Warren Gerds/Critic at Large: Review: UWGB Music’s ‘Metropolis’: zowee!

UWGB Metropolis_1493469879784.JPG

Hitching her wagon to a star, composer Michelle McQuade Dewhirst created a dynamic musical force that adds luster to that star.

That’s one distillation of a unique event that took place Friday night in Cofrin Family Hall of the Weidner Center for the Performing Arts at the University of Wisconsin-Green Bay.

It was the premiere – performed live by accomplished UWGB student musicians – of McQuad Dewhirst’s score for the 1927 science-fiction stunner, “Metropolis.”

The film employs a cast of hundreds and sequence after sequence of dazzling and provocative scenarios.

The film envisions a city in 2026 – just nine years away now – where the privileged live above ground and the put-upon minions work and live below ground. The minions work exhausting days toiling on humungus machines.

From the opening moments of dreadful lockstep of the minions below ground to the utopian skyscrapers and gardens of pleasure for the upper class, McQuad Dewhirst has a cornucopia to work with. From there, an engrossing story unfolds of a woman who has two forms (witch and saint) – and the cornucopia grows larger.

The film clocks in at two hours and 28 minutes, so the score is hefty from the get-go. Also, something continuously happens as director Fritz Lang moves hordes of players through mob scenes and mad-scientist mayhem and relentless machinations while keeping a love story intact.

Picking out a few effects:

+ Freder, the good guy in the film, and the saintly Maria share a warm moment. The music is tender but with a discordant layer – a presage of the witch Maria who is yet to be.

+ Underground, the workers are mere cogs in machines that fill vast spaces with puffing smoke/steam, flashing lights and perpetual rhythm. For the monstrous monolith, the music is dark and ominous, in keeping with the mechanized power. Drums are the power, while chimes give a sense of continuation and time passing.

+ The film has 12 climaxes (or seems to because so many dramatic crossroads pop up), so eeriness leads to power leads to powerful eeriness in BIG rushes. The voices of singers emphasize the supernatural.

+ Silence. McQuad Dewhirst makes that golden at the right moments, as when saintly Maria is trapped by the mad scientist. The quiet is haunting.

Awing as much of the film is, the acting style is of the silent era. The camera dwells on characters as they express in body language and often tortured facial expressions what their mind, heart and soul feel. Meantime – ka-zowee – the film awes with its special effects and scenic displays of amazing foresight. One scene includes the boss speaking by phone to a foreman in a machine room while the boss sees an image of the foreman on a screen. That device of today existed in 1927 only in imagination.

Any way you slice it, the score is formidable. Its level of ambition is in keeping with the ambitiousness of the film. And the UWGB team of 78 musicians who presented the cornucopias were up to the task in impressive ways – wholly disciplined to what the score was saying, on a rigid timetable of the film.

Cofrin Family Hall, the main hall of the Weidner Center for the Performing Arts, was built with acoustics in mind. To hear the sheer force of music was stimulating – like a movie’s Surround Sound (or whatever), only with more color. And the hall carries the fine points in the music.

A world premiere.

Live music.

Fantastical film.

It was a totally super wondrous, large-scale event like none other at the Weidner Center or any other place within shouting distance.

A person sitting near me summed it up best: “A thrill.”

This and that:

+ A standing ovation and cheers greeted the finale. McQuade Dewhirst came to the stage with University of Wisconsin-Green Bay colleagues Kevin Collins and Randall Meder to savor the exciting moment.

+ The musicians and singers performed in the orchestra pit, unseen.

+ The film was projected on a two-story screen. Quality of footage (patched together from here and there) varied from scene to scene, but even some of the heavily grainy stuff was still awing.

+ The audience seemed to watch/listen in reverence. Any reaction was internalized. The display came at the end. After the cheers et al, the hall was abuzz about the film and music. Very cool.

The film is a smorgasbord of meaning and metaphors. It’s fun to try to interpret. One of the tastiest lines is, “People spoke the same language and could not understand each other.” And then there’s witch Maria with her diabolically delightful, “Let’s all watch the world go to the devil.”

