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A Visit to the Tate Modern

Oh, that this rain would end! I dried my socks by stepping into the Tate Britain this afternoon.The museum collection is divided into three parts – the glorious, the dull, and the querulous. The glorious, all those luminescent Turner paintings, went on tour this year, so the mobs aren’t in attendance. The management left a few strays lingering in various galleries (like the sublimely bucolicGolden Bough and a Venetian water scene where only an outlined gondola betrays that Turner wasn’t painting a celestial city), and these left-behinds glow like yellow sapphires. The dull part of the Tate consists of traditional British paintings, large rooms hung double-decker style with portraits of horse-faced lords and their pale, powdered ladies. I have to squint to read the labels, so it’s work to separate the Reynolds, Gainsboroughs, and Van Dycks from the acreage of peerage that surrounds them. If I sound captious, it’s because the third portion of the Tate Britain, devoted to modern art, exasperated me.

TR Warszawa: Grzegorz Jarzyna’s Macbeth 2008 by the Brooklyn Bridge

Danuta Stenka and Cezary Kosinski as Hecate and Macbeth.

In preparing this review—more in that than in actually witnessing the performance—I had to remind myself that this is not the play which has come down to us as Shakespeare’s Scottish Play with some conspicuous additions by Thomas Middleton, as well as some other cuts and adjustments. It is rather <i>Macbeth 2008,</i> Gzregorz Jarzyna’s adaptation of the play. What made this hard was that it resembled Shakespeare’s play in so many ways that I couldn’t help thinking about it and making comparisons. Jarzyna’s spectacle even includes several excerpts from the best-known speeches in the play, inserted into the crude, obscenity-ridden dialogue that Jarzyna has created in the style of contemporary Hollywood film, especially the work of his hero, Ridley Scott. If I had been able to attend the lecture Jarzyna gave at the Polish Cultural Center about a month before the much-publicized opening of his show, I’d have been better prepared, and perhaps more resistant to comparisons with the Jacobean play, so admirably presented by a company from the Chichester Festival barely a mile distant from its venue in the armpit of the Brooklyn Bridge. All Mr. Jarzyna’a lights, noise, and bodily fluids amounted to pretty feeble stuff in comparison with the all-too-familiar words of the old play. His purpose is to present the story of Macbeth as a nightmare, as if the play were not nightmarish enough in itself.On the other hand, it was great fun to be there in the Tobacco Warehouse, a brilliant arrangement, brilliantly executed by St. Ann’s Warehouse, which itself stands across the street.

That Face at the Duke of York’s Theatre by Polly Stenham

Tube riders litter the train with newspapers, which other riders pick up to alleviate their boredom. Coming home last night I saw a grisly headline on one of these throwaways, “Sixth Stab Murder in Week of Death.” In London? The first sentence of the story was horrifying. “A schoolboy has been stabbed to death with a foot-long knife by a gang of thugs in south London.” It was within memory that a single shooting death made national news. Compared to America, the UK is still a kingdom where the lion lies down with the lamb. Verbal and psychological violence are another matter.

Anthony Neilson, Relocated, at the Royal Court Theatre

Clouds over Sloane Square, and the posh and spicy girls known as Sloane Rangers weren’t tramping around with a slew of shopping bags over their arms. Or not that I could see two days ago.A wag has renamed them the trustafarians, which seems to be sticking. I had a drink with a new friend named Warwick and told him that he and I were the only two people in the bar named after castles. “Presumably,” he said.We had met while waiting to troop into the tiny, dark, primitively ventilated Upstairs at the Royal Court Theatre to be assaulted by Relocated, a stage provocation that has divided the critics while scaring off the public.

The English National Ballet at the Southbank Centre, London

Walking across the Charing Cross footbridge, wishing the Thames didn’t look muddy no matter how blue the sky, I spied what looked like a Safeway supermarket attempting liftoff from the opposite shore. Actually, it was Royal Festival Hall. The building consists of a multi-storied cube topped with a plain barrel vault. You’d never suspect the interior was devoted to music and dance – it could easily be a widget factory. But gratitude is due the city planners, who plunked RFH down in 1951 when the South Bank was littered with little else but closed factories and depressing detritus from the war. This year the hall reopened after expensive refurbishment, with public promises that its bad acoustics had been remedied.

Rockwell Kent and the Cape Cinema Mural

The Cape Cinema, Dennis, MA, decorated by Rockwell Kent. Photo 2008 Lucy Vivante.

Part of the Cape Cinema’s appeal comes from the high contrast between outside and in. The church-like exterior is patterned after the nearby town of Centerville’s Congregational Church. The murals you might expect inside–of a Puritan religious gathering or colonists working–are instead of exuberant figures dancing across the ceiling. Within the space of a few feet, just by crossing the lobby, we travel from stern New England to lush Art Deco.

Dennis’s Cape Cinema is open year round, in the summer months for art-house movies and some live concerts and in the winter for Metropolitan Opera Live in HD performances. The movies are selected by Eric Hart, the cinema’s manager, and George Mansour. Mansour has been booking art-house films for more than forty years and is a consultant for the Angelika Cinemas.

