"MUSIC FOR AIRPORTS" composed by Brian Eno performed by Bang On A Can All-Stars directed by Frank Scheffer + Frank Scheffer's documentary In the Ocean
MEDICI ARTS DVD VIDEO 3077558 TT: 107 min.

Music of Lutoslawski, Schumann, Schubert, Debussy, Bartók, Ravel, Liszt, Bizet, and Tchaikovsky performed by pianists Martha Argerich, Nelson Freire, Hélène Grimaud, Evgeny Kissin, Gabriela Montero and Lars Vogt, piano; Joshua Bell, Renaud Capuçon and Sayaka Shoji, violin; Lars Anders Tomter, viola; Mischa Maisky, cello; Thomas Quasthoff, baritone; Verbier Festival Orch/Sir Andrew Davis, cond.
MEDICI ARTS DVD VIDEO 3078058 TT: 80 min.

ADAMS: Doctor Atomic
Gerald Finley (J. Robert Oppenheimer); Jessica Rivera (Kitty Oppenheimer); Eric Owens (General Leslie Groves); Richard Paulo Fink (Edward Teller); James Maddalena (Jack Hubbard); Thomas Glenn (Robert Wilson); Jay Hunter Morris (Captain James Nolan); Ellen Rabiner (Pasqualita); Chorus of the Netherlands Opera/Netherlands Philharmonic Orch/Lawrence Renes, cond.
OPUS ARTE DVD VIDEO OA 0998 (2 disks) TT: 230 min.

Music for Airports is not new; it was composed by Brian Eno 1978. Scored for voices and instruments including acoustic piano and synthesizer, it was conceived "to defuse the irritating atmosphere of an airport terminal." In 1999 a new version arranged by Michael Gordon, David Lang, Julia Wolfe and Evan Ziporynl was performed by Bang on a Can All-Stars at the Holland Festival. The 50 minute work was accompanied by Frank Scheffer's varied images of Amsterdam's Schiphol Airport, and the result is seen on this DVD. The four sections are quite similar, all subdued in mood, with quiet, moving textures that could easily remind one of New Age Music. And while we listen to this, we see slow-moving images from the airport: passengers, planes and masses of color, all very much out of focus. Scheffer's 53-minute documentary In the Ocean "endeavors to explain the complex contemporary-music picture of the past thirty years, as well as showing how ideas move back and forth between continents." It features the ensemble Bang on a Can All-Stars as well as interviews with major composers including Steve Reich, Philip Glass and Brian Eno. Interviews are filmed very close-up; do we really want to see that much facial detail? Contemporary music afficionados will welcome this release; others approach with caution—you know what to expect.

The Medici Arts Verbier Festival DVD is a teaser. It offers performanes presented by distinguished artists at the 2007 Festival, as listed above. There are intriguing items here including Martha Argerich's performance of Lutoslawski's Variations on a Theme by Paganini, obviously a favorite work of hers as she already has recorded it twice on disk, once each with Giorgia Tomassi and Nelson Freire, and on video with Mauricio Vallina (REVIEW). Gabriela Montero is the pianist here. Also presented complete are Schubert's Klavierstück in C played by Lars Vogt, Debussy's Children's Corner Suite played by Nelson Freire, and Liszt's Liebestraum No. 3 and the Horowitz transcription of music from Bizet's Carmen played by Evgeny Kissin. Extraordinary performances indeed, but for the most part Kissin is filmed very close so viewers can watch him vigorously "singing" the music (distracting even though he makes no vocal sounds).We have three excerpts from Schumann's Dichterliebe sung by Thomas Quasthoff, two movements from the same composer's Piano Quintet, one movement each from Bartók and Ravel violin sonatas, and the finale of Tchaikovsky's Violin Concerto with Joshua Bell. Playing time for this DVD is only 80 minutes; all or most of these excerpted works could have been presented in their entirety.

Doctor Atomic is John Adams' opera about building the first atomic bomb and its detonation. Focusing on the personal agonies of all involved, it is powerful, disturbing opera. The music effectively underlines the darkness of the shattering episode as each character questions the wisdom of what they are doing. On this DVD we see the Netherlands Opera 2007 Peter Sellers production with a strong cast throughout, Gerald Finley and Jessica Rivera perfect as the Oppenheimers. This past season the Metropolitan Opera presented their own production of Doctor Atomic directed by Penny Woolcock with Alan Gilbert on the podium and both Finley and Fink repeating their roles from this Dutch presentation. I didn't see this when it was shown in theaters, but have heard it is superior in most ways, particularly the shuddering ending, in which, as the final countdown is heard, the stage turns totally dark. If you are interested in this opera, wait for the Met version which undoubtledly will be issued on DVD.

R.E.B. (January 2009)