Classical Music, Opera, Theatre, Photography, Art, Books, Travel, Food & Drink – the View from Western New England

Archive for February, 2011

Samuel Johnson by Sir Joshua Reynolds.

A Singer’s Notes 29: The Power of Music

Dr. Johnson was much exercised by John Dryden’s ending his Cecilia’s Day Ode with the line: “Music shall untune the sky.” Ridiculous, said he. How can music untune something? Dryden meant the word to describe music as an apocalyptic agent, but as Johnson’s infallible ear heard clearly enough, the word “untuned” jars. Like many good things, music seems weak in any practical sense. Sometimes the idea of music becomes more interesting to us than the music itself. The idea of Glenn Gould has overtaken the performing of Glenn Gould. Maybe he even did this to himself. We must put music to the ultimate test — a yes or no test — no gray area. This is what happens at the end of Don Giovanni. Mozart constructs his greatest scene on stage out of no music, out of the destruction of music. The secret is, even the no music makes us hear music. The negative capability of it makes us know something immense that is not there but is imminent. In the Colonial Theater’s The Music Man this happens again.



food. Photo © 2011 Kate Hagerman.

How to Become a Word: A Review of Shelley Jackson’s Novel SKIN

Since I am not a word, but am curious about the experience of being a word, I asked author Shelley Jackson if I could photograph some of her words from the novel SKIN. She agreed and gave me the email addresses for the following words:

the internal food table,
lungs lineaments law,
across mouthpiece.
Remember?

The novel SKIN exists in tattoos. In order to read the novel, one has to participate in the text by applying to become a word, and if you get chosen, the word must be inked on your skin in book font. Once the author receives a photograph proving the word is tattooed on your skin along with the signed disclaimer stating that you will never share the story with anyone else who is not a word, only then can you read the coveted story.



Old Postcard of the Music Shed at Norfolk

Norfolk Chamber Music Festival/Yale School of Music – Summer Concert Schedule 2011

The Norfolk Music Festival emerged in the 1890’s from the interest of two generations of the Battells, a wealthy Norfolk family, in Yale University, which brought about both the founding of the Yale School of Music and the Litchfield County Choral Union. Choral and chamber music concerts were originally held in the Battell mansion, and later in the Music Shed, which opened in 1906. Special trains from New York were arranged for the distinguished musicians and the society audience. Ellen Battell Stoeckel, wife of the son of the first professor at Yale Music School, announced her intention to donate her estate to Yale as a music school, and the first classes were held there in 1937. This distinguished summer school and festival continues to flourish today.



London Sinfonietta play Reich and Adès, Royal Festival Hall

This is the first of a series of London Sinfonietta concerts to be guest conducted by Adès over the next month, including touring performances outside London where his piano concerto In Seven Days is coupled with a different Reich piece, Music for 18 Musicians. It was less than 18 months ago that the Sinfonietta performed that work at the Southbank Centre with a live relay open to all in the foyer, which proved very popular; rather than have to match that performance, I think they have made a canny programming choice by enticing some of the potential new audience gained by that concert with a less famous piece by the same composer. The combination of two Biblically-inspired pieces in this concert is also arguably a more interesting and appropriate pairing.




The Fisher Center, Bard College, Summer, 2009. Photo © 2009 Michael Miller.

Bard SummerScape 2011 Explores the Life and Times of Jean Sibelius with a Seven-Week Arts Festival in New York’s Hudson Valley, July 7 – August 21, 2011

Scandinavia’s rich cultural heritage, and the question of artistic conservatism in the modernist age, will be explored at the eighth annual Bard SummerScape festival, which once again features a sumptuous tapestry of music, opera, theater, dance, film, and cabaret, keyed to the theme of the 22nd annual Bard Music Festival. Presented in the striking Richard B. Fisher Center for the Performing Arts and other venues on Bard College’s bucolic Hudson River campus, the seven-week festival opens on July 7 with the first of four performances by Finland’s Tero Saarinen Company, and closes on August 21 with a party in Bard’s beloved Spiegeltent, which returns for the full seven weeks. This year’s Bard Music Festival explores Sibelius and His World, and some of the great Finnish symphonist’s most fascinating contemporaries provide other SummerScape highlights, including New York’s first fully-staged production of Richard Strauss’s 1940 opera Die Liebe der Danae; Noël Coward’s chamber opera, Bitter Sweet (1929); Henrik Ibsen’s classic drama The Wild Duck (1884); and a film festival, “Before and After Bergman: The Best of Nordic Film.”





