Saturday, 1 October 2022
Saturday, 3 September 2022
Saturday, 18 June 2022
Reading a concert programme can give a concertgoer an advance impression of the kind of experience they might undergo. A little knowledge on the works programmed, of the soloist, and of the conductor can go a long way – and previous experience of each can go much further. But they can only go so far. No concert can be heard in advance, no feelings can be felt before they arise. And the foretold experience of a concert is a slender mirage that melts away as soon as the first real notes are played.
Take, for example, the first concert of the Johannesburg Philharmonic Orchestra’s Winter Symphony Season. I read, first, that the young Venezuelan flautist Joidy Blanco would be the soloist, playing Mozart’s Second Flute Concerto (K. 314), and that the conductor Robert Moody would then direct the JPO in Beethoven’s Seventh Symphony. The whole endeavour would be kicked off by Mozart’s overture to Cosi fan tutte. I read, second, that Blanco would be replaced at the last minute (due to travel complications) by Liesl Stoltz, the highly accomplished South African soloist whom we have been fortunate enough to hear at the JPO before, and that Stoltz would be replacing Blanco’s scheduled encore with a virtuosic showcase of her own choice.
Knowing what I know about Stoltz, Moody, Mozart, and Beethoven, I quickly drew up some ideas of how the evening would go. There would be some difficulty in the orchestra (as there invariably is on opening night) keeping precisely in sync for the Mozart. Stoltz would play decorously, and would dazzle in her encore. The Beethoven would roll out with inevitable boisterousness, just as it has a hundred times before, and would linger (uninvited) in my head for the rest of the week. (The Beethoven was last played by the JPO just eighteen short months ago.) I also harboured the quiet hope that Moody – a cheerful American southerner – would address us before taking the podium for the Beethoven, as he had done so memorably at his JPO début in 2019, conducting Brahms’s Third Symphony.
Friday, 13 May 2022
Friday, 17 December 2021
Saturday, 12 June 2021
I don’t know who would believe me if I said that I was a Barbra Streisand virgin until yesterday. It wouldn’t strictly be true; I’ve seen clips of her on The Judy Garland Show, and in Meet the Fockers and Guilt Trip, but I wasn’t exposed to the dazzle of her music making until I turned on The Barbra Streisand Album for my drive home last night.
The album was Streisand’s studio début, and I won’t forget the experience of hearing its opening. After a short meandering solo by a plucked double bass, Barbra’s mezzo voice pierces the open silence above it, with a rhythmic incisiveness and mercurial inflection. She starts with the now-famous six-note falling scale that opens “Cry Me a River,” and that her distinctive tone immediately renders new and unfamiliar.
I was surprised to hear the wide range of approaches she takes on in one album, to convey her meanings. She veers from poise and precision – an elegance that may befit a salon in fin-de-siècle Paris – to brassy, growling roars, where she loses (that is, gives up) her control over pitch, pronunciation, and other aspects of making a nice sound. Her broad spectrum of expression covers infinitesimal nuances, subtle gradations in colour and timbre, and always seems to arise from a spontaneous idea or impression – moments become masterpieces, flung out on the wing.
Streisand’s distinguished artistry, and the sound of it on my inadequate speakers, made me think of the immediate recognisability of many of my favourite artists – Charlie Chaplin, Marilyn Monroe, Louis Armstrong, Emily Dickinson, Terrence Malick, Maria Callas, Chantal Akerman, Wes Anderson, Glenn Gould, Clint Eastwood, Nina Simone, or Jean Seberg – and how their style is more than an idiosyncrasy, or a brand. Style (at least, that of a great artist) is an outward expression of an entire personality; it’s the shuddering of a great soul, rendered as a physical experience. It’s why the styles of the artists mentioned above – as highly influential as each of them was – are so inimitable, why any attempt to reproduce them can only come off as the shallowest mimicry, and why coming across it in their work, in each moment-by-moment encounter, can feel like an enlargening of life itself.
