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G. F. Handel, Messiah, Sir Colin Davis, LSO

Two of the best recordings of Messiah are among the most recent. They could not be more different; one is is an eclectic text performed by larger forces using modern instruments, Sir Colin Davis’ most recent version, a live performance recorded at the Barbican in December 2006, the other a performance of the Dublin version of 1742 by a small consort using historical performance practices; but they are unquestionably among the finest performances of Handel’s masterpiece ever, and only a listener who has a seated prejudice against one mode of performance or the other could have any reason to choose between them. One must have both. And don’t forget Malcolm Sargent’s classic 1945 performance with the Liverpool Philharmonic and the Huddersfield Choral Society, available in a superb transfer on Dutton Records, for something completely different!

G.F. Handel, Messiah (Dublin Version, 1742) The Dunedin Consort and Players

Two of the best recordings of Messiah are among the most recent. They could not be more different; one is a performance of the Dublin version of 1742 by a small consort using historical performance practices and the other is an eclectic text performed by larger forces using modern instruments, Sir Colin Davis’ most recent version, a live performance recorded at the Barbican in December 2006; but they are unquestionably among the finest performances of Handel’s masterpiece ever, and only a listener who has a seated prejudice against one mode of performance or the other could have any reason to choose between them. One must have both. And don’t forget Malcolm Sargent’s classic 1946 performance with the Liverpool Philharmonic and the Huddersfield Choral Society, available in a superb transfer on Dutton Records, for something completely different!

Gary Lehman and Janice Baird Sing Wagner’s Tristan und Isolde at the Metropolitan Opera

Tristan and Isolde at the Met.

About twenty minutes into Act II, Deborah Voigt became ill, left the stage, and the curtain was lowered. After a fifteen-minute delay, the act resumed at “Sehr lebhaft” with Janice Baird singing the role of Isolde.
The evening began with Peter Gelb’s suave announcement that Ben Heppner was ill and recovering at home in Canada. He reminded the audience that only perhaps five tenors in the world were able to sing Tristan, but a replacement had been found, a tenor named Gary Lehman, who would be singing the role for the first time in public. Great promises he did not make.

Alfred Brendel, Deborah Voigt, James Levine, Metropolitan Opera Orchestra: Mozart, Webern, Berg, Strauss, Salome

The Metropolitan Opera Orchestra James Levine, Music Director and Conductor Deborah Voigt, Soprano Alfred Brendel, Piano Webern, Six Pieces for Orchestra Mozart, Piano Concerto No. 24 in C Minor, K. 491 Berg, Three Pieces for Orchestra, Op. 6 R. Strauss,…
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Henry David Thoreau meets Raymond Chandler, Two American Eccentrics, Pt. I Introduction and review of Searching for Thoreau: On the Trails and Shores of Wild New England, by Tom Slayton

As full of detail as his book is, Slayton never loses track of his purpose and his theme. He does indeed find Thoreau in the places, plants, and animals he studied. His kind of participation is not of Thoreau’s intense, totally absorbed kind, since he is basically a rationalist, but I think no one could argue with his basic tenet about Thoreau, that he was a seeker of the wild: “He was a good Romantic…but he was also a naturalist and came to understand that wildness did not have to be found only in wilderness…For him it was a pervasive quality—close to what the ancient Chinese called the Tao, the mysterious, all-encompassing force that winds the mainspring of the universe. He searched for it everywhere.” ( p. 3) Slayton constantly returns to this theme as he visits and revisits Thoreau’s haunts. whether in obvious places like the Maine woods or in heavily developed places like Cape Cod or Walden Pond. He puts it in the forefront of his conclusion, quoting Thoreau: “In Wildness is the Preservation of the World. Every tree sends its fibres forth in search of the Wild…I believe in the forest, and in the meadows, and in the night in which the corn grows.” Or as Walt Whitman said in a quotation that follows hard upon it: “I believe a leaf of grass is no less than the journey-work of the stars.” While some may see these statements, both confessions of belief, as pure Goethe, it is enough to ponder them in themselves.

The Glass Menagerie by Tennessee Williams at the The Royal Lyceum Theatre, Edinburgh

From time to time, the American expat, no matter how unpatriotic his sentiments may be, develops a certain homesickness for his motherland. This regret may take on a gluttonous form, causing a longing for hamburgers, fried chicken, hot dogs or “freedom fries.” Being rather put off by the thought of an heart attack, I decided to feed my cravings instead by attending Tennessee Williams’ The Glass Menagerie at the Royal Lyceum Theatre in Edinburgh, directed by Jemima Levick.

Judith Freeman, The Long Embrace, Raymond Chandler and the Woman He Loved, New York, Pantheon, 2007, 368 pp.

