Out West Arts: Performance at the end of the world

Opera, music, theater, and art in Los Angeles and beyond

What a Way to Go

November 01, 2010

Photo: mine 2010

Don’t ask me why or how, but I found myself in New York briefly on Sunday after two days in Dallas for a quick visit before heading back to L.A. First on the agenda was another performance from the Dresden Staatskapelle who were still touring with conductor Daniel Harding and appeared at Avery Fisher Hall on Sunday as part of the Lincoln Center’s “White Light Festival.” What the Festival is exactly about is somewhat hard to tell. In the words of Bruce Hodges from the program, "In today's fast-paced, technology-filled society, it's easier than ever for us to feel always turned-on, yet simultaneously disconnected from our essential inner selves." (And if that doesn't bring back memories of Freshman comp, nothing will.) The "White Lights Festival", as far as I can tell, is a collection of performing arts events over a period of a few weeks tied together by some Western bourgeois notion that modern life alienates its denizens from their underlying spiritual nature, which is not necessarily tied to any specific religious tradition. Music and art can supposedly help us reconnect with that underlying nature. Yep, you guessed it. Before long people start throwing around words like "transcendence". I was more interested to hear the Dresden Staatskapelle play Brahms’ Ein deutsches Requiem with the assistance of the Westminster Symphonic Choir and soloists soprano Christiane Karg and baritone Matthias Goerne.

The Dresden Staatskapelle onstage at Avery Fisher Hall Photo: mine 2010

In some ways the Brahms’ Requiem may have been the ideal piece for the festival. It's a spiritual work about death that is not a setting of an actual mass or other liturgical work although it freely references others in an indirect 19h century way. It is certainly lovely music, but sadly the Dresden Staatskapelle proved to be dealing with the same sleepy formalism it had earlier in the week during its tour with Rudolf Buchbinder. It was a burnished, accurate sound, but strangely lifeless and somnolent at the same time. It was beautiful as well. The best thing about the show were the superb vocal performances from Karg and Goerne. I was especially taken with Karg at this year’s Salzburg Festival as Amore in Gluck’s Orfeo ed Euridice. She was well paired with perhaps the world’s foremost German baritone, Goerne, whose rich and commanding voice provided all of the higher realm the Requiem may have otherwise been lacking. His performances are usually a highlight and his scheduled appearances in Berg’s Wozzeck at the Metropolitan Opera next spring are a must see. Sadly there was one other unfortunate note to Sunday’s show when a chorister fell from the riser into the brass section during the last few bars of the piece. The crash drew attention from the players and while I don’t know if the singer tripped or became faint, I certainly hope he or she is doing well.


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