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Frans Brüggen, Viviane Hagner, and the Scottish Chamber Orchestra in an All-Mendelssohn Concert at Queen’s Hall, Edinburgh, 10/18/07

One doesn’t often encounter all-Mendelssohn programs. If I were to find one in the Tanglewood season, I’d suspect it was a somewhat excessive gesture towards the more conservative members of the audience. On the other hand, from the Scottish Chamber Orchestra and Frans Brüggen, who has maintained a long-term relationship with the orchestra over the years, it meant a fresh look at three important works by a towering figure in nineteenth century music. Our view of Mendelssohn is still colored by the popular conception of him as a genial, highly privileged composer of tuneful works, who sadly died at the young age of thirty-eight. In truth, he was, both as a composer and a conductor, an extremely influential leader in the highly theoretical and factionalized world of Romantic music, the central figure in the more conservative, “classizing” group based in Leipzig.

Scottish Chamber Orchestra with Thierry Fischer, Conductor play a Haydn Mass and Beethoven’s Fifth at Queen’s Hall, Edinburgh

The Scottish Chamber Orchestra, founded in 1974, has enjoyed a world reputation for some time now for the work they have achieved over the years under Sir Charles Mackerras, who still conducts the orchestra on occasion. And they are anything if not versatile, playing a repertory spanning the Baroque and the contemporary. Saturday evening they were in their Classical mode, playing Haydn and Beethoven with a slightly relaxed compliment of original instruments (i.e. cellos on pins and metal flute alongside gut strings, natural horn and trumpet, etc.) under the direction of the brilliant Swiss conductor, Thierry Fischer. The evening was a splendid success, full of imaginative insights and intense music-making. The orchestra and singers seemed to enjoy it as much as the audience, a special distinction for Mr. Fischer, who conducts without a baton, using vigorous, occasionally extravagant gestures, which never failed to bring the musicians together in committed playing and tight ensemble.

Letter from Sydney: Post-APEC Ruminations

As you may or may not have heard, last week was a strange one here in Sydney. The arrival of twenty world leaders and George Bush’s mountain bike warranted the erection of a five kilometre fence around certain grade A, mostly waterfront, parts of the central business district. There was debate and consternation, protest and, unexpectedly, pro-Bush counterprotest. While Bush rode his bike on my local trails, the leaders of countries like Chile and South Korea were unable to travel to the suburbs to meet their countrymen and women living in Australia. Then a group of comedians, one dressed as Osama Bin Laden, breached the exclusion zone in a fake Canadian motorcade. Which was funnier, the stunt itself or the pundits who insisted it wasn’t funny?

R. C. Sherriff’s World War I Classic, Journey’s End, on Broadway

For the fourth time now, Eve Queler, Conducter Laureate of the Opera Orchestra of New York, will bring Richard Wagner’s third opera, Rienzi, to life. That is the only word for it, because her 1980, 1982, and 1992 performances of the rarely-performed opera were terrific hits among critics and audiences. Curiously for concert performances they had the impact of great spectacles, with choirs marching through the aisles and trumpets spread about the hall. Although, as always, Ms. Queler’s focus was always on the music, she captured some of the spectacle of the first performances.

Richard Wagner, Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg, Metropolitan Opera: Morris, Hei-Kyung Hong, Polenzani

[caption id="attachment_1593" align="alignright" width="300" caption="Kyung Hong as Eva and James Morris as Hans Sachs, photo: Beatriz Schiller/Metropolitan Opera"]Kyung Hong as Eva and James Morris as Hans Sachs, photo: Beatriz Schiller/Metropolitan Opera[/caption]

The Metropolitan Opera, New York, March 10, 2007, 12
pm

Eva: Hei-Kyung Hong
Magdalene: Maria

Bard Music Festival 2009 – Wagner and His World, August 14-16 and August 21-23, 2009

Of all the events in the year, I can’t think of anything I anticipate quite as keenly as the Bard Music Festival, which is dedicated to exploring the life and works of major composers in the broad context of the culture in which they lived.

[caption id="attachment_256" align="alignright" width="298" caption="Richard Wagner in 1873"]Richard Wagner in 1873[/caption]

Art

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.

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).

Music

Justin Bischof conducts the Canadian Chamber Orchestra of New York City in Beethoven’s 7th and 9th Symphonies

Justin Bischoff conducting athletic the Seventh Annual Outreach Benefit Concert for Children

Justin Bischof, who has built a reputation as a brilliant church organist and choirmaster, has found characteristically ingenious ways to integrate his passion, symphonic conducting, with his duties as Director of Music at The Church of St. James the Less in Scarsdale as well as an admirable local charity, the “Transforming the Lives of Children through Music” Benefit, netting over $400,000—and growing—which has enabled over 425 at-risk inner-city children to attend a life-altering summer camp in recent years. The latter benefit concert is traditionally The Canadian Chamber Orchestra of New York City’s (CCO/NYC) seasonal culmination. Dr. Bischof founded the orchestra to enhance the presence of his fellow Canadian musicians in the New York Area. Through these ambitious enterprises, he has enriched the musical life at his church beyond any reasonable expectation for a suburban parish and served an admirable program for enhancing the lives of underprivileged children. And Bischof is as passionate about the charity as about the great music he conducts to further the cause. The powerful performance of Beethoven’s Ninth we heard was deeply moving, as it should be, but I was even more moved by the fine young people who gathered before that to sing simple choruses.

Deborah Stone: Still Exactly Where I Belong, at Don’t Tell Mama

Deborah-Stone

I never seem to get to jazz and cabaret performances very often, but Deborah Stone’s performance, Still Exactly Where I Belong, at Don’t Tell Mama was memorable, and I’ll be ready for her next appearance, probably in the fall. This was a gem of charm, intimacy, and meticulous musical preparation combined with a personal, heartfelt relationship to the songs. Ms. Stone is a versatile artist, having interwoven careers as and actress, singer, and above all dancer. All were active—and interacting—in her show

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

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

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

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.