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SPRING ARTS 2018 CLASSICAL: A new spin on Durufle’s ‘Requiem’

Gay Men’s Chorus director revoices famous work

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classical music, gay news, Washington Blade

The Gay Men’s Chorus of Washington has a busy spring. Although the chorus has always interspersed classical selections in with its contemporary, more LGBT-themed material, it has done more classical major works in recent years. (Washington Blade file photo by Michael Key)

Classical music is funny when it comes to LGBT stuff — on one hand, it’s no big deal. Nobody cares if the talent is there. Yet sometimes it’s taken to such an absurd degree that it feels disingenuous. Or the artists sometimes feel talking about their personal lives will cheapen their art or dilute its impact in an arena where it’s not supposed to matter.

All that to say — comb through the classical spring concerts coming up and there’s very few LGBT themes or personnel to point to. And yet many folks active in that world say our regional orchestras, opera companies and choirs are just as healthily outfitted with gays as the rest of the city. Maybe not quite as high in number as, say, the uber-queer D.C. theater community, but not off by much. It’s anecdotal so yeah, take it with a grain of salt, but that’s what you go by when there are no hard numbers available.

The gayest classical concert this season by far comes from an unlikely source — our Gay Men’s Chorus. While their musical chops have never been questioned — they’re enjoying a rich new era under the direction of Artistic Director Thea Kano — the fact that they do so much Broadway, camp, music-with-a-message, pop covers, you name it really, folks who love the classical canon around here tend to gravitate to local choirs (and there are many) that stick to the traditional repertoire.

It’s even a “thing” in the chorus. Kano, with a chuckle, refers to the “SMQs” (i.e. “serious music queens”) in the massive choir. Those SMQs, she says, were giddy with delight when she told them one of their 2018 concerts was a new tenor/bass arrangement of Maurice Durufle’s “Requiem.” The Chorus performs it this weekend (Saturday, March 3) at 8 p.m. at the Church of the Epiphany (1317 G St., N.W.). Tickets are $60. Full details at gmcw.org.

Kano, as big an ally as it gets, was in her third year of graduate school at UCLA in 2003 working on an advanced conducting degree when she first became aware of the famous “Requiem,” or “Mass for the dead.” She and her mentoring professor were considering ideas for what she might do her dissertation on and he suggested the “Requiem.”

“He said the Durufle ‘Requiem’ and I was like, ‘The who, the what?,’” Kano says. “He said, ’Shame on you,’ and sent me home with a bunch of CDs. I put the first one in and was just moved to tears. There’s something just glorious about it.”

It did become her dissertation piece and longtime chorus accompanist Teddy Guerrant suggested she adapt it for tenor-and-bass chorus.

“He actually kept bugging me about it over the years,” Kano says.

She had contacts with the Durufle Association (the composer, who was straight, died in 1986; the “Requiem” premiered in 1947) and went to Paris last summer to do the work of actually transcribing the nine-movement, about 40-minute piece, a process she says was, yes, tedious at times, but a process akin to working on a crossword puzzle that she came to love.

Composed for soprano-alto-tenor-bass (SATB) chorus with occasional divisi, Kano adapted it for tenor 1, tenor 2, baritone and bass (TTBB) a process that in many cases was as simple as taking the soprano and alto parts down an octave, although that wasn’t feasible in all places. It’s in the same key as the original; the same orchestral and organ accompaniments Durufle wrote are being used. Soprano Breanna Sinclaire (a trans Baltimore native who’s making a name for herself as an opera soloist) will perform the fifth movement, “Pie Jesu.”

“There are some passages where the sopranos (in the original) have the melody and they’re up in the rafters but now it’s been assigned to the baritones and it’s … kind of more smushed in there so we had to really bring the other sections’ volumes down and bring the other up to make sure it’s voiced so that what is prominent stands out to the ear of the audience,” Kano says. “The first few times I heard it live in the TTBB, I was like, ‘Wow, this sounds like Durufle but different.’ We’ve been working on it about seven or eight weeks and I think it’s just glorious. The audience is in for a real treat.”

Kano was delighted that about 140 of the chorus’s 300 (give or take) members signed on for the concert (they’re not required to). She was concerned some members who enjoy the more camp/pop stuff might not be up for such a major work from the classical canon, although the chorus has in previous years done adaptations of major works such as the Faure “Requiem” and “Carmina Burana.”

Because the “Requiem” was written in a style based on Gregorian plainchant (traditionally sung by male singers), the TTBB version required no great musicological backflips. And Kano says the majesty of the piece transcends its Christian text. If it seems an odd choice for the chorus, which specializes in more rah-rah-gay-type contemporary repertoire (although they’ve always done classical works as well), Kano says it’s its own statement of equality.

“Just the fact that we’re out as an LGBT chorus standing there and singing anything, you know, the stereotype of what the classical snobby choruses can do, just shows that we can raise our voices any way we feel is appropriate for our abilities. It puts us on the map that yes, we can sing anything and hopefully the audience will agree.”

