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Nadejda Vlaeva plays piano music by Vladimir Drozdoff and Sergei Bortkiewicz, with Schubert and Liszt at Zankel Hall

Nadejda Vlaeva

A plentiful audience at Zankel Hall last week enjoyed Nadejda Vlaeva’s program of attractive salon pieces by two forgotten Russian éxiles, Vladimir Drozdoff (Saratov 1882 -New York 1960) and Sergei Bortkiewicz (Kharkiv 1877-Vienna 1952), and a colorful Hungarian Rhapsody by Franz Liszt (a rarely played one)—all introduced by one of Schubert’s most profound sonatas, the G Major, D. 894, sometimes known as the “Fantasie,” a name given it by its first publisher because of its meditative first movement. There could be no doubt that the curtain-raiser was the most significant work on the program, but the centerpiece was nonetheless the selection of shortish rarities by the two Russians. Their music has much in common. Both are rooted in the nineteenth century, with little or nothing traceable to the musical trends that emerged after 1910, or later. Although they were younger than Rachmaninoff, who was plagued by his own conservatism, their music is even more retardataire. This is not in itself a fault, although one can understand why their music failed to reach a wider audience in the age of Stravinsky, Prokofiev, and Shostakovich. Both Drozdoff and Bortkiewicz were undoubtedly fine craftsmen and showed a deep understanding of the piano in the great Russian tradition.

A Crop of Recordings X

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This CD has already become a favored and frequented member of my collection. Chandos has a long and successful history of recording the BBC Philharmonic, but this is the first recording I’ve encountered from their new venue in MediaCity, Salford. I’m happy to report that the transparency, fine balances and smooth listenability of the old Studio 3 are alive and well in the new facility. And the performances, under recently appointed Music Director Juanjo Mena, are as idiomatic and atmospheric as one could hope for.

The Life Ecstatic: Judith Schaechter at Claire Oliver Gallery, 513 West 26th Street. New York, Sept 9 – October 22.

Judith Schaechter, The Life Ecstatic, at the Claire Oliver Gallery, New York. Photo Virginia Raguin.

All artists strive to depict the human condition; Judith Schaechter does this in a series of extraordinary narratives in stained glass that address life, consciousness, and the unending richness of created form. A recipient of several National Endowment for the Arts awards as well as a Guggenheim Fellowship, Schaechter teaches in the Craft and Material Studies department at the University of the Arts, Philadelphia. Her recent show at Claire Oliver Gallery focuses on flight and space, actual or imagined in new and brilliant ways. Birds rule throughout! Schaechter admits that she has recently become a bird watcher although she always enjoyed animals, even as a teenager. She confides that a bird’s shape is appealing—a living form but without the complex appendages of arms and legs (hard to draw).

​Thorns of the Crown, Choreographed and Staged by Ramon Oller

Ramon Oller's Thorns of the Crown, after Shakespeare

The phrase “less is more,” attributed to many sources, is very appropriate for Thorns of the Crown. The dance is vaguely about royal power—wanting it, getting it, losing it. This is a strong theme but the piece is a potpourri of steps, sounds, ideas, music and musical styles and would be stronger had it focused on fewer. Sounds include clashing swords and whinnying horses with snatches of spoken Shakespeare including Macbeth and Hamlet, with “To Be or Not to Be” voiced by Kenneth Branagh. Music runs the gamut from quasi- (or perhaps genuine) ecclesiastical to medieval selections to pipes and flutes to a blend of original compositions by composers Thomas Lentakis and Bruno Axel with too-abrupt shifts that are jolting.

Mozart Dances by the Mark Morris Dance Group at Mostly Mozart, Lincoln Center, August 26, 2016

The Mostly Mozart  Festival presents the Mark Morris Dance Group performing "Mozart Dances" in a World Premiere with Louis Langree conductor of the Mostly Mozart Festival Orchestra  and Emanuel Ax on Piano, at the New York State Theater on August 16, 2006.
The 3 dances were:
"Eleven" - Women in Black long see through dress-female soloist is Lauren Grant- short woman in black dress
"Double"- Men in White shirts , women in white long skirts, 
Male soloist is Joe Bowie (in black jacket)
"Twenty-seven"- dancers in white outfits
Credit:  ©Stephanie Berger

Many choreographers go out of their way to avoid the music of Mozart fearing their work won’t (or can’t) approach the same level of artistry. Happily, Mark Morris is not among them. His Mozart Dances, originally commissioned by Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts, the New Crowned Hope Festival in Vienna and London’s Barbican Centre ten years ago, has dancers swirling and bouncing through a piano sonata and two piano concertos, almost all with the inspired touch of two masters.

