From work, I decide to take the eight-ish block jaunt to the Kennedy Center shuttle at Foggy Bottom. I’m about an hour early, but there are three people already aboard. I may be younger than their grandkids. That is what I expected–especially as early as I was. Maybe later in the night there’d be some couples who thought some Kennedy Center entertainment would go well with their V-Day celebrations. (I went yesterday, obviously.)
Once I arrive, it appears they already know me. My sobriquet is “Hun” as in “Can I help you, Hun?” asks the helpful attendant. How delightful.
More delights still, there’s something called the Millennium Stage that gives free performances every night. Tonight, it’s Catholic University’s musical theater students putting on a musical revue–The Music of Cy Coleman–which all comes out of the Golden Age. How earnest they all are. The girls channel Sutton Foster and put as much of their sinuses into the music as they can muster. The young men just play themselves with strong vocal talents, but not a little overacting. Fellas, this is a musical revue, please don’t mouth words or make extravagant gestures, it’s unseemly. One boy has a lisp. I think I saw a production of Les Miserables where Javert had a lisp–it was just as distracting, but that might be my limitation. Good God! Ladies, where is the energy? This is “Big Spender” and you’re dogging it. I’ll grant you the choreography is uninspired and completely unsuited to the space, but the show must go on.
I get the impression that Catholic takes the view that really the musical theater program is for vocal performance people who can’t really read music. But I came in well after half-time so they might have been terrific before I showed up. Maybe it was the notepad. When I was checking my coat, I did think I was overhearing either a performance in the main hall or a recording, so that’s good. Now that’s done and I’ve still got thirty minutes to showtime.
I’ll walk around the terrace. I’m on the terrace level. It smells like cheez-its. Years and years of cheez-its.
I’ve been to theaters as a performer (small theaters) and as a tourist (real theaters), and I’ve come to find that every one becomes somebody’s home. Performers get there hours before everyone else and they get to know every inch of the place. The Kennedy Center is unique in my experience by being a home to the audience. They go to the terrace cafe not with guidance, but with purpose–that pasta salad will be theirs!
Tonight, these veterans (who may well have seen action in Normandy) look a little bored–I almost said “starved.” Surely they’ve seen Shear Madness enough times to quote it. That must suck. While I’ve never seen it, I doubt I would ever wish to become that familiar. Re: Bored–case in point: It’s V-Day and no one is carrying flowers. I think that says it all. That said, my prediction as to young couples would appear to be vindicated–I’d guess at ten couples under the age of thirty with possibly ten more individuals accompanying old people and then, of course, me.
Leaving this chocolate pudding–far too rich for my tongue–I’ll take a few paces on the terrace. Now here’s a view for you. The weather has balmed significantly and I can enjoy it out here without my coat. Some GW student is jogging around like this is a track–odd, but probably cool.
Time to head to the Terrace Theater. That woman is actually in a walker–if “in” is the preposition I want–and I’ve counted three or four canes. There’s my seat. I’m so close I can look up the piano’s skirt. A little bustle and hum in the audience here–let’s listen in. For some of these kids–ha–and some adults, this concert is a treat. “Turn off your phone. Imagine. You take me to the Kennedy Center…” Jesus lady, we paid $45 for these tickets–3D almost costs as much. But that’s just cynicism. It’s not so bad to maintain a little mystique as long as it doesn’t keep people away.
They whet our appetite for Trout with Zwilich‘s variation (if that’s what it is). That seems like folly. You watch Spencer Tracy before you watch Steve Martin. Surely the same goes double in music. Beethoven Piano Trio in B-flat major, then Zwilich’s commission–a composer commissioned to compose a piece for these players in particular0–Quintet for Violin, Viola, Cello, Contrabass (which I thought was a different instrument, but it’s really a double bass), and Piano. Finally, Schubert’s Quintet in A major for Piano and Strings (“Trout”). Apparently, the KLR Trio is famous–so says the knowledgeable lady on my left. Apparently, she’s an “educator,” which is to say she designs curricula–how that makes her an educator any more than Mark Twain, I couldn’t say, but I like her. She’s got some strong views on Midnight in Paris (2011), which I simply disagree with–it’s not a knock against a movie if you think an American audience won’t understand who the characters are–but even mainstream snobbery is fun when delivered at speed. On my right are a couple of 30 or 40 somethings who are clearly art tourists–here today, but they don’t really live here. I despise them. This being my second visit, I consider myself a resident. Snob. Only as to class. You can’t buy class. Oh, by the way, Zwilich is a woman, which is uncommon for composers.
But first, let me say that I was right to doubt my reviewing ability for music. Remembering a tune is tough when it isn’t stuck in your head. Zwilich’s piece is a commission, so I can’t even refresh my memory with some other performance. I wrote down some impressions I had as the music went on (being quite silent, I assure you) and will simply copy them out (with some add/edition). Beware, they will make little sense. I hope that the copious introduction made this at least of some value to read.
Second Movement: Ennio? (Kalichstein introduced the piece commenting that the cello was not used as a solo part before Beethoven’s use of it here, and said “From the second movement, this cello always sings.”) He is exactly right – sings! I’ll uncross my legs at the next movement–don’t want to disrupt.
Third Movement: Back to a bit of bounce, but the second is by far the best (taste, I suppose).
Zwilich Quintet for Violin, Viola, Cello, Contrabass, and Piano
The doublebass is a comically large cello with a groovy head. God these people are known–they just joked the bassist was “somewhere in Philadelphia, I think” with the understatement of “Yes, I believe they had a bit of trouble with the wildlife over at Amity.”
First Movement: Spy thriller–awesome. I can’t really tell what that is, but I liked it.
Second Movement: There’s the jazz. Jason Robert Brown–Ha!–That was awesome. Misled me there (not good). The string mews off–this needs to stay sharp. That ended with a whimper–mistake, I think for such a rockin’ tune.
Third Movement: This woman needs to shut up–we don’t care what you think is “nice.” Deep moods work with this crew–bouncy jazz doesn’t really. The cello/bass get lost in the sound. The piano has a totally different range for this movement.
This one I seem to have had the most critical thoughts on. As a general matter, it was excellent. Some of the details, though, need some tightening (at least to my ear). The finish on a song is probably the most important part, I feel, and to end it “ambiguous[ly]” as the program notes have it, is folly. Why make this kind of point (if point you can call it) with a song? A film, I understand. But a song finishes strong (bum BUM) or smooth (like each of the Schubert movements) or somewhere in between, but ambiguity is clearly wrong. As I said in the second movement, there was some pseudo-jazzy slur that just marred the tune. And the third movement, though it had its moments, just seemed wrong for the pieces. Perhaps it translates differently in a recording–I’ll have to check.
First Movement: Are you really checking your texts right now? Dude, come on.
Second Movement: Here’s the tune I know. God that sounds good.
Fifth Movement: Isn’t this a TV show intro? Something just happened that I loved–some kind of fugue or something. Not yet! They clapped too early–red faces all around. The players seem to take it in stride–a smile there from Kalichstein.