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Memorial Hall, Chapel Hill, North Carolina – Two Orchestras, East and West

Tonu Kalam

I had the pleasure of visiting Chapel Hill at a festive, eclectic time early last December. It was exam week at the University of North Carolina. This won’t quite be a review as a result—more a series of hopeful impressions from that impressive musical crucible. Old friend Tonu Kalam, who leads the UNC Orchestra, and new wife Karyn Ostrom, who plays violin in it, pulled out all the stops for my visit. In the course of several days, I took in Kalam’s orchestra at rehearsal and concert, witnessed a conducting class, attended a student chamber recital and heard the China Philharmonic perform a new concerto written for UNC pianist Clara Yang. I came away impressed, as I always do at UNC, rejuvenated by the high level of musical interest and talent at play on campus.

Bill Viola: The Moving Portrait: Smithsonian: National Portrait Gallery, Washington DC, November 18, 2016 – May 7, 2017.

Dolorosa, 2000. Video diptych © Bill Viola. Photo The J. Paul Getty Museum, Malibu.

Bill Viola, one of the most sought-after artists internationally, early selected a contemporary medium to address broad humanistic questions. Embracing global perspectives that include Christian theology, Zen Buddhism, and Islamic Sufi mysticism, his videos address our hybrid existence as matter and thought, our memories, empathy with others, and transitions through birth, death and aging. Organized by Asma Naeem, curator of prints, drawings and media art, in consultation with Viola’s creative partner, Kira Perov and the Bill Viola Studio, the exhibition displays eleven works that span the artist’s early career to the present. Kim Sajet, director of the National Portrait Gallery, expressed his delight in inviting “visitors to enter the museum’s newly created media galleries to experience portraiture in its most telling and current form: moving revelations of the human body and spirit that befit our digital age.” In the accompanying 20-page brochure, Naeern provides a contextualizing overview; the artist comments simply on the action in each piece. The viewer is encouraged to make associations, a direction Viola advocated in an earlier interview: “images have their life because they’re untethered and free floating” (video: Bill Viola and the making of Emergence by Mark Kidel, 2003).

New Ohio Theatre presents George & Co. in HOLDEN, written and directed by Anisa George

Scott Sheppard, Jaime Maseda. Photo plate3.com.

J. D. Salinger has been dead for seven years, and his admirers have long given up hope of an unpublished masterpiece emerging from the bunker in which he spent the greater part of his last forty years, struggling with drafts, ideas, and obsessions. His much-publicized life in isolation, where he vainly attempted to wring out another success of the order of The Catcher in the Rye acquired a universality as a Promethean myth of the agonies of the creative life. Whether the artist manages to keep inspiration alive or has in truth dried up, life is by no means easy. Salinger’s was a particularly American myth, foreshadowed by Ernest Hemingway and his decline in his later years and perhaps Melville, by those would discount Pierre and The Confidence-Man.

Shakespeare’s The Winter’s Tale, Cheek by Jowl, at BAM

Orlando James as Leontes, Natalie Radmall-Quirke as Hermione. Photo Rebecca Greenfield.

The Winter’s Tale has had a checkered career over the centuries. Its bipartite structure, with two lines of action, separated by many years, of strongly contrasting character offended the Aristotelian canon all-too-blatantly for the classicizing generations of the Restoration and Enlightenment. Acts I through III have every promise of ending with the most bitterly tragic outcome. This current is diverted to a happy ending in the last two acts, introduced by yet a third genre, the pastoral, in a staged enactment of a sheep-shearing festival. When the play began to find its way to the stage in the later eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, producers and actors saw in it a vehicle for over-the-top, classically inspired spectacle, as well as one of the great Shakespearean roles, Leontes, who is Iago and Othello rolled into one. It provided a powerful vehicle for Garrick, Kemble, and Kean. And three rich female roles as well, None of which were lost on the great actresses of the past 250 years.

