July 2011

Architecture | Urban Design

East and West: 1 Bligh Joins Sydney’s Big End of Town

No matter how many corners they cut, cities find it hard to outrun their pasts. Early decisions, however casual, however pragmatic, have a way of getting written in stone so that even long after these stones have tumbled, their consequences remain in the correspondence between certain cardinal directions and certain values. However subtle the reality on the ground, north, south east and west take on indelible local meanings. If you stand on George Street and look east down Bridge Street in downtown Sydney, it is easy to perceive the original topography of Sydney Cove, or Warrane as it was known to the Gadigal people. Bridge Street dips down toward Pitt Street and then rises up more steeply toward the Botanical Gardens at the top of the ridge. Along the low point ran the Tank Stream, now covered over, Sydney Colony’s first supply of fresh water and the reason why the city is where it is.

A London Summer with Huntley Dent

The Cherry Orchard at The National Theatre

Old shoes re-souled. There's a silent background to The Cherry Orchard for anyone born during the Cold War. The theme of social change, ambiguously written by Chekhov, took on a ferocious literalness after 1917. The niceties of the play are overshadowed by our knowledge of show trials, pogroms, and Soviet monsters to come. With all of that gone up in smoke, we find ourselves starting over. Now the opposite dilemma has appeared: what to do with a Russia sliding into irrelevancy? Putin is barely a mini-me compared to Stalin. The whole society, soaked in vodka and oil revenues, has been drained of significance: terror, class war, an ancien regime, elegiac memories, idealism, and even apparatchiks — all those soulful overtones gone flat-line.
Music

Proms 2011 – a personal preview by Gabriel Kellett: Royal Albert Hall et alibi, 15 July – 10 September, 2011

I'm in two minds about the Proms tradition of always allotting significant programming space to composers with major anniversaries. It's transparently a fairly arbitrary device to make the programmers' jobs much easier and minimise the thorny problem of personal taste entering the decision-making process; on the other hand, without it we would never get three concerts this year featuring one of my favourites, Percy Grainger (died 50 years ago). In particular, the late night Prom on 2 August including Kathryn Tickell and June Tabor, celebrating the folk music Grainger was inspired by, is to me one of the most interesting this year.
A London Summer with Huntley Dent

First Night of the Proms 2011

Check the odometer. The Proms deserve a jolly rev up when they start, and after 117 summer seasons, it was a fresh young pianist, Benjamin Grosvenor, who provided it. At nineteen, he came out in a casual shirt looking like a college freshman who might be spending his vacation as a pizza delivery boy or valet parking attendant. Those attendants are notorious for taking Porsches and Jags for a quick spin, returning them with hot wheels. Grosvenor had his chances with Liszt's Piano Concerto no. 2, but he returned it respectfully to its owner. He displayed glittering fingers and a beguiling soft touch at the beginning, but this work is faux art, setting a mood simply to tease the audience before the fireworks display.
Music

Michael Francis conducts the San Francisco Symphony: Mussorgsky, Rimsky-Korsakoff, Rachmininoff and Beethoven with Lisitsa and Buechner

If the ebullience surrounding every squeak made by the San Francisco Symphony last Friday and Saturday is any measure, the orchestra's summer season is in fine hands. On the podium for much of the month has been Michael Francis, and waiting in the wings pianists Valentina Lisitsa and Sara Davis Buechner, all to dazzle and command in their own ways. About which more in a moment. Summer concerts are a special art and a fine test for the temperament and ability of musicians. While accuracy and sight-reading abilities reflect the latter, there is a special dimension of celebration and showmanship involved, and the treacherous challenge to popularize without diminishing. So it is a delight to report that the programs I attended in Davies Hall sported no colored lights, no floral wreaths, trotted out no talkative or, worse, awkward masters of ceremony, and contained no "special occasion" works of dubious provenance. Just classic music, and very well played it was. Remarkably so, with what must have been little rehearsal.
Art

Picasso, Miró, Dalí. Angry Young Men/Giovani e arrabbiati: la nascita della modernità, Palazzo Strozzi, Firenze. Closes July 17th.

The latest exhibition at the Strozzi Palace is a walk back through time to the roots of modern painting. It retells the sad tale of three “angry men” culminating in an alleged meeting between Dalí and Picasso in 1926. Barely twenty-two years old, Dalí had come to Paris with his mother and sister. Upon entering Picasso’s studio, he exclaimed: “Master, I just arrived in Paris and have come to see you before heading for the Louvre.” The episode completed a series of encounters between Miró, Dalí, and Picasso while each was striving to invent a new visual language by contemplating the work of the other two.
A London Summer with Huntley Dent

Rubens in London

Titian, Rembrandt, and who? Several years ago I read an assessment of Peter Paul Rubens in the New Yorker which called him "history’s chief painter’s painter," while snatching back the compliment in the next breath, dubbing him "the leading pictorial decorator, propagandist, and entertainer for a Catholic Europe." Since depreciation is more fun than appreciation, the magazine's art critic says, of Rubens' female nudes, "all that smothering flesh, vibrantly alive but with the erotic appeal of a mud slide." As zingers go, here's another goodie: "Nor do Rubens’s characters appear significantly more intelligent than his farm animals."
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