When, in my review of his recent performance to Haydn’s Creation, I was reflecting on Sir Colin Davis’ career, I mentioned the Ring Cycle he conducted at Covent Garden in 1976. I thought that Siegfried was the most successful of the performances, because Sir Colin seemed to have fallen in love with its spectacular score. In no other work are the beauties of Wagner’s composition so constantly and so openly present. As I sat raptly in my seat, the orchestra and all the wonderful qualities Sir Colin could reveal in it were without a doubt the focus of my attention. And so it is for most of us in most performances, past or present, whether it is Furtwängler, Knappertsbusch, Solti, Böhm (whose splendid Bayreuth performances, available on Philips, should be better remembered), Boulez, or Levine. The orchestra functions as storyteller—a surpassingly eloquent one, with all the resources of Wagner’s musical imagination.
Herbert Matter recalled that in 1942, when they first met over dinner, Jackson Pollock said to him, “It’s a really wonderful time to be living.” He added,“That gave us plenty to think about the rest of the evening.” I wonder how many people would say that today. For my part, after rehearsing a string of problems and miseries irrelevant to the present topic, the amazing exhibition, Pollock Matters, which closes this Sunday (December 9) at the McMullen Museum of Boston College, I would say that we take controversy too seriously. As the debates among the presidential candidates drivel on in equivocation, and the incumbent goes about his work of ruining the country, those Americans who are interested in one of their country’s greatest painters may or may not find themselves sufficiently clear-headed to realize that this exhibition has been so much wrapped up in controversy, that few see its real issues or even care about them. It concerns the discovery of a cache of small experimental works, according to a label made by their owner, Herbert Matter, in 1958, the work of Jackson Pollock, and the collision of the discoverer, Matter’s son, Alex, with the blue-chip institution established by Pollock’s widow.
Setting off alone along the now familiar route down Henderson Row past a silent Academy, now in break, I savored a sense of purposefulness and anticipated my visit to the Richard Long show at the NGS Modern Galleries, their major exhibition of the year, open for the Festival, and an important one for Long as well. He hasn’t had an exhibition of this size in Britain in over fifteen years. I also relished another walk along the Water of Leith. Crossing unnecessarily over to elegant and brightly sunlit Dean Terrace, I crossed back at the bridge and descended into the path just before St. Bernard’s Well, a sulfurous source discovered in the mid-eighteenth century and decorously enclosed in a pump house designed by Alexander Naismyth, following the circular design of the Temple of the Sibyl at Tivoli, a favorite destination on the Grand Tour. A statue of Hygieia stands within ten Tuscan columns, a sober northern interpretation of the original’s Corinthian order.
Richard Long has observed that the best and safest way to cross Dartmoor is to walk in a straight line, but in the city things are rarely so simple. Long’s important exhibition at The National Gallery of Modern Art was postponed to another day, and I shall postpone it to a review of its own, while I follow our ramblings southwards towards the Old City, seeking out addresses my friend had given me. As sophisticated and rational as Edinburgh may be, at least the New Town, certain prospects encourage one to think of it as a city of the earth. It is mostly built of stone, after all, as neatly chiselled as it may be. As you turn the corner around the façade of the new Parliament, Arthur’s Seat, an extinct volcano, appears ready to swallow it up...or is that only wishful thinking? The classical structures on Calton Hill, stone-built as they are, only draw attention to the chthonic presence of the eminence on which they stand. (Like Rome, Edinburgh has seven hills: Calton Hill, Castle Hill, Corstorphine Hill, Craiglockhart Hill, Braid Hills, Blackford Hill, Arthur’s Seat.) This theme, moreover, had its way of cropping up, not only in Richard Long, but in other exhibitions as well.
One of the most astonishing passages in Homer is the simile in Book XV of the Iliad, which describes the rapidity of Hera's flight to Olympus (Il. XV, 79ff.): but went back to tall Olympos from the mountains of Ida As the thought flashes in the mind of a man who, traversing much territory, thinks of things in the mind’s awareness, ‘I wish I were this place, or this’, and imagines many things; so rapidly in her eagerness winged Hera, a goddess. —trans. Richmond Lattimore
One of the most astonishing passages in Homer is the simile in Book XV of the Iliad, which describes the rapidity of Hera's flight to Olympus (Il. XV, 79ff.)...
One doesn’t often encounter all-Mendelssohn programs. If I were to find one in the Tanglewood season, I’d suspect it was a somewhat excessive gesture towards the more conservative members of the audience. On the other hand, from the Scottish Chamber Orchestra and Frans Brüggen, who has maintained a long-term relationship with the orchestra over the years, it meant a fresh look at three important works by a towering figure in nineteenth century music. Our view of Mendelssohn is still colored by the popular conception of him as a genial, highly privileged composer of tuneful works, who sadly died at the young age of thirty-eight. In truth, he was, both as a composer and a conductor, an extremely influential leader in the highly theoretical and factionalized world of Romantic music, the central figure in the more conservative, “classizing” group based in Leipzig.
The Scottish Chamber Orchestra, founded in 1974, has enjoyed a world reputation for some time now for the work they have achieved over the years under Sir Charles Mackerras, who still conducts the orchestra on occasion. And they are anything if not versatile, playing a repertory spanning the Baroque and the contemporary. Saturday evening they were in their Classical mode, playing Haydn and Beethoven with a slightly relaxed compliment of original instruments (i.e. cellos on pins and metal flute alongside gut strings, natural horn and trumpet, etc.) under the direction of the brilliant Swiss conductor, Thierry Fischer. The evening was a splendid success, full of imaginative insights and intense music-making. The orchestra and singers seemed to enjoy it as much as the audience, a special distinction for Mr. Fischer, who conducts without a baton, using vigorous, occasionally extravagant gestures, which never failed to bring the musicians together in committed playing and tight ensemble.