February 2012

Architecture | Urban Design

La France en relief au Grand Palais (version française)

Les élèves d’architecture apprennent bien vite la valeur des maquettes. Quoique rien peut évoquer la vérité d’un dessin comme une maquette, surtout pour le grand public, la vie d’une maquette est souvent triste et court. Après la grande épreuve devant les profs, les morceaux de carton et de bois si précisément ciselés pendant les nuits blanches s'écroulent lentement dans les ombres des placards et des greniers. Les maquettes sont trop délicates pour un monde construit en 1:1. Après la poussière, la poubelle.
Music

Vladimir Ashkenazy and the Sydney Symphony Orchestra Embark On Their 2012 Season with Beethoven’s Choral Symphony and Strauss’ Metamorphosen

To open the Sydney Symphony's 2012 season and the year of their 80th birthday, Vladimir Ashkenazy. artistic director and chief conductor, has put together a generous program of powerful German music. Beethoven's Ninth finds itself played to mark great occasions, the reopening of Bayreuth in 1953 comes to mind and its own creation came at the end of decades of war in Europe. The Sydney Symphony has not played it for five years — for their 75th anniversary — so it would feel now about due for their attention. The piece is so famous and familiar, though, even as an occasional performance, there is the risk of over familiarity. With so much wonderful inherited music and worthy current music and music which would potentially exist given the opportunity of performance, should the Ninth, or any piece, be played if the performance cannot discover anything new in the piece? For the listeners, they can always seek out new aspects of the piece since one's disposition and experience in life effect one's ears so strongly, but it helps to have musicians, like Ashkenazy, full of ideas. "Occasion" implies some shared new experience anyway. But on the other hand, the earthly specificity of an occasion can in a way put a drag on a sublime performance of the Ninth. It is such spiritual, metaphysical music, rooted in itself, in this way a universal piece, somehow worldly events seem to anchor it in time and space in an uncomfortable way, paradoxically perhaps. As a birthday party for a very fine and healthy symphony orchestra with surely many more anniversaries ahead of it, the occasion here did not "get in the way," as it were, very much, rather the music tended to come first, as it should. A symphony orchestra is after all a selfless crew in many ways.
New York Arts in Australia

The 100th Birthday of Bernard Shaw’s Pygmalion: The Sydney Theatre Company Celebrates With Something Different

Cate Blanchett and Andrew Upton as artistic directors of the Sydney Theatre Company saw fit to bring out a new, modern, almost experimental approach to Shaw's most popular play for its 100th birthday. To speak of the birth of a play, or any piece or performing art, is tricky. Shaw wrote the play in 1912, but the words on in the script are no more the play than those of a poem are the poem or a score the piece of music. Even in Shaw's case where the sounds of the words are so important and the characters' accents are all precisely set out — the drama depending almost as much on the raw sounds than their words' meanings — not to mention Shaw's preface to the play and his (I think purposefully prosaic) postscript-sequel, there is still room left for at least subtle variations in interpretation. With all these pieces of information specifying Shaw’s intentions and the precise and definite stage directions, the play is already especially alive on the page, but still much of the gestural and body language and movement, which is very important to language, is left open. For all this definiteness, the end is so ambiguous, and as a "romance", itself a very broad term, it is more akin to, say, Nathaniel Hawthorne's species of romance. From a character's point of view it is almost easier to find oneself in a tragedy and leaving one’s problems behind at the end.
Opera

Vivica Genaux, Mezzo-Soprano, sings Vivaldi Pyrotechnics, with Europa Galante led by Fabio Biondi

When Vivica showed up on stage you could hear people's rapture. She wore a black dress that complimented her beautiful complexion with a red flower on the left shoulder. She looked absolutely stunning. I've never heard Vivica before, and I must say that she has one of the most gorgeous voices. It's not big, but for Baroque one doesn't need a big voice. Right away, Vivica strikes you with her vocal technique. All the tempi were so fast that one would wonder, how in the world can anyone sing so fast? And not every ensemble can play that fast either. But both Vivica and Europa Galante showed the highest class of musicianship and technique.
Wagner

Wagner’s Rienzi with the Opera Orchestra of New York under Eve Queler – a Review

Rienzi was totally new to me, although Eve Queler's interview on New York Arts gave me some idea of what to expect. Still I was really surprised to hear music that seemed to come straight out of Bellini and reminded me even of some Verdi at times. This is most definitely not the Wagner we know from Tristan and Parsifal, and Wagner most certainly didn't want us to know him by it. Although Rienzi was a great success at its premiere, made him famous, and continued to be popular through his lifetime and beyond, he repudiated the opera, once he hit his stride in Der fliegende Holländer, Tannhäuser, and Lohengrin, and supported performances only as far back as the Holländer, his next work, which he actually began before he finished Rienzi. He worked on Rienzi from the summer of 1837 to through October 1840. During this time he took up a post at the opera house in Riga, where he stayed until he was dismissed in 1839. He had to leave the country in secret to escape his creditors, setting out for Paris, where he struggled to survive, as he tried unsuccessfully to interest the Paris Opera in Rienzi.
Theater

The Bridge Project’s Richard III, by William Shakespeare, with Kevin Spacey, at BAM…with a backward look at the Donmar Warehouse King Lear

This production of Shakespeare’s Richard III has reached BAM after a sold-out run at the Old Vic and a tour which included Epidavros, Istanbul, Naples, Sydney, Beijing, Hong Kong, Singapore, and San Francisco, among others. This reminded me of the sort of thing the British Council does, but of course this Shakespearian globe-trotting was a private enterprise, funded largely by Bank of America and the Stavros Niarchos Foundation. And course the whole point of the production’s parent organization, The Bridge Project, was to combine British and American casts. Perhaps there should be an organization beyond the British Council to cultivate, study, and promote the global English language, as it used on the streets and in literature around the world, including Australia, New Zealand, South Africa, Nigeria, Guyana, and others. And the way English is behaving in the physical and cyber-world today, it may need some international body to encourage it in good manners, kicking it under the table, when it starts to monopolize the conversation.
Opera

Vivica Genaux, to appear with Europa Galante and Fabio Biondi at Carnegie Hall, on Thursday, Feb. 2, talks to Michael Miller, Part 2 of 3

MM: Harnoncourt will have the Concertgebouw...and I think maybe he started with the Vienna Philharmonic having them use gut strings... VG: Good for him. MM: And approaching a period style. I should think that would be a great—how do you say?—experience for orchestral musicians, to have them rethink their playing a bit and so forth. There's not much interest in that in the U.S. VG: But I think it’s also...It depends on who does the approaching, I mean Harnoncourt, you can’t argue with him; he’s such an institution in Austria, and then also you were saying, that in Europe in general he’s just...he’s untouchable. He’s brilliant and...
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