It was splendid to enter the new Oldcastle Theatre. It was splendid to enter the new home of the Oldcastle Theatre Company in Bennington a few days ago. It is better in terms of sight lines, technical capability, and resonance, than their former space at the Bennington Arts Center. Here is a classic example ...
Six Degrees, Six Degrees: Sydney Architecture in 2012 (Comments Off)
The other day I installed new brake rotors on my mountain bike . They are beautiful; every scrap of stainless steel not required to withstand structural stress and the build up of heat has been removed. A laciness which could be mistaken for decoration is no more or no less than the result of form following function. As a chain is a chain and a tire inexorably a tire, so the rotors would cease to be themselves were they square or triangular, made of concrete or glass.
Architecture is not like this.
Drawn to Excellence: Renaissance to Romantic Drawings from a Private Collection, at the Smith College Museum of Art, September 28, 2012 – January 6, 2013 (Comments Off)
If you wander around Sotheby’s and Christie’s during old master week with open ears, or if you converse a bit at a conference like the delightful and enlightening symposium held for the inauguration of the present exhibition, you are likely to hear some words about the disappearance of good drawings from the market, the ongoing retirement of dealers, the paucity of new ones to take their place, the scarcity of collectors, the resistance of museum directors and boards to these elitist and esoteric artworks, and, ultimately, the demise of the collecting of old master drawings—whereupon the interlocutors stare into space, as if they were on the deck of the sinking Titanic. If this were true, drawings would always continue to be available to the public and scholars, but the heart of the organism would be dead. The circulation of fresh blood—i.e. drawings—would have ceased.
Most writers fall in love with their words. They greet changes to the text, particularly of a published work, with the blank astonishment of a mother confronted with criticism of her first-born child. This cannot be said of Gore Vidal, who died in Los Angeles at 86 on July 31st. I remember sitting in early rehearsals of the 2000 Broadway production of The Best Man and Vidal asking Jeffrey Richards, the lead producer, “Should I update the international references? Make them more contemporary?” He expected changes in his play and embraced them, but, in fact, there were very few in this production. Prickly references to China were as relevant in 2000 as they were when the play was set in the early ‘60s.
Back in the day, when music in the theatre manifested itself dramatically as dance and singing together — specifically ballet and opera — it did so in a myriad of different forms. Though we now call them opera-ballets (or even just operas), they can be difficult to imagine now that the two art forms are not only separate themselves, but tend to have separate audiences in many cities, sharing only their theatre in common. Conveniently, but unfortunately, the choreography has been lost in all cases and the works are revived as what we now call opera in the main. A dance of course is much more difficult to write down than music — though written music is not itself trivial, in fact, baroque composers had no desire to write down every note, and quite a bit of the creative act we now assign to composers was originally given to musicians and singers, ornamentation in particular, were and are very important and in most cases these improvisations were not thought to be written down since that would defeat their whole purpose of expressive dramatic spontaneity. These baroque operas, even the French ones of Lully and Rameau in which the dancing is particularly important, are first and foremost watched and listened to today as opera, even when some care, attention and time are given to recreating the choreography. Granted these are not listened to and watched quite in the same way as classical or romantic or modern opera, but what what we label so generally as opera encompasses nearly as many terms as there were composers for the genre, in some cases more: there were Monteverdi’s favole in musica and ‘staged madrigals,’ ballets de court, the comédie-ballets of Lully and Molière, ballets-tragiques of Lully and later Rameau, tragédies en musique, Purcell’s operatic masques, the Singspiel of Mozart, Haydn and Schubert and others, and Wagner’s music-dramas, though the Paris Opéra’s requirement that all operas have ballet in them lasted through Wagner’s time, who famously added one to the beginning of Tannhäuser so it could be produced in there, though interestingly even now Tannhäuser seems to be performed with the ballet more often than without.
As an act of recollection, The Master captures the Fifties with perfect pitch, all the more remarkable because the film’s creator wasn’t there. Two stories collide from opposite directions. One is the story of an invisible man, a World War II veteran who never recovers from combat. The other is a charlatan savant skimming the gullible and rising to become a cult leader, the Master of the title. One life has slipped through the cracks, as adrift as Okies in the Dust Bowl but desolately lonely. The other life is a round-the-clock power play to grab the golden ring.
