Sunday, November 07, 2004

Driven indoors

Our North Shore River's Edge Trail Walk was full of fall beauty
It’s hunting season, which means it is my “shoulder” season and I’m headed inside to enjoy myself and escape the crowded forests and guns.
But that is sweetened by the increase in cultural things to do around Great Falls.
Cases in point are the many choices I’ve had this weekend. Aside from some interesting new movies opening, there were plays and musical events to entertain us.
We chose the Montana Rep’s production, “The Beat Generation,” at the public library on Friday, and the Great Falls Symphony’s mostly Russian program Saturday, which featured the spectacular playing of a Bulgarian pianist.
The Rep is a University of Montana professional touring company, which also presents to schoolchildren.
“The Beat Generation,” is a look at the beatnik writers, poets and jazz musicians of the late 1950s and early 1960s who took on the cultural rigidity of the 1950s and issues like civil rights and the proliferation of nuclear armaments. They experimented with drugs. It laid the groundwork for the anti-war and hippie movements that followed.
As presented by this company, this generation of “beatniks” (derived from beat + Sputnik) left a lasting literary and musical contribution.
I was one of those college students who carried around hip pocket copy of poet Alan Ginsberg’s “Howl,” with me, so I was delighted to hear it read to bongo drums accompaniment.
The three young actors (none of whom were alive yet during this period) dressed in period garb, the shaggy beard, the beret, and as was the style of this generation played instruments to the beat of their poems.
This was the era of Jack Kerouac, Miles Davis, Charlie Parker, Thelonious Monk, and Ferlinghetti. Appropriately the bebop jazz of the era punctuated the performance.
To warm the crowd up to the times there was a slide show of the cultural icons of the time from the “Howdy Doody Show” to images Elvis and of shiny new appliances and rapidly constructed, gleaming new suburban neighborhoods.
The hour-long performance was both entertaining and nostalgic, yet somehow poignant to the current times --- many of the same issues raised by the beats are around yet today, i.e., nuclear proliferation.
Are the beats of this generation the rappers?

When I saw that there were five pieces of music (including two piano concertos) on the Symphony’s program Saturday, I groaned that the orchestra might be trying to cram too much into one program. I’d rather be a little hungry (for more) after a concert than overstuffed.
However, I was looking for even more dessert when the evening ended.
Not only was the music engaging --- based largely composers from around Russia --- but the guest soloist, Bulgarian Pavlina Dokovska, was simply spectacular.
This diminutive pianist filled the concert hall with the driving modern rhythms of Russian Prokofiev’s 1st Piano Concerto, and the dark melodies of Hungarian Liszt’s more romantic 1st Piano Concerto.
The orchestra was particularly effective in backing up Dokovska in the Prokofiev piece.
The program brought the audience unfamiliar music by other Russian composers Gliere and Glinka. While not Russian, the final piece was by Finnish composer Jean Sibelius written about the Karelia region of Russia.

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