Monday, April 27, 2015

St. Louis theatre calendar for the week of April 27, 2015

[Looking for auditions and other artistic opportunities? Check out the St. Louis Auditions site.]

For information on events beyond this week, check out the searchable database at the Regional Arts Commission's events web site.

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Art
Photo: John Lamb
St. Louis Actors' Studio presents Yasmina Reza's comedy Art through May 3 at the Gaslight Theatre, 358 North Boyle. "How much would you pay for a white painting? Would it matter who the painter was? Would it be art? One of Marc's best friends, Serge, has just bought a very expensive painting. It's about five feet by four, all white with white diagonal lines. To Marc, the painting is a joke, but Serge insists Marc doesn't have the proper standard to judge the work. Another friend, Ivan, though burdened by his own problems, allows himself to be pulled into this disagreement. Eager to please, Ivan tells Serge he likes the painting. Lines are drawn and these old friends square off over the canvas, using it as an excuse to relentlessly batter one another over various failures. As their arguments become less theoretical and more personal, they border on destroying their friendships. At the breaking point, Serge hands Marc a felt tip pen and dares him: “Go on.” This is where the friendship is finally tested, and the aftermath of action, and its reaction, affirms the power of those bonds." For more information, call 314-458-2978 or visit stlas.org. Read the 88.1 KDHX review!

St. Louis University Theatre presents Shakespeare's comedy As You Like It through May 3. The source of some of Shakespeare's most famous lines this comedy follows the challenging path of love for Rosalind and Orlando. Performances take place in Xavier Hall, 3373 West Pine Mall. he cast will also be performing an excerpt from the show as part the Shakespeare Festival of St. Louis Shake 38 event on Saturday, April 25 from 12-1 pm at the LaMancha Coffee House, 2800 N. 14th St. in Old North St. Louis. For more information, call (314) 977-2998 or visit slumarketplace.slu.edu.

Stray Pups Youth Theatre presents the musical Disney's Beauty and the Beast Jr. April 30-May 10 "The classic story tells of Belle, a young woman in a provincial town, and the Beast, who is really a young prince trapped under the spell of an enchantress. If the Beast can learn to love and be loved, the curse will end and he will be transformed to his former self. But time is running out. If the Beast does not learn his lesson soon, he and his household will be doomed for all eternity." Performances take place at The Tower Grove Abbey, 2336 Tennessee. For more information, visit straydogtheatre.org or call 314-865-1995.

Kevin Spirtas
The Gateway Men’s Chorus presents Cabaret Risque on Saturday, May 2, at 8:30 p.m., preceded by a cocktail hour at 7 p.m. The show will star St. Louis native Kevin Spirtas, star of television’s Days Of Our Lives, Jim Brickman’s PBS special Love Songs and Lullabies, and Broadway’s A Chorus Line, Hairspray, and The Boy From Oz. Ken Haller is master of ceremonies and guest performer for the event, with music direction by Al Fischer. Procedes benefit the Gateway Men's Chorus. The show takes place Rialto Ballroom on the fourth floor of the Centene Center for the Arts, 3547 Olive in Grand Center. For more information: gatewaymenschorus.org.

The Lemp Mansion Comedy-Mystery Dinner Theater presents A Fistful Of Hollers May 1 through August 29. The Lemp Mansion is at 3322 DeMenil Place. For more information: lempmansion.com.

The Theatre Guild of Webster Groves presents Neil Simon's comedy Fools Fridays through Sundays, May 1-9. "Leon Tolchinsky is ecstatic. He's landed a terrific teaching job in an idyllic Russian hamlet. When he arrives he finds people sweeping dust from the stoops back into their houses and people milking upside down to get more cream. The town has been cursed with Chronic Stupidity for 200 years and Leon's job is to break the curse. No one tells him that if he stays over 24 hours and fails to break the curse, he too becomes Stupid. But, he has fallen in love with a girl so Stupid that she has only recently learned how to sit down." Performances take place in the Guild theatre at Newport and Summit in Webster Groves, MO. For more information: theatreguildwg.org or call 314-962-0876.

An Invitation Out
Photo: John Lamb
Mustard Seed Theatre presents An Invitation Out by Shaulee Cook through May 3. "In this world-premiere comedy of manners, a young man searches for “truth” while living in virtual reality and explores the “reality” of life offline." Performances take place at the Fontbonne Fine Arts Theatre, 6800 Wydown Blvd. For more information, call (314) 719-8060 or visit the web site at www.mustardseedtheatre.com Read the 88.1 KDHX review!.

St. Louis Community College at Wildwood presents the one-acts Lone Star and Laundry and Bourbon Friday and Saturday, May 1 and 2. The campus is at 2645 Generations Drive in Wildwood, MO. For more information: stlcc.edu/WW

Clayton Community Theatre presents Shakespeare's Macbeth Fridays and Saturdays at 8 PM and Sundays at 2 PM, through May 3. Performances take place at the Washington University South Campus Theatre. For more information, call 314-721-9228 or visit placeseveryone.org.

The Bissell Mansion Murder Mystery Dinner Theatre presents Mayhem In Mayberry May 1 through July 26. The Bissell Mansion is at 4426 Randall Place. For more information: bissellmansiontheatre.com

The Odd Couple
Photo: John Lamb
Dramatic License Productions presents the female version of Neil Simon's comedy The Odd Couple through May 10. "Oscar and Felix become Olive and Florence in this, the equally-hilarious female version of Neil Simon's classic comedy about two unlikely roomies who will either become the best of friends or kill each other trying!" Performances take place at Dramatic License Theatre located at upper-level Sears wing of Chesterfield Mall. For more information, call 636-821-1746 or visit www.dramaticlicenseproductions.org.

Once on This Island
Photo: Stewart Goldstein
The Black Rep presents the musical Once on This Island through May 3. "Once on this Island is a warm fairy tale for children of all ages, told with breezy Caribbean rhythms. A young peasant girl in the French Antilles uses the power of love to bring together people of very different social classes." Performances take place at the Edison Theatre on the Washington University campus. For more information: theblackrep.org.

KTK Productions presents the farce Sex, Please, We're Sixty through May 3. "Mrs. Stancliffe's Rose Cottage Bed and Breakfast has been successful for many years. Her guests (nearly all women) return year after year. Her next door neighbor, the elderly, silver-tongued, Bud "The Stud" Davis believes they come to spend time with him in romantic liaisons. The prim and proper Mrs. Stancliffe steadfastly denies this, but really doesn't do anything to prevent it. She reluctantly accepts the fact that "Bud the Stud" is, in fact, good for business. Her other neighbor and would-be suitor Henry Mitchell is a retired chemist who has developed a blue pill called "Venusia," after Venus the goddess of love, to increase the libido of menopausal women. The pill has not been tested. Add to the guest list three older women: Victoria Ambrose, a romance novelist whose personal life seems to be lacking in romance; Hillary Hudson a friend of Henry's who has agreed to test the Venusia: and Charmaine Beauregard, a "Southern Belle" whose libido does not need to be increased! Bud gets his hands on some of the Venusia pills and the fun begins, as he attempts to entertain all three women! The women mix up Bud's Viagra pills with the Venusia, and we soon discover that it has a strange effect on men: it gives them all the symptoms of menopausal women, complete with hot flashes, mood swings, weeping and irritability! When the mayhem settles down, all the women find their lives moving in new and surprising directions." Performances take place at Southampton Presbyterian Church, 4716 Macklind. For more information: kurtainkall.org or call 314-351-8984.

