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Eloquent Nude, a film: Edward Weston & Charis Wilson

Charis, photo Edward Weston. Edward Weston Archive. Collection Center for Creative Photography. ©1981 Center for Creative Photography, Arizona Board of Regents.

When I was still quite young, my father gave me, along with the use of his old Leica, a copy of an illustrated history of photography. I was fascinated by the book, but above all by the chapter on Weston and the famous photograph of Charis lying on the sand dune, the simplest of them. I thought it the best photograph in the book and returned to it over and over again. I don’t remember the year exactly, but I was probably of an age when no hint of sex would have gone unnoticed. I remember distinctly that I saw no such associations in the image. It struck me as essentially chaste—an example of the formalism which I thought was the essence of great photography. I was inspired in this view, of course, by that very image, as well as the peppers, which seemed to me to be more overtly sensual than the nudes. It was only later that I learned that the subject was Weston’s wife, and still later that I learned something about what their relationship was like. I still think that the photograph is severe and formalistic to the point of the visionary. Weston’s work was one thing and his life another.

August: Osage County by Tracy Letts

A Scene from August Osage County

As I mulled over the play I had just seen, the much-acclaimed August: Osage County, over some bad, overpriced feijoada, I found myself probing around for just what had been lacking in the evening. I left the Music Box Theater thinking that it was perhaps not that strong a play. I liked its length (or perhaps out on the Plains people would conceive it as breadth) and its rambling quality. Most of its dozen characters were unattractive in one way or another, but I’d grown fond of them over the past three hours. On the other hand, I perhaps felt mildly frustrated that I didn’t know more about the characters, that too much was left open. (I won’t retell the story here. If you can’t quite follow the following streamof dysfunctional relatives, you should see the play or read it. You won’t regret it.) I found myself wondering what brought Bev together with Violet in the the first place. There must have been something, before the pills and the alcohol took over.

In Praise of Herbert von Karajan, with a Selective Critical Discography

My immediate reaction to Michael Miller’s commentary on the Karajan centenary [Oh no! He’s not back again, is he? – May 2, 2008] was rather choleric, but I’ve settled down a bit since then and can write this from a relatively balanced perspective.

Berlioz, Les Troyens, a Concert Performance and a Symposium

Les Troyens is so widely accepted as Berlioz’s greatest work, that the progress of the Berlioz Renaissance is punctuated by performances of it in the opera house and in concert, beginning, arguably, with Sir Thomas Beecham’s moderately abridged 1947 BBC broadcast. Now Boston music-lovers may consider the Berlioz Renaissance to be something of a noble fiction, since his music has had its own secure place in the Boston Symphony repertoire for many years, maturing with Charles Munch’s arrival in 1949. During his tenure he and the BSO performed and recorded several of Berlioz’s most important works, and the recordings are still considered among the best. Later, both Jean Martinon and Seiji Ozawa continued the tradition most capably, and Berlioz has been one of James Levine’s great enthusiasms since early in his career.

Hector Berlioz, Les Troyens, Boston Symphony Orchestra, James Levine, conductor

Les Troyens is so widely accepted as Berlioz’s greatest work, that the progress of the Berlioz Renaissance is punctuated by performances of it in the opera house and in concert, beginning, arguably, with Sir Thomas Beecham’s moderately abridged 1947 BBC broadcast. Now Boston music-lovers may consider the Berlioz Renaissance to be something of a noble fiction, since his music has had its own secure place in the Boston Symphony repertoire for many years, maturing with Charles Munch’s arrival in 1949. During his tenure he and the BSO performed and recorded several of Berlioz’s most important works, and the recordingsare still considered among the best. Later, both Jean Martinon and Seiji Ozawa continued the tradition most capably, and Berlioz has been one of James Levine’s great enthusiasms since early in his career. Expertise in Berlioz seems to be a prerequisite for the job. Yet, this is the first complete performance of Les Troyens by the foremost Berlioz orchestra in America, which in the past has only played brief excerpts, above all the “Royal Hunt and Storm” from Act IV. Hence these concert performances of Parts I and II on following weeks, culminating in a complete performance on Sunday May 4, are in fact landmarks.

Black Watch from the Natonal Theatre of Scotland

The Iraq War is an infuriating abomination and I am more than happy to see anything that attacks it. I am also, as it happens, not against seeing fine theatre. Therefore, I was delighted to see two birds killed with one stone at the National Theatre of Scotland’s production of the Edinburgh Festival hit Black Watch at the Scottish Exhibition & Conference Centre (SECC) in Glasgow, as the play continues its tour through the UK, and then on to North America. [Since its first performance at the Edinburgh Fringe in 2006 in an unused drill shed, Black Watch has played before sold out audiences and won numerous awards, not only the Fringe First, but South Bank Show Award for Theatre, the Critics’ Circle Awards (to John Tiffany as Best Director) and others. It played to sold-out audiences at St. Ann’s Warehouse,Brooklyn in October-November 2007, and will return there in October 2008. – ed.]

Art

“Fired” Treasures from Around the Globe: The New York Ceramics & Glass Fair at the Bohemian National Hall

Martha Rieger, Emergence

The New York Ceramic and Glass Fair, at Bohemian National Hall, 321 East 73rd Street,  is packed with historic and contemporary works that span five centuries and come from all over the globe. This is the only fair of its kind in the United States specializing in ceramics, pottery and glass from the 17th-21st centuries. The show is chock full of works ranging from modern studio pottery to 18th century Staffordshire with everything in between, and attended by collectors, curators and just plain people who enjoy looking at beautiful and/or interesting objects.