2016 in retrospect — The Bard Music Festival: Giacomo Puccini and his World

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

If advance gossip is any indicator, this year’s Bard Festival, devoted to Giacomo Puccini and his World, was one of the most controversial. “Puccini! Controversial!” You say, “There’s not really enough in him to have a controversy about, is there? Those sappy tear-jerkers speak for themselves.” In fact there was a lot of grumbling. Some festival regulars stayed away, or dragged themselves to only one concert, the one that included pieces by Dallapiccola, Pizzetti, and Petrassi. Even with these absentees the Festival sold out, or came close to selling out. Most of the concerts and the panel discussions were packed.

The Dessoff Choirs’ Messiah Sing, 2017, Malcolm J. Merriweather, Music Director, Conducting

Malcolm J. Merriweather, Music Director of the Dessoff Choirs.

For me, the holiday season is officially here when I sing the Messiah, George Frederic Handel’s oratorio composed in 1741 that has become one of the most performed works in Western choral music. This year I was fortunate enough to join the Dessoff Choirs under the direction of Malcolm J. Merriweather, Musical Director. Some of the group that assembled at Union Theological Seminary regularly sing with Dessoff; others, like me, were rank amateurs whose voices have darkened over the years but whose enthusiasm remains robust. It doesn’t matter in the least and there are enough strong voices to mask any missed notes from people like me.

Art

Bill Viola: The Moving Portrait: Smithsonian: National Portrait Gallery, Washington DC, November 18, 2016 – May 7, 2017.

Dolorosa, 2000. Video diptych © Bill Viola. Photo The J. Paul Getty Museum, Malibu.

Bill Viola, one of the most sought-after artists internationally, early selected a contemporary medium to address broad humanistic questions. Embracing global perspectives that include Christian theology, Zen Buddhism, and Islamic Sufi mysticism, his videos address our hybrid existence as matter and thought, our memories, empathy with others, and transitions through birth, death and aging. Organized by Asma Naeem, curator of prints, drawings and media art, in consultation with Viola’s creative partner, Kira Perov and the Bill Viola Studio, the exhibition displays eleven works that span the artist’s early career to the present. Kim Sajet, director of the National Portrait Gallery, expressed his delight in inviting “visitors to enter the museum’s newly created media galleries to experience portraiture in its most telling and current form: moving revelations of the human body and spirit that befit our digital age.” In the accompanying 20-page brochure, Naeern provides a contextualizing overview; the artist comments simply on the action in each piece. The viewer is encouraged to make associations, a direction Viola advocated in an earlier interview: “images have their life because they’re untethered and free floating” (video: Bill Viola and the making of Emergence by Mark Kidel, 2003).

B. F. Kiefrich, Spam Artist, Remembered

You may wonder about my interest in this traditional American delicacy. It comes not from the interests I share with Sgr. Rossini, but from my experiences as a curator in the Cleveland Museum of Art. As my colleagues and I pushed papers and watched western civilization melt into Lake Erie, a remarkable artist from Akron came to our attention. This artist, who worked under the name B. F. Kiefrich, produced sculptures from Spam®, among them an exquisite gilt miniature Book of Hours, known as the Codex Spambergensis and a porcine version of Nefertiti’s lips.

Music

Memorial Hall, Chapel Hill, North Carolina – Two Orchestras, East and West

Tonu Kalam

I had the pleasure of visiting Chapel Hill at a festive, eclectic time early last December. It was exam week at the University of North Carolina. This won’t quite be a review as a result—more a series of hopeful impressions from that impressive musical crucible. Old friend Tonu Kalam, who leads the UNC Orchestra, and new wife Karyn Ostrom, who plays violin in it, pulled out all the stops for my visit. In the course of several days, I took in Kalam’s orchestra at rehearsal and concert, witnessed a conducting class, attended a student chamber recital and heard the China Philharmonic perform a new concerto written for UNC pianist Clara Yang. I came away impressed, as I always do at UNC, rejuvenated by the high level of musical interest and talent at play on campus.

