Concert Reviews | CD Reviews | DVD Reviews | Opera | Early Music | News | Film | Art | Books | Kids

19.8.03

Wagner Festival in Washington?

Renoir, Portrait of Richard WagnerAn article (Wagner-Wahn im Internet by Jochen Breiholz, August 19) in Die Welt was the first press reference I have seen to the formation of a festival dedicated to the operas of Richard Wagner to be based here in Washington, D.C. The founder, Carol Berger, claims that the festival will be the American answer to the Bayreuth Festival, although she admits that she has not raised as much money for the festival as she had hoped. Indeed, Breiholz seems to think that even the proposed budgets of the productions are laughably small for the forecast performance of Parsifal here in Washington, D.C., in March 2004. According to their Web site, the group in question, the Millennium Wagner Opera Company, is planning four "touring performance cycles of Parsifal, Die Meistersinger and Bach. A production of Tannhauser is also in rehearsal. The company will appear in Opera recital of highlights from operas." I have heard of at least one of these people before: Carol Berger has given some lectures with the Wagner Society of Washington, D.C., and she is a true believer.

To make a strange parallel, in many ways Wagner reminds me of former President Bill Clinton: he was a brilliant person, larger than life and with larger-than-life personal faults. Also, just as with President Clinton, there are people who hate Wagner, who see nothing but his ego, racism, and negative influence on the operatic world like the association of the Nazi party with his family and ignore the genius of what he created; and there are just as many people who love Wagner, who see nothing but his radical vision of a new art form and ignore his faults. Carol Berger and members of Wagner Societies around the world like her are in the latter group. The mission of the Millenium Wagner Project, in their own words, is spiritual, to "search out the sidelined in our midst, to bring healing thru music's unconditional love, or as Wagner would put it, 'redemption through love'." They also claim that "the Millennium Wagner Project and the Millennium Wagner Opera are Wagner-Bashing Free Entities. That means you will not find artistis, scholars or men of the cloth running around here using derogatory names in regard to Wagner. We suggest those who feel impelled to experience negativity to aim their guns at the political activities of icons Chopin or Brahms. 'He who is free from sin, may he cast the first stone'." (I think that "men of the cloth" may be a reference to Fr. M. Owen Lee, who has written about Wagner and has provided commentary on the ChevronTexaco Met broadcasts for years. Fr. Lee has been very frank about the truth of what people don't like about Wagner's life but has ultimately been, I think, an apologist for Wagner's music. If you want to learn about Wagner's ideas as he expressed them, check out The Wagner Library run by Patrick Swinkels.)

While I would love to see the Millenium Wagner Company succeed and create a festival here, I have my doubts. There are no published dates for the performances supposedly being planned. On their Web site, you may write to ask to be notified when those dates and locations become known. I will follow this story and write again if I learn anything.

18.8.03

Accident at Chambord

Floor Collapse at ChambordAfter having posted about the changes in the works at the Château of Chambord (see post on August 11), I was shocked to see a report on France 2 evening news of the collapse of a floor beam there on Sunday (see this English-language report from Australia). The commissioner claims publicly not to be worried about safety: 20 rooms, a small fraction of the total, will be closed to the public while inspection of the floors is carried out. From everything that I have read, this is the first time that a beam at Chambord has collapsed, producing this sort of accident. France 2 showed a picture of the room above, while the pictures on the Internet show the room below with the ceiling broken through. The room in question is in the Roger-de-Parme tower and is shown only to tour groups. A crowd of about forty people was reportedly in the room when the beam broke. A hole about ten square meters opened up, and six people were hurt badly enough to be taken to the hospital, one by helicopter.

Also, thanks to mostly English-language Parisian blog Parisiana for a link to Ionarts and an encouraging message today.

The Popularity of Impressionism

Vincent Van Gogh, L'église d'Auvers-sur-Oise, vue du chevet, 1890, Musée d'OrsayEglise d'Auvers-sur-Oise, Romanesque

Just when I thought there couldn't be another show on the Impressionists, a little article (Voyage au temps des impressionnistes by Claire Haentjens, August 15) in Le Point sent me looking for more information about the Château of Auvers-sur-Oise. Since 1994, the château has been hosting a show called Voyage au temps des Impressionistes (the site has also been clumsily translated into English) that features evocations of some of the Impressionists' favorite themes: Haussmann's Paris seen as a typical bourgeois apartment, a bistro inspired by the café-concert Les Ambassadeurs, and the Gare Saint-Lazare. This all sounds corny to me, even though there are projections or reproductions of 500 paintings. Anyway, I think it would be much more interesting just to walk around the village, where you can see the house of Dr. Gachet painted by Cézanne, the little Romanesque church painted by Van Gogh (see photograph and painting), and the graves of Van Gogh and his brother Theo. The Web site of Auvers-sur-Oise has pages of paintings of the town by Cézanne and Van Gogh, the scenes of all of which you could probably still find in Auvers-sur-Oise.

17.8.03

Merci aux lecteurs français

Thanks to French blog mediaTIC for a mention of Ionarts (see post on August 14): "an interesting English-language blog dedicated to art in general (music, art, literature), which focuses more specifically on artistic news in France . . . and which seems written from France besides." Although I did not intend to focus on France when I started this blog, France is just naturally something toward which I gravitate. That I might be writing it from France instead of Washington, D.C., is a long-held dream.

New Books for Paris Reading Project

An article (Daniel Pennac: Five Sleazy Pieces of Paris, by Matthew J. Reisz, August 16) in The Independent drew my attention to Daniel Pennac's Paris stories, which I will be acquiring. They are five novels, set in the Belleville area, from the 1980s and 90s, translated into English by Ian Monk and now rereleased in Great Britain: The Scapegoat, Monsieur Malaussène, Passion Fruit, The Fairy Gunmother, and Write to Kill. Reisz also describes another novel, Comme un roman, "his wonderful hymn to the joys of reading." My only problem with the article is that it mentions Pennac's "description of the Vercors (the remote Provençal plateau where he spends part of the year)," which is Le Vercors d'en haut: la réserve naturelle des hauts plateaux (not available, I think, in the U.S.). However, the Vercors is not really in Provence. Where it begins, outside Grenoble, is exceedingly beautiful, I can tell you.

