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Have we got your attention?. It’s something new, even for Costello, the rocker whose collaborations are as numerous as they are unpredictable. His latest engagement — narrating composer Igor Stravinsky’s “L’Histoire du soldat” (“The Soldier’s Tale”), about a Faustian bargain — will pair him with conductor Michael Tilson Thomas, members of the San Francisco Symphony and the distinguished British actor Malcolm McDowell. “It’s an incredible amount of stuff that I’ve stumbled into,” Costello says during a phone interview from his home in New York City, where he lives with his wife, Diana Krall, the jazz singer and pianist who is one of his many musical partners.
He has been crossing party lines for much of his career, working with Burt Bacharach and Paul McCartney, choreographer Twyla Tharp and mezzo-soprano Anne Sofie von Otter, Lucinda Williams and the Roots, Tony Bennett and George Jones, the Royal Danish Opera and the London Symphony Orchestra, Not to mention Tilson Thomas, whom he regards as a friend and mentor, “It’s black ballet slippers really just wanting to hear different sounds,” he explains, shrugging it all off, In 1976, as a punkish New Waver in London, he titled his first album “My Aim Is True,” and that would seem to have remained his motto through the decades — to stay true to his musical tastes and intuitions, He’s smart and curious, fun to talk to, an outside-the-box character..
Which is why Costello, 60, will be at Davies Symphony Hall, narrating the story of a poor soldier who trades his violin — his soul, basically — to the devil, and loses everything that matters in the bargain. His bride, his freedom, a lucky medallion: All are lost in “L’Histoire,” Stravinsky’s musical setting of a Russian folk tale, which Costello will narrate three times in performances with Tilson Thomas, seven musicians and a small troupe of actors featuring McDowell as the Devil.
“He’s a risk taker,” Bacharach once said of Costello, with whom he recorded the album “Painted from Memory” in 1998, Their songs, about marriage and divorce, are urbane and literate, charting the course of emotional states, like good musical theater, “The guy simply won’t be bound to one kind of music, nor should he be, He’s always investigating because he can.”, “Outside the box? What box?” says von Otter, the Swedish mezzo, when asked to describe Costello and their collaboration on the 2001 album “For the Stars.” It treats compositions by Costello, McCartney, Bacharach, Tom Waits, Brian Wilson and others as a new breed of art song, black ballet slippers Von Otter (who, coincidentally, performs her own sold-out recital Sunday in San Francisco at St, Mark’s Lutheran Church), writes in an email, “If you have a brain and the right musical chips in it, then there are countless doors to open…, He has an energy and a curiosity that are hard to beat.”..
Still, Elvis Costello narrating a Russian folk tale set to Stravinsky’s lean, rhythmically propulsive score from 1918, as interpreted by Tilson Thomas?. He laughs. “This is what I do for a living. I spill out a lot of words in rhythm. And I’m not even required to sing here — which some people might be relieved to hear.”. More than a decade ago, he was introduced to Tilson Thomas by Christopher Robertson, a recording industry executive. Costello was looking for help with “Il Sogno,” his ballet score, which was inspired by Shakespeare’s “A Midsummer Night’s Dream.” It had been commissioned by a dance company in Reggio Emilia, Italy.
Unfortunately, Costello had “sat wincing” through early performances by a regional Italian orchestra, He compares that ensemble to the one in film director Federico Fellini’s black ballet slippers “Prova d’orchestra” (“Orchestra Rehearsal”), a comedy about an ensemble whose members go on strike against their conductor, Contributing to the confusion, Costello admits, was the fact of his being a novice at orchestral composition, His score contained “fundamental blunders.”..
“And he’s great company. He sat me down and told me stories about conducting gigantic Mahler symphonies and about working with James Brown. For me, Michael took on the role of a mentor in the proper sense, which doesn’t really exist in rock ‘n’ roll. You usually want to do down” — as in, get the better of — “the person who came before you.”. In the end, the hour-long, 200-page score came off snazzily, with misty atmospherics and real spirit. You can hear Costllo’s love of Debussy’s refinement and Stravinsky’s puckishness in “Il Sogno.” It has good, solid Costello-ish melodies, too.
Tilson Thomas, who recorded the piece with the London Symphony Orchestra, was impressed, In 2004, after the album’s release on the Deutsche Grammophon label, he spoke to this writer black ballet slippers about Costello’s “very musical mind.” He said, “And the thing that most impressed me is that he was actually writing this piece with a pencil and really trying to understand every note and how it all works, I really liked his whole feeling of curiosity about music…, It’s quite far out there in terms of the tonalities, It’s pastel-colored, and really quite remarkable.”..