Off-Ramp

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Famed tenor Ian Bostridge comes to UCLA Live to sing “The Hurdy-Gurdy Man” … But not THAT “Hurdy-Gurdy Man.”


(Photo: Simon Fowler)

“New Yorker” classical music writer and Off-Ramp guest Alex Ross calls Ian Bostridge “a lyric tenor of uncanny focus and intensity.” Reason enough to go see him sing Wednesday at UCLA Live.

Not convinced? Then check out this video of Bostridge singing Schubert’s “Die Forelle:”

Still not on board? You are a tough case.

Well, how about the fact that he’ll be singing “Hurdy-Gurdy Man?”

It’s true. Accompanied by pianist Julius Drake, Bostridge will be singing the entire “Winterreise” by Schubert. It was written in 1827 and tells – shockingly – “a dramatic narrative of lost love.” A poet loves a girl who grows fickle, he walks away in the snow, past their favorite tree, past the now-stilled brook, under mocking crows, he’s cold and depressed, and there’s no room at the inn. “Winterreise” winds up with a song called “Der Leiermann,” which translates as “The Hurdy-Gurdy Man.”

Until I interviewed Donovan on Off-Ramp a couple weeks ago, I’d gone 28 years without saying “hurdy-gurdy man” on the radio. But now it’s come up twice in two weeks and I’m starting to think something’s going on.

Wikipedia gives a nice description of this song: “At the end of the village he finds the old barefoot hurdy-gurdy man, winding away his tunes, but no one has given him a penny, or listens, and even the dogs growl at him. But he just carries on playing … The parallel with the singer singing his sad songs in the ice and the slow, unresolved melody of the hurdy-gurdy concludes the cycle with an eerily unfinished feel perfectly in character with the lonely wandering of the singer.“

Maybe I’m getting old, but I love this image of a man dedicated to his art. He may not be practical, but he knows what he is, what he does best, and what he enjoys doing.

Minnesota Public Radio music director Rex Levang writes, "There's one thing about Winterreise that always seems to arrest people's attention, and that's the ending. After going through all his isolation, misfortune, self-pity, you name it, the narrator at the very end ... does away with himself? You might expect that, but no. He actually comes across this poor derelict of a street musician/beggar, and somehow identifies with him, and it ends that way."

Rex also had good things to say about Bostridge's EMI recording of "Winterreise."

"There’s no coloratura here, and no operatic display – just completely exposed music-making, and a psychological portrait that has to be sustained over the course of 70 minutes and 24 songs. Bostridge not only sings with great beauty, but with a voice that immediately suggests the vulnerability of Schubert’s protagonist."

Check out John's weekly show Off-Ramp.

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