eccomi

Bard summer, post 6

Long time no see!
I'm back from NYC where I spent four days, and my advisor, Peter Laki, is back on campus, and you know, life is wonderful, and when things are so exciting in life it's never possible to quite put it in lines to write a decent blog post.
So I guess I'll just go for bits and pieces and see if they give you a broader image together (as they do in the Composer and His World book series published here every year in connection with the SummerScape ;)).
A lot of you were asking about my English class and whether I find it useful. I do. Especially lately, when we are doing a lot of exciting practical things and are learning not just the language but also the skills that could be useful for my actual project here and my work back home.
Say, on Monday we had a guest speaker. Her name is Jess Lambert and she works as graphic designer for Bard College. She explained to us the basics of making a poster and what makes a good poster, and we had a kind of open discussion about dos and don'ts. Although we only had about an hour and never really got to any advanced exploration of design techniques or anything like that, it was very helpful, because Jess kind of made me think and realize what does make a good poster in my opinion. And the key word would be 'humour'. A good poster is never boring, and it often has a twist to it, a kind of joke or self-irony.
Our assignment for tomorrow is to come up with a poster related to any event, real or imaginary, and I decided to connect it directly with my project, making a poster for the premiere of Tchaikovsky's The Voyevoda, an obscure opera (actually, his first opera, and Op. 3) I am doing a research upon.
I wanted to make a joke about representing Tchaikovsky as a national composer (thus a traditional Russian toy, and to top it off in the shape of a bear; but it has no reflection in the water, and thus you don't even know whether it's there or it's a kind of hallucination), and also kind of hint that the opera is fairly unknown (thus the mist). The story takes places on the banks of Volga, and it has a lot of 'operatic passions' in it, so the image of a river was also handy; and I thought that a tiny full moon gave it a romantic touch, as the opera is very romantic both in the 'common' and terminological sense. I also put in the Met logo to show I can think big ('think big, Roxie... I'll get myself a whole bunch of boys!' as they say in Chicago). You probably don't need to hear all this, but I wanted to explain all these obvious things so that you'd see what I actually learned ;)))
Another thing I did for my music class was a review. I decided to show off a bit, and also to imitate the style of a particular American music critic (I'm not giving any names here!) everyone seems to love, and I feel like mocking. So don't be appalled, it's not 100% how I feel about this. But still I thought you might like to take a look.


A Curious Cat
By Aya Makarova

Way back in the 1980's, when Broadway musicals were 'it', you wouldn't expect some quirky 'bloke' from the UK to overthrow the whole industry with a number of smash hits that were nowhere near Richard Rodgers, or Jerome Kern, or even John Kander in sophistication of composition technique or originality. But come to think of it now, that might be exactly why Andrew Lloyd Webber, with his obvious quotes from your golden collection of opera (such as Die Walkure by Wagner or Madama Butterfly by Puccini), and merciless rip-offs of contemporary rock (like borrowing a whole riff from Pink Floyd and turning it into the hook for The Phantom of the Opera without changing a single note), satisfied the tastes of the audience which slanted more towards modern pop than the Catholic Mass (hidden somewhere in The Ballad of Sweeney Todd by Sondheim) or complex jazz (created and re-created by Gerschwin and Bernstein). In fact, if you are going to the theatre for entertainment, you wouldn't exactly wish to analyze a song actually called Let Me Entertain You in terms of 'serious' music. You'd want to be entertained. And no one could rival Sir Andrew at providing the material for that; the material that in the crafty hands of the producer Cameron Macintosh would become dead serious, frantically romantic and gloriously captivating. Tasteless melodies, librettos that are both pathetic and bombastic, tear-jerking plots and some heavy dancing... What's not to like?

By bringing the showbiz side in, CamMac, as people in the 'musical fandom' call him, was bound to do some music videos, too. And so they came. Several promos for The Phantom of the Opera with cheap sets, unpersuasive acting and wide-eyed Sarah Brightman never made it, but there was a 'vid' that was even rotated on MTV. Was it due to the way Gillian Lynne choreographed the cat-like moves, or to the fact that the rock-n-roll parody sported the lyrics drawn from T. S. Elliot’s Old Possum’s Book of Practical Cats, someone up there found that The Rum Tum Tugger off the newly premiered Cats musical would be a good choice to introduce the general public to what would soon turn into the mainstream of musical theatre.