Saturday, 29 May 2021
The documentary’s setting is the musical theatre of Broadway in the early 80s, but its subject is the expectations and frustrations – the dreams and subsequent hard reality – of any young person starting out in life. This happens to be a theme of the musical Merrily We Roll Along as well, and the plot, as relayed by Sondheim and Prince, is an apt parallel for the stories told by the once-young-and-aspiring real-life performers that Price interviews.
Sunday, 17 January 2021
Monday, 14 December 2020
Miranda July’s new movie – her third feature film – tells of a family of scammers: a father, Robert (Richard Jenkins), mother, Theresa (Debra Winger), and their 26-year-old daughter, Old Dolio (Evan Rachel Wood), whom they’ve brought up outside of the mainstream culture and trained as a partner in crime. The very origin of Old Dolio’s name is an anecdote that exemplifies July’s enormous, distinctive, and highly eloquent imaginative powers. She also works as a short story writer, performance artist, and digital media artist (among a few other positions), and her filmmaking overflows with the creative energy she imparts in every aspect: the performances, the camera angles and movements, the light and shadows, the plot, the dialogue, the soundtrack, the very transitions from each image and sound to the next, all build upon each other to render every moment a stunning creation of imagination and furious expression in itself. Surrealism is combined with idiosyncratic fantasy to evoke vast emotional turmoil; the natural world’s turbulence, seismology, and cosmos map onto the inner world and experiences of both the characters and the artist that imagined them.
The subject of Kajillionaire is family life, and, in particular, the friction and conflict that arises when a family that has isolated itself comes crashing into contact with the outside world. Old Dolio’s parents treat her without affection or due respect, justifying it as an egalitarian attitude – they claim regard her as an equal partner, while casting numerous cruel offhand remarks – and, without knowing it, she harbours an ocean of repressed emotions and desires. Her journey of self-discovery, self-revelation, and emotional eruption begins when the family meets an optician’s assistant, Melanie (Gina Rodriguez). Robert and Theresa lure Melanie into a scheme with feigned warmth and affection (the same false emotions they claim to keep from Old Dolio), and even their faux behaviour arouses jealousy and anguished yearning in Old Dolio. Melanie befriends Old Dolio and guides her through a new realm of emotional expression and nourishing gratification, that not only frees her from the repressive restrictions of her own family, but brings her into contact and connection with the wider world, that awakens her to the might and magic of living a connected life. July comes up with one of her most extraordinary imaginative strokes in rendering this moment, both as a cosmic-scale emotional experience and visual metaphor, of a person emerging from dark nothingness into the light.
A word on availability: Kajillionaire was released theatrically in the US earlier this year, and is available on various streaming services in the US, but nowhere in South Africa. Local viewers will need to devise their own schemes to see it.
Monday, 1 June 2020
Saturday, 23 May 2020
For over three years, I have been in a romantic relationship that — deeply fulfilling, passionate, and transformative though it’s been — has not been uniformly accepted and supported by the people around me. My joy has been attended by moments of shuddering anxiety, numbing sadness, and shocks of pain, unpleasant moments that are inextricably linked to the happy memories and circumstances that brought them about. I know from my own experience that no movie gives real solace for these kinds of feelings, and I didn’t turn to movies for solace (I have the good fortune of great friends that I can rely on), but there are some movies that, as enduringly great and insightful works of art, can depict some of our most intense emotions with a force of truth so keen and so powerful that it stops our hearts.
No overtly gay drama or romance ever felt similar to my personal experience, and I wasn’t ever looking for a movie that would. But as I watched the 1955 romantic melodrama All that Heaven Allows, directed by Douglas Sirk, the realisation gradually bloomed that I was watching a dramatic depiction that felt like something I’d lived through myself, that Jane Wyman’s character was burdened by the same tangle of feelings and ideas that I had carried.