With summer fading into the past, one compensation for earlier nightfalls and chillier water temperatures that limit swims to only intensely sunny midday outings is the pumped-up output happily spilling out of the vegetable garden. The squash vines have wound out into improbable places, and, if one pokes around under those umbrella-like leaves, there are plenty of butternut and spaghetti squashes playing hide and seek. Every day tomatoes are dropping off their stems. And suddenly there are lots of reasons for searching out some ripe, dense, maybe even rustic red wines to accompany all there is to eat.
- A Plea to Wine Lovers
- 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
- In certain regions some wines are famous, while others are ignored…
There is a new musical enterprise making its debut on Sunday June 2 (at 5 pm in the Kellogg Music Center, Bard College at Simon’s Rock). We call it “The Berkshire Beethoven Piano Project” in the optimistic belief that our program of four Beethoven piano sonatas, performed by four Berkshire pianists, will be the first in a series of such events. (With 32 sonatas to choose from, that means we might be able to do this seven more times!)
Paris aime la photographie III (Comments Off)
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.
Seven Ways to Improve the Tour de France (Comments Off)
I wouldn’t go so far as the three-time world-champion Óscar Friere, who reckons that the Tour de France is “the most boring race of the year” — has he ever watched the Tour of Qatar? — but this year’s race did make me wonder how many more like it the old institution can take. Institutionalization is the Tour’s great burden, or at least its double-edged sword. For the casual fan it is the ‘race of record,’ cycling itself. Those who follow the sport more closely understand that while the Tour is undeniably the most competitive, and therefore the most prestigious, among the three Grand Tours of Italy, France and Spain, it often not the most interesting.
Jonas Alber conducts the Staatsorchester Braunschweig in Franck’s D Minor Symphony—a Podcast. (Comments Off)
Some months ago an email discussion arose among our writers and friends about César Franck’s D Minor Symphony. Steven Kruger, who heard the Chicago Symphony play the work under Riccardo Muti on a West Coast tour in February, was surprised to learn from Alex Ross’s review of their New York series in October (The New Yorker, Oct. 22, 2012) that the old warhorse, once performed at Carnegie Hall seven or eight times in a season, had become a rarity, played there only four times since 1988. Kruger observed: “I think senior conductors serve a function in recycling music that was popular forty-five years ago—in the same way that fashion does this. I’ve always noticed that sixty-five-year-olds in positions of power in the fashion industry see to it, perhaps unconsciously, that the styles they saw at age twenty make a return appearance. It is no accident that the women today look the way they did when I was 20. Somebody my age on “Seventh Avenue” is seeing to it that they do. Similarly, I’m delighted to have Muti bring us back to the pieces of our youth…” Ross quoted Muti, who said, “This fantastic symphony by Franck, it was played everywhere in Italy when I was young. Then, suddenly, it vanished. Why is this?”
- Interview with Judy Grunberg and Yehuda Hanani – PS21 presents the 7th Annual Paul Grunberg Memorial Bach Concert , Saturday, June 16, 7.30 pm: Yehuda Hanani, cello; Emma Tahmizian, piano
- Paula Robison talks to Michael Miller
- Heavenly lengths…yeah! Paul O’Dette and Stephen Stubbs discuss Steffani’s Niobe and the future.
Completeness is its own kind of extravagance. It enables risk. The completeness I speak of is given to us when an artist finds a union between imagination and voice which is set as a seal, neither one or the other in combat for supremacy. A word, a note becomes as much a physical fact as an imagined one. The muscle leads the mind and surprises it with a knowledge of deep things. To achieve this requires much work. To become a babe again, to let out a cry of pure delight is the task of a lifetime. Being finished vocally is one thing (conservatories often stop here), achieving a unity of mind and muscle quite another.
