Bolcom & Morris in Berkeley
Bolcom's points were insightful and supported by Morris' gritty performance, but the comparison to popular song seemed rather arbitrary. If one wants to make comparisons, why not cabaret song's relationship to the classical art song? How is it that the classical art song is so elevated above the cabaret song? Both genres unite singer and accompanist, giving equally virtuosic opportunity to word and music (proof: Sondheim's "Uptown, Downtown," which Bolcom played to the hilt). Are the lyrics of art songs somehow too mundane, too concerned with love, romance, and the natural world? Well then, what about Wolf's "Der Rattenfanger" and its creepy tale of the rat-killing, kid-chasing pied piper (a great match to Black Max, oo, what if the two dastards met)? Are art songs too beautifully sung, too concerned with proper phonetics and vocal tone? What of the first part of Ives' "Memories," which must be sung as fast as possible and in a less-than-beautiful, childish tone? On paper, in simple, lecture-seminar note format, one can draw many parallels between the two forms, yet the art song recital, formally presented in the concert hall, is rarely punctuated by audience laughter, and the cabaret act, more casually enjoyed as entertainment, rarely receives the attention of classical music elite. (Bolcom, at one point searching for an elusive detail of musical history, queried, "Is Richard Taruskin here?" The audience murmured, glanced around, but produced no Taruskin. Bolcom grumped good-naturedly, "Well, he should be!")
When all was sung and done, Bolcom lamented the wickedly commercial demise of Broadway (which, for a moment with Sondheim, showed possibilities of a new and developing cabaret style) but acknowledged the transition of musical theatre, and even opera, into an exciting, hybrid-cabaret form representative of modern times. This form, he mused, is likely to captivate the attention of young classical composers and performers whose skills extend far beyond the fundamentals of music, voice or piano study and include working knowledge of electronics/computer music programs as well as video. That he looks forward to observing a new generation tackle these developments reveals Bolcom's cabaret sensibility: whether as composer or performer, being aesthetically open-minded and technically flexible allows one to integrate genres. That melting-pot quality, in addition to an amplified dramatic delivery, points to a definition of cabaret as an arena of possibilities. From living room or concert hall stage, electronic or acoustic, Weill, Wolf or Ives, it just might be "American" cabaret.