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Archive for December, 2009

Beethoven at 8,000 Feet: David Finckel and Wu Han’s ArtistLed Recording of Beethoven’s Cello Sonatas and Variations

With David Finckel and Wu Han’s program of Beethoven Cello Sonatas at Union College coming up, I thought it a good idea to take a look at their recording of Beethoven’s complete Cello works, which I’d never heard before. I was even surprised to learn that it dates back to 1997, making it one of the earliest recordings they made on their pioneering label, ArtistLed. Like today, they functioned as the producers of the recording, and Da-Hong Seetoo, the extraordinary sound engineer, who works with personally modified hardware and software, made the recording. They purposely chose Harris Hall at Aspen, Colorado as the venue, because they were struck that its particular acoustics were ideal for recording Beethoven. “Built from wood, with a high ceiling, it has a resonance which is warm, clear and brilliant.


Until reading Manohla Dargis’ review in the New York Times, I had no intention of seeing Avatar. But her article affected me: I felt disturbed and violated. Her opening sentence: ‘With “Avatar” James Cameron has turned one man’s dream of the movies into a trippy joy ride about the end of life – our moviegoing life included – as we know it,’ is why. Those words in parentheses, an obliging repetition of the advertisements, obliterated my initial dismissiveness. So too, did its place as #24 in IMDb’s Top 200 List (well ahead of Citizen Kane and Sunset Boulevard). To say ‘Just another bullshit blockbuster to disregard’ is irresponsible in this case. 20th Century Fox and James Cameron are serious – $280 million is no joke, not even to them (it boasts of being one of the most expensive movies ever made). The aim for the filmmakers of Avatar is to revolutionize cinema through science fiction, to finish what George Lucas and Steven Spielberg began. They are desperate to do so in part because audiences are thinning.

György Kepes: a Polaroid and a Reminiscence

This hypnotic light graphic, which was commissioned by the Polaroid Corporation, was done using a 20″ x 24″ Land camera.

It illustrates a few intriguing things about color perception in Polaroid technology and Mr. Kepes’s unique insight about how to make it effective within his own artistic methods and intentions. If the colors that are being photographed are somewhat achromatic, i.e., neutral, they appear to be more “real”, i.e., because the viewer is not searching his color memory to decide whether the colors resemble the vividness of a rose, for example. The gray gridded background, crossword puzzle on paper, ink-on canvas, Braille sample, half-silvered prism, reflections and cast shadows are virtually achromatic, in spite of the fact that this is a color photograph.

Christmas in New York by Joanna Gabler

Season’s Greetings from the Berkshire Review for the Arts

Season’s Greetings from the Berkshire Review for the Arts.

Robert Gardner at Work

Commentary: Here and There… of Anthropology at Home and Abroad

The ethnographic films of Robert Gardner and anthropology in general resonate quite powerfully with me, although I’ve hardly ever had a chance to become broadly or deeply acquainted with either. My first encounter with Gardner’s Dead Birds, his best-known work, made a deep impression on me, not only because of the film itself, which was reason enough, but because of the odd circumstances in which I first discovered it.

George Wilson Washington, Gloucester Cathedral, The Choir, Looking East, Albumen Print, 1866.

Christmas, 1559

A hundred small fires light up the close. Animals are everywhere. Sheep cries. At the stroke of the great bell the introit rings out. Rorate coeli desuper. Veni Domine, et noli tardare. Alleluia. This is all most of them will hear. The procession is coming down the close. The costumes struck through and through with gold thread, the books of music full of everlasting beauty, even lapis from the East. This is the color which clothes the Virgin. Light is barely perceptible through the windows. The city of Gloucester leans in on the cathedral like a parent over a child. Those outside attend a rite which they cannot see and cannot hear.

Der Rosenkavalier, Sophie Koch As Octavian. Photo The Royal Opera / Mike Hoban.

Der Rosenkavalier at the Royal Opera House

his latest ROH Rosenkavalier has so far had middling reviews, many focusing their criticism largely on the production, which originated in 1984 under the late John Schlesinger and here directed by Andrew Sinclair, which they believe to be showing its age. It has been revived many times, and therefore probably dulled by overfamiliarity for some, but to this first-time viewer it seemed understandable that the company would wish to extract the maximum mileage from it—perhaps a lull before an exciting new production comes storming in to mark the opera’s 100th anniversary in 13 months’ time?

Left to right: Jack Farthing (Dumaine), William Mannering (Longaville), Philip Cumbus (Ferdinand) and Trystan Gravelle, (Berowne) in Love's Labour's Lost, Shakespeare's Globe on Tour. Photo John Haynes.

William Shakespeare, Love’s Labour’s Lost, Shakespeare’s Globe (London), Massachusetts International Festival of the Arts at The War Memorial Auditorium, Holyoke, MA

Love’s Labour’s Lost, one of Shakespeare’s earliest comedies, has been considered by critics particularly suitable for a courtly audience; indeed, it was once staged for Queen Elizabeth as a Christmas entertainment. With its depiction of verbal sparring among the nobility and its emphasis on notions of rank and wit, this comedy is designed to delight (and flatter) a refined and educated audience. Such a courtly audience vanished, of course, long ago, and director Dominic Dromgoole is left with us, motley contemporaries ranging from academics through theaterphiles to puzzled high school students. And he has decided to please contemporary tastes by underscoring all the play’s silliness—in the process making Shakespeare’s nobles decidedly less elevated creatures than they appear in the text. The distance between the King of Navarre and the Princess of France on the one hand, and the rustic Costard and braggart Don Adriano on the other, is certainly shorter.