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Richard Wagner, Der Ring des Nibelungen: Siegfried, Royal Opera House Covent Garden under Antonio Pappano with John Tomlinson as Wotan

When, in my review of his recent performance to Haydn’s Creation, I was reflecting on Sir Colin Davis’ career, I mentioned the Ring Cycle he conducted at Covent Garden in 1976. I thought that Siegfried was the most successful of the performances, because Sir Colin seemed to have fallen in love with its spectacular score. In no other work are the beauties of Wagner’s composition so constantly and so openly present. As I sat raptly in my seat, the orchestra and all the wonderful qualities Sir Colin could reveal in it were without a doubt the focus of my attention. And so it is for most of us in most performances, past or present, whether it is Furtwängler, Knappertsbusch, Solti, Böhm (whose splendid Bayreuth performances, available on Philips, should be better remembered), Boulez, or Levine. The orchestra functions as storyteller—a surpassingly eloquent one, with all the resources of Wagner’s musical imagination.

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.

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).