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31.5.05

ArcoVoce at the Phillips Collection

The free Sunday concerts at the Phillips Collection are probably the most hampered of all the museum series because of its small—if exceedingly beautiful (with Milton Avery's Girl Writing [1942] on the wall behind the performers, especially)—music room. On this past Sunday, to close out this year's season, the crowd as usual overflowed into the galleries on the other side of the entrance to what used to be the Phillips' house, now the museum's old wing. ArcoVoce has become almost the resident ensemble at the Phillips, featured every year, and they came with a program called Three Centuries of Music from Central Europe. The idea, an interesting one musicologically, was to showcase ArcoVoce's unusual performing practice—they play on both Baroque and modern instruments, according to what period of music is on their stands—in one geographical area and thus discover what sounds in the Baroque period may have been in the collective unconscious of central European composers in the 19th and 20th centuries.

Other Review:

Joan Reinthaler, A Taste of Eastern Europe (Washington Post, May 31)


Available from Amazon:
Available at Amazon

ArcoVoce Chamber Ensemble
Violinists Nina Falk and Elizabeth Field brought out their modern instruments first, to give us seven of the Duets for Two Violins by Béla Bartók. These character miniatures are excellent examples of how Bartók's study of folk melody informed his compositions, providing a sturdy melos—a collection of types rather than actual tunes, for the most part—to be combined with modern contrapuntal and dissonant structures. As played so well here, I would much rather listen to Bartók's folk-inspired idiom than, say, that of Mark O'Connor. (I did not enjoy hearing an O'Connor piece played by members of the Beaux Arts Trio last December, and I am not happy about having to share an NSO program between O'Connor and Nadja Salerno-Sonnenberg later in June. Washington listeners apparently can't get enough of his music, as he will be coming back next May, with his Appalachia Waltz Trio, to the George Mason University Center for the Arts.)

The players then took us through a quick tour of Baroque Poland, where as keyboard player Steven Silverman explained in his brief introductory comments, composers were deeply influenced by styles of Italian music. (You can find out a lot more about early music in Poland at the Web site of Adam Jarczyk and Bogusław Krawczyk, Completorium.) Mr. Silverman set the tone with a Praeludium by Jan Podbielski (c. 1680–1730), which with its short improvisatory sections sounded like it could indeed have been composed by a contemporary of J. S. Bach. We then went backward to the early 17th century for the Concerto Primo by Adam Jarzębski (c. 1590–1649)—who worked in Berlin and visited Italy—in which Ms. Field and cellist Douglas McNames had a dialogue, with keyboard assistance from Mr. Silverman at the harpsichord. A presumably similar Jarzębski piece, but with two violin parts, Bentrovata (Concerto a 3), was removed from the program, or as Silverman put it in his opening remarks, it had "become perduta."

Two other instrumental selections showed the influence of Monteverdi on these Polish composers, most of whom had worked in Italy for at least part of their careers. The Canzona Seconda a 2 by 17th-century composer Marcin Mielczewski is a sort of trio sonata, with cello and keyboard sharing a simpler continuo line and the violins in imitation, temporally separated like Venetian cori spezzati. The best of the instrumental pieces was the Canon: Sonata Prima detta la Monteverdi by Giovanni Buonamente (c. 1580–1642), an Italian composer who probably worked with Monteverdi in Mantua. The style was the same, featuring Ms. Falk and Ms. Field in stunning sequential imitation. (Incidentally, Buonamente later worked in Vienna and apparently got to Prague once, slim justification for his inclusion in this program. As far as I have read in the musicological literature, Buonamente never made it to Poland, and certainly did not spend "much of his career in Poland" as the Post reviewer claims in her review. Luca Marenzio worked in Poland, and so did Tarquinio Merula, with whom Buonamente worked in Bergamo. Peter Allsop, whom I met in Manchester last summer, has just published a new book on Buonamente, and he does not mention a sojourn in Poland. Buonamente's music, however, was certainly known and played in Poland.)

