Saturday, May 10, 2008

Weekend Update

Yesterday, we had our quarterly meeting with one of our largest clients. That meant being around the beltway by 7:30, which meant leaving the house by 6:30, which meant getting out of bed at an hour that is too early to contemplate. Or exist. I managed to stay awake and alert through the meeting, but I was exhausted the rest of the day. (Also, I don't know how the DC metro area manages it, but at 10am, the outer loop of the Beltway was much much worse than it had been at 7:15. I didn't get back to the office until nearly 11.) Because I wasn't thinking clearly, I somehow thought that we had tickets to Studio Theater when, in fact, we had tickets to see the NSO at Kennedy Center. I told b&c to meet me at 5 in Bethesda for dinner because I thought we'd have a leisurely dinner, then Metro down to Dupont Circle and walk over to the theater. As it happened, we got a (really good) quick meal at Moby Dick, walked back to the car and drove down to Kennedy Center, arriving an hour before the curtain. I sat out on the terrace, next to the fountain, in a bit of a stupor, until it was time to go in.

The first half of the program was fine. The orchestra played the overture to I Vestri Siciliani, and then Hilary Hahn joined them as the soloist for the Paganini Violin Concerto No. 1. The concerto has an extremely demanding solo part, but Ms. Hahn played it as if it were about as complicated as picking up your dry cleaning. A lot of violin soloists seem to be working really hard when they're playing. When Josh Bell, for example, plays a concerto, when he's done, he looks exhausted and covered in sweat (this is a very good look for him, though: he could make a lot of money for charity by auctioning the rights to towel him off). Ms. Hahn played a very difficult part superbly, and it seemed not to take anything out of her. During the few parts of the concerto when the solo violin didn't have a part, in fact, she would occasionally play along with the first violins for a few bars as if to say, "Well, I'm here, and I'm not doing anything, so I reckon I'll help out."

I was not especially looking forward to the second half of the program, a performance of David del Tredici's Final Alice. I had never heard of the work or of the composer before arriving at the concert hall on Friday. The program notes said that Leonard Slatkin was particularly fond of the piece and promised that it was a much more accessible piece of music than most works of its time, but I was skeptical: Slatkin raves about a lot of music I don't particularly care for, and "more accessible" is a very relative thing. And a significant portion of the audience had left during intermission.

A few more people -- including one annoying woman who was right in the middle of our row, making us all stand up so she could pass -- left during Final Alice. But those people were nuts. I remarked to b&c as we were leaving that Final Alice seemed to me essentially a (very long) soprano concerto. The text for the piece is the ending of Alice in Wonderland, it is alternately spoken and sung by the soprano while the orchestra (including a ukulele, a banjo, and a theremin -- played by one of the bassoonists, who also played the bassoon and contrabassoon, though he fortunately never had to play more than one instrument at a time) plays music that ranges from standard classical harmonies to simulated animal noises, with the occasional cacophony thrown in.

This is an immensely demanding role for the soprano. She is occasionally called upon to look around at the orchestra, but for most of the 64 minutes (And, really, fascinating as the piece is, it's highly repetitive, and it would have been twice as good at 40 minutes; there is apparently a cut version that clocks in around 50 minutes, but Slatkin went for the uncut version. This is one of the very rare occasions where you will hear me choose cut over uncut.) she is either speaking or singing (sometimes into a bullhorn), and the arias are not easy. She also has to be able to act, or the substantial humor would be lost.

Hila Plitman was absolutely up to every aspect of the role. It was one of the best soprano performances I've ever seen. She, like Hilary Hahn, also managed to make the whole thing look like it was no big deal. At the end, the audience was cheering loudly for her, and she nearly had to be browbeaten into taking an incredibly well-deserved solo bow.

In other news, b&c finally seems to be on the mend. The blood tests revealed that he was suffering from an unfortunate run in with Giardia. Well, he did say, after all, that it was something he ate while in Nicaragua. I couldn't help making a wisecrack to that effect when he told me. He replied that it's possible to pick up Giardia from the swimming pool. He wasn't, mind you, insisting that he got it that way, only that it's possible. I didn't really give him a hard time about it, though: I reckon that given my proclivities, it's only a matter of time before I'm in the same boat.

The weird thing is that b&c doesn't really like eating ass. I don't understand why anyone who doesn't like to eat ass would bother eating ass. I mean, when I think "eating ass," I start to salivate, but for most people, isn't it kind of ewwww? And, you know, it's not like there weren't plenty of Managuans ready to plow him without him having to rim them. Oh well. I guess I'll never understand men.

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