The Casual Blog

Tag: Prithvi Mruthyunjaya

My eye outlook, a tuba reminiscence, and enjoying some Mendelssohn and Wagner

I saw Dr. Mruthyunjaya for an eye checkup last week,and the news was basically good. The eye test results were mixed — with my injured left eye I couldn’t see any letters on the chart, but I could tell how many fingers the PA held up.

By now I’m thoroughly acclimated to the check routine — getting pressure tested, dilated, photographed, and poked, prodded, and peered into. I used to think of the eye as sort of a delicate thing, but now not so much. Anyhow, after giving me a thorough going over, Dr. M. said those words I longed to hear: “I like what I’m seeing.” My retinal scarring had not gotten substantially worse. My cataract was larger, but he says that’s relatively easy to address. We’ll likely do the surgery in September. I’m optimistic that I’ll be seeing better.

Sally and I drove over to Greensboro on Friday for the opening concert of the Eastern Music Festival. We had dinner with friends beforehand at the Green Valley Grill, where we enjoyed their potato leek soup and cauliflower steak. I talked about being a student musician at EMF as a rising high school senior, when I played the tuba in the student orchestra.

Why the tuba? I remember Mr. Shelton, my first band teacher, asking if any of the trumpet players wanted to switch to tuba, because the band needed one. I liked the look of the big horn, and liked the idea of doing something others didn’t. Other ideas came later: the tuba as a unique voice, as bass French horn, as brass cello. But the start was mainly out of curiosity. It seemed like it might be fun. Which it was.

Getting back to the Guilford College campus brought back happy memories of friends and wonderful music. The concert was the first event of the EMF season by the faculty orchestra conducted by Gerard Schwarz. The first work of the evening was by Schwarz, and featured a choir of boy sopranos. They looked like normal goofy boys, and sounded completely gorgeous.

The highlight was Joshua Bell performing the Mendelssohn violin concerto. It’is a brilliant, gorgeous piece, and Bell was fantastic. Within the first few notes, it was clear that he was a master musician, and he’d considered many possibilities for every note. Along with the logic was a lot of passion and excitement. He played a solo encore that seemed to be variations on Yankee Doodle Dandy in the style of Paganini. The double stops and harmonics were amazing!

The last work of the evening was excerpts from Wagner’s Götterdämmerung, including Siegfried’s Rhine Journey, Siegfried’s Funeral March, and Brunhilde’s Immolation. This is amazing music, elemental in its force. The soft parts were a bit tentative, but the loud parts were thrilling!

An eye exam, a veggie burger, and a new ballet

It was a busy week at work, with many new issues popping up as I tried to address the existing backlog. I also made a visit to the Duke Eye Center for an exam in preparation for my eye surgery next week. My ophthalmologist, Dr. Prithvi Mruthyunjaya, seems both brilliant and humane, but his patients have to spend an awfully long time in the waiting room. This was also true of Drs. Denny and Casey. Is this a retinological tradition? Are damaged retina patients more-than-usually patient? Dr. M. described my prognosis as “guarded.” At a number of levels, I felt not so great.

On Friday Sally and I did dinner and a ballet. For dinner, we made our first visit to Chuck’s, a new place on Wilmington Street that features in gourmet hamburgers. We quit eating cows many years ago, and so initially assumed Chuck’s was not for us, but then were told on good authority that they made the best veggie burger in town. It was, in fact, really good. It had flavor and pleasing, chewy consistency. And it didn’t fall to pieces.

The Carolina Ballet led off with a new work called A Street Symphony by Zalman Raffael. It was set to hip hop music, which, as almost everyone knows, is music emphasizing pulsing polyrhythms and rhyming gritty lyrics, and deemphasizing melody and harmony. I developed a taste for hip hop a few years back, when I found the Sirius radio hip hop channels, and found it to be good music for driving a sports car. I liked the raw immediacy and experimental transgressiveness. It is also, of course, good dancing music, but hip hop dancing seems worlds away from the ballet tradition.

Combining radically different movement vocabularies could be a banal experiment or a disaster, but Raffael succeeded brilliantly. His work Rhapsody in Blue, presented earlier this season, was soundly designed and had some marvelous flashes, but seemed more the work of a skilled apprentice than a master. With A Street Symphony, he has arrived, with a strong sense of architecture and humor.

The work is made up of seven songs, with the dancers arrayed in solos, couples, and ensembles. The set and costumes are minimalist, with the women wearing gauzy tutus of various colors pulled above their tights. In the beginning, the pounding rhythm is unsettling, and the first piece, Clockwork, uses a robotics theme that is fairly familiar. But Alicia Fabry’s replicant is both energized and vulnerable, with limbs shooting about at amazing speeds and a startled doe-eyed gaze.

I also really liked Jan Burkhard and Yevgeny Shlapko in Best of Me. Jan is a dancer with an sensual quality, and here she was fearless. Classical dance walks a fine line with respect to sex: it candidly reveals dancers’ bodies and deals with intimate subject matter, but almost never references the act itself, and is careful not to push the red button. But hip hop is sexy, and Jan embraced it. So did Eugene, who had a rangey freedom that recalled the hood.

Lindsay Purrington was really touching and beautiful in Cry Me a River. She did various transformations, including a streetwise tough and a Swan Lake swan. At one point her tutu started to fall to pieces, which added an unplanned degree of tension to the performance, but she dealt with the issue with grace, eventually ditching the thing stage right, and strutting boldly forward. Adam Crawford Chavis lifted her magnificently overhead.

This was unquestionably ballet, with pointe shoes and the traditional vocabulary, but augmented with exciting movements from urban street culture. The most successful dancers seemed to personalize their roles, though some stuck close to the familiar classical lines. For one, Margaret Severin-Hansen, who is a fantastic classical technician, was sharp and intriguing, but seemed to me to hold back a bit from the street. On the other hand, I thought Sokvannara Sar, Nikolai Smirnov, and Cecilia Ilieusiu all found interesting individual ways of combining the upmarket and downmarket.

Anyhow, I really liked A Street Symphony, and also Robert Weiss’s new work Idyll, set to Richard Wagner’s lovely Siegfried Idyll. It featured three couples and flowing lines. I was looking forward to The Rite of Spring, but it came after the second intermission, and I was just too tired to take it all in. Sally thought it too was wonderful.

It’s time to subscribe to next year’s ballet season. We’ve been going on Friday nights for fourteen years and have excellent front-center orchestra seats, but I think we’ll switch to Saturdays. On Fridays I often find myself tired after a busy week that includes 5:30 a.m. workouts, and not always able to hang in there intently for a full evening of beautiful performances. Our NC Symphony subscription has been on Saturdays, and so we’ll have to manage some conflicts, but it seems worth it.