Pennac is a teacher of literature in the French school system, and he sees his role as author of fiction and children's books to be at least partially to bring people to reading and keep them reading. In an interview from April 2000, he was asked to list the ten books he thought worth saving from the 20th century and I think the choices are interesting. The top choices were Proust's A la Recherche du temps perdu, which he calls "The Book" and like Joyce's Ulysses, and Céline's Voyage au bout de la nuit.

15.8.03

Bonne fête!

France is a Catholic nation, so just about everybody was on vacation today for le quinze août, the feast of the Assumption. You have to love a country where an organist gets written up (Vincent Warnier, les délices de l'orgue, by Renaud Machart, August 14) in a major newspaper like Le Monde because people might want to go hear him play on Assumption. He played the 5:15 pm Mass today at the grand orgue of the church of Saint-Etienne-du-Mont, at the Place Sainte-Geneviève in the 5th arrondissement of Paris. (If anyone has heard him play before, please send me a message.) His program today was to include works of J. S. Bach, Marcel Dupré, Louis Vierne, and Camille Saint-Saëns, as well as an improvisation. This last talent is an art still highly cultivated by organists in France. I sent a link to this article to the director of music at the National Shrine, in the hope that he might try to invite him sometime for the Octave of Easter, when the Shrine annually hosts a guest organist. (The last organists to visit from France were Philippe Lefebvre, from the Cathedral of Notre-Dame in Paris, whose improvisation blew my mind, and Sophie-Veronique Cauchefer-Choplin, one of the associate organists at Saint-Sulpice.) If Vincent Warnier ever plays at the Shrine, I'll let you know.

A graduate of the Strasbourg conservatory, Warnier acknowledges Daniel Roth as his teacher of improvisation. Roth is now the main organist at Saint-Sulpice (in the 6th arrondissement), where I heard him improvise brilliantly last summer. If you want to have a great musical experience in Paris, you can attend the auditions d'orgue (usually Sundays at 11:30 am) at Saint-Sulpice and after the noon Mass climb up to the organ loft to talk with the organist and see the instrument and the best view of the church. (There is a chapel at Saint-Sulpice featuring a wall painting by Eugène Delacroix, Jacob and the Angel.) When I spoke to M. Roth last summer, I learned that he had lived in Washington from 1974 to 1976, when he was guest organist at the National Shrine and organ professor at Catholic University.

UPDATE:
Don't miss Charles Baudelaire's critical review of Delacroix's paintings in Saint-Sulpice, which I have just discovered on the remarkable Gallica Classique Web site.

14.8.03

Assumption at the National Shrine

If you're in Washington tomorrow (August 15) and you want to hear some Renaissance music, the Choir of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception will be performing for the Feast of the Assumption at the High Mass at noon. The music will feature the 8-part Missa Salve regina (Gloria and Agnus movements) by Tomás Luis Victoria (1548-1611), the 8-part Magnificat setting by Luca Marenzio (1553/54-1599), and the 6-part motet Assumpta est Maria by Giovanni da Palestrina (1525-1594). We will also be singing the Hymn to the Mother of God (1985) for two choirs by John Tavener. The National Shrine is at the intersection of Michigan Avenue and Fourth Street NE in the District of Columbia. The choir will perform in the Great Upper Church.

What Would Mozart Think?

As a tiny article (Le retour de la castration by Lucien Lambert, August 15) in Le Point relates, different artistic interests can not only compete but also destroy one another. The Rupertinum, the modern art museum of Salzburg, Austria, commissioned a temporary sculpture from the Viennese art collective Gelatin to be displayed publicly in the Max-Reinhardt-Platz during the prestigious Salzburg Music Festival (July 26 to August 31). The sculpture, titled Arc de Triomphe, was displayed to considerable uproar for two weeks (as Lambert put it punningly, the work "a semé la zizanie"). As you can see in these photos, the arc is formed by the plasticine body of a man wearing only a tank top and sweat socks and who appears to be micturating (or ejaculating?) into his own mouth. Apparently not buying the intellectualized contextualization of the museum's leadership ("It formally and optimistically presents itself in the tradition of the triumphal arch; at the same time, however, it makes the differences between winners and losers appear to be obsolete"), officials from the Salzburger Festspiele, which is much more profitable to the city than the modern art museum, won the battle. They first had the sculpture covered over during the visit of Prince Charles and have now obtained its permanent removal from the Max-Reinhardt-Platz.

However, knowing how much Mozart wanted to leave Salzburg, which he saw as a provincial backwater where he felt he had no future, to go to Vienna, I cannot help but think that he would have laughed at the gesture the sculpture made. The Viennese artists have certainly succeeded in what I assume was their ultimate goal: "épater la bourgeoisie." And that's something Mozart probably would have enjoyed.

13.8.03

Link from Artblog

Thanks to Roberta Fallon and Libby Rosof at Philadelphia's Artblog for making Ionarts their "Link of the Week." I like reading their site, so I am grateful for the mention. Also, thanks to fellow Washingtonian Tyler Green of Modern Art Notes for another nice comment about and link to Ionarts.

More Artistic Strikes Planned in France

The head of the union representing the intermittents du spectacle (part-time workers in performing arts) officially says he regrets the cancellation of the Avignon festival caused by his group's strikes. However, the union has made calls for another set of general strikes centered around the street theater festival (18e Festival International de Théâtre de Rue) in the little town of Aurillac (August 20 to 23), which will probably cause it to be canceled or significantly disrupted as well. The festival itself appears to embrace the union taking it over as a platform for its concerns. The union will hold a meeting in Aurillac over the Assumption holiday to decide what to do. On the one hand, I know that people who work in the arts should fight as hard as anyone else to earn a decent wage and be assured a living. However, I question the strategy of life-disrupting strikes so popular in France. How does costing the people of Avignon, Aix-en-Provence, La Rochelle, or Aurillac a lot of money really help the cause of the intermittents? By increasing the possibility that those festivals will not be able to hire part-time workers in performing arts next summer because they lost too much money?

In perhaps not unrelated news, Blogorrhée posted bitterly yesterday on the rate of business bankruptcies in France, which has hit an all-time high at 8%. Wow.

12.8.03

Bayreuth, anyone?

