San Francisco Classical Voice: The Dizzying World of György Ligeti

March 21, 2017

“Woolf’s illustrative music here … skillfully augments the performers’ movements. Short motivic bursts illustrate the sudden actions of the man falling off a box and throwing himself against a wall, for example —but  when he cradles the length of rope, contemplating the sweetness of death, Woolf trades terse gestures for long, legato tones.”

BY REBECCA WISHNIA

The accordion, Renaissance motets, and Samuel Beckett — it’s an improbable festival that brings these things together — but then, György Ligeti’s interests were unusually eclectic. The composer, who died in 2006, earned popular recognition through the films of Stanley Kubrick, yet he never stopped searching for new sounds.

A figure this omnivorous formed the basis for a rich inaugural season of Bard Music West, the younger sibling of the Bard Music Festival that features a different composer each year…

 

…If Friday’s experience wasn’t particularly fulfilling, however, Saturday was like a different festival. The great performances began in the afternoon program, on the theatrical and absurd, with the premiere of a fabulous new production: Samuel Beckett’s mime play Act Without Words Iscored for solo clarinet by Montreal-based composer Luna Pearl Woolf and directed by West Edge Opera’s Mark Streshinsky.

In Beckett’s work, a man finds himself stranded in the desert, flung backward by invisible forces each time he tries to leave. Streshinsky’s starkly minimal setting swaps the desert for a metal frame swathed in several layers of plastic wrap: a prison invisible to the man (Michael Mohammed), and one that allows the audience to see into the action. Outside, the Technician (Kate McKinney) perches on a ladder, ready with a fishing rod to dangle various objects into the space, and clarinetist Renata Rakova stands below.

An outburst rouses the sleeping man. Subsequently, and throughout the play, Rakova points her instrument toward the objects being introduced — scissors, rope, and, most tantalizingly, a water bottle — as if to help the man notice them (though the objects ultimately provide only frustration). In fact, Woolf’s illustrative music here, as does her 2013 silent film score Suspense, skillfully augments the performers’ movements. Short motivic bursts illustrate the sudden actions of the man falling off a box and throwing himself against a wall, for example — but when he cradles the length of rope, contemplating the sweetness of death, Woolf trades terse gestures for long, legato tones.

Streshinsky’s production also charms with its purely physical touches. Mohammed bobs after the water bottle, trying to position his mouth at the spout; after it’s cruelly jerked upward, his whole body, down to his expressively wiggling fingers, grows long. These dance-like motions are full of grace, but there’s also humor: at various points, Mohammed impishly mimics Rodin’s The Thinker and flips off the clarinetist. Moments after he throws himself against the invisible wall, the despairing motion of his body’s slackening is undermined in seriousness by the unmistakable pop of his unsticking from the plastic. The ever-present fishing rod is a choice piece of imagery: the audience isn’t sure whether the man is being terminally held, or if it’s merely catch-and-release.

 

ActWoWordsRenataRakovaMichaelMohammedCreditKevinFryerRenata Rakova and Michael Mohammed in Act Without Words I. | Credit: Kevin Fryer

Rebecca Wishnia recently earned her master’s degree in violin from UC Santa Cruz, where she studied with Roy Malan. A passionate chamber musician, she has performed in a variety of ensembles around the Bay Area, in addition to studying and teaching chamber repertoire at festivals each summer.

 

Read at San Francisco Classical Voice

 

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