The evening of Saturday, Sept. 23 was a momentous occasion for the College as the 18 member self-conducted orchestra A Far Cry opened the onStage series in Palmer Auditorium. The concert opened with Johann Sebastian Bach’s Brandenburg Concerto No. 3 played by a smaller complement of the orchestra, reflecting Bach’s original scoring. The players performed the piece beautifully and breathed new life into this well-worn classic. It served as an excellent prelude to the rest of the concert, which continued with Philip Glass’ Symphony No. 3 for chamber orchestra. This piece highlighted the individuality that a self-conducted orchestra can enable in its players with each of the sections easily audible throughout the piece; the third movement was machine-like in its quiet but fervent intensity with each section of the orchestra distinctly expressing the role required of it. Both pieces in this first half of the concert were very well received by the audience, and at the end of both applause continued even after the performers had left the stage.
Following the intermission, A Far Cry returned to the stage with pianist Simone Dinnerstein, who is recognized internationally for her 2007 recording of Bach’s Goldberg Variations, for two piano concertos by Bach and Glass. In this portion of the concert the orchestra’s violins were positioned in a pre-1920s antiphonal arrangement with first violins on the front the left side of the stage and second violins on the right, rather than the more common modern arrangement of first and second positioned together on the left side. The antiphonal arrangement created a wonderful stereo effect for the violin parts of both pieces.
Dinnerstein was positioned facing away from the audience and toward the orchestra; the same position that a pianist doubling as both soloist and conductor would use. However, it was very clear throughout this half of the concert that she was acting more as collaborator than leader of the orchestra as one could see that she was constantly looking towards the various sections that were performing with her. Once again the Bach Concerto for Keyboard and Strings, BWV 1058 served as excellent preparation for the Glass piece that followed. Dinnerstein performed it on a college Steinway.
The concert ended with the highlight of the evening, Glass’ Piano Concerto No. 3, which was written specifically for Dinnerstein. The concerto had been premiered only the previous evening at Jordan Hall in Boston by Dinnerstein and A Far Cry, so the college was treated to the excitement of hearing its second public performance. Interestingly this is the first non-programmatic concerto by Glass as his first two were written on the themes of the Tirol and Lewis and Clark respectively. To set up some context for the piece, in her address to the audience at the beginning of the concert Miki-Sophia Cloud, who served as concertmaster for this piece, noted her amazement at how despite past and present turmoil, almost three centuries after Bach crafted his concertos on the program Glass continues the compositional tradition with similar practices.
The concerto opened with a solo for Dinnerstein, which she played very well. As the piece continued this opening solo would be played and altered by various sections of the orchestra as the aural prominence of soloist and accompanist seemed to switch between pianist and orchestra. Each movement seemed to carry on directly from where the last one ended, and given the program’s lack of information about individual movements for any of the pieces, the breaks between movements felt more like musical pauses in this concerto. Dinnerstein displayed particular virtuosity at the end of the piece when a repetitive melody in the lowest octaves of the piano required her to cross hands many times in the final minutes.
Perhaps the most unexpected event of the evening was the acoustic success provided by the music shell set up in Palmer Auditorium. Most presentations in Palmer use amplification, so it seems surprising that sound carries so well in the auditorium (although I seem to remember Abigail Washburn complimenting the space two years ago when she was here). Overall, A Far Cry and Dinnerstein’s appearance has certainly been a highlight of recent arts programming here at Conn. I certainly look forward to seeing more phenomenal artists with the OnStage series.
Also on view earlier that weekend was Wig & Candle’s premiere production of Trudeau, a one-act comedy about a family that decides to walk to Canada. The play was written by Trevor Bates ’18 and directed by Misao McGregor ’18. It depicted a country that many would compare to our own, ruled by a dictatorial president who is fond of making addresses on TV that often rhyme. This part was voiced by Carson Bloomquist ’18 and portrayed by shining a flashlight on a sock puppet. At one point the president goes so far as to declare war on all countries except our own, and promises to send anyone attempting to flee the country to the front lines, which certainly worries our by then confused and exhausted family.
Particularly notable members of the evening’s cast included Sarah Sugg ’21 who portrayed Bella, a 21 year-old single mother worried about her and her daughter’s future. Sugg portrayed the complex emotions and motives of this character excellently. Kayle Waterhouse ’20 showed her versatility in the roles of Mary-Beth, a waitress and CIA agent who becomes a love interest of one of the family members, Ollie, one of the characters assisting the family’s escape to Canada who later has to awkwardly explain why he was spying on them, and an uncredited role as the new president who restores order to the nation. In all of these roles Waterhouse brought a grace and kindness that made one understand the family’s trust in her despite her obvious untrustworthiness.
Catherine Healey ’18 gave a wonderful portrayal of Denise, a woman whose behavior indicates confusion and anxiousness about her place in her family and community. She is the one who sets the family’s Canada trip in motion despite her obliviousness to the obvious challenges created by their fleeing to the wilderness. Charlie Gold ’18 shone in the role of Lil’ Sue, Bella’s infant daughter who, in the tradition of Family Guy’s Stewie Griffin, is constantly voicing her views on the actions around her to the obliviousness of the others around her but to the delight of the audience at one point stating the obvious message about the play: “It’s an allegory for Trump.” He also provided an excellent performance as Maxine, a 7-Eleven attendant who gets caught up in the family’s misadventures.
Overall the production of Trudeau proved itself a worthwhile endeavor for Wig & Candle. My main criticism of the show was that the beginning did not make clear why the characters decided to walk to Canada as they left before we even saw Bloomquist’s first monologue as the president. In fact most of the scenes in the play didn’t seem to touch directly on politics. The piece’s effectiveness seems to hinge on having an excessively authoritarian occupant of the Oval Office. In terms of production Jack Beal ’18 created an intricate and incredibly effective sound design that set up each scene very well without being too obtrusive. Costume designer Brittany Krasner ’19 dressed the performers excellently in ways that really reflected their personalities.