Race and Slavery in Mozart Operas: A Letter to the New York Times

Mozart conducting his Entführung aus dem Serail

A most welcome contribution from Ralph P. Locke, Professor Emeritus of  at the Eastman School of Music, an unpublished letter to the editor of the New York Times, directed my attention to a review and an article by Zachary Woolfe concerning recent productions he has seen in France of Mozart’s Die Entführung aus dem Serail and Così fan tutte. The content of these articles will be clear enough from Professor Locke’s letter and his own commentary.

Art

The Life Ecstatic: Judith Schaechter at Claire Oliver Gallery, 513 West 26th Street. New York, Sept 9 – October 22.

Judith Schaechter, The Life Ecstatic, at the Claire Oliver Gallery, New York. Photo Virginia Raguin.

All artists strive to depict the human condition; Judith Schaechter does this in a series of extraordinary narratives in stained glass that address life, consciousness, and the unending richness of created form. A recipient of several National Endowment for the Arts awards as well as a Guggenheim Fellowship, Schaechter teaches in the Craft and Material Studies department at the University of the Arts, Philadelphia. Her recent show at Claire Oliver Gallery focuses on flight and space, actual or imagined in new and brilliant ways. Birds rule throughout! Schaechter admits that she has recently become a bird watcher although she always enjoyed animals, even as a teenager. She confides that a bird’s shape is appealing—a living form but without the complex appendages of arms and legs (hard to draw).

Experiments of the Ordinary: Giorgio Morandi at the Center for Italian Modern Art

Giorgio Morandi, Natura morta, 1963

All accounts suggest that the Italian painter Giorgio Morandi (1890-1964) enjoyed a life of uninterrupted calm and isolation. Introverted by nature, Morandi spent his entire lifetime in Bologna, in the same apartment no less, and was dubbed il Monaco due to his almost monastic reclusiveness. He tended to paint at home, either in his bedroom or an adjoining studio, committing himself almost exclusively to the natura morta, or still life.

Music

Nadejda Vlaeva plays piano music by Vladimir Drozdoff and Sergei Bortkiewicz, with Schubert and Liszt at Zankel Hall

Nadejda Vlaeva

A plentiful audience at Zankel Hall last week enjoyed Nadejda Vlaeva’s program of attractive salon pieces by two forgotten Russian éxiles, Vladimir Drozdoff (Saratov 1882 -New York 1960) and Sergei Bortkiewicz (Kharkiv 1877-Vienna 1952), and a colorful Hungarian Rhapsody by Franz Liszt (a rarely played one)—all introduced by one of Schubert’s most profound sonatas, the G Major, D. 894, sometimes known as the “Fantasie,” a name given it by its first publisher because of its meditative first movement. There could be no doubt that the curtain-raiser was the most significant work on the program, but the centerpiece was nonetheless the selection of shortish rarities by the two Russians. Their music has much in common. Both are rooted in the nineteenth century, with little or nothing traceable to the musical trends that emerged after 1910, or later. Although they were younger than Rachmaninoff, who was plagued by his own conservatism, their music is even more retardataire. This is not in itself a fault, although one can understand why their music failed to reach a wider audience in the age of Stravinsky, Prokofiev, and Shostakovich. Both Drozdoff and Bortkiewicz were undoubtedly fine craftsmen and showed a deep understanding of the piano in the great Russian tradition.

A Crop of Recordings X

img_0140

This CD has already become a favored and frequented member of my collection. Chandos has a long and successful history of recording the BBC Philharmonic, but this is the first recording I’ve encountered from their new venue in MediaCity, Salford. I’m happy to report that the transparency, fine balances and smooth listenability of the old Studio 3 are alive and well in the new facility. And the performances, under recently appointed Music Director Juanjo Mena, are as idiomatic and atmospheric as one could hope for.

Theater

Stephen Sondheim’s Sweeney Todd at Glimmerglass

Greer Grimsley in the title of The Glimmerglass Festival production of Stephen Sondheim's "Sweeney Todd." Photo Karli Cadel/The Glimmerglass Festival.

