Thursday, 13 December 2007

What Next?

Paul Griffiths is one of the University of Rochester Press’ favourite authors. His biography of Jean Barraqué, The Sea on Fire, is a scholarly and imaginative triumph, while his collection of occasional pieces and reviews, The Substance of Things Heard, was described as “illuminating, translucent, sagacious” by the TLS. Griffiths is also an accomplished librettist, and here he writes about recent performances of his collaboration with one of modern music’s greatest composers:

New York, December 12, 2007: Yesterday was Elliott Carter’s 99th birthday, celebrated with the fourth and last performance of a terrific production of his lone opera, What Next? A librettist’s point of view may not be unbiased, but for me this was the best presentation the piece has had. Jeffrey Milarsky, conducting the young AXIOM ensemble, led a musical performance that found so much rapture, wonder and wit in this extraordinary score, and Christopher Alden directed a staging that brought the drama of disconnection into tight focus. There was also an outstanding cast. Susan Narucki gave a driving intensity to Mama's pleadings, Katherine Rohrer was lustrous and warmly firm as Stella (a brilliant idea to make her star song so sexy), and Amanda Squitieri was dazzling in the coloratura role of Rose. Morgan Smith made sense of Harry or Larry as a young man whose anger bursts out as song, and Matthew Garrett let us hear the vocal magic Zen retains in his bewilderment. Ninety years younger than the composer, Jonathan Makepeace sang the part of Kid trimly in tune. That the production took place at all was due to the faith and campaigning energy of George Steel, who, as executive director, has remade Columbia University’s Miller Theatre as the prime venue in the city for exciting music and adventurous programming.

Having seen his opera staged in his native city, Carter now moves into his second century with undiminished creative energy. In the past year he has written, apart from several smaller pieces, a piano concerto that Daniel Barenboim will feature at the centenary concert in Carnegie Hall a year from now.

The New York Times agreed. Stay tuned, as they say, to this blog for something special on the Elliott Carter front in 2008.

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