Thursday, January 30, 2014
Igor & Elvis...A Pair Not to be Missed!
By Guest Blogger, Chuck Holdeman
Chuck is a regional composer of lyrical, contemporary classical music, including opera, orchestral music, songs, chamber music, music for film, and music for educational purposes. www.chuckholdeman.com
Tuesday evening's Delaware Symphony concert — the second in its elegant chamber music series in the Hotel DuPont's Gold Ballroom — was perhaps the quirkiest ever presented there. It featured bassoonist Jon Gaarder impersonating Elvis, in full regalia, performing composer Michael Daugherty's Dead Elvis, written in 1993 and incorporating the well-known chant for wrath of judgment day, the Dies Irae. As a former DSO bassoonist myself who performed this work in 2008, I took great pleasure in witnessing the whole wacky spectacle from the outside.
Daugherty chose the same instrumentation as Stravinsky's Soldier's Tale, a septet mixture of woodwinds, brass, strings, and percussion, the work which comprised the second half of Tuesday's concert. And speaking as primarily a composer now, I can continue to wonder — how did Stravinsky do it? There is a certain thinness in the texture with so few colors from each family of instruments, but this results in a wonderful clarity, a bracing zap to the ear of each instrument's declamation.
Perhaps the most poignant and plaintive movement was the duet for Gaarder's bassoon and Jonathan Troy's clarinet — so few notes and so much expression. The chorales near the end were gorgeous, but how 'bout the romping rhythms of the marches, the ragtime, and other dances? DSO concertmaster David Southorn was brilliant in the athletically demanding violin part; in time his Tango may become even more sly. All this is in the service of a Russian folk tale, a version by Swiss author C. F. Ramuz, originally in French. Conductor David Amado explained how the standard English translation can sound stilted and even boring, and so Amado undertook his own edited revision, very successful to this listener.
I particularly enjoyed the use of lots of rhyming, and also references to our time and place- the soldier marches "between Lums Pond and Bear," and at another point is treated to chicken wings. Three readers told the story: OperaDelaware's Brendan Cooke as the soldier, joined by two Delaware Theater Company executives, Bud Martin as a wittily sarcastic Devil, and Charles Conway as the Narrator. The large audience was uninhibited in both laughter and applause.
For Dead Elvis, Gaarder chose a sparkly white jumpsuit, white shoes, a thick (not really greasy) wig, and giant shades. He sauntered on stage with characteristic Elvis gestures and wiggles, and also smoothed his locks during the music's sudden pregnant pauses. The music is a study in zany extremes, the bassoon screaming to its ultimate high E or plummeting to its grotesque low B-flat. The tiny E-flat clarinet screeches, the trombone wails its glissandi, the drummer, the DSO's veteran master Bill Kerrigan, flails his collection of bells and other high-pitched gadgets.
I highly recommend this most entertaining and musically rewarding show which will be repeated Friday night, January 31 at 7:30 PM at the Queen Theater, World Cafe Live. The next two DSO concerts at the Hotel DuPont are on February 25 and April 1.