The real find of the Baroque portion of the program was the solo motet Jesu spes mea by Stanisław Szarzyński, which I wish I had known about before we made the recording in Rome, as it would have been a great piece with which to honor the former Pontiff. The Latin text is a series of short exclamations, sometimes echoing prayers addressed to the Virgin Mary, which are answered by the two violins. Something about the text made me think this highly personal text was meant to be in the voice of the Virgin Mary speaking to her son, but that is only speculation. Mr. Silverman mentioned that the piece quotes from a Polish religious song, which turns out to be Przez czyściowe upalenia, and it is found in both the voice and violin parts. It's a gorgeous piece, the only one on the program to feature the entire ensemble together, and it was a good showcase for the pure silvery voice of soprano Rosa Lamoreaux. ArcoVoce's Baroque instrument playing may not be the best I have heard, but all of the advantages of the strings especially were evident in the hands of these skilled performers.

In the second half, the performers brought us back to the 19th century, with the piano and their modern string instruments. First, Ms. Lamoreaux gave a charming performance of four of Chopin's few songs (from Piesni i piosnki, or Polish Songs, op. 74). As explained before the performance, Chopin wrote his songs not for the concert stage but for skilled amateurs to sing and play at home. (Liszt did transcribe some of them in concert versions.) They set simple poems in Polish, a language with a bewildering number of consonants, which Ms. Lamoreaux seemed to have well in hand. (What the hell would I know? I can only say, from having recorded the Polish hymn Serdeczna Matko for the Rome recording, that you wonder sometimes if the music needs twice as many notes as you have for all those consonants.) The poetry and folk song of his native Poland were often a consolation to Chopin, so it is touching to see the sorts of poetry he chose for these intimate songs. Schumann wrote that the poetry of Adam Mickiewicz gave Chopin the rhythms for parts of his ballades, although I don't know if anyone can really say exactly which poems.

The final selection took us at last to Bohemia, for Dvořák's Piano Quartet in E-Flat, op. 87, with the instrumentalists of ArcoVoce (Ms. Falk on her modern viola). Here, Mr. McNames seemed most at home, producing a gorgeously rich tone in the Romantic work. Mr. Silverman's observations at the beginning of the concert held true, that only the later selections sound particularly Polish, Hungarian, or Czech. Listening to the Dvořák (and remembering the Bartók earlier in the program—less so, the Chopin) after the Baroque selections, I realized again just how much of a leap in development those nationalistic composers made by breaking with not only how they were trained but with centuries of compositional reliance on the models of music from other countries.

ArcoVoce will perform again in Washington this fall, on October 30 at the National Gallery of Art.

La Dessay Sings Again

Other Articles:

Eric Dahan, «Lasse des rôles de vierge effarouchée» (Libération, May 27)

Hélène Jarry, « Ma voix, un instrument parmi d’autres » (L'Humanité, May 28)
After a terrible series of vocal problems and surgeries, my favorite French soprano, Natalie Dessay, has returned to singing. On May 28, she performed in the opening concert of the Festival de Saint-Denis, in the famous abbey basilica. Marie-Aude Roux has the details in her review (Avec "La Création" de Haydn, Natalie Dessay retrouve sa voix, May 30) for Le Monde (my translation):
There are evenings when music turns for a long time in the air even after its sounds have fallen silent. This was true of Haydn's Creation, performed on Saturday, May 28, in the Basilica of the kings of France for the opening of the Festival de Saint-Denis. This work, given in honor of the anniversary of the visit of the late John Paul II to Saint-Denis, also consecrated, for fans of singing, the return of soprano Natalie Dessay after long months of vocal re-education. The singer had undergone, in November 2004, the removal of a polyp on her right set of vocal cords, two years and four months after a prior surgery for a pseudocyst on her left set. Her return to the stage in spring 2003 was soon cut short: beginning in October, she had cancelled all appearances at the Opéra Bastille, where she was supposed to sing Zerbinette in Richard Strauss's Ariadne auf Naxos.

