IN: Reviews

Hell and Heaven at Maverick

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Adam Tendler (file photo)

Since the Music Director of Maverick Concerts, Alexander Platt, is a conductor, it’s understandable that he has wanted to bring his performing skills to the festival. As the leader of annual chamber orchestra concerts he ever pleases.

Maverick seats only about 200 inside and about 100 outdoors, and therefore made do nicely with 16 players this year, most of them from the Caroga Arts Ensemble based in the Adirondacks. Still, even a small orchestra costs money to rehearse, and the longer the program, the more expensive the rehearsals. Yesterday we had an entire first half of solo piano followed by Mahler’s Das Lied von der Erde with the band of 16.

We’ve heard the admirable pianist Adam Tendler before at Maverick. This year, though his half-concert seemed to work less well. He began with Luciano Berio’s Sequenza IV, which sounded as though the composer was trying out a series of ugly clashing sounds in more or less random order. No doubt some kind of rigid intellectual structure stood behind the piece, but it wasn’t apparent to this semi-knowledgeable listener. The Berio provided sheer bliss, though, compared with Philip Glass’s Two Pages from 1968. I ran into a composer friend, more familiar with Glass’s music than I am, who said that this piece is Glass at his most extreme. It began with a boring 5-note phrase repeated very quickly 20 times (I counted). The piece then went on to repeat similar and similarly boring phrases many times at the same rapid tempo for about 20 minutes. (Even Tendler couldn’t manage to keep the tempo exactly even, although he obviously tried his best.) Some of the audience seemed somehow to enjoy this music. To me, it felt like torture. I have never heard any piece of music I disliked more.

The small-orchestra arrangement of Das Lied von der Erde had been advertised as being by Arnold Schoenberg, but that was an exaggeration. Apparently Schoenberg began to make the arrangement but gave up halfway into the second song. Many years later, Rainer Riehn completed  it. For the most part it simply reduced the string sections to single players, and then filled in textures with piano and harmonium. The percussion may have been reduced somewhat (I didn’t have a score with me to check), but it was certainly present. The winds were all single. Most small orchestra arrangements which use a piano sound pretty lame, but this arrangement made a much better impression; the piano blended in well.

Alexander Platt

Elizabeth Bishop commanded the stage with a large rich voice and a large personality. Very convincing in all her songs, she sang the final “Der Abscheid” with aching beauty. Tenor Barry Banks has a bit smaller voice than Bishop, but he too sang well, capturing the wildness of “The Drunkard in Spring” most convincingly.

Platt had plenty of opportunity to show his qualities as a conductor, pacing each song right on target. The emotional climate of Mahler’s masterpiece may overall be somewhat grim, but it varies greatly and the singers and players projected those variations vividly, and the transparent arrangement gave virtually all the instrumentalists solo moments―every one of them splendid. That must be some festival they have in the Adirondacks!

The Mahler proved very satisfying, and I’m grateful to all concerned.

Leslie Gerber, who lives in Woodstock, New York, has been reviewing professionally since 1966, for such venues as Performance Today, Fanfare, and Amazon.com. He also publishes the Parnassus Records label.

7 Comments »

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7 Comments [leave a civil comment (others will be removed) and please disclose relevant affiliations]

  1. These sort of comments about music by Glass and Berio offer a review of the reviewer. Methinks it is time for some retirements at the Boston Music Intelligencer… The self-important approach of this review makes it impossible to believe any of the commentary about any of the compositions or performances.

    Comment by raro — August 29, 2019 at 6:54 am

  2. We seniors look forward to your contributions!

    Comment by davidrmoran — August 29, 2019 at 11:55 am

  3. To “raro”: I don’t quite agree that the only reason Mr. Gerber may have disliked the Glass performance was because of Gerber’s age (see “time for retirements” at BMINT). I never cared for Glass when my friends and I were getting stoned to it at Michigan in the 60s at age 18. I recently, at age 70, heard an excruciating (at least to me) performance of Glass in Boston and I asked my son who was a music major in college about what he thought of Glass. The audience in Boston, after all, appeared to love it. My son told me that he and his friends at Tulane used to only listen to Glass when getting stoned and that he found it boringly repetitive (unlike Schubert who is gloriously repetitive) and unimaginative. So there appears to be a wide age range among Glass admirers and detractors. I’m not so sure early retirements at BMINT are necessary.

    Comment by Mary Runkel — September 17, 2019 at 7:23 pm

  4. Is retirement at age 70 early?

    Comment by Lee Eiseman — September 17, 2019 at 7:28 pm

  5. Knock, knock.
    Who’s there?
    Philip Glass. Knock, knock.
    Who’s there?
    Philip Glass. Knock, knock…

    Comment by Camilli — September 19, 2019 at 6:34 pm

  6. 1) Which Maverick? Maverick Square in East Boston? VT? Hollywood? You have to read deeply into this to discover that Maverick must be in the Adirondacks (or is it the Catskills? Get out the DeLorme NY Atlas!). In headlines and even in the body of an article BMI contributors should note where things are: a special villain is the one who speaks of Woodstock unaware that there are Woodstock VT, NH, and CT in addition to the one he means in the Catskills of NY. Perhaps an editor can put the state in () to avoid confusion. 2) Age limit! I am aware that I’ve endured some Glass (Carter or Philip) in my 67 years. What I did appreciate at White Snake Productions’ latest is that the idioms of 20th century cacophony are increasingly falling by the wayside; Serialism, etc. may become a museum piece to eventually be worked by specialists in “Late Music”, the historical appendix (the body part not the literary term) containing the period piece of 20th century Cacophony (Schoenberg, Cage, Babbitt, etc.) outside the renewed mainstream of Tonality. The old timers who were hearing back in the 1960’s and ’70’s had much more opportunity to hear stuff on the radio: classical music (NOT the WCRB/WGBH idiocy nowadays) was plentiful on half a dozen FM stations in Boston. We weren’t dependent on what music teachers and promoters told us about. When we go a lot of that will be lost when the “young folks” who’ve been through the academic “mill” take over; they haven’t heard much and they haven’t been taught how to look for something other than what they’re Woke to.
    How was that Spanish-language opera done out in Watertown earlier this month? It sold out early so I couldn’t go and I’ve been looking for reviews.

    Comment by Nathan Redshield — September 22, 2019 at 1:31 pm

  7. “When we go…”

    Yes, we are going.

    The next, and subsequent, generations will carry on with what and how they’ve learned.

    Their world, not ours.

    Comment by debbie smith — September 22, 2019 at 2:34 pm

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