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Archive for December, 2011

Leonardo da Vinci (1452-1519), The Virgin of the Rocks, 1483 – about 1485, oil on wood transferred to canvas, 199 x 122 cm, Musée du Louvre, Paris, Département des Peintures (777). © RMN / Franck Raux.

Leonardo da Vinci: Painter at the Court of Milan, The National Gallery of Art, London, November 9, 2011 – February 5, 2012

The crowds begin as one approaches the rear of the building: a long line, snaking back on itself contains those hopeful of gaining one of the 500 tickets on sale each day; further on, is a smaller queue of the luckier ones who had snapped up all the online tickets during the first three days of sale. Overall, the crowds are well behaved—for this is England—and approach their goal with good humor and a touch of the spirit of Dunkirk as they descend upon the National Gallery’s runaway success, Leonardo: Painter at the Court of Milan. It is not a large show, only some sixty paintings and drawings, but then Leonardo only began a score of paintings in a career spanning four decades. Of those paintings, fifteen autograph works survive, and four of these are generally deemed incomplete. To assemble almost every surviving painting from Leonardo’s Milanese period in London is a notable achievement, and these works are supplemented by others associated with his followers and sometime collaborators in the most sustained period of productivity in the artist’s life.

Edgar Degas, Self-Portrait, c. 1855–56 Oil on paper laid down on canvas, 40.6 x 34.3 cm, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York. Bequest of Stephen C. Clark, 1960 61.101.6

Rembrandt and Degas: Two Young Artists, at the Clark Art Institute

Sponsored jointly by the Clark Art Institute and the Rijksmuseum Amsterdam, this small exhibition of prints and paintings by Rembrandt and Degas opens with Degas’ assertion that “What I do is the result of reflection and study of the great masters.”

One of the marvelous things Degas learned from them is that new art need not always look like old art, that the great masters often were consummate experimenters developing entirely new kinds of imagery. Indeed Degas is well-known for his pastels of dancers, which often involve mark-making and composing methods that veer far away from the academic traditions of his early training.

This new show reveals a young Degas at a time of transition between traditions (French Academic versus Dutch Realist), revealing much about how Degas navigated the two. It’s a lovely, outstanding small show.






A Scene from Shostakovich's The Nose at Opera Boston

Opera Boston to Close January 1, 2012.

Opera Boston board chair Winifred P. Gray and board president Gregory E. Bulger have issued a statement that Opera Boston faces “an insurmountable budget deficit” of $500,000 and will cease operations on Jan. 1, 2012.

The announcement cited “lackluster fundraising in a tough economic climate” as the main reason for the closure. The staff was notified yesterday.

“The Board realizes that this development will come as a shock to the Boston arts community, and it is not a decision we made lightly,” Gray said in this morning’s statement. “The Company has had many artistic triumphs in its recent history, and has many fans. However, as the end of the year approaches, we find ourselves in a financially untenable situation, and the responsible thing is to work with our creditors and cease operations.”






Modern Flash Dictionary by George Kent (1835). The British Library Board.

Berkshire Review’s Recommended Books and Classical Recordings 2011

I should most likely not distract you from giving a subscription to The Berkshire Review as a holiday gift. We need subscriptions to carry on our work, but there are a few items that have come in for review that I can warmly suggest as excellent gifts. These are not systematic, and they are not always serious, but we do recommend them. Some of them will be reviewed in detail over the following weeks.






Mozart and Yellow Warblers: Recent Performances of the Piano Concertos on Disc (Part I of a Series)

While spending almost twenty years closely listening to Bach’s more than two hundred cantatas bewildered some of my friends would decry my project and say, “They all sound alike – how can you tell them apart?” These people, sophisticated music lovers who simply did not care for the Bach vocal repertory, refused to admit they glossed over these works in a superficial way. To my ears, of course, each and every cantata had uniqueness that clearly articulated it from the rest of the pack. Yes, there were many structural similarities, and Bach’s musical language is the unifying tongue, but, to say Bach’s cantatas all sounded alike seemed heretical, born of inferior taste and auditory skills. Years later, when I started watching birds, I came upon the family of yellow warblers, illustrated in Roger Tory Peterson’s definitive field guide. Boggled by the subtle markings which distinguish these birds, it seemed that page after page pictured the same damned bird, and I recalled my friends’ remarks about Bach’s vocal works.






From Concord’s Jail – An Address by H. D. Thoreau

Introduction: On July 23rd, 1846, Henry David Thoreau, protesting slavery and the ensuing Mexican war (1845 – 48) chose incarceration rather than paying his $1.00 poll tax. From this experience came the essay CIVIL DISOBEDIENCE which directly influenced Mohandas K. Gandhi in his efforts to free India from British rule and Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., head of the civil rights movement in the 1960’s.

The following monologue is the author’s fictionalized attempt to portray Thoreau’s state of mind shortly after the incident and the areas of consideration leading to his momentous essay.

Setting: July 24th, 1846, Concord – H.D. Thoreau is invited to speak at the Concord Lyceum about his recent act of civil disobedience. The lyceum was a place where relevant topics of the day were presented to the public.

Note: H. D. Thoreau did, in fact, speak at the lyceum about this matter, but it was not until two years later in 1848 and later published CIVIL DISOBEDIENCE.






Ornament is no crime at the Willoughby Incinerator (1934). Photo © 2011 Alan Miller.

The Best and Worst of Sydney Urbanism, 2011

Unlike movies or the performing arts, architecture is not seasonal. There is no year end rush in which all the Gehrys and Koolhaases are “released,” no popcorn summer in which the Barangaroos and Ground Zeros of this world try to blow out our eye sockets with their empty spectacle. Cities just go on and on; one must make an effort to pick a moment and look back if we are ever to figure out just what on earth is going on.






George Frideric Handel

The New York Philharmonic: Peter Schreier conducts Handel’s Messiah


There is nothing remarkable, I suppose, in the complex associations that surrounded my visit to Avery Fisher Hall to hear, once again, Handel’s Messiah. I love the work as much as anyone with absolutely no admixture of peevishness—except for a bad performance—but I certainly can’t take it every year. This time, although the name of Peter Schreier and his distinguished soloists should be enough to attract anyone, I was drawn by my fascination with singers as conductors following the outstanding—and profoundly vocal—performance of Bach’s B Minor Mass at Emmanuel Church in Boston a few months ago, conducted by Emmanuel Music’s new Music Director, Ryan Turner. Susan Davenny Wyner, for example, is another singer—a great one—who has made an especially valuable contribution as a conductor. In this respect this performance of Messiah was exactly what I expected it to be.