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Review: A Pianist Makes Carnegie Hall His Home

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When the pianist Igor Levit streamed dozens of performances from his apartment in Berlin during the first pandemic lockdown in 2020, he wore neat but casual clothes: closefitting sweaters, hoodies over T-shirts. He was inviting you to a concert, yes, but also into his home; he offered, in milieu and music, both elevation and comfort.

Carnegie Hall, Levit made clear from the moment he walked onstage there Thursday evening, is like home for him, too.

Appearing for his first solo recital in the gilded Stern Auditorium, he came on wearing a dark, slouchy collared shirt, left unbuttoned to reveal a crew neck underneath, and black jeans. The impression, as usual with him, was of an artist who dispenses with formalities and fripperies to focus — with relaxation but also intense seriousness — on the music.

It was, also as usual for him, an elegantly organized program. A Beethoven sonata that ends in a suite of variations led into the premiere of a new set of variations by Fred Hersch. A transcription of the prelude to Wagner’s opera “Tristan und Isolde” was followed without pause by the B minor Sonata of Liszt, Wagner’s champion and eventual father-in-law — which ends, as “Tristan” does, in the key of B.

Building to a mighty climax in a grand account of Liszt’s sprawling sonata, Levit projected a kind of burning patience through the evening. His playing is changeable, but never comes across as improvisatory; there is always a sense of deliberation, sometimes in tempos but always in approach, a palpable sense that everything has been thought out. Yet the results feel confident and fiery, not merely or coolly analytical.

From its gently rocking opening — here a mistiness out of which emerged quiet clarity — Beethoven’s Sonata No. 30 in E (Op. 109) received a dreamier, and eventually more explosive, rendition than on the recording Levit released in 2013.

He has a gift for gentleness, shaping soft, tender melodies that ache without slackening. In the third movement, he built the final variation to furious, ecstatic runs. But the greatest impact came when those runs dropped out, leaving the remnants of a barely audible trill as the path back to the theme.

Hersch is best known as a jazz pianist, but he also writes poised concert works. While Levit has played some of his short pieces, this new Variations on a Folk Song is substantial, a bit more than 20 minutes long.

The theme here is the plaintive “Shenandoah,” and Hersch gives sober, subtle, respectful treatment to a song that, as he writes in a program note, “I learned as a child and has so much emotional resonance for me.” One of the 20 variations is slightly skittish; another is slightly robust; the most memorable sprinkles tiny quivers in the pauses of a mild piano line. But the mood is consistent, and kindly.

Levit is one of classical music’s most politically outspoken figures, which is one reason that the untroubled sincerity of Hersch’s interpretation of “Shenandoah” is so striking. The song is thought to have its roots among the fur trappers of the early American Midwest and their relations with the Indigenous population; it is a melody that touches the core of our country’s history, in all its complexity. But these unvaried variations are a musical vision of nearly unbroken serenity and benevolence — notably, curiously nostalgic.

The “Tristan” prelude was here, in Zoltan Kocsis’s arrangement, far more progressive, its opening almost surreally elongated by Levit so that his eventual landing on flooding chords offered some of the shock this work held for its first listeners. Kocsis’s arrangement ends in shadows, out of which Levit’s Liszt emerged; a rough contemporary to “Tristan,” the sonata was here a stand-in for the opera.

It had the time-bending effect “Tristan” often does, its contrasting sections seeming to float alongside one another in a vast expanse. The sense of scale was memorable, as was Levit’s touch: densely liquid low rumbles; charcoal-black stark chords; extremely soft passages that sounded candied, like snow glittering in moonlight.

The coherence of his conception of the evening extended to the encore: the actual ending of “Tristan,” the “Liebestod,” in Liszt’s transcription. Its climax — which Liszt achieves by working the extreme ends of the piano simultaneously, to delicately epic effect — spoke for the recital as a whole, judiciously balanced yet thrilling.

