Wednesday, March 04, 2009
High School Musical
I went with my son last night to his Gymnasium's production of Die Dreigroschenoper. Popular musical theatre is not my thing, but this was an altogether happy affair: staged in exactly the right spirit, viewed in good company, and though Brecht's reworking of Gay's Beggar's Opera remains borderline Machwerk as a play, with some serious drags here and there, once again I had an opportunity to renew my attachment to Weill's songs in their original orchestration. Too many years ago, I played celesta and harmonium and a bit of percussion in a college production, so I have some hands-on experience with the piece, which is a blast to play in as an instrumentalist. The scoring, originally for seven players doing an astonishing amount of doubling, is mostly carried by the piano or harmonium, but lines are strategically assigned to winds, especially saxophones, which gives some of the most lyrical bits a raw surface, making the whole, in turns, rough and — surprisingly — tender, flavored with choice moments for celesta, cello, bandoneon, banjo, or Hawai'ian guitar, and the right amount of percussion: a ponderous timpani in the parody overture and otherwise, just punctuation, with a woodblock and a small cymbal, here, or a tom-tom, there. This is robust music which the band of students, with a couple of faculty ringers, handled just fine, but it can also provides interesting stylistic challenges to the best players (no less a band than Ensemble Modern has a standing gig accompanying the local professional production, and their attention to details of historical performance practice is remarkable).