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Concert focuses on music, life of Weill


Music review


Concert focuses on music, life of Weill**

Baldwin Auditorium audiences that did not see the basketball team devour Marquette got a taste of German composer Kurt Weill instead.

The 1993-94 Julia Wilkinson Mueller Concert Series presented "Berlin to Broadway: An Evening with Kurt Weill" to a group of about 50 people Thursday night. Although there were a number of unfilled seats, the warm lighting and simple sets made the auditorium seem like an intimate living room. Bryan Gilliam, associate professor of music, told the history behind each portion of the program.

Weill began his career in Berlin during the early 1920s when experimentation in music was encouraged. Weill was also influenced by popular music, the growth of jazz and the music of the remote past. Gilliam also spoke of Weill's preoccupation with stage music and his theory that the stage was for drama. The orchestra was not merely supposed to ape the events on stage.

The program was divided into three sections. The first and last portions were vocal selections performed by Trinity senior Emily Kelly, soprano; Trinity junior Natalie Stroud, mezzo-soprano; and music graduate student Ian Gallagher, baritone. All the vocalists were accompanied by pianist Penka Kouneva, also a music graduate student.

Unfortunately, the first part of the program titled "The Berlin Years" got off to a rocky start as the singers' voices did not seem warmed up enough. Stroud was hoarse, and her words were unintelligible. Kelly was more articulate, but because of that, the balance in their duet "Alabama Song" was thrown off. "Complainte de la Seine" was more dramatic in that Gallagher's voice was richer. Also, he was allowed to enact the French lyrics at a cafe table covered with a pink-checkered tablecloth and wine glasses.

The third section titled, "The Broadway Years" marked Weill's exile from Berlin, dissatisfaction with music and politics in Paris and his emigration to America. This Jewish composer went to New York City in 1935 and found a new opportunity--Broadway. In spite of the criticism Weill received from Europeans for his departure to the States, Weill embraced his new country, "[seeking] to build a bridge between the stage and the audience," Gilliam said.

The Broadway numbers got increasingly better. Stroud, who struggled in the beginning, was finally able to connect with the audience and share her impatience with Johnny in "Surbaya Johnny." Although her voice was often trampled on by a louder piano, by the end, she effectively pounded out, "Take that darn pipe out of your mouth, you rat." Stroud came back later and flawlessly sang the beautiful, "My Ship" and clearly conveyed Ira Gershwin's lyrics.

Gallagher, too, improved towards the end. In "September Song" from Weill's most famous musical "Knickerbocker Holiday" he spit out each word, one by one. The exaggerated crescendo and rapid decrescendo made it seem as if someone was turning the volume on and off. He ended the night on a melancholy but lyrical note with "It Never Was You."

Whereas Stroud and Gallagher improved throughout the evening, Kelly's voice diminished, thinning on the high notes. Her brief presentation of "Trouble Man" was forgettable.

Sandwiched in the middle of the vocal performances was The Threepenny Players, who consisted of the Duke Wind Symphony Chamber Ensemble, Mark Kuss at the piano, Alexander Silbiger with the accordion and Bill Evans on the banjo. This group exhibited the many styles that Weill incorporated into his own with the "Suite for Wind Orchestra from the `Threepenny Opera."' One example of this was an allusion to Johann Sebastian Bach, where members of the orchestra played separate Bach-like snipets that were meshed together sounding like one big baroque collage.

Though all was not perfect, it was an educational and relaxing evening.


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