Natalie Dessay is making this second vocal return in a more gradual way, in the light of music full of ideas of brotherhood and Masonic ideals, next to her husband, Laurent Naouri, who was also her Adam in the earthly paradise. It was moving to see her again singing as the archangel Gabriel, to hear once again her clear and warm tone, to savor her beautiful musical sense, and that ease of manner that belongs only to her. The voice is there, no doubt. Even if we must wait, to hear again the flamboyant coloratura and the born actress, for the major recital that she will give on July 7 at the Théâtre des Champs-Elysées, with its program of Rossini, Bellini, and Donizetti.
Performing with her were the Ensemble Orchestral de Paris, under the baton of John Nelson, who "audaciously knelt down on the ground at the moment of a choral 'Glory to God', which was, it's true, particularly elevated by the excellent Collegium Vocale Gent," the Belgian chorus founded by Philippe Herreweghe in 1970. Of course, I'll bring you some reviews of La Dessay's recital in July. According to this Web site, she will sing Pamina for the first time at the Sante Fe Festival in 2006 with Toby Spence as Tamino, and Juliette in Gounod's Roméo et Juliette at the Met next season.

I should add that Dessay had already given performances before this, but in Montreal, not in France. I have found reviews of the benefit concert she sang for the Opéra de Montréal on May 8.

Hans Christian Andersen Bicentenary

I hadn't heard about it before this, but Danish fairytale writer Hans Christian Andersen was born 200 years ago on April 2. According to this article (Andersen bicentenary chief quits, May 30) from BBC News, the celebrations of that event have been marred by controversy. A concert on April 2 has brought enough negative attention to the festival's organizer that he had to resign:

Anker Boye has announced his resignation after a showpiece event ran up losses of millions of dollars. The televised extravaganza on 2 April was intended to raise money for literacy programmes in the Third World. Mr Boye was heavily criticised for hiring the singer Tina Turner, who was paid nearly $1m (£0.5m) for two songs. Critics said the American singer had no obvious link with either Denmark or Hans Christian Andersen, the author famous for fairytales like the Ugly Duckling and the Emperor's New Clothes.
Mr. Boye is also the mayor of the city of Odense, where Andersen was born and a charming place where Mrs. Ionarts and I spent some time with friends several years ago. Apparently, one of the songs Tina Turner sang was "Simply the Best," which she dedicated to Andersen (I bet an alert reader can come up with a good new verse of text for that song, appropriate to Hans Christian Andersen). Isabel Allende, Roger Moore, and Harry Belafonte also participated. Although the Danes are apparently sick and tired of hearing about him, you can also go to the Hans Christian Andersen Center in Odense for some more info.

Classical Month in Washington: June

Classical Month in Washington is a monthly feature that appears on the first of the month. If there are concerts you would like to see included on our schedule, send your suggestions by e-mail (praecentor at yahoo dot com). Happy listening!

Wednesday, June 1, 7:30 pm; Saturday, June 4, 2 pm
Camille Saint-Saëns, Samson et Dalila (starring Carl Tanner and Olga Borodina)
Washington National Opera, Kennedy Center Opera House
See the review by Charles T. Downey and Jens F. Laurson (Ionarts, May 18)

Thursday, June 2, 7 pm; Friday, June 3, 8 pm; Saturday, June 4, 8 pm
National Symphony Orchestra, with violinist Frank Peter Zimmermann (Britten, Violin Concerto No. 1; Shostakovich, Symphony No. 11)
Kennedy Center Concert Hall

Friday, June 3, 7:30 pm (preconcert lecture by Joseph McLellan at 6:30 pm)
Hesperus, Spain and the New World (Washington Early Music Festival)
St. Mark's Episcopal Church (3rd and A Streets SE)

Saturday, June 4, 10:00 am to 5:00 pm
Workshop for Voices and Instruments: Music of Philippe Rogier
Directed by Philip Cafe, with Piffaro and Michael Holmes (Washington Early Music Festival)
St. James Episcopal Church (222 8th Street NE)

Saturday, June 4, 2 pm
Camille Saint-Saëns, Samson et Dalila (starring Carl Tanner and Olga Borodina)
Washington National Opera, Kennedy Center Opera House
See the review by Charles T. Downey and Jens F. Laurson (Ionarts, May 18)

Saturday, June 4, 7:30 pm
Chantry and Piffaro, Madre di Dio (Guerrero, Gombert, Victoria) (Washington Early Music Festival)
St. Mary Mother of God Catholic Church (727 5th Street NW)

Saturday, June 4, 7:30 pm
Washington Men's Camerata: Down by the Salley Gardens
Kennedy Center, Terrace Theater

