Why Shostakovich now?
y STEVE BURTON
Last Saturday night a packed
Rackham Auditorium was the scene
for one of the most deeply felt and
richly deserved standing ovations in
years. The Borodin String Quartet,
their music-stands illuminated only
by candlelight, had just completed an
emotionally compelling and techni-
'ally masterful performance of
ostakovich's remarkable 15th
String Quartet, and with ittheirheroic
traversal of the complete cycle of all
the Shostakovich quartets, given over
the course of five consecutive nights,
divided between Rackham Audito-
rium and the University Art Gallery.
This series of concerts crowned a
week-long conference reassessing
Shostakovich's life and works as the
@)th anniversary of his death ap-
The Borodin Quartet worked
closely with Shostakovich from their
founding in 1945 until his death in
1975. Perhaps no other performing
artists in the world today provide so
direct and vital a link to the origins of
so significant a body of creative work.
For comparisons to their uniquely
jmithoritative interpretations one must
'sort to the past: Peter Pears singing
Britten, Stravinsky conducting
Stravinsky, Walter and Klemperer
conducting Mahler. But all these be-
long to history, accessible only via
recordings; the Borodin's Shostako-,
vich remains a living tradition.
Twenty years ago such compari-
sons might have seemed unthinkable.
4 tthe time of his death, Shostakovich
as widely viewed in the West as
something of an embarassment -- a
promising enfant terrible turned re-
actionary party-line hack, churning
out noisy symphonic odes to Stalin
and less noisy but no less empty So-
viet wall-paper style chamber music.
Few at that time would have seen him
as the potential subject for a major
international conference bringing to-
gether scholars from different coun-
tries and disciplines. So what's new?
Everything began to change with
At the time of his
was widely viewed in
the West as something
of an embarassment -
a promising enfant
hack, churning out
noisy symphonic odes
to Stalin and less noisy
but no less empty
Soviet wall-paper style
the posthumous publication of "Tes-
timony," purporting to be the
composer's memoirs as "edited" by
Solomon Volkov. These revealed a
new Shostakovich who hated the So-
viet regime and encoded anti-Soviet
messages into nearly all his major
works. Though "Testimony" is now
widely regarded as a book about
Shostakovich rather than by him, its
portrayal of the composer's political
views and musical intentions was
largely confirmed by a series of more
reliable emigre sources, including
Mstislav Rostropovich, Galina
Vishnevskaya and the composer's son
Suddenly music that had sounded
like so much Soviet poster art began
to reveal unexpected depths of irony
and hidden meaning. Suddenly a com-
poser who had been dismissed as a
pathetic sell-out began to seem like a
uniquely central cultural figure of
If that sounds like an overstate-
ment, consider it in this light: quite
arguably the biggest socio-political
and cultural story of the 20th Century
was the worldwide experiment with
Marxism-Leninism. The longestchap-
ter in that big story was surely the rise
and fall of Soviet communism. And
the greatest Soviet artist, as Richard
Taruskin observed in his keynote ad-
dress to this week's conference, was
none other than Shostakovich.
Moreover, he was not simply an
artist who happened to live in the
Soviet Union: the suffering of the
individual under totalitarianism was
the substance of much of his work,
which offered eyewitness testimony
when literature and visual art could
not. No wonder, then, that Shostako-
vich, almost alone among modern
composers, exercises a profound fas-
cination far beyond the narrow bounds
of the musical profession.
Add all this up and one gets, to say
it again, a uniquely central modern
cultural figure. Considering that his
string quartets are his most personal
and powerful contribution to the mu-
sical literature and that the Borodin
Quartet are their greatest interpreters,
and one can begin to understand what
that ovation in Rackham Auditorium
Saturday night was all about.
No wonder "Prelude to a Kiss" failed. Could you imagine romance between these two people?
'Prelude' to a failure
PLAY THAT FOLKY MUSIC
By KAREN LEE
You meet the perfect woman. She's a Socialist, she
knows what spetzels are, and she will indulge you in your
darkest, dirtiest fantasy. After a whirlwind courtship, you
marry -- it's the stuff from which fairy tales are made.
ever, you get her
Prelude to a Kiss Maybe it's the
Ann Arbor Civic Theatre excitement of the
Ja y 28,1994wedding, or per-
January 2, haps it's the cli-
mate, but you
notice she's not the same person. Your perfect wife has
started espousing conservative philosophies and she's
stopped drinking. All of a sudden she wants children,
whereas only a few weeks before she vehemently declared
that she will not raise kids in this world.
Psychiatrists might attribute this change to a chemical
imbalance in the brain. Others may credit it to that time of
the month. Playwright Craig Lucas goes the romantic,
fantastic route. A strange and sad old man crashes the
wedding of Peter and Rita and kisses the bride. With a
flash of lightning and a rumble of thunder, their souls
Lucas could very well have gone for the slapstick
comedy of such spirit-shifting film classics as "Vice
Versa" and "Freaky Friday." Instead, he wrote "Prelude to
a Kiss" from the point of view of Peter, the bewildered and
frightened young husband who realizes that the attractive
woman next to him is not the person he married. What
resulted was a poignant tale about unconditional love and
the value of life.
Ann Arbor Civic Theatre really did try to give its
Friday night audience just such a show. The text, however,
is fragile, and if a director is not careful the production has
a tendency to become simply a precious little love story.
Unfortunately, Patricia A. Rector wasn't careful enough.
