Pasa Re­views

A Cel­e­bra­tion of Harold Pin­ter; Santa Fe Pro Musica Or­ches­tra

Pasatiempo - - ON THE COVER - — James M. Keller Santa Fe Pro Musica Or­ches­tra Len­sic Per­form­ing Arts Cen­ter, Sept. 22

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.

Ju­lian Sands

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