Kimmel Center, Perelman Theater
January 27, 2006
January 27th, 2006 is the 250th Anniversary of Mozart's birth, and the Kimmel Center in Philadelphia has dedicated a series of concerts to the great classical composer. Of these, "Mozart: Reloaded was, to say the least, the most unusual. It incorporated elements of classical music, jazz, dance, electronic music, film, and- believe it or not, a large steel drum band- in a set of performances that honored the composer yet with each taking its own creative direction.
I am reviewing the concert on All About Jazz for two reasons: 1) It featured several jazz based pieces, and 2) it spoke roundly to the crossing of disciplines and the combining of varied musical formats and media elements which have become a major part of the jazz scene today such that the boundary between what is "jazz and what is "not jazz have lost much of its distinction.
In this particular concert the distinction was completely lostand rightly so, since the whole purpose of the performances was to transcend definitions and allow a creative process to emerge. As such, it proved to be a wonderful musical experience that honored Mozart's spirit while exploring diverse new territory.
Andrea Clearfield is a composer and scholar who for two decades has held a series of "Salons in her home which hark back to the nineteenth century events hosted by patrons of the arts in Paris that included musical performances, art exhibitions, readings, and discussions. From the ferment of the many innovative performances that have taken place in her living room, she drew on musicians with an experimental bent to "push the envelope using sources in Mozart's music. The result was a most lively, energetic, mind-expanding, and at times delightfully humorous evening that kept the overflow audience wide awake and at times thrilled.
The night began appropriately with the boundary-pushing jazz pianist Uri Caine performing his composition "Improvisations on themes from Mozart's Piano Sonata in C Major, K. 545. The piece had something of the flavor of Caine's groundbreaking "Urlicht (Primal Light) which was based on the work of Gustav Mahler and utilized various musical and sonic improvisations to create novel formats and a fresh appreciation of the great composer. On this evening, Caine did the same for Mozart. He began by quietly stating Mozart's themes in each movement and then taking it into modernistic territories of improvisation. The composition moved from Mozart to the late romantics and- yes- contemporary jazz. The ending was aroused and stormy, covering all registers of the piano and achieving divine madness. Mozart was probably the most understated of composers, covering moods from sweetness to humorous to deep and brooding in a gentle and genuine way that has persevered through the ages. Mr. Caine "unpacked these moods into the full range and capabilities of modernism and the jazz idiom.
The following performance consisted of two Mozart arias from the opera "The Marriage of Figaro sung by jazz vocalist Joanna Pascale accompanied by vibraphonist Tony Miceli, bassist Madison Rast (Joanna's spouse), and drummer Butch Reed. This was done in a strictly straight-ahead mainstream jazz idiom. Ms. Pascale sung the arias in a literal way but with the laconic sound of a jazz diva that captured Mozart's combination of lyricism and light irony. By contrast, Miceli's solos were done at breakneck speed yet with agility and subtlety, stunning the audience with their virtuosity. Reed took a superb solo at the end of "Voi che sapete that was both intense and expressive.
The next piece was totally unique. Violinist Gloria Justen, like Mozart in "The Magic Flute, took childhood stories and wove them into a tale of her own about a lady fox's adventures with a magic alchemical box that could transform the four elements- earth, air, fire, and water- into gold. Justen pre-recorded all the music- violin and electronic- and pantomimed the violin playing while telling the story. The music itself was quite interesting, but overshadowed by Ms. Justen's dramatic and humorous buffo movements and feinting of violin playing. Overall, this was a delightful rendering of the archetypal theme of the "wild woman with a Jungian twist.
While the stage was being set for a multimedia piece, accordionist Lidia Kaminska performed two rare organ works by Mozart. Indeed, Ms. Kaminska is a master musician and was able to articulate the works with near perfection on what is an inherently unwieldy and difficult instrument to play. She is arguably in my opinion the greatest living accordion player in the world. In addition, her body movements while she played were nothing less than captivating and sensual.
