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Notes From The Field

Wednesday, December 27, 2006

The holiday season is upon us once again, and with it comes the usual slate of annual anxieties: harried, last-minute shopping excursions, figuring out what to re-gift and what to return, dinner with the in-laws, sifting through the New Year’s invites etc. It’s also a time of year-end wrap-ups, top-ten lists and talking heads pontificating on the preceding twelve months and on what the forthcoming twelve may have in store for us all.

We here at The Culturatti are, of course, members of this talking-heads fraternity, and are therefore obligated to fulfill our year-end duty of telling you what we thought was the best of this and best that in 2006.

Only problem is that I can’t really remember anything from before June. Before this site came to be, I wasn’t taking notes; therefore, I don’t feel qualified in undertaking a venture such as this. It’s possible Beal and graeme may have something up their sleeves, and if so I’ll leave it to them. What I can give you is a quick run-down of some events I attended recently and how they were significant.

Plus/Minus @ Sneaky Dees

plusminusfire.jpgThis is more to tell you about their recent album, Let’s Start a Fire, than it is to talk about the show, because there really wasn’t much to say about it. They played everything competently — exactly as it sounds on the album, which is fine for a Wednesday night at Sneaky Dees, but it doesn’t get me raving ecstatically about their live form.

The album does deserve some raving though. It’s a strange but good mix of styles — everything from 1940’s era jazz-crooning (the title-track), to light, pop-y math-rock ditties (Fadeout, One Day You’ll Be There), to Jimmy Eat World reminiscent emo-balladeering (Leap Year). It’s weird but it works. Listen to four songs at MySpace.

The Rach 3 & Tchaikovsky’s 6th

I was annoyed at myself over this one.

From Dec 6 – 9, the TSO offered up a really cool program for their Russian Masterworks series — Dimitri Shostakovich’s Festive Overture, Sergei Rachmaninoff’s 3rd Piano Concerto and Piotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky’s 6th Symphony. Going into this, I had only heard of Rachmaninoff’s 3rd — in fact, pretty much everybody has. It is generally considered the most difficult piece of piano music ever written and certainly the hardest concerto to perform. It was made famous by the movie Shine, a bio-pic about pianist David Helfgott. Naturally, I was excited about hearing it live.

The only time I could go, though, was a 2:00 matineé. I was a little concerned because I know that I sometimes get drowsy around this time of day, especially if I’m sitting in a darkened place, listening to music after having eaten a large meal and not having any coffee or tea. So what do I do? I go out beforehand for a big lunch and forget to get tea. The Rach 3 was the piece played before the intermission, and it’s 44 mins long. Needless to say, it was a struggle to stay awake, and I did end up nodding of for a bit. Hence the annoyance with myself.

But it’s even hard to pin down what I did catch. What I did hear of the pianist, Yefim Bronfman, sounded pretty amazing, but he was consistently drowned out by the orchestra; I don’t know if this was a conducting error or just where I was sitting, but it made it hard to follow. I caught all of the cadenza, obviously, which was good, but then all the shrimp and noodles overcame me and my head hit my shoulder.

I used the intermission to sharpen up and prepare for Tchaikovsky’s 6th. All I knew about this one was what I read in the program notes — most notably that he died, most likely by suicide, nine days after this piece first premiered in 1893.

This was unlike any symphony I had ever heard. Most symphonies have a fast-slow-mid-tempo-fast progression; this one goes slow-fast-really-fast-achingly-slow. The title given to the piece is ‘pathetique,’ and you realize how wholly appropriate this is given that he died soon after. You almost feel the construction of the piece is his way of ringing his own death-knell; it starts out sadly, then builds and falls dramatically throughout the course of the first three movements, mimicking a life spent fighting the torrents of despair. The third movement ends in such a bombastic fury that the entire audience thought the piece was over and we all started clapping; but this is just Tchaikovsky’s final ‘raging against the dying of the light,’ so to speak, and from there it descends into such a sorrowful final movement that I honestly felt numb when it was over.

The Nutcracker

The last item on my little list here is thankfully light-hearted and full of whimsy. A couple of weeks ago I saw that good ‘ole traditional holiday ballet The Nutcracker. I had been wanting to see this for years, but held off until now specifically so I could see it at the new Four Seasons Centre, and it was definitely worth it. It was designed with acoustic superiority in mind, and I can attest to their success; I was in the fourth balcony and the music came up crystal clear — from every blast of the tuba to each soft pluck of the harp strings.

The performance itself is fun — big, beautiful and bombastic. The focus of the show is supposed to be the Sugar Plum Fairy [that evening danced by Sonia Rodriguez (see pic above)], but I wasn’t really that impressed with her. She faltered a few times, most noticeably on the final step of her solo dance where it was incredibly obvious. I was really taken with the Snow Queen though, and her dance with her two ‘attandants.’ She was so precise in her movements, and the lighting was darkened behind lightly falling ‘snow’ — it was an amazing moment. Out of the all the dancers listed in the program, though, I can’t tell who she was. Oh well. Perhaps I will come back for another show in the new year. Probably.

Yes, I like ballet and Plus/Minus. I’m an enigma.

See you in ’07. 03971semaj

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