A Celebration of Harold Pinter; Santa Fe Pro Musica Orchestra
Today the professional speaking circuit comes up mostly in reference to politicians who address corporate gatherings for exorbitant fees. In the 19th and early 20th centuries, however, it represented a thriving industry that drew audiences to lyceums and chautauquas throughout the land to hear authors, actors, explorers, and specialists in all manner of social issues deliver lectures designed to inspire and entertain. One sensed a glimmer of that once-revered medium in A Celebration
of Harold Pinter, an evening-long presentation by actor Julian Sands. Directed by John Malkovich, the show was introduced in 2011 at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe and went on to acclaimed runs in New York and beyond. Presented by Performance Santa Fe in the relatively intimate Scottish Rite Center, which was packed to the gills, it mixed aspects of memoir, biography, recitation, and pleasantry, and it achieved just what Mr. Sands’ lecturing forebears strove for: It informed, uplifted, amused, and touched the heart.
Sands, perhaps most enduringly remembered for his role in the Merchant-Ivory film A Room with a
View, had this project thrust upon him, you might say. In 2005, the year Pinter received the Nobel Prize in Literature, the author, suffering from esophageal cancer, asked Sands to serve as a stand-in at a reading he was scheduled to give. This led to extended firsthand coaching on how to deliver Pinter’s writings in poetry and prose, which are far less familiar than his oft-programmed plays like The Birthday Party,
The Caretaker ,or The Homecoming. Friendships grew with Pinter, his wife-then-widow Antonia Fraser (noted author of fiction and nonfiction), and their circle. Sands mostly serves as the genial, selfeffacing narrator, but at times he assumes Pinter’s persona, blustering forth in egotistic outbursts. This free-flowing show wafts between quotation and commentary, and the demarcation between those stances is sometimes left intentionally hazy.
The evening was dense with Pinter’s poems, which would not be well known to many of us. Most of those that Sands presented were tight and to the point. Their language tended not to be fancy; as in his plays, Pinter’s poems revel in the power of common speech. To his unending credit, Sands avoided the sanctifying accents and sluggish tempos that characteristically infect poetry readings.
Sands’ veneration was unmistakable, although he did not shrink from also revealing a Pinter who could be hard to countenance. A formal biography would convey a more complete account, but Sands’ selective accounting of Pinter’s character and his non-theatrical writings was enriching and will surely have inspired many attendees to deepen their acquaintance with this imposing author.
Santa Fe Pro Musica Orchestra rolled back into action this past weekend at the Lensic Performing Arts Center, with Thomas O’Connor conducting. It’s back-to-school time, and it sounded as if the strings had experienced some slippage during the summer, with violins in particular adding unaccustomed raggedness in attacks, releases, and intonation. The transparent textures of Haydn’s Oxford Symphony, which opened the program, afforded nowhere to hide such shortcomings, but at least the winds delivered generously, most winningly when they took over the proceedings near the end of the slow movement. The third movement was also a delight, with O’Connor selecting a buoyant tempo at one beat per bar — a minuet as jolly as it was fleet-footed.
Chris Cerrone’s High Windows, from 2013, drew joint inspiration from the windows of a Brooklyn church and a Philip Larkin poem, which O’Connor read as part of his extended spoken introduction. The piece, scored for string orchestra with a contrasting “solo” string quintet, is minimalist in materials yet not stingy in its treatment of them. The figure of a crescendo growing into an accent — rather like a normal attack and sustained die-off, recorded and played in reverse — takes on thematic value and recurs obsessively in the piece. Low strings often strike a mournful pose, their modal turns of melody suggesting loneliness. Harmonics often glisten high above. The piece might well be adopted as a somber soundtrack for a very serious movie.
Anne-Marie McDermott is a familiar Pro Musica visitor, having traveled here to perform Beethoven’s complete piano concertos over the past two seasons. Now she turned her attention to Mozart’s D-minor Piano Concerto (K.466), the high point of the concert. She viewed it (not unreasonably) as quite Beethovenian in its spirit, even beyond her choice to use Beethoven’s cadenzas for the first and third movements. (Mozart failed to provide any.) This was a hard-driving interpretation, riding relentlessly into threatening, dangerous territory. The second movement offered some relief, though less than one might have expected, and the third was as fast a gallop as I have ever heard in this music. McDermott, a dynamic performer, brought needle-sharp attack to its contours and responded to the audience’s enthusiasm by playing the Bourrées from Bach’s English Suite No. 2, again with compelling energy.