possibly Nightwood, there are of course some connections with my novel (and dramatization of this same novel which I am tentatively calling The Futon Moth).

At Canadian Stage, there is a very interesting spotlight on South African drama.  For me, the most interesting play is Athol Fugard's Nongogo.  I hope it turns out as interesting as it looks.

I also have to book a ticket for Infinity at Tarragon.  I'm trying to avoid the reviews, though I have a rough idea of what the play will be about.  I suspect I will like it more than Cake and Dirt.

I guess that is a fair bit going on after all when I step back, and if I do squeeze in Stoppard's Travesties in Montreal (really the main reason I want to go in April), April will be a busy month.  I've no idea if I actually will be able to write as much as I would like.  I certainly haven't been living up to my own expectations, but I have a lot of material that is bubbling up to the surface and perhaps when I finally sit down, I will get a lot of it down a once.  That is the hope anyway.

* At the same time you could say that that was sort of the point of Blackadder Goes Forth, where the horror of war is largely moved to the margins for most of the series, though the threat of violence is ever-present. 

Dos Passos doesn't write anyone quite as anti-heroic as Blackadder, but a few of his characters come close.  Certainly most of the characters who come through the war are mostly looking for a way to cash in and somehow get in on the action of divvying up Europe.  The generals seem pretty clueless, though truly Dos Passos is largely focusing on Americans over in Europe who were not actually in the Army or Navy, and there are also several long domestic scenes in 1919, which focus much more on how unthinking patriotism ended up undermining most American ideals, particularly free speech and right of protest and/or assembly.

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