Ensemble le Poème Harmonique at Times Square

Monday, February 21, 2011

[December 2015: This sounds like I was .... 


Piangi del Cielo il torto, piangi Regina, ohimè, Gustavo è morto."  
Sciolser cento Donzelle i biondi crini in un diluvio d'óro ... 
Dunque l'invitto regnator dell Orsesotto il ferro di morte il capo inchina.

Walking back uptown afterwards, I was overwhelmed by the effect of M. Dumestre's performance at St. Mary's. It was stunning and very disorienting. le Poème Harmonique's approach to this 17th century southern music (always intense and passionate even when most somber) was aggressively, radically intelligent : the penultimately dramatic note is delivered stepping into dark shadow, muted; the measure is infinitely flexible, like an intimate conversation; the format of any piece doesn't necessarily end, like real life.

It felt like discovering you're conversing with a stranger who -- suddenly and accidentally -- reveals enormous facile intelligence.

 .... the distinctions between playfulness, practice and performance disappear and interpreters are real players.
And consequently the docile and timid New York audience of maniacal conformists nervously following their programs with mini-flashlights. Can't New Yorkers ever behave themselves?

Tartaglia dégoûté

And this house was only two thirds full ! 
A few months ago Gideon Kremer and his all-blonde-girl-orchestra filled Manhattan's Alice Tully Hall for a program of banal cinema-music, smothered in saccharine pathos. Victoria Secrets Kremerata?

Top of the Russian Tea Room & Carnegie Hall (my childhood) disappearing.

Suivons le génie!
Thank God M. Dumestre is cool enough to help us!
Thank God for Paris and the French!

As we exited St. Mary's, we turned to the right and—literally—flinched at the monstrous wall of light. Dense crowds of tourists from anywhere and everywhere, but dressed exactly the same, deliberately like tacky American proletarians (the dream caste of the Spectacle's anesthesia). Three street-hawkers on the same corner holler: “Comedy club! Comedy club!” “Dancers inside.” “Comedy! Comedy!”
And all these dazed hamsters wander over the sidewalks like zombies.

My life at Times Square.

When I was a small child I remember going to stagedoors of legit theatres with my father to pick up my mother after performances. I vividly remember the crowded ranks of female prostitutes just off the corners, all strangely (to me then) dressed as if they were at a cocktail party (fur stoles, heavy carnival-like eye-makeup and very small hats were the fashion in the early '60s). I remember the larger-than-life cardboard manequins of semi-clad, sequined Amazons in front of ubiquitous burlesque houses and the promiscuous physical aggression and violence casually directed at all women and young boys in the street there. This was banal to me by the time I became a child actor in this neighborhood. I spent later teenage summers working at the International Theatre Institute next to the Anta Theatre during that brief flush of creativity in the late '60s when the neighborhoods incessant call-to-prayer was “Nickel bag?” or “Live sex show! 24 hours!”

But Time Square's famous decline was “Real.” After graduate school, I worked at a Broadway advertising agency in the artdeco Paramount building, walking the daily listing copy around the corner to the New York Times: Teenage runaway junkies dead or dying in every doorway, aggressive pimps and pushers owned these streets in this pre-AIDS heyday of the pre-corporatized porn industry and the proliferation of every possible vice. It wasn't shocking, just raw.
That's the Vietnamese war!

Then came the New World Order's “Chorus Line,” “Sweeney Todd,” Thatcher/Reagan, the gigantic new corporate theatres buried inside the oppressive architecture of the hyper-bunker hotels and the vast luminous walls of artificial life. This was the famous “Disney”-fication of midtown Manhattan, the evacuation of the life and soul of the city, which completely took a zouave in the vicious aftermath of the WTC atrocities.

Nevertheless, now, we can have all of Le Poeme Harmonique's recordings (whether they are available in the US or not), the scores of their music, be-friend them, know their biographies and more in a matter of days and compare all extant recordings of the same material and even more extensive, comprehensive performance and textual histories. We can keep it all on our cellphones.   Despite all the oppressive ambient idiocy and the "bad guys" who facilitate it, now we can be as intelligent and clever as we want to be (only our own personalities hinder us). 

After hearing Vincent Dumestre and Claire Lefilliatre this first time, perform half-a-block from the “Great White Way,” it occurred to me : 

There is nothing of importance standing in our way !