View over the orchestra pit, Bayreuther FestspielhausHold the phone. If anyone else out there is dying to go to hear an opera at the Bayreuth Festival this year (see post on August 5), it is still possible. I had been reading that it could take more than five years to be able to get a ticket directly from the box office. Little did I know that I can still buy them for this year through Sports-Road ticket resales. Although I knew they would have all my NFL, NBA, and NHL needs covered, their site also claims that they have "been buying and selling Bayreuth Festival Ring Cycle Tickets for over 15 years." (I wonder if Festival officials know how much people are overcharging by reselling tickets; the highest price you might pay at the box office is around 200 euros. I find this scandalous.)

Last-minute round-trip plane ticket to Bavaria: $900.
Hotel room in Bayreuth for two nights: $200.
Admission to see Wagner's home, the Haus Wahnfried: $6.
Rental tuxedo: $90.
Ticket to Der fliegende Holländer for this Saturday night: $1,600.
The chance to see the place where Richard Wagner made his fantasies real: Priceless.

11.8.03

Changes Planned for the Château de Chambord?

Château de ChambordChambord, the product of the patronage of François I and at least partially the design of Leonardo, is probably the most extravagant of the châteaux of the Loire Valley. The effect of seeing the impossible number of spires atop this building as one approaches it is remarkable. However, according to this recent article (Chambardement à Chambord, Michèle Leloup, August 7, 2003) in L'Express, Chambord has fallen second to Chenonceau in terms of visits by tourists to the Loire Valley, leading to the government's plans to shake things up at Chambord. The downside to having a strong concept of a national patrimony (see the post on Prosper Mérimée on August 6) is that cultural sites can get mixed up in politics, but at least the French government will never sell Chambord off as blocks of stone as private owners have done with old buildings before. (Among countless examples, the Cistercian abbey of Rievaulx in Yorkshire was almost totally destroyed by its first private owner, Thomas Manners, first Earl of Rutland, who obtained the property after it was seized by Henry VIII.)

A map in the article shows the parts of the Chambord site that are controlled by five different ministries of the French government, and the author does a good job of explaining how this happened (my translation): "This kafkaesque situation goes back to World War I. At the time, the château was sequestered because of the Austrian nationality of the owners, the Bourbon-Parme family. After a trial and conflicts within the family, the state ended up buying the property in 1930 and placing it under the Historical Monuments Fund [now the Centre des Monuments Nationaux]. Then, in 1965, the National Forest Service [Office National des Forêts] took over the château's lands, except the village." Georges Pompidou, an avid hunter, reinstated the tradition of the presidential hunt, meaning that control of the game on the lands was given to the Office National de la chasse et de la Faune Sauvage (part of the Ministère de l'Ecologie et du Développement durable). Other sections were put under the Ministère des Finances and the Ministère de l'Equipement. (Even though we got the word bureaucracy from the French, they have always been able to appreciate its negative qualities, as you can see hilariously demonstrated in the story Bureaucracy, by Honoré de Balzac.) The present Commissioner of the site, Xavier Patier, is quoted thus: "This château has exceptional qualifications: 440 rooms and hundreds of roaming animals only two hours away from the capital. It is the anti-Disney par excellence" (the emphasis on this last turn of phrase is mine). The problem is "a laughable system that only the French government could invent," with five different ministries, as many budgets, 110 government employees, and little transparency even for the Commissioner himself. In the present political climate, the government is moving to make Chambord more independent. Hopefully, this will allow the Commissioner to lead Chambord back to the place of premier château de la vallée de la Loire.

Sinus advice

Thanks to artist Mark Barry, who has put a link to Ionarts on his site and who advises me to use a Neti pot to rinse out my sinuses. (I'm too much of a chicken or I would try this.) Mark has a Web site showing some of his colorful oils, watercolors, and painted ceramics. For anyone who is interested, Mark's next show will be at the Steven Scott Gallery in Owings Mills, Md., from October 1 to November 29.

10.8.03

More Paris Reading

Summer flus are the worst. Heat and humidity only seem to aggravate the symptoms of stuffy sinuses and runny nose. One small consolation is that I have found an online excerpt of a book for my Paris reading project: Mavis Gallant's Paris Diary (1992). I am enjoying working my way through the various materials that The New Yorker is putting on its Web site (free, so far). If you liked the piece on Noam Chomsky ("The Devil's Accountant," by Larissa MacFarquhar, March 31 issue), check out the online resources compiled on Chomsky by Matt Dellinger, available only on the Web site.

Vita Nova

Many thanks to Vita Nova, a blog based in Italy but published in French, and Ken Saxon, a blog based in southern France but published in English, for including links to Ionarts. As for the heat, which is the subject of the most recent post on Vita Nova and most other European blogs, perhaps it will assist trans-Atlantic understanding. I think Europeans suffering through extreme heat, which is much more common in the United States, may now understand why Americans prefer icecubes in their beverages and air-conditioning.

9.8.03

Last Post on Cardinal Law

This takes the cake. According to the Boston Globe (Cardinal Law Plans to Be Chaplain at Md. Convent, February 8), Cardinal Law is more or less being sheltered by Cardinal McCarrick here in the Archdiocese of Washington. He currently serves as chaplain of the Sisters of Mercy of Alma convent in Clinton, Md. The sisters have given him a small house to live in, and I have heard that he has also found a driver for his car. With the assistance of his episcopal brethren, Cardinal Law seems bent on having some sort of public role in the church (Resignation Has Not Ended Law's Role in Church, Michael Paulson, June 21). Cardinal McCarrick is on record making the following critique of Cardinal Law: "He's a good bishop, a good man, who maybe made mistakes." Indeed. Perhaps Cardinal McCarrick will appoint Law to be rector of Theological College, so that he can supervise priests in training.

As the Shrine Choir sang a series of motets in meditation before the Blessed Sacrament on Friday, Cardinal Law was about ten feet away and he fixed his eye on us. When he seemed to be looking directly at me, it truly made me ill. Please go away, Cardinal Law, I don't want to see you. This is the conclusion of this decidedly non-arts-related thread.

