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Croak Meets Words and Music

David Oliver and Vincent O'Neill - photo, Irene Haupt

Samuel Beckett at A Musical Feast

In their latest example of creative programming on Friday, March 13 at 8pm in the Burchfield Penny Art Center, A Musical Feast will offer a production of Words and Music, a work which started out as a radio play written by Beckett in 1961, using music by Morton Feldman. It was commissioned by the BBC for its now legendary Third Programme, which ran from 1946 until 1970 and played a crucial role in disseminating the arts in the UK and beyond, in particular by commissioning new works by some of the writers, including Beckett, Pinter, Dylan Thomas and Joe Orton, who changed the face of the cultural map during the post WWII era.

The original radio production featured a musical score by John Beckett, a cousin of the composer, a score that Samuel Beckett, who was not a musician, seemingly had collaborated on with his cousin, but that score seems to have faded into obscurity soon after the premiere broadcast. Another version of the score by the pioneer British serial music pioneer Humphrey Searle seems to also have had a very limited life, which brings us to the 1987 version by Morton Feldman featured in this production.

Beckett had first met Feldman in 1976 in Berlin where they discovered that they shared a mutual dislike of opera. Beckett is reported to have said “I don’t like my words being set to music,” to which Feldman replied, “I’m in complete agreement. In fact it’s very seldom that I’ve used words. I’ve written a lot of pieces with voice, and they’re wordless.” Beckett later sent Feldman a card with a poem called “Neither,” which began with the words “to and fro in shadow / from inner to outer shadow/ from impenetrable self to impenetrable unself / by way of neither.” Feldman made use of these lines in his 1977 work Neither, the first work by Feldman to consist entirely of the repetition and mutation of tonal forms. Beckett reportedly chose Feldman as his collaborator for a new production of Words and Music in 1987 without ever having heard any of his music. The 33 short fragments of music by Feldman have been described as “a set of tiny, exquisite haikus” and so are very different than most of the very long works that he composed during the decade before his death in the same year.

The existential, abstract play, which lasts just over 40 minutes, has three characters: “Croak” played by David Oliver, “Words,” also known as “Joe,” played by Vincent O’Neill, and “Music,” also known as “Bob”—actual music played by the seven musicians. Croak, an old man, summons the characters Words and Music, perhaps best understood as projections of his own psyche, to help him recapture a moment of now lost love, from his distant past. Words are dominant at the start of the work, as might well be expected in a work written by Beckett, but Music will not be denied, and ultimately triumphs. Croak becomes less and less articulate, relying on groans and sighs, reduced to thumping on the floor ever more weakly with his club, and shuffling his feet, until his final exit, after which Words is reduced to imploring Music a final three times, to play yet again the music now associated, inextricably, with the vanished lover. Words and Music has continued to inspire extremely varied interpretations, but however audience members interpret the play, it’s almost a given that they will never forget the experience.

Neil Wechsler will direct the production while Jan Williams will conduct the ensemble consisting of flutists Emlyn Johnson and Kerrith Livengood, violinist Shieh-Jian Tsai, violist Virginia Barron, cellist Jonathan Golove, pianist Amy Williams and John Bacon, vibraphone.

The first half of the evening will feature a pair of works by Elliott Carter, with Golove joining Williams in the composer’s lyrical Elegy, an early work from 1940, while Golove will play the brief, Figment No. II “Remembering Mr. Ives,” a 2001 work for solo cello. Williams will perform her 2012 work for solo piano, Falling, and join Golove in a performance of her work Stop Yield, written as a 60th birthday gift for her fellow composer and friend, Amnon Wolman.

Tickets: $20/$10 students/Burchfield Penney members

Phone: 878-6011 or visit:

Amy Williams at Pausa

Last May, Amy Williams and Helena Bugallo delivered a memorable piano four hands performance featuring Stravinsky’s Rite of Spring at the Pausa Art House. Tonight, March 12 at 8pm, Williams returns alone to present a rare complete performance of John Cage’s groundbreaking Sonatas and Interludes for prepared piano. Dozens of screws, bolts, pieces of rubber, coins, strips of plastic, are inserted into the strings of the piano, using the composer’s set of preparations, to create sounds that are reminiscent of percussion instruments such as gongs, woodblocks, cymbals. The piece, which last just over an hour, has been described as “an emotional journey, both through the ‘white’ emotions (the heroic, the erotic, the mirthful and the wondrous) and the ‘black’ emotions (fear, anger, disgust, and sorrow) of Ancient Hindu aesthetics.”

Tickets: $7; students: $5. Information:

Buffalo Chamber Music Society

The Elias String Quartet makes its Buffalo debut on Tuesday, March 17 at 8pm in the Mary Seaton Room with a program that includes Mozart’s Quartet in C major, K.465 “Dissonance”, the String Quartet ‘Ainsi la nuit’ by Henri Dutilleux and the Quartet in C sharp minor, Op. 131, the quartet that many consider Beethoven’s masterpiece.

The British quartet made its American debut in 2012 to great critical acclaim, with a sold-out concert at Carnegie Hall. Praised in the Washington Post for “their shimmering beauty”, the Philadelphia Inquirer proclaimed “Few quartets at any stage of their evolution have this much personality.”

Their first release on the prestigious Wigmore Live CD label won the BBC Music Magazine Newcomer Award in 2010, and they recently recorded the piano quintets of Schumann and Dvorak with American pianist Jonathan Biss.

Tickets: $20/$10; free admission for Middle/High School students. Information:

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