Webster University's Conservatory of Theatre Arts presents Shakespeare's The Tempest Wednesday through Saturday at 7:30 p.m. and Sunday at 2 p.m., April 29-May 3. “Prospero, Duke of Milan, usurped and exiled by his own brother, holds sway over an enchanted island. He is comforted by his daughter Miranda and served by his spirit Ariel and his deformed slave Caliban. When Prospero raises a storm to wreck this perfidious brother and his confederates on the island, his long contemplated revenge at last seems within reach.” Performances take place on the Browning Mainstage of the Loretto-Hilton Center on the Webster University campus. For more information, events.webster.edu or call 314-968-7128.

Kirkwood Theatre Guild presents the musical Thoroughly Modern Millie May 1-10. "Small-town girl, Millie Dillmount, sets out for New York in 1922, to put some excitement in her life...and hopefully find a rich husband. Millie begins her new flapper lifestyle with enthusiasm but encounters some unexpected turns when she moves into a hotel run by the evil Mrs. Meers and takes a job at Sincere Trust in an attempt to catch the rich and eligible boss...but instead finds herself falling in love with (gasp) an ordinary man. This zany musical, based on the popular movie, took Broadway by storm, winning the TONY Award for Best Musical! It's an absolutely fun-filled, toe-tapping tribute to the flapper era and the exciting beginning of the thoroughly modern woman!" Performances take place in the Robert G. Reim Theatre of the Kirkwood Community Center, 111 South Geyer Road. For more information, call 314-821-9956 or visit ktg-onstage.org.

Would you like to be on the radio? KDHX, 88.1 FM needs theatre reviewers. If you're 18 years or older, knowledgeable in this area, have practical theatre experience (acting, directing, writing, technical design, etc.), have good oral and written communications skills and would like to become one of our volunteer reviewers, send an email describing your experience and interests to chuck at kdhx.org. Please include a sample review of something you've seen recently.

Friday, April 24, 2015

St. Louis classical calendar for the week of April 27, 2015

Allegra Lilly
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David Robertson conducts the St. Louis Symphony Orchestra with harpist Allegra Lilly and tuba player Michael Sanders on Friday at 10:30 a.m. and 8 p.m., Saturday at 8 p.m., and Sunday at 3 p.m., May1-3. "David Robertson conducts a program devoted to beloved dance compositions recognized for their brilliant and rousing arrangements. The program begins with selections from the Bizet's alluring and sensual Carmen. Ravel's most famous work, Bolero, always dazzles audiences with its Spanish charm, pulse-pounding melodies and unique instrumentation. Michael Sanders is the soloist for the Tuba Concerto by Ralph Vaughan Williams." The concerts take place at Powell Symphony Hall, 718 North Grand in Grand Center. For more information: stlsymphony.org.

The 442s
The Tavern of Fine Arts presents The 442s in concert on Tuesday, April 28 at 8 PM. "What happens when you combine two outstanding members of the world-class St. Louis Symphony with two of the city's finest jazz musicians from the Erin Bode Group? You get The 442's, an exciting new acoustic instrumental quartet named for the modern standard tuning of 442 Hz! Brought together by the innovative and inspired compositions of Adam Maness, who also plays guitar, accordion, melodica and glockenspiel in the group, The 442's features Shawn Weil on violin, Bjorn Ranheim on cello and Sydney Rodway on bass. This unique collaboration, formed in the spring of 2012 by a tight-knit group whose love of good food and fine beer makes rehearsals feel like dinner parties, combines outstanding musicianship, group singing, inventive improvisation, whistle solos and special guest appearances by famed jazz vocalist, Erin Bode. Exploring the boundaries of jazz, classical, folk and rock music, their music can move you to the edge of your seat or comfort you like a lullaby, all within the same set." The Tavern of Fine Arts is at 313 Belt in the Debaliviere Place neighborhood. For more information: tavern-of-fine-arts.blogspot.com.

The Tavern of Fine Arts presents a marimba concert by Thomas Zirkle on Wednesday, April 29 at 8 PM. The Tavern of Fine Arts is at 313 Belt in the Debaliviere Place neighborhood. For more information: tavern-of-fine-arts.blogspot.com.

The Tavern of Fine Arts presents Rachel Petzoldt and Johanna Stull in a concert of music for flute and piano, with a guest appearance by cellist Ben Webb, on Thursday, April 30 at 6 PM. The Tavern of Fine Arts is at 313 Belt in the Debaliviere Place neighborhood. For more information: tavern-of-fine-arts.blogspot.com.

The Illumine Ensemble
The Tavern of Fine Arts presents a Music and Cuisine Pairing Concert with the Illumine Ensemble on Friday, May 1, at 7:30 PM. "We've cooked up another MUSIC & CUISINE PAIRING CONCERT with our friends the ILLUMINE ENSEMBLE featuring a fabulous menu of spring flavors, served up with equally tasty tunes." The Tavern of Fine Arts is at 313 Belt in the Debaliviere Place neighborhood. For more information: tavern-of-fine-arts.blogspot.com.

The Tavern of Fine Arts presents soprano Rebecca Drury and pianist Jon Garrett on Saturday, May 2, at 8 PM. "Jon Garrett (pianist, tenor) is joined by Rebecca Drury (soprano) for a wine pairing program exploring the emotional realm of our "Hellos and Goodbyes," in a musical journey of love and loss, life and death, sorrows and celebrations. Musical works will include Schumann's Frauenliebe und -leben song cycle (Woman's Love and Life), German selections by Schubert and Schumann, French songs by Faure, Debussy and Poulenc, popular musical theater, and English songs of Amy Beach and Roger Quilter." The Tavern of Fine Arts is at 313 Belt in the Debaliviere Place neighborhood. For more information: tavern-of-fine-arts.blogspot.com.

The Washington University Department of Music presents a concert by the a cappella vocal group The Whiffenpoofs of Yale, on Monday, April 27, at 7:30 p.m. "As the nation's oldest a cappella ensemble, the Whiffenpoofs have been sharing music throughout the United States and the world since their founding in 1909. The group combines a unique blend of musicianship, choreography, and showmanship to create a performance suitable for an array of different audiences. Made famous by the signature "Whiffenpoof Song" (which has been covered by artists like Elvis Presley, Bing Crosby, and Rudy Vallee), the Whiffs continue their century-old tradition each year with over two hundred performances in venues like Carnegie Hall, the Lincoln Center, and the Rose Bowl." The concert takes place at the 560 Music Center, 560 Trinity in University City. For more information: music.wustl.edu.

The Washington University Department of Music presents the Washington University Flute Choir and Community Flute Choir in a program of works for flute ensemble by Bach, Mozart, Grainger, McMichael and more. The concert takes place on Monday, April 27, at 8 p.m. at the 560 Music Center, 560 Trinity in University City, MO. For more information: music.wustl.edu.

The Washington University Department of Music presents the Washington University Wind Ensemble Concert on Tuesday, April 28, at 7:30 p.m. The performance takes place at the 560 Music Center, 560 Trinity in University City, MO. For more information: music.wustl.edu.

The Washington University Department of Music presents a Guitar Gala, featuring students in the university guitar program, on Thursday, April 30, at 8 p.m. The program includes music by Vivaldi, Villa-Lobos, Rodrigo and others. The performance takes place at Graham Chapel on the Washington University campus. For more information: music.wustl.edu.

Thursday, April 23, 2015

Chuck's Choices for the weekend of April 27, 2015

As always, the choices are purely my personal opinion. Take with a grain (or a shaker) of salt.