Both the subtitle of Judith Freeman’s The Long Embrace: “Raymond Chandler and the Woman He Loved,” as well as its author’s stated purpose, lead us to believe that its primary subject is Chandler’s enigmatic older wife, Cissy. Freeman’s obsessive interest in Chandler led her to read selections from his letters, and from that she became obsessed with Cissy, with whom Chandler himself was clearly obsessed. Part of her fascination is the very paucity of information which has come down about her, only a handful of photographs and a few notes. However, Raymond Chandler himself comes first, both in the subtitle and in Freeman’s obsession, and, while Cissy is most prominently the leitmotiv which holds the book and its various themes together, we get more exposure to Chandler’s other love (in what was most definitely a love-hate relationship, as was the possibly other) the city of Los Angeles, since much of Freeman’s research consisted of finding and motoring to the many furnished houses and flats in which they lived over their forty mostly reclusive years together, and much of her text consists of personal, even intimate narrations of her experiences in these visits. In her work Freeman could not help becoming more deeply immersed in the city, which she and Chandler made their adoptive home.

Art

The Berlin Painter and His World: Athenian Vase-Painting in the Early Fifth Century B.C. at The Princeton University Art Museum, closing Sunday, June 11, 2017 (REVISED)

Attributed to the Berlin Painter, Greek, Attic, fl. ca. 500-ca. 460 B.C. Red figure Neck-Amphora with Twisted Handles, ca. 480 B.C. Satyr Running with Wineskin. Staatliche Antikensammlungen und Glyptothek München (Inv. 8766)

Of all the exhibitions in the New York area this season, Princeton’s The Berlin Painter and His World is the richest in aesthetic pleasure, methodological sophistication, and intellectual liveliness. Not only will visitors enjoy the handwork of one of the greatest Greek artists of the Late Archaic Period, they will experience a panorama of ancient Greek mythology, religious practice, athletic and military activities, and sympotic customs, that is, the etiquette and enjoyment of the all-male drinking parties that were the major nucleus of Athenian social life after the great annually-recurring festivals of their gods and heroes. These windows which provide such a vivid view on the outer and inner lives of the Athenians were painted on the surfaces of pottery turned with the beautiful red clay of Attica…

The Museum Workout, Monica Bill Barnes & Company, at the Metropolitan Museum of Art

Monica Bill Barnes troupe exercised their way through the Met's armor court, the author front and center.

I saw Monica Bill Barnes & Company a few years ago when the troupe performed Three Acts, Two Dancers, One Radio Host which I found very entertaining. This experience was just as engaging but in a very different way. About fifteen women gathered before the museum opened and were ushered to the Education Area to put away coats and anything else we’d brought. We were told to wait “and stretch if you like.” After a brief introduction from Robbie Saenz de Viteri, the company’s Creative Producing Director, we were led to the foot of the great stairs where Monica Bill Barnes and her longtime dance partner, Anna Bass, both in sequined gowns and sneakers, greeted us.

Music

David Curtis, Music Director of the Orchestra of the Swan, talks to Michael Miller

ome months ago New Yorkers enjoyed an opportunity to hear a gifted young American pianist, Thomas Nickell play Mozart’s Concerto in A Major, K. 414 and a new concerto by a living English composer, David Matthews, supported by a splendid chamber orchestra in the best English tradition, The Orchestra of the Swan, based in Stratford-upon-Avon, conducted by its founder, David Curtis. They received an especially warm response from their sold-out hall, and they have every reason to come back. This will occur in early June 2018. Meanwhile you can listen to David Curtis talk about chamber orchestras, The Orchestra of the Swan in particular, and English music, which, I believe has been rather neglected on these shores in recent years.

Elgar’s The Apostles, with Leon Botstein and the American Symphony Orchestra at Carnegie Hall

The Ascension by Bell & Beckham. Tiles. All Saints Church, Margaret Street, London. Photo John Pankhurst.

I was tempted to preface this review of this rarely performed oratorio by Sir Edward Elgar with a harangue about the neglect of British music in this country, but I was pleasantly surprised to look over the upcoming Tanglewood schedule, and to find that British music and Sir Edward will be rather well served this summer

Theater

Tracy Letts’ August: Osage County at Williams, directed by Omar Sangare

Johnna (Gabrielle Amos-Grosser) talks with Bev (TL Guest) and Violet (Evelyn Mahon).

Every spring for some years now the brilliant Polish actor-director-playwright-poet Omar Sangare has created extraordinary productions at the ‘62 Center for the Performing Arts with his acting students at Williams College, and they keep on getting better. All of them have been highly unusual. There was a double-cast A Streetcar Named Desire: by that I mean that it was performed by two separate casts almost, but not quite simultaneously. Far from an weird distraction, the device emphasized the universality of the play…and gave the many interested student actors a chance to perform. There was Gombrowicz’s classic proto-absurdist farce, Princess Iwona, which was also performed on Broadway.

The Ensemble for the Romantic Century presents The Dreyfus Affair at BAM

The Dreyfus Affair, Ensemble

The Dreyfus Affair feels very appropriate in today’s xenophobic, anxious times. Combining live orchestral music, singing, spoken word, projections and elaborate period costumes , the production relates the chilling story of Captain Alfred Dreyfus, a decorated French Jewish officer, who was falsely accused of high treason, arrested, speedily tried, convicted and imprisoned on the hell-hole of Devil’s Island. Written by Eve Wolf and directed by Donald T. Sanders, this multi-media production illuminates the 1894 events that had a decades-long reverberation in the political landscape of France and the rest of the world and still reverberates.