8.8.03

More Renoirs Than You Can Shake a Stick at

Yesterday, I heeded Artblog's advice (see post from July 30) and finally went for a visit to The Barnes Foundation outside Philadelphia. (There has been a dispute between the people who run the foundation and its board, dominated by people nominated by Lincoln University, over whether to move the art collection to a more central location in Philadelphia. Furthermore, the present director says flatly that the foundation is nearly bankrupt, and the people who live around the museum have brought legal action to limit the number of visitors, meaning that the possible income cannot meet operating expenses.) How this place could be in financial trouble is beyond me, however: they have an eclectic but highly valuable collection (estimated value of $6 billion) and a good if peculiar facility, and Barnes left a generous, but not extravagant, endowment. Some blame the former chairman of the board in the mid-1990s, Richard Glanton. He is the one who led the foundation into a legal battle known as the Ku Klux Klan suit, because he accused the neighborhood of opposing a new parking lot for the museum because of racial bias against him. (Lincoln University in Delaware is the oldest black college in the United States.) The settlement against the foundation cost them $6 million. The folks at the BarnesWatch! group are not all that happy with present director Kimberly Camp either.

All I can say about this from my visit is that it would be a shame to show the collection anywhere but in the space that Barnes designed. However, it would be a greater shame for the museum to close altogether: 400 visitors a day is better than zero. I agree with Modern Art Notes (see post on August 6) that the three most important collectors of modern art in America were Duncan Phillips, Alfred Barr, and Albert Barnes. Barnes was probably the strangest of the three, and what you really see playing out at the Barnes Foundation is the man's eccentricity. The collection is stunning if narrow, limited by Barnes's tastes. I stood for a long time looking at Matisse's Le Bonheur de Vivre. At one point this painting was owned by Gertrude Stein, whom we may credit with getting Barnes interested in collecting art when she met him in 1906. For some reason, Barnes had it hung in the stairwell, making for uncomfortable viewing. It's a big, bright, beautiful painting, the famous foil to Picasso's Demoiselles d'Avignon. As brash and worthy of the name fauve as it is, I also spent a long time sitting in front of the even larger, cool, loving and decidedly un-fauve portrait The Music Lesson. I never tired of the succession of Cézannes, although I do admit that I stopped paying careful attention to the Renoirs after seeing about 75 of them. There are also beautiful examples of African masks, Greek marbles and vessels, and a splendid Benin warrior.

One thing is clear about Barnes: he liked representational art. The examples of purely abstract works in the collection are few and far between, and to judge only by the way Barnes collected art Cubism had very little influence on the history of art. The arrangement of works on the walls was intended by Barnes to reinforce his theories about art education: Picasso's Head of a Man hanging right above a case filled with African masks. You can almost hear Barnes giving his talk to his factory workers (apparently he actually hung some of the things he collected in his factories for his workers to enjoy). All in all, I think it would be a tragedy to separate the Barnes Foundation from Barnes.

7.8.03

Mel Gibson

So the Shrine Choir has been exceptionally busy this week, providing music for Masses at the convention of the Knights of Columbus. This morning we were at the Washington Hilton for a Mass remembering deceased members of that order. I now realize why Cardinal Law was present at the Bob Hope Memorial (see post from August 3): he is in town for the Knights of Columbus, and he has concelebrated with Cardinal McCarrick at every Mass where we have sung. This really burns me, because the Knights claim to stand for family values and Catholic principles. Am I the only one to be bothered by this? I am not ready to forgive Cardinal Law for what he did. (Of course, the problem is way beyond Cardinal Law.)

Anyway, one of the pieces we sang was Gaudent in caelis by Renaissance composer Luca Marenzio (1553/54-1599). He is the brilliant madrigalist who is the secular counterpoint to Palestrina's career in the churches of Rome. However, I have learned over the past year or so that he did write some sacred works. His style is less restrained and more given to expressionism than Palestrina's, and I have enjoyed getting to sing some of his music. The surprise at the end of this service was an impromptu appearance by actor Mel Gibson, whose movie The Passion the Knights are supporting. (Some Christian groups, including the American Catholic bishops' conference, and Jewish groups have criticized the script and tried to have the movie banned from theaters.) We saw a few clips from the movie, and nothing seemed offensive to me.

6.8.03

The Idea of a National Patrimony

Prosper Mérimée (1803-1870) is the author of, among other things, a little story published in 1845 (text in French or in English) about a cigarette girl and a soldier, set to music by Georges Bizet in his last opera, Carmen (1875). However, a series of articles (Sur les pas de Mérimée, or In the footsteps of Mérimée) in Le Figaro traces what is probably his most significant contribution to French cultural history, the creation of the concept of a national patrimony. (The specific sites that have been covered so far include Vézelay [Hervé de Saint-Hilaire, July 15], Conques [Marie-Guy Baron, July 22], Monuments of Corsica [Dominique Costa, July 29], as well as several other accompanying articles.) In the first article of the series (L'inventeur du patrimoine, July 8, 2003), Anne-Marie Romero puts it this way: "Before Mérimée there was a Romantic, whimsical, mixed-up aspiration to attempt to save the architectural treasures left in ruins in postrevolutionary France. After Mérimée, there is a structured national policy of protection for the patrimony."

As Inspector-General of Historic Monuments under the July Monarchy from 1834 to 1859, he was the first to draw up a list of protected monuments and the first in the world to draft legislation of this kind. His Jacobin sympathies led him to reject the concept of private ownership and conservation of historical monuments, in favor of a general ownership on the part of all the citizens of France, and he spent a lot of the government's money on acquiring and repairing important sites (see how this idea has progressed at the Centre des Monuments Nationaux). The idea that these things belong to all French people and are a source of pride is something that is now expressed annually in the Journées du Patrimoine (Patrimony Days), which will be September 20 and 21 this year, days on which all sorts of sites normally closed to visitors are open and free. Mérimée commissioned the first national monument photography project, too, and the photographs of sites that he helped save are a fascinating part of these articles. (In his honor, the catalogue of national monuments now used in France is called Mérimée.) He read Greek, English, Spanish, and Russian, and he was friendly with Eugène Viollet-le-Duc, Alfred de Musset, Victor Hugo, and Stendhal. Although he learned Russian late in life, he became one of the first to translate Russian literature into French, including the works of Pushkin. He was later offered a ministerial post in the government but refused, deciding to live in southern France because of his respiratory problems. Sadly, his mother's apartment, where he had left many of his papers and manuscripts, was burned in 1871 during the turbulent Commune of Paris. Ironically, the Communards wanted to destroy many of the monuments that Mérimée sought to preserve and actually did raze the Tuileries Palace.

