“Proclaiming Pan”, an interwoven performance of music, dance, and poetry at played at Tufts University’s Granoff Center on Sunday. It was a sweet and satisfying afternoon well before the baklava at the reception was announced.
The basic scheme of the program was to present music connected to Greco-Roman mythology. The exact nature of these connections varied, but the most common theme was of satyrs and their musical piping. Readings of poetry and literary quotations were sprinkled throughout, sometimes before and sometimes over the music that they inspired. The modern dance (directed by Renata Celichowska) that accompanied much of the music made frequent references to Greek iconography. These lyric and visual stimuli brought unity to a diverse musical program.
The performance was divided into four parts: “Pursual”, “Spirits of Artistry”, “Play”, and “Passion”. Part One opened with a reading of Henry Kendall’s Syrinx, one of the many 19th-century poems about the titular nymph’s desperate flight from the satyr god Pan. Christian Krenek was the reader; he delivered this and several later selections in a measured baritone. In an unusual but effective step, the next element – an interpretive solo dance piece featuring Kelsey Howe – began before and finished after its musical accompaniment, Debussy’s own Syrinx. Elizabeth Erenberg traversed the haunting passages of this short piece for solo flute, bringing out some of the darker elements of the story with her shadings.
A gentler courtship was had in the next piece, when soprano Bethany Worrell seduced the audience with Schubert’s “Ganymed”. The text (by Goethe) describes the seduction of a beautiful youth by Zeus, who wins the boy’s affections by carrying him into the sky to see the full beauty of Spring. Worrell’s expressive singing was paired with an economy of movement that perfectly captured Ganymede’s youthful, innocent bliss: wonder at the new, wistfulness with the recognition of the familiar, and slowly building waves of euphoria. Perfect diction, a rich voice, and blossoming vibrato stole more breaths from the audience than Zeus’s. Pianist Thomas Stumpf’s contribution had much to recommend it but was simply overshadowed.
Part Two began with a reading of William Blake’s “To the Muses” and concluded with the musical suite Nine Muses (2009) by New York City-based composer Nell Shaw Cohen. Each Muse was depicted in three ways: first, via literary quotation, then simultaneously by a solo instrument and 1-3 dancers (3 instruments and 9 dancers were used, total). These movements ranged wildly in character; the dancing (making clear visual illusions to the decorations on Grecian urns) was again a unifying element. Elizabeth Erenberg’s flute provided the accompaniment for the muses of music, momedy, and mragedy—depictions that were alternately distant but lyrical, lively and playful, and contemplative and precise. A strong command of technique and style was evident as expressively navigated the shifting tone palette and different character of each piece.
Maria Rindenello Parker’s harp was assigned the second trio of movements, depicting the muses of epic poetry, sacred song, and dancing. These had the most complex musical textures: lush and polyphonic, busy and punctuated, and lively and joyous. The depiction of Calliope, the Chief of the Muses and Muse of Epic Poetry, showcased Parker’s deft and sensitive playing with its sweet strains.
The last set of movements, depicting the muses of history, love, and astronomy, fell to Gabriel Terracciano and his violin. The first two movements sound oddly similar to basic violin exercises; this may explain why the Muse of Love’s music did not sound amorous at all. The last movement also started out with the character of an étude, but its complexity and texture grew over the course of the piece. (This mirrored the gradual arrival onstage of the full corps of dancers.) These sufficed as dance music but seemed simpler and out of place compared to the rest of the suite.
Part Three consisted of Jules Mouquet’s La Flute de Pan (1906), a lush and soaring piece for flute and piano. Mouquet prefaced each movement with a quotation of poetry in French; these were discarded in favor of Bethany Worrell reading the two halves of Oscar Wilde’s poem “Pan” (1913) partly before and mostly during the first and third movements. The different tone of the Wilde stanzas recast the music it accompanied; the success of the pairing occasioned some debate afterwards. In any event, this juxtaposition did not detract from Erenberg and Stumpf’s evocative performances, including many well-delivered birdsong exchanges. Of special note was a lyrical passage in the middle of “Pan and the Birds” that was played with great beauty and sensitivity as Erenberg dipped into the lower registers of her instrument.
Part Four began with a depiction of overwhelming passion colliding with restraint. Mezzo-soprano Oriana Dunlop took the stage for the famous recitative and aria “Dido’s Lament” from Henry Purcell’s Dido and Aeneas. Dunlop’s interpretation of the Queen saw her clinging tightly to control; when she sang “darkness shades me”, the lyrics were matched by a dark and covered tone with only bare hints of the turmoil within. This Dido was stoic to the end, composed even as she approached her own funeral pyre; the audience was much more vocal with its applause.
The closer was a near-time capsule performance of the controversial ballet L’Après-midi d’un Faune (“Afternoon of a Faun”), first choreographed by Vaslav Nijinsky for Les Ballets Russe in 1912. Christian Krenek read a portion of eponymous poem by Stéphane Mallarmé; the dancing then began to the strains of Debussy’s Prelude à l’Après-Midi d’un Faune – itself inspired by the same poem. The titular faun (Jay Dodd) wore a costume modeled after Nijinsky’s own and most of the original choreography was faithfully followed. The overall tone of the dancing, however, was changed to be more flirtatious and less explicitly erotic, especially the ending.
The music of the ballet competed ably with the strong visual stimuli. Erenberg’s performance on flute did not disappoint; the famous opening solo was delivered with deft playing and smooth contouring of the extended and chromatic passage. Much of the onstage smolder between the faun and the nymphs was given a strong boost by Erenberg’s soaring melodic phrases and Stumpf’s fluid accompaniment on the piano. The combination of poetry, dance, and music was much more than the sum of its parts and a strong end to a novel and fresh program.