18 September 2008

Xenakis' Oresteia

Last night I had the pleasure of seeing Xenakis' Oresteia in a performance at Miller Theater. The music remained elemental, glissandos throughout (the clarenettist remarked that he got good practice on them), it was honest and with a great dramatic force, the opening groans from the orchestra seemed as is the rocks and stones themselves were crying out. Other interesting musical notes, Agamemmnon's shrill fanfare - piccolo trumpet in the air. As for Agamemmnon, Wilbur Pauley - this man, newspapers reviews have spoken of his stature, is indeed enormous made all the more so by his stadning on a plinth to sing the Deese Athena moment at which point Athena establishes trial by jury. One beautiful moment of stagecraft came in the preparation for the Kassandra scene - Pauley stands, removes his sleeveless jacket, turns it inside-out and puts it back on, in the meantime a dancer hands him his psaltery. At the end the same happens in reverse. The music of Kassandra worked much much better in the theatrical setting. On the recording, it comes across as remarkably annoying but here is remarkably effective - the facial expressions bring out the two roles and the unreal falsetto ably reflecting on the lack of female performers in the Athenian stage. In the end, the gestures and switching from high to low gives the sense of the performer/character entering a trance for that section.

The chorus was remarkably effective, strong and powerful, the women singing with outstretched arms the men with the grace and strength implied in this music. Other intersting moments - the use of the children's choir at the end singing over the frantic activity on the stage, channeling almost Bach's St. Matthew Passion with its entrance of the children's choir in the chorale passages of the opening. The final rush into the audience seemed hokey and contrived - like something from a high school musical. (Though from my perch in the far balcony, I saw it only in absence.) As for the dancing, my companion wasn't too keen on it, but I found it to be a well-done writhing.

A final word on ICE - the International Contemporary Ensemble - showed themselves to be very able performers of this unremitting music. Obviously, one must signal out David Schotzko for his percussion work (he received an enormous ovation) as well as the less recognized players of low winds - Campbell Macdonald on contrabass clarinet (how nice to hear that) and Rebekah Heller on contrabassoon. Joy in these obscure combinations belching out sound is half the fun of Xenakis.

All in all George Steele, now leaving for Dallas, should be congratulated for bringing a good show to the stage and the performers pleased with their excellent showing.

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