Thursday, May 28, 2009

The weekend starts now (do you note a Spoleto bias?)

It is a big day at Spoleto. Of course it always is.

Appropriately it includes a big piece of music by a big composer: Gustav Mahler’s “Das Lied von der Erde” (Song of the Earth).

The work follows the life of a man from dissolute youth to dying day, written in1908 when the composer thought he was dying. He was, but more slowly than he realized. The work, with text based on 8th-century Chinese poems, was premiered in 1911 six month after his death.

The orchestra has played many of the Mahler symphonies since Emmanuel Villaume was hired nine years ago as director of orchestral and opera at the festival so the tradition continues. The content of the piece isn't surprising since Mahler was always consumed with death. (It was actually his Tenth Symphony, but he refused to call it that because so many composers died while or just after finishing their tenth.)

"He's saying I’m just disappearing, but the way I’m disappearing is going to be artistic," Villaume said this week. "He's saying goodbye with no bitterness."

Ironically, while many Mahler symphonies contain a funeral march, this one doesn't.

"Song" does have two vocal soloists, which also helps fill a vocal music void in a festival with only one opera. (Mahler had history with that opera, “Louise” by Gustav Charpentier, having conducted the Vienna premiere of it in 1902.)

"We have two smashing singers to do it," Villaume said.

Both are making their Spoleto debuts. A few months ago, mezzo soprano Sasha Cooke (left) sang the role of Kitty Oppenheimer in the Metropolitan Opera production of John Adams’ “Doctor Atomic.” The other is tenor Russell Thomas, (right) who has performed at the Met and many other opera houses.

"It is a taxing role" and Thomas "is eating it for breakfast," Villaume said.

The concert is at 8 p.m.
Villaume, just appointed artistic director of Slovenian Philharmonic Orchestra, will also lead the

orchestra in Brahms’ Violin Concerto, with soloist Sarah Chang, and Tchaikovsky’s Symphony No. 6 Tuesday (June 2).

“Music in Time” will introduce many people to the shamisen, a Japanese stringed instrument. Yumiko Tanaka will unveil a brand new piece as well as other recent works for the old instrument today. She’s also musical director and plays for puppet master Basil’s Twist new work “Dogugaeshi,” which runs Saturday to June 7.

Continuing through the weekend are “Addicted to Bad Ideas/Peter Lorre’s 20th Century,” a rock musical by the World/Inferno Friendship Society today through Sunday; Cedar Lake Contemporary Dance, Friday and Saturday; and ukulele player Jake Shimabukuro Saturday.

For a full schedule go to

Tickets $10 to $100; most $25 to $50.

Piccolo picks:

The Southern Literary Festival starts today with Cassandra King giving a talk called “You Can’t Make This Stuff Up” at 3 p.m. today. Ron Daise, one of the creators of the TV series "Gullah Gullah Island," makes a presentation at 10 Friday.

Columbia writer Janna McMahan will give a talked called “The Modern South,” a place she explores in her newest novel “The Ocean Inside,” which was published in late April.

“I was talking to someone who said the only way she could understand Southerner was by reading Southern literature,” said McMahan, a native of Kentucky who has lived in Columbia for two decades.

“The Ocean Inside” is set in what one might call the Post-New South. It is very much a story of today about a girl struggling to find herself as her family struggles with her sister’s illness, money and other pressures. It’s Friday at 3 p.m.

All the Southern Lit events are at the Charleston County Public Library and cost the rather high price of $15.

Honestly there are so many things going on at Piccolo, it’s hard to dig through the schedule let alone recommend much.

Good bets are the various comedy and improv shows on the Piccolo Fringe (“FrankenMatt” and “Big Dicktionary”) much of the classical music and odd things such as Kosher Jazz, played by Simon Harding Saturday and Sunday.

A great place to find previews and reviews of just about everything – no, make that everything – is Charleston City Paper (which has been kind enough to plug Carolina Culture early and often.)

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