***

Creative: Silent film directed by Fritz Lang, based on novel by Thea von Harbou; score – Michelle McQuade Dewhirst, with University of Wisconsin-Green Bay Wind Ensemble and Studio Orchestra conducted by Kevin Collins and University of Wisconsin-Green Bay Concert Choir conducted by Randall Meder

Concert Choir: Soprano: Acacia Angelo, Brittney Koerner, Sabrena Koren, Kaitlyn Kuchenbecker, Rachel Lokken, Haley Marks, Hailey Maurer, Eva Mora, Heather Roberts, Chay Schmitt, Marisa Slempkes, Madelyn Winter, Kristen Woodard. Alto: Taylor Gulbrand, Samantha Gulino, Ashley Gutting, RaeAnn Hill, Lauren Paul, McKenzie Reimann, Sydney St. Clair, Laker Anne Thrasher, Brittany Welch, Lorelei Zimmerman. Tenor: Alexander Ashbeck, Michael Bergmann, Aaron Frye, Chase Grabowski, Logan Gruszynski, Aaron Hepp, Erik Larson, Ryan Rickard. Bass: Matthew Courchaine, Daniel Heinzen, Nicholas Kopp, Derek Olson, Jordan Sisel.

Studio Orchestra: Violin: Haley Ebinal, Micaela Fafnis, Jacki Grabowski, Melissa Lund Zigler. Viola: Stacy Vang, Alisha Ziegler. Violoncello: Larissa Mickelson, Abbie Wagaman,

Wind Ensemble: Flute: Madison Mattox (piccolo), Mikaela Ryman, Desiree Hanson, Shannon Goede. Clarinet: Rebekah Erdman, Rebekah Noll, Tehya Miller, Natalie Hoffman. Bass clarinet: Kaitlynn Francois. Oboe: Samantha Weydt, Natalie Gawron. Alto Saxophone: Savannah Libassi, Paige Owen, Valeri Nowak. Tenor saxophone: Kelton Jennings. Trumpet; Ryan Loining, James Block, Thomas Parins, Ellen Roeber, Jason Ocasio. Trombone: Cameron Collins, Jake Daub. Bass trombone: Emily Walter. Tuba: Rafael Sanchez, Alex Shields. Euphonium: Joe Russett. Percussion: Lisa Ford, Sawyer Sendelbach, Jack Van Beek, Drew Westlund, Tom Zwicker. Keyboards: Nick Saldana.

***

THE VENUE: Cofrin Family Hall is one of three performance spaces within the Edward W. Weidner Center for the Performing Arts at the University of Wisconsin-Green Bay. At its maximum capacity setup, the hall seats 2,021 over its three levels of maple-and-burgundy seats. Opened Jan. 15, 1993, the hall was built to adapt to the needs of orchestra concerts, operas, musicals, plays and organ, band and choral concerts. For acoustical properties, wood is emphasized on the seats, mezzanine and balcony surfaces and walls near the stage. Many surfaces are curved to help shape the sound. Wood is featured for an aesthetic reason, too – a “from here” aura of woodsy Northeastern Wisconsin.

THE PEOPLE: The name Cofrin relates in great degree to A.E. Cofrin, founder of Fort Howard Paper Co., and his son, Dr. David A. Cofrin, who was instrumental in building the Weidner Center through multi-million-dollar donations. A friendship developed between David A. Cofrin (1921-2009) and Edward W. Weidner (1921-2007), the beloved founding chancellor of UWGB. Weidner spoke slowly and carried a big idea. Weidner arrived when there were no buildings on the present-day campus on rolling hills near the shore of Green Bay. His interests ranged from academia to birding to sports. He loved building projects. It was in his blood. He guided the building of the Weidner Center, so named from early on in construction. Weidner admitted his eyes welled once when driving to a performance and seeing a green sign along the highway: WEIDNER CENTER.

Contact me at warren.gerds@wearegreenbay.com. Watch for my on-air Critic at Large editions on WFRV-TV at 6:20 a.m. Sundays.

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