November 2012

Music

Originality and Humanity: Anthony Marwood, Violin, Aleksandar Madžar, Piano, Play Beethoven, Debussy and Schubert

Huntley Dent has written on these pages “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.” So in the simple pairing of the two, a pair of thoughtful and sensitive musicians can ‘say’ more while ‘speaking’ less than many symphonies. Such are Anthony Marwood and Aleksandar Madžar, who play with such humanity to a listener, with originality and directness, with much thought and care. They play with emotional directness even while bravely and generously plumbing the emotional complexity and ambiguity of the difficult music they have chosen.

Music

Cage in the Can: A John Cage Centenary Festival at the Sydney Opera House with Bang on A Can All-Stars

Who is John Cage? Does it matter? At a certain point music must “speak” for itself, allow the musician to interpret the music and the listener to have the pure experience. It can be useful and interesting to have “background” whether historical or technical, as Mark Stewert gave a little of in his introductory spiels before he played, particularly when that information helps people with the music. But often with Cage’s music so much of the idea is in the concept, in the construction that there’s a risk that the listener thinks they’ve “got it” before a note is played. This, and the strong tendency toward cult worship of Cage, is ironic considering his is so often performer’s music. Cage’s cleverness is often overemphasized, he seems either to be taken too seriously or too facetiously, which threatens to reduce his pieces to one-liners, something he seems to have reliably avoided. His music seems more composed to help people to think on their own about music, any music, without drifting between clichés and received wisdom in a deoxygenated modern world. From sometime in the 19th century, music started to come about which anyone could listen to and appreciate intuitively without any training or “background” except maybe literacy and some emotional intelligence, whereas before the French Revolution a Baroque composer could expect a great deal more technical musical knowledge from the audience. One hopes music can transcend or make a false dichotomy intuition versus intellect (nowadays maybe more a corporate misunderstanding of Carl Jung’s types, anyway the “debate” is sophomoric). John Cage’s music, and other experimentalists’, seems often explained and even appreciated from pure intellect, whether using mathematical or philosophical or religious principles, music you “get” just from the score and it’s always trippy. Music, the thing, whatever it is, you listen to while the musicians interpret and play, in the end “paints” it own background and has to be taken as the thing in itself. Cage’s music is music because it can stand on its own, make its own background even when it comes from nowhere. Mozart’s music came from nowhere and he was no innovator. As far as we know he walked about with music coming to him, the more he wrote the more came, and to ask: where did it come from? how did he think up such music? is like asking how space or time can be infinite, how a four dimensional universe can be expanding, how can we have free will, or what happens after death.

Art

Michelangelo in the Sistine Chapel: Celebrating Five Hundred Years of the Greatest Vision of Hope

prawled across the east wing that stretches from the papal residence to the Vatican Museums is an inscription commemorating one of Pope Julius II’s most important contributions to the complex now known as the Apostolic Palace: IULIUS II PONT MAX LIGURUM VI PATRIA SAONENSIS SIXTI IIII NEPOS VIAM HANC STRUXIT PONT COMMODITATI. The text is ambiguous in that “VI” may signify the ablative case of the word vis meaning power or strength, or it may stand for the Roman numeral “6.” If the former, it indicates that Julius was the sixth pope from Liguria, the others being Innocent IV (1243-1254), Hadrian V (1276), Nicholas V (1447–1455), Sixtus IV (1471–1484), and Innocent VIII (1484–1492). If the latter, it refers to the indomitable Ligurian spirit that put Julius on the throne of Peter.
Dance

Dancers Go ‘A-Fugeing’: The Sydney Dance Company With the Australian Chamber Orchestra (Amplified!) in ‘Project Rameau‘

If the fugue is the highest form of counterpoint it’s because it is truly an art. No one would deny that fugues do not write themselves, yet they are based on simple, sincere imitation, the first, most obvious ingredient one hears, yet the freedom of the voices is the fugue’s sina qua non. Different voices “speak” their individual melodies, and miraculously the result is not only coherent but harmonious too, and, at least under the masters, such harmonies! From one point of view the fugue is the highest composer’s art, even over-specified, yet it is a form-texture deriving from the performer’s highest art, improvisation, the fantasy. The fugue is in a way the quintessence of music, taking something which initially seems rigid and rule-bound, well, at least over-obedient, and sheds those rules completely to become free and creative, the fundamentally horizontal linear elements become nonlinear, sounding just as sensible vertically; sound, a dumb mathematical, physical process obeying laws of time and space, is refined into an art which can speak directly to something deep inside a warm human being. So the fugue, even as theoreticians have for centuries tried to define it and the rules of its creation (without much success), culminating in Jean-Philippe Rameau’s Traité d’harmonie (1722), at the end of which he discusses fugues and how they are written, finally saying they cannot be reduced to general rules, except “le bon goût ou la fantasie.” J. S. Bach in turn put it most aptly of all... in his music.

Theater

The Third United Solo Theater Festival at Theatre Row off Time Square: a Chef, Self-Help Sleazoids, and a Spirited Gal from Texas

October and November are now firmly established as solo theater season in New York. United Solo, now in its third year, has grown by one third—to over 100 performances over a five-week period, from October 11 to November 18, 2012. Artistic Director Omar Sangare has been one of the leaders in solo theater for many years, not only in his native Poland, but in the US, where he has lived and worked since 2005, and he has attracted a stream of applications from solo practitioners all around the world, making United Solo the largest and best event of its kind.
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