Sunday, September 13, 2015

Arvo Pärt, Celebrated with Music, Dance, and Crickets

Rebecca Krohn and Amar Ramasar in Christopher Wheeldon's Liturgy. Photo by Kelley McGuire
Of all the esteemed professionals on staff at the Met Museum, perhaps the one most needed at Sept 11th's Arvo Pärt tribute was an exterminator. No offense to crickets in general, but a cheerful and persistent representation of that species had a little too much fun alongside a string quartet, pianist, and singers, serenading a packed audience in the Temple of Dendur as part of Met Museum Presents. The chirping, I'm told, could even be heard on the live simulcast.

And why wouldn't the crickets celebrate since the event—featuring members of the New Juilliard Ensemble (directed by Joel Sachs) in chamber pieces by Pärt—honored his 80th birthday. It happened to coincide with the 14th anniversary of 9/11, which imbued the mostly delicate, elegiac pieces with perhaps more gravitas and emotion than usual. A number of them have been used in choreography, and in fact the program's finale featured New York City Ballet principals Rebecca Krohn and Amar Ramasar dancing Chris Wheeldon's Liturgy (
created in 2003 on Wendy Whelan and Jock Soto), which is accompanied by Pärt's Fratres for violin and piano. Krohn's elegant, long line and Ramasar's sure partnering and warm presence maximized the impact of this lovely architectural duet by the recent Tony winner.

A string quartet version of Fratres began the evening, before the crickets were really warmed up. It was followed by hypnotic, and at times sweet piano pieces played by Robert Fleitz and Mika Sasaki with great sensitivity, in which solitary notes hung suspended (when the crickets were resting). Less familiar to dance-goers were works with a solo baritone or mezzo voice, engaging in their pensiveness and wonder, humanizing the solitude and spaciousness that can make Part's music so wondrous.

The temple is of course not the ideal hall for such a concert, nor for a ballet performance, what with a hollow platform amplifying the light-footed Krohn's pointe shoe steps, and the rear spotlights often obscuring the dancers from our view. But taken as a whole, on the anniversary of 9/11, it was a solemn and moving experience. Through the massive window wall facing Central Park, I observed bats flitting over the trees at dusk, and after sunset, dozens of airplanes heading in every direction. The water in the moat in front of the stage rippled every now and then, and the crickets chirped happily—a recreated, yet real natural setting for this temple—witness to ancient rites, now host to contemporary resonances.

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