The debut performances of Late Night at Emmanuel took its sassy place on Saturday at 8 and 10 PM. This lark caught the first show, and pronounced it an immediate, if not unexpected, smash hit.
The recipe for its success combines surefire ingredients, starting with the collegiality of the singers and players, which soon spread throughout its bursting-at-the-seats audience. And who doesn’t like trading in one’s ticket for a seat at a little table for four, meeting new friends, listening to really thought-provoking music by locals we mostly know (or knew), while enjoying wine and finger food?
Lately, this reviewer has come across concerts “curated” by its participants, and it seems a great thing, upping the personal involvement of the musicians on several levels. Two of Boston’s most illustrious and beloved singers, baritone David Kravitz and mezzo-soprano Lynn Torgove, can now add curator to their list of accomplishments (Kravitz is a celebrated blogger of Blue Mass Group, the most widely read independent political blog in New England, and lawyer; Torgove is a cantor and stage director). Their musicians included the very impressive pianist Donald Berman, the bassist Randall Zigler, and the Arneis Quartet (violinists Heather Braun and Rose Drucker, violist Daniel Doña, and cellist Agnes Kim).
The second ingredient for success was having poet, critic, friend-of-just-about-everyone Lloyd Schwartz read, both elegantly and humorously, most of the poems on which the songs were based. Then, with the exception of the late Lee Hyla (1952-2014), a much-respected Boston composer, the other composers—Elena Ruehr (b. 1963); Andy Vores (b. 1956); and Emmanuel’s own John Harbison (b. 1938) —sat in a front table, enjoying hearing their music. It was heady.
The evening was entitled “Howl,” and I presume that no matter when the audience member was born, he or she knew Allen Ginsberg’s notoriously memorable poem. My only question was what form “Howl” would take, and who would recite or sing it.
The show began with two musical settings of Ginsberg’s “A Supermarket in California,” in a bewitching reading by Lloyd Schwartz, followed by David Kravitz and the Arneis Quartet performing settings of this by Andy Vores (slow, elegiac, inward-looking) and Elena Reuhr (with an almost Schubertian opening). The poem is here.
“The Right to Pleasure” received the same treatment. Schwartz’s reading of each of Jessica Fischer’s four poems, was followed by ultra-virtuoso performances by Lynn Torgove with the Arneis Quartet and bassist Randall Zigler. This was the Boston premiere of John Harbison’s orchestration of this piece, and it worked very well, indeed.
“Howl” in 2/4 of its fabulous glory came next in a brilliant performance of Lee Hyla’s Movements II and III by David Kravitz (which I wish I had on video) and the Arneis Quartet. Who knew Emmanuel Church would be the idea venue for such a thing? But it was. Kravitz had the classy, (relatively restrained) holding-back-hilarity time of his life with it, and it was certainly the highlight of this, or any, year of concert-going.
Finally, we heard the World Premiere of John Harbison’s Schwartzsongs, recited (movingly) first by their dedicatee. The songs included “In the Mist,” “Song,” (my favorite), and “Crossword.” Lynn Torgove once again astonished with her virtuosity and sublime musicianship, as did pianist Donald Berman. Wow.
rain on the lake
room at the lodge
alone in a room
in the lazy light
loons on the lake
geese in the air
moose in the woods
a cry dislodged
from the musty woods
the gamy musk
of the one aroused
the roaming moose
the rooms lit up
the woods awake
in the loony light
the moon dislodged
the lake aflame
the Muse amazed
Lloyd Schwartz, “Song” from Cairo Traffic. Copyright © 2000 by Lloyd Schwartz. Reprinted by permission of the author.
I was very tempted to sneak into the ten o’clock show, but I fear it was sold out like the first. The next of these cabaret events at Emmanuel is on April 27, and will feature dancers.
Susan Miron is a book critic, essayist, and harpist. She writes about classical music and books for The Arts Fuse. Her last two CDs featured her transcriptions of keyboard music of Domenico Scarlatti.