wet earth

Molto Energico

Kevin Puts called the piece he wrote for the Eroica Piano Trio “Trio Sinfonia” to reflect its orchestral spirit.  “I do enjoy writing for orchestra,” he told me in a recent phone conversation.  “I like the big sounds.  There are so many possibilities, so many combinations of instruments.”

The more intimate genre of chamber music is a kind of musical conversation between distinct instrumental voices, but in “Trio Sinfonia,” which the Eroica will perform in Carmel this Friday, Puts focused on producing, or orchestrating, specific sounds or textures by combining two or three instruments.  He says that while writing chamber music is a refreshing break from orchestral bigness, it’s also really hard.  “Writing good chamber music is so difficult,” he says.  “You can’t hide behind effects.”

The titles of the four movements of “Trio Sinfonia”—Overture - Risoluto; Scherzo - Presto enigmatico; Lento - Meditativo; Finale - Allegro molto energico—evoke the emotional intensity Puts is not afraid to create in his music.  Puts wrote “Trio Sinfonia” with the Eroica Piano Trio in mind.  “They’re a very dynamic group with a lot of energy,” he says.  “This piece contains lyrical, romantic melodies they can really dig into.”

In 2007, the Miró Quartet premiered Puts’s “Credo,” a stunning work for string quartet commissioned by Chamber Music Monterey Bay.  The success of that work—a best-selling, award-winning recording and multiple performances around the world—led to another commission, for CMMB’s Arc of Life project.

“My connection with Chamber Music Monterey Bay feels really good,” Puts says.  “I feel a real kinship, a relationship of musical understanding.  I know that if I give my best effort, it will be taken seriously.  CMMB is a creative home for me.”

This fall, local audiences will have the opportunity to hear Puts's Arc of Life premiere, written for piano trio and clarinet.  He is currently working on the piece, which like all the Arc of Life commissions is inspired by the Bill Viola video installation “Going Forth by Day.”  (In April, the Daedalus Quartet will premiere the first Arc of Life piece, “White Water,” by Joan Tower.)

Last year, Puts’s beautiful first opera, “Silent Night,” was premiered by the Minnesota Opera.  I’m not surprised when he tells me that writing opera feels natural to him; in so much of his work, there is an open-hearted feeling of spaciousness and storytelling.

If there’s a story in “Trio Sinfonia,” however, it is Puts’s abiding musical connection to Beethoven.  The symphonic form, the C-minor key signature, the strong motivic presence—listen for it especially in the First Movement, he says—all these point to a strong feeling for a composer who is more than just an inspiration.  “I’m always thinking of Beethoven,” he says.

Eroica Piano Trio, Friday, March 23, at 8:00 p.m., at Sunset Center in Carmel, presented by Chamber Music Monterey Bay.

The Life of Death

A lecture at MPC this week treats the subject of death as it appears in folklore and fairy tales.  Here is the announcement:

Who is your favorite fairy tale character? Cinderella? Little Red Riding Hood? The Frog Prince? Anyone for Godfather Death?

There are thousands of characters to choose from, of course, popular, celebrated heroes of our childhood, starring in Disney films and countless illustrated story books. But there are other, lesser known characters from folklore and fairy tales dating back to the Middle Ages, and Death is certainly among the most compelling.

Death has been called the greatest taboo of the twentieth century. In modern society, we seem to do our best to shelter ourselves from death, dying, and the dead. Our loved ones die in hospitals and are taken to funeral “homes.” Gone are the days of the parlor viewing and the wake. Death is not a subject for the modern, civilized mind to ponder directly. But it has not always been this way.

Our ancestors frequently witnessed the deaths of animals and people alike. Death was a part of everyday life and, therefore, it was an important part of folklore, myth, and fairy tales.

As Midori Snyder puts it, we re-create Death in folk tale figures “who allow us to personalize our contact with death long enough to confront it, to argue with it, to pit our wits against it . . . and perhaps, if we are lucky, to finally make peace with it.” This lecture will explore the concept of Death as subject and star of folklore and fairytales, sharing examples from the ancient world through to our contemporary tradition, and exploring what can be gained from inviting Death back into the story of our lives.