Igor Levit

Performed on Thursday at Carnegie Hall, Manhattan.



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Sundance Film Festival: Lena Dunham’s New Film and ‘Get Out’-Influenced Horror

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There was a time not so long ago when the Sundance Film Festival was in danger of being overwhelmed by swag, hype and other extra-cinematic preoccupations. One year, if I remember right, there were stickers all over its Park City, Utah, home reminding those of us in attendance to “focus on films” rather than parties, celebrity sightings, industry buzz and tabloid gossip.

That isn’t much of a problem now. For the second year in a row, Sundance isn’t in Park City at all. Instead of traipsing up and down Main Street or piling into shuttle buses, the audience is exactly where it has been for most of the past two years: at home, in front of a screen, scrolling through a menu in search of something to watch.

There’s a lot of film — scores of features and dozens of shorts, running through next weekend — and not so much festival. I’m not going to argue that this is a good thing. But I will say that from the vantage point of my armchair, this Sundance has so far shown a special kind of vitality. At a time when many of us are worried about the health of movies, it offers proof of life.

The kinds of films long associated with Sundance — adventurous, youthful, socially aware — face particular difficulties at the moment. Covid has imposed new burdens on filmmaking. Streaming has upended the already fragile ecology of independent distribution. And a bored, moody, stressed-out public may not know what it wants. I’m not sure I do. Do I want to be challenged or comforted? Am I looking for movies that reflect the miserable realities of contemporary life or movies that conjure alternative realities? Is it weirder if people are wearing masks onscreen, or if they aren’t?

Maybe the best thing about Sundance is that I don’t have to choose. As of this writing, I’ve seen 21 movies, which stubbornly refuse to add up to a picture of the State of Independent Cinema. Some of them are holdovers from Before, carrying the aura of 2018 and 2019 into the present. Others seem to come from a Sundance that exists outside of time, a place where diffident young people bittersweetly come of age, where lonely souls forge tentative connections against a harsh American landscape, where quirkiness, awkward sex and cheeky genre play are as common as family dysfunction and melancholy soundtrack music.

Which is to say: I have seen Lena Dunham’s new feature, “Sharp Stick,” about an unworldly 26-year-old virgin named Sarah Jo (Kristine Froseth) who lives with her T.M.I. mother (Jennifer Jason Leigh) and TikTok-ambitious sister (Taylour Paige) and who has an affair with a cool dad (Jon Bernthal). I have also seen Jesse Eisenberg’s directing debut, “When You Finish Saving the World,” in which an Indiana teenager (Finn Wolfhard) struggles with romance, creative ambition and his do-gooder mother (Julianne Moore). I have seen Max Walker-Silverman’s “A Love Song,” with two lonely people (Dale Dickey and Wes Studi) forging a tentative connection in a desolate and beautiful part of Colorado. And Cooper Raiff’s “Cha Cha Real Smooth,” whose post-college protagonist, played by the director, moves back home and meets a sad mom (Dakota Johnson).

I liked all of them, with reservations that need not concern us here. Spread throughout various sections of the festival (Premieres, Next, U.S. Dramatic Competition), they offered glimmers of Classic Sundance, evidence that American independent film is either sticking to its guns or stuck in a rut. Luckily that isn’t the only or even the dominant flavor in the festival these days.

Documentaries are always, for me, the heart of this festival. Nonfiction film has its own styles and subgenres. Some of the strongest offerings this year follow familiar templates, interweaving news clips, interviews and present-tense narrative to shed light on urgent issues or excavate hidden histories. Eugene Yi and Julie Ha’s “Free Chol Soo Lee,” about a Korean immigrant in San Francisco wrongly convicted of a 1973 murder, is one example — a story of injustice and activism that turns into a meditation on the price an individual can pay for becoming a cause célèbre.