Sweeney Todd, The Demon Barber of Fleet Street is dark, dark musical theatre. A vengeful barber returns to Victorian London, slits the throats of those who have wronged him and with his accomplice turns their bodies into the stuffing of meat pies. Todd’s London is as menacing as he is …

“There’s a hole in the world
Like a great black pit
And it’s filled with people
Who are filled with shit
And the vermin of the world inhabit it …”

Opera

Race and Slavery in Mozart Operas: A Letter to the New York Times

Mozart conducting his Entführung aus dem Serail

A most welcome contribution from Ralph P. Locke, Professor Emeritus of  at the Eastman School of Music, an unpublished letter to the editor of the New York Times, directed my attention to a review and an article by Zachary Woolfe concerning recent productions he has seen in France of Mozart’s Die Entführung aus dem Serail and Così fan tutte. The content of these articles will be clear enough from Professor Locke’s letter and his own commentary.

The Bard Music Festival and SummerScape Opera 2016: Puccini and his World, with Pietro Mascagni’s Iris

Giacomo Puccini. © Frank C. Bangs, Library of Congress.

The Bard Music Festival, every year since 1990, offers music-lovers a splendid gift in its weekends of immersion in the music of some major composer and others related to him, the intellectual and artistic life of his time, and the legacy that connects us to it all. It equally presents us with a powerful challenge—a challenge to overcome our preconceptions about this partly familiar, partly unfamiliar music, chiefly the product of famous composers. In some cases we discover that a composer’s most popular music is not in fact his best, and our estimation of him rises significantly, as in the case of Sibelius and Prokofiev, or in others, like Schubert, we can become acquainted with genres like the part song, which have fallen out of the repertory because the social context for their performance has become obsolete. Many music-lovers divide Franz Liszt’s output between serious music of high quality and shallow, flashy display pieces. Again, the Bard Festival challenged its audiences to reconsider.

Dance

​Thorns of the Crown, Choreographed and Staged by Ramon Oller

Ramon Oller's Thorns of the Crown, after Shakespeare

The phrase “less is more,” attributed to many sources, is very appropriate for Thorns of the Crown. The dance is vaguely about royal power—wanting it, getting it, losing it. This is a strong theme but the piece is a potpourri of steps, sounds, ideas, music and musical styles and would be stronger had it focused on fewer. Sounds include clashing swords and whinnying horses with snatches of spoken Shakespeare including Macbeth and Hamlet, with “To Be or Not to Be” voiced by Kenneth Branagh. Music runs the gamut from quasi- (or perhaps genuine) ecclesiastical to medieval selections to pipes and flutes to a blend of original compositions by composers Thomas Lentakis and Bruno Axel with too-abrupt shifts that are jolting.

Literature

riverrun runs wild in Brooklyn, with performance artist Olwen Fouéré

Olwen Fouéré in riverrun at BAM. Photo Rebecca Greenfield.

You’ve doubtless read somewhere or another or heard someone say that our relationship to novels is much like our relationships to people (our relationships to their authors, living and dead, are a whole other thing). That may sound trite, but it has its degree of truth. In no case is it so true as in the case of Finnegan’s Wake. In most cases James Joyce’s last novel is like some celebrity academic, who jets constantly between, say, Paris and Berkeley, but never crosses our path. Others may have approached the great man at the podium after a lecture and tried to ask a private question, only to be

John Banville talks to Michael Miller about Love in the Wars, his English adaptation of Kleist’s Penthesilea

Heinrich von Kleist and John Banville

John Banville and Michael Miller discuss Love in the Wars, his free English adaptation of Heinrich von Kleist’s play, Penthesilea, with a digression about the rest of Mr. Banville’s work, before returning to the play, which will receive its world premiere at Bard College Summerscape. Kleist’s theatrical ambition was to fuse Greek tragedy with Shakespearean “burlesque.” The work shows his pessimistic world view spiced with black Prussian humor.

About NYC

Cinema

Discoveries and Restorations from Universal Pictures at MoMA, beginning with King of Jazz

Carl Laemmle, Jr.

Dave Kehr, the curator of MoMA’s fascinating series of recently rediscovered and restored films from Universal Pictures, has decided to bookend the month-long event with musicals, the last genre most people would associate with the studio that produced Dracula and Frankenstein. It begins with the much-anticipated premiere of the restoration of King of Jazz (released April 19, 1930), a musical review dominated by the expansive figure of Paul Whiteman, the band leader, today best remembered as the patron of George Gershwin’s Rhapsody in Blue. The audiences at the two sold-out screenings this past Friday and Saturday—at least on Saturday, when I was present—applauded with a warmth that went beyond the aesthetic or the historical. Each one of the twenty individual acts in the movie received its own applause, as if we were back in a vaudeville house of yesteryear. We even laughed at the jokes, some of which were decidedly musty.

