Latest Posts

Serenade for Haiti, Directed and Written by Owsley Brown, at the Berkshire International Film Festival, June 3

Among the rich offerings of the 2017 Berkshire International Film Festival, one of the most fascinating and important films will be Owsley Brown’s documentary, Serenade for Haiti. The film could be described as an extended visit to the École de Musique Sainte Trinité in Pétionville, a suburb of Port-au-Prince. Mr. Brown, who had made other films about music and its role in human society and spirituality, first visited the school in 2006, and was, as he has said, “greatly affected by what [he] found there.”

Justin Bischof conducts the Canadian Chamber Orchestra of New York City in Beethoven’s 7th and 9th Symphonies

Justin Bischoff conducting athletic the Seventh Annual Outreach Benefit Concert for Children

Justin Bischof, who has built a reputation as a brilliant church organist and choirmaster, has found characteristically ingenious ways to integrate his passion, symphonic conducting, with his duties as Director of Music at The Church of St. James the Less in Scarsdale as well as an admirable local charity, the “Transforming the Lives of Children through Music” Benefit, netting over $400,000—and growing—which has enabled over 425 at-risk inner-city children to attend a life-altering summer camp in recent years. The latter benefit concert is traditionally The Canadian Chamber Orchestra of New York City’s (CCO/NYC) seasonal culmination. Dr. Bischof founded the orchestra to enhance the presence of his fellow Canadian musicians in the New York Area. Through these ambitious enterprises, he has enriched the musical life at his church beyond any reasonable expectation for a suburban parish and served an admirable program for enhancing the lives of underprivileged children. And Bischof is as passionate about the charity as about the great music he conducts to further the cause. The powerful performance of Beethoven’s Ninth we heard was deeply moving, as it should be, but I was even more moved by the fine young people who gathered before that to sing simple choruses.

Limón Dance Company, Joyce Theater, May 2, 2017

The José Limón Dance Company in Concerto Grosso

This program combines the contemporary with the classics in the first Joyce season under the Company’s new artistic director, Colin Connor.

The final work of the altogether gripping evening was made in 2016 with choreography by Kate Ware. Night Light is partly set to the Passacaglia for unaccompanied violin from Biber’s “The Rosary” Sonata and partly to “A Song for Mick Kelly.” The athletic dancers, some of the women wearing what closely resembled black two-piece ‘bathing suits;’ the rest of the group in flowing dark and royal blue tops, weave and leap, almost fighting one another. The work is powerful and haunting. The other 2016 dance, Corvidae, choreographed by Mr. Connor, turns the dancers into Corvids, i.e., crows and ravens, who have been seen throughout the ages as messengers. The dark lighting and black costumes gave the six dancers an edge of menace further expressed by darting, flicking movements.

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.

Deborah Stone: Still Exactly Where I Belong, at Don’t Tell Mama

Deborah-Stone

I never seem to get to jazz and cabaret performances very often, but Deborah Stone’s performance, Still Exactly Where I Belong, at Don’t Tell Mama was memorable, and I’ll be ready for her next appearance, probably in the fall. This was a gem of charm, intimacy, and meticulous musical preparation combined with a personal, heartfelt relationship to the songs. Ms. Stone is a versatile artist, having interwoven careers as and actress, singer, and above all dancer. All were active—and interacting—in her show

Tracy Letts’ August: Osage County at Williams, directed by Omar Sangare

Johnna (Gabrielle Amos-Grosser) talks with Bev (TL Guest) and Violet (Evelyn Mahon).

Every spring for some years now the brilliant Polish actor-director-playwright-poet Omar Sangare has created extraordinary productions at the ‘62 Center for the Performing Arts with his acting students at Williams College, and they keep on getting better. All of them have been highly unusual. There was a double-cast A Streetcar Named Desire: by that I mean that it was performed by two separate casts almost, but not quite simultaneously. Far from an weird distraction, the device emphasized the universality of the play…and gave the many interested student actors a chance to perform. There was Gombrowicz’s classic proto-absurdist farce, Princess Iwona, which was also performed on Broadway.

