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.
To call Bill Charlap and Carol Sloan total professionals is damn with faint praise. Both Charlap, a jazz pianist who is a two—time Grammy Award nominee, and Carol Sloan, whose song styling has, if anything, gotten even more deft and luxurious over the years, made the kind of music that doesn’t come out to play very often.
Bill Viola: The Moving Portrait: Smithsonian: National Portrait Gallery, Washington DC, November 18, 2016 – May 7, 2017.
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).
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.
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.
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.
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.
D’INDY Symphony No. 2. Souvenirs. Istar. Fervaal: Prelude • Jean-Luc Tingaud, conductor; Scottish National Orchestra • NAXOS 8.573522 (80:03) As I soak-in timeless Wagnerian caresses from D’Indy’s Fervaal Prelude, it strikes me I’d be happy in D’Indy’s rather…