Theater

New Ohio Theatre presents George & Co. in HOLDEN, written and directed by Anisa George

Scott Sheppard, Jaime Maseda. Photo plate3.com.

J. D. Salinger has been dead for seven years, and his admirers have long given up hope of an unpublished masterpiece emerging from the bunker in which he spent the greater part of his last forty years, struggling with drafts, ideas, and obsessions. His much-publicized life in isolation, where he vainly attempted to wring out another success of the order of The Catcher in the Rye acquired a universality as a Promethean myth of the agonies of the creative life. Whether the artist manages to keep inspiration alive or has in truth dried up, life is by no means easy. Salinger’s was a particularly American myth, foreshadowed by Ernest Hemingway and his decline in his later years and perhaps Melville, by those would discount Pierre and The Confidence-Man.

Shakespeare’s The Winter’s Tale, Cheek by Jowl, at BAM

Orlando James as Leontes, Natalie Radmall-Quirke as Hermione. Photo Rebecca Greenfield.

The Winter’s Tale has had a checkered career over the centuries. Its bipartite structure, with two lines of action, separated by many years, of strongly contrasting character offended the Aristotelian canon all-too-blatantly for the classicizing generations of the Restoration and Enlightenment. Acts I through III have every promise of ending with the most bitterly tragic outcome. This current is diverted to a happy ending in the last two acts, introduced by yet a third genre, the pastoral, in a staged enactment of a sheep-shearing festival. When the play began to find its way to the stage in the later eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, producers and actors saw in it a vehicle for over-the-top, classically inspired spectacle, as well as one of the great Shakespearean roles, Leontes, who is Iago and Othello rolled into one. It provided a powerful vehicle for Garrick, Kemble, and Kean. And three rich female roles as well, None of which were lost on the great actresses of the past 250 years.

Opera

2016 in retrospect — The Bard Music Festival: Giacomo Puccini and his World

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

If advance gossip is any indicator, this year’s Bard Festival, devoted to Giacomo Puccini and his World, was one of the most controversial. “Puccini! Controversial!” You say, “There’s not really enough in him to have a controversy about, is there? Those sappy tear-jerkers speak for themselves.” In fact there was a lot of grumbling. Some festival regulars stayed away, or dragged themselves to only one concert, the one that included pieces by Dallapiccola, Pizzetti, and Petrassi. Even with these absentees the Festival sold out, or came close to selling out. Most of the concerts and the panel discussions were packed.

Openings: Boston Musica Viva plays Boulez, Marteau sans maître, and Nelsons and the BSO present Richard Strauss, Der Rosenkavalier

R. Strauss, Der Rosenkavalier: Andris Nelsons, Renée Fleming, Franz Hawlata, Susan Graham. Photo Winslow Townson.

One hoped and expected there would be performances of Pierre Boulez pieces in Boston this season to honor this great musician who died last winter. The Berlin Philharmonic, hardly a local group, will play one piece on its visit here in November. I don’t see anything else on the horizon. So, many thanks to Boston Musica Viva, our fine contemporary music ensemble now in its 48th year, for opening its season with Boulez’s perhaps most significant work, Le Marteau sans maître (The Hammer without a Master, 1954-57).

Dance

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

Manchester by the Sea, Written and Directed by Kenneth Lonergan

Michelle Williams and Casey Affleck in Manchester by the Sea.

A plot about the walking wounded is an indie staple, and Manchester by the Sea wears no external garb beyond the stereotype. Lee Chandler (Casey Affleck) isn’t an Iraq War vet or a widower whose dead wife has left him bereft. At first we don’t know why he’s wounded—the opening scenes are of a taciturn, truculent janitor in a small apartment building in Quincy, outside Boston. Lee is thirty-something, scruffy, eyes averted, and armed with a huge chip on his shoulder that causes him to lash out at a bitchy tenant with a defiant lack of remorse. In his psyche the tarp is nailed down at all four corners unless a gust of wind flaps one up.

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.

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.