The Ensemble for the Romantic Century presents The Dreyfus Affair at BAM

The Dreyfus Affair, Ensemble

The Dreyfus Affair feels very appropriate in today’s xenophobic, anxious times. Combining live orchestral music, singing, spoken word, projections and elaborate period costumes , the production relates the chilling story of Captain Alfred Dreyfus, a decorated French Jewish officer, who was falsely accused of high treason, arrested, speedily tried, convicted and imprisoned on the hell-hole of Devil’s Island. Written by Eve Wolf and directed by Donald T. Sanders, this multi-media production illuminates the 1894 events that had a decades-long reverberation in the political landscape of France and the rest of the world and still reverberates.

The Bethlehem Bach Choir: Christmas Concerts in Advent; Bach Festival, with a Performance of the Mass in B Minor in May

The B Minor Mass during the 2015 Bethlehem BacjhFestival

These weeks following following Easter have proven rich in musical events that transcend the usual rationales behind public performances, usually having something to do with attracting large crowds to hear prestigious musicians in prestigious venues, or the annual ritual of Handel’s Messiah or one of Bach’s Passions. I’m thinking of special occasions, either serving some higher human purpose or deeply rooted in the culture of a particular place—for example, a recent performance of Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony in Westchester County, which was not only outstanding in itself, but held to benefit an especially inspiring cause…of which more in another place soon. I’ve already written about the special power of the Bach performances in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, which have continued under various local auspices since at least 1823.

Art

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.

Urban Planning: A Manifesto

The people of New South Wales have been anticipating the upcoming state election almost since the last election four years ago, never a good situation. As regular readers of our dispatches from Sydney know, the soon to be defeated Labor Government has for the past sixteen years, with its inimitably bland, shiny-suited glee, trashed poor old Sydney. A place which with the slightest effort could be the most beautiful city in the world has instead deteriorated into a kind of Los Angeles without a Raymond Chandler, a Melbourne without intricacy, a Singapore without ambition.

One of the most urgent tasks facing the next state government will be the reform of NSW’s broken planning system, a system I saw in action (if that is the right word) during the disillusioning two years I spent in a cubicle at the NSW Department of Planning.

Music

A Crop of Recordings XVII: Dvořák, Ravel, Lalo, and Manén…with Some Classical Favourites for Hallowe’en!

La Mère L'Oye

Every time I hear the Czech Philharmonic properly recorded I’m reminded what a glorious orchestra they are—overdue for appreciation. The ensemble recently signed a major contract with Decca and released Dvořák symphonies and concertos on CD, led by Jiří Bělohlávek. There’s also a complete Tchaikovsky project in the works from Semyon Bychkov. And now we have this beautiful take on the Slavonic Dances, captured without compromise.

Ups and Downs of the Boston Music Season, mostly Boston Symphony with Andris Nelsons, 2016-2017

Thomas Adès conducting the BSO. Photo Stu Rosner.

The Boston Symphony Orchestra’s 2017 Tanglewood Music Festival, very successful by many reports, has just concluded, with the new season in Boston to begin very soon. I offer here the perspective of a look back at the preceding season in Boston, commenting mostly on BSO, but also a few other events. I was able to attend only one Tanglewood concert this summer: the impressive concert performance of Wagner’s Das Rheingold, conducted by BSO Music Director Andris Nelsons, with a large, excellent cast. A good sign for the future.

Theater

The Three Musketeers at The Classical Theatre of Harlem

The Three Musketeers By the Classical Theatre of Harlem. Photo Richard Termine.

It’s all for one and one for all in Classical Theatre of Harlem’s (CTH) The Three Musketeers written by Catherina Bush as adapted from the novel by Alexandre Dumas. Under the sky at the wonderful Richard Rogers Amphitheater in Harlem’s Marcus Garvey Park, the cast sings a little, dances a little, crosses swords a lot and generally has a good time.

Opera

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

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

Overeager: One Night Only (running as long as we can) — Monica Bill Barnes and Company at the WP Theater

Anna Bass and Monica Bill Barnes in One Night Only (running as long as we can)

first saw Monica Bill Barnes performing Three Acts, Two Dancers, One Radio show and was charmed. Besides their obvious physical skills, Barnes and her sidekick, Anna Bass, were full of humor with an underlying sweetness pleasantly at odds with their somewhat tough physiques and staccato moves. Then I participated in The Museum Workout, following Barnes and Bass through galleries, up and down stairs at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, a group of us running and stopping to pump arms along the way which was an entertaining experience if not my ideal approach to enjoying art.

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.

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.