Chris Korow, playing the hapless Peter, can't really be
faulted. Although he tried too hard at times, he improved
as the play progressed, and ultimately gave a sensitive
performance as a man who must face the very real possi-
bility that his wife may be lost to him. Don Sandberg was
at times stiff as the Old Man, but he gave off a certain air
of vulnerability and wistfulness which was aided largely
by his small physical stature. This served him especially
well at Peter and Rita's wedding, where his size gave him
the impression of being lost amidst a sea of bodies.
Kathryn A.L. Lambert and Robert N. Bernard dithered
and blustered nicely as Rita's parents.
Rector made a poor choice when she cast Tina Zaremba
as Rita. Zaremba did not seem to be too particularly
involved in the action, especially in her early courtship
scenes with Korow. I wondered where her acceptance of
his marriage proposal came from. There had previously
been no chemistry between the two actors, and although
the lines made it clear that Rita did love Peter, Zaremba's
performance told a different story.
The production was not helped by the inclusion of an
ensemble who did not appear to have a clear idea of what
they were doing there, nor was it aided by the clumsy
scenic transitions. It was distracting to see stagehands
frantically moving scenery onto the stage when the audi-
ence was supposed to be listening to Peter. Additionally,
any scene that was played stage left was blocked by a park
bench that wasplaced in front of it.
In fact, Rector did not seem to know how to use the
stage. Rarely was the action played in the center, or even
downstage. This only cut off the audience from the story.
Normally, a scene is played upstage when a director fears
that an actor can't carry it. Such directing choices compel
me to wonder just how much faith she had in her cast.
This could have been a good production; most of the
actors were at least competent, and they had a terrific
script. But with a miscast female lead and a weak director,
there was nothing for "Prelude to a Kiss" to do but fail.
PRELUDE TO A KISS is playing at Ann Arbor Civic
Theatre ( 2275 Platt Road) through February 12 at 8
p.m. Thursdays-Saturdays. Tickets are $8 (2-for-1
Thursdays). Call 971-AA CT.
Bela Fleck plays to the crowd at Hill Auditorium in Saturday's 17th Annual Ann Arbor Folk Festival.
Toreadors of Love
Bubblegum grunge, it is being
called: music, played by the likes of
West Kissers in the World and Hazel,
which is a bit too harsh to be labelled
pop but likewise not rough enough to
fall into the grunge category. Hazel's
debut, "Toreadors of Love," reaches
for that happy medium between
grunge and pop and falls short. In-
stead of intelligently mixing the two
genres, the band merely strips grunge
of its potential energy while neglect-
ng to add any catchy riffs or memo-
able choruses. Peter Krebs' singing
is far from special and the occasional
vocal contribution from drummer
Jody Bleyle, while adding much to
the song, only underscores the weak-
ness of the remainder of the album.
Song titles like "Big Fatty" and "Joe
Louis Punch Out" and "Constipation"
point to adesire on Hazel's part to use
a sense of humor to push its songs
*cross, but the songs themselves are
even less humorous and original that
the titles and subject matter. One or
two tunes, such as "Everyone's Best
Friend" linger longer in the head than
three minutes and show promise; by
and large, though, "Toreadors of
Love" is a thoroughly forgettable re-
- Dirk Schulze
Most cities have pretty good local
bands. In all likelihood, Swivelneck
was probably such a band. Like many
high-pitched guitar bands, they have
a certain charm that all too often goes
hand in hand with having little inno-
vation in their sound. Not that that's
any different from the sounds of doz-
ens of other bands which will un-
doubtedly surpass the fame of
Swivelneck. Oh, well, too bad for
them, or good for them if you see
fame as undermining the pure artist.
But the lack of innovation is fine
sounding. Sometimes it sounds as if it
is harpsichord music played through
a radiator, bringing almost
"Eraserhead" strains to the album.
The instrumentals which pepper the
album also sound fairly good. The
vocals, however, are not stable in
their quality. They go from being
horribly strained to beautifully crazy.
It is rare that you can understand what
exactly is being sung, although ever
since "Smells Like Teen Spirit" this
can hardly be seen as criticism. Over-
all, though, the music sounds like
broken punk. Or perhaps fixed-up
punk. It's sorta crazy sounding, but in
a way that isn't all that new.
Eightball and MJG
Comin' Out Hard
Eightball and MJG are two brothas
from the hood who are out to tell it
like it is. However, most of their lyr-
ics take on the atmosphere of "We're
the macs. We're the shit. Now go out
and by our CD." Although 90 percent
of the CD is used as a platform for the
duo to proclaim their greatness (as
titles like "Pimps," "Nigga's Like Us"
and "Pimps in the House" invariably
show), overall the CD deserves its
place in the rap collage. Where that
place should be is highly debatable.
The one real problem with this CD
is basically that once you've heard
one beat, you've heard them all. It
seems that every other cut has the
same background beat. Listening to
this CD can be somewhat frustrating;
it feels like listening to one long song
rather than a wide and varied collec-
tion of music. These guys should have
put a little more work into musical
side of their art. (Let's be honest.
When listening to gangsta rap, many
people can't understand the lyrics.
They just follow the beat. If the beat
doesn't flow then usually nothing else
matters.) In Eightball's and MJG's
case, the beats, what few different
ones they have, do flow, but there is
practically no variety.
Nevertheless, the rapping is solid.
These boyz do have rhymes. If you
have a little mad money and nothing
else to spend it on, then buy. But, it's
nothing to kill for.
- Eugene Bowen
See RECORDS, Page 8
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