State of Siege, a New Documentary on Sydney’s Destruction

Having spent the afternoon before this one-off screening at the Nicholson Museum of ancient art, in their new re-presentation of their Egyptian collection through the eyes of Herodotus, I came across this quotation: “Cheops brought the country into all sorts of misery. He closed all the temples, then, not content with excluding his subjects from the practice of their religion, compelled them without exception to labour as slaves for his own advantage. Some were forced to drag blocks of stone from the quarries in the Arabian hills to the Nile, where they were ferried across and taken by others, who hauled them to the Libyan hills. The work went on in three-monthly shifts, a hundred thousand men in a shift. It took ten years of this oppressive slave-labour to build the track along which the blocks were hauled — a work, in my opinion, of hardly less magnitude than the pyramid itself. “The Egyptians can hardly bring themselves to mention the names of Cheops and Chephren [his successor], so great is their hatred of them; They call the pyramids after Philitis, a shepherd who at that time fed his flocks in the neighbourhood.” Will we still despise the New South Wales government in 2000 years? It doesn’t seem so very far fetched. At least Cheops had a sort of vision, the pyramids have a certain stark beauty of their own and they draw many wealthy tourists. The eagerness to destroy and thugishness of the current NSW government is extreme and is it really so much worse to steal people’s labor than their homes? For that’s what we witness in this new documentary. As the environmentalist, bushwalker and businessman Dick Smith points out in his interview, rezoning a person’s land is tantamount to stealing it because they will have no choice but to sell to the developer who puts up two ugly apartment blocks on either side of them. After food and water (and nowadays we are forced to add) clean air, shelter is the most basic human need. Interfering with people’s homes thus pokes even deeper into the human psyche than the layer where Freud put his conception of the libido. The lower levels of government (state, province, local) affect our lives directly in a way the feds cannot. The wonder is that many in NSW aren’t angrier.





Bach, the Organist, A Trumpet and Organ Concert, Berkshire Bach Society, Allen Dean trumpet and Walter Hilse, Organ

The Berkshire Bach Society pursued its lively and varied work of furthering the legacy of Johann Sebastian Bach in our region with a program focused on Bach the organist. This year’s programs have concentrated on different aspects, some rather unusual, of Bach’s multifarious activities and output. The first explored gypsy dances and improvisations and their influence on the music of Bach, Telemann, and others — of course of a secular nature. The second was a choral concert devoted to Bach’s music for the Thomanerschule in Leipzig. Of course the Brandenburgs didn’t fail to appear at New Year’s. Last week’s program, although it involved a well-known aspect of Bach’s work, his genius as a virtuoso and composer for the organ, brought out some elements we often tend to ignore: the zest, even mischief in his arrangements of Vivaldi concerti, and his sense of humor. One got more of an impression of Bach’s personality than one can find often in his best-known masterpieces.





Iconic superstarchitect Jefe Anglesdottir's design for Barangaroo (2011).

A Better Barangaroo (Updated)

In this town called Sydney there is this crazy idea that wrecking a beautiful city in the name of economic growth somehow makes the city big time, that slippery oxymoron, a ‘global’ city. Instead of building places which promote beauty, sustainability and public participation we get the kind of ‘built profit’ which is too witless to even be kitsch. It’s the Australian Ugliness on steroids, everywhere, as charmless and unimaginative as it is profitable. Even the greediest New York developer would never expect to build a forty five storey hotel in the East River, let alone the Hudson, and yet exactly such a monstrosity has been approved for construction in Sydney Harbour, at Barangaroo, the ne plus ultra of Sydney urban planning disasters. Now a group of over fifty eminent Sydney architects, planners and academics has produced an alternative design for the site.