December 2011

Music

Ludovic Morlot conducts the BSO in Harbison, Ravel, and Mahler at Davies Hall, San Francisco

Not since the Dresden Staatskapelle last played here has an event exuded a like aura of serious appreciation. Despite its current state of unsettled leadership, the Boston Symphony represents a substantial portion of America's iconic musical past, and you had the feeling on Wednesday that some very proper Bostonians, themselves virtual institutions, had emerged from public obscurity to render homage. Indeed, it was almost disturbing to witness the age of the audience, which in San Francisco tends to be youngish and oriented to date-night. The young, of course, ever perceive disapproval on the faces of the old, though this can be an inadvertent byproduct of trying to focus uncooperative eyes. Some of us in our sixties ruefully begin to notice this. But my imagination wasn't prepared for the scene in the lobby, where a thousand apparently scowling octogenarians patrolled the halls like alligators—-peering challenges into the not-quite-recognized faces of enemies. Thank heavens for the rejuvenating waters of music!
Music

A Christmas Australis with Real Music with the Australian Brandenburg Orchestra and Choir

Having grown up in the northern hemisphere, the winter Christmas is ingrained in me, but the event is fundamentally connected to mid-winter. The pagan winter solstice festival with its strong connection to nature, namely the Sun, a celebration of the days starting to lengthen and a new year beginning, is tied to Christmas as the scriptural imagery is compatible with the older ritual’s. Zeus, Dionysus, Apollo, and Mithras are all also alleged to have been born on the (northern) winter solstice and St. Chrysostom said of the timing of the Nativity in the 4th Century ‘while the heathen were busied with their profane rites the Christians might perform their holy ones without disturbance’ but also thought it a suitable birthday for the ‘Sun of Righteousness.’[1] In that sense it naturally and intuitively doesn't feel like the right festival for the southern hemisphere's summer solstice. So unique traditions evolve here and the more appealing ones are strongly connected to nature — spending all your time outside enjoying the long daylight while it lasts, roses blooming, surfing, eating seafood, fresh fruit, especially cherries, etc. —, but still are colored by the northern traditions. With his Australian Brandenburg Orchestra, Sydney's main squeeze for Baroque music and period instrument lovers, Paul Dyer provides the best music for this austral summer solstice Christmas, music which makes natural and festive sense. It is very serious, 'scholarly' music, but with the artistic spirit of the Baroque steeping it, it has a bright festive sunny quality too, especially in the style of their playing. Dyer has assembled a varied program of traditional carols played very thoughtfully, Spanish popular music from the 16th Century, late Baroque instrumental music and early Baroque motets and more recently composed pieces. Somehow Dyer's enthusiasm, sense of occasion and serious-festive-art approach to music allows all this to hang together comfortably.
Music

Osmo Vänskä and Alisa Weilerstein Collaborate with the Sydney Symphony — Tchaikovsky, Prokofiev and Beethoven

Inviting guest musicians Osmo Vänskä and Alisa Weilerstein to the Sydney Symphony makes an artistic match the muses approved of, not to mention the heavens. They only came for three performances in Sydney, and how they found time to rehearse this dense program thoroughly is a mystery to me, though a shared musical spirit and understanding seemed to be on their side in this performance. It was a rare conjunction of various uncontrollable elements. The program too is very interesting. The Sydney Symphony has found a 'new' Tchaikovsky piece, apparently never having played Voyevoda before, and has not played the Prokofiev sinfonia concertante for 40 years. Beethoven is always interesting (at the very least), but here we have a unique interpreter of his symphonies in Vänskä, who seemed even to find in Beethoven hitherto unheard connections to Prokofiev.
Art

“Gratta da Vinci” – Scratch and Win…a “da Vinci”! The Battle over the Battle of Anghiari

When Daniel Gallagher began his 500th birthday tribute to Giorgio Vasari in late September with an article on the Salone del Cinquecento in the Palazzo Vecchio in Florence, he had little idea that the investigation into the survival and location of the remains of a lost wall painting by Leonardo da Vinci, about which he wrote so benignly, would lead to the sudden storm of protest which has now brought the work to a halt.
Dance

Graeme Murphy Choreographs a New Romeo and Juliet for the Australian Ballet

William Shakespeare, though he did not of course invent all his stories, rather drawing them from history or myth, makes them seem like his in his vivid tellings. His characters gain real personalities by virtue of the dense poetry but also from their actions and behavior in the plays and the strong linkages of cause, motivation, effect, imagery and expressive action from foot to foot, line to line, scene to scene and act to act give the plays strong coherence through the internal logics, whether ‘real’, poetical, linguistic or dramatic. In a phrase, he had a sense of theater, he magically created real worlds, not just existing in his private imagination, but in seemingly solid words and acting which create in the theater believable atmospheres of battle, or forest serene or sinister, or anything else from any part of the world. Perhaps most of all the stories we grant Shakespeare possession of that of Romeo and Juliet. Ballet has a history of borrowing Shakespeare’s pieces, though it may seem self-defeating to leave the Bard’s words and take only the story, many are successful as theater in their own right, perhaps because they avoid a direct translation into mime and movement rather taking across the essence of their drama and characters.

New York Arts

Robert Gardner, Human Documents: Eight Photographers

This handsome, modestly (and conveniently!) -sized book was put together with a light, subtle hand, artists' hands, and the reader will be immediately seduced by the striking photographic work which is its primary raison d'être, but Human Documents: Eight Photographers was founded on a precise argument, which Robert Gardner makes quite clear with his spare, patrician prose in the introductory essay. Eliott Weinberger introduces variations on it (as well as further points of view of his own) in his supplementary essay, "Photography and Anthropology (a Contact Sheet)." The book is intended to bear witness to the connections between photography and anthropology, and both Gardner and Weinberger discuss the historical background to this inevitable, but not always easy relationship.
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