Richard Strauss, Ariadne auf Naxos, Royal Opera House, Covent Garden

What better way to anticipate the Fourth of July than spending time with Richard Strauss, who fiddled while the Nazis burned Europe? He languished in apparent dotage as the Yanks stormed the beach at Normandy. Suddenly the first oboist of the Philadelphia Orchestra showed up at Strauss’s mountain retreat in Bavaria. Then a uniformed GI, the oboist commissioned a concerto from the snowy-haired, stork-like composer, and a minor masterpiece was born.

Art

Intimate Heroism: Vermeer in His Time and Beyond

Johannes Vermeer, The Lacemaker, Oil on canvas, 1670-1671. Musée du Louvre.

Thirty years ago, I wrote a poem that ended, “I’ve never lived in a city without a Vermeer.” My cities were, by pure coincidence, New York and Boston. But my interest in Vermeer borders on obsession, and I’m still wrestling with why his paintings are so particularly seductive to me. There’s always the ravishing beauty of the painted surface, the elegance of structure and detail, but also the balance of bravura and a kind of restraint—the way the usual mundane, anti-heroic subjects of Dutch genre painting, however beautiful they are in the work of his contemporaries, take on qualities of the spiritual and even the heroic, qualities that are more like—and sometimes equal—the more overt aspects of spirituality and heroism in, say, Rembrandt. “Rembrandt ist Beethoven, Vermeer ist Mozart,” I overheard someone say to herself looking at a Vermeer. (Could we add Jane Austen and Leo Tolstoy? Emily Dickinson and Walt Whitman? Or Elizabeth Bishop and Robert Lowell?) That complicated combination of dazzle and modesty may be an essential difference between Vermeer and his contemporaries, including Rembrandt.

Why Draw? 500 Years of Drawings and Watercolors at Bowdoin College, May 03, 2017 – September 03, 2017

Lois Mailou Jones, A Student at Howard, 1947. Watercolor over graphite on off-white wove paper.

Between the limits of the discipline, as it is taught in graduate schools, and the structure of museological functions, exhibitions of drawings usually adhere to a restricted range of formats, which, while continuing to be viable for institutions and the public and useful for scholars in the field, can be felt as constricting for those who conceive and execute them. The scope of drawings exhibitions can be determined by time and/or place (stylistic categories), or an artistic personality (monographic), or collection (“Treasures on Paper from…”), and perhaps a few others. When a curator is faced with such a project, he may may find himself wrestling with an urge to break the mold and create something new.

Music

Inbal Segev talks to Michael Miller about Christopher Rouse’s Cello Concerto, Coming Up February 10 and 11th at the Troy Savings Bank Music Hall, and the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra’s New Music Festival

Cellist Inbal Segev with her 17th century cello at her home on the Upper East Side of New York on Nov. 5, 2015. Photo Benjamin Chasteen/Epoch Times.

Last month I had the pleasure of chatting with Inbal Segev, a young cellist from Israel, who has been making a mark in contemporary music and the classics. She was discovered by Isaac Stern as a high school student in Israel, and he arranged for her to come the United States to study at Yale and Juilliard. On this occasion we talked about her upcoming performance of Christopher Rouse’s cello concerto with the Albany Symphony under David Allan Miller and a very interesting—and successful—contemporary music festival sponsored by the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra, under the direction of Marin Alsop. It held its inaugural season just last summer.

An Autumn of Pianists in New York

Marc-André Hamelin

My own fall season of piano recitals began on a high point with Gilbert Kalish’s appearance at The Concerts at Camphill Ghent. (This is the only concert I shall discuss that did not take place within the confines of Manhattan, although one might in a stretch consider Ghent as local in some indirect way, since it is a mere fifteen minutes drive outside Hudson, and Hudson is surely a colony of New York City, tossing together traits of Brooklyn, Lower Manhattan, and the Upper West Side. Click here for a more general account of the concert series.) Here Mr. Kalish played the sort of carefully pondered, intelligent program he has been known for since the 1960s.

Theater

The Home  Place by Brian Friel, New York Premiere, at the Irish Repertory Theatre, closing December 17.

Ed Malone as David Gore, John Windsor-Cunningham as Christopher Gore, and Rachel Pickup as Margaret O'Donnell.

You have five more days to see—or to see again—the New York premiere of Brian Friel’s late masterpiece, The Home Place, in its extended run. Between the rich language of the play—subtly heightened, but idiomatic to contemporary ears and sounding entirely convincing in the mouths of Irish and Anglo-Irish English-speakers of 1878—James Noone’s evocative set, the unfailing precision and feeling of the actors, and Charlotte Moore’s crisp direction, it provided the most absorbing and moving evening in the theater of the year.

Two’s Company: Broadway’s Greatest Duets, November 16, 2017, at Merkin

Sally Wilfert, Lora Lee Gayer, Georgia Stitt (piano), John Herrera, Gabrielle Stravelli. Photo David Andrako.