Lecture by Laura Courtney Headley, “Death in Folklore and Fairytales: Meet Godfather Death,” Wednesday, March 21, in Lecture Forum 103, from 1:30 to 2:30 p.m.  The lecture is free, but a $1.00 parking permit is required; parking permit machines (quarters only) are located in each parking lot.

She Likes to Talk

There is a telling moment in “Paris Is Paris Is Paris: Gertrude Stein in Paris,” a one-woman show by Tom Parks currently playing at the Carl Cherry Center, in which Gertrude Stein (Carol Daly) expresses her disgust for the callous disregard that James Joyce showed his one-time mentor Sylvia Beach.  Beach, founder of the Shakespeare & Company bookstore in Paris, had supported Joyce and published Ulysses when no one else would; after it became a success and a world-wide cause célèbre, he dumped her for a bigger contract, leaving her in financial peril.  In Parks’s play, this act of disloyalty earns Stein’s swift condemnation.  Yet in Daly’s subtle portrayal, one can imagine an even deeper source of displeasure: the unwelcome knowledge that Joyce’s famously modernist novel will be remembered as more important to the history of literature than anything Stein ever wrote.  She quickly changes the subject, but the feeling lingers: anything that threatens Gertrude Stein’s sense of herself as the most important person in the room must be banished.

Parks’s witty, well-constructed play is presented as a visit with the grand expatriate author in a salon in her apartment in Paris.  The year is 1945.  Picasso’s sensitive portrait of Stein hangs on a wall.  She sits at a small table; pours herself tea; stands up when the moods strikes her; exhorts the audience to “listen, listen!”; recites some of her writing; reminisces about her past and the famous artists and writers she has encountered; and shares details of a life spent with “Miss Toklas,” the life companion whose “autobiography” (written by Stein) was and remains Stein’s most celebrated book.

Some of the most enjoyable scenes in the play are when Daly winningly recites Stein’s own work, such as the tender Valentine poem she wrote to Toklas (“she is very lovely and mine which is very lovely”), and a brief, rousing rendition of “On the Trail of the Lonesome Pine,” a cowboy song Stein liked to sing for guests.  Despite a life lived abroad, Stein would always consider herself resolutely American.

Daly is a compelling performer and masters Parks’s long, intermissionless script with confidence and flair.  One senses that she could dig even deeper into Stein’s character if given the chance, but this visit with Gertrude Stein is on the whole a polite affair, with drama and conflict kept at bay.  Though I found “Paris Is Paris Is Paris” entertaining, I also found myself wishing for some moment of imaginative fancy, some theatrical probing of Stein’s inner life—something I couldn’t find in a book.  The pre-recorded introduction and conclusion contribute to a certain academic, encyclopedic atmosphere.

Yet Parks takes a palpable delight in Stein’s inventive wordplay and his play is as much a writerly homage to a modernist master as a depiction of an aging woman in a chatty and nostalgic mood.  “I like to talk,” Stein says, and talk she does.  It is a credit to Daly and Parks that our interest is held throughout the show, which runs, perhaps too long, at nearly an hour and a half.

Near the end of the play, Stein reads from an exchange of letters between “Miss Toklas” and “Miss Stein.”  Alice would like to express her mounting displeasure at the visits of Ernest Hemingway, who is uncouth; also, she would like to know how Miss Stein will take her tea.  “I take my tea with neither milk nor lemon nor sugar,” Miss Stein replies, ignoring the troubling reference to Hemingway—another closed door to whatever shadows hung behind the mask of Gertrude Stein’s singular, art-filled life.

“Paris Is Paris Is Paris: Gertrude Stein in Paris,” will play at the Carl Cherry Center, 4th and Guadeloupe, in Carmel, Fridays and Saturdays at 7:30 pm and Sundays at 3:00 p.m., through April 1.  Call (831) 620-2163 for tickets.

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