- Shakespeare in Rome: Come vi piace at the Silvano Toti Globe Theatre
- Henry V by William Shakespeare, directed by Des McAnuff, Stratford Shakespeare Festival, Stratford, Ontario
- Sophocles’ Elektra, translated by Anne Carson, directed by Thomas Moschopoulos – until September 27, Stratford Shakespeare Festival, Stratford, Ontario
by Hart Crane
Infinite consanguinity it bears—
This tendered theme of you that light
Retrieves from sea plains where the sky
Resigns a breast that every wave enthrones;
While ribboned water lanes I wind
Are laved and scattered with no stroke
Wide from your side, whereto this hour
The sea lifts, also, reliquary hands.
[Go to the article to hear Elliott Carter's setting of this poem.]
Richard Wagner, Parsifal, directed by Stefan Herheim and conducted by Daniele Gatti, Bayreuther Festspiele (2010 Performance Reviewed) (Comments Off)
Ritual is everywhere in Wagner’s operas and music dramas. He even has his way of transforming crucial events in his stories into quasi-rituals through symbolism. Ritual is even more pervasive in his final work, his Bühnenweihfestspiel, Parsifal, which is in itself a ritual. The highly ritualized routines of the Grail knights connect their lives and the events of the drama with the continuum of the Grail’s history, back to the Last Supper. Their actions are highly deliberate, replete with the significance of faith and tradition. This creates a quasi-monastic environment in which life unfolds slowly, largely ceremonially, on the structure of a time-honored schedule, in which history and precedent are always present. The narrative unfolds with notable simplicity in terms of what occurs on stage, while beneath it, the backstory related in monologues seethes with incident, conflict, and misfortune. In addition to this dramatic foreground purified of trivialities, there is the pure transparency of Wagner’s score, consisting of simple thematic material set with surpassing clarity, delicacy, and harmonic subtlety. In this way Parsifal lives up to what we have been conditioned to expect from the late work of a great artist, and this is what we see and hear on the stage, if Wagner’s stage directions are observed.
San Francisco Opera’s Fall Season: Reviews of I Capuletti ed i Montecchi and The Adler Fellows Gala Concert (Comments Off)
I sadly missed most of San Francisco Opera’s very rich fall season, but I did catch two very interesting nights: I Capuletti ed i Montecchi on October 16, and the Adler Fellows Gala Concert on November 30.
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.
- The Music of Mozart’s Last Months: La Clemenza di Tito at Emmanuel, Die Zauberflöte at Salzburg under Furtwängler, 1951, and Beecham’s Requiem from Pristine.
- “Music for a Time of War” – The Oregon Symphony under Carlos Kalmar play Ives, Adams, Britten, and Vaughan Williams on a Pentatone Release…Highly Recommended!
- Richard Wagner, Der fliegende Holländer: the beginning of Marek Janowski’s Historic Series of Concert Performances of the Ten Mature Operas and Music Dramas
When any object is taken apart and reformed, does its substance remain what it was in the beginning? Nothung, Siegmund and Siegfried’s magical sword, proves stronger for having been shattered and forged anew. Does the Rhinegold itself acquire new properties through being the fatal, world-dominating ring, or when the Rhinemaidens receive it at the end of Götterdämmerung, has it the same intrinsic properties it did when Alberich stole it “twenty hours ago,” as Anna Russell clocked it?
Director Francesca Zambello, in her Americanized Ring Cycle, three-quarters of which were co-produced by Washington Opera, forged something new and wondrous from Wagner’s tremendous and often toxic masterwork. Not every bit of Wagner’s original symbolism reintegrates seamlessly into the newly fashioned work, and occasional cognitive dissonance results. Frankly, Wagner’s own sprawling cosmology—one part German myth, one part creative genius, one part tortured personal psychology—leaves many questions unanswered and any number of unresolved contradictions and loose ends. In San Francisco, the director and her designer colleagues shaped a remarkable production that transcended its occasional awkward moments and that touched the heart in ways I’ve never known this uniquely ambitious epic work to do before. The striking and varied stage pictures are the work of Michael Yeargan, the always illuminating costumes are by Catherine Zuber, the colorful, refreshing, and often exquisite lighting is by Mark McCullough. The many projections, used as backdrops and show curtain, were created by Jan Hartley. I didn’t find every element equally successful, but I left the theatre believing that this production had the mystical power to make the world a better place. The staging is that good.