Saturday, October 20, 2018

Salon at The Street, hosted by Jane Rutter: Composers in Exile

Jane Rutter as herself
Composers in Exile by

Peter Coleman-Wright – Baritone and Piano
and the Nexas Quartet:
Michael Duke – Soprano Saxophone
Andrew Smith – Alto Saxophone
Nathan Henshaw – Tenor Saxophone
Jay Byrnes – Baritone Saxophone
with Jane Rutter – Flute

The Street Theatre, Canberra, October 19, 2018.

Reviewed by Frank McKone

L to R: Jay Byrnes, Michael Duke, Peter Coleman-Wright, Andrew Smith, Nathan Henshaw
in Composers in Exile
Jane Rutter introduced the show with Eight Pieces for Solo Flute composed in 1927 by Paul Hindemith.  Like the other composers in the main part of the performance, he had been conscripted into the German Army in World War I.  As the Nazis gained strength and complete power by 1933, and the official criticism of Hindemith’s work became intolerable,  he “finally emigrated to Switzerland in 1938 (in part because his wife was of partially Jewish ancestry), before moving to settle in the United States in 1940.”  [ ]

Rutter’s fine playing brought out for us the sense of release through music mixed with the sense of foreboding that was the key to appreciating the work not only of Hindemith but of those other composers who took up their fascination with banned American jazz, became Communists, were Jewish, and sought to educate the people politically through entertaining cabaret. 

Finally escaping as many did to the USA, they became a major influence as musical and film score composers on the perception we now have of American popular music and song before the advent of rock’n’roll; such as the long-term favourite September which ends the show.  It first appeared in the 1938 Broadway musical Knickerbocker Holiday, and then in the 1950 film September Affair.  How many realise that the music is by Kurt Weill (of Bertolt Brecht’s The Threepenny Opera fame) to words by the serious American writer, Maxwell Anderson!

Projected behind the players, as they took on the roles of composers Weill, Eisler, Schreker, Korngold and Stolz, were photos not only of them but of many of the scenes they witnessed or were happening in Germany, especially to Jews in the 1930s – in the streets, behind the wire, with signs in shop windows and official notices.  Jaunty or romantic though the music seemed, reality haunted the scene from behind.

The four saxophones (they were banned, too) made a fascinating band, with all the expressive possibilities from joy to despair (sometimes even overwhelming the power of Coleman-Wright’s operatic strength – partly, I think, because of the not-so-good acoustics of The Street auditorium); and a special highlight was Jane Rutter singing the part of Pirate Jenny from The Threepenny Opera, in a very lively translation of her Whore House song in Act 2  – at least compared to that by Hugh McDiarmid that was the much duller official version when I directed it in 1976.

For me the show was enlightening history as well as a musically entertaining trip back to the days of those great talents between the World Wars, when a bit of unusually syncopated jazz played on a saxophone could be taken by a government to be such a threat.  Those composers, forced into exile or execution, made art which has far outlasted the murderers.  Thanks to Nexas Quartet, Peter Coleman-Wright and the irrepressible Jane Rutter for presenting Composers in Exile.

Jane Rutter in character