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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.

Hector Berlioz, L’enfance du Christ, Sir Colin Davis, London Symphony Orchestra

Sir Colin has a long history with L’enfance du Christ. He made his first recording of it in 1960 at the age of 34. It was well-received in its time and is still respected today, but the current performance, part of the London Symphony Orchestra’s brilliantly successful series of live concert recordings made in the renovated and sonically improved Barbican Hall, is an absolute triumph.

Pollock Matters, The McMullen Museum of Art, Boston College, September 1-December 9, 2007

The Pollocks and the Matters

Herbert Matter recalled that in 1942, when they first met over dinner, Jackson Pollock said to him, “It’s a really wonderful time to be living.” He added,“That gave us plenty to think about the rest of the evening.” I wonder how many people would say that today. For my part, after rehearsing a string of problems and miseries irrelevant to the present topic, the amazing exhibition, Pollock Matters, which closes this Sunday (December 9) at the McMullen Museum of Boston College, I would say that we take controversy too seriously. As the debates among the presidential candidates drivel on in equivocation, and the incumbent goes about his work of ruining the country, those Americans who are interested in one of their country’s greatest painters may or may not find themselves sufficiently clear-headed to realize that this exhibition has been so much wrapped up in controversy, that few see its real issues or even care about them. It concerns the discovery of a cache of small experimental works, according to a label made by their owner, Herbert Matter, in 1958, the work of Jackson Pollock, and the collision of the discoverer, Matter’s son, Alex, with the blue-chip institution established by Pollock’s widow.

Richard Long – Walking and Marking – National Galleries of Scotland 30th June to 21st October 2007 – Part III of a series (Edinburgh Walks)

Richard Long, Stone Cross. Photo Michael Miller.

Setting off alone along the now familiar route down Henderson Row past a silent Academy, now in break, I savored a sense of purposefulness and anticipated my visit to the Richard Long show at the NGS Modern Galleries, their major exhibition of the year, open for the Festival, and an important one for Long as well. He hasn’t had an exhibition of this size in Britain in over fifteen years. I also relished another walk along the Water of Leith. Crossing unnecessarily over to elegant and brightly sunlit Dean Terrace, I crossed back at the bridge and descended into the path just before St. Bernard’s Well, a sulfurous source discovered in the mid-eighteenth century and decorously enclosed in a pump house designed by Alexander Naismyth, following the circular design of the Temple of the Sibyl at Tivoli, a favorite destination on the Grand Tour. A statue of Hygieia stands within ten Tuscan columns, a sober northern interpretation of the original’s Corinthian order.

Alex Hartley, John Stezaker, William Blake: A Stroll through Some Edinburgh Galleries – Part II of a Series, Edinburgh Walks

Richard Long has observed that the best and safest way to cross Dartmoor is to walk in a straight line, but in the city things are rarely so simple. Long’s important exhibition at The National Gallery of Modern Art was postponed to another day, and I shall postpone it to a review of its own, while I follow our ramblings southwards towards the Old City, seeking out addresses my friend had given me. As sophisticated and rational as Edinburgh may be, at least the New Town, certain prospects encourage one to think of it as a city of the earth. It is mostly built of stone, after all, as neatly chiselled as it may be. As you turn the corner around the façade of the new Parliament, Arthur’s Seat, an extinct volcano, appears ready to swallow it up…or is that only wishful thinking? The classical structures on Calton Hill, stone-built as they are, only draw attention to the chthonic presence of the eminence on which they stand. (Like Rome, Edinburgh has seven hills: Calton Hill, Castle Hill, Corstorphine Hill, Craiglockhart Hill, Braid Hills, Blackford Hill, Arthur’s Seat.) This theme, moreover, had its way of cropping up, not only in Richard Long, but in other exhibitions as well.

Edinburgh Walks – Part I of a Series

One of the most astonishing passages in Homer is the simile in Book XV of the Iliad, which describes the rapidity of Hera’s flight to Olympus (Il. XV, 79ff.): but went back to tall Olympos from the mountains of Ida As the thought flashes in the mind of a man who, traversing much territory, thinks of things in the mind’s awareness, ‘I wish I were this place, or this’, and imagines many things; so rapidly in her eagerness winged Hera, a goddess. —trans. Richmond Lattimore

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).