Monday, April 16, 2012

Artistic Consumption Log, April 9, 2012 - April 15, 2012: "No Films? Seriously?" Edition

BROOKLYN, N.Y.—If you look at the log below, you might notice something missing: Where's the usual "films" section?

Believe it or not, I ended up not seeing any films this past week! I didn't plan it that way; it just ended up being the case. The way my mind works these days, I'm almost tempted to tout this fact as a point of pride: I didn't see any movies this week. See? I don't need movies all the time to keep me satisfied!

I am positive, being that Tribeca Film Festival is a mere two days away and I'm slated to cover at least six films in the festival for Slant Magazine, that will not be the case this coming week.

In the meantime, enjoy this current log!

Die Walküre


Different Class (1995, Pulp)
This Is Hardcore (1998, Pulp)
We Love Life (2001, Pulp)
So no, I didn't join most of my fellow film/music brethren in seeing a reunited Pulp live at Radio City Music Hall this past week; I was too busy trying to catch up with their albums in the first place. It's intriguing to hear the progression from Different Class—which, it appears, is commonly considered Jarvis Cocker & co.'s peak—to the introspective moodiness of the ironically named This Is Hardcore (if by "hardcore" you mean "hard and fast rock," then that album has none of that) to the all-over-the-place We Love Life ("Wickerman" was one of the Pulp tracks British choreographer Michael Clark used in his Whitney Biennial commission Who's Zoo?). Count me as a new-minted fan (and, as ever, behind the curve when it comes to big-event reunion concerts).

Mahler: Symphony No. 1 (1988, Leonard Bernstein/Concertgebouw Orchestra of Amsterdam) [umpteenth listen]
The only reason I listened to this classic recording of Mahler's First Symphony was because, on Wednesday night, I answered a friend's invitation to go to Avery Fisher Hall on Thursday morning to see an open rehearsal of the New York Philharmonic—led by current Dallas Symphony Orchestra Music Director/former Concertgebouw concertmaster Jaap van Zweden—leading an upcoming performance of the work. Based on that rehearsal, it sounded like a reasonably rousing if fairly unremarkable rendition...but then, perhaps anything might sound safe and conventional after Bernstein's still vivid and freshly characterized account. (No one has dared to take the third-movement funeral-march parody as briskly as he, and the more I listen to it, the more I warm to the approach.) Maybe Van Zweden picked up some elements of his interpretation—not to mention his flamboyant podium manner—from performing the work under Bernstein; like the American maestro, for instance, he also races to the finish line in the work's closing bars and adds an extra bass-drum thwack at the end where Mahler marked only one for the penultimate note. Either way, they both make it work, at least if you're not a super-literalist when it comes to musical interpretation. (The New York Philharmonic session also included a rehearsal of Prokofiev's Third Piano Concerto with 24-year-old Chinese prodigy Yuja Wang; alas, because of my day job, I couldn't stay to hear that.)

Wild Honey (1967, The Beach Boys) [umpteenth listen]
And the only reason why I listened to this underrated Beach Boys opus again? Eh, that's a personal thing that I will only divulge to you in private if any of you really want to know. But yeah...this is an underrated album, as I wrote previously on this blog here.


Die Walküre (1870, Richard Wagner), seen at Metropolitan Opera House in New York
Same story with Das Rheingold at the Met, really: an uneven production that still, for me, didn't wreck the brilliance of Wagner's music and the resonance of its story and themes.

In the opening scene of Das Rheingold, the despairing Alberich decides that, if he can't find love among those three Rhine maidens that callously mock him, he'll renounce love altogether, steal the gold they guard and create the fabled magic ring that will allow him to rule the world. In a sense, Alberich decides to cast off all human emotion in his quest for power. To my mind, all of the other conflicts that arise between the various characters in these first two Ring operas are variations on that old Nietzschean conflict between Apollo vs. Dionysus, intellect and emotion; in Die Walküre, this is most potently conveyed with the ideological conflict between Wotan—the ruler of the Gods and a man who still feels bound by traditional notions of masculine authority and heroism—and Brünnhilde, his forward-looking Valkyrie daughter and a more impulsive type. This clash of temperaments is what eventually leads Wotan, in the final act of Die Walküre, to cast Brünnhilde off to a long slumber after she disobeys an order that he himself has made unwillingly; it's telling, then, that Brünnhilde argues, in her defense, that she was acting as Wotan secretly wished rather than what he actually commanded.

There are certainly more layers there to unpack, but it gives one an idea of just how deep Wagner's achievement is already proving to be based on these first two installments in this monumental opera cycle. And what else can one say about the music itself? The third act of Die Walküre has some of his most affecting writing, especially down the stretch as Wotan is forced to give up his daughter and soaring strings express all the regret that Wotan himself is perhaps unable to fully express. When even the occasionally trying stretches of clumsy exposition still manage to work up musical interest...well, surely we're in the hands of some kind of musical genius.

As for Robert Lepage...well, alas, he almost spoils the third act of Die Walküre with some of his more laughable touches: planks moving up and down in a simulation of horse-riding, with the Valkyries sliding down planks as if going down a theme-park water slide; a snowy-mountaintop projection during Wotan's long confrontation with Brünnhilde that randomly breaks out into cheesy-looking avalanches; and so on. And yet, the final moments of Wotan, with the help of fire god Loge, lighting a pyre around a now sleeping Brünnhilde, still manage to be as majestic as Wagner surely intended. The production is still a mixed bag, but Wagner is still Wagner.


An Afternoon With Actor John Cho, seen at Sterling Memorial Library in New Haven, Conn.
A friend invited me to accompany her down to Yale University to see John Cho, the Korean actor of Harold and Kumar, American Pie and Star Trek fame, do a question-and-answer session on the broad subject of Asian-American leadership. I'm a fan of Cho's, and since I didn't really have any pressing plans on Saturday, I figured I might as well go. The session turned out to be shorter than I was expecting—about an hour, as opposed to the two-and-a-half that had been advertised—but even in that one hour, he still managed to offer up some incisive and inspiring tips and anecdotes of what he thinks about the representation of Asian-Americans in the media, how to try to break through the so-called "bamboo ceiling," how his desire to do so has informed his own acting choices and so on. Some of it hit close to home for me; I guess I'm still trying to break through a "bamboo ceiling" of my own at my company. Maybe I should work harder on that. Thanks, John!

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