5.8.03

Der Ring at Bayreuth Festival

Well, it's August and you know what that means: the Bayreuther Festspiele, or all the Wagner you could ever possibly want to hear. (At the time of this writing, the English versions of the Festival's Web pages were not functioning, but you can still use the site in German.) The first Bayreuth Festival began with the world premiere of the entire four-opera saga The Ring of the Nibelungs on August 13, 1876, with Hans Richter conducting. One of the great artistic events of all time, the first festival received a surprising number of prominent visitors from the international arts community, including composers Edvard Grieg, Anton Bruckner, Franz Liszt, Pyotr Tchaikovsky, and Camille Saint-Saëns. (Do the Ring cycle and the Star Wars movies have something in common? Kristian Evensen thinks so.) This year's first performance of the Ring cycle was July 27 to August 1, and the second will begin tomorrow, August 6. None of these performances present all four operas on four consecutive nights, which I guess means that you can hear too much Wagner, even in Bayreuth. Parsifal, the only opera actually composed specifically for the Bayreuth theater, the opera that Wagner wanted performed only in Bayreuth, and the only opera Wagner himself actually conducted at Bayreuth, is not on the program this year. (Parsifal is also the opera that Adolf Hitler requested not be performed at Bayreuth for the 1940 festival. Because of his close ties to Winifred Wagner, his request was honored.)

Wagner's 84-year-old grandson Wolfgang is still the Festival's director, although gossip about who will replace him continues to flourish (see this article in Business Times Asia). It will almost certainly be a member of the Wagner family, although the festival's by-laws do not require that to be so. The common criticism of Wolfgang Wagner is that he is too conservative, but he plans to shake things up by bringing in some guest directors, including Christoph Schlingensief for the 2004 Parsifal and Lars von Trier for the 2006 Ring. The latter I would love to see, and I have always wanted to make the "pilgrimage" to Bayreuth. However, demand for this summer's tickets exceeded supply by 10 to 1, and realistically you should make your plans as much as 7 years in advance, to make sure you can obtain tickets.

4.8.03

Rock Sculptures

The evening news on France 2 usually features one or two cultural items, which I often find interesting. This evening there was a little piece on some rock sculptures on the Breton coast at Rothéneuf, not far from Saint-Malo. These sculptures were the work of a strange little priest named Adolphe Fouéré. As they explained the story on France 2, he lost his grip on reality after he failed to save his monastery's main area of production. He left his monastic community and lived near the village of Rothéneuf as a hermit, during which time he carved more than 300 granite rocks on the coast into a complicated scene. You can see pictures of the rochers sculptés at this site run by Big-Bang-Art (click on the picture of Abbé Fouéré to go a page of thumbnail images).

We've Been Googled

Not sure how this happened, but you can now find ionarts with a Google Search. Yippie!

If We Only Had Love

Well, the Musical Theatre Institute for Teens production of Jacques Brel Is Alive and Well and Living in Paris is in the books (see post on July 30). The students did a great job, and the siblings Pesci can go to a well-deserved vacation. The show featured, on guitar and bass, Frank Pesci, a multitalented musician who sings with us at the National Shrine in the summers and who plays with a funk and jazz band in Mississippi called Astrolab. You can hear a couple of the band's tunes on their Web site.

3.8.03

Glaring at Cardinal Law

There was a memorial Mass for Bob Hope at the National Shrine this afternoon, so I was there singing with the choir. (See coverage by Fox News and BBC News.) Bob Hope's wife, Dolores, is a devout Catholic and had been involved with the Shrine for many years. The Hope's were here at the Shrine in 1994 for the dedication of the Chapel to Our Lady of Hope, which they donated, and so it seemed quite fitting to honor his memory today. Much to my chagrin, one of the guest prelates at the Mass was the former archbishop of Boston, Bernard Cardinal Law (not mentioned in either news article), who has been making regular appearances at the Shrine since I started singing there. I am ashamed to admit how I once admired Cardinal Law, now that so much damning information about him has come to light. I think Catholics everywhere should thank the Boston Globe for the work their reporters have done to uncover and publish the truth about what was going in Boston. (For all the documents relating to the investigation of the scandal, see the Globe's feature Abuse in the Catholic Church.) I wish the Washington Post and other newspapers would do the same thing in other dioceses. I am afraid that the scandal so far represents only the tip of the iceberg. Still, the truth, no matter how sickening, is better than the darkness. Sadly, the only way that the leadership of the church will change their ways is if they feel threatened.

When Cardinal Law finally resigned his post last December, a move that was several months too late in my opinion, I was relieved. From what he said and what was reported, I thought he would go to Rome or to some monastery somewhere and ponder his immense failure as a shepherd, and I would never have to see him again. So when I saw him at the Shrine today, happily yucking it up with other priests and being welcomed by my own archbishop, I was upset. This creates for me a sort of artistic crisis: do I perform with the choir when someone like Cardinal Law, whom I despise, is there? Or do I sacrifice my own livelihood to withdraw? I faced this problem last November at the annual Mass for the Bishops' Conference meeting in Washington, when Cardinal Law was still in office and his cronies did not censure him or even criticize him. I decided then, as I decided this afternoon, only to glare at Cardinal Law and loudly announce in the sacristy to the other choir members, "That's the former archbishop of Boston, the one who repeatedly protected pedophiles." The fact is that it would really not make sense not to sing for Bob Hope because of Cardinal Law. The person to whom I need to address a letter is Cardinal McCarrick, archbishop of Washington, who welcomed Cardinal Law to concelebrate.

2.8.03

New Museum at Mycenae

Most of the exciting art discoveries made by Heinrich Schliemann in the 1870s at the ancient citadel of Mycenae have been on display in the National Archeological Museum in Athens. In 1997, the Greek government completed a museum to house the incredible amount of artifacts found at the site, and it has just now been opened, according to an article in the August 2 edition of Kathimerini. For more information about Mycenae, the photographs and information on this Tour of Agamemnon's Citadel at Mycenae are great. Talk about field trips: I am going to need to do a year in Greece at some point.

1.8.03

Field Trip!

