“After the Dark Times,” by Bertolt Brecht, playwright and colleague of Kurt Weill

After the Dark Times
Will there still be singing?
Yes, there will be singing
About the dark times.

(Recited by Maestro Andrew Litton before a Dallas Symphony concert presented on September 13.)

Kurt Weill was on the receiving end of a weeklong salute at Meredith College that ended September 14 with the second of two concerts devoted to songs and a few duets from his numerous stage works. It was, in some respects, the sort of tribute that ought to have been mounted a year ago, for he was born March 2, 1900, and died April 3, 1950. The composer was recognized here, more or less, in that anniversary year, but the NC Symphony’s reading of excerpts from Die Dreigroschenoper was marred by technical problems in the hall and Music Director Gerhardt Zimmermann’s inexplicable omission of the finale of the Suite. It was therefore good that Meredith saw fit to present programs that divulged a bit of the rich output of what more than one writer has called “The Two Weills.” As guest lecturer Susan Borwick explained during her pre-concert lecture, augmented by slides and a brief snippet of a recording of Lotte Lenya (Weill’s sometime spouse, perhaps best known to younger Americans for her role in a James Bond flick), there exist two major periods in Weill’s life–German and American phases, split by a period of stressful migration brought on by Kristallnacht. Ironically, the first of the two public events, given as scheduled on September 13, came a mere 60 hours after terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon (and, lest we forget, the crash of a plane in Pennsylvania that was doubtless intended for a target more significant than a farmer’s field), so Borwick’s theme, hastily modified, spoke in part of the importance of art, particularly in times of national crisis. Dennis Rogers’s September 15 N&O comments notwithstanding, music matters, and we commend Meredith and other area presenters for going ahead with their presentations–presentations that have provided diversion, comfort and solace to many of our citizens.

In this light, it seems almost unpatriotic to complain that the two Meredith concerts left much to be desired and reflect poorly on the professionalism of their coordinators and directors. For openers, the programs themselves consisted of bits and pieces drawn, with only a handful of exceptions, from various stage works. The exceptions heard on the first night were “Berlin im Licht” and “Zu Potsdam unter den Eichen” (from the Berliner Requiem ), “Es regnet,” the text of which may be by Cocteau, and “Wie lange noch?” (1943), which postdated Weill’s exodus from Germany. Otherwise, the selections from the composer’s early years came from Happy End (1929), 3PO (the aforementioned Dreigroschenoper, 1928) and Der Silbersee (1933). These were delivered in passable German by a passel of student singers, all of whom had memorized their contributions. They were however often done in by pianist Patricia Martin’s heavy accompaniments, rendered on a piano that might well have been a refugee from Berlin’s cabaret scene, and by some positively bizarre staging that too often had the young vocalists trying to put across their numbers from the middle or the back of the stage. There were furthermore no specific spoken introductions, and the program contained no texts, translations, or dates. There was absolutely no sense of dramatic continuity in the presentation. This was a parade of sometimes pleasant tunes, rendered by mostly young and inexperienced singers (augmented by Tom Hawkins, the week’s token male), that can have meant little, musically or theatrically, to the distressingly small English-speaking audience that, still reeling from events earlier in the week, turned out for what, under other circumstances, might have been a deeply moving musical experience. If that weren’t enough, among the crowd were several disruptive souls – flash photographers and a person with a video camera that carried on as if it were a cell-phone-wannabe. The poor planning extended to the unexciting lecture, which consumed around fifty minutes, and the distressingly short program, which lasted less than forty.

For reasons not yet clear, this writer returned the following evening for the American group. It was somewhat better. There was no lecture, the piano had been tuned, and the works were sung in sometimes-comprehensible English. Neither camera bugs, cell phones, pagers nor digital watches intruded. The staging once more made it difficult for the singers to project, and some didn’t, very well. There were, again, bits and pieces, in this instance, from six stage works, chopped up and presented in what appeared to be random order. The organizers missed some golden opportunities. Meredith is in North Carolina and North Carolina was the home of Paul Green, but there was no sign of Johnny Johnson, on which Green and Weill collaborated. Down in the Valley, the composer’s only “college” opera, recently staged here by Long Leaf Opera, was likewise omitted. The numbers that were given came from Love Life (1947), One Touch of Venus (1943), Street Scene (1946), Lady in the Dark (1940), the film score Where Do We Go from Here? (1943-4), and Lost in the Stars (1949). “Buddy on the Nightshift,” a 1942 propaganda song, launched this second recital of Meredith’s Weill week. A song from A Kingdom for a Cow (1934-5) predates Weill’s arrival in America and was thus outside the nominal scope of the program. The crowd, substantially larger than the night before, seemed to enjoy the presentations, which ranged from barely passable to quite good. The program was again inadequate; there wasn’t a word about the performers, aside from the Michigan-based guest keyboardist and director/baritone Dirk Weiler, whose bio suggests that he ought to have some knowledge of Weill. His expertise was not particularly evident on either night. No one from Meredith’s faculty or staff was cited in either program.

One reason for the poor turnout may relate to last-minute publicity. This six-day event began on September 9 at 7:00 p.m. with introductory remarks by Martin and Weiler, but CVNC didn’t receive the formal announcement of the schedule until the evening of the 7th, too late to fold it into our online calendar and much too late for the weekly a&e rags. There’s lots of blame to go ’round. We must do better or nor bother. Weill still awaits a proper anniversary tribute here.