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Archive for December, 2012

Darling Harbour with Philip Cox's Exhibition Centre to the right of the freeway. Photo © 2011 Alan Miller.

Six Degrees, Six Degrees: Sydney Architecture in 2012

The other day I installed new brake rotors on my mountain bike [1]. 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.

Carlo Braccesco. Detail of Annunciation, part of a triptych. Fourth quarter 15th century. Tempera, oil on poplar board. 52 x 105 cm. Musée du Louvre.

Christmas Music As It Was Meant to Be: Noël! Noël! with the Australian Brandenburg Orchestra

The stuff of music is not stuff. Music’s physical presence, like dance’s too, is gone forever almost as soon as it is played. As Christmas and the planet Earth become more and more burdened with stuff, permanent stuff at that — at least permanently in the landfill — and people seemingly more and more frantic that they’re not spending enough money, you can feel more and more by contrast how music had to have such an enormous part of the festival. To fill an honest need of another person you love is another thing, but even if there is a physical thing involved, it is not the thing itself but the love to which the thing is a mere shadow and the mutually filled need itself. Carpeting one’s wants and feelings of insufficiency with stuff will always miss.

The Glimmerglass Festival's Alice Busch Opera Theater. Photo Claire McAdams.

2012 Retrospective: Reflections on the 2012 Glimmerglass Opera Festival

At first, music and baseball might seem to have little in common. But don’t tell that to sports diehards and opera buffs in upper New York State. At least not in July and August, when a multitudinous group of fans from across the US converge at the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown. This year’s annual induction ceremonies were held July 20–23. Meanwhile, just a few miles down the road, devotees of vocal aspirants flocked to the Glimmerglass Opera to hear and see them “play ball.”

Jonas Alber, Conductor

Jonas Alber conducts the Staatsorchester Braunschweig in Franck’s D Minor Symphony—a Podcast.

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?”

Antony Walker conducts the Orchestra of the Antipodes for the Pinchgut Opera's Caster & Pollux with Andy McDonell's set in background. Photo by Simon Hodgson.

An Awesome Trek Through the Cosmos with the Pinchgut Opera’s ‘Castor et Pollux’ by Rameau

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.

A scene from "You Can't Take it With You" at Hubbard Hall.

A Singer’s Notes 62: Chestnuts (Kaufman and Hart’s You Can’t Take it with You)

We were informed upon entering Hubbard Hall on Saturday evening, that a “chestnut” was on the menu. I like chestnuts. Chestnuts are successes, and they are successes because they work. Moss Hart and George Kaufmann’s particular chestnut You Can’t Take it With You is the theme song and battle cry of the 47%. One of the characters, Donald, a kind of serving man, reminds us a couple of times, that he is “on relief,” and the government gets really upset when he works. The government, in fact, is a constant presence in the play, belittled and shrunken and left virtually powerless by the formulations of Grandpa. Everything Grandpa says makes so much gosh-darn sense. Even Trotsky trots in on a borrowed horse as it were, his words printed indiscriminately by slow witted Ed as a kind of hobby.

Guercino (Cento 1591–Bologna 1666). The Triumph of Galatea, Pen and brown ink with brown wash, squared in black chalk, with later framing lines in pen and brown ink.

Drawn to Excellence: Renaissance to Romantic Drawings from a Private Collection, at the Smith College Museum of Art, September 28, 2012 – January 6, 2013

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.

Alexandr Benois. The Queen of Spades' (1921). Design for the masked ball, Act II. Watercolor and pencil on paper.

The Sydney Symphony Becomes Opera Impresario with a Memorable Queen of Spades by Tchaikovsky in Concert

Tchaikovsky wrote Queen of Spades, in 1890, and one other opera, Iolanta, in 1891, near the end of his life after having promised never to write another opera because of the unpopularity of The Sorceress (1887). For theatre, these were very fertile years for Tchaikovsky. The Mariinksy first performed Sleeping Beauty in 1890 and Nutcracker in 1892. He wrote Queen of Spades at a Mozartean rate in Florence where it is said he composed the music faster than his brother Modest wrote and sent the libretto scene by scene. Perhaps living in Florence gave him enough distance from the darker, more repellent aspects of the story to avoid getting run down by it, but anyhow it seems a strange subject for him to choose, especially surprising to hear the incredibly lyrical music he created for it. The antihero Hermann is repellent, but for some of the beautiful music Tchaikovsky gave him, yet even so Hermann’s are not as beautiful as Don Giovanni’s arias (and duets), but I don’t believe Tchaikovsky thought or intended his music to be as beautiful as Mozart’s.