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New This Week:

The Age of Bees
Tesseract Theatre Company presents The Age of Bees through April 28. "It's the year 2098. The bees are gone and the world struggles to keep up with the resulting ecological and economic changes. In the midst of this, we meet Mel, a young woman who has found sanctuary on an agricultural compound, where there's food and safety. She works alongside other girls, also orphans or castoffs. Sarah and Zed, who run the farm, hope that their next child will be a boy; Sarah is at the end of her fertility, however, and, to her dismay, Mel stands next in line to carry children for Zed. Into this uncertain sanctuary steps Jonathan, an independent field researcher who collects samples of plants to forestall additional ecological devastation. Meeting Mel provides a glimmer of other kinds of scientific riches on this compound, and he is determined to take her with him. Zed's history of violence makes any escape a dangerous proposition. Still, there's the hope that something new can grow, that something good can come from the ruined world they struggle to make theirs." Performances take place at the Regional Arts Commission, 6128 Delmar. For more information: tesseracttheatre.org.

My take: "Tesseract Theatre continues to demonstrate a commitment to finding not simply new plays," writes Tina Farmer in her review for KDHX, "but new plays that tackle contemporary issues with inventive and imaginative plots and well-informed, yet natural, dialogue...Playwright Palmquist takes a dark look into the future with this environmentally conscious, sweetly romantic play. These themes resonate deeply throughout and feel fully realized and genuinely formed." Tesseract is once again taking chances with a disturbing but important subject, and that kind of daring warrants a shout-out here.

Art
Photo: John Lamb
St. Louis Actors' Studio presents Yasmina Reza's comedy Art through May 3 at the Gaslight Theatre, 358 North Boyle. "How much would you pay for a white painting? Would it matter who the painter was? Would it be art? One of Marc's best friends, Serge, has just bought a very expensive painting. It's about five feet by four, all white with white diagonal lines. To Marc, the painting is a joke, but Serge insists Marc doesn't have the proper standard to judge the work. Another friend, Ivan, though burdened by his own problems, allows himself to be pulled into this disagreement. Eager to please, Ivan tells Serge he likes the painting. Lines are drawn and these old friends square off over the canvas, using it as an excuse to relentlessly batter one another over various failures. As their arguments become less theoretical and more personal, they border on destroying their friendships. At the breaking point, Serge hands Marc a felt tip pen and dares him: “Go on.” This is where the friendship is finally tested, and the aftermath of action, and its reaction, affirms the power of those bonds." For more information, call 314-458-2978 or visit stlas.org.

My take: Playwright Reza seems to specialize in scripts about Men Behaving Badly. Art is probably her best known and most popular play, and it looks like STLAS is doing well by it. The Snoop's Theatre Thoughts blog says that "the cast here is uniformly excellent, working together well and portraying a convincing combative friendship," while over at KDHX Tina Farmer says "[the] dialogue is crisp and artfully crafted, with lots of interesting turns but no real surprises. It's delightful to listen to the conversations of the three characters, Marc, Serge and Yvan, even though none of them are particularly sympathetic or more than marginally likable. John Pierson, Drew Battles and Larry Dell comfortably inhabit their characters and skillfully glide through dialogue that is at times complex and tongue twisting."

An Invitation Out
Photo: John Lamb
Mustard Seed Theatre presents An Invitation Out by Shaulee Cook through May 3. "In this world-premiere comedy of manners, a young man searches for “truth” while living in virtual reality and explores the “reality” of life offline." Performances take place at the Fontbonne Fine Arts Theatre, 6800 Wydown Blvd. For more information, call (314) 719-8060 or visit the web site at www.mustardseedtheatre.com.

My take: Mustard Seed specializes in plays that deal with difficult ethical issues. In this case, they've chosen to take on the question of identity in a virtual world where a screen name might mean everything or nothing, and they're doing it in a way that pays homage to Oscar Wilde. In his review for KDHX, Robert Nickles says the plays characters "must make choices about identity within the confines of complex social expectations. Like any comedy of manners, the script hides profound truths behind the silliness and superficiality of human conventions. This visually stunning production combines fun and philosophy to produce a thoroughly entertaining social critique." At stltoday.com, Judy Newmark says the show is "is big in every way: the size of its cast, the characters’ outlandish costumes, the generous imagination that playwright Shualee Cook poured into her vision of a neo-Victorian future."

Shakespeare Festival St. Louis presents Shake 38, a city wide performance festival in which all 38 of Shakespeare's plays are performed by 38 different groups in a variety of neighborhoods and locations. Performances take place Wednesday through Sunday, April 22-26. For a complete schedule: sfstl.com.

My take: For sheer variety, it's hard to beat Shake 38, the Shakespeare Festival's annual city-wide celebration of The Bard on the week of his birthday. Events include Macbeth at Clayton Community Theatre, a concert version of Verdi's Falstaff at Tavern of Fine Arts, Miss Crump of the Loo (A Modern Adaptation of Timon of Athens) at the Centene Center, Goin' Ham-Lit in the Hood, An Adaptation of Hamlet at the St. Louis City Juvenile Detention Center, Student2Student: Measure4Measure at St. Louis University, and Henry VIII: Lose Your Head: A SHAKE 38 Signature Event, St. Lou Fringe Shindig, and Gateway Burners Recompression Party Extravaganza! at the Cherokee Arts Center. For a complete list (because, trust me, there's a lot more): www.sfstl.com/in-the-streets/shake-38.

Symphony Preview: Big Piano, Part Zwei, with Emanuel Ax

April has been Big Piano Concerto Month at the St. Louis Symphony. Last week we had Rachmaninoff's daunting "Piano Concerto No. 3" . This week it's the equally intimidating "Piano Concerto No. 2 in B-flat major," Op. 83, written in 1881 by Brahms.

Johannes Brahms
en.wikipedia.org
The reasons why the two concerti are difficult are somewhat different, though. With the Rachmaninoff, it's mostly a matter of sheer technique. The composer was a virtuoso of the first water who wrote the piece for his use during an American tour, and even though it's now largely part of the standard repertoire, it's still not the sort of thing a performer takes on lightly.

With the Brahms it's partly a matter of sheer endurance. With four movements (as opposed to the usual three) and a running time of around fifty minutes the piece was, at the time, the longest piano concerto ever written. Now that honor probably goes to Ferrucio Busoni's 1904 Piano Concerto (five movements, seventy minutes), which includes a part for male chorus. But it's still the pianistic equivalent of running a marathon and not everybody has the endurance.

The real challenge, though, is artistic. As French pianist Phillippe Bianconi observed in a 2013 interview, the Brahms Second is "not really a concerto – it is really a symphony with principal piano...everything about it — the structure, the texture, the way the piano is integrated into the orchestral fabric, it's very symphonic. And that is what I love about it: I have the feeling I'm playing in a Brahms symphony!... The sheer beauty of this music is simply overwhelming. And I don't know many concertos that have such a great range of moods and emotions...The concerto is like a fabulous journey." At the work's November 1881 premiere in Stuttgart, in fact, the prominent critic (and Brahms partisan) Eduard Hanslick labeled it "a symphony with piano obbligato."

That means the soloist has to have not only technique and endurance but also a grasp of symphonic form—which is not guaranteed, even among some of the world's most prominent players. "The fact that its supreme complexity requires a surpassing executant," wrote Brockway and Weinstock in the 1967 edition of their provocative "Men of Music," "has not helped the B flat, for it is all too often attempted by pianists who find it quite beyond their competence. Even the greatest of ensemble players, Artur Schnabel, though none of it is beyond him, cannot give interest to the unwieldy work for its entire length."

The composer realized that he had written something monumental, in fact, and was not sure how successful it might be. In a letter to Elizabeth von Herzogenberg from Pressbaum on July 7, 1881, Brahms, with tongue firmly in bearded cheek, announced that "I have written a tiny, tiny pianoforte concerto with a tiny wisp of a scherzo. It is in B flat, and I have reason to fear that I have worked this udder, which has yielded good milk before, too often and too vigorously."