“Navalny,” directed by Daniel Roher, is the portrait of a political celebrity, the Russian opposition leader Aleksei A. Navalny, who is shown instructing the film crew to tell his story “like a thriller.” Ending with Navalny’s dramatic arrest in Moscow a year ago, the movie certainly has a suspenseful, stranger-than-fiction feeling, enhanced by its subject’s dashing, humorous charisma. At the same time, it has the nervous, present-tense pace of a news broadcast.

Sometimes the real news is old news, and the most dazzling films are made of images that have been languishing in the ether or the archive. Four of my Sundance favorites so far this year are found-footage documentaries, movies largely or entirely assembled out of images harvested a long time ago. This isn’t a new phenomenon — last year’s Sundance standout, “Summer of Soul,” was almost entirely made of found footage — but it may have a special allure in a screen-saturated culture that is at once obsessed with and puzzled by history.

“Riotsville, USA,” directed by Sierra Pettengill from a script by the critic and writer Tobi Haslett, is a pointed lesson in the non-pastness of the past. Using public television broadcasts and law-enforcement training films, Pettengill delves into the official response to the urban uprisings of the mid- and late ’60s, zeroing in on the report of the commission appointed by President Lyndon B. Johnson to assess the causes of the violence and propose solutions. People dressed and talked differently then, and smoked on television, but the great, troubling achievement of the movie is to show how little our civic arguments about racism, policing, poverty and politics have changed in more than 50 years.

Sometimes, though, the past haunts the present by staying out of reach. Sara Dosa’s “Fire of Love” tells the story of Katia and Maurice Krafft, a French couple who devoted their lives to studying the world’s volcanoes. They are characters in the film, and also collaborators, since the most striking scenes — violent eruptions and eerily serene lava flows — were captured by their cameras until their deaths in 1991.

Bianca Stigter’s “Three Minutes: A Lengthening” examines a scrap of amateur film taken in a Polish town in 1938 — a tourist’s moving snapshot of Jewish citizens waving, mugging and going about their daily lives. Almost all of them died in the Holocaust, and the movie doesn’t so much restore a sense of what came before as document the absolute rupture between before and after.

Five years after Jordan Peele’s “Get Out” premiered in Park City, its influence is unavoidable. Some of the most interesting movies about racism are horror movies, and vice versa. Mariama Diallo’s “Master” is a campus drama set at an exclusive New England college that clings to old traditions and new forms of hypocrisy and bad faith. Evoking the Puritan-Gothic overtones of “The Scarlet Letter” and (less explicitly) the map of modern microaggressions in Claudia Rankine’s “Citizen,” Diallo follows the parallel stories of two Black women, a student (Zoe Renee) and a professor (Regina Hall), in hostile surroundings.

Like “Get Out,” “Master” finds scares — and satire — in the benevolence and moral vanity of white liberals. Nikyatu Jusu’s “Nanny” takes a similar tack, subjecting its protagonist, Aisha (Anna Diop), an immigrant from Senegal living in New York, to torments that may be supernatural, psychological or some combination of the two. What’s certain is that they are made more acute by her position in the household of a wealthy, well-meaning and seriously (and maybe also conventionally) messed-up white family.

It almost comes as a relief that the white villains in “Alice,” Krystin Ver Linden’s clever mash-up of plantation drama and blaxploitation revenge picture, aren’t hypocritical, just hateful, and that the nuances of the heroine’s state of mind are less important than her righteous rage. These movies, which deploy tried-and-true genre tropes with various degrees of success, rest finally on the skill and conviction of their lead performers. The stories may not be entirely persuasive, but Hall, Diop and Keke Palmer, who plays Alice, can’t be doubted.



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Peter Dinklage Calls Disney’s ‘Snow White’ Remake ‘Backward’

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On Monday’s episode of Marc Maron’s “WTF” podcast, the “Game of Thrones” star Peter Dinklage said he was stunned to learn that Disney was doing a live-action remake of the 1937 animated film “Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs” — and more so, that Disney was proud to announce that it had cast a Latino actress, Rachel Zegler (“West Side Story”), as the lead.