Sunday, June 5, 3 pm
The Baltimore Consort, ¡Cancionero! (Romances, villancicos, and improvisations of Spain, circa 1500) (Washington Early Music Festival)
St. Mary Mother of God Catholic Church (727 5th Street NW)

Sunday, June 5, 3 pm
15th Annual Chamber Music Concert (music by women composers)
National Museum of Women in the Arts (1250 New York Avenue NW)

Sunday, June 5, 6 pm
Verdi, Luisa Miller (Washington Concert Opera)
Lisner Auditorium

Sunday, June 5, 6:30 pm
National Gallery Orchestra (Emil de Cou, guest conductor)
Music by Debussy, Doppler, and Beethoven
National Gallery of Art

Thursday, June 9, 7 pm; Friday, June 10, 7 pm; Saturday, June 11, 7 pm
National Symphony Orchestra Composer Portraits - Johannes Brahms (first symphony)
Kennedy Center Concert Hall

Thursday, June 9, 7 pm
Mia Karlsson, soprano, with Jonas Olsson, piano
"Jenny Lind" Scholarship Winner Concert and Reception
Corcoran Gallery of Art

Thursday, June 9, 8 pm
Sequeira Costa, piano (Embassy Series)
Portuguese Ambassador's Residence (2125 Kalorama Road NW)

Friday, June 10, 7:30 pm
Camerata Trajectina, The Perfect and Well-Equipped Ship (Washington Early Music Festival)
St. Joseph's on Capitol Hill (Second and C Streets NE)

Friday, June 10, 7:30 pm
The Kreeger Museum June Chamber Festival: American Chamber Players (Miles Hoffman, artistic director)
The Kreeger Museum (2401 Foxhall Road)

Friday, June 10, 7:30 pm; Saturday, June 11, 5 pm
French-American Contemporary Music Festival
Charles Rosen (piano), composer Pascal Dusapin, Diotima String Quartet
La Maison Française (4101 Reservoir Road NW)

Saturday, June 11, 7:30 pm
Palestrina Choir, A Spaniard in Rome: Sacred Music of Tomás Luis de Victoria (Washington Early Music Festival)
St. Joseph's on Capitol Hill (Second and C Streets NE)

Saturday, June 11, 7:30 pm
In His Temple: Music of Edward Elgar
Choir of St. Paul's, directed by Graham Elliott with Neil Weston, organ
St. Paul's Episcopal Church, Rock Creek Parish
Rock Creek Festival

Sunday, June 12, 3 pm
Modern Musick (John Moran and Risa Browder, directors), 'Una Tarde en la Casa de la Duquesa de Benavente-Osuna' (Luigi Boccherini program) (Washington Early Music Festival)
St. Mary Mother of God Catholic Church (727 5th Street NW)

Sunday, June 12, 4 pm
Festival Evensong (music by William McKie, David Hogan, Hubert Parry)
St. Paul's Episcopal Church, Rock Creek Parish
Rock Creek Festival

Sunday, June 12, 6:30 pm
Carlos César Rodríguez, pianist (Guastavino, Albéniz, Debussy, and Balakirev)
National Gallery of Art

Monday, June 13, 2:30 pm
Workshop on Baroque Dance, directed by Cheryl Stafford
St. Paul's Episcopal Church (St Paul's Center), Rock Creek Parish
Rock Creek Festival

Monday, June 13, 7:30 pm
Con Ecos de Esplendor: Music of 16th & 17th century Spain
Barbara Hollinshead (mezzo-soprano), Howard Bass (lute), Douglas Wolters (viols), Cheryl Stafford (dance), Constance Whiteside (harp), Atsuko Ikedo (harpsichord)
St. Paul's Episcopal Church, Rock Creek Parish
Rock Creek Festival

Monday, June 13, 10 pm
The Countertop Quartet: Baroque music for high voices
St. Paul's Episcopal Church, Rock Creek Parish
Rock Creek Festival

Tuesday, June 14, throughout the afternoon
Open rehearsals with composer John Rutter
St. Paul's Episcopal Church (Great Hall), Rock Creek Parish
Rock Creek Festival

Tuesday, June 13, 7:30 pm
John Rutter in Concert (music of Rutter and Vivaldi)
Choir and Orchestra of Columbia Union College, and the Choir of St. Paul's
St. Paul's Episcopal Church (Great Hall), Rock Creek Parish
Rock Creek Festival