He need not have worried. "He was surely vindicated, if unsurprised," writes René Spencer Saller in the SLSO program notes, "when his Second Piano Concerto elicited rapturous applause everywhere except in Leipzig, that die-hard Wagner town." Its popularity continues to this day, when it's seen as one of the core Romantic piano concerti. Indeed, pianist Stephen Hough (who has both Brahms concerti in his repertoire) has said that the Brahms Second is one of his favorites. "For all the grandeur and excitement of the first concerto's youthful flare," he wrote in The Guardian's music blog last January, "the second's older vintage seemed wiser, more fascinatingly complex as I revisited and re-recorded both pieces last year. Its musical arguments seemed more nuanced, more open to exploration, more a search for common ground where, as in life, the sun can shine brightest ... and warmest."

At the keyboard this weekend is Emanuel Ax, a pianist with a long and distinguished career in both the concert and chamber music worlds and an impressively large catalog of recordings (he has been a Sony classical artist since 1987).  He knows the Brahms Second intimately and has performed it four times with the SLSO, including twice with David Robertson. This weekend will mark his 40th anniversary of his first appearance with the orchestra.

Edward Elgar, circa 1900
en.wikipedia.org
The concerts will open with a work of more modest proportions: Edward Elgar's 1905 "Introduction and Allegro," op. 47, scored for string orchestra with a solo string quartet, much in the manner of the Baroque concerto grosso. It was was written on commission to show off the strings of the newly-established London Symphony Orchestra and contains some wonderful stuff, especially for the solo quartet. "It's really beautiful, and kind of strange," says viola soloist Morris Jacob in an interview in the program. "It's Elgar at his best. He writes so well for strings, with beautiful, intimate moments, some of which are just majestic."

Elgar prefaced the score with the following lines from Act IV, Scene 1 of Shakespeare's oddball tragicomedy "Cymbeline" describing the decidedly mixed emotions displayed by one of the key characters:
Nobly he yokes
A smiling with a sigh, as if the sigh
Was that it was, for not being such a smile; The smile mocking the sigh, that it would fly From so divine a temple, to commix
With winds that sailors rail at.
"Shakespeare reveled in paradox," writes Ms. Saller, "the conjoining of apparent antitheses. Elgar did too, but in a different idiom." The Introduction begins wistfully in G minor but soon waxes lyrical with a tune that Elgar said was inspired by a song he heard sung by a distant voice during a vacation in Wales. The Allegro concludes with an energetic fugue. "The work," concludes Ms. Saller, "is at once Romantic and Baroque, ecstatic and exact. Like the Bard of Avon, Elgar loved the mongrels best."

Between the Elgar and the Brahms is the St. Louis premiere of "Frenesia" ("Frenzy") by contemporary German composer Detlev Glanert. Composed on commission to celebrate the 150th birthday of Richard Strauss (of "Also Sprach Zarathustra" fame), the piece was inspired by Strauss' tone poem "Ein Heldenleben" ("A Hero's Life").

Detlev Glanert
boosey.com
"Ein Heldenleben," for the benefit of those of you who came in late, is a supreme example of musical egotism. Despite the composer's disclaimer that the work was only party autobiographical and that it was intended to be "a more general and free ideal of great and manly heroism," there's not much doubt that Strauss' hero was Strauss. The work is chock full of quotes from Strauss' music and its portrayal of music critics by a gaggle of chattering woodwinds provoked the expected outrage from the composer's detractors.

That sort of thing would be easy to parody, but Mr. Glanert isn't interested in satire. "Although Glanert admires Strauss's last great tone poem too much to mock it," reports Ms. Saller, "he recognizes that it was a product of its time. Frenesia is the ‘anti-Heldenleben,' he explains, "because the piece is against the traditional Romantic view of grand heroism, which I think is no longer possible after historic events leading to 1945.'"

"Frenesia" was given its world premiere by Xian Zhang and the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra last January—a performance that was recently made available on YouTube. It's a piece marked by strong contrasts in which loud, aggressive orchestral outbursts that sound like science fiction film music abruptly give way to passages of surprising delicacy. About two-thirds of the way through, the music begins a slow build to a massive final climax before slowly dying away, like "Neptune" from Holst's "The Planets," into silence. Overall, I'm left the impression that Mr. Glanert sees "grand heroism" as being mostly sound and fury, signifying nothing.

"Frenesia" will, in any case, make serious demands on the members of the orchestra. It will be interesting to see what they make of it.

Mr. Glanert is no stranger to the "old wine in new bottles" thing, by the way. Last October he uncorked a re-distillation of some vintage Brahms at Powell Hell in his "Vier Präludien und ernste Gesänge" ("Four Preludes and Serious Songs"), an arrangement of Brahms's op. 121 "Four Serious Songs" for baritone and orchestra. You can see my colleague Gary Liam Scott's review of that concert (which I missed because I was on stage elsewhere) at the KDHX web site.

The essentials: David Robertson conducts the St. Louis Symphony Orchestra with pianist Emanuel Ax on Saturday at 8 p.m. and Sunday at 3 p.m., April 25 and 26. The concerts take place at Powell Symphony Hall, 718 North Grand in Grand Center. For more information: stlsymphony.org.

Sunday, April 19, 2015

St. Louis theatre calendar for the week of April 20, 2015

[Looking for auditions and other artistic opportunities? Check out the St. Louis Auditions site.]

For information on events beyond this week, check out the searchable database at the Regional Arts Commission's events web site.

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The Age of Bees
Tesseract Theatre Company presents The Age of Bees through April 28. "It's the year 2098. The bees are gone and the world struggles to keep up with the resulting ecological and economic changes. In the midst of this, we meet Mel, a young woman who has found sanctuary on an agricultural compound, where there's food and safety. She works alongside other girls, also orphans or castoffs. Sarah and Zed, who run the farm, hope that their next child will be a boy; Sarah is at the end of her fertility, however, and, to her dismay, Mel stands next in line to carry children for Zed. Into this uncertain sanctuary steps Jonathan, an independent field researcher who collects samples of plants to forestall additional ecological devastation. Meeting Mel provides a glimmer of other kinds of scientific riches on this compound, and he is determined to take her with him. Zed's history of violence makes any escape a dangerous proposition. Still, there's the hope that something new can grow, that something good can come from the ruined world they struggle to make theirs." Performances take place at the Regional Arts Commission, 6128 Delmar. For more information: tesseracttheatre.org.

St. Louis Actors' Studio presents Yasmina Reza's comedy Art through May 3 at the Gaslight Theatre, 358 North Boyle. "How much would you pay for a white painting? Would it matter who the painter was? Would it be art? One of Marc's best friends, Serge, has just bought a very expensive painting. It's about five feet by four, all white with white diagonal lines. To Marc, the painting is a joke, but Serge insists Marc doesn't have the proper standard to judge the work. Another friend, Ivan, though burdened by his own problems, allows himself to be pulled into this disagreement. Eager to please, Ivan tells Serge he likes the painting. Lines are drawn and these old friends square off over the canvas, using it as an excuse to relentlessly batter one another over various failures. As their arguments become less theoretical and more personal, they border on destroying their friendships. At the breaking point, Serge hands Marc a felt tip pen and dares him: “Go on.” This is where the friendship is finally tested, and the aftermath of action, and its reaction, affirms the power of those bonds." For more information, call 314-458-2978 or visit stlas.org.

