Eli, Eli, lama asabthani?

No music captures the solemnity of Good Friday quite like St. Matthew Passion. As I once had occasion to tell the great Margaret Throsby on her radio program, one of the truly miraculous moments in that work—and in all music—comes when Jesus cries out, "Eli, Eli, lama asabthani?", and the Evangelist translates, "Mein Gott, mein Gott, warum hast du mich verlassen?" ["My God, my God, why hast Thou forsaken me?"].  I've always thought Bach's simple transposition of this replica up a fourth (to E-flat minor) to be an utter masterstroke. Here it is, with Peter Schreier as Evangelist and Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau as Jesus:

Final stage of illumination

Just finished re-reading the strange and striking Beethoven: His Spiritual Development by J. W. N. Sullivan, justly considered to be one of the most unusual books about music.  One would like to quote from almost every page.  Here’s from the last chapter:

An inner life of quite extraordinary intensity was in process of development till the very end. Other artists, of those few whose spirits were both sensitive and free, seem to have passed through similar stages of development. But perhaps even Shakespeare never reached that final stage of illumination that is expressed in some of Beethoven’s late music. The other steps of the journey he knew, but Shakespeare never wrote his C-sharp-minor quartet. It is possible, indeed, that Beethoven’s late music is unique, not only in music, but in the whole of art.

A flawless Susanna

Figaro and Susanna

Figaro and Susanna

There is much to say about the Met's new production of Le Nozze di Figaro, which opened last night.  So many impressive aspects, including Sara Erde's compelling choreography, Jimmy Levine in fine form, and much wonderful singing.  But what stood out above all was Marlis Petersen's Susanna—I have never seen better. She is the complete package—the perfect voice, a profound connection with her character, irresistibly flirtatious. Somewhere Mozart is smiling.

Secret Signs

In preparing to lecture about, and perform, the Seven Poems of Alexander Blok—Shostakovich's great suite for soprano and piano trio—I have found some of the existing English translations to be unsatisfactory.  So I am creating my own translations. For example, in No. 6 ("Тайные знаки"), only in the intoxicating combination of the musical building-blocks of this poem and its rendition—however abstract—of anguished foreboding, can the full measure of its greatness perhaps be felt by a non-Russian speaker. In other words, I hew exactly to the meter and rhyme, and then as closely as possible to the meaning:


Secret signs smolder brighter and brighter,
On the windowless, wan, wakeless wall.
Crimson poppies of gold and of amber
On my sleep cast a tormented pall.

I take shelter in caves of the nightfall,
I remember stern marvels no more,
And at dawn there appear blue chimeras
In the mirror athwart heaven’s door.

I take refuge in moments forgotten,
Out of fear I shut closely mine eyes,
On the page of a book growing colder,
A fair maiden’s gold braid slowly dies.

Up above me the firmament falters,
A black dream overspreads my bleak breast,
My predestined collapse is upon me,
And ahead all is war, fire, unrest.

Десять суток

На предстоящем Сахаровском фестивале готовлюсь исполнить концертную версию оперы Александра Чайковского "Один день Ивана Денисовича".  Произведение, как мне кажется, динамичное, разнообразное, и правильно ловящее дух великого рассказа.  Вот фрагмент из постановки Пермского театра—сцена, где кавторанга уводят в карцер.

Round and Round...

the jewel of Theatre Square   

the jewel of Theatre Square

A long-time symbol of Russian excellence, and one of the treasures of all world culture, the Bolshoi Theatre has been much in the news recently due to a horrific acid attack on the artistic director of its ballet, Sergei Filin.  It’s the latest in a series of crises that have shaken the legendary house, and led some to question its future.  But, as I had occasion to tell Nightline several years ago, the Bolshoi is tied up with Russia’s self-identity in an intricate, perhaps inimitable, way, and all people of good will must hope that it can find moral and artistic renewal in the months and years ahead.