Memphis Symphony Orchestra overcomes delay for surprising Masterworks concert

Storm Large
Commercial Appeal

Even if there hadn’t been an evacuation of the building, the Memphis Symphony Orchestra’s Masterworks concert Sunday afternoon would have been unusual by any measure.

After intermission, the program went out on a limb, at least by MSO standards. Lately, and certainly in the coming season, it’s favoring performances of crowd-pleasers, catering to the traditionalists. Fiscal troubles in the last year have likely encouraged this cautiousness, but the second part of the concerts this weekend was a delightful departure.

Kurt Weill’s “The Seven Deadly Sins” is a provocative, satirical, dark work written in 1933. The text is from the German libretto by Bertolt Brecht and translated into English by W.H. Auden and Chester Kallman. Two sisters, Anna I and Anna II, head out from their home in Louisiana to make enough money to build a house for their family. Going around the country, the sisters (who may be two sides of the same Anna) encounter temptations — first in Memphis — and wrestle with whether to succumb or resist.

Performing the Annas was Storm Large, a singer, songwriter, actor and author who was simply stunning. First in her appearance, as she ambled onto the stage radiating a “Here I am” confidence that also seemed to mask the Annas’ uncertainty. She was dressed in a slinky white gown that radiated cool or thermonuclear heat, depending on what she meant to project.

Large, who has a background in cabaret and performance art, was astonishing. There wasn’t an ill-considered move, nor a tentative note. She sang of the humblings of the Annas as their journey slowly descended from hope to sadness; her face was heartbreaking whether she was singing or seating herself at a table drinking from the wineglass as the men’s chorale sang behind the orchestra as a Greek chorus, representing family and church and passing judgment.

The orchestra knocked it out of the park, giving the piece the jazzy insolence it needed. It was one terrific session, fresh and exciting.
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