MONTPELIER — WordStage closes its Vermont Season
MONTPELIER — WordStage closes its Vermont Seasonwith “The Musical Circle of John Singer Sargent” on Saturday, May 28, at 8 p.m., at the T.W. Wood Gallery & Arts Center, 36 College St. Featured are Carol Spradling as Isabella Stewart Gardner and Tim Tavcar as John Singer Sargent, and musicians bass Erik Kroncke and pianist Mary Jane Austin.
“Had he chosen to become a musician, he would have risen to eminence in one way or the other, in our art.” This was said by the composer Charles Loeffler of arguably the finest portrait painter of the late 19th/early 20th century, the very cosmopolitan American artist John Singer Sargent. An accomplished pianist himself, Sargent often punctuated his studio sessions by playing the music of some of the composers who became friends and confidantes throughout his prolific career. Brahms, Fauré, Debussy, Ravel, Grieg, Charles Loeffler and Percy Grainger were all artistic intimates of Sargent’s who used his personal wealth and position in high society to inspire their music and advance their careers.
This WordStage presentation is derived from Sargent’s own recollections of his life and work, his volatile and enduring relationship with Boston’s colorful and convention-defying patron of the arts, Isabella Stewart Gardener, and observations of his musical colleagues which trace the development of an artistic mutual admiration society among its members.
This collaboration, by way of its warm and affectionate existence, proved to be a happy and lifelong marriage between the visual and performing arts throughout Europe and the Eastern United States.
Admission is $20, $15 for seniors, $10 for students, or “pay what you can”; for tickets and information, call (802) 828-8743, or go online to http://www.wordstagevt.com.
Erik Satie: More eccentric than composer?
By Jim Lowe, Staff Writer Times-Argus
Published: March 31, 2011
When composer Claude Debussy told Erik Satie that his music lacked form, the younger composer created his work for piano four-hands, “Three Pieces in the Form of a Pear.” That's the kind of eccentric Satie was.
“He was weird — and eccentric,” explained actor and director Tim Tavcar, who will be playing the composer in the WordStage production of “Eccentricities of the Velvet Gentleman: The Words and Music of Erik Satie” on Sunday at 4 p.m. at Montpelier's T.W. Wood Gallery & Arts Center.
WordStage was created by Tavcar to bring together words and music to illustrate great moments in music and theater history. Tavcar, who splits his time between Cleveland and Vermont, is known locally as an actor and director for over a decade with Lost Nation Theater, chorus director for Green Mountain Opera and many other productions, as well as his WordStage productions.
Tavcar will be joined in Sunday's “Eccentricities of the Velvet Gentleman” (called that because of his affectation of velvet suits) by Montpelier pianists Mary Jane Austin and Eliza Thomas. They well complement Tavcar's commentary with selections from Satie's music for piano four-hands as well as solo works.
“He knew everybody who was anybody at the time,” Tavcar said.
In fact, Satie was mentor to Debussy, Ravel and Poulenc, and collaborated with Cocteau, Picasso and Diaghilev. Satie's music defied classification and contemporary conventions as he created a quintessentially quirky compendium of words and music that ensures a unique place in musical and literary history.
“All the Romantics were still romanticizing,” Tavcar said. “By the time he got around to his own musical interests, he decided he needed to focus more in simplicity and strip away all the excesses.”
It was only decades after his death in 1925 that Satie was appreciated as a genius of contemporary classical music. His work was extremely simple in structure, yet innovative and marked by a characteristic wit. His reliance on unusual harmonic configurations was a reaction against the heavy, symbol-rich music of his era, a time when the works of Romantic European composers like Richard Wagner were still very much in vogue, and the Impressionism of his friend, Claude Debussy, was ascendant.
Satie left a relatively scarce body of work behind, most of it written for the piano. But his groundbreaking use of bi-tonal or polytonal elements would become a hallmark of 20th century modernist music.
Although Satie is probably best known for his “Trois Gymnopédies” for solo piano, some of his ballet music was also quite successful and remains in the standard repertoire. A collaboration with the designer Jean Cocteau, Satie's ballet “Parade” was premiered in 1917 by Sergei Diaghilev's Ballets Russes with sets and costumes by Pablo Picasso and choreography by Léonide Massine. (Satie's music was also incorporated in music of the Blood, Sweat & Tears and Frank Zappa.)
“He did that, but it was his lifestyle that was the interesting thing,” Tavcar said. “He lived — by choice — pretty much in poverty. He spent the first two decades of his working life as a café pianist at the Chat Noir in Paris.”
And he was weird. After becoming disenchanted with the Rosicrucian Order of the Roman Catholic Church, for whom he wrote music, Satie founded Metropolitan Church of Art of the Leader Jesus. He was its only member.
A prolific writer and cartoonist, Satie wrote fantastic diaries he titled “Memoirs of an Amnesiac.” He was a regular contributor to such magazines as the Dadaist 351 and the publication that was, and continues to be, the arbiter of contemporary style and taste, Vanity Fair. It is from these sources the text of this WordStage presentation was derived.