This article (Notre-Dame-de-Toute-Grâce, la merveille, by Hervé de Saint-Hilaire) in the August 2, 2003, edition of Le Figaro brought to my attention this very interesting church in the town of Assy. This place is in Haute-Savoie, in view of the Mont-Blanc range, meaning that I have been pretty close to it in both France and Switzerland and still never heard of it. The article has only one picture, showing the strange, colorful mosaic by Fernand Léger on the church's façade. However, the article describes the other decorations, including windows by Rouault and Chagall, a tapestry by Jean Lurçat on the battle of the woman and the dragon from Apocalypse 12, a painting of St. Francis de Sales by Bonnard, an interior mosaic by Matisse, and the decoration of the altar of the Blessed Sacrament by Braque. (You can see pictures of most of the works described in the article here, or read this other article on Notre-Dame-de-Toute-Grâce.) Jacques Lipchitz also made a sculpture called Notre-Dame-de-Liesse for Assy (other versions of this sculpture are found around the world). How has this church not registered on my radar before now? Sadly, the reason that Notre-Dame-de-Toute-Grâce is now getting this press is that an art historian named Jacques Franck is concerned about rumors that the plateau where the church (and not much else) is located is "under consideration for development" by the local authorities, and we all know what that means.

The church was the brain-child of a young priest from northern France who was healed of tuberculosis while in a sanatorium in Haute-Savoie, and he had it designed and built by Maurice Novarina starting in 1938. The sanctuary was consecrated in 1950, and the new rector began to solicit artistic contributions, not only from professed Catholics like Rouault but all the greats of the time. Some, like Picasso, refused but most accepted. Another place on my mental list of sacred sites decorated by "modern artists." (Note that the church has an official site, which does not appear to be functioning correctly at the time of this writing.)

31.7.03

Alone against Everyone

The article in Le Monde that got me started on Courbet and realism (see post on July 28) was number 8 in a 12-part series called "Seuls contre Tous," which started with Diogenes on July 19. Other articles in the series include Rabelais (July 21), Galileo (July 22), Spinoza (July 23), Olympe de Gouges (July 24), Schopenhauer (July 25), and Oscar Wilde (July 30). Today's installment is Wittgenstein, and the series will conclude with the next article. I will admit that I am an unrepentant francophile and here's one reason why: the cultural part of French society is broad enough for a newspaper to publish a series like this, which is not unusual.

One thing I admire about the French educational system is their focus on the study of philosophy (or philo, as they say slangily). It is still a major part of the baccalauréat, the monstrous exam French graduating seniors take every June. (This is yet another area of French life that was almost completely disrupted by strikes this year, not by the intermittents this time but the teachers' unions.) Le bac is such a ritual of French life that it is usually covered on the national news broadcasts in June, including interviews with students as they come out of the exam and discussion of the fairness and difficulty of the questions. This is probably why writers like Spinoza, Schopenhauer, and Wittgenstein make it into a series like the one in Le Monde. Allez, France!

For an opposing view, see today's post from the bilingual blog Merde in France, which describes the French intelligentsia as (I will leave this untranslated, for politeness's sake) "les milieux français artistico-culturels-foutage-de-gueule-en-tout-genres."

30.7.03

Performance Art in the Streets of Toulouse?

The author of the bilingual blog Blogorrhée has a post (June 30, 2003) with a photo of a mysterious demonstration at the Place du Capitole in Toulouse, where he lives. He has a theory that they may have been demonstrators from the union of the intermittents du spectacle, who have been causing trouble all over France this summer. These are people who meet a minimum requirement for part-time employment in the performing arts, which qualifies them for a sort of welfare benefit from the French government. They are worried that proposed budget cuts, particularly in the area of retirement and pensions, are going to affect their livelihood. So far this summer, they have shut down the prestigious arts festivals in Avignon, Aix-en-Provence, and La Rochelle, as well as blocking the route of the Tour de France and generally making a nuisance of themselves.

While this may well be the intermittents du spectacle, it also sounds like it may have been a flash mob or smart mob kinda thing. Cheesebikini? reported the first such flash mob in Europe that occurred in Rome on July 24 and another in Vienna on July 26. Apparently one is in the works for London. Was Toulouse next on the list? I would be interested to know more. By the way, Blogorrhée has included a link to Ionarts on his blog, so let me say, Mille fois merci de Washington!

UPDATE
SmartMobs has reported that this gathering was indeed the first flash mob in France.

Jacques Brel with Teenagers

The Source Theatre is hosting the 23rd Annual Washington Theatre Festival this August. One of the events on the Festival's schedule is the musical "Jacques Brel Is Alive and Well and Living in Paris." In the 1960s, Eric Blau and Mort Schuman translated some of their favorite Jacques Brel songs into English and produced a sort of revue. Purists may complain that this show doesn't have the same power as Brel's own performances, but it has been a vehicle to bring his work to English speakers. It certainly made a big impression on me when I saw the show for the first time as an undergraduate music major. At that point I had already been to France as an exchange student, and on the next trip I made to France, I bought every Brel recording I could find. Everyone was quick to point out that Brel was Belgian, so don't make that mistake as I did. In any case, French friends were very happy to take my interest in Brel's music and lead me to Edith Piaf, Juliette Gréco, Charles Aznavour, Michel Legrand, and Serge Gainsbourg. If you want to read about Jacques Brel (1929-1978) and look at some phenomenal pictures of him, go to the Fondation Jacques Brel Web site from Brussels. Also, Brussels is hosting a Brel festival this summer.

The show will be performed by the Musical Theatre Institute for Teens, under the auspices of Source Theatre's Theatre Lab. This is a group of talented high school students under the direction of Jane Pesci-Townsend, with the musical leadership of Frank Pesci and yours truly at the keyboard. Performances are at 8 pm from July 31 to August 2.

29.7.03

The Connection between Cities and Their Artists

A new series from BBC News called "Sense of the City" will explore this topic by inviting novelists who know the cities where they live well to write commentaries about fiction written and set there. Bapsi Sidhwa has published what I think is the first installment, a commentary on her home, Lahore, India. Once again, it appears that I am hardwired to the Zeitgeist, since I have been engaged in my reading project on Paris, where I lived, for over a year now. I don't know what the odds are, but I am guessing that Paris will appear in the BBC News series? Somehow, I don't think Washington, D.C., will. Hmm.

