2(2. picc).1.2(2. bcl).1 188.8.131.52 perc.pno
Playwright Albee and Ernest Lehman, who wrote the screenplay, have maintained an atmosphere of realism through the hazy, alcoholic dissertations that are occasionally delivered in crazy counterpoint.Kate Cameron, NY Daily News review of Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf (1966)
Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? was directed by the accomplished director of stage and screen Mike Nichols, whose fifty-year career included groundbreaking work in other films like The Graduate and Catch-22, Broadway hits such as Spamalot and Death of a Salesman, and notably an early successful career in improvisational sketch comedy in the 1950s with his partner Elaine May.
Nichols was a master of directing actors, and often spoke of his philosophy of boiling down all the dialogue and action in a scene to a very simple goal of what the scene should do. He believed that every scene ever written is either a negotiation, a seduction, or a fight. This distilling of all human interaction into three very basic motivations is something I wanted capture here, in this interaction between a saxophone soloist and chamber wind ensemble.
I. Negotiation “Talk like a madman, live like a sane one”
The title of this movement comes from Nichols’ 1970 adaptation of the Joseph Heller novel Catch-22. The discussion between an American GI and elderly native Italian man during WWII centers around how Italy had survived many radically different regimes conquering them over the centuries. The old man explains that, when defeated, they always welcome their conquerors with open arms, regardless of idealism: “We will certainly come out on top again if we succeed in being defeated.” To this, the GI responds, “You talk like a madman!” The old man’s confident reply is “But I live like a sane one.”
The negotiation in this scene is perhaps the GI’s negotiation through this unorthodox quasi-morality contrasted with his own idealism and patriotism. The music itself jumps quickly between unorthodox soundworlds, and does its best to negotiate through them.
II. Interlude “Suicidally beautiful”
This quote comes from a famous Nichols and May sketch about two teenagers in a parked car, dealing with pubescent hormones in the most awkward way possible. The boy gracelessly puts his arm around the girl, bringing about a long and tense silence, followed by the girl stuttering out the words “Have you seen the lake? It’s suicidally beautiful tonight.”
This movement could be looked at as being a sort of “false start” seduction scene.
III. Seduction “Available to you”
The title quotes Mrs. Robinson’s courtly and not-so-subtle proposition to Benjamin Braddock in Nichols’ 1967 Oscar-winning film The Graduate, in the culmination of what might be one of the strangest, off-putting, and funny seduction scenes of all time.
The music alternates between a pastoral theme and smoky nightclub jazz-like sound. The tempo is glacially slow, and the various dream-like swells from the ensemble lull the soloist into a stupor, or is it the ensemble that is lulled?
IV. Fight “Getting angry, baby?”
This quote is taken from the aforementioned Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? The line, hissed by Liz Taylor in between furiously pontificating about her husband’s failed career, is the culmination of Act I, finally unleashing the festering hatred that has been steadily growing from the start.
Commissioned by a consortium of twenty saxophonists, organized by Neal Postma & Christian Noon (conductor)