The Great French Organ Tradition With Paul Jacobs on Tuesday, September 10, 2019, at 7:30pm in Paul Hall

June 2012

Music

The Philadelphia Orchestra at Davies Hall — A Great Legend Intact — Two Concerts

The Philadelphia Orchestra always WAS the sexiest! Back in the publicity heyday of art music and the aftermath of Toscanini, Americans knew their five orchestras. It went like this: in Boston you listened to Charles Munch for Gallic excitability. In Chicago, Reiner ruled with a heart of stone but turned out warmer central European renditions than Toscanini had. You flocked to Bernstein for eruptive passion and disreputable energy in New York. And at Severance Hall, in a state of penance, you submitted to the owlish purges of George Szell. But nothing seduced the listener so much as The Philadelphia Orchestra, under the direction of Eugene Ormandy.
New York Arts in Paris

Paris aime la photographie III

When walking into Paris’s first retrospective exhibition of the photographs of Eva Besnyö at the Jeu de Paume, I was met with three mysterious images, visually linked by their askew perspectives. One is a self-portrait of Besnyö, who was born in Budapest in 1910 and broke free of Hungary’s provincial constraints to become a Berlin-based photographer at the young age of 20. The image of the woman in the portrait looks, in a word, contemporary. Unconventionally beautiful, Besnyö looks intensely into her medium format camera, hair tousled as her neck cranes above the view finder to which she is acutely focused, projecting an image of herself as an intense, slightly bohemian artist at work. Besnyö orchestrated this image of 1931 so that the viewer looks up to her from down below, and thus elevated before us is a powerful figure who directs our gaze and controls her own image long before similar strategies were conceived by feminist artists of the 1960s. It is from this point that the viewer commences into an exhibition of 120 prints by a photographer who has been given too little attention.
Recordings

Sviatoslav Richter (1915 – 1997) on Disc: Hunting the Snark

Angelic demon. Two musical instruments rise above all others in their humanity — the violin, because it comes closest to imitating the singing voice, and the piano, because it comes closest to conveying human nature. As human nature is vast, so is pianism. You can sequester yourself from territory that is too hot, cold, angry, lustful, domineering, or terrifying. Some pianists base their whole career on safely walling off the troubling aspects of human perversity (Alfred Brendel comes to mind, with his ability to make even Liszt wipe off his shoes at the door), while only one has been courageous enough to venture without a care into heaven and hell.
Music

The Takács Quartet Visits Sydney

I've written many times about musicians' giving spiels before they play and how intrusive this can be on the music by denying that important transition from the audience's excited chatter as they find their seats, to the musicians' walking on, to the silence before the first note. These spiels are very different from the pre-concert talks which are common now and elective, take place well before the actual concert, and can be informative. Here was a more egregious example — first violin Edward Dusinberre gave an entire short lecture before the Janáček and Britten quartets, complete with short musical excerpts just before they hoed into the actual piece. Then Gordon Kerry himself was brought on to talk about his piece just before they played it. I think even a "modern audience" can take its music straight and have a fighting chance of understanding it. The lecturing seemed to throw them off, the words over-specifying and materializing the music, being too heavily prosaic for the music to bear, though perhaps jet-lag and fatigue from touring, or just a bad day contributed, but it was disappointing that the music of this usually very fine group sounded so flat.

Music

Vespers Cantata: Hesperus is Phosphorus by Lewis Spratlan Reviewed – Performed by The Crossing at Park Avenue Christian Church, June 5, 2012

[caption id="attachment_13316" align="aligncenter" width="600"]Lewis Spratlan, Composer Lewis Spratlan, Composer[/caption] Vespers Cantata: Hesperus is Phosphorus by Lewis Spratlan Earlier this month an important new work by Lewis Spratlan was premiered under the auspices of the Phildelphia- based contemporary music groups, the Network for New Music and The Crossing, first at the Presbyterian Church of Chestnut Hill in Philadelphia and a few days later in New York City, at Park Avenue Christian Church, which supports an especially lively music program. Many readers will recognize Mr. Spratlan as the composer of Life is a Dream, an opera based on Calderón de la Barca's classic play, which has been awarded a Pulitzer Prize and received a brilliantly successful premiere at the Santa Fe Opera in 2010.
Food & Drink

Ruth Reichl, Ellen Doré Watson, Patty Crane, Francine Prose, and Elizabeth Graver respond to Walker Evans’ “Kitchen Wall, Alabama Farmstead” now posted on the new Gastronomica online..with interviews with Darra Goldstein and Hannah Fries

As part of the second annual Berkshire Festival of Women Writers, Orion and Gastronomica co-hosted a reading featuring renowned food writer Ruth Reichl, poets Ellen Doré Watson and Patty Crane, and fiction writers Francine Prose (finalist for the National Book Award) and Elizabeth Graver. Their contributions have now been posted on the new Gastronomica site as a Web exclusive.
Architecture | Urban Design

The Museum of Contemporary Art Opens a New Wing (and an Old Debate…)

Circular Quay is Sydney’s great public space, but it is no Piazza San Marco. The presence of the Opera House and the Harbour Bridge at opposite ends of the magnet is powerful enough to allow the eye to glide around the curve past the decent, mediocre and bad architecture in between. In such an enchanted context even the Cahill Expressway, an elevated freeway which runs along the southern foreshore, is somehow not as egregious as Boston’s Central Artery was before it was chopped down. Instead of ancient stones, there is water, the one inlet out of the harbor’s dozens chosen for European settlement, now teeming with ferries and tourist boats promising  varying doses of adrenaline. However unrepresentative of the unruly metropolis which spreads from here in all directions, Circular Quay hints at the dream of its city, the city’s best version of itself, the city Sydney could one day be.

New York Arts in San Francisco

Verdi’s Attila at the San Francisco Opera

The pleasures to be had from a performance of Verdi's Attila are a unique blend: one third Macbeth, one third Nabucco, and one third summer-camp hayride. The staging of San Francisco Opera's ultimately satisfying revival occasionally reaches ill-advisedly towards something more sophisticated. When it does (i.e. all of Act III), um...er... one must close one's eyes and think of Italy, because the visual results are mind-bogglingly annoying and meaningless. Happily, the exhilaration of this early Verdian work — led with commitment and panache by SFO music director Nicola Luisotti — transcends the needless awkwardness of the staging. Attila isn't the most memorable score in the world, but it is pure, if unrefined, Italian opera. It allows singers to strut their stuff, to sing and emote with extravagance, and it makes for a great “coming attractions” reel for the masterpieces Verdi had yet to compose.
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