The New Opera to Present Bizet’s Carmen at Chapin Hall, Williams College, June 28 at 8 pm
Czesław Miłosz (proonouced Cheswav Meewosh), who died in 2004, was perhaps the best known of Polish literary men in the U.S., thanks to his 20-year tenure as a professor of Slavic languages at the University of Calfornia at Berkeley, where he carried on his work as an essayist, poet, fiction writer, and translator. While he could communicate and occasionally write in English, his poetry became familiar to American readers through translations published in magazines like The New Yorker. He became widely recognized as an ambassador from the land of exile, continually bearing the cross of his numerous emigrations. A Lithuanian Pole, he left for Warsaw under the German occupation. He received his education in Wilno (Vilnius), a city which was long a part of Poland, with many Polish associations, above all literary, since the two great nineteenth century poets, Adam Mickiewicz and Juliusz Słowacki, like Miłosz, spent their formative years there. A diplomat of Communist Poland in the U.S. and France, he sought political asylum in 1951 and lived as an expatriate intellectual in Paris until 1960, when he emigrated to the United States and claimed citizenship in the great everywhere and nowhere of academia. He won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1980. After 1989 he divided his time between Berkeley and Kraków.
I just drove past Steven’s little house. The front drapes were heavy — closed, a little open between. I thought of Cordelia, early in the play, how her mouth must have been a little open, waiting for the words to come. Sisters had eaten all the words, devoured the supply. Then I thought of the supernatural hearing Lear has at the end of the play. How in the recognition scene he sees his daughter again for the first time. Their world is washed. This second Cordelia speaks directly, tersely, with no hesitation. Even at the end when she is dead and truly silent, Lear sees the life in her. He commands others to see. He hears her too. Like Steven’s, her voice was ever soft and low. The others will not hear. Blind and deaf as we are, we side with them. Skeptical is cool. But Lear more than insists that he sees and hears. He commands others to see and hear. There is always the sense that a silent Steven is the hardest thing. Like something has eaten his words. Silence is also the fullest thing. No-one knows this better than a musician.
Omar Sangare founded the Dialogue One Festival for solo theater in 2007 at Williams College, where he had just assumed a position as Assistant Professor of theater studies. Before that, he had built up a stellar reputation as a writer, poet, singer, and actor in his native Poland, receiving a Ph.D. from the Theater Academy in Warsaw, where he studied with the great film director, Andrzej Wajda, among others. His many talents came together in solo theater, a field in which he is well-known in Central Europe and at international festivals. He was voted Best in Acting by the New York International Fringe Festival in 1997 for his one-man drama, True Theater Critic. The same year Sangare was invited to the Jerzy Grotowski Theater in Wroclaw, Poland, where he won four prizes at the Theater Festival. The monodrama was presented in Poland, Canada, England, Ukraine, Germany, and the United States, where it recently received the Best Performance Award at the San Francisco Fringe Festival.
This exhibition at Williams College Museum of Art is supplemental to the immense retrospective installation at MassMoca in North Adams. In some surprising ways it reveals more of the evidentiary by-products of the thought process of the seminal conceptual artist than the spectacular realizations at MassMoca.
Williams College was fortunate to have hosted two of the great figures in American chamber music Friday evening in a program of core masterpieces of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. Both Ani Kavafian and Mihae Lee, who play often together as a duo and as the Triton Trio, which includes Ms. Lee’s husband William Purvis, the great horn player, as well as in larger groups, have distinguished reputations for their work with new music. With their roots in the present day, they reach into the past with all the more conviction. Their performances of the classics are consistently deeply studied and thought through, original, and impeccably played. It is a joy to listen to the mere sound Ani Kavafian produces from the 1736 Muir McKenzie Stradivarius, always centered right on pitch and surrounded by a rich bloom which fans out into an amazing variety of color and nuance; and the intelligence with which she applies her virtuosity is of the highest order. In the three works on this evening’s program piano and violin are virtually equally matched, giving Ms. Lee full opportunity to use her musicality, insight, and strength to the fullest.
Once again, the Williams Bösendorfer Recital program has given us the opportunity of hearing a gifted younger musician display his musicianship with the singular obstacles of a mismatched instrument in an unpleasant acoustic. A portable acoustical shell has been introduced to remedy Chapin’s muffled sound. I heard a favorable judgement of this innovation at the New England Baroque Orchestra concert, which I unfortunately missed, butit was of little help with a solo piano: the music, instead of sounding as if it were being played in another room with the door partially open, sounded as if it were being played in a tunnel, or perhaps a swimming pool. The Williams Bösendorfer has never been a credit to its justly famed manufacturer, partly, it could be, because of the Berkshire climate and partly because it is too much instrument for the hall. The instrument is extremely loud, and so was the pianist, painfully so, occasionally giving me the feeling of being in close quarters with a mad rhino.
When Americans celebrate their more significant secular holidays with art, they notoriously reach for hackneyed expressions which are at best well-intentioned and at worst, totally empty. Williams College, however, produced a notable exception to this in New Morning for The World, a concert piece for winds, percussion, and piano, with recitation, by the distinguished American composer Joseph Schwantner. Regrettably I missed the performance, but I recently came upon a video of the event, filmed by the Mexican video artist and activist Berta Jottar, who is a member of the Williams faculty, along with Omar Sangare, who recited the texts by Martin Luther King, Jr. to the accompaniment of Schwantner’s music. The music and the selection from Dr. King’s speeches was work of a high order, powerful in its effect, as was Dr. Sangare’s recitation and the performance of the Williams Symphonic Winds under their director, Stephen Dennis Bodner, who has been responsible for a series of ambitious, original programs over this academic year and before.