2011

Architecture | Urban Design

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

Zubie Baby! Reputation and Reality: Zubin Mehta and the Israel Philharmonic at Davies Hall

When Zubin Mehta first came to public attention in the late 1960s, the Los Angeles public relations machine, flamboyant then as now, saw to it that he was acclaimed in very much the way Gustavo Dudamel is today. Here was a darkly handsome, exotic heartthrob, arriving just in time to rescue musical excitement in America from the departure of Leonard Bernstein for foreign shores. A certain amount of "Zubie Baby!" razzmatazz surrounded Mehta from the beginning and affected the way he was reviewed. But this was a distraction from the seriousness the young conductor actually represented to listeners. Mehta was the first of a new generation of music directors who openly admired the evocative and flexible musicianship of Wilhelm Furtwängler — who endeavored to explain it to the public — and who tried to imitate it in practice.

Art

Caravaggio: More than a “Moment” (Review of The Moment of Caravaggio by Michael Fried)

Everyone agrees that Caravaggio was a revolutionary painter, but the reasons we give often tend toward the superficial: he was a realist, he was provocative, he was theatrical, and so on. The fact is that there were many realist, provocative, theatrical artists before Caravaggio, and many endowed with these qualities after him were influenced by someone else. So what makes Caravaggio so special? Michael Fried claims it was the extraordinary presence of “absorption” and “distancing” in his work. Although Caravaggio was not the first to explore these themes (cf. Michelangelo’s prophets and sibyls in the Sistine Chapel), Fried argues that the Lombard genius was the first to bring them to the fore. He also believes that the (not necessarily chronological) moments of absorption/immersion and distancing/specularity tell us something about the philosophical milieu in which Caravaggio worked. Skepticism challenged the certainty that other minds exist, and Caravaggio responded with a psychological realism more powerful and sophisticated than any philosophical argument.
Music

Vladimir Ashkenazy and the Sydney Symphony Play Mahler’s Sixth; Jean-Efflam Bavouzet, Liszt’s Second Piano Concerto

In a way it is pointless to try to write words on music like this, but here goes anyway. It doesn't really help to read glib selective quotations from even the composer describing the music, sometimes in a single word, "tragic," "fate," "Heldenmord" fail to do justice while missweighing one idea, like a greedy fruit grocer. The Mahlers deep and checkered feelings about his Sixth Symphony are clearer from this quotation from Alma Mahler's memoirs, even if it does sound ambiguous or contradictory at one level:

Art

Roma e l’antico: Realtà e visione nel 700. Palazzo Sciarra (Rome) until March 6.

Draped in rich onyx and agate, the Minerva d’Orsay perhaps best represents the hybrid aesthetic the Fondazione Roma wants to showcase in this its first exhibition in a newly dedicated space at the Palazzo Sciarra. Originally dating from the Hadrian Era (117-138 C.E.), the Minerva d’Orsay was meticulously reconstructed according to the refined sensibilities of English and French tourists in Rome. She exemplifies the unique blend of purity and sumptuousness that was the standard of eighteenth-century aristocratic taste. The developing science of archeology helped saturate a market of ruins-turned-domestic-treasures that artisans in turn viewed as much an opportunity for creativity as restoration. A large vase of Giambattista Piranesi (1720-1778) composed of fragments dating from various periods is a fine example of the pastiche approach to restoration. It is not entirely clear if Piranesi passed these items off as originals or reproductions, but they brought in a pretty penny just the same.
Literature

How to Become a Word: A Review of Shelley Jackson’s Novel SKIN

Since I am not a word, but am curious about the experience of being a word, I asked author Shelley Jackson if I could photograph some of her words from the novel SKIN. She agreed and gave me the email addresses for the following words: the internal food table, lungs lineaments law, across mouthpiece. Remember? The novel SKIN exists in tattoos. In order to read the novel, one has to participate in the text by applying to become a word, and if you get chosen, the word must be inked on your skin in book font. Once the author receives a photograph proving the word is tattooed on your skin along with the signed disclaimer stating that you will never share the story with anyone else who is not a word, only then can you read the coveted story.
Architecture | Urban Design

Lapidary Discourse: A Sound Play

When I was in Venice last year for the Biennale of Architecture, I was very fortunate to have the following conversation with Danish “superstarchitect” Jefe Anglesdottir (JA) and public intellectual Colin Dribbles (CD), secretary emeritus of the British Society for the Promotion of Bad Writing about Venice (BSPBWV). A generous grant from that august society paid for three Camparis (one without soda, as explained below) and an afternoon’s shoe leather and conversation.
Music

London Sinfonietta play Reich and Adès, Royal Festival Hall

This is the first of a series of London Sinfonietta concerts to be guest conducted by Adès over the next month, including touring performances outside London where his piano concerto In Seven Days is coupled with a different Reich piece, Music for 18 Musicians. It was less than 18 months ago that the Sinfonietta performed that work at the Southbank Centre with a live relay open to all in the foyer, which proved very popular; rather than have to match that performance, I think they have made a canny programming choice by enticing some of the potential new audience gained by that concert with a less famous piece by the same composer. The combination of two Biblically-inspired pieces in this concert is also arguably a more interesting and appropriate pairing.
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