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.

Music

Herbert Blomstedt leads The San Francisco Symphony in a rare Swedish masterpiece, Stenhammar’s Symphony No. 2 in G minor.

Vilhelm Stenhammar in 1916

One could wait a lifetime for this concert! I nearly did. And while Herbert Blomstedt is in his 90s now, you can only suppose—lucky man to be Swedish—he didn’t spend as many years wondering what the Stenhammar Second Symphony would sound like in concert. Wilhelm Stenhammar is Sweden’s greatest composer, after all, not without honor in his own country, like Vaughan Williams in England or Martinů in the Czech Republic. But it has taken time in the modern era to recognize which quieter and deeper voices from a nation’s immediate past are the ones we will take to heart internationally. I can only thank Blomstedt profoundly for carrying this symphony on his guest-conducting rounds. Senior conductors can be influential that way. Erich Leinsdorf adopted the Martinů Fourth Symphony in his later years, and the work is now well established in concert halls far and wide. One hopes for a similar outcome here.

Stephen Hough, Piano, at Carnegie Hall, January 30, 2018: Debussy, Schumann, and Beethoven

Stephen Hough

Stephen Hough remains one of the most engaging personalities in the world of virtuoso pianists. He makes his wide range of interests—literary, visual, and religious—known to the world at large with grace and modesty, out of a genuine desire to contribute things that others with find enjoyable or helpful. He is even able to compose pieces, mostly of a light nature, which he sometimes interjects into his concert programs. Early in his career he built a reputation with his impressive technique, as he built a list of outstanding recordings of forgotten concerti and solo pieces which were too difficult for others to learn for the rare occasions on which they would be called for in concert. In recent years he has turned more to established classics in his concert programs, approaching them with a consistent style founded on attractive tone and a vision of the coherence of the works he plays.

Theater

Back to Syracuse. Musicals Tonight! present Rogers & Hart’s The Boys from Syracuse

A Scene from The Boys from Syracuse from Musicals Tonight!

The Boys from Syracuse originally opened in 1938 and has since been revived numerous times. This version resets the musical, which has one of the best scores ever with gems including Falling in Love with Love, Sing for Your Supper and This Can’t Be Love, in a gay, campy world with an almost all-male cast plus one, lone woman.

The Only Jealousy of Emer by W. B. Yeats, directed by Ray Yeates—Origin 1st Irish Theatre Festival 2018 at Torn Page/Apartment 929—EXTENDED 2/17-2/18

Benjamin Becher and Elissa Middleton in W. B. Yeats' The Only Jealousy of Emer

Whether one reads W. B. Yeats’ The Only Jealousy of Emer as a closet drama or sees it in a convincing (indeed outstanding) production like the one mounted by Torn Page Apartment 929 this winter, one gets a strong feeling that the action and speech are unfolding on two levels: the mythic and the experiential, i.e. biographical, in relation to Yeats. As stated in the program note, “Yeats is a poet as much of fact as of feeling. Every work of his has a source—whether from folklore, legend, mythology, the occult, or history: each a source that for him had a definite objective reality. The demands of this world and of that other world of Yeatsian spiritual reality often conflict. His verse play The Only Jealousy of Emer, particularly in its early drafts, offers a vivid portrayal of such a struggle.”

Opera

Two Superb New Recordings of a Ravel Operatic Masterpiece: 1. Stéphanie d’Oustrac Singing L’heure espagnole (with an alert Shéhérazade as bonus) 2. L’heure espagnole, with the magnificent Gaëlle Arquez

Gaëlle Arquez

The two works on this CD make an apt and welcome pair. First we have Ravel’s sumptuous three-song cycle about the mysteries of love and fantasies of exotic lands. Then we have his one-act opera that takes place in a land that, to French people at the time, was beckoningly exotic, and whose title might be freely translated “The Nutty and Delightful Things That Can Happen in Spain in Just One Hour.” The opera presents some quick-moving events in the lives of a clockmaker’s wife and the four wildly different men with whom she is variously involved (one being her husband). The CD is officially vol. 4 of a series covering Ravel’s “orchestral works,” a phrase that here clearly means “works with orchestra.” (The two piano concertos and Tzigane are presumably scheduled for some future volume.) The Stuttgart orchestra plays very capably throughout, but the star of the CD is mezzo-soprano Stéphanie d’Oustrac.

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.

Dance

A Different Russian Direction 

Dušan Týnek's Anna. Photo Ian Douglas.

Czech-born choreographer Dušan Týnek founded his eponymous company in 2003 and has received numerous accolades for his intelligent craftsmanship and striking imagination. Both talents and more were on view at the world premiere of Anna, inspired by Tolstoy’s Anna Karenina, rendered as an expression of the novel and not a literal re-telling. An evening-length work, the story is a springboard to an examination of impressions of love, infidelity and gender norms within narrow social conventions.

New York Theater Ballet, REP, at Florence Gould Hall, February 9, 2018

Amanda Treiber and Erez Milatin in Optimists. Photo © Rachel Neville.

The title of Optimists, choreographed by Gemma Bond of American Ballet Theater, didn’t tell me anything but the dancing, by Amanda Treiber and Erez Milatin, did. The piece is exciting and filled with action with the pair swooping and diving to Piano Sonata no.8 Opus 84 by Prokofiev.  Elegant and spare with powerful bodies they move with confidence, Treiber and Miltatin have made this exhilarating piece their own and it was a joy to watch.

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).

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