The music of Beethoven filled Slee Hall Saturday night, while country star Brad Paisley warmed an audience Sunday in North Tonawanda's Majestic Theatre.
Following in the UB music department's long tradition of performing new music, conductor Magnus Martensson led the Slee Sinfonietta Saturday evening in a program that featured two contemporary pieces inspired by Beethoven.
Gyorgy Kurtag's 1988 work ". . . 'quasi una fantasia . . .' Op. 27" takes its title from the heading of the "Moonlight Sonata." The audience was asked to group itself in the lower section of Slee Hall, while the instrumental forces dispersed around it, the keyboard instruments and timpani on stage, brass on one of the side balconies, winds on the other, with strings below and percussion behind.
The detached, initial descending notes by pianist Stephen Manes evolved into chords, echoed by soft percussion effects and mouth organ. Ominous snare drum figures contrasted with short melodic phrases from the keyboard instruments, including cimbalom, leading to a pedal point in the strings.
The third of the four brief movements featured chorale-like passages for brass and piano, building to a forte climax, punctuated by the timpani. The last movement was a lost, unearthly song. Beginning with gentle figures in the solo piano, a progression of muted passages for winds, brass and strings ended with the quietly dying tones of the timpani fading into oblivion. While this work was programmed prior to the tragic events of Tuesday, the feeling of a sense of loss that it conveys could not be more appropriate.
Mauricio Kagel's "Ludwig van" originated as a soundtrack for his surrealistic 1969 film. While Martensson used different musical fragments as starting points, his conception turned out to be effective, especially as a piece of theater.
Playing fragments of Beethoven's music, "read" off the out-of-focus projected film slides, the performers were allowed to escape the bounds of concert performance, distorting the music and vocalizing as desired. Violist Adrienne Elisha proved especially effective, singing variations on the syllable "la," while engaging in virtual duets with the tuba and sax.
Manes played Beethoven's Piano Concerto No. 4 with polished clarity. Martensson conducted straightforwardly, while Manes styled his playing nicely to the reduced orchestral forces.
-- Jan Jezioro
"It's been a very difficult week," said 28-year-old country singer/songwriter Brad Paisley during his show in the Majestic Theater on Saturday night. "But we're going to try to forget about it and enjoy ourselves."
It was a perilous task to try to bring joy and comfort to an audience that's still mourning the loss of fellow citizens and much of the nation's innocence. But the commanding, personable and exceptionally talented Paisley was up to the task.
He came across as someone's unaffectedly handsome and playful older brother, which is fitting since one of country's most enduring appeals is that its stars seem like people you know. He jokingly chided members of his band, particularly his 24-year-old sprite of a fiddle player.
This was one of the many times where Paisley displayed a cheeky, if sophomoric, sense of humor. One of the new songs he performed concerned a man who bought a box of Cuban cigars, insured them against fire and then filed a claim once he smoked them all.
This funnyman schtick helped lighten the mood of the evening. But the audience was most enthusiastic when Paisley adopted the persona of a good guy searching for lifelong romance. Indeed, every one of Paisley's hits, including "We Danced" and the new single "Wrapped Around," addresses some variation on searching for love, falling in love or raising a family.
The self-assured way that Paisley rendered these songs in concert shows that he could have a long career ahead of him. But, at some point, he needs to move beyond romantic sentimentality and begin singing about a broader range of emotions. And, if Paisley is to grow as an artist, he's going to have to offer more than just dreamy escape.
-- Craig Seymour