Spectacular “West Side Story” at Minneapolis’ Guthrie Theater

Last night I saw a spectacular production of “West Side Story” at the Guthrie Theater. The wonderful singing and dancing made this the best production I ever have seen in nearly 50 years of seeing plays at this theater. It runs through August 26, 2018. I strongly urge you to go!

As you may recall, the original play–with music by Leonard Bernstein, lyrics by Stephen Sondheim and book by Arthur Laurents–is set in 1957 on Manhattan’s West Side. Two rival gangs, the white Jets and the Puerto-Rican Sharks, are prowling the streets. When Tony falls for Maria, the sister of a rival gang member, a rumble is planned. Like Romeo and Juliet they’re caught in an ongoing feud with no escape, even as they pledge their love for each other.  It features incomparable songs like “Maria,” “Tonight,” “Cool” and “I Feel Pretty” that are merged with the greatest love story ever told in this larger-than-life musical. (This production reinterprets the clash as between the Puerto Rican Sharks  and the Jets as a pluralistic group of contemporary Americans.) Here are two photographs from this production:

 

 

 

 

The program has an interesting article, “On Reimagining a Classic,” by Joseph Haj, the play’s Director and the Theater’s Artistic Director. He reports that his research for directing this play “uncovered reports from government agencies regarding districts with solidly immigrant populations.” One such report stated the following:

  • “The tenants seem to wholly disregard personal cleanliness, and the very principles of decency, their general appearance and actions corresponding with their wretched abodes. This indifference to personal and domiciliary cleanliness is doubtless acquired from a long familiarity with the loathsome surroundings, wholly at variance with all moral and social improvements.”

Haj continues, “But this report wasn’t about New York City’s Puerto Rican population in the 1950s–it was filed in 1864 about a district with a predominantly Irish population. . . .”

This report from 1864 should be a strong warning to those in America today who feel and express great anxiety over today’s immigrants.[1]

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[1] See these posts to dwkcommentaries: White Anxiety and Fearing Immigration (June 25, 2018); More Voices on White Anxiety and Immigration (June 26, 2018). Fear Driving U.S. and European Clamor Over Immigration (July 3, 2018).

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Successful Benefit Concert for Displaced Syrians

arc_tw_graphic_1027152-b39f6fe5On January 3, 2016, a group of musicians from the Minnesota Orchestra played a beautiful and successful concert to benefit Syrians displaced in their own country.[1] Here is a poster for the concert with photographs of (a) Erin Keefe, the Orchestra’s Concertmaster, with Osmo Vänskä, the Orchestra’s Music Director; and (b) Beth Rapier and Tony Ross, Cellists with the Orchestra and the originators of the idea for the concert.

The concert raised over $75,000 for the Minneapolis-headquartered American Refugee Committee (ARC) to support its efforts to help the 7.6 million Syrians who have been forced to relocate within their own country because of the war.[2] There ARC with the aid of heroic Syrians works to:

  • help improve the physical conditions of make-shift shelters where people have fled;
  • build and repair water and sanitation infrastructure, helping to prevent disease;
  • provide youth mentoring and support services;
  • reconnect orphaned children with family members;
  • counsel victims of abuse and trauma; and
  • provide children the opportunity to play and have fun.

Other contributions for this cause would be appreciated; just go to ARC’s website [http://www.arcrelief.org/site/PageServer] and do so.

The concert was opened by the Minnesota Orchestra Brass Quintet. They played several numbers, including Leonard Bernstein’s “Maria” and “Tonight” from “West Side Story,” the Broadway musical. The Quintet members were Douglas Wright, trombone; Robert Doerr and Charles Lazarus, trumpet; Steven Campbell, tuba; and Michael Gast, horn.

Then Osmo Vänskä, an accomplished clarinetist in addition to being a great conductor, played the clarinet in Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart‘s beautiful Clarinet Concerto in A Major (K 622), which was composed shortly before Mozart’s death in 1791. Vänskä was backed by 18 members of the Orchestra.[3]

Osmo and Tony

audience DSC02485

 

 

 

 

Above are photographs of Vänskä playing the concerto and of the audience of over 900 in the beautiful and modern sanctuary of Our Lady of Grace Catholic Church in Edina, Minnesota.

The program ended with Peter Illyich Tchaikovsky’s difficult String Sextet in D minor (Op.70). It was titled “Souvenir de Florence” because the composer sketched one of the work’s principal themes while visiting Florence, Italy in 1890. The violinists were Erin Keefe and Cecilia Belcher; violaists, Tom Turner and Sabrina Thatcher; and cellists, Ross and Rapier. Ross thought the piece might be Tchaikovsky’s greatest.