Opera

Félicien David’s Herculanum at the Wexford Festival: Opera Grand and Melodious

Émile Pierre Metzmacher. Portrait of Félicien David, 1858.

Music festivals often pride themselves on reviving works that, for whatever combination of reasons, have fallen out of the repertory. One important French grand opera of 1859, Herculanum, by Félicien David, got its first recording two years ago and reached the opera stage—for the first time in nearly a century—at Wexford Festival Opera this past October. Reviewers of the recording, including New York Arts contributor Ralph P. Locke, were struck by the melodic richness of the music, the keenly characterized solo roles, and the imaginative use of orchestra and chorus. Reviewers of the Wexford production were more muted, though perhaps the low-budget and curiously updated production had something to do with that. Locke, who is a professor emeritus of musicology at the Eastman School of Music, contributed an essay to the WFO’s program book that gives a sense of this fascinating work. We reprint it here with the festival’s kind permission.

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.

Dance

Legacy 36 Celebrates the Stars—A Line of Former Rockettes

Legacy Dancers Performing New York, New York

The famed Radio City Music Hall Rockettes, that high-kicking, glam- or- bust line of tap dancing women, began in St. Louis as the Missouri Rockets. The troop was brought to New York City to perform at the Roxy Theater where they were known as the Roxyettes and then, as part of the Christmas spectacular, came to Radio City, where they were rechristened The Rockettes.

Limón Dance Company, Joyce Theater, May 2, 2017

The José Limón Dance Company in Concerto Grosso

This program combines the contemporary with the classics in the first Joyce season under the Company’s new artistic director, Colin Connor.

The final work of the altogether gripping evening was made in 2016 with choreography by Kate Ware. Night Light is partly set to the Passacaglia for unaccompanied violin from Biber’s “The Rosary” Sonata and partly to “A Song for Mick Kelly.” The athletic dancers, some of the women wearing what closely resembled black two-piece ‘bathing suits;’ the rest of the group in flowing dark and royal blue tops, weave and leap, almost fighting one another. The work is powerful and haunting. The other 2016 dance, Corvidae, choreographed by Mr. Connor, turns the dancers into Corvids, i.e., crows and ravens, who have been seen throughout the ages as messengers. The dark lighting and black costumes gave the six dancers an edge of menace further expressed by darting, flicking movements.

Literature

The 36th Bloomsday at Symphony Space, 2017

James Joyce, circa 1922

The thirty-sixth celebration of Bloomsday at Symphony Space, originally conceived by SS ‘s late founder, Isaiah Sheffer, was a fitting tribute to Ulysses and its author, James Joyce. With a projection of Joyce’s face looking down on either side of the stage, the audience reveled in panel discussions; music including a beautiful rendition of Love’s Old Sweet Song, as discussed by Molly Bloom in the book and a “Whirlwind Tour through all 18 Episodes.” This Joyce fest offered something for even the most die-hard fan.

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

About NYC

Cinema

Silver Stream – Short Film: Grace Kiley – Writer, Director & Actor – Kickstarter Campaign ends on May 22!

Diagnosed with a progressive illness at the time of her daughter’s birth, Anna made the decision to give her daughter, Una, up for adoption when she was just 2 weeks old. Twenty-seven years later, Anna feels compelled to contact Una in order to pass on her inheritance, “some good and some not so good.”  Anna’s illness has begun to affect her daily function. She assumes her daughter was raised by the privileged family who adopted her, but soon discovers a very different story.

Kino!2017, a Festival of German Cinema at the Sunshine, Closes on April 6

Lilith Stangenberg in Wild.

For its fourth season as an independent festival, Kino!2017, has moved to everyone’s favorite art house, the Sunshine Cinema, as congenial a venue as possible for the screenings and the inevitable lively discussion around them. Curated by New York film professionals—distributor Meghan Wurtz, journalist Karl Rozemeyer and festival consultant Marian Masone, Kino!2017 presents twelve feature-length films, including one North American premiere, five US premieres, four East coast premieres and two New York premieres, plus the Next Generation Short Tiger 2016 selection.

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

Manfred Honeck talks to Michael Miller about Mahler, Bruckner, and Conducting

Manfred Honeck. Photo Felix Broede.

Anyone who has heard Manfred Honeck conduct his own Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra in Heinz Hall or in their exemplary recordings on the Exton and Reference Recordings labels will know what a treasure he is for the world of music. This week he will conduct the New York Philharmonic in Beethoven’s First Piano Concerto with Inon Barnatan and Mahler’s First Symphony. He has made something of a speciality of this composer, a fellow Austrian. His recorded cycle with Pittsburgh now includes Symphonies No. 1, 3, and 5. Maestro Honeck also has special insight into the work of Anton Bruckner, another fellow Austrian. He has so far recorded Bruckner’s Fourth Symphony and looks forward to recording the Ninth.

In this interview you will learn something about the care and intelligence he puts into preparing his performances and his particular feeling for these great composers.

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.