FROM THE PITTSBURGH POST GAZETTE
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Short Takes: Moe's marvelous 'Tri-Stan' pokes fun at pop and high art
Tuesday, March 29, 2005
Whoever decided classical music can't be funny and certainly shouldn't be entertaining would have been dismayed at the multitude of belly laughs Sunday night at Bellefield Hall Auditorium.
The chief instigator was a probing but comedic new work by Pitt composer Eric Moe. The world premiere of "Tri-Stan" was the highlight of a concert by visiting ensemble Sequitur, presented by Pitt's Music on the Edge series.
"Tri-Stan" is a setting for mezzo-soprano and chamber orchestra of a David Foster Wallace short story, "Tri-Stan: I Sold Sissee Nar to Ecko." In whimsical, fast-moving prose, Wallace pokes equal fun at pop culture's repeating of itself and high culture's lingering snobbishness, ultimately showing the two to be pretty darn similar.
The twisted plot, purposefully laden with furbelow academic terms, bad puns and mixed mythology, follows the tragic demise of a media mogul's (Agon M. Nar) actress daughter (Sissee), shot by a demented stalker (Ecko). A pithy synopsis does little justice to the double-entendres and slippery humor of its depiction of how Nar succeeded by recycling the same sitcom, from "Brady Bunch" to "Family Ties" to "The Cosby Show." Then there's the ridiculousness of sexy Sissee becoming the star of a cable hit, "Beach Blanket Endymion," even though all she does is sleep in every episode.
Faced with such an air-tight text, Moe's creation was a marvel. Influenced by composer David Del Tredici's vocal works, the structure of "Tri-Stan" aided the manic text immensely. Mary Nessinger excellently delivered the wordy recitatives and exquisite arias. Under Paul Hostetter, Sequitur oscillated between background ambience and foreground description with fluidity, seamlessly incorporating quotes ranging from TV show themes to Wagner. A wonderfully kitschy video prepared and played by CMU's Suzie Silver offered "ultra-titles" -- a mix of text and images...
"Tri-Stan" is a major work for Moe, not just in size (50 minutes), but because it's a culmination of several strands of his compositional aesthetic. For an audience, it is one of those rare works that transcends the cultural divide while still being rooted in both sides. People of differing backgrounds can enjoy and, yes, be edified by its cautionary tale.
-- Review by Andrew Druckenbrod
Post-Gazette classical music critic