The concert had principal support from St. John’s Episcopal Church of Minneapolis and Our Lady of Grace along with 24 other Christian, Jewish and Islamic congregations from the Twin Cities.

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[1] Royce,  Minnesota Orchestra musicians unite for concert to aid Syrian refugees, StarTribune (Dec. 23, 2015); Program, Chamber Music Concert for Refugees Inside Syria (Jan. 3, 2016).

[2] ARC, Syria Relief.  As explained in a prior post, one of the international legal requirements for refugee status is an individual’s being outside his or her home country. Therefore, the beneficiaries of this concert, Syrians who have not left their own country, are technically not “refugees,” but rather “internally displaced people” or “IDP’s” in international relief jargon. But they are just as deserving of our compassion as those Syrians who have fled their country, perhaps more so because those who stay are trying to live in the midst of the war.

[3] A prior post described Vânskä’s playing the clarinet in a Havana music club after the Orchestra’s second concert in Cuba last May. Minnesota Orchestra’s Cuba trip Garners National Recognition (Dec. 17, 2015).

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Minnesota Orchestra Goes to Cuba This Week!

MN OrchestraAs discussed in a prior post, this February the Minnesota Orchestra announced that it would be playing two concerts in Havana, Cuba on May 15 and 16. At the invitation of the Cuban Ministry of Culture, Music Director Osmo Vänskä and the Orchestra will play Beethoven’s Choral Fantasy with the Cuban National Choir and Cuban pianist Frank Fernandez as well as Beethoven’s Symphony No. 3, Eroica. In addition, on the 15th they will play Beethoven’s “Egmont Overture,” and on the 16th Leonard Bernstein’s “Symphonic Dances” from West Side Story and Prokofiev’s “Romeo and Juliet.”

According to a recent article in Minnesota’s StarTribune newspaper, [1] this past January the Orchestra’s president, Kevin Smith, thought it would be great if the Orchestra could be the first U.S. ensemble to go to Cuba after the December 17th announcement of rapprochement between the U.S. and the island nation. Smith immediately called Minnesota’s U.S. Senator Amy Klobuchar and asked for help in pursing this idea. She, of course, said yes with this comment: “This trip is an example of the type of relationship we want to continue building between our people. Cubans are looking forward to more opportunities to interact with Americans.” [2]

Smith then asked the Orchestra’s musicians if they would give up a scheduled week of vacation in May in order to go to Cuba. They too said yes with enthusiasm. An Orchestra violinist, Aaron Janse, who was in a small advance group that went to Cuba in April, said, “We absolutely feel that we represent the state, the United States. We have a responsibility to be a bridge between the two countries. For us, as a community, to get this all together speaks volumes to where the Minnesota Orchestra is.”

Both concerts will be broadcast live by Minnesota Public Radio’s classical music stations (99.5 FM in the Twin Cities) on May 15 and 16 at 7:30 p.m. (CDT). Tune in.

The Orchestra also will visit a musical school and arts university and hold a joint rehearsal with a Cuban youth orchestra. The Minnesota Orchestra members will give small “Minnesota Orchestra” pins to people they meet. Presumably they will be wearing “Minnesota Twins” baseball caps as they travel around Havana. As former Minnesota Twins Cuban-American baseball player, Tony Oliva, has said, Cubans know about the Twins and their cap.

Accompanying the Orchestra on a chartered direct flight from the Twin Cities to Havana will be a group of board members and community supporters as “cultural ambassadors.” They will be led by board member, Marilyn Carlson Nelson, and her husband, Glen Nelson, who are paying for the trip. As a co-owner and former chairman of Carlson Companies, a global hotel company, Carlson Nelson is interested in business opportunities in Cuba for her company.

On a historical note, the Orchestra (then called the Minneapolis Symphony) in 1929 and 1930 performed in Havana, and one of its pieces on the first trip was Beethoven’s “Third Symphony,” which will be played again this weekend by the Orchestra. MPR News has a 1929 photograph of some of the Symphony members getting ready to board a ship in Havana after their first trip.

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[1] In addition to the StarTribune article, check out information about the trip on the Orchestra’s website and in a MPR News article.

[2] As discussed in prior posts, Senator Klobuchar is a strong advocate for U.S.-Cuba reconciliation. She is the author of the pending Senate bill to end the U.S. embargo of Cuba. She was a member of a U.S. Senate delegation that visited Cuba this February. She endorsed the formation of the U.S. Agricultural Coalition for Cuba that is being lead by Minnesota’s Cargill Incorporated.

Jazzy Music at Minneapolis’ Westminster Presbyterian Church

 

Westminster Sanctuary

Westminster‘s September 2nd worship service opened with a jazzy set of three organ preludes entitled “Organ, Timbrel, and Dance,” played by Melanie Ohnstad, the church’s Organist and Director of Music and the Arts.