St. Louis University Theatre presents Shakespeare's comedy As You Like It April 24-May 3. The source of some of Shakespeare's most famous lines this comedy follows the challenging path of love for Rosalind and Orlando. Performances take place in Xavier Hall, 3373 West Pine Mall. he cast will also be performing an excerpt from the show as part the Shakespeare Festival of St. Louis Shake 38 event on Saturday, April 25 from 12-1 pm at the LaMancha Coffee House, 2800 N. 14th St. in Old North St. Louis. For more information, call (314) 977-2998 or visit slumarketplace.slu.edu.
 
Crimes of the Heart
The Hawthorne Players present the Beth Henley's Crimes of the Heart through April 26. "Crimes of the Heart is filled with humanity and humor as it examines the plight of three young Mississippi sisters betrayed by their passions. In the end, the play is the story of how its young characters escape the past and seize the future-but the telling is so true and touching and consistently hilarious that it will linger in the mind long after the curtain has descended. This winner of the 1981 Pulitzer Prize will be directed by Ken Clark, who says, "If you think your family has issues, wait until you visit the Magrath household. As my grandmother once said, Southern hospitality can't fix crazy."" The performances take place at the Florissant Civic Center Theatre at Parker and Waterford in Florissant, MO. For more information, call 921-5678 or visit hawthorneplayers.com.

Family Musical Theater presents the Stephen Sondheim musical A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum through April 26 at the Ivory Theatre, 7622 Michigan. For more information, visit familymusical.org or call 314-571-9579.

An Invitation Out
Photo: John Lamb
Mustard Seed Theatre presents An Invitation Out by Shaulee Cook through May 3. "In this world-premiere comedy of manners, a young man searches for “truth” while living in virtual reality and explores the “reality” of life offline." Performances take place at the Fontbonne Fine Arts Theatre, 6800 Wydown Blvd. For more information, call (314) 719-8060 or visit the web site at www.mustardseedtheatre.com.

Gateway Opera presents Mozart's The Impresario Friday and Saturday, April 24 and 25, at 7:00 p.m. "In this hilarious hour-long show, an entrepreneur struggles to hold together an opera company filled with affairs, feuding singers, and a strained budget. This new expanded English edition commissioned by Gateway Opera features favorites from other Mozart operas including Così fan tutte, The Magic Flute, Idomeneo and more!" Performances take place at the Kranzberg Center 501 North Grand in Grand Center. For more information: 1-800-838-3006 or gatewayopera.org.

Clayton Community Theatre presents Shakespeare's Macbeth Fridays and Saturdays at 8 PM and Sundays at 2 PM, April 23-May 3. Performances take place at the Washington University South Campus Theatre. For more information, call 314-721-9228 or visit placeseveryone.org.

The Lemp Mansion Comedy-Mystery Dinner Theater presents Muuurder in Maaaybury through April 25. The Lemp Mansion is at 3322 DeMenil Place. For more information: lempmansion.com.

Alfresco Productions presents the musical Next to Normal Friday through Sunday, April 24-26 "Dad's an architect; Mom rushes to pack lunches and pour cereal; their daughter and son are bright, wise-cracking teens, appearing to be a typical American family. And yet their lives are anything but normal, because the mother has been battling manic depression for 16 years. Next To Normal takes audiences into the minds and hearts of each character, presenting their family's story with love, sympathy and heart. This deeply moving piece of theatre provides a wonderful opportunity for performers to explore dramatic material and showcase vocal talents with an energetic pop/rock score. Next To Normal is an emotional powerhouse that addresses such issues as grieving a loss, ethics in modern psychiatry, and suburban life. PARENTAL ADVISORY - STRONG LANGUAGE AND MATURE CONTENT" Performances take place at the Alfresco Art Center, 2401 Delmar in Granite City, IL. For more information: (618) 560-1947 or www.alfrescoproductions.org.

Dramatic License Productions presents the female version of Neil Simon's comedy The Odd Couple April 24-May 10. "Oscar and Felix become Olive and Florence in this, the equally-hilarious female version of Neil Simon's classic comedy about two unlikely roomies who will either become the best of friends or kill each other trying!" Performances take place at Dramatic License Theatre located at upper-level Sears wing of Chesterfield Mall. For more information, call 636-821-1746 or visit www.dramaticlicenseproductions.org.

The Black Rep presents the musical Once on This Island April 22-May 3. "Once on this Island is a warm fairy tale for children of all ages, told with breezy Caribbean rhythms. A young peasant girl in the French Antilles uses the power of love to bring together people of very different social classes." Performances take place at the Edison Theatre on the Washington University campus. For more information: theblackrep.org.

Lindenwood University presents Shakespeare's Pericles, Prince of Tyre through April 25. "This action-packed production is a tempest-tossed hero's quest-a magical mystery tour spanning decades and continents, culminating in one of the most joyous reunions in the Shakespearean canon. Featuring pirates, goddesses, jousting knights, and a lost princess, Pericles, Prince of Tyre is a theatrical journey you don't want to miss!" Performances take place at the J. Scheidegger Center for the Arts on the Lindenwood campus in St. Charles, MO. For more information, call 636-949-4433 or visit lindenwood.edu/center.

The Bissell Mansion Murder Mystery Dinner Theatre presents Phantom of the Grand Ole Opery through April 26. The Bissell Mansion is at 4426 Randall Place. For more information: bissellmansiontheatre.com

St. Charles Community College presents Ionesco's absurdist comedy Rhinoceros Wednesday through Sunday, April 22-26. Performances take place in the Donald D. Shook Fine Arts Building on the campus at 4601 Mid Rivers Mall Drive in Cottleville, MO. For more information, call 636-922-8050 or visit stchas.edu.

KTK Productions presents the farce Sex, Please, We're Sixty April 24-May 3. "Mrs. Stancliffe's Rose Cottage Bed and Breakfast has been successful for many years. Her guests (nearly all women) return year after year. Her next door neighbor, the elderly, silver-tongued, Bud "The Stud" Davis believes they come to spend time with him in romantic liaisons. The prim and proper Mrs. Stancliffe steadfastly denies this, but really doesn't do anything to prevent it. She reluctantly accepts the fact that "Bud the Stud" is, in fact, good for business. Her other neighbor and would-be suitor Henry Mitchell is a retired chemist who has developed a blue pill called "Venusia," after Venus the goddess of love, to increase the libido of menopausal women. The pill has not been tested. Add to the guest list three older women: Victoria Ambrose, a romance novelist whose personal life seems to be lacking in romance; Hillary Hudson a friend of Henry's who has agreed to test the Venusia: and Charmaine Beauregard, a "Southern Belle" whose libido does not need to be increased! Bud gets his hands on some of the Venusia pills and the fun begins, as he attempts to entertain all three women! The women mix up Bud's Viagra pills with the Venusia, and we soon discover that it has a strange effect on men: it gives them all the symptoms of menopausal women, complete with hot flashes, mood swings, weeping and irritability! When the mayhem settles down, all the women find their lives moving in new and surprising directions." Performances take place at Southampton Presbyterian Church, 4716 Macklind. For more information: kurtainkall.org or call 314-351-8984.

Shakespeare Festival St. Louis presents Shake 38, a city wide performance festival in which all 38 of Shakespeare's plays are performed by 38 different groups in a variety of neighborhoods and locations. Performances take place Wednesday through Sunday, April 22-26. For a complete schedule: sfstl.com.

St. Louis Community College at Florissant Valley presents Steel Magnolias through April 25. Performances take place in the Fisher Theatre on the campus at 3400 Pershall Road. For more information: stlcc.edu/FV under Fischer Theatre or call 314-644-5522.

Would you like to be on the radio? KDHX, 88.1 FM needs theatre reviewers. If you're 18 years or older, knowledgeable in this area, have practical theatre experience (acting, directing, writing, technical design, etc.), have good oral and written communications skills and would like to become one of our volunteer reviewers, send an email describing your experience and interests to chuck at kdhx.org. Please include a sample review of something you've seen recently.