Next, the Group Motion Dancers did a well-choreographed performance of a scenario in which a thoroughly modern woman invites the main characters of "The Magic Flute to her home to watch the Mozart Opera on TV. In the background, movie clips were flashed showing various and surreal scenarios, for example of a man going about an urban landscape. The overall feeling of the dance and movie scenes was one of misdirected and acutely vulnerable passion, again with a touch of Mozartian humor. I would be hard put to say what the dance meant symbolically, but I could feel how the characters were undergoing some sort of metamorphosis through the experience of a world unfamiliar to them.
Following the intermission, Ms. Clearfield announced "Four piano compositions based on Papageno's Birdcatcher's Theme from The Magic Flute. Each was commissioned by a local patron and performed with aplomb and finesse by pianist Charles Abramovic, a faculty member of Temple University and a fine accompanist and recording artist who is a musician of the highest caliber. Without going into detail about each composition, listed below in the Program Notes, they represented a potpourri of contemporary music, each taking off on the Mozart motif in a distinctly different way. The final piece, "Love-bird by Robert Maggio incorporated jazz syncopation and thematic material reminiscent for me of Gershwin and of the French composer, Francis Poulenc.
Finally, and magnificently, Delaware Steel, a large group of steel drum players from the University of Delaware and conducted by Harvey Price, did a spectacular performance of- believe it or not- the Overture from "The Magic Flute. One had to see their coordinated body movements to fully appreciate their achievement. As they moved deftly between drums, the rythym of the music was replicated in the swift multi-body turns to the left and right, with a bit of the lively, cool feeling of those Motown "oldies singers. The audience loved it! A perspicacious musician would wonder how on earth all the intricate details of Mozart's orchestration could be transcribed for steel drums- but it worked.
Following the performances, most of the performers and composers gathered on stage for a discussion with the audience led by Kimmel Center Director of Programming Tom Warner with Andrea Clearfield, both of whom were dressed for the evening in period costumes punctuated by hipster sunglasses! Unfortunately, the discussion, mostly centering on trivialities, was perhaps the only disappointment of a stellar evening. One wished that greater insight would have been imparted, but the truth is that musicians, with rare exceptions, are often the least able to verbally articulate their art. Tony Miceli lightened up the trivia with ribald humor when he noticed that the two participants to his left were his former professors at the University of the Arts, and he asked them if they knew he was stoned when he took their courses! This was truly a Mozartian touch, for the truth is that Wolfgang himself had a wonderful irreverence and "lightness of being that permeated his music at every turn.
To conclude, this was a wonderful multi-media creative evening that was faithful to the divine spirit of Mozart yet wove its own tapestry of modernity. Andrea Clearfield is to be thanked for daring, in the words of T. S. Eliot's J.Alfred Prufrock, to "disturb the universe. May the universe of music be subject to more such perturbations, for that is the only way that jazz and other musical forms can grow, change, and comingle.
Curated by Andrea Clearfield
- Improvisations on themes from Mozart's Piano Sonata in C Major, K. 545 Uri Caine, piano
- Ridente la calma, K. 152, from the Marriage of Figaro; Voi che sapete, K. 492, from the Marriage of Figaro. Tony Miceli, vibraphone; Joanna Pascale, vocals; Madison Rast, bass; Butch Reed, drums.
- Foxy Lady and the Magic Box: a tale told with string accompaniment Written, narrated and all parts recorded and performed by Gloria Justen
- Mozart Organ Works, arranged for accordion. Lidia Kaminska, Accordion
- The Magic Flute-An Unveiling. Group Motion Dancers: Gabriel Bienczwicki, Emily Hubler, Lesya Popil, Lee Shapley, Hedy Wyland
- Four piano compositions based on Papageno's Birdcathcer's Theme from The Magic Flute, performed by Charles Abramovic, piano:
- On the Road commissioned by Louise Clearfield. Composer: Sebastian Chang
- Vogelfänger commissioned by Lisa A. Miller. Composer: Jan Krzywicki
- No Flutes Allowed commissioned by Kimmel Center Presents. Composer: Evan Solot
- Love-bird commissioned by Dr. Leonard and Dr. Barbara Frank. Composer: Robert Maggio
- Finale: Original arrangement of the overture to The Magic Flute, K. 630. Delaware Steel (The University of Delaware Steel Drum Band) Harvey Price, Director.
- Musicians and composers discussion with the audience
Victor L. Schermer