The three preludes were based on German chorales as reinterpreted in jazz idioms. As a lover of German organ music and American and Latin jazz, I was fascinated and moved by the three pieces:

  • “Swing Five” used the rhythms of Dave Brubeck’s “Take Five” for the chorale “Erhalt uns, Herr” (Lord, Keep Us Steadfast).
  •  “Bossa Nova,” the Brazilian rhythms for “Wunderbarer Konig” (Wonderful King).
  • “Afro-Cuban,” the rhythms and melody of Leonard Bernstein’s “America” from West Side Story for “In dir ist Freude” (In Thee Is Gladness).
Johannes Matthias Michel

The composer is Johannes Matthias Michel, who was born in 1962 and grew up at Lake Constance (Germany) and who studied piano, church music, and organ in Basel, Heidelberg, Frankfurt and Stuttgart. He has composed many pieces for organ, and his organ discography includes more than a dozen CD recordings. One is of these three preludes, and there is a YouTube video of Michel playing these preludes.

Michel teaches artistic and liturgical organ playing at the University for Church Music of the Protestant Regional Church in Baden (Hochschule fur Kirchenmusik Heidelberg). Affiliated with the Evangelical Lutheran Church, the University is in the city of Heidelberg in the historical region of Baden on the east bank of the Rhine River. Baden is the western part of the Baden-Wurttemberg state of Germany.

Christuskirche, Mannheim

Since 1999 he also has been the director of music at Christuskirche in Mannheim, which also is located in Baden. This is a Protestant church in the Oststadt district of the city. The church’s building was built in the early 20th century in the Art Nouveau style with Neo-Baroque accents. It escaped major damage in World War II. At Mannheim Michel also conducts the Bachchoir Mannheim and the chamber choir Mannheim and teaches organ at the State Academy of Music (Staatlichen Hochschule für Musik) in Mannheim.

Melanie Ohnstad

Melanie Ohnstad has served Westminster as organist since November 1995. She received the Doctor of Musical Arts degree from the University of Minnesota. She also holds the Master of Music in Organ Performance degree from Arizona State University and the Bachelor of Music degree from St. Olaf College.

A streaming video of the Westminster worship service is available on the web so you too can hear this amazing set.

Joseph Welch After the Army-McCarthy Hearings

Joseph Welch’s participation in the televised Army-McCarthy hearings in 1954 brought him national prominence. We have seen a summary of those hearings and his performance as the U.S. Army’s lawyer.

As a result, Welch became a celebrity. His career expanded to do new things.

Television Commentator

Welch appeared on various national television programs, most notably talking about the U.S. Constitution on the Omnibus program. A book of those commentaries was published.

Welch,The Constitution
Leonard Bernstein
Marian Anderson

In 1959 Welch provided commentary during intermissions of several televised concerts by the New York Philharmonic Orchestra, then under the baton of Leonard Bernstein.  After Bernstein apparently had called Welch a “great American,” Welch responded, “I suspect you are a better judge of good music than you are of what could truly be called great Americans. Do not think for a moment, however, that it is not music to me to have you say of me what you do.”  Welch added that for him to accept money for being on a Christmas concert with Bernstein and soprano Marian Anderson was “just barely distinguishable from cheating.”

Correspondent with Groucho Marx

Groucho Marx

Welch’s television appearances had an impact on comedian Groucho Marx. In a serious article in TV Digest about the status of television programming, he said, “[I]t speaks very well of television and its audience that the man so constantly in demand for more TV appearances after the Army-McCarthy Hearings was not Senator McCarthy, but Joseph Welch.”

This article came to Welch’s attention, and he wrote to Groucho on his law firm’s letterhead that listed the names of all the 40 or so lawyers in the firm. Welch said that it had not been necessary to hire extra help “to hold at bay swarms of people anxious to get me to appear on television or in the movies.” He then expressed admiration for Groucho’s work and said it “must be wonderful to be (a) Rich, (b) Intelligent, and (c) Funny. I trust I list them in their correct order.”

Groucho responded that he was not rich, but “rich enough . . . to know that inflation is knocking hell out of what I have.”  He also said he was a “little frightened” by the imposing list of 40 lawyers on Welch’s law firm’s letterhead. Groucho said he had been sued over the years on most of the “minor charges—rape, larceny, embezzlement and parking in front of a fire plug,” but those law firms never had more than four lawyers. Groucho then asked a series of questions about life in such a large law firm.

