Love’s Food: The Chamber Orchestra of the Triangle’s “Romantic Riches”

The Chamber Orchestra of the Triangle gave a splendid concert yesterday in the Fletcher Hall of Durham’s Carolina Theatre. The program, “Romantic European Riches,” was well-chosen, with the first half featuring three works with different kinds of romanticism. The second portion was given over to Felix Mendelssohn’s Violin Concerto in e minor, op. 64, for which the orchestra was joined by the delightful and dazzling guest artist Paul Huang on violin.

With Lorenzo Muti on the podium and first violinist and concertmistress Claudia Warburg returned from an absence due to injury, the orchestra seemed particularly happy to be playing as they opened with a buoyant rendition of Die Fledermaus Overture, op 362, by Johann Strauss, Jr. The Overture is a fast-moving medley of tunes and motifs heard in the comic operetta from 1875–it is bright and gaudy and not a bit serious, and every little while the 8-minute work spins you smilingly around in waltz time.

The mood was varied by the interesting piece that followed, Piccola Musica Notturna (based on a a poem by Antonio Machado), by Italian composer Luigi Dallapiccola (1904-1975). Dallapiccola was influenced by the 12-tone composers of the Second Viennese School (Schoenberg, et. al.) but his Italianate rendering of that intellectual style is imagistic and sometimes melodic. The orchestra played the composition beautifully, skillfully rendering the poem’s shifting emotional tone with a rich aural palette. The violas sounded particularly fine, as did the intermittent  notes from the plangent harp.

Next came the explosively vital Carnival Overture, op. 92 by Antonin Dvorak, which is not actually an overture but a brief work complete in itself, though one of a cycle of “overtures” on nature, love and life. It is sonata-like in form, and its three sections allow us to observe  the clamorous Carnival crowd; to back off and reconsider all this joyous frenzy; and finally to plunge in with shining spirit. It’s a very exciting piece, and the orchestra played with an intoxicating combination of precision and abandon.

Paul Huang. Photo: Lisa-Marie Mazzucco.

Paul Huang. Photo: Lisa-Marie Mazzucco.

After intermission, guest artist Paul Huang joined the orchestra for what turned out to be an absolutely gorgeous interpretation of the Mendelssohn Violin Concerto in e minor, op. 64. The 22-year-old Taiwanese-American has not only technical prowess, but an eloquence of tone and phrasing that indicate a delicacy of mind. Whether he was playing the 1683 Nicolo Amati violin mentioned in the program, or the 1742 Guarneri mentioned on his website, the instrument had the most beautiful sound, and Huang’s silken bowing drew out long pure notes in the lively music. It was a great pleasure to watch the close interaction between Huang and Maestro Muti, and to witness the orchestra’s ability to support and surround the soloist.  Music like this truly is the food of love, as was borne out by the spontaneous bear hug by Huang and Muti at its conclusion.

Huang was in Durham as part of the COT’s Young Soloists program, which brings soon-to-be-stars to the Carolina. (The January program included a ravishing performance of Beethoven’s Piano Concerto no. 3 in c minor, op. 37, by Andrew Tyson.) Huang barely made it, due to the domino chain of flights canceled and rebooked because of the snow. He  had arrived in time for just one rehearsal with the orchestra and conductor, which made the performances of one and all even more remarkable. Sadly, but not surprisingly, the airline involved had refused to rebook Huang in time to perform–the COT was forced to buy a new high-priced ticket to get him here. If you appreciate this aspect of the COT’s programming, it would be a fine time to send a few extra dollars their way.

In fact, COT president David Lindquist says that individual giving is lagging this year and that “we are skating perilously close to the red this season.” If you can give to this fine community orchestra, it will help keep these fabulous concerts happening for a mere $20 a ticket. The COT needs general operating support, of course, but there are also interest specific endowments, such as the one honoring the late Robert Ward, which will support the playing of 20th and 21st music.

The COT’s next concert will take place March 22 and 23, when they collaborate with the Concert Singers of Cary on Arthur Honegger’s Le Roi David, with libretto by Rene Morax. This season will wind up May 11 with a program that will include guest artist Louis Schwizgebel-Wang playing Beethoven’s Piano Concerto no. 2.

