David Conrad is a very smart guy – of that I have no doubt. He’s also fairly good evidence that the universe just doesn’t play fair. What do I mean by that? I mean this – he’s shared the TV screen with Kimberly Williams, Carla Cugino, Jennifer Love Hewitt and Jeri Ryan and yet in real life, he’s a nice guy. He knows his 19th Century Russian literature backwards and forwards and he can quote Igor Stravinsky or Sergei Prokofiev at you effortlessly. And oh yea he looks like this:
He’ll be performing with the PSO this week, a performance that’ll include a new resetting of the famous Prokofiev piece, Peter and the Wolf. From the PSO’s website:
Audience favorite Peter and the Wolf usually tells the story of a young boy, his animal friends and an evil wolf, with the instruments of the orchestra portraying different characters. However, in this Pittsburgh-focused, tongue-in-cheek adaptation written by former Post-Gazette columnist Peter Leo with narration by actor and Pittsburgh native David Conrad, the classic story is changed to reflect modern times in our city.
We spoke by phone last week.
All kidding-out-of-envy aside, I have to say that Conrad’s a big booster of the cultural life of this city and he said that performing with a group as great as the PSO is a great honor. He grew up in Edgewood and then was a student at the Kiski School. He said that it was when he was at Kiski that he first heard the PSO (he’s now a season ticket holder, by the way). He remembered it was a school field trip and the piece was the Tchaikovsky 6th Symphony – the “Pathetique.” Considering his lifelong interest in Russian music and literature (he was a Russian studies major in college), it was certainly an auspicious event.
Stravinsky, he said, is his favorite composer but he also liked Tchaikovsky, Glinka, Rachmaninoff and Shostakovitch. He felt that Prokofiev’s Romeo and Juliet did such a good job in telling the story that in order to direct the Shakespeare well, one should listen to the Prokofiev first – so deeply steeped as it is with the internal and external politics of the play.
It’s the aesthetics he snagged from the Russian Literature that informs his general understanding (he called it a “Nabakovian reading”) of Prokofiev’s Peter and the Wolf. A thread running through Slavic culture, the dominator and the dominated flip – one becomes the other – and its our responsibility to see the humanity of both. That’s the great richness, he said, of Russian literature. The wolf gets caught in the end but is he really bad? We’re led to believe that but he’s just doing what a wolf does. He hunts and kills. Conrad counters that the hunters are also acting wolf-like by hunting down the wolf. How can that be a good thing?
Such is the complexity of Russian literature, the complexity of Prokofiev’s folk story, as told in too few words to do it any real justice. And for that I apologize.
The concert’s Friday and Sunday.