Welch could not let this Marx missive go unnoticed. Welch told Groucho that he had misunderstood the letterhead: “All the names below the first line are the name of our professional witnesses. They hang around street corners and turn up unexpectedly as witnesses in all the automobile cases we try.”  Welch then answered Groucho’s questions about the firm:

  • Q: How do you get along in the office?
  • A:  By leaning on each other heavily and on our secretaries.
  • Q:  Do you trust each other? 
  • A:  In every area except money, property and women.
  • Q:  Does each one have a separate safe for his money?
  • A:  Yes, except I have so much money I have two safes.
  •  Q: Isn’t there some danger that you and one of your partners could both be in a courtroom, representing opposing clients?
  • A: Damned if there isn’t and every now and then somebody takes in a case where the client is against the client of another guy in this office and there is hell to pay and no foolin’.
  • Q: Do you have one community storage room for your briefcases? Or does each one sit on his own case?
  • A: I do not understand this question. I sit on what you sit on only I do more of it than you do.”

While Welch said he hoped that Groucho would visit him in Boston, Welch advised him to keep it quiet because “a highly numerous and vocal collection of people in Boston thought and still think that hanging is too good for me.”

Welch indeed matched wits with Groucho.

Movie Actor

In 1959 Welch became a movie actor when Director Otto Preminger picked him to play Judge Weaver, a Michigan trial-court judge, in the film, Anatomy of a Murder, which is still an entertaining movie.

The basic plot concerns an Army Lieutenant, Frederick Manion  (played by Ben Gazarra), who is accused of murdering a man, Barney Quill, for allegedly raping his beautiful wife, Laura Manion (played by Lee Remick). Manion’s lawyer, Paul Biegler (played by Jimmy Stewart), is assisted by his friend, Parnell McCarthy (played by Paul O’Connell), an alcoholic lawyer. They oppose the district attorney, Mitch Lodwick, and a state assistant attorney general, Claude Dancer (played by George C. Scott). Judge Weaver (Joseph Welch) presides over the trial. Several interesting issues of legal ethics are posed by the trial, which is a subject for another day.

Joseph Welch as Judge Weaver
Jimmy Stewart as Biegler
Lee Remick as Laura Manion
Duke Ellington & Jimmy Stewart

Filmed in a small, apparently all white, county seat in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan, the movie has an enjoyable digression. Duke Ellington, the great jazz musician, appears in one scene as Pie-Eye, a musician playing the piano with a black jazz band, at a roadhouse. Joining him on the piano is the defense attorney (Jimmy Stewart), who is a jazz aficionado.

The movie received many Oscar nominations, but lost “Best Picture” to Ben-Hur while Stewart lost “Best Actor” to Charlton Heston in the latter movie.

During the filming, Welch became a good friend of John Voelker, the author of the film script and of the  novel of the same title and a fellow attorney and a former member of the Michigan Supreme Court. They discussed the possibility of Voelker’s assisting Welch in writing an autobiography, but that never happened. In their extensive correspondence over the last 18 months of Welch’s life, Welch compared his wordsmithing as “counterfeit” coins to Voelker’s “complete access to, if not ownership of, the First National Bank of Words.”

Law Firm Partner

Welch’s graciousness, so evident in the Army-McCarthy hearings, also was present in Welch as a law firm partner.

In 1952 the Hale and Dorr law firm was faced with an issue of whether it should make a claim on the estate of a deceased partner who had paid himself more than he was entitled to, i.e., who had embezzled law firm funds. The firm adopted Welch’s proposal to make a claim for one-half the amount. Said Welch, “Let him pay for his choice of life style. But because of the nature of the partnership and because we truly liked him at his best, let us forgive a half.”

In addition, presumably in the late1950’s Welch wrote a letter to his partners at Hale and Dorr, “This is like my will to you. I have lived a successful, rewarding and happy life. I believe that I owe the firm money rather than visa-versa. In any event, since my second wife does not need any money, any moneys owing to me by the firm upon my death should be paid to you [the partners], not to my family.”

Welch also prepared what he called an “office will:” It stated, “All the rest and residue and remainder of me as a lawyer I leave to all those in Hale and Dorr that I have loved. To a very large degree they . . . have made me what I am. Such success as I have attained I owe largely to them. I have lived my whole professional life in an office free from grief, envy, and jealousy. Few lawyers have been so blessed in their associations continually all through life. For the serenely happy life I have had with all of you, I say a simple and inadequate thank you.” Welch concluded: “this is my office will and is undated. The identity of the typist is to remain a secret. It is not witnessed. But even so—no fooling. Joseph N. Welch.”

The author in his years as a practicing lawyer in large law firms has never heard of anything like these gracious comments from a partner to his or her fellow partners.

Conclusion

Welch’s first wife, Judith Lyndon Welch, died in 1956, and he was remarried to Agnes Rodgers Brown Welch.

Welch died on October 6, 1960, just weeks before his 70th birthday.