“Literally no offense to anything, but I was sort of taken aback,” said Dinklage, who won four Emmys for his role in the HBO fantasy epic. “They were very proud to cast a Latino actress as Snow White, but you’re still telling the story of ‘Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs.’ Take a step back and look at what you’re doing there. It makes no sense to me.”

“You’re progressive in one way,” he continued, “but you’re still making that [expletive] backward story about seven dwarfs living in a cave together.”

“Have I done nothing to advance the cause from my soapbox?” he asked. “I guess I’m not loud enough.”

Disney did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Dinklage, who stars in the upcoming film “Cyrano,” an adaptation of Edmond Rostand’s classic play “Cyrano de Bergerac,” is not opposed to a remake of the classic fairy tale, as long as it were given a “cool, progressive spin,” he said. “Let’s do it. All in.”

Marc Webb will direct the new “Snow White,” and Gal Gadot has been cast as the Evil Queen.



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Hilary Duff Is Back, in ‘How I Met Your Father’

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The girl next door has a new apartment.

Hilary Duff — forever young, forever pert, forever blond — found a home on the Disney Channel two decades ago as Lizzie McGuire, a self-possessed tween with an animated alter ego. After forays into music, where she went multiplatinum, and film, where she and her sister, Haylie Duff, racked up a few Razzie nominations, she stopped chasing auditions.

“I had been touring for four years,” she said. “And I really just needed a break.”

She married the hockey player Mike Comrie, and had a son, now 9. Two years later, in the midst of her divorce, she received an offer for Darren Star’s TV Land rom-com series, “Younger,” and went on to spend seven delightful seasons as the brash publishing executive Kelsey Peters.

Along the way she had a daughter with the musician Matthew Koma, whom she married just before the pandemic. She became pregnant again a year later. In her ninth month, with “Younger” newly wrapped, she heard from Isaac Aptaker and Elizabeth Berger, co-showrunners of “This Is Us” (with Dan Fogelman) who were putting a new spin on the echt-00’s sitcom “How I Met Your Mother.”

That series, which ran on CBS from 2005-14, starred Josh Radnor as the mother meeter, with a supporting cast that included Neil Patrick Harris, Cobie Smulders, Alyson Hannigan and Jason Segel. In the new show, “How I Met Your Father,” Duff plays the lovelorn heroine — a striving photographer named Sophie with a perky New York apartment that few real starving artists would be able to afford. (Kim Cattrall appears onscreen as the older, cashmere-clad version of Sophie.)

Duff had seen only a few episodes of the original. “I like murder too much to watch comedy,” she said. But after some initial hesitation, she agreed. The show debuted its first two episodes last week, with eight more to follow on a weekly basis.

Very early on a recent weekday morning, Duff arrived on a video call from her Los Angeles home looking seraphic in a white dress embellished with broderie anglaise. Despite a few interruptions — hug bombs from her three-year-old daughter, a TikTok shoot by Koma (“He’ll do anything for some content,” she said indulgently) — Duff spoke about her career past and present and whether she, like Sophie, believes in soul mates. These are edited excerpts from the conversation.

You were 13 when “Lizzie McGuire” debuted in 2001. What was it like growing up on camera?

With Lizzie, that was me — those lines were very blurred. I was that mismatch queen in my everyday life. Some of the things that happened to her were comforting to play out loud because they were also happening to me. She became really real to me. Then I shot the movie when I was 15, turning 16, and I wanted my own identity. I’d be out on the street and everyone would be like, “Lizzie, Lizzie, Lizzie!” I wanted to be known as Hilary. Now I’ve fully come to peace with it. I love her, and I am so grateful for that experience. But from probably 17 to 25, it killed me.

You moved to music. You made movies. Then your career seemed to downshift. How did you find your way back to television?