Tuesday, June 14, 7:30 pm
The Kreeger Museum June Chamber Festival: American Chamber Players (Miles Hoffman, artistic director)
The Kreeger Museum (2401 Foxhall Road)

Wednesday, June 15, 7:30 pm
Organ Recital: John Scott (St Thomas, Fifth Avenue, New York)
St. Paul's Episcopal Church, Rock Creek Parish
Rock Creek Festival

Wednesday, June 15, 7:30 pm; Friday, June 17, 7:30 pm; Sunday, June 19, 2:30 pm
Massenet, Cendrillon
Summer Opera Theatre Company

Thursday, June 16, 7 pm; Friday, June 17, 8 pm; Saturday, June 18, 8 pm
National Symphony Orchestra with violinists Mark O'Connor and Nadja Salerno-Sonnenberg
Kennedy Center Concert Hall

Thursday, June 16, 7:30 pm
Piano Concert: Students and Faculty, The Duke Ellington School of the Arts
St. Paul's Episcopal Church (Great Hall), Rock Creek Parish
Rock Creek Festival

Friday, June 17, 7:30 pm
Viola da gamba recital with Jérôme Hantaï and Kaori Uemura
Corcoran Gallery of Art (sponsored by La Maison Française)

Friday, June 17, 7:30 pm
The Kreeger Museum June Chamber Festival: American Chamber Players (Miles Hoffman, artistic director)
The Kreeger Museum (2401 Foxhall Road)

Friday, June 17, 7:30 pm
Czech Festival Recital: Eva Urbanová (soprano), Pavel Sporcl (violin), Petr Jirikovsky (piano), David Švec (piano) in selections by Czech composers
Kennedy Center Terrace Theater

Saturday, June 18, 10 am to 8 pm; Sunday, June 19, 12 to 7 pm
Summer Nights Festival (concerts by the National Symphony Orchestra's string quartet)
Opera Vivente will perform on Saturday, at 1, 2:30, and 4 pm; and Sunday, at 1:30, 3, and 4:30pm; program includes Stravinsky's Renard and arias by Rachmaninov and Rimsky-Korsakov)
Hillwood Museum and Gardens

Saturday, June 18, 7:30 pm
The Countertop Quartet, Early Spanish Music for High Voices (Victoria, Morales, Guerrero, Marín) (Washington Early Music Festival)
Church of the Epiphany (1317 G Street NW)

Sunday, June 19, 2 pm; Sunday, June 26, 2 pm
Donizetti, Mary Stuart (Maria Stuarda, sung in English)
Debra Lawrence, soprano (Mary Stuart); John Day, tenor (Earl of Leicester)
Opera Bel Canto (Mount Vernon Place, 900 Massachusetts Avenue NW)

Sunday, June 19, 6:30 pm
The National Gallery Chamber Players String Quartet (Mozart, Kivrak, and Dvořák)
National Gallery of Art

Tuesday, June 21, 7:30 pm
Suspicious Cheese Lords, The Whole Enchilada (Iberian and colonial music) (Washington Early Music Festival)
The Franciscan Monastery (14th and Quincy Streets NE)

Wednesday, June 22 to Sunday, June 26
Don Quixote (choreography by George Balanchine)
Suzanne Farrell Ballet
Kennedy Center
Also, there is a lecture on this ballet, by Suzanne Carbonneau, in the Kennedy Center Rehearsal Room (Monday, June 20, 6 pm)

Wednesday, June 22, 12 noon
Carmina, with Keith S. Reas, organ, Ensalada Español (Vasques, Ximino, Flecha, Victoria, Aguilera, and Bruno) (Washington Early Music Festival)
St. Mark's Episcopal Church (3rd and A Streets SE)

Wednesday, June 22, 7:30 pm
I Bambini di Parnasso, Swan Song: The last gasp of Iberian early music (Washington Early Music Festival)
St. Mark's Episcopal Church (3rd and A Streets SE)

Thursday, June 23, 12 noon
Jonathan Hudson (countertenor), Atsuko Ikeda (harpsichord), and Constance Whiteside (Baroque harp), Color de Vida (music from Renaissance and Baroque Spain) (Washington Early Music Festival)
St. Mark's Episcopal Church (3rd and A Streets SE)

