Jan 26, 2011

All Weill All the Time

I don't think I'm objective about this--heck, I know I'm not, I've been living with this man's music for the better part of my life--but I have to say that as odd and lumpy as Max Anderson's intermittenly charming book proves to be, the chance to hear Knickerbocker Holiday brought to life in toto last night at Alice Tully was a personal landmark for me. Not long after the early love duet "It Never Was You" began, and Ben Davis' baritone started to swim in a swirling orchestral accompaniment, I was transported, and by the time the priceless Kelli O'Hara chimed in, I was somewhere in the stratosphere (is this what "over the moon" means?). I think the last time I was as transported by a song performed live, it was "J'attends un navire," also by Mr. Weill, sung by the operatic mezzo Stephanie Vlahos about a foot from my ear at the Gardenia in L.A. about 15 years ago. The rest of the evening, including Victor Garber's well-turned rendition of "September Song" and the on-point performance of Bryce Pinkham, was a joy, though, as my companion pointed out, the star of the evening was Weill's orchestration (he famously did them all himself), performed to the letter under the baton of James Bagwell. Weill's overstuffed, operetta-ish score, heavy on the chorus (hence the participation of the Collegiate Chorale), gave Bagwell's band a lot of chances to shine, and gleam they did. (My colleague Matthew Murray liked the score, too, though unsurprisingly he especially appreciated Anderson's muted anti-FDR message, while Andy Propst was less impressed.)

So, for what it's worth, there's one more performance tonight, and the show's being recorded, which will give the world its first recording of the whole score. This may all be white noise for non-Weillheads, but as I said, I can't pretend to be objective about a body of work that feels practically like a member of my family. As such, this Knickerbocker concert--and next week's Lost in the Stars, no doubt--felt like a reunion party.

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