UPDATE
The first installment of "Sense of the City" was Barcelona by Matthew Tree (July 28). (By the way, if you want to see a fun movie set in Barcelona, I recommend L'auberge espagnole by Cédric Klapisch, which should still be in cinemas now, or Whit Stillman's Barcelona from 1994.) Since the article on Lahore cited above, there have also been Manila by F. Sionil Jose (July 30) and Lagos by Helon Habila (July 31). The online pages are transcripts of radio articles on the program "The World Today," which you can hear on BBC World Service. It will continue until August 8.

28.7.03

A Whole New Perspective on Realism

The example of a daring Realist painting by Gustave Courbet that I usually teach in my Humanities course is the famous Enterrement à Ornans (shown at the Salon in Paris in 1850). Because the students in this class are 10th graders, I obviously could not teach this much more daring Courbet painting, L'Origine du Monde (1866), which is not for the faint of heart, so be warned! As I learned in a fascinating article by Véronique Maurus (Courbet le peintre, in Le Monde's print edition of July 29, 2003), Courbet's fame around the world after his succès de scandale in Paris in the 1850s brought him a number of foreign commissions of landscapes, genre scenes, and nudes. The most provocative of these nude paintings was ordered by an Ottoman diplomat, Khalil Bey (1831-1879), who was an avid collector of erotic art. He also owned Ingres's Bain turc (1862, now in the Louvre) and Courbet's Les dormeuses (1866, now in the Musée du Petit Palais).

L'Origine du Monde was kept in private collections, most notably that of French psychoanalyst Jacques Lacan, who displayed it at his country home in Guitrancourt, behind a wooden cover with a sketch done by André Masson in 1955 that suggested the painting beneath it. The painting is now in the collection of the Musée d'Orsay in Paris. Apparently, although new to me, this painting is not a secret: Christine Orban has written a novel called J'étais l'origine du monde (Paris: Albin Michel, 2000), narrated by the woman who was possibly the model for this painting, Joanna Hiffernan (b. 1842/43), the Irish woman who left James Whistler to become Courbet's mistress. She is definitely shown, clothed, in Whistler's Symphony in White, No. 1: The White Girl (painted in Paris in 1861-62, shown here with a study he did; this painting is now in the collection of The National Gallery here in Washington) and Courbet's Jo, la Belle Irlandaise (1866, one of the four versions at the Met) and Les dormeuses (see link above).

When a Goya is no longer a Goya

What will happen to the teaching of art history if Goya did not actually paint the Black Paintings on the walls of his estate Quinta del Sordo? This is exactly what an archival historian in Madrid, Juan Jose Junquera, believes (see the article by Arthur Lubow in Sunday's New York Times Magazine but note that Junquera did not state his theory about the misattribution in his book The Black Paintings of Goya, which will be released in the United States in November). I have been showing Goya's Saturn and The Dog to my Humanities class every year since I began teaching it. Junquera believes that these paintings are not examples of how Goya, in his deaf old age, seemed to paint with an uncannily "modern" eye but may actually have been painted later in the 19th century after Goya was dead. The same thing happens when musicologists question the attribution of a favorite piece of music, but this mostly occurs with Renaissance composers, whose biographies often have more questions than answers. I am amazed that no one has challenged the documentation of these paintings until now. How many other misattributed great works are out there?

27.7.03

At the National Shrine Today

I realize that I should have posted this yesterday, in case anyone wanted to hear these pieces. If the choir is going to sing something of particular interest, I will try to post it here, in advance of the performance. Here was today's program: Giovanni da Palestrina, Missa Aeterna Christi Munera (Kyrie, Gloria, and Agnus); Palestrina, Sicut cervus; Jean Berger, The Eyes of All. I just learned that Jean Berger died in May of last year. He was a musicologist (doctoral education under musicological legend Heinrich Besseler at the University of Heidelberg) who worked on Baroque music as well as a composer.

Brand arts and tyrosemiophilia

At the intersection of advertising and the arts. According to a very funny post (July 22, 2003) in the French blog Blogorrhée, someone in Camembert, France, collects rare Camembert cheese boxes, makes special deluxe Camembert boxes, and even made a Camembert house of which part of the exterior looks like two huge Camembert wheels. This man happens to be the mayor of Camembert and he has spent a lot of time legally harassing an English woman in the town, who also wants to sell cheese. Someone has probably already thought of using stinky and sometimes colorful French cheeses as an artistic medium.

26.7.03

Tyler Green on Friday

Friday's post on Modern Art Notes was a hilarious account of a lecture at the Hirshhorn by Fred Tomaselli. Known for his use of pharmaceuticals as an artistic medium, Tomaselli also apparently samples his materials to get those wild and colorful patterns. Psychedelic. Wish I had been there.

As I read about this, I was reminded of some of Damien Hirst's drug cabinet installations from the drug-crazed 80s and 90s, like God (1989), Nothing Is a Problem for Me (1992), and We're Afraid of Nothing (1992). Ah, those were the days, although Hirst has still been working with this medium (see The Void, from 2000). Now I am also reminded of a drug sequence in the 1993 film Thirty-Two Short Films about Glenn Gould, showing pictures of the many drugs the hypochondriac pianist used regularly to quell his anxieties, complete with voiceover of their possible side effects and interactions.

Oh, yeah: Tyler also made what I think was the very first link to this little blog. It's scary how fast that was. I like reading Tyler's blog and his work for Artnet and others, so lots of thanks to him.

Latest reading

For about a year now, I have been reading all the novels I can find with storylines set in Paris. The most recent book in this unordered series is Alexandre Dumas's The Man in the Iron Mask. I am reading it in the old codex technology, but it is one of so many old books you can read online for free (alternate link for e-text). This book is a great read, and I am going to move on to Dumas's other historical novels relating to Paris after it. It's fascinating because other than the Middle Ages, the other period I study in music history is the 17th century, so this fictionalization of the ancien régime is quite interesting. Where history and fiction cross each other and all that.

The book that I read immediately before this was Charles Dickens's A Tale of Two Cities. This got me interested in the history of prisons in the city of Paris (Charles Darnay is imprisoned at La Force, a very interesting place historically). It's an entirely different view of the French monarchy from that in Dumas, too. In his preface, Dickens recommends Thomas Carlyle's The French Revolution, and that's how that book also made it onto my list. More about my Paris reading project later.