I got married. I had my son. I learned that I love to cook; I love to entertain; I love my dogs; I love bicycle riding. I just started to find out who I was, you know? I didn’t get a chance to explore any of that stuff on tour, locked in a hotel room, or a bus or a stage. “Younger” found me when Mike and I were about to get divorced. No one knew. I read the script and I’m like, this could be great. I get to play an adult. It’s fun. It’s sweet. Like, I am that person.

Kelsey is also driven, and very good at her job.

She knows her worth. It took me longer to find my worth. Maybe I learned from her. But I was like: “I can’t come to New York. I’m so sorry. I’m about to get a divorce. And I have a baby.” [Darren Star] was like: “No, no, you can. We’re just going to shoot the pilot. No big deal.” It feels great to be wanted by someone like Darren Star. I did it, and then it lasted seven years.

Then the week I got back to L.A., I got the call from Isaac and Elizabeth. I’m like: “Why are you calling me? I’m about to have a baby. You want me for this role of this 30-something girl who doesn’t have kids?” Obviously, the title scared me a lot. I was not into doing a reboot, and it was such a beloved show. That cast was incredible together, so buttoned up and tight. Then Isaac was like, it’s a sequel. No one’s trying to be this person or that person. The cast is off on their own adventure.

And that sold you?

Well, I loved Sophie and I never really got to have that time in my 30s where I just dated and tried and fell on my face a bunch. I definitely have had struggles. But not in that way of like, Where am I going to land? Am I just a loser? Sophie is a romantic. She has this idea that her person’s out there, but she’s going to learn that she’s got to make herself whole first.

Have they told you who the father is yet?

I’ve given up because they’re just going to cat-and-mouse me, bat me around. It’s actually kind of hard to navigate sometimes shooting because I have moments with all the guys. It’s almost like “The Bachelor,” but better. Everyone is a possibility. So I’ve given up guessing.

Is it exciting knowing you’re going to grow up to become Kim Cattrall?

Hell yeah. When I sat next to her in all the photos, I was like, God, I need your posture. I just need to become you. For me, it just feels sweet because I have a son, and I can’t wait to drink too much wine and be cozy in my cashmere on my couch one day, telling him stories.

Sophie believes in soul mates. Do you?

Not really. That might crush my husband to hear me say that. Because he is absolutely the more tender, thoughtful one, and I don’t think I could do this with anyone besides him. I love him so much more than I ever thought I could love a person, and it’s just grown through us having all these damn children. I’m so happy. I thought I was just going to do it by myself forever. But I don’t think I actually believe in soul mates. I think there are a lot of people out there that you can be compatible with, be in love with, and those scales move up and down. It’s just a matter of doing the work to find your way back together, or not.

I understand you tested positive a week into the “How I Met Your Father” shoot.

Oh no, I tested positive the first day of work. I had not gotten Covid all through the “Younger” shoot. I was vaxxed up.

We had our first day of rehearsal. I’d never done multicam before, and I had no idea what to do. I was only four months out of having a baby. I got in the car and cried to my husband: “I don’t know if I can do this job. I don’t know what’s wrong with me. This isn’t who I am.” And that night, I got the results back at like 4 in the morning. It was awful. And I shut us down one more time because my son got Covid.

What happened to the planned “Lizzie McGuire” revival? Did it fall apart because the show wanted to acknowledge the existence of sex and the network didn’t?

It’s been a wild adventure. I was not really willing to bend, because of the age that Lizzie is, and they weren’t willing to bend, and we politely and lovingly paused. It’s not dead. And it’s not alive. I’m always here to explore that character because it’s such a big part of me. You never know.

The nice thing about the arc of your career is that you managed to become an adult actor without having to disown the tween actor that you were. You’ve kept playing these funny, ambitious, outspoken, openhearted women.

That means a lot to me. Navigating and not abandoning that was challenging, when it seemed other people were trying to make big moves to be taken seriously. That’s really not who I am. And I’m not embarrassed of anything I did. I’m finally settled with that.





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