Archive for February, 2010

PostHeaderIcon A Night of Magical Acting

CurtainsChicagoans currently can see two solo tour de force performances on the boards: Brian Dennehy in Samuel Beckett’s “Krapp’s Last Tape” at the Goodman and Mary Beth Fisher in “The Year of Magical Thinking” at Court Theatre.  While more theater-goers have seen Dennehy’s performance, you should head to Hyde Park this week for the final performances of the Joan Didion play.

While I’ve usually viewed Didion’s writing as too cool, controlled and detached, I found the move from page to stage made her story more gripping. Fisher’s remarkable portrayal mad it easier to picture Didion navigating the various stages of grief she endured during the year in which she lost both her long-time husband, fellow writer John Gregory Dunne, but also her daughter, Quintana or Q-Roo.

We witness the dispassionate journalistic observer, Didion’s preferred  identity, give way to a traumatized woman who adopts a form of denial, called “magical thinking”, to convince herself that Dunne has only gone out and will soon return. Eventually she admits, “I was crazy for a while”.

Fisher holds the stage—and audience—in her grip for 90 minutes (45 minutes longer than Dennehy) using the full range of her acting repertoire–movement, voice and gesture–to tell Didion’s tale. Fisher has appeared at Court in six previous productions.

However, director Charles Newell, in an after-performance discussion, said that he did very little directing and let Fisher find the character and the play’s heart in what he called, “The Gospel According to Joan”.  I experienced an emotionally-charged moment at the very end when Fisher, who had been speaking to the audience throughout, moves to a chair and turns away from them.  She has nothing more to say and must now face her solitude and grief alone.

PostHeaderIcon Berlin’s Digital Concert Hall


The classical music world has witnessed more change in the past decade than in the previous half-century.  Everything seems to be in play from old assumptions to new recording models, more adventurous programming, new audience initiatives and testing new technology.

Here at home, the Chicago Symphony inaugurated Resound, its self-produced record label.  Its resoundingly successful music education venture, Beyond the Score, has been copied by orchestras in Cleveland, San Francisco and New York. The Metropolitan Opera left the confines of Lincoln Center and broadcast the opening of “Madame Butterfly” on a Jumbotron screen in Times Square and now transmits simulcast productions to hundreds of movie houses nationwide.

However, one orchestra has taken the lead in extending its brand in search of new audiences and revenues even further.  The Berlin Philharmonic, which marked its 125th anniversary in 2007, launched what it calls the Digital Concert Hall last January.  Subscribers see the orchestra performed live from Philharmonie Concert Hall with excellent picture quality. Five HDTV cameras record the concert and transmit to a studio on the premises.

Olaf Maninger, an orchestra member and managing director of Berlin Media, which produces the programs, said that the idea was first broached about four years ago but that the bandwidth and the proper Flash 264 encoding technology was yet unavailable.

Maninger says a great many other orchestras are thinking of copying the technology but that few have the video studio onsite that can transmit concerts with such high picture and sound quality.  It took 18 months to build the on-site studio.

Although the orchestra members “feel a responsibility to society and to the future of music,” Maninger admits it took him 18 months to overcome resistance among orchestra members to having the cameras record their every note.  “I had to make them comfortable with the idea.  They worried about the camera catching them making mistakes.  Now it’s not so problematic.”

This week, viewers will be able to see conductor Simon Rattle with soloist Mitsuko Uchida in live concert on February 10 and 14 performing Sibelius Symphonies 3 and 4 while Uchida will play Beethoven’s Piano Concertos 2, 3 and 5.

A subscription to a single concert costs $15. A pass good for thirty days of listening  is $58 and gives one access to the concert archives. For more information, go to the Digital Concert Hall’s website at