25.7.03

Vincenzo Ugolini

The National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception here in Washington has a professional choir, of which I am a member. (In one of the pictures on the Web site, you can see me, directly over the oboe player but very out of focus.) We perform at the high Mass on Sundays at noon, as well as for various special celebrations and concerts throughout the year, and we sing a lot of music. One piece that stands out among those we are rehearsing right now is a motet by Vincenzo Ugolini (d. 1638) titled Beata es virgo Maria. It is in 12 parts (3 choirs), one of several pieces in that arrangement of voices published by this composer, and it is quite enjoyable to sing.

Ugolini was choirmaster at the French church in Rome (S. Luigi dei Francesi) and had a brief stint directing the choir of the Cappella Giulia, one of the big musical organizations in the Vatican, during which he composed the 12-part pieces. Financial records indicate that three organs were used to perform them, with the regular choir augmented by a score of temporarily hired singers and separated into three groups. Take that, San Marco! For anyone who is interested, we will be performing this piece at the Shrine at noon Mass on Assumption (August 15), the same feast for which it was composed.

It is particularly thrilling for a musicologist who is also a singer to perform historical music in a way that recalls its origins. We are not going to use three organs in our performance, although there are three available at the Shrine, but the parallels are often striking. The Shrine is an immense place, with no fixed congregation, and the choir is accomplished and led by extremely talented people, which is about as close to San Pietro in the early 17th century as one could hope to get. There are other big churches in the same situation around the world. However, nothing was as close to touching history as the tour that the Shrine Choir made of Rome in 1993, including singing Palestrina's motet Tu es Petrus at the tomb of St. Peter and works by Giovanni Anerio (d. 1630) in the Lateran Basilica where he was choirmaster. I think musicians alone among artists enjoy this chance to relive and be involved in the creative gestures of the past in such an intimate way.

24.7.03

Gertrude Stein

Actually, what Duncan Phillips did in Washington in the 1920s (see preceding post) is what Gertrude Stein had been doing in Paris for the two decades prior. Interestingly, Stein's life and works are a hot topic this summer. For example, Janet Malcolm's article in The New Yorker (June 6, 2003) dealt with Stein's life in WWII France and how, as an avant-garde writer and a woman of Jewish descent, she managed to escape deportation. Matt Dellinger has also put together a guide to online materials about Gertrude Stein. The apartment where Stein lived with her companion, Alice Toklas, at 27, rue de Fleurus was never really opened to the public in the way the Phillips family opened their house. Even so, a lot of people viewed modern art in Paris in Stein's atelier when there was no other place for it to be shown.

I must be hardwired into the Zeitgeist because this spring I finally got around to reading the Autobiography of Alice B. Toklas, which is actually by Gertrude Stein and principally about Gertrude Stein. This is a fascinating book, but I was reminded by Janet Malcolm's article that it is not necessarily a "historical" book, since Stein's approach and style can hardly be called objective. In addition to a lot of talk about Picasso and Matisse and other artists and writers she knew, Stein does mention meeting Marsden Hartley, who came to Europe in 1912 after two successful shows at Alfred Stieglitz's gallery 291. He fell in with a group of German artists in Paris and eventually went to Berlin, where he met Kandinsky. World War I drove him back to the United States, where he was one of the first painters to bring the abstract style and the bright color approach of Kandinsky here. An excellent selection of these colorful and primitive-style paintings are in the Phillips show.

23.7.03

Marsden Hartley at the Phillips

On June 7, my wife and I took our young son to see the Marsden Hartley retrospective at The Phillips Collection. Because it was the weekend of the Dupont-Kalorama Museum Walk Weekend, admission was free. The baby cooperated beautifully and slept in his stroller for a couple hours while we enjoyed this extraordinary exhibit in the jewel of Washington museums. If you will be anywhere near downtown Washington, you should not miss this show, which will close on September 7. After that, you will have to go the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art in Kansas City, Missouri, where it will be shown from October 11 to January 4.

If you don't know the history of the museum, Duncan and Marjorie Phillips gave over part and then all of their magnificent home at 21st and Q Streets NW to what is now recognized as a first-rate collection of modern art and some of its historical influences. That may not sound all that incredible except that this happened in 1921, a date that leads the staff of the Phillips to acclaim it as "America's first museum of modern art." What I love about this museum is that its interior is like so many other old houses in the District of Columbia, just much more spacious and luxurious and with absolutely incredible art hung on the walls. I almost wish that it was still a private house and that a butler would bring you another cigar as you sit and look at the Picasso.

Very little of the permanent collection can be shown at the moment because the Hartley exhibit is taking up most of the rooms, so you won't see what is perhaps the most famous painting at the Phillips, Renoir's Déjeuner des Canotiers [Luncheon of the Boating Party]. Duncan Phillips purchased it from a French collector in 1923 for the then-astronomical sum of $125,000. This painting is lovingly copied by a character in Jean-Pierre Jeunet's film Le fabuleux destin d'Amélie Poulain, one of the most beautiful cinematic evocations of Paris ever made. This is an interesting point because the character in the movie almost certainly has never seen the actual painting, although it is not important to the story.

A curator with whom I spoke about the Hartley exhibit assured me that the next major show at the Phillips will be even more spectacular. "Surrealism and Modernism from the Collection of the Wadsworth Atheneum Museum of Art" will be on view from October 4 to January 18. Since I have never been to Hartford, I am looking forward to it.

My Latest Publication

An article that I wrote, "Ad imaginem suam: Regional Chant Variants and the Origins of the Jeu d'Adam,” has just been published [Comparative Drama 36 (2003): 359–90]. The Jeu d'Adam is the first known play in French, and it was probably created in the 12th century. The first part of this play is an interesting retelling of the story of the creation of Adam and Eve and their fall from grace. It featured the choral singing of seven Gregorian chants, responsories with Latin texts from the same story taken from the Divine Office. Based on a study of these seven responsories, I tried to prove something new about the possible origins of this play. Frighteningly enough, a friend has told me that musicological legend Joseph Kerman has mentioned reading my article and liking it. Of course, I know that you publish something to bring it under the eyes of those who would be interested, but it's still scary.

Ionarts Is Born

This was where it all began at Ionarts, on July 23, 2003. The post that was originally found in this spot has been relegated to the virtual ether.