The program, presented in association with One Day University®, didn’t exactly live up to the  “great” part of its name as host, Sean Hilton, made clear in his introduction  explaining the focus was on  “underrated duets.” Exactly right and very interesting—and often fun—to hear music that the enthusiastic audience wasn’t fully familiar with.

Opera

Two New Releases of Lohengrin, part 2: Mark Elder, in a Live Concert Performance from Amsterdam’s Concertgebouw (2015)

Sir Mark Elder

There have been dozens of capable, and more than capable, recordings of Lohengrin. Among the most-often praised are the Sawallisch/Bayreuth (1962), Kempe (1963), Solti (1985), and Abbado (1991). Recording a major Wagner opera involves heavy costs that a record company may be unable to recoup. Hence the appeal of recording a concert performance. This CD set was edited from two such performances in Amsterdam’s famed Concertgebouw (literally: “concert building”) on December 18 and 20, 2015. The performance was semi-staged, i.e., done without costumes and sets. Some evocative lighting was employed. Characters made entrances and exits through various doors, and characters and (I gather) brass players appeared on balconies.

Two New Releases of Lohengrin, part 1: Knappertsbusch’s Only Recorded Lohengrin, Available for the First Time

Hans Knappertsbusch

Hans Knappertsbusch was one of the most renowned Wagner conductors who ever lived. His recordings of Parsifal, especially, are near-legendary among confirmed Wagnerians. It was thus with some excitement that I opened a new 3-CD set from Orfeo, consisting of the first release ever of any performance of Lohengrin conducted by the conductor sometimes known among musicians and opera-goers as “Kna.”

Dance

Battleground, by Ryan McNamara

From Ryan McNamara's Battleground. Photo Courtesy of Works & Process at the Guggenheim/Jacklyn Meduga .

Out of This World in More than One Way

It’s hard to imagine Ryan McNamara’s Battleground performed anywhere but in the Guggenheim Museum’s subterranean theater—in fact, McNamara himself says that the “sci-fi cosplay house-music ballet-battle” fell into his mind the moment he saw the space.

All nine performers are credited with creating the work in collaboration with McNamara and they use every inch of the theater—stage, aisles, balcony, columns, choir loft and areas the audience traverses to reach their seats. “Don’t get up, “I cautioned my companion, “or you’ll be in it.”

Complexions Contemporary Ballet at the Joyce Theater

Star Dust - Company. Photo Hagos Rush.

The evening’s big attraction was Star Dust, a ballet tribute to David Bowie. But to reach that gem, the audience first had to deal with Gutter Glitter, an “abstract landscape of contrasting ideas,” the first installment of choreographer Dwight Rhoden’s Collage Series. To recognize the dancers as extraordinary is an understatement. However, the work was disjointed and danced to music that didn’t connect to it, especially the bits that sounded (intentionally) like broken glass. The movements, with many enormous extensions and sinuously stretched arms and legs, didn’t make me see or understand what was meant by “discovering the light in darkness.”

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

2017: A Film Festival Retrospective from the Northeast, above all, the Berkshire and the Nitrate Picture Show at the George Eastman Museum, Rochester

Film festivals have become an integral part of film-going life. They are no longer the preserve of industry professionals, now attended by a variety of cinephiles and even casual viewers, who may have read a title or a preview that struck their fancy. Not a few worthy films will never make it into general distribution. We take that for granted, and a festival award may be the best many filmmakers can hope for. A screening at a festival before a roomful of living humans in itself seems more tangible than a showing on cable or one of the streaming networks.

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.

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

Inbal Segev talks to Michael Miller about Christopher Rouse’s Cello Concerto, Coming Up February 10 and 11th at the Troy Savings Bank Music Hall, and the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra’s New Music Festival

Cellist Inbal Segev with her 17th century cello at her home on the Upper East Side of New York on Nov. 5, 2015. Photo Benjamin Chasteen/Epoch Times.

Last month I had the pleasure of chatting with Inbal Segev, a young cellist from Israel, who has been making a mark in contemporary music and the classics. She was discovered by Isaac Stern as a high school student in Israel, and he arranged for her to come the United States to study at Yale and Juilliard. On this occasion we talked about her upcoming performance of Christopher Rouse’s cello concerto with the Albany Symphony under David Allan Miller and a very interesting—and successful—contemporary music festival sponsored by the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra, under the direction of Marin Alsop. It held its inaugural season just last summer.

Paavali Jumppanen, Pianist, Talks to Michael Miller before his Recital at the Frick Collection, Sunday, October 8, at 5 pm.

Pavaali Jumppanen

I’m very pleased to present this interview with Paavali Jumppanen, who will be playing a recital at the Frick Collection this coming Sunday, October 7, 2017, at 5 pm. He will play works by three composers he has studied in particular depth over many years: Beethoven, Debussy, and the William Duckworth (1943-2012).