Chorus member Tim Gillham, a tenor who joined the group in 2014, had previously sung the “Requiem” in the traditional voicing and said it’s been “truly a joy” to rediscover it in Kano’s version.

“Thea’s treatment brings an added depth and warmth to the work, which is especially appropriate for a ‘Requiem,’” he says.

“It’s been a total treat to have Thea work us through the music sections and share and feel her true passion for the music,” says Ed Oseroff, a bass who’s been with the Chorus since 2000. “I hope the audience will sit back, relax and let the emotion and power of the music take them away.”

As usual, it’s a busy spring for the Chorus. Its “Make America Gay Again” concert is Saturday, March 17; small ensembles’ “Extravaganza” is Saturday, April 14 at the Barns at Wolf Trap and “Transamerica,” a show about trans issues that will also feature Sinclaire, is June 2-3. Full details at gmcw.org.

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Books

Two new books celebrate Old Hollywood glory

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Liz Taylor and Montgomery Clift, who was gay, had a long, close friendship. (Photo courtesy Kensington)
‘Elizabeth and Monty: The Untold Story of Their Intimate Friendship’
By Charles Casillo
c.2021, Kensington
$27.00/389 pages

‘The Twelve Lives of Alfred Hitchcock’
By Edward White
c.2021, W. W. Norton & Company
$28.95/379 pages

If you’re queer, especially if you’re of a certain age, old Hollywood is embedded in your DNA.

For those of us besotted by classic movies — there can never be too many books about Tinseltown.

Two new books — “Elizabeth and Monty” by Charles Casillo and “The Twelve Lives of Alfred Hitchcock” by Edward White — will satisfy your old Hollywood jones.

“Elizabeth and Monty” is the riveting story of the intimate friendship of Elizabeth Taylor and Montgomery Clift.

Few people are loved more by the LGBTQ community than Elizabeth Taylor. Who will ever forget Taylor as Martha in “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf” or as Maggie in “Cat on a Hot Tin Roof?”

Taylor raised millions for AIDS research long before any celeb or politico even said the word “AIDS.” People with AIDS weren’t objects of charity to Taylor. She had many queer friends and hung out at gay bars.

Montgomery Clift, who lived from 1920 to 1966, was a talented actor. Because of the time in which he lived, he had to be closeted about his sexuality. Because of the homophobia in the society and Hollywood then, the support of friends was crucial to Clift and other LGBTQ people of that era.

For much of his life, Clift had health problems that caused him pain. Partly as a result of pain, he had issues with drinking and drug addiction. His behavior could be erratic and uncouth.  (He had a penchant for eating food off of other people’s plates.)

Despite Clift’s troubles, you become transfixed by his brooding intensity – whether you’re watching him in “The Heiress,” “From Here to Eternity” or “Red River.”  

If you have a heartbeat, you’ll feel the chemistry between Clift and Taylor when they’re on screen together in “A Place in the Sun.”

Though Clift was queer and Taylor was hetero, they were the closest of friends.

From the prologue onward, Casillo draws you into their friendship. The book opens on the evening when Clift, driving home from a party, was in a terrible car accident. He’d crashed into a telephone pole. 

Taylor went to Clift who was lying bleeding on the road. “Realizing he was choking on his teeth,” Casillo adds, “she instinctively stuck her fingers down his throat and pulled out two broken teeth, clearing the passageway.”

Taylor stuck by Clift when many of his friends distanced themselves from him.  

Taylor insisted that Clift be cast in “Reflections in a Golden Eye.” She put up her own salary as insurance for Clift when no one would insure him (because of his health and substance abuse issues).

It’s clear from “Elizabeth and Monty” that Clift was as important to Taylor as she was to him. Their relationship wasn’t sexual, writes Casillo, author of “Marilyn Monroe: The Private Life of a Public Icon” and “Outlaw The Lives and Careers of John Rechy.” Yet, there was an emotional intensity – a romantic quality – in their friendship.

Clift nurtured Taylor. He coached Taylor, who he called Bessie Mae, on her acting. He thought Taylor was beautiful, yet understood what it was like for Taylor when people only saw her for her beauty.

“Monty, Elizabeth likes me, but she loves you,” Richard Burton is reported to have said to Clift.

There are good biographies of Taylor – such as William Mann’s “How To Be A Movie Star: Elizabeth Taylor in Hollywood” and of Clift – most notably Patricia Bosworth’s “Montgomery Clift: A Biography.”

Even so, “Elizabeth and Monty” sheds new light on the intense friendship of two queer icons. Check it out. It will imbue you with renewed love and respect not only for Taylor and Clift but for your own friends.

Without Alfred Hitchcock, I’d never make it through the pandemic.

The COVID vaccines are wonderful! But, I’d never get out of my sweatpants without the suspense and glam of Hitchcock’s movies.

Nothing is more comforting than watching serial killer Uncle Charlie in “Shadow of a Doubt” or, with Grace Kelly, James Stewart and Thelma Ritter, observing the murderer in “Rear Window.”

