Symphony performance a landmark of sorts
Robert Moody will lead the Memphis Symphony Orchestra this weekend for its Masterworks concerts, and it’s somewhat of a milestone: “This is my final time to come with the title ‘guest conductor.’”
It’s not so much the end of an era as a prelude to a new one. The maestro assumes the duties of principal conductor starting next season as MSO music director Mei-ann Chen finishes her tenure here this season.
Moody has been a frequent guest at the podium of the MSO since 2006. He’s looking forward to his permanent duties as maestro next fall, but for now, he’s relishing the two concerts coming up this weekend, which include three standards — Ravel’s “Bolero,” Bernstein’s Symphonic Dances from “West Side Story,” Tchaikovsky’s “Romeo and Juliet” — as well as Bates’ “Desert Transport.”
Mason Bates may not be the most familiar name, but he was recently named composer-inresidence of the Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts and is said to be the second-most-performed living composer in the United States after John Adams. He also has a friendship with Moody that figures into “Desert Transport.”
“It’s one of my commissions,” Moody says. “Mason and I were offered a private helicopter ride across the state of Arizona, and the piece came out of that.” The work starts with the orchestra making the sounds of a helicopter’s blades beginning to turn. You eventually hear it rising up and musically visiting various places. Woven into the piece is a recording of a Pima tribal song that Bates got permission to use, and it gives a mystical element to the composition. Moody premiered the piece in 2011 with the Arizona Music Festival Orchestra.
As it happens, “Bolero” was part of the first concert performed by the MSO at the Cannon Center for the Performing Arts, in part for its popularity and in part to show off the hall’s ability to handle very quiet sounds as well as thunderous blasts. “‘Bolero’ is the pinnacle of pulling out all the stops,” Moody says, “and showcasing the orchestra moving from instrument to instrument with the same theme. Some say it was a bet Ravel took to see if he could do one theme for 16 minutes with the incessant, seductive rhythms of the percussion that never stops. It’s such a good, sultry, sexy piece.”
Bernstein’s Symphonic Dances comprise some of the most important music of the 20th century, Moody says. “He gives us a tone poem, what Richard Strauss did with the ‘Rosenkavalier’ suite. We hear great music and themes we know and are of our culture performed in such a virtuosic way.”
“‘Romeo and Juliet’ is a brilliant overture fantasy that was never fully fleshed out with an opera,” Moody says. “So it’s a tone poem as well, telling a story without words. In my score, I’ve penciled in from beginning to end where I think events from Shakespeare’s story happen, whether the duels or love scenes or marriage or their deaths.”
7:30 p.m. Saturday at The Cannon Center for the Performing Arts, 255 N. Main St., and 2:30 p.m. Sunday at the Germantown Performing Arts Center, 1801 Exeter Road. Tickets for Cannon Center: $15$85, students $5 ; for GPAC: $50, students $5 (GPAC). Info: memphissymphony.org and 901-537-2525.
GETTING UNDER THE SKIN
Voices of the South is presenting the regional premiere of a terrific work by Louisville playwright Diana Grisanti. “River City” takes on themes of race, community and family with vigor and clarity.
The story starts with Mary, a mixed-race newlywed expecting a child with her Latino boyfriend, Javier. Her father has just died, and she’s going over the very few things he left behind, causing her to realize how little she knew of him. This begins a journey to find out more about him, and through some deftly staged time travel, we get a glimpse of his time being raised as an orphan at a Catholic school and the things that shaped his life.
The cast does a superb job of giving the story nuance and force. Phil Darius Wallace is, as always, electrifying to watch. As Mary, Noby Edwards is spot-on as a woman trying to juggle an ambitious husband who wants to move, an impending family and her insatiable need to find out more about her family. Annie Freres is glorious as a shrewd nun and later as Mary’s mother. Director Alice Berry’s assured hand provides a powerful experience in the intimate Theatresouth space.
Through Feb. 28 at Theatresouth, 1000 S. Cooper. Showtimes: 8 p.m. Fridays and Incoming principal conductor Robert Moody leads the Memphis Symphony Orchestra in this weekend’s First Tennessee Masterworks.
Saturdays, 4 p.m. Sundays. Tickets: $17$23. Info: 901-726-0800 and voicesofthesouth.org.
A LIFE OF DISAPPOINTMENT
With “Mothers and Sons,” Theatre Memphis puts another thoughtful work on its Next Stage, where it often takes on serious, well-crafted plays.
This one, by prolific playwright Terrence Mcnally, looks at grief. Katharine, sour on life, shows up at the posh Manhattan apartment of her late son’s former lover, Cal. Katharine’s son died years before of complications from AIDS. Cal grieved and eventually met Will, whom he married. They now live a comfortable life with their young son, but Katharine has arrived without any particular purpose except to vent about gays, loss and frustration.
It’s a character study of a woman who still thinks homosexuality is a choice, who loved her son but hated his lifestyle, who blames everyone for him not having the life he should have experienced . The story doesn’t go much further and ends vaguely with perhaps a hope that all involved might at least see how the others feel.
What’s intriguing is the interplay among characters, with sharp exchanges and verbal wounding that erupt in between the occasional genteel moments. Veteran director Jerry Chipman has an excellent touch here for the nuances of tone and movement. The cast is splendid, with Karen Mason Riss casting Katharine’s bitterness all about the apartment with keen asperity. Greg Alexander is a well-etched Cal, reflective, “Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland”: Presented by Stage Door Productions. Shows at 7 p.m. Friday-saturday, 2:30 p.m. Sunday and 7 p.m. Thursday. Other shows: 7 p.m. Feb. 26-27 and 2:30 p.m. Feb. 28 at The Salvation Army Kroc Center, 800 East Parkway S. All performances are “pay-what-you-can.” 901-7298029. stagedoormemphis.org “Good Boys and True”: At an exclusive prep school, goldenboy senior and captain of the football team Brandon Hardy is Ivy League-bound and has his life plan set. Then, an explicit sex tape is found on campus, which begins a citywide scandal. As events unfold, an equally disturbing possibility emerges — the real reason the tape was leaked in the first place. Shows at 7:30 p.m. Friday-saturday and Thursday. Other shows: 7:30 p.m. Feb. 26-27 and 2 p.m. Feb. 28 in Mccoy Theatre at Rhodes College, 2000 North Parkway. $10 general admission, $7 senior citizens (65+), $2 Rhodes students, $5 all other students (college/high school). 901-843-3839. rhodes.edu Contra-tiempo: Agua Furiosa: Dance performance, 6:30 p.m. Friday at the Orpheum, 203 S. Main. Tickets: $5-$30. Call 901525-3000. orpheum-memphis.com “The Other Place”: Drama. Shows at 8 p.m. Friday-saturday ($35) and 2 p.m. Sunday ($30) at Circuit Playhouse, 51 S. Cooper. Tickets: $22 senior citizens, students, military with ID, $10 ages 17 and under. Advisory: adult language and adult situations. Call 901-726-4656. playhouseonthesquare.org
conflict-averse but determined not to let Katharine run over him. Chase Brother plays his husband, who has less tolerance for their visitor, and Holden Guibao plays the son.
Through Feb. 28 at Theatre Memphis’ Next Stage, 630 Perkins Ext. Showtimes: 7:30 p.m. Thursdays, 8 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays, 2 p.m. Sundays. Tickets: $25; $15 students. Info: 901-682-8323 and theatrememphis.org.
Cameron Yates (from left), Phil Darius Wallace and Annie Freres in “River City,” presented by Voices of the South.