Starring in the video was the up-and-coming Terrence Mann, who made his Broadway debut in Barnum two years ago (and will only become a teenagers' icon in The Critters, not thanks to his singing, four years later), The Rum Tum Tugger was slightly, but not drastically changed to make it look better as a stand-alone number. This was no challenge. In Cats, all you can know about a character is what he or she (or it, as all characters here are – you got it – cats) shows during their aria. There is no tightly woven plot, no sudden twists or important turns. Structure-wise, Cats and a 'standard' Baroque opera look surprisingly alike, with an endless chain of recitativos (or fill-in music in this case), followed by arias, followed by recitativos again, almost no ensembles and no real plot development, thus it is hardly a trouble to extract one aria and present it to the spectators who are unfamiliar with the whole story. Other tiny changes in comparison to the stage version were made in the attempt to make it look more suitable for television, which included building some very compromised pavilion sets, bringing in real cats and breaking a brick wall for god knows what sake.

Apart from that, you can enjoy the original dancing, Mr Mann's belting, mixed through an 'Elvis mike' with quite some reverb, and an enthusiastic chorus of she-cats. The Cat Concerto? Not quite.

Andrew Lloyd Webber shows himself as an uninventive parodist. While the poem written in late 1930's is set to the 80's music smoothly, the song clearly lacks the sparkle of originality you would expect of what is commonly labeled a masterpiece. But the song's endless repetitions and jazzy syncopations still find a way to stick, and with the line sung by the chorus goes on and on at the back of your head and haunts you for days. While being intended as a parody, The Tugger is pretty much a representation of Zeitgeist as it was seen from the UK, and the interesting thing about this gaze 'from across the pond' is that it primarily focuses on American mainstream music. Not much proof is needed if you listen to the heavy guitar riffs that fail to make the impression of hard rock and look at the jerky moves of the title character reminiscing those of Michael Jackson, who was then still not pale enough to pass for someone not related to the amazing African American dance heritage. (To top that off, those who caught the latest West End revival at Cats know that with time The Tugger turned into a proper R'n'B star.)

Is this video worth watching at all?

My answer is still 'yes', and not solely for nostalgic or anthropological (or should that be 'felinological'?) reasons. With all the tastelessness Lloyd Webber is accused of, and all the annoying grandeur of CamMac productions, it is still pure un-intellectual pleasure. Just sit back, relax and turn your brain off. Yes, the plot is hectic, but it needn't be followed closely. Yes, the music is eclectic, but that is exactly thanks to all these reminiscences that it gives you a warm homely feeling. Yes, you wouldn't get away with this vocal range in a Sondheim musical, but isn't that what makes the tunes so catchy? And most importantly, as they say in another musical, 'it's the business they call show'. After all, who doesn't have a soft spot for cats? And besides, Terrence Mann is one hell of a dancer.


Phew! I hope I don't sound like that in Russian ;))
Moving on to other things, I needn't tell you New York City is great, right?
(Yes, this is the Central Park with all the perks: the green, people doing sports, and skyscrapers towering in a distance.)
I went to see four shows: Chicago (one of Brandy's last shows as Roxie), Hedwig and the Angry Inch (one of Taye Diggs's first!) and, pardon my language, The Phantom of the Opera and Les Miserable.
When I told Susan Albeith about my plans to see POTO and LesMiz, she said, 'you're gonna regret it'. Which I did. I mean, now I know where this 'Eurocrap' thing comes from, because that was obviously crap. It's a failure in every way, especially with the orchestra. And the leads put no heart into what they do. It's like those old-fashioned barrel organs, where you would hear an annoyingly pitchy tune and see those puppets jolting mechanically to the sounds. Yuk. No, I mean it: yuk.
(There was a silver lining tough:
Look who's still with the cast!)

But Chicago and Hedwig were both totally brilliant. And Taye is really turning the show into something else bringing in a new kind of depth.
We also did an amazing 10 hours long walking tour with Bryan Billings, and another 4 hour long tour the next day. Bryan is a brilliant guide, and I loved listening to him. Plus, he took us everywhere on foot, and that's the best way to kind of 'feel' a new place for me. After that much walking you really do feel you've been there, you know; and you kind of feel you own a part of the city.
When I say 'we', I mean a group of foreign students who came to Bard to study English for a month. The tour was actually made for them, and our tiny team of three was invited (but not obliged) to join. It was sad to see that a lot of people seemed unengaged and spent most of the time whining about the heat and too much walking. What got me really bitter was when one person complained very loudly about being tired and so on, and when Bryan made a joke, like, 'wait a bit and you'll be safely in bed', this person would reply: 'I didn't come to New York to sleep!' What for, then? Obviously not to see the city. :(
Anyway. As for me, I loved the tour. I wish I could do more of that.
As for the museums, I only visited two, The Met and MoMA, although I had plans for much much more. But then how can you drop in to a museum as large as The Met for just an hour or two? When there are things like this:
You can spend the whole day just looking at this one sculpture. Or, anyway, I can.
I was also lucky to visit Yoko Ono's exhibition at MoMA:
It is so impressive. I mean, I do know most of the art shown there, but I've never seen it live. And it's just so powerful.
(I also couldn't resist getting myself a pendant designed by Yoko, because I, like, really really totally want to wear it all the time.)
But there's a huge drawback. Most of the items are meant to be interacted with. And as they have now turned into respectable museum pieces of art, you are not allowed to do that. Sometimes it's ok: you just read the description of how this was burned and that was torn apart and kind of make the journey in your mind. But then you come to this:
CEILING PAINTING 1966
The piece is called Ceiling Painting. You are supposed to go up the ladder, use the magnifying glass and see this:
CEILING PAINTING 1966
(This is actually the experience that made John Lennon fall for Yoko.)

