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22.09.2014 Streep and Roth, death and music

As the Takacs Quartet plays works by Arvo Pärt and Schubert, Meryl Streep reads from Philip Roths's 2006 novel, "Everyman," at Princeton University.
As the Takacs Quartet plays works by Arvo Pärt and Schubert, Meryl Streep reads from Philip Roths's 2006 novel, "Everyman," at Princeton University.
PRINCETON - Meryl Streep, the Takacs Quartet, and Philip Roth aren't names likely to be seen together, much less people found in the same concert hall. Yet Princeton University Concerts presented all three in Richardson Auditorium on Friday evening, with the quartet playing Arvo Pärt and Franz Schubert, Streep reading extensively from the 2006 novel Everyman, and its author, Roth, listening in the audience - in a one-time-only event that guaranteed a packed house.
Interdisciplinary events are a priority for Princeton University Concerts, this one building on a similar Takacs program presented at Carnegie Hall in 2007, with Philip Seymour Hoffman reading Roth's accounts of how everyday people decline, die, are grieved and remembered.

This time, the narrative element was expanded to a challenging two hours. Clearly, Streep's priorities were to reveal the author's words rather than to give an Oscar-worthy performance, staying in the middle of her vocal range and differentiating the characters with the rhythm of her reading rather than inventing individual voices. The fact that the majority of the voices are male was no barrier; Streep has shown she can transcend gender.

At first, the presentation felt like a J.S. Bach passion, with Roth's story and dialogue doing the work of recitatives and arias, and then Pärt's meditative, minimalist pieces Fratres, Summa, and Psalom providing open-ended commentary like Bach chorales. But as the reading grew longer, that trajectory dissipated. Were we hearing all 182 pages?

No. Roth's end-of-life stories are drawn so anecdotally the seams didn't show in the cutting. At the end, he delivered the new writing in his best lyrical manner: As one of his characters undergoes a medical procedure, he relives his favorite boyhood summer by the sea, adding details describing him at his physical peak - in contrast to the aging man who dies on the operating table. Resurrected outtakes? New writing? Roth declined to comment at intermission. Whatever the case, he created a wonderful aria of sorts for Streep.
The conversational portions worked well, such as the phone call between old colleagues, one of whom is hospitalized in a losing battle with depression. But Roth's changes of scene, even written like cinematic dissolves, failed to register. Generally, his novelistic sensibility didn't allow for theatrical implication or pacing. On stage, words don't just have meaning, they occupy real estate.

Even falling short of its potential, the event exerted considerable power, and most of the audience stayed for the second half, in which the Takacs Quartet gave a go-for-broke performance of Schubert's String Quartet No. 14 ("Death and the Maiden"). Starry collaborators or not, this group is as compelling as any string quartet out there.
16.10.2014 12:46:00
kabby15
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