St. Louis classical calendar for the week of April 20, 2015

The Bach Society at St. Stanislaus Church
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The Bach Society of St. Louis presents Faire is the Heaven on Sunday, April 26, at 3:0 p.m. at Second Presbyterian Church, 4501 Westminster Place. "Post-Dispatch critic Philip Kennicott hailed Ralph Vaughan Williams’ Mass in G minor, as "a summit of the 20th-century choral repertoire" when we performed it in 1997. This magnificent mass for double chorus will be performed again by our chorus and is sure to leave a lasting impression as it did 18 years ago. Music from the English choral tradition, including works by Philips, Byrd, Stanford, Tallis, Howells and Harris is also included on the program." For more information: www.bachsociety.org.

The Chamber Music Society of St. Louis presents Brasstravaganza on Monday and Tuesday, April 20 and 21, at 7:30 p.m. "Chamber Music Society of St. Louis presents an evening of fanfares and antiphonal brass, performing chamber music of the highest quality in a relaxed, informal, cabaret style where audiences can have an entertaining evening as they sit at a table with friends, share a bottle of wine and light snacks while enjoying beautiful music performed by some of the finest musicians in St. Louis." The performance takes place in The Sheldon Concert Hall at 3648 Washington. For more information: chambermusicstl.org.

The Chamber Project St. Louis
The Chamber Project St. Louis presents Vernacular, featuring works by Tower, Beaser, Ozgen, Allison, and Schubert on Wednesday, April 22, at 7:00 PM. The performance takes place at the World Chess Hall of Fame, 4652 Maryland Avenue. For more information: www.chamberprojectstl.org

Gateway Opera presents Mozart's The Impresario Friday and Saturday, April 24 and 25, at 7:00 p.m. "In this hilarious hour-long show, an entrepreneur struggles to hold together an opera company filled with affairs, feuding singers, and a strained budget. This new expanded English edition commissioned by Gateway Opera features favorites from other Mozart operas including Così fan tutte, The Magic Flute, Idomeneo and more!" Performances take place at the Kranzberg Center 501 North Grand in Grand Center. For more information: 1-800-838-3006 or gatewayopera.org.

The Missouri History Museum presents The Seven Deadly Sins, a concert by CHARIS, the St. Louis Women’s Chorus, on Friday, April 24, at 8 p.m. in the Lee Auditorium. "Pride. Envy. Wrath. Gluttony and Lust. Sloth and Greed. Join CHARIS for a tongue-in-cheek look at the weird and darkly comic world of sin, as told through song." The Missouri History Museum is at Skinker and DeBaliviere in Forest Park. For more information: mohistory.org.

Emanuel Ax
David Robertson conducts the St. Louis Symphony Orchestra with pianist Emanuel Ax on Saturday at 8 p.m. and Sunday at 3 p.m., April 25 and 26. Ax will be the soloist in Brahms' Piano Concerto No. 2. The concerts will include music by Elgar and Glanert. The concerts take place at Powell Symphony Hall, 718 North Grand in Grand Center. For more information: stlsymphony.org.

The Tavern of Fine Arts presents Wanda Becker, violin; Andrew Rubin, cello; and Daniel Schene, piano on Tuesday, April 21, at 8 p.m. They will perform Schubert's Trio in B-flat Major, Op. 99. Daniel Schene will also Schubert's Piano Sonata in A Major, Op. 120. The Tavern of Fine Arts is at 313 Belt in the Debaliviere Place neighborhood. For more information: tavern-of-fine-arts.blogspot.com.

The Tavern of Fine Arts presents pianist Mike Ring on Wednesday, April 22, at 8 p.m. "Pianist Mike Ring presents his first solo recital in over two years. He will perform Impressionistic music and piano works of Brazilian composer Hietor Villa-Lobos as well as Rhapsody in Blue by George Gershwin, Chromatic Fantasy and Fugue by J.S. Bach, Piano Sonata No. 3 by Sergei Prokofiev. Piano Sonata No. 1 - First Movement by Rodion Shchedrin, and a few short collaborations with friends." The Tavern of Fine Arts is at 313 Belt in the Debaliviere Place neighborhood. For more information: tavern-of-fine-arts.blogspot.com.

Alan Mohammed and Chad Pleasant
The Tavern of Fine Arts presents violinists Chad Pleasant and Alan Mohammed with Daniel Fry on piano performing music by Massenet, Gluck, Bach, Beethoven, and Mendelssohn on Thursday, April 23, at 8 p.m. The Tavern of Fine Arts is at 313 Belt in the Debaliviere Place neighborhood. For more information: tavern-of-fine-arts.blogspot.com.

The Tavern of Fine Arts presents a concert performance of Giuseppi Verdi's comic opera Falstaff featuring Jeffrey Heyl as Falstaff and Rebecca Drury as Alice Ford on Friday, April 234 at 8 p.m. The performance is part of the St. Louis Shakespeare Festival's Shake38 event. The Tavern of Fine Arts is at 313 Belt in the Debaliviere Place neighborhood. For more information: tavern-of-fine-arts.blogspot.com.

The University of Missouri—St. Louis presents a University Piano Alumni Concert on Tuesday, April 21, at 7:30 p.m. "UMSL Piano Alumni Concert. In Commemoration of the 100th Anniversary of the renowned pianist Sviatoslav Richter. David Doran, Tzu Hwa Ho and Daniel Kuehler will share the stage with Alla Voskoboynikova, Director of Keyboard Studies. They will perform music by Scarlatti, Schumann, Scriabin, Medtner and Kapustin. Meet the artists in the lobby of the Lee Theater after the concert." The performance takes place at The Touhill Performing Arts Center on the University of Missouri at St. Louis campus. For more information: touhill.org.

Symphony Review: A pair of threes is a winning hand for the SLSO, Friday and Saturday, April 17 and 18

Simon Trpčeski
Photo: imgartists.com
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Who: The St. Louis Symphony Orchestra conducted by Vasily Petrenko
What: Music of Rachmaninoff and Scriabin
Where: Powell Symphony Hall, St. Louis
When: April 17 and 18, 2015

[Find out more about the music with my preview and the SLSO program notes.]

A pair of threes may not be a winning hand at the casino, but it paid off handsomely at Powell Hall Friday night with virtuoso performances by the St. Louis Symphony and guest conductor Vasily Petrenko of Scriabin's "Symphony No. 3", Op. 43 (1902-04) and, with soloist Simon Trpčeski, Rachmaninoff's "Piano Concerto No. 3 in D minor, Op. 30 (1909) ."

The Rachmaninoff Third—"Rach 3" to its friends, of whom I am one—is widely regarded as one of the most challenging concerti out there.  Fiercely difficult, it’s a reminder of what a prodigious pianist Rachmaninoff was.  For many years after its premiere, its only real advocate was the composer himself. 

These days it's a part of the standard repertoire.  Even so, it's a hell of a workout.  By the time Mr. Trpčeski banged out those four final chords that Rachmaninoff often used as his musical signature—one long note and three short, corresponding to “RACH-man-in-off”—he looked like he had run a marathon.

Which, in a way, he had, since his performance had both the virtuoso flash and musical sensitivity that the concerto demands.  He threw himself into this work, displaying a breathtaking energy in the first movement's extended cadenza and getting every ounce of hallucinatory intoxication out of the Intermezzo second movement—one of the best performances I've heard of it, in fact.  This was at least as good as the excellent Rach 3 we got from Stephen Hough and Peter Oundjian three years ago.  It was a nearly ideal combination of passion and poetry—which is probably what you should expect from a pianist who sings Yves Montand's "Les feuilles mortes" ("Autumn Leaves" to us Anglophones) in an interview.

