10 August 2006

the Creatures of Prometheus

I had to go hear HK Gruber's Frankenstein!! when I saw it on the Symphony schedule. I enjoyed myself though there's always a certain tension when the mainstream outfits present their mainstream patrons with anything new. Edwin Outwater conducted and though I'm sure he's a charming fellow I'd just as soon he didn't prove it with a talk before he'll start the music. The first half was Debussy's Danses sacree et profane, Thomas Ades's Living Toys, and Bizet's Petite Suite from Jeux d'enfants -- very well chosen game-like pieces, with varying degrees of menace and childhood charm. The Debussy was radiant, as he always is. The Ades I enjoyed; it's fairly dense and though it didn't grab me right away, it might after a few hearings. Apparently even this fairly short piece was too agonizingly modern for the people around me: at its end, the woman behind me moaned in longing, "Where is Beethoven?" I was both amused and thrown that of all the familiar composers, she called upon the radical, the daring, the revolutionary Beethoven, the man whose later works were considered for decades unplayable -- and she must have known these things, as a fan of Beethoven. So I assume that as usual she was calling for the comforts of the familiar, something with the reputation of the revolutionary but no longer the nasty edges. I'm sure Living Toys will never quite have the reputation of the Fifth Symphony, but you'd think a Beethoven fan of all people would have given it a respectful hearing. The Bizet was a little too conventionally pretty for me, which means the audience loved it. I've noticed that when people talk about "the beautiful" they usually mean "the pretty."
Gruber's little cabaret was much more warmly received, possibly because it was antic enough so that people knew where to place it. It reminded me of other works that bring out the menace below those childhood charms, like Shock-headed Peter or the works of Edward Gorey -- that's very high praise, and a wonderful quality in an artist, to eliminate the sentimental memories of childhood and bring back its strangeness and its terrors and its intimations of otherness.

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