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Cry If You Want To: Little Green Pig’s Knock-out CELEBRATION at Shadowbox

Photo: Alex Maness.

Thaddaeus Edwards as Gbatokai, in LGP’s CELEBRATION. Photo: Alex Maness.

When the lights came up in the Shadowbox, and the cast took its bow at the close of Celebration on February 7, the actors were met with enthusiastic applause. But after they filed off stage, no one moved for several minutes. The Little Green Pig Theatrical Concern had nailed us to our seats with this excoriating production. Adapted for English-speaking theatre by David Eldridge from the 1998 Festen, an early Danish Dogme film directed by Thomas Vinterberg, Celebration is directed here by Kevin Ewert. With a combination of boldness and reserve he makes us doubt what we already know about the plot—gives us the denial already infecting the family—seducing us with the party set-up, then wallops us with the truth. It’s a tough show, but an extraordinary work of theatre.

There are worse things a father can do to his children than rape them repeatedly, but not many. In this story, the father doubled the damage by inflicting himself on his young twins, a boy and a girl. Now he’s turning 60, and the family has gathered to celebrate. All but one—the damaged girl twin, long since grown, has recently killed herself. The boy twin returns to Denmark, to the hotel his parents own and where the children grew up, with a pair of speeches in his pocket. As the eldest son, it will fall to him to make the first toast to his father.

Overlaid scenes in LGP's CELEBRATION. Photo: Alex Maness.

Overlaid scenes in LGP’s CELEBRATION. Photo: Alex Maness.

Jaybird O’Berski leads the outstanding cast of 15. As Christian, the abused son who has lost his twin, O’Berski’s trademark intensity is put to full use, and he exhibits a masterful control, especially in contrast to his brother Michael’s (Jeffrey Detwiler) invisibly crafted wild crudity. Tamara Kissane, who is often paired with Detwiler to great effect, is a knock-out here as Mette, Michael’s energetic wife, who gives as good as she gets in the marital wars. Mette wears blood-red lipstick, an unsettling note amid the carefully designed black, white and beige world of set and costumes (Kevin Ewert and Caitlin Wells), forebodingly lit by R.S. Buck.

Dana Marks gives another powerful performance as the remaining living sister, Helene. Like Kissane, she is fearless on stage, and continues to surprise with her range. She’s brought her new boyfriend (Thaddaeus Edwards) to the party, and his presence offers an excuse for a truly shocking outburst of racist song. Edwards has little to do, but he registers polite astonishment very well, and his what-the-fuck-is-wrong-with-these-people look is priceless.

I had some quarrel with the directorial choice that made the personification of the father, Helge, very low-key. As played by Dan Oliver, Helge is almost completely without affect, and no match for son Christian in intensity. I would have preferred to see a glimpse of the brimstone lake below the placid exterior. Once only do we see his cruelty uncloaked, but his threats are weak. His fortress is his bland denial. It was a valid choice to play the character this way, but not, I think, the most powerful one possible.

Denial works much better for Helge’s wife Else, the mother of his children, because finally hers is splintered. Lenore Field gives a brilliant, riveting performance. In the final scene where she is isolated, though not banished, I could not take my eyes off of her motionless portrait of a woman whose forty years of married life has just turned to ash.

In addition to a powerful script, wonderful stagecraft and great acting by the leads and all the supporting cast, this show has something really special: the presence of a child. 5th grader Marleigh Purgar-McDonald has a natural approach and poise many an older actor might envy. Her interactions with her mother (Kissane) and her grandmother (Field) could not have been better. But it is the physical fact of her, a little girl, innocent and loving, that brings the horror of Helge’s past abuse of his own children into the clearest light. I don’t know how Purgar-McDonald is able to process the content of this play, but that she does suggests there may be a great actor in the making inside her. I intend to watch her grow at every opportunity.

This play is not an entertainment, and its content may be too hurtful for some. But it is one of the best works that The Little Green Pig Theatrical Concern has produced, and highly recommended. The show runs Feb. 13-15 and 20-22. For reservations go to https://dime.io/events/celebration, or call 919.452.2304.

Photo: Alex Maness.

Marleigh Purgar-McDonald’s Little Girl keep a wary eye on Jay O’Berski’s Christian, while Dana Marks’ Helene reads the damning letter from the dead. Photo: Alex Maness.

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