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Cue Sheet – March 2006


    Regarding my post on the imminent departure of Tucson Symphony principal hornist Jacquelyn Sellers, my colleague Michael Dauphinais writes:

    I was struck by your blog entry on Ms. Sellers. This past weekend, I had the privilege of substituting for principal keyboardist Paula Fan for the TSO's "Picnic in the Park" concert, and was seated in a rather adventurous spot, sonically speaking: smack in between the bass drum and the horn section. The bass drum didn't bother me as I am a recovering percussionist and know full well what those guys have to do during works such as "1812" Overture. But what struck me throughout the progam, what little I played of it, was the quality of the horn section as a whole. They made those stereotypical horn offbeats seem as easy as childsplay most of the time and played with wonderful crisp articulation as a group (5 horns in this particular gig). Shostakovich's "Festive Overture" was a showpiece for them, and I admired their execution of it in every rehearsal and performance. I'm sorry to see Ms. Sellers go, as she obviously has imparted a high artistic level to her section over her years at the TSO.

Classical Music,


    By coincidence, death threads its way through all three of my contributions to the latest Tucson Weekly. We go from the ridiculous to the sublime, and end with a situation that is sui generis. First, a review of an Agatha Christie production:

    Agatha Christie's Black Coffee so relishes its murder-mystery conventions that the suspects are gathered and locked in the drawing room together in the beginning, not just the end. Even if you can't guess who done it, you always know what to expect from Agatha Christie, and Live Theatre Workshop happily fulfills our expectations. …
    Local Agatha Christie productions in the past few years have made the mistake of camping up the material, but here, director Jodi Rankin wisely takes the script at face value, avoiding parody while teasing out the play's natural humor with appropriate subtlety.
    Then, a review of something far more serious:
    The Rogue Theatre has awakened The Dead. James Joyce's superb short story has come to life in an adaptation by director Cynthia Meier that honors the author's text while translating it into something viably theatrical.
    This is no small task, for Joyce's story is even more interior than his more stylistically difficult Ulysses. Joyce provides little dialogue; much of the story consists of observation and an account of the tumultuous inner state of the outwardly circumspect central character, Gabriel Conroy.
    Meier has scattered lines of narrative among the 17 actors, who tell the story as much as show the action. There's no other good way around this project, for "action" is not the point of The Dead.
    Finally, a preview of a new production of the one-hour children’s opera Brundibar, whose most famous performances came under harrowing circumstances:
    One autumn, a group of kids in a camp put on an opera about two children who outwit a nasty organ grinder who stole the money they'd raised to help their sick mother. The composer, a leading musician, was on hand to help them; another excellent composer volunteered to play the piano, and the set designer from the original production a few years before even built some of the scenery.
    The show was a great success, and the government even incorporated part of it into a documentary it was sponsoring.
    And then, soon after all the cast members and musicians performed the final victory chorus, most of the children were sent to Auschwitz and murdered.
    Click the links above for the full texts.



    A little under the weather, I took yesterday off from the airwaves. Even so, I managed to do two phone interviews and crank out a couple of short articles for a future issue of the Tucson Weekly. One of those interviews was with Jacquelyn Sellers, who is leaving her position as principal hornist with the Tucson Symphony after more than 20 years.
    She told me that, besides wanting to follow her partner to Southern California, she’s just tired of being in the hotseat. The horn has a lot of beautiful, highly exposed solos, which is nice except that it’s a treacherous instrument, and if you crack a note—and crack you will—everybody knows it.
    Sellers said that she’s planning to ease off horn playing for a while, maybe enroll in massage school when she gets to SoCal. She brushed off notions that she’ll be hard to replace at the TSO. “There are a lot of good players out there,” she said. “They won’t have any trouble finding some young hotshot who’ll blow everybody away.”
    Quite likely, but that doesn’t mean that Sellers won’t be sorely missed.

Classical Music,


    My intemperate remarks on Elgar and British music criticism have caused a very small stir, although I doubt I will ever have the honor of being excoriated in the Sun. Poor Helen Radice, in cardiac arrest, has summarized my position as “The British are shit,” so perhaps I should offer a clarification to my readers from across the pond. It’s mainly your critics’ boosting of all music English that annoys me. I appreciate many other aspects of your culture: serious newspaper coverage of your entertaining arts scandals (nobody in the U.S. cares enough to cause or recognize arts scandals, unless religious sensibilities come into play), public fistfights among your literati (American writers and journalists are friendless and drink alone), and superior taste in television (we hail as “masterpieces” what you regard as business as usual). Your cuisine is gradually improving, too.



    Here's something that I keep forgetting to post, but should provide you with some amusement. Phoenix (formerly Tucson) composer Kenneth LaFave and his wife, Susan, recently wrote a play called A Reduced History of Classical Music, which was workshopped in January at the Scottsdale Center for the Arts. To promote the work and lure producers, Ken has posted the entire script online. He invites one and all to read the play, which you can do here, and tell your producer friends how wonderful it is. While you're there, by clicking on "View my complete profile," you may also read a bit of background on the play.



    Would you rather leave the theater feeling challenged or comforted? Have it your way, depending on whether you line up at Beowulf Alley or Invisible Theatre:

    The Birthday Party, one of Harold Pinter's first and best plays, is the latest fare at Beowulf Alley Theatre Company, and it's not for people who prefer a script with every T neatly crossed, the wet ink carefully blotted, the whole sheaf properly filed away by subject matter. Like certain yeshiva teachers, Pinter is far less interested in giving us answers than in teaching us how to ask questions. …
    Director Howard Allen and his actors give us a brisk, rather lightweight production; it's played as an absurdist comedy, not an existential thriller. Even the set is bright, sunny and a little goofy with its fishnet decor, not at all oppressive. This is by no means a misreading of Pinter, who leaves The Birthday Party open to all sorts of interpretations, but it's not the closest, deepest reading possible.
    You’ll find the rest of my Tucson Weekly review here, and nearby are my comments on what just opened at Invisible Theatre:
From Door to Door, a play about three generations of Jewish women, makes it clear: Saccharine is, indeed, kosher. Yet despite the script's sentimentality and clichés, there's enough honesty and authentic love to lift the story above the level of mundane entertainment.
    Find out more here.


About Cue Sheet

James Reel's cranky consideration of the fine arts and public radio in Tucson and beyond.