Mr. Trpčeski recorded the concerto for the Avie label with Mr. Petrenko and the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic back in 2010 (copies of it are for sale in the lobby), so both performers obviously know the work well and are comfortable playing it together.  Mr. Petrenko's interpretation was richly expressive, bringing out every bit of Rachmaninoff's dark romanticism without sacrificing a sense of momentum.  The last movement, in particular, was a bit on the brisk side, but the tempo proved to be completely comfortable for both the orchestra and Mr. Trpcheski.

The Rach 3 is the kind of thing guaranteed to get a standing ovation when it's played this well, so you won't be surprised to learn that it got one Friday night.  The audience was rewarded with, first, words of praise for the orchestra from Mr. Trpčeski, followed by a charming encore: Chopin's "Waltz in A minor, B. 150 (Op. Posth.)," written in the mid-1840s but not published until 1955.  It was a nice mental palate cleanser after the Rachmaninoff.

Vasily Petrenko
Photo: imgartists.com
"Moderation," Oscar Wilde once quipped, "is a fatal thing. Nothing succeeds like excess."  He could well have been referring to the life and work of Aleksandr Scriabin (1872-1915). Although a close friend and contemporary (they were born only a year apart) of Rachmaninoff, Scriabin was a far more eccentric (not to say insane) person.  And although he died young, his compositions—especially his solo piano works—anticipated the twentieth century's near-total collapse of conventional notions of harmony (at least among "classical" composers) in ways that those of his longer-lived friend did not.

First performed in 1905, his "Symphony No. 3" (subtitled "Le Poème divin," "The Divine Poem") has an ambitious program.  The work, according to a note presumably written by Scriabin and distributed at the work's 1905 Moscow premiere,  "represents the evolution of the human spirit, which, freed from the legends and mysteries of the past that it has surmounted and overthrown, passes through pantheism and achieves a joyful and exhilarating affirmation of its liberty and its unity with the universe."

The symphony consists of a short introduction and three movements, all played without pause and running around fifty minutes.  Scriabin titled the movements "Struggles," "Delights," and "Divine Play."  The piece is a richly orchestrated, wildly excessive hymn to excess that makes great demands on the players.  The expanded brass section, in particular, has a lot to do.  And, on Friday night, they did it awfully well. 

And they weren't alone.  The orchestral playing was remarkable for its consistently high quality—impressive, given that the SLSO hasn't performed this music in nearly four decades.  Scriabin is especially fond of the first trumpet here—he seems to have regarded the instrument as his personal voice—so Karen Bliznik deserves a shout-out for her work although, as I say, everybody deserves praise.

Mr. Petrenko had his work cut out for him with this piece.  Scriabin's notions of symphonic construction can sometimes feel repetitious, and there are so many big, swooning climaxes in this music that I think it might be easy to let them become distorted.  But Mr. Petrenko kept Scriabin's big, hyperkinetic musical machine running in top condition.  He allowed the piece to breathe when appropriate (in those delicate passages for the first violins and flutes in the second movement, for example) while still giving full vent to those big, heaven-storming moments.

It was all tremendously exciting, in short, and the audience responded enthusiastically with another standing ovation.  Yes, St. Louis audiences do tend to stand far too easily (and not just at Powell Hall, either), but in this case it was entirely justified.

Next at Powell Hall: David Robertson conducts the St. Louis Symphony Orchestra with pianist Emanuel Ax on Saturday at 8 p.m. and Sunday at 3 p.m., April 25 and 26.  Ax will be the soloist in Brahms' "Piano Concerto No. 2".  The concerts will include music by Elgar and Glanert. For more information: stlsymphony.org.

Thursday, April 16, 2015

Chuck's Choices for the weekend of April 17, 2015

As always, the choices are purely my personal opinion. Take with a grain (or a shaker) of salt.

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New This Week:

The Cockfighter
Photo: John Lamb
The West End Players Guild concludes their 104th season with the drama The Cockfighter Fridays and Saturdays at 8 PM and Sundays at 2 PM, April 10-19. "At once elegant and brutal, this coming-of-age story is set against the savage backdrop of professional cockfighting. The gift of a fighting bird of his own sets a young boy on a journey to adulthood and to choices that will change him - and his family - forever. Based on the novel by acclaimed southern author Frank Manley and adapted for the stage by Vincent Murphy, it is another St. Louis premiere." There will also be a show on Thursday, April 16, at 8 PM and the playwright will conduct a special talkback session with the audience after the April 18th performance. Performances take place at the Union Avenue Christian Church, 733 North Union at Enright in the Central West End. For more information, call 314-367-0025 or visit www.westendplayers.org.

My take: Honesty compels me to point out that I am on the board at West End. That said, this production would be worth recommending no matter where it was being done. The script treats its characters with honesty and respect and asks hard questions about the choices we make in life. "A lyrical coming-of-age work," writes Lynn Venhaus at the Belleville News-Democrat, “'The Cockfighter' is tinged with hope and regret, imbued with a captivating sense of place, and enhanced by heartfelt performances." In his review for KDHX, Robert Nickles says the show "goes for the heart," and so it does. The script is not without its issues, but this generally strong production carries it well and features some first-rate performances.

The Rime of the Ancient Mariner
Photo: ProPhotoSTL
Upstream Theater presents The Rime of the Ancient Mariner by Samuel Taylor Coleridge adapted for the stage and directed by Patrick Siler with live music composed and performed by Sleepy Kitty, through April 19. Performances take place at the Kranzberg Arts Center, 501 North Grand in Grand Center. For more information, including show times: upstreamtheater.org.

My take: Coleridge probably never intended his poem for theatrical use and, while it was required reading when I was young (back during the Roman Empire), it has probably receded from popular consciousness over the decades. How many people today would even recognize the image of having an albatross around one's neck—much less know where it came from? Still, as Judy Newmak writes in her review for the Post-Dispatch, "he avant-garde stage version playing at Upstream Theater feels completely fresh, a “dream theater” piece that blends art forms old and new. Adapted and directed by Patrick Siler, the hourlong piece uses poetry, drama, music and modern dance to wind through a story that — like a dream — coheres eloquently without constraint of logic." "The vivid imagery of this haunting sea voyage is orchestrated sublimely by Patrick Siler," says the St. Louis Theater Snob, "who adapted and directed the piece, with Jerry Vogel at the helm as the nameless title character. Vogel's commanding presence is palpable -- as heavy in grief, anxiety and remorse as he is buoyant in joy and realization." Upstream in unafraid to take chances and it looks like this is a winner.

Telegraph
Photo: Whitney Curtis
The Performing Arts Department at Washington University presents Telegraph by Will Jacobs, winner of the 2014 A.E. Hotchner New Play Festival, April 16-19. "A peculiar telegraph operator, Mr. Rivers, looks for lost love in the lyricism of electrical impulse. His search is disrupted by the arrival of the very determined Mrs. Emily Stone, who brings light to the darkened corners of his Pennsylvania home. Together, they grapple with love and laughter within the abstractions of language and the rhythms of dots and dashes. Winner of the 2014 A.E Hotchner Playwriting Competition." The performances take place in the A.E. Hotchner Studio Theater in the Mallinckrodt Student Center on the Washington University campus. For more information, call 314-935-6543 or visit pad.artsci.wustl.edu.

My take: When this play was still in development last fall, it was presented as part of the Hotchner Festival at Washington University. Back then, KDHX critic Steve Callahan was very taken with it. "It's a magical and engaging play," he wrote. "And it is going to receive a full production next April. I recommend it."

