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"A Musical Feast" was the theme of the final concert of the Carolina Summer Music Festival held in the lovely James A. Gray Auditorium inside the Old Salem Visitor Center. An enthusiastic audience of musical gourmands was treated to a menu full of surprises carried out by some of the most talented musicians based throughout the Triad. They pulled out all the stops for a delightful musical romp that ranged from jazz to satire.
Czech composer Bohuslav Martinů (1890-1959) had his first popular success with a witty curtain-raiser original called the Temptation of the Saintly Pot. Renamed La Revue de Cuisine, the music accompanied dancers who mimed the troubled kitchen love story of Pot and Lid beset by worldly Twirling Stick and flirty Dishcloth! This first venture into using the jazz idiom by the composer is best heard in his arrangement of four of the ten movement ballet into a suite using the original sextet instrumentation. The movements are Prologue, Tango, Charleston, and Final. The hepcats who played were clarinetist Oskar Espina Ruiz, bassoonist Saxton Rose, trumpeter Judith Saxton, violinist Jacqui Carrasco, cellist Alexander Ezerman, and pianist James Douglass. Each player is given ample opportunity to shine and everyone gave such moments their all. The opening was lively, piquant, and swirling with rhythms. Highlights of the Tango were the throbbing, passionate sound of Ezerman's cello, Saxton's muted trumpet riffs, Rose's hot bassoon solo to name only a few. Catchy rhythms dominated the Charleston while quickly shifting, almost unpredictable time schemes helped evoke the offbeat jazz sound of the 1920s in the Final.
Le Quattro Stagioni dalla Cucina Futurismo (The Four Seasons of Futurist Cuisine) by Aaron Jay Kernis (b. 1960) featured a witty text declaimed by Janine Hawley supported by a piano trio consisting of Douglas on keyboard, Carrasco on violin, and Ezerman on cello. Kernis writes extensively about the piece in program notes to Phoenix CD (JDT-142) recording of the piece. Italian Futurism was "a passionate and highly influential movement in art at the beginning of the (20th) century." F. T. Marinetti's The Futurist Cookbook "marked a definitive moment in the shift from nineteenth century Romanticism to a twentieth century passion for speed and technology." The composer had received the book as a birthday present around the same time Pat Gidwitz and family commissioned Kernis to compose a celebratory work for her husband's birthday. Kernis wanted to compose these settings in the manner he imagined early modernists might have done. The score references "bitonality and early twentieth-century chromaticism, along with parodies of Wagner and Bruckner and snappy romantic popular song alternately mirror and foil the text in an appropriate spirit." The five parts are "Manifesto," "Heroic Winter Dinner," "Springtime Meal of the Word in Liberty," "Nocturnal Love Feast," and "Autumn Musical Dinner."
Mostly subtle miking did little to detract from Janine Hawley's skilled and beautifully timed projection of the text. Her superb diction and considerable acting ability had the audience in stitches. The superb musicians were violinist Carrasco, cellist Ezerman, and pianist Douglas. Among the memorable delights of "Nocturnal Love" were a gorgeous long cello solo and snippets of text such as "moonlight upon the tablecloth" or lovers torn between "the fatigues of the bed or the table."
The last selection was entitled "Surprise Menu!" And it sure was. Accompanist Douglas entered and took his place at the keyboard. After some time, mezzo-soprano Jane Hawley, in character, staggered in from a different door and clung to the Tannenberg (1799/1800) organ as she slurred in perfect French, "Ah, quel diner," the title character's aria from Jacques Offenbach's La Périchole. She made it on stage for a repeat of the hilarious drunken song in English. This was followed by a beautifully accompanied rendition of Franz Schubert's "Die Forelle" (The Trout). Hawley's excellent German was quickly traded in for a heavy Cockney for "Worst Pies in London" from Stephen Sondheim's Sweeney Todd. Hawley said "we'll get to our White Trash roots" next in William Bolcom's inimitable "Lime Jell-O Marshmallow Cottage Cheese Surprise." Hawley, as Emeril Lagasse says, "kicked it up a notch" by using her lower range and imitating the unique sound of Julia Childs! Next Hawley twittered a letter to Amalia's Dear Friend as she sang "Vanilla Ice Cream" from She Loves Me (1963) by Sheldon Harnick (b. 1924). The facility and range of Hawley's voice was astonishing as was her ability to quickly shift vocal gears and placement.
"Happy Birthday" was an encore of sorts joined by all to honor board member John Harrison. Delicious birthday cake and champagne for all capped a splendid evening and a successful season.