True Romance on Screen: Todd Haynes’ Carol…with a Sideglance at the Latest from Spielberg & Hanks

Cate Blanchett as Carol Aird and Rooney Mara as Therese Believe in Todd Haynes' Carol

True Romance. The essence of Carol, a film much lauded but low grossing (which has become the norm for prestige films at Oscar season) is that it is a lesbian love story as Eric Rohmer might have conceived it and Alfred Hitchcock might have photographed it. The plot is slender. At Christmas around 1950 Carol Aird, an unhappy housewife on the verge of divorce (Cate Blanchett), feels an immediate attraction to Therese Belivet, a much younger sales girl in a New York department store (Rooney Mara).  Poised between upper-middle-class privilege of the period, swathed in mink, and her sexual loneliness, Carol initiates a love affair that quickly takes us into literary territory, with the visuals doing much of the poetic writing, in the “camera-pen“ tradition that French critics admired in great American movies.

Places

Bomarzo tra il Santo Biscotto e la Fava Marxista: La Festa di Sant’Anselmo (April 23-25, 2014)

Il biscotto di Sant'Anselmo

My days in Bomarzo in 2009 did not show the town at its most industrious…or, on the contrary, perhaps it did. The end of April and the beginning of May mark holiday season in this medieval hill town of fewer than 1800 inhabitants. The third weekend of the month and the weekdays that lead up to it mark the festival of the local saint, Saint Anselm of Bomarzo, the 25th also being the national holiday of the Liberation. The following weekend embraces May Day, the international celebration of the working man and woman, which needs no explanation. A young person asked me why we don’t celebrate this holiday in the United States, conjuring up old photos of the police and the National Guard in my mind.

Seven Ways to Improve the Tour de France

Cycling fans watch the opening time trial of Paris-Nice in Saint-Rémy-lès-Chevreuse, 3 March 2012. Photo © 2012 Alan Miller.

I wouldn’t go so far as the three-time world-champion Óscar Friere, who reckons that the Tour de France is “the most boring race of the year” — has he ever watched the Tour of Qatar? — but this year’s race did make me wonder how many more like it the old institution can take. Institutionalization is the Tour’s great burden, or at least its double-edged sword. For the casual fan it is the ‘race of record,’ cycling itself. Those who follow the sport more closely understand that while the Tour is undeniably the most competitive, and therefore the most prestigious, among the three Grand Tours of Italy, France and Spain, it often not the most interesting.

Food & Drink

Podcasts

Christina Kobb Talks to Michael Miller about Historical Keyboard Technique

Christina Kobb, Pianist

The Norwegian pianist and scholar Christina Kobb came to wider attention in the United States when a New York Times writer picked up an article in a Scandinavian science magazine about neurological research carried out on her to analyze her movements as she played an electronic keyboard using modern and nineteenth century technique, which she has researched in her dissertation.

Donatello in Motion – A Spiritello Rediscovered, at the Moretti Williams Gallery, 24 East 80th Street, New York City, CLOSING November 25

Donatello, Spiritello, wood, Andrew Butterfield Fine Arts. Photo Maggie Nimkin, New York.

In an art world teeming with crass nouveaux riches grabbing trophies at auction for insane prices, once prominent dealers in prison, ArtBasel Miami, and the “Da Vinci” industry, it is deeply comforting to find an enterprise like Andrew Butterfield’s refreshingly sober, but gorgeous and energizing exhibition of a single work of art: a spiritello (more commonly called by its 16th century name, “putto“) which he found, eventually purchased, and now presents to the public with a carefully researched, modestly proposed attribution to Donatello (Donato di Niccolo di Betto Bardi, Florence, 1386 or 1387 to 1466), the greatest of Italian sculptors of the Renaissance—I have always preferred his work to Michelangelo’s. As a teenager I made my way around the David in the Bargello with my father, and we both agreed it was superior to Michelangelo’s, and, as much as I’ve admired Michelangelo’s sculpture, and written about it, I still consider Donatello to the greater of the two. If Dr. Butterfield’s exhibition achieves nothing else, it pinpoints the reasons why Donatello is in fact the greatest and most influential sculptor of the Italian Renaissance.