years ago, the difficulties a Frenchman encountered
when he tried to put subtitles to an American
film proved to me that the two countries concerned
would never understand each other. "Barkeep,
give me a shot of rot-gut," growled John
Wayne. "Un Courvoisier, s’il vous plaît,
monsieur," was the closest our unfortunate
translator could get.
reminded of that Franco-American and more
broadly Euro-American cultural gulf when the
Philadelphia Orchestra performed Kurt Weill’s
Seven Deadly Sins at its first subscription
concerts of the New Year. There on stage was
the solo vocalist, Ute Lemper, a slim, blond,
stunningly sexy lady in a long, red, slinkily
sexy gown, as Aryan-looking as anyone could
be, exuding Austro-German sophistication at
every pore; and around her, in front of a
sturdily American audience, were gathered
the musicians of the Philadelphia Orchestra,
members of a no less sturdily American cultural
institution, with Aryans considerably in the
minority. It looked just like the Courvoisier/rot-gut
misunderstand me: the Philadelphia Orchestra
men and women (many of whom, in any case,
come of European or Asian forebears) are highly
sophisticated musicians in their own right.
It was just that the earnestly proper picture
they present on stage–its propriety rooted
as much in the symphony orchestra ethos as
in anything specifically American–seems worlds
distant from the cabaret, night-clubby atmosphere
associated with Weill and his collaborator
Bertolt Brecht. I should add too that the
two-cultures effect was indeed highly appropriate
to the scenario of those artists’ "Spectacle
in Nine Scenes,"for it chronicles the
odyssey of two unmistakably Germanic sisters
through seven American cities in quest of
their fortune. So what we saw that evening
in Philadelphia’s Verizon Hall was a neat
visual counterpart to what Brecht and Weill
were telling us about.
performance, moreover, was splendid, on the
part alike of Ms Lemper and her supporting
quartet of male singers, of the orchestra,
and of guest conductor Carlos Kalmar–himself,
piquantly enough, a native of Uruguay who
has made the cross-Atlantic pilgrimage in
the other direction and now lives in Vienna.
I had been eager to hear Mr Kalmar in concert
ever since encountering his impressive collaboration
with Rachel Barton and the Chicago Symphony
Orchestra in a superb recent recording of
the Brahms Violin Concert on the Cedille label.
His work in this program did not disappoint.
He showed himself equally the master of Weill’s
sleazy Berlinesque suggestiveness, the classical
purity of Haydn’s great 98th Symphony, and
the sumptuous Viennese warmth of a suite from
Richard Strauss’s Rosenkavalier, which
was played with winning grace and naturalness.
Now principal conductor of the Grant Park
Music Festival in Chicago, and recently appointed
music director of the Oregon Symphony, Mr
Kalmar is definitely a talent to watch.