Idiosyncratic, iconoclastic, and wildly imaginative, this French composer, cartoonist, writer, and café entertainer left behind an intriguing body of work, and several collections of articles letters and memoirs which have delighted and infuriated critics, audiences for generations.
WordStage, a chamber music theater, presents “Eccentricities of the Velvet Gentleman: The Words and Music of Erik Satie” on Sunday, April 3, at 4 p.m., at the T.W. Wood Gallery & Arts Center, Vermont College of Fine Arts College Hall, 36 College St. in Montpelier, featuring actor Tim Tavcar and pianists Mary Jane Austin and Eliza Thomas. Tickets are $20, $15 for seniors, $10 for students (or “pay what you can”); call (802) 828-8743, or go online to www.wordstagevt.com.
WordStage Debuts with The Hollow Crown
By Elizabeth Crean for Seven Days
Contemporary British royals cope with a constant plague of peeping paparazzi and tawdry tabloids that gleefully document the dirty Windsor laundry. Their noble ancestors weren’t spared, either. Centuries of monarchical foibles and follies are highlighted in The Hollow Crown, an entertaining mix of poetry, prose and song staged by Vermont’s newest theater group, WordStage.
The literature-meets-music ensemble is the brainchild of Montpelier’s Tim Tavcar, director of the Monteverdi Music School and jack-of-all trades at Lost Nation Theater. WordStage marries his lifelong passions for classical music and theater, with some fresh twists. The simple premise — a four- or five-person group doing staged reading of texts and performing related songs — opens up a wealth of dramatic possibilities. The small scale makes it “a very portable venture. All we need is one or two props and some suggestive costumes — suggestive in the sense of [historical] period!” says Tavcar. “The production values are minimal, and the focus is all on the spoken words and the music.”
In a visual, video-driven culture, people have forgotten the elemental pleasure of listening to literature, Tavcar believes. A significant slice of family life used to center around the act of reading aloud, from the Bible to the latest Dickens installment. Disembodied radio voices later took over the storytelling. Tavcar remembers the powerful impact of hearing plays on Caedmon Records’ series of spoken-word LPs. “This whole project hearkens back” to these antecedents, he says. Musical selections are “designed to complement the words,” and often are suggested directly in the source texts.
Of the five programs planned for the premiere WordStage season, The Hollow Crown is the only show for which Tavcar isn’t creating his own original script. The breakneck tour through British history includes acid-tongued observers who catalogue royal licentiousness and incompetence; the monarchs themselves, who turn out to be passable poets; and Scottish songwriters, who prove masters of the crude, kiss-my-bum ditty.
The vivid texts humanize rulers who are, at best, distant history-class memories. For example, James I — remember him? — fired off a stinging missive against a dangerous American agricultural import. His early-17th-century “Counterblaste to Tobacco” is bound to win him some new 21st-century fans: Smoking, he wrote, is “a custom loathsome to the eye, hateful to the nose, harmful to the brain, dangerous to the lung, and in the black stinking fumes thereof, nearest resembling the horrible Stygian smoke of the Pit that is Bottomless.”
Tavcar is currently devising scripts for this season’s other four programs, on topics related to Rossini, Chopin, Kurt Weill and Dorothy Parker. He hopes the diversity “will appeal to a variety of people,” he explains. For example, “We’re doing the Algonquin set, and that’s nothing but people sitting around and being bitchy and listening to jazz music.” Two of four evenings reference the theme of sin, which should certainly fill seats.
What excites Tavcar about the WordStage format is that “almost anything is fair game,” he says. “Because I think people in their letters and diaries are the most passionate that they can be. So the source material is limitless, whether it’s from the individuals that you’re doing the works about themselves, or whether it’s people writing about them.” One early sign of success: Friends are already proposing projects for next season.
WordStage launches a new season with smart and sassy fare
Excerpt of an article by Elizabeth Crean, Seven Days: Vermont's Independent Voice (11 November 2009)
Attendance stats as low as zero — that’s as rocky a start as any performing arts group could have. Montpelier’s Tim Tavcar faced this two years ago when he founded WordStage, which brings together chamber music and staged readings around literary and historical themes. Audiences have warmed to Tavcar’s innovative scripts, however, and four shows are slated for the group’s third season. It kicks off this weekend with An Entertainment at the Court of the Sun King, which celebrates how the monarch known for his love of power — Louis XIV — also loved art.
This year’s eclectic programming mix begins in 17th-century France with Molière’s cutting comedy and Lully’s kicky keyboard music, and ends next May in the American Jazz Age with Dorothy Parker’s catty, chatty crew, the infamous group of writers, wags and critics who made up New York’s Algonquin Round Table. In between come Stradivari and the “Davidov” Cello, in December, and Proust in Love, in March.
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