And now all you can do is just stand there, at the bottom of the ladder, and look up. You know that there's a 'yes' up there, but you can never reach it. You cannot even see it properly.
To my mind, it violates the whole idea. But on the other hand, it is also very true. That's the way it goes. But really, how very cynical!
I left the top floor of MoMA with a heavy heart; but then I suddenly saw Christina's World. Believe it or not, I knew nothing about this painting; and how could I have missed it? Too bad I do not write fanfiction anymore ;)))) Because, you know, all the amazing coincidence: Macbeth Gallery, the name Christina, her brother by the name of (you won't believe it) Alvaro, etc, etc, etc. ♥
Back to life at Bard. My project finally started moving along. I had a very effective meeting with Peter, my advisor, and drew out the first outline this morning. Peter also started his class about Chavez and his world (the Chavez festival opens on Friday), and I really like it that he's giving us a lot of background and really a way to experience the 'and his world' part. We get to hear a lot of music, he provides a lot of reading material, and he also teaches us simple but important things, like 'where do you start if you have a thick book to read by tomorrow'.
And he's such a nice person too!
OMG, it's almost 9 pm. How time flies! I must dash. Talk to you all soon ;)
Carlos Chávez the composer? I think I have heard one orchestra piece (maybe a ballet) by him: "Caballos de vapor".
You know, in the Spanish-speaking countries there have but a limited number of surnames, that's one reason why they mostly (except in Argentina) go by both the father's and the mother's first family name.

By the way, Aya, I'm really grateful to you for writing these chronicles of your stay at Bard, and for the way you're writing them.
Yeah, that's the one. I cannot say I am particularly enjoying his music, but the idea of how these SummerScape festivals are set is to have the 'and his world' part. And that's where I get, say, this:

Is 'Revueltas' a common last name, btw?

And thank you very much, Angel! It's so exciting here, I wish I had more energy just to describe everything. As of now, a lot of important things are actually left out, eg I never mentioned the gym, and I actually spend most of my free time there. Or The Parliament of Reality – it's this terrific landscape designed by Olafur Eliasson. Another place where I practically live.
I'll try to fill in these gaps eventually...
Never heard of another Revueltas but this one (his maternal family name Sánchez, however, is one of the most frecuent ones). I'm listening to another version of "Sensemayá" (the bloody GEMA, once again, doesn't let me listen to yours) and I like it a lot.
Reminds me of Prokofiev ("The Fiery Angel" and the likes), Stravinsky ("Le Sacre du printemps") and Villa-Lobos ("Bachianas Brasileiras").

Oh, and, speaking of poetry (sinse "Sensemayá" is a poem) I think I should finally get through the "Canto General".
Bloody GEMA. Wonder if this link works in Russia! Anyway, I chose that particular link because it has the score and I thought you might appreciate that.
Sorry! :(
Since, "thanks" to the bloody GEMA, I cannot appreciate the score, I'm left with the option of appreciating your thoughtfulness (which I appreciate anyways)! Танку вери мух!
И Уголино и Кристина впечатляющие конечно. И вообще, интересно читать ваши записки.
Thank you!
'Christina' is a bit on the side of that boring 'magical realism' thing I could never really appreciate, but this painting is somehow different for me.
And I am very fond of Carpeaux.
It's a shame I had so little time to spend at the museums.
My shame is I spent but one our at the Shanghai Museum when I was there - I could easily have spent the whole day looking at those statues, vessels, music instruments, arms and other objects. However, that was the programme our hosts had arranged for us - to see the best of Shanghai on just one day.
I knew I hadn't much time so, instead of hurrying through the four storeys, I stayed on the first floor and dedicated my time to the objects exhibited there. Maybe I should finally show them to my friends...
Please do!
And yeah, I do the same thing. You cannot be everywhere, so it's better to concentrate on one thing however small it may be, and just get the most out of it. I guess that with huge museums like The Met or the Shanghai Museum (or even the Hermitage) it's the only tactics that really works, because otherwise everything just gets kind of blurred.
The Shanghai Museum isnt't really huge ("normal size" museum), but... the objects exhibited there are so wonderful (especially if one hasn't had been exposed to Chinese culture in that way before) that you've got to admire each and everyone.
And yes, I'll probably do that...
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