What is more pleasurable than ogling the gorgeous mid-century apartment where a murder has been committed in “Rope?”

Of course, I’m far from alone in loving Hitchcock. Hetero and queer viewers are Hitchcock fans.

Everyone from your straight, straitlaced granny to your bar-hopping queer grandson has had nightmares about the shower scene in “Psycho.” Or had a crush on Cary Grant or Eva Marie Saint in “North by Northwest.”

From the glam in “Rear Window” to Bruno and Guy in “Strangers on a Train,” it’s clear that Hitchcock’s movies have a queer quotient and a special appeal to LGBTQ viewers.

There are more biographies and studies of Hitchcock’s life and work than you could count. Or would want to read.

Yet, “The Twelve Lives of Alfred Hitchcock” by Edward White is a good read.

In elegant, precise writing, White illuminates Hitchcock’s life and work by examining 12 aspects of his complex personality. As with all of us, the whole of Hitchcock’s self was more than the components of his personality. Any life, despite the most assiduous biographer’s investigations, remains somewhat of a mystery.

White explores how “Hitchcock” the phenomenon was invented as well as what made Hitchcock the person tick. He carries out this exploration by writing about Hitchcock as everything from “The Fat Man” to “The Murderer” to “The Dandy” to “The Voyeur” to “The Londoner” to “The Family Man” to “The Man of God.”

Hitchcock was a family man who loved his wife, yet, at times, gazed in, to put it mildly an unsavory manner, at some of the actresses such as Tippi Hedren, in his films.  

Impeccably dressed in a Victorian-era suite, he plotted films about murder and rape with his wife (and frequent uncredited collaborator) Alma at his side.

For a half century, “Hitchcock’s persona was the active ingredient in the most celebrated of his 53 films,” White writes, “the way Oscar Wilde’s was in his plays, and Andy Warhol’s was in his art.”

Hitchcock stands alone in the Hollywood canon, White writes, “a director whose mythology eclipses the brilliance of his myriad classic movies.”

The span of Hitchcock’s career was immense — from the time of silent films to the 3-D era. His work, White, a “Paris Review” contributor, writes, runs the gamut from thrillers to screwball comedy to horror to film noir to social realism.

Read “The Twelve Lives of Alfred Hitchcock.”  It’ll take you inside the mosaic of the fab filmmaker’s life and work. Then, break out the popcorn and “Dial M for Murder.”  

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Out & About

Northam declares June LGBTQ+ Pride month in Va.

Virginians encouraged to participate in events throughout the Commonwealth

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Ralph Northam, gay news, Washington Blade
Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam, shown here at NoVa Pride in 2018, announced a monthlong series of Pride events. (Blade file photo by Michael Key)

Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam on June 4 officially declared June as LGBTQ+ Pride month to celebrate the commonwealth’s LGBTQ+ communities, their achievements and contributions, and their fight for inclusion and equality.

“This Pride month, we are reminded of the resilience of LGBTQ+ Americans and their fight for inclusion and acceptance and equal access to services and opportunities,” said Northam. 

Northam further encouraged Virginians to participate in Pride month activities that are to be hosted by his administration and community organizations taking place online and in-person throughout the Commonwealth. 

A comprehensive event schedule is available on the governor’s website.

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Arts & Entertainment

Colton Underwood, Greyson Chance+ more Amazon Live Pride Festival!

Greyson Chance and former Bachelor star, Colton Underwood, will be streaming live to discuss how they show their Pride, answer fan questions

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SEATTLE, WA. – Happy Pride Month! Amazon Live is hosting its first-ever Pride Festival this Thursday (6/10) and Friday (6/11) from 3-6pm ET. Your favorite celebrities and influencers, including recording artist, Greyson Chance and former Bachelor star, Colton Underwood, will be streaming live to discuss how they show their Pride, answer fan questions, and share their top Pride picks across fashion, beauty, books, movies, and TV.

Customers can watch HERE via desktop, mobile, or through the Amazon Live Shopping app on Fire TV. Customers can interact directly with the celebrities and influencers via live chat, and easily shop the products and brands discussed through a carousel that updates in real-time.

The scheduled events are as follows:

DAY ONE (6/10):

  • 3PM ET: Greyson Chance will perform from his upcoming EP Trophies, releasing on June 25, and share his curated selection of Pride merch.
  • 4PM ET: Jo Duree will stream a “get ready with me,” inviting viewers to do their makeup alongside her as she shows top tips and tricks.
  • 5PM ET: Pride House LA is throwing the ULTIMATE pride variety show! Featuring top products, you will be fully entertained with special guest performances and amazing talent!

DAY TWO (6/11):

  • 3PM ET: Colton Underwood will discuss his life, answer viewer questions, and share the products that help him show off his pride.
  • 4PM ET: Jake Warden will demo a Pride makeup look.
  • 5PM ET: Olga Von Light will discuss her coming out story, and share some favorite Pride related merchandise and why the products are meaningful to her. 

We’d love to have you join! Check out this blog post for more information about how Amazon is celebrating Pride Month.

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