In this issue: focus on the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater; Natalie Dessay with Le Concert D’Astrée/Handel’s “Tu del ciel ministro elletto”; I’m With Her/“Send My Love (To Your New Lover)”; Attacca Quartet/ Beethoven’s Heiliger Dankgesang from String Quartet No. 15

  • Now More than Ever The Arts Need You

Now, More Than Ever: Issue 3

The Show Must Go On

It’s particularly timely that the company created this video of choreography from Rennie Harris’ Lazarus (a Cal Performances co-commission that received its first Zellerbach performances one year ago) during our current period of physical distancing. Filmed here with company members dancing in their own spaces, sometimes with members of their own families and even their pets, this is a powerful reminder that we can still come together virtually, even as we keep our distance. What I appreciate here is the glimpse we get into the lives of individual human beings (as opposed to the idealized, sometimes anonymous figures we see portrayed on stage). Without the contributions of costumes, lighting, and all the other trappings of a professional production, the sheer beauty and exuberance of the movement shines through.

This video is the second released by the company since the beginning of the current shutdown. The first is an extraordinarily beautiful compilation showing the opening section of Alvin Ailey’s classic Revelations. All about unity, I find this particularly moving—their choice to dance for us, from a distance.

Jukebox Jam

For some great fun, here’s a terrific video featuring the inspirational dancers of the Ailey II company. After wheeling a jukebox into New York City’s Union Square, these talented young people proceed to invite passersby to select songs, to which they improvise their dances, occasionally inviting members of the public to join in. Joyous and uplifting, this reminds me of the Ailey “flash mobs” in Lower Sproul Plaza that have highlighted the company’s Cal Performances residencies over the past several seasons.

Handel: “Tu del ciel ministro elletto”

from Il Trionfo del Tempo e del Disinganno (The Triumph of Time and Insight)
Natalie Dessay, soprano
Le Concert D’Astrée
Emmanuelle Haïm, conductor

This moving final aria from Handel’s first oratorio (one of only two the composer set in Italian and written when he was only 22 years old!) finds Beauty prayerfully imploring her guardian angel (the “elected minister of heaven”) to “Let no more this world deceive me,/Nor let idle passions grieve me,/Strong in faith, in hope, in love.” As I watched this video from my dining room table, I thought of the heightened power of that text in our current circumstances.

Filmed here at a recording session, I love Natalie Dessay’s balletic arm movements, not only a perfect match to both words and music, but also somehow an aid in spinning out those incredible lines. Dessay and Haïm were neighbors and friends in Paris at the time of this taping, and the conductor was responsible for Dessay taking on this and many other Handel roles; all but a handful of Dessay’s impressive Handel recordings feature this memorable partnership. Truly a team made in heaven!

“Send My Love (To Your New Lover)”

I’m With Her
Paul Kowert, bass

I’m with Her (the name precedes Hillary Clinton’s 2016 presidential campaign) is the Grammy-winning collaboration between singer/songwriter/multi-instrumentalists Sara Watkins (violin and guitar), Sarah Jarosz (banjo, mandolin, and guitar), and Aoife O’Donovan (keyboard and guitar)—three American roots artists who are also colleagues and friends of Chris Thile. Watkins is a founding member of Nickel Creek, and Jarosz and O’Donovan are regulars with Thile on public radio’s Live from Here. Featuring bassist Paul Kowert, this impeccable cover of Adele’s hit song (from her third studio album, 25) is packed with the most glorious close-harmony vocals that you’ll find on any folk or pop stage. If you know Adele’s original—and even if you don’t!—I think you’ll love it.

Beethoven: Heiliger Dankgesang

Third Movement from String Quartet No. 15 in A minor, Op. 132
Attacca Quartet

Beethoven rarely provided programs for his music, but for the transcendent Heiliger dankgesang, we have a clear idea of what he intended (his subtitle being “Holy Song of Thanksgiving from a Convalescent to the Deity in the Lydian Mode.”). For a couple of years, the composer hadn’t written much due to ill health (some kind of gastric illness, it seems), and he was concerned on several occasions that he might die. He wrote this music following a period of recovery that left him both thoughtful and filled with gratitude.

The longest movement in any of his quartets, this is music of uncommon beauty and depth—comprised of reflective and beautiful chorale sections that alternate with more lively dance-like music—and the overall effect is like a benediction coming down to us through the centuries. I find the cumulative effect in the final few minutes, as Beethoven communicates his journey towards gratitude, unlike anything else in music. It’s really hard to hold back the tears.

This was recorded as part of the Crypt Sessions, a concert series that takes place in the crypt of the Church of the Intercession in New York City’s Harlem district (a lovely, tiny space, that holds perhaps 50 people). I think the Attaca Quartet turns in an exquisite performance, with a perfect balance of technical assurance and soul.

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