Sunday, March 16, 2008


Both Joshua and I have been extremely busy at work, to the point that we have become bleary-eyed.

On Thursday night, Josh and I and my parents went to Saint Paul to hear Lang Lang in recital.

I do not know what to make of Lang Lang. His fingers are amazing, obviously. As a pure keyboard talent, he is unrivaled. As a musician . . .well, that is another matter.

The recital began with Mozart’s Piano Sonata No. 13 in B Flat Major, K. 333. I did not care for the Mozart, but I did not expect to care for Lang Lang’s Mozart.

The recital continued with Schumann’s Fantasia For Piano In C Major, Opus 17. I did not care for the Schumann, but I did not expect to care for Lang Lang’s Schumann.

After intermission, Lang Lang performed six Chinese songs arranged for piano. These songs should have been saved for an audience in Shanghai.

A Granados piece followed, after which Lang Lang programmed two Liszt works I thought would be right up his alley: Liszt’s arrangement of the Liebestod from Wagner’s “Tristan Und Isolde” and the Hungarian Rhapsody No. 6.

I thought the Liszt works might make the recital worthwhile. I was wrong. There was no ecstasy and no release in the Liebestod, and there was no excitement and no tension in the Hungarian Rhapsody. There were, merely, lots of notes.

Lang Lang is only twenty-five years old, and perhaps he will become an interesting pianist in coming years. At present, he is not worth hearing, at least in the repertory he brought to the Twin Cities. He has the musicianship of a 16-year-old.

On Friday night, Josh and I and my parents went to Northrop Auditorium to see the State Ballet Of Georgia, from Tbilisi, perform “Giselle”.

Both the production and the performance were sort of musty. The stage designs were based upon designs by Alexandre Benois for the famed 1910 Ballet Russes production. The designs had a faded charm. The music was pre-recorded, with inevitable deadly results.

Nina Ananiashvili was the Giselle, and it was good to have an opportunity to see Ananiashvili in one of her signature roles, even as her career winds down. She is a great artist, with a captivating stage presence, and she knows all the subtleties of the role. She probably has danced Giselle too often, however, because there was no sense of discovery or wonder in her portrayal. Every detail had been worked out in advance and was performed by rote. She looked tired.

The State Ballet Of Georgia’s appearance in the Twin Cities was the final stop of what must have been a grueling American tour, changing cities every two or three days, offering only three programs. The dancers must be exhausted, physically and mentally, and they must be tired of dancing “Giselle”, “Don Quixote” and the same repertory program over and over. That is the impression the dancers left on Friday night.

“Giselle” is not an easy ballet to bring off. The steps pose no problem to professional dancers—but the romantic style required by the ballet does. The romantic style is alien to ballet dancers in the West, unless they are carefully and extensively coached by someone familiar with and dedicated to the romantic style. This seldom happens.

Russian dancers are still trained in the romantic style, but I do not think that the dancers of the State Ballet Of Georgia exemplified the best of today’s Russian dancers. This “Giselle” was certainly nothing special. The company itself is a work in progress, or so the dancing Friday night suggested. This tour was clearly undertaken to raise foreign currency, not to showcase an important company. There is an inexhaustible market for Russian ballet companies in the U.S., and Ananiashvili’s name on the bill no doubt guarantees box-office success. Nevertheless, the State Ballet Of Georgia’s tour of the U.S. remains a business transaction, not an artistic one. There was nothing about this “Giselle” worth touring, not even the presence of Ananiashvili, who has moved far beyond the romantic repertory since her early appearances in the West.

Perhaps I was too tired to enjoy the performance.

However, Josh hated the evening, and my parents said, on the way home, “Why do we keep going to these touring ballet things, which always prove to be so disappointing?” The answer, of course, is that there are not many chances to see stagings of full-length ballet classics in the Twin Cities—and when companies come here for visits, ballet lovers generally take advantage of them.

Friday night’s “Giselle” was not a disaster, but it was as tired as I was. We all would have had a better time, I believe, if we had stayed home.

Watching “Giselle” meant that we missed Minnesota’s stunning upset win over Indiana Friday night in the Big Ten Tournament. At least we were able to see replays of the miraculous final few seconds, televised endlessly, nationwide, on Saturday. It would have been nice, however, to have seen it in real time.

We DID watch Minnesota play Illinois in Saturday afternoon’s semi-final—or, more accurately, we kept an eye on the game. For some reason, Illinois has Minnesota’s number this year. It was the third time that Illinois has defeated the Golden Gophers this season. Illinois, not a good team this year, happens to be a team that matches up particularly well against Minnesota.

This weekend, Josh and I helped my parents continue to get the house and yard ready for Easter. We looked so tired that my mother made us take a nap on Saturday afternoon, and again on Sunday afternoon. She said we looked anemic, and she threatened to make us eat liver.

On Good Friday, Josh and I will fly to Oklahoma to spend Easter weekend with Josh’s family.


  1. Andrew -

    A man who likes Edwin Fischer is always welcome at our classical music board. Com'on over and check us out at Bring Josh too.

  2. Hello, Corlyss.

    Thank you for the recommendation. I shall check it out.


  3. Apologies, Andrew, for again being so late.

    I heard Lang Lang once, and I was appalled. Technique to burn--and the musical instincts of Attila The Hun.