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Tuesday, June 2, 2015

Festival Preview: Red Bicycles, Tree-Women and Handmade Instruments

We look at the upcoming 2015 Lincoln Center Festival.
by Paul J. Pelkonen
He's ba-ack: Michael Keaton as Betelgeuse in Tim Burton's Beetlejuice.
The film's score is part of a six-day Danny Elfman retrospective at this year's Lincoln Center Festival.
Photo © 1988 Warner Brothers Entertainment/Geffen Films.
Since its inception in 1996, the Lincoln Center Festival has this mammoth venue's laboratory: its chance to experiment and offer new experiences in the appreciation of Western art music. The 2015 festival offers a compelling mix of German opera, Hollywood illusion and a long overdue re-assessment of a true American master, Harry Partch.

On July 6, the Festival opens a six-night engagement featuring the film music of composer Danny Elfman. Mr. Elfman, who started his career as the leader of the L.A. new wave band Oingo Boingo, started writing film scores with the now-classic Pee-Wee's Big Adventure. His quirky style comes from having no formal musical training, leaving him free to cross-breed Wagner and Strauss with carnival brass and circus rhythms. These concerts will be conducted by John Mauceri with a special appearance from Mr. Elfman.

The Elfman sound adorned such projects as the Rodney Dangerfield vehicle Back to School (where he created an irrepressible, Rossini-like overture), Midnight Run (a bluesy soundtrack harking back to his rock roots) and The Simpsons where he claims credit for the cartoon's careening and instantly hummable theme song. Later, he branched out into  comic book adaptations (the two Michael Keaton Batman films are his) and even animated musicals, writing all the songs and supplying the singing voice of Jack Skellington in The Nightmare Before Christmas. His most recent score was for the sadomasochistic love story Fifty Shades of Grey.

The Queens-based strings-and-percussion group YarnWire will feature in two programs, a symposium on modern music on July 14 (moderated by friend of the blog Frank Oteri) and a July 15 concert at the Kaplan Penthouse featuring three new works. Most notable among these is the premiere of a piece by French composer Tristan Murail, whose specialty is the microtonal style known as "spectral music."

On July 15 the Festival welcomes the return of Franz Welser-Möst and the Cleveland Orchestra to Avery Fisher Hall for the first time in three years. Their major offering is a rare semi-staged performance of Richard Strauss' Daphne, a mostly forgotten treasure from the later years of the composer's catalogue.

Daphne is Strauss' attempt at escapism in the face of excessive nationalism and ultimately, despair. Strauss and his librettist Josef Gregor conjured up a one-act setting of the Greek myth of the shepherd lass who becomes the love obsession of the jealous sun god Apollo, is killed and then turned into a tree in the opera's wordless final bars. In this concert performance (first performed this May at Severance Hall) the tenor roles are sung by Andreas Schager and Norbert Ernst. Soprano Ragine Hangler is the ill-fated Daphne.

The four-night Cleveland residency features two other programs. On July 16, the Orchestra plays Dvorak's rarely heard Symphony No. 5 with two works by French mystic composer Olivier Messiaen. On July 17, it's more Strauss, with the Sinfonia Domestica, a tone poem chronicling life in the composer's Bavarian villa. These happy events are paired with Beethoven's bucolic Pastorale Symphony. Daphne repeats on July 18.

On July 23, the Festival shifts its attention to American music with an overview of the music and achievements of American iconoclast Harry Partch. Partch, a fearless experimenter who did most of his best work on instruments he designed and built himself, will be featured in Bitter Music, a 60-minute performance and lecture, and the Partch-written stage play Delusion of the Fury, based on Japanese noh drama. Delusion will be staged July 23 and 24 at New York City Center.
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Critical Thinking in the Cheap Seats

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Since 2007, Superconductor has grown from an occasional concert or CD review to a near-daily publication covering classical music, opera and the arts in and around NYC, with excursions to Boston, Philadelphia, and upstate NY. I am a freelance writer living and working in Brooklyn NY. And no, I'm not a conductor.