Thursday, March 25, 2010

Odds & Ends: Kizhe, the Devil & 'The Lost Chord'

This weekend, the Harrisburg Symphony is performing a program with four works on it – I've blogged about three of them over at the Harrisburg Symphony Blog, here (“The Sorcerer's Apprentice,” Prokofiev's “Lt. Kizhe” complete with a link to the entire 1934 film the suite is taken from, and Bernstein's suite from the film, “On the Waterfront”).

The other work on the program, Richard Strauss' tone poem, “Death and Transfiguration,” is included in this post.

Back in the late-'80s, when I worked for the Harrisburg Symphony as Assistant Conductor and Orchestra Manager, conductor Larry Newland had initially proposed Christopher Rouse's The Infernal Machine, Strauss' Death and Transfiguration and Dukas' Sorcerer's Apprentice for the same concert. Of course, I, never a fan of your typical marketing slogans, blurted out "Great: Rouse, Strauss and Mickey Mouse!"

I was later told that was NOT the real reason the program was changed - the Rouse was done in January, 1988, the Dukas the following season, in November, 1989, and the Strauss was either dropped or moved to a season after I'd quit and was no longer keeping records of their repertoire. Spoilsports...

*** ***** ******** ***** ***

Meanwhile, I'm working on a climactic scene (or at least the dramatic turning-point scene) of “The Lost Chord,” having just introduced composer Elliott Carter as a character helping the hero and his team-mates on their quest to solve the ancient mysteries also being sought by both the villain, Tr'iTone (a.k.a. composer Iobba Dhabbodhú), and the Chief of Security for the International Composers Alliance (who seems a bit villainous at times), Yoda Leahy-Hu.

Recent characters added to the cast list include code-cracker Haydn Plainview, police detectives Heidi Ho and two of her former colleagues on the NYPD Vice Squad, DePuis LeJour (called “Toots” when she's working) and Wanda Menveaux (think the famous aria from Massanet's Louise and, for the other, Musetta's Waltz with its opening line, “Quando m'en vo” - Whenever I walk alone on the street, men turn and look at me - not The Girl from Ipanema but from Puccini's La Boheme), plus Emil Tesoro y Tonto and his partner Dolly-Sue Apache (think of Don Ottavio's arias in Mozart's Don Giovanni).

There's also a brief appearance by the thief who stole Buzz Blogster's coat (bugged with a GPS unit by the ICA agent Kay Gelida Manina): Damien Johnson is a known thief around Lincoln Center and Carnegie Hall, having recently stolen four basses from musicians in the area in one night. Since the story takes place on November 4th, the night the Yankees defeated the Phillies to win the 2009 World Series, I should point out that Johnny Damon had stolen four bases during the series' 4th game a few nights earlier.

And now I've started Chapter 25 as I continue re-reading my way through Thomas Mann's “Doctor Faustus,” the climactic chapter with composer Adrian Leverkühn's transcript of his dialogue with the Devil during which the plot's Faustian bargain is sealed. It's written in a pseudo-old-fashioned (one could even say “fustian”) style, Leverkühn imitating the delivery of an equally old-fashioned (and similarly fustian) former theology professor of his since it essentially parallels (if not parodies) the debate between the Devil and Martin Luther centuries before.

While, Schoenbergically speaking, this is going to be a tough row to hoe (or read), I admit I'm trying to think how I can use this in “The Lost Chord,” perhaps combining it with the chess game (which, admittedly, is with Death, not the Devil) from Bergman's “The Seventh Seal.” In this case, it would be during Tr'iTone's interrogation of Dr. Dick, which in addition will use my version of Abbott and Costello's “Who's on First” skit regarding the whereabouts of Yoda Leahy-Hu.

Thinking more of the film “Lt. Kizhe” than just Prokofiev's delightful music for it - a commenter at the Symphony Blog sent me this link to the original film – perhaps I should also include an almost true incident back when I worked for the orchestra either as assistant conductor or later as the personnel manager. A close friend, Vikki Moore, who'd been the personnel manager before I took over the job, and I used to joke about how we could easily confuse the conductor by inadvertently creating a musician with a well-placed typo, then wondering if we'd be able to bring it off in true Kizhean fashion.

There had been a concert, once, when the program and its personnel page had to go to print before we had decided upon hiring several key musicians after a series of auditions. So rather than leaving them blank, I decided I should make up some names figuring, you know, who would notice... Since this was a special fund-raising concert, though, and the theme was “The Orient Express,” I decided to go into Agatha Christie's wonderful mystery, “Murder on the Orient Express” and select seven different names for those players not yet hired. There were actually some people in the audience who noticed this and commented on it. I felt so much better, then, thinking the time it had taken to execute the idea (so to speak) was worth the extra effort.

- Dr. Dick

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