HASS dean plays in disappointing act

AN OUTSIDE VIEW OF EMPAC SHOWING THE CONCERT HALL WHERE HASS DEAN MARY SIMONE PERFORMED last Friday. The concert, unfortunately, was somewhat disappointing; not a good showcase of Simone’s work.

Dean of the School of Humanities, Arts, & Social Sciences Mary Simone held a concert this past Friday at the Experimental Media and Performing Arts Center; a concert which unfortunately fell somewhat short of expectations. The concert consisted of many traditional instrumental pieces and some electroacoustic pieces that Simone had worked on, as well as the premiere showing of Simone and her daughter’s multimedia work questions that tempt the sleeper.

The concert began with a showing of Simone and her daughter Shannon Dowd’s movie. The film itself was something of a tragedy in terms of both its plot and its execution. It contained many technology-based elements that simply went over the heads of both myself and many other audience members I spoke with. In addition, the writing and choreography were poor at best. The writing fell short of its mark due to an overabundance of melodrama and a lack of real characterization. The choreography suffered from a similar ailment, as it was very overplayed and incredibly nonsensical much of the time. The movie did have a good musical score, however, which complemented the themes of the overall film nicely. The actors, for the most part, delivered their lines with excellent flair and really sold their roles, but were unfortunately dragged down by the writing.

The technology-based portions were incredibly confusing. Each of the piece’s three actors had a trio of people behind them with either a smartphone or tablet in their hands and speakers strapped to their wrists. Their purpose was unclear and served as very confusing transitions between the segments of the different actors.

This first movie was followed by darkness, then by two dancers who appeared to be improvising. Their piece of the overall concert was called “Fuga Nervosa.” Now I say that they were improvising because their movements did not appear to have anything to do with either the music being played, or with each other. It was evident that they were incredibly skilled, but what they were doing made no sense.

The duo’s second dance made significantly more sense to me as the two dancers began interacting and playing off one another. Again, their impressive skill was evident in their graceful movements, but all of that was mitigated to a certain extent by the fact that they appeared to not have practiced with each other before. Their movements weren’t always in sync, which at some points seemed intentional and otherwise seemed like a simple lack of rehearsal, which was sadly something of a theme throughout the show.

The third sort of act featured a clarinetist and a girl who processed the audio in real time on an iPad. They preformed a piece entitled “Armé Arirang.” Before they began playing, it seemed like a very cool concept as they projected the girl’s screen behind the artists so the audience could see what was going on. In practice, however, it was somewhat lackluster as the acoustic processing was only evident maybe three times, and two out of three were annoying or tedious changes.

The fourth act was a talented violinist from the Albany Symphony Orchestra who played a beautiful piece written by Simone. This act was genuinely moving and amazing. There were some background noises and processing applied during her effort, and it all added up to an astonishing effect. The only criticism I feel I must offer is that the piece and its accompanying process was morose. It was a sad piece.

The fifth act was actually quite impressive. As the cellist came out to play, he received a bracelet which monitored the movements he made in order to concurrently play the note that he was playing. He then went on to improvise with incredible skill for the next few minutes. There was a very minute delay between what the cellist played and what the computer sent out, but overall the effect of the computer and the cellist together was downright magical. I do have a bit of a soft spot for cellos, but all the same it was an amazing act.

The sixth act I found to be incredibly gloomy. It was entitled “Connemara.” This act featured Simone playing the piano, and while her playing was incredibly skilled, the piece she performed seemed to be lackluster. I thought the music was too dark and had no unity to it. There just didn’t seem to be a good theme that the piece revolved around, and so it really lost me. In general, I thought it was something you might hear in the background of a horror flick.

The seventh act again featured Simone playing “Sonata in A minor, Opus 42.” The piece she played during this segment I enjoyed immensely. I felt it had a very good theme to it. The only issue with this segment was one common to the whole performance—it could have used some polish. There were definite pauses as Simone switched between pages of sheet music, which spoke to me of a lack of rehearsal. In the same way, many of the transitions throughout the show were very rough, with stage crew taking the stage alongside performers in order to set up or take away instruments, chairs, and mics. I have worked shows like this before. I did more than my fair share of tech work and stage managing in high school, and I know that good transitions can be done easily with forethought and a little practice, and in this concert that kind of planning wasn’t evident.

The eighth act featured a talented soprano accompanied by the piano in a piece entitled “De Profundis.” The song itself—as though this were a theme of the performance—was very dark and gloomy, with the lyrics asking for mercy and seeking redemption.

The penultimate piece was a combination of the piano, a saxophone, the drums, and a singer in a recently composed aural delight called “Giggles.” This music was absolutely amazing. I found it to be incredibly well done and very beautiful. I felt there was some dissonance between the piano and drums, but overall it was very good.

The final act was a combination of all the performers getting together with the audience and singing the alma mater. It was a fitting way to end the performance, all told.

In summary, if you ever get the chance, you should definitely go and see Simone in concert. She has an amazing amount of skill, and can get a great group of performers together. I’m sure she will be back at EMPAC eventually. If you go though, be prepared for both a very slow start (many people left at the intermission), and if this work was representative, a very darkly-themed evening.