Thursday, April 9, 2009

Wagnerian CHUTZPAH

This will not be the first time I have given a Chutzpah of the Week award based on an "Arts Page" story (that happened last July, on the fourth, no less); and, strictly speaking, the basis for this award did not take place this week. Rather, the award is based on a peripheral item in the recently announced schedule for this summer's BBC Promenade Concerts, as reported by Dave Itzkoff on the ArtsBeat blog for The New York Times. It is a reminder that, no matter how depressed we get from our daily "news of fresh disasters" (as Beyond the Fringe put it in the skit about the Second World War), British eccentricity will never fail to raise our spirits. In this case the agents of British eccentricity I have in mind (and therefore the recipients of the Chutzpah of the Week award) are the members of the Ukulele Orchestra of Great Britain, specifically for their decision to include a transcription of the "Vorspiel" to the third act of Richard Wagner's Die Walküre (known more familiarly as "The Ride of the Valkyries") in their repertoire. This ensemble of six ukuleles and bass guitar (based on the YouTube video included with Itzkoff's post) may well have equaled (or bettered) Elizabeth Poston's arrangements of Tchaikovsky for the Dolmetsch Ensemble of recorders (with additional percussion and organ, the latter performed by Poston herself) for The Hoffnung Interplanetary Music Festival of 1958. Furthermore, there seem to be at least two vocalists in the group; so we can anticipate that "Hojotoho! Hojotoho! Heiaha! Heiaha!" has been included in the transcription. The Ukulele Orchestra of Great Britain may never be a serious Grammy contender, but they can take pride in being the first musical performers to receive a Chutzpah of the Week Award!

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