Held Over:

The Mystery of Edwin Drood
Photo: John Lamb
Stray Dog Theatre presents the musical The Mystery of Edwin Drood by Rupert Holmes Thursdays through Saturdays at 8 PM through April 18. "This raucous show within a show kicks off when a hilariously loony Victorian musical troupe 'puts on' its flamboyant rendition of an unfinished Charles Dickens mystery. Each performance ends differently depending on how the audience chooses to finish the story that Dickens didn't!" Performances take place at The Tower Grove Abbey, 2336 Tennessee. For more information, visit straydogtheatre.org or call 314-865-1995.

My take: This clever show-within-a-show musical has always been a favorite of mine. If your only exposure to Holmes' music has been his big tacky hit "Escape (The Piña Colada Song)," you're in for a surprise with this show with it's clever mock-Victorian score and witty lyrics. There's a good reason why it won the 1985 Tony Award. Reviews have described it as a rowdy good time. Typical is Mark Bretz's review at Ladue News, which describes this as "a clever, ingratiating production that is filled with verve and panache."

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Symphony Preview: The SLSO deals a pair of threes Friday and Saturday, April 17 and 18, 2015

This weekend's St. Louis Symphony Orchestra concerts offer a pair of threes: Rachmaninoff's "Piano Concerto No. 3" and Scriabin's "Symphony No. 3" ("The Divine Poem"). Both were written during the first decade of the 20th century when their creators were in their thirties. Both composers were Russian Romantics who were prodigious pianists. And both made significant contributions to the literature for both piano and orchestra.

Aleksandr Scriabin
en.wikipedia.org
(They both also experienced synaesthesia—the association of specific colors with certain musical keys—but that's another story.)

The personalities, however, of Serge Rachmaninoff (1873-1943) and Aleksandr Scriabin (1872-1915) were radically different, even though they were close friends from their days at the Moscow Conservatory. Rachmaninoff, famously, was so stung by the harsh criticism of his "Symphony No. 1" that he spiraled into a depression that was cured only after extensive hypnotherapy. Scriabin, on the other hand, was a raging egomaniac unacquainted with self-doubt. Rachmaninoff was a stable family man. Scriabin was an eccentric who fathered illegitimate children while separated from his wife. Rachmaninoff was a member of the Russian Orthodox Church with strong moral beliefs. Scriabin was a Theosophy-addled mystic who began to see himself as divine.

Basically, Rachmaninoff was sane while Scriabin, as Paul Schiavo writes in his program notes, "was, by any measure, quite mad."

How mad? Well, he became convinced that he could levitate and walk on water, for one thing. "I am the apotheosis of world creation," he said of himself. "I am the aim of aims, the end of ends." And at the time of his death in 1915 at the age of 43 (brought on by septicemia stemming from a sore on his upper lip), Scriabin was working on a "Universe Symphony". It would be a multi-media experience that would be performed in the Himalayas and would result in "a grandiose religious synthesis of all arts which would herald the birth of a new world." "The universe," as Scriabin's biographer Faubion Bowers wrote, "would be completely destroyed by it, and mankind plunged into the holocaust of finality." All we have are sketches of the first part, titled "Mysterium". Which might be just as well.

The intent behind the "Symphony No. 3," while less apocalyptic, was certainly ambitious. "The Divine Poem," ran a note presumably written by Scriabin and distributed at the work's 1905 Moscow premiere, "represents the evolution of the human spirit, which, freed from the legends and mysteries of the past that it has surmounted and overthrown, passes through pantheism and achieves a joyful and exhilarating affirmation of its liberty and its unity with the universe."

"The Divine Poem," writes Philip Huscher in his program notes for a Chicago Symphony Orchestra performance from this January, "is the longest work Scriabin wrote. It is scored for a very large orchestra, handled with the care and imagination of a much more experienced orchestrator. It is also the first of his works to be called a poem, signaling the shift from abstract symphony to a new, unnameable [sic] kind of music."

The symphony consists of a short introduction and three movements, all played without pause and running around fifty minutes. Scriabin titled the movements "Struggles," "Delights," and "Divine Play." Mr. Schiavo has a nicely detailed analysis of it in his notes for the SLSO program as does Mr. Huscher in his notes for the CSO. The former is heavier on musical detail while the latter includes fascinating quotes by the composer (Scriabin found few subjects more worthy of comment than Scriabin). They're both worth reading.

Although Scriabin died young, his compositions—especially his solo piano works—anticipated the twentieth century's near-total collapse of conventional notions of harmony (at least among "classical" composers) in ways that those of his longer-lived friend did not. He did it, however, in ways that were completely idiosyncratic, creating his own personal notions of harmony, including his famous "Mystic chord"—C, F♯, B♭, E, A, D. 

That failed to endear him to the serialists and others looking for a more rational and mathematical system.  "The strength of Alexander [sic] Scriabin," wrote Vladimir Horowitz for a 1956 recording of his sonatas, "…was unashamed Byronic romanticism.  It is one of those peculiar ironies that this strength in an earlier era may have turned out in retrospect to be his weakness in the age in which we live.  Today, in a more material age, unfortunately the tendency is to regard romanticism in any form with indulgent tolerance."

By the time Rachmaninoff got around to writing his "Piano Concerto No. 3 in D minor," Op. 30, in 1909 he had fully recovered from the crippling depression brought on by the failure of his "Symphony No. 1" over a decade earlier and had achieved international recognition as both a virtuoso pianist and a composer. He wrote the concerto at his family's country estate, Ivanovka, in the summer of 1909 for a concert tour of the USA. The concerto's first two performances took place that November with the New York Symphony Society conducted by Walter Damrosch (the premiere) and Gustav Mahler (several weeks later).

Rachmaninoff in 1900
en.wikipedia.org
The Rachmaninoff Third is the K2 of piano concerti. Fiercely difficult, it's a reminder of what a prodigious pianist Rachmaninoff was. For many years after its premiere, its only real advocate was the composer himself. Even the virtuoso to whom the piece is dedicated, Josef Hofmann, never attempted to perform it in public. It wasn't until the great Vladimir Horowitz recorded it in 1930 and began to actively promote it that it started to rise in popularity. These days it's so much a part of the standard repertoire that two of the finalists in the 2013 Van Cliburn International Piano Competition (Fei-Fei Dong and Sean Chen) picked it for their final-round concerts.

Still, it's not the sort of thing a pianist takes on lightly. Our soloist this weekend, Macedonian pianist Simon Trpcheski, is no stranger to the work, having recorded it for the Avie label with this weekend's guest conductor, Vasily Petrenko (who conducted a very impressive Rachmaninoff "Isle of the Dead" here in October, 2011). It also can't hurt that the orchestra played the work as recently as May of 2012 (under Peter Oundjian, with Stephen Hough as the keyboard).

An interesting local note: when the concerto had its St. Louis premiere on January 27, 1928, the soloist was Horowitz (the "young Russian pianist," to quote Post-Dispatch critic Thomas B. Sherman). The pianist had arrived in the USA just two weeks previously and had already created a sensation with the New York Philharmonic under Sir Thomas Beecham. Mr. Sherman loved Horowitz ("a powerful tone and a sparkling and expertly controlled technique") but hated the concerto, calling it "as dull a thing as the noted Muscovite expatriate has ever done". History has rather overruled him that one.

The essentials: Vasily Petrenko conducts the St. Louis Symphony Orchestra with pianist Simon Trpcheski in Rachmaninoff's "Piano Concerto No. 3 in D minor" and Scriabin's Symphony No. 3, "Le Poème divin," on Friday and Saturday, April 17 and 18, at 8 p.m. The concerts take place at Powell Symphony Hall, 718 North Grand in Grand Center. For more information: stlsymphony.org.