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Cue Sheet


    Actors are ambling back onto Tucson stages after the usual summer dry spell (but not drought; there’s always something playing in town). At the University of Arizona, the Arizona Repertory Theatre is reviving its fine production of Brighton Beach Memoirs after a summer estivation, and new shows are opening this weekend at Live Theatre Workshop and Top Hat Theatre Club, with the city’s other main companies, and a couple of new ones, tossing more scripts into the mix in the next few weeks.
    Already open is the latest melodrama spoof at Gaslight Theatre, Sinbad. Says my review in the current Tucson Weekly:

It takes a while for this high-seas adventure to get wind in its sails. Last Saturday night, the first scene was utterly becalmed; the humor as well as the acting seemed half-hearted. Things picked up as the evening progressed, but many previous shows have registered much higher on the company's spoofometer. Even most of the pop-song thefts and parodies seemed only tenuously related to the story. As is so often the case at Gaslight, the show got much more interesting when things veered out of control.
    Elsewhere in the Weekly, I preview the second annual Lesbian Shorts II: A Festival of Original One-Act Plays with a Sapphic Slant:
[Teresa] Simone, who is part of the five-member ensemble acting in this year's five plays, and doubles as the festival's publicity guru, says that the only thing the pieces have in common is that each includes a lesbian character or relationship as a central plot element. Some of the plays are quite serious; others are, well ...
    "One of them is What If I Don't, by Rebekah Lopata," says Simone. "It's set in the 1960s, and it's about a girl on her wedding day who's in the bathroom contemplating suicide. It's actually a comedy."



    I am, to be polite about it, most assuredly not a fan of playwright Neil Simon, but even I have to admit that his Brighton Beach Memoirs is a fine piece of theater. The University of Arizona’s Arizona Repertory Theatre is reviving its production of the play starting tonight. Read my review of the show’s opening earlier this summer, order your tickets, and see what Simon is capable of when he’s not content to be merely glib.



    This morning the radio alarm went off at 3:55, as usual, and as usual I muted it within five seconds to avoid disturbing my wife, who for some reason wants to sleep in an extra hour. But those five seconds were enough to register what was playing, a chirping woodwind figure in a musical atmosphere of some tension and drive.
    “That was exciting,” my wife muttered.
    “Enesco,” I said, and shambled off to my morning ablutions.
    I’ve always been good at what in the LP days were called “needle-drop” tests, identifying a piece or composer within seconds of hearing some random part of a composition. Of course, there’s no way I’ll figure out a lot of oddball stuff, like a Havergal Brian symphony or Biber violin sonata, but there is a lot of off-the-beaten-path repertory I can get instantly, either through actually knowing the piece or recognizing the composer’s style.
    You can be adept at this game without committing a 2,000-disc record collection to memory. Sometimes you’ll recognize the melody right off, but more often it’s something more subtle that triggers recognition of a piece. It may be a little transitional passage that sounds generic on its own but may be just familiar enough to evoke the more individual passages around it; Beethoven and Tchaikovsky wrote especially distinctive transitions, although in Tchaikovsky’s case they can be more like vamps. It may be a particular style of orchestration that gives the composer away; both Shostakovich and Revueltas, for example, were fond of extremes, for example having the tuba and flute (or even piccolo) simultaneously stretch the timbral boundaries of a passage. Perhaps it’s just some “atmosphere” that’s unique to a composer, as with Mahler or Berg.
    It does help to have a very good musical memory, and I suppose mine compensates for other memory deficiencies. If I’m introduced to someone at a party or in a theater lobby, for instance, it’s as if some soundproof curtain comes down and I never even register the new person’s name. (I’ve reached the point at which I’m thinking, “I really need to pay attention and remember this name,” and I’m so busy thinking this that the name slips by … again.) Good music, on the other hand, never fails to stick between my ears.

Classical Music,


    The announcers at C24 out of Minnesota (a service known to you as Music Through the Night) are generally quite fine, but some of their tics and habits annoy me to no end. Case in point: As I was driving in this morning, John Zech introduced “the Overture in the Italian Style by Schubert.” Well, Schubert wrote two overtures in the Italian style, so you can’t describe this one as “the.”
    The current philosophy of classical announcing holds that you should keep technical trivia (keys, opus numbers and so forth) to a minimum so you don’t intimidate or confuse listeners, but calling one of several similar pieces “the” is a confusion and a serious disservice to listeners. What if somebody liked this Schubert piece and wanted to buy a recording? The overtures aren’t often recorded together, so the innocent buyer looking for “the” Overture in the Italian Style has a fifty-fifty chance of spending money on the wrong piece.
    Related rule of thumb: Never use “the” in conjunction with anything by Vivaldi. Whatever it is, he probably wrote 10 more in the same key.



    The latest issue of Fanfare includes, among many other things, my review of a new Chandos recording of John Corigliano’s Symphony No. 2, which earned its composer the 2001 Pulitzer Prize. It’s a 2000 expansion of Corigliano’s 1996 String Quartet, a version that takes full advantage of string-orchestra sonorities and never hints at its chamber-music origins. The symphony is coupled with a compelling suite for violin and orchestra from Corigliano’s score for The Red Violin, and you can read my full review here.

Classical Music,


    In October, we’ll broadcast a 13-week series drawn from the 2004-2005 Arizona Friends of Chamber Music season. Not only am I the vice-president of that organization, but I’m also the producer and host of the radio series. Recently I’ve been writing and recording the scripts for the shows, and that requires a completely different mindset from the writing I do every day for print and Web sites.
    When you write for speakers rather than readers, the first thing you need to to is keep the sentences pretty short, so the speaker doesn’t run out of breath or have to pause awkwardly in the middle of some thought. (A script sentence shouldn’t get any longer than that last sentence, and those particular 40 words can be sustained only because of the two commas providing natural breath pauses.) Then, you have to remember that sentence structures and turns of phrase that look sophisticated and elegant on the page may become hopelessly clumsy when spoken. Back in the mid 1980s, I visited KUSC in Los Angeles during a conference of radio music directors, and met Gail Eichenthal, the host of the Los Angeles Philharmonic broadcasts. What I remember best about that encounter is that Eichenthal vowed to make her own scripts simpler and more natural sounding. No more starting sentences with clauses like, “Born in 1756, Mozart …” That’s not how people talk, and if we say things like that on the air we’ll sound stilted and phony. (I did notice, though, that over the next several months Eichenthal was still starting sentences that way. “The best laid schemes o’ mice an’ men gang aft a-gley,” as I would probably not try to say on the radio, let alone in person.)
    You’ll notice that a lot of us suddenly sound stilted and phony when we read underwriting announcements, which are written by people who don’t have to deliver them on the air, and consequently stuff them with long sentences as well as sentence fragments and oddly placed modifying phrases and clauses. If you don’t have to read copy out loud, repeatedly, you just don’t think about these things. But we have to think about them if we’re going to sit here and impersonate normal folks.
    It’s been a long time since classical radio announcers practiced the old-school, black-tie formality of 1940s and ’50s figures like Ben Grauer (who was actually one of the less tight-sphinctered announcers of his day). Now we’re supposed to imagine ourselves to be ordinary people speaking enthusiastically, knowledgeably (but never condescendingly) and directly to one listener at a time. “Ordinary,” “enthusiastically” and “knowledgeably” require varying degrees of imagination depending on who’s on the air, but it’s something to strive for—precisely so we don’t sound like we’re striving for anything, just relaxing and sharing music with a friend.


About Cue Sheet

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