Latest Posts

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 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

A Crop of Recordings XVI: Elgar, The Dream of Gerontius and the First and Second Symphonies played by the Berliner Staatskapelle under Daniel Barenboim

Edward Elgar

If Gerontius died today, it would probably be at a hospital with no Cardinal Newman to record his passing and no Sir Edward Elgar to create his beautiful dream of a masterpiece. And, one supposes too, there’d be no Daniel Barenboim to bring the work to Germany so powerfully as he does here, details and quibbles to follow. We don’t immortalize last words and thoughts the way we used to.

A Room with Two Views: Campra and Handel at the Boston Early Music Festival

Caroline Copeland in Cmapras's Le Carnaval de Venise. Photo Kathy Wittman.

Two large-scale vocal works were presented at BEMF on successive nights (Wednesday and Thursday, June 14 and 15), one a work of music theater, merging opera and ballet; the other devotional but in the musical language of opera absent the staging. Composed within nine years of each other, they offer contrasting perspectives of Italian music and culture from the points of view of a French and a German composer. Both were clearly besotted with Italy, one responding to the carnival spirit of Venice with its light-hearted approach to life, love, and entertainment; and the other situated at the center of the sober religious and devotional culture of Rome. Experiencing these two works back-to-back and interpreted by many of the same performers provided a wonderfully condensed testament to the multidimensional attractions and influences that Italian opera radiated at the turn of the 18th century.

Theater

The Best Show in Town! Spoon River, from Soulpepper of Toronto

Brendan Wall, Mike Ross, Daniel Williston, Oliver Dennis, Jackie Richardson and Raquel Duffy. Photo: Cylla von Tiedemann.

At some point, as I savored my memories of Soulpepper’s musical, Spoon River, I succumbed to the temptation to give this review the title you see above. As I began to put words together on my screen, I thought with regret of TFANA’s close-to-perfect Measure for Measure over in Brooklyn. But somehow this banal phrase, which does Soulpepper’s brilliant creation sincere but unworthy honor, jumped out of its hole, and I can’t chase it away. I hope I can do Soulpepper true justice below.

Opera

Dvořák’s Rare Grand Opera, Dimitrij, Coming Up at Bard Summerscape, beginning July 28

Olga Tolkmit as Xenia in Dvořák's grand opera, Dimitrij at Bard Summerscape, 2017.

Bard Summerscape visitors have much to look forward to in this year’s fully-staged production of Dvořák’s rarely performed grand opera, Dimitrij. For this ambitious work Dvořák set a Russian subject, the unhappy fate of the false pretender, Dimitrij, who appeared after the death of Boris Godunov, presenting himself as the son of Ivan the Terrible. The libretto was by Marie Červinková-Riegrová, one of the preeminent Czech librettists of the time, the deeply educated daughter of leading Czech politician František Ladislav Rieger, and a granddaughter of the famous historian František Palacký. In her libretto, which advisedly took liberties with historical accuracy, Dimitrij was a young Russian serf who was taken up by Poles and brought up to believe that he was in fact the son of Ivan. Hence in this opera, he is the innocent victim of ruthless Poles, eager to destabilize Russia. He is unhappily married the the Polish Princess Marina, who is merely interested in using him for her own national and personal ends.

A Room with Two Views: Campra and Handel at the Boston Early Music Festival

Caroline Copeland in Cmapras's Le Carnaval de Venise. Photo Kathy Wittman.

Two large-scale vocal works were presented at BEMF on successive nights (Wednesday and Thursday, June 14 and 15), one a work of music theater, merging opera and ballet; the other devotional but in the musical language of opera absent the staging. Composed within nine years of each other, they offer contrasting perspectives of Italian music and culture from the points of view of a French and a German composer. Both were clearly besotted with Italy, one responding to the carnival spirit of Venice with its light-hearted approach to life, love, and entertainment; and the other situated at the center of the sober religious and devotional culture of Rome. Experiencing these two works back-to-back and interpreted by many of the same performers provided a wonderfully condensed testament to the multidimensional attractions and influences that Italian opera radiated at the turn of the 18th century.

Dance

MOMIX dance Opus Cactus and more at the Joyce.

Steven Ezra as the Gila Monster. Photo Charles Azzopardi.

The desert blooms in wondrous ways with all manner of flora and fauna in Momix’ Opus Cactus, conceived by Moses Pendleton. The company members, self-described as “illusionists” are as athletic as Olympians. During the performance they appear as giant saguaros, tumbleweeds, fire dancers and a four-person, slithering Gila monster, with all these figures emerging from an ingenious use of costumes, lighting, and the human body. Mostly it’s about the suppleness of the dancers (though some argue that this isn’t exactly dance) and their staggering physicality. Very creative costumes and lighting also contribute.

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.

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.