Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Going for Baroque

Dear George,

Katja and I have been going to lots of classical music events lately – the symphony, the chamber music series, University opera, etc. I usually find it pleasant and relaxing, but it permeates the very core of Katja’s being. She grew up going to see the Philadelphia Orchestra with her parents and has a sophisticated understanding of classical music. I’m pretty lowbrow by comparison. Growing up in the North Woods, I was mostly exposed to polka music and 1950’s pop hits, supplemented by my parents’ addiction to Louis Armstrong and Dixieland jazz. I still enjoy Louis and Benny Goodman more than Mahler or Mozart, but we go to hear classical music more than anything else. It might be because Katja is the one who buys tickets for things.

Recently our friends June and Ed invited us to a Baroque music concert at a church in Northside. Two musicians played sort of primitive 17th century instruments while a tenor sang in Italian. Everybody clapped excitedly at the end. I’m sure it was of high interest to the music historian, but it sounded sort of clinky and clanky to me. Though there was a reception at the organizer’s home afterwards, I begged Katja to skip it, and we got home early.

I thought that would take care of my culture quota for a while, but then Katja said that there would be a film sponsored by the very same Baroque people at the Art Museum on Thursday evening. The blurb for the film promised the integration of Baroque music with Caravaggio’s paintings. That struck more of a chord with me. I had enough vague familiarity with Caravaggio to know that I’d enjoy his paintings, and having them set to the background of music from the same era sounded promising. We met Ed and June at the museum, along with an intellectual-looking, mostly gray-haired crowd of 50 or so. It was the North American premiere of an Italian film which was titled Voluptas Dolendi: I Gesti del Caravaggio. That should have given me a clue, though I mistakenly thought the film would be about a voluptuous Dolendi. It did feature a fifty-something black-haired dancer in a sort of sack-cloth outfit who flitted back and forth on a dimly lit stage, accompanied by a harpist offscreen playing Baroque music. Every now and then the dancer would stop and give a short speech in Italian, translated by English subtitles which still didn’t make any sense to me. Plus I didn’t see any Caravaggio paintings at all. I started dozing off. The film went on for a remarkably long sixty minutes, all of it consisting of the back-and-forth between the dancer dancing and the dancer talking in Italian while the harpist harped away.

At the end everyone clapped enthusiastically, and I did too. Then the emcee said they were going to have a panel discussion. She invited two other panelists to the stage, one a curator from the art museum and the second a local Baroque harpist. The panelists didn’t seem to have anything to say at the outset, so they just started off by taking questions. The sound system was poor, and I probably grasped about thirty percent of what was said. I wanted to sneak out, but we were locked into our second-row seats. One audience member asked the art curator what the film had to do with Caravaggio’s paintings, and he shrugged his shoulders and said he didn’t know. The harpist had brought her new baroque harp up on the stage, so people started asking questions about it. After a short while nobody ever mentioned the film or Caravaggio again and all the talk was about the new harp, e.g., where it was made, when, etc. As we were walking out I told Katja that perhaps I’d dozed off too much, but I never saw any paintings by Caravaggio. She said there weren’t any paintings. She said that the dancer was doing a choreographic interpretation of the paintings. The filmmakers took for granted that the audience would be visualizing Caravaggio’s paintings while she interpreted them through her dance. After a short pause I said that this was the worst event that I had ever been to in my life. Then I said in a grim voice that from now on I was going to pick all the events for us to attend. Then I said it was the last time I would ever come to any more Baroque events. I said that twice. Katja said she enjoyed the film somewhat, but that she wouldn’t care to see it again. We didn’t say anything else all the way home.



G-Mail Comments

-Vicki L (6-23): My brother! I'm so proud of you for being such a good sport…. You're a generous soul .... and get to have all sorts of experiences to boot. Good for you. (And for Katja). Love, Sis

-Ann B (6-22): I finally got on your blog today and had great fun looking at the pictures and reading your entries. If you had your fill of classical music you could have come up here and enjoyed the Porterfield Country Festival. Have you ever gone to a Drum and Bugle Corp show. Try goggle DCI. John and I really enjoy catching some of the top corps at the end of the summer. Their shows are amazing…. Take care, Ann

-JML (6-21): Indeed that sounds like an awful night. Nothing worse than having to pretend to be interested. Rule of thumb: never sit in the second row when you know it's going to be boring.

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