The music of Kurt Weill has come a long way since it first shocked Berlin six decades ago. With a Kurt Weill Foundation in New York and several recent compositional discoveries, that music continues to find new enthusiasts.
One such enthusiast--soprano Ann Gresham--finds Weill's music not only challenging to perform and worth a great deal of study, but also relevant in the light of what's happening in the world today. Gresham, with pianist Raul Herrera, will give a recital of Weill's music Saturday at Cerritos College as part of the Fringe Festival.
Insisting that her concept of Weill's music embodies "truth" rather than politics, Gresham says she sees "a lot of apathy in the world today, very similar to what was going on in Berlin back in the late 1920s--the time of the premieres of Brecht and Weill's "Die Dreigroschenoper" (Threepenny Opera) and "Aufstieg und Fall der Stadt Mahagonny"--a few years before the Nazis came to power.
"Weill and Brecht were trying to stir up people's emotions, trying to get them to recognize that beneath a seemingly happy mood lurked an impending evil ready to strike.
"There's so much going on today that keeps this music meaningful and fresh: from political scandals to a certain recurring hamburger commercial on the television. I love music when you can find a reason for it. Otherwise, a musician tends to suffer from a lack of self-esteem."
Gresham's theatrical approach has in the past included a slide show illustrated with scenes from some of today's news events. Her performances, like the original contexts of Weill's music, have sometimes been controversial.
A graduate of Cal State Northridge and an adjunct professor at the University of Redlands, Gresham keeps herself busy with private students; she is also an accomplished pianist.
"I have studied classical piano since age 3 and was actually a double major (piano and voice) in college. Then a teacher told me that I could never sing opera. I didn't have the right face or the right voice or anything, she told me. Yet when I got into my late 20s, something must have matured because I started singing opera and winning awards with it."
Gresham's operatic repertory now embraces 25 roles, and she has appeared with orchestras and chamber ensembles nationwide.
The singer's first encounter with Weill's music occurred during the Vietnam War era--"a time when I among many others sought to establish musical identity as well as a personal code of ethics in a world of chaotic social upheaval. The masses would begin the day with a cynical sigh.
"I learned via Mort Sahl, friends and the daily body count on the evening news that one had to have tremendous courage to remain innocent in the face of such a beast. Tremendous courage or immense stupidity."