Friday, April 18, 2014

Hear Martha Guth Sing Simple Songs Friday or Saturday at the Frauenthal. She Sang the Subversive Ones at the Block Wednesday.

Scott Speck's presence in Muskegon could be described as a gift of modernity. He has leading roles with the Joffrey Ballet, the Mobile Symphony and the Chicago Philharmonic. We might lose him if Muskegon ever drops jet service to Chicago. Over the years, he has gathered a team of musicians who seem to be constantly up in the air more than George Clooney as corporate "downsizer" Ryan Bingham. And once on the team, there's no getting out. Martha Guth came to his attention during his extensive search for a soprano to sing Carmina Burana by Carl Orff. He was conducting in Hawaii at the time. Speck has a defined aesthetic, and it often sounds knife sharp when he expresses it. To say it simply, if a soprano has a voice that can shatter a Reidel red wine stem, skip applying for a stint with Scott Speck. It was fun to have Scott himself introduce Guth. He has plans for her. The West Michigan Symphony will present Carmina Burana with Guth as soloist in November.
 
If Speck shows up, expect at minimum a look at the master plan if not two tablets from on high.
 
Be happy. Your fortune holds a magnificent performance of "O, Fortuna!" And at Rita's prices, no matter how bad your situation this fall, you'll at least have a seat in the balcony for twenty bucks. .
 
Wednesday has to be the most impossible day to hold a concert, even of the finest talent. Thus, when I learned that the Guth concert was free, I shared evangelically. I held dozens of conversations that taught me how busy were my friends on a Wednesday with a three day, holy, holiday weekend. I can't imagine Speck allowing a member of Team Scott to sing to an empty house, and Rita reported that around seventy people picked up the offer.
 
It seems that Chee-Yun and Teri Hansen could be described as members of Team Scott, too.
 
There's something benevolent and yet subversive about Speck, and this is to be expected for a man who has undergone all the initiations of the musical establishment. To see this, pitch a question at any one of the open forums he favors with his presence. Pick the subject of political uses of music. Speck will answer politely, quote Plato and move onward. Quoting Plato on this subject is the musicological equivalent of pleading the Fifth. 

There's a saying attributed to Freud and it might work here. "The best of what you know, you do not tell to boys". If I were answering the question myself, I would hand the questioner a copy of Walter Kaufman's Basic Writings of Nietzsche, say, "Oh Man, Take Care" and leave the podium. It takes years of training to handle weapons grade plutonium and why should music be an exception when talking munitions?
 
Remember, I said benevolent subversion. On the same night I heard Martha Guth, I also attended Karaoke at Hennessy's and I dare say that Japanese import could use a little influence, if not outright subversion. At least, if karaoke has to be ubiquitous in Muskegon, let it be sung as well as Karaoke in Los Angeles or Nashville, where everything is an audition. 

Speck has founded two orchestras. He builds musical establishments the way Archbishops build cathedrals. During his TedXMuskegon talk in 2011, he put it on the line. The West Michigan Symphony will equal the Berlin Philharmonic, where he sang in the chorus. 

If this is subversion, raising one set of values over another in a sudden way, I'll drink to that. This attitude is not unique in the Russell Block, the MI5 of West Michigan classical music. Beth Slimko, who leads the children's choir, studied at the Zoltan Kodaly Pedagogical Institute in Hungary. She's committed to having El Sistema in the Zoltan Kodaly style in place through out the West Michigan shore, all roads leading to Muskegon. Children ascending  the stairs of The Block all days of the week. As she reminded an audience last year, Budapest has countless symphonies and orchaestras. And Muskegon's fine music organizations are on the rise.
 
If you know Muskegon's past, one realizes this is more a recovery than a first blooming.
 
If you have stayed with me, thank you. Martha Guth led with Duparc's L'Invitation Au Voyage by Charles Baudelaire. Subversion from the very start because not only was Charles the French Bukowski, he is known to us as the author of "The Flowers of Evil". Baudelaire had all kinds of spicy quotations, including,"The devil's finest trick is to persuade you that he does not exist." This was no invitation to the dance but an invitation to an evening with poets. And Guth is privy to all the poet's tricks, and she took time to carefully explain them.
 
Pierre Lou├┐s of Paris wanted to shock the bourgeoisie with sensual verse he had written. So he attributed them to an Greek courtesan and poet named Bilitis, a woman poet as powerful as Sappho. And they did shock. And Debussy played right along and put them to music. Ah, but did one know that taking ones words and putting them in the mouth of an imaginary character is a technique straight out of the hypnotism of Milton H. Erickson? By the way, one of the merry makers at West Michigan Symphony decided to print these lyrics so we could be shocked by the frankness of Pan's Flute and The Locks, two of the chansons of Bilitis. 

There is no wonder why I had to keep shaking my head during Guth's songs to snap myself out of trance. The songs had gained a direct access to my subconscious, arranging the house. It is written that the same phenomenon occurs in mythical encounters with Archangels. 

In the end, I found myself watching her expressive hands to keep connected to reality. This is a praise. Later, we heard the songs of Mignon, which are the verses of Goethe thrown into the mouth of a waif named Mignon, a character from the Wilhelm Meister's Apprenticeship.
 
Not only did Guth sing Mignon's poetry as interpreted by three composers, Schumann, Schubert and Wolf, she totally psychoanalyzed Mignon for us. Where Mignon asked us, "Do you know this land", she was asking "Do you know me". Alas, unlike most Block performers, Martha Guth engaged in only a little self-disclosure. Tonight, we learn more as we hear her sing Simple Songs.
 
 

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