Thursday, June 23, 7:30 pm
Cordelion (Keith Reas, director) with La Rocinante (Christof Richter, director), Sacred Sounds of New Spain (Juan Gutiérrez de Padilla, Manuel de Sumaya, Ignacio de Jerusalem, and others) (Washington Early Music Festival)
St. Mark's Episcopal Church (3rd and A Streets SE)

Friday, June 24, 12 noon
Elizabeth Baber (soprano) and Charles Weaver (lute, vihuela), Con dulces cantos y modos (music from Spain's Golden Age) (Washington Early Music Festival)
St. Mark's Episcopal Church (3rd and A Streets SE)

Friday, June 24, 1:30 to 4:30 pm
Early Dance Workshop with The Court Dancers (Cheryl Stafford, director) (Washington Early Music Festival)
St. Mark's Episcopal Church (3rd and A Streets SE)

Friday, June 24, 7:30 pm
The Court Dancers (Cheryl Stafford, director) and Renaissonics (John Tyson, director), The Graces of Love (Washington Early Music Festival)
St. Mark's Episcopal Church (3rd and A Streets SE)

Friday, June 24, 7 to 11 pm
Fête de la Musique, featuring guest artists "Les Primitifs du Futur"
La Maison Française (4101 Reservoir Road NW)

Friday, June 24, 8:15 pm
National Symphony Orchestra, Gershwin, Bernstein, and Barber: "American Originals"
With Kishna Davis (soprano), Arthur Woodley (baritone), and The Choral Arts Society of Washington
Wolf Trap (Filene Center)

Saturday, June 25, 4 pm
Barbara Hollinshead (mezzo-soprano) and Howard Bass (lute), Music of Renaissance Spain and the Sephardic Jews (Washington Early Music Festival)
St. Mark's Episcopal Church (3rd and A Streets SE)

Saturday, June 25, 7:30 pm
Armonia Nova (Constance Whiteside, director), La Musica de los Orbes (Washington Early Music Festival)
St. Mark's Episcopal Church (3rd and A Streets SE)

Saturday, June 25, 7:30 pm
The Korea Times: Jeanie Jieun Lee, piano
Kennedy Center Terrace Theater

Saturday June 25, 8 pm
The Latest Word (program of American song, sopranos Evelyn Pollock and Marjorie Owens, Wolf Trap Opera Company)
The Barns at Wolf Trap (Vienna, Va.)

Saturday, June 25, 8:15 pm
National Symphony Orchestra, Mendelssohn, Liszt, and Mahler: "Romantic Titans" (Mahler, 1st symphony)
With Mûza Rubackyte, piano (Liszt, first piano concerto)
Wolf Trap (Filene Center)

Sunday, June 26, 3 pm
Trefoil (Drew Minter, Mark Rimple, and Marcia Young), In the Chamber of the Harpers: Music in Late Medieval Spain (Washington Early Music Festival)
St. Mark's Episcopal Church (3rd and A Streets SE)

Sunday, June 26, 6:30 pm
National Gallery Vocal Arts Ensemble (Rosa Lamoreaux, artistic director)
Renaissance a cappella choral music
National Gallery of Art

——» Go to Classical Month in Washington: May.

Dip Your Ears, No. 30b (HIP Mendelssohn Quartets)

available at AmazonF.Mendelssohn, String Quartets, v.3,
Eroica Quartet
Harmonia Mundi




Hardly a month goes by without a new recording of Mendelssohn quartets being on my desk for review. (Next month it will be the Pacifica Quartet's complete set, and some weeks ago it was the Emerson.) Right off the bat, you can hear the differences in tone from the Eroica Quartet and most of the (numerous) competition. Strident, dark, metallic almost—far from soft or round, it is an exciting tone, if you want a change from the more common warmth in these works. The playing is generally very good, but not as polished in op. 44, no. 3, as I'd expect from a studio recording (no such complaints as regards op. 80 and the pieces for string quartet op. 81). If you like the particular, "Romantic period performance style" of the quartet and how it has been recorded (perhaps you have heard the previous two installments of their now complete cycle), you will find it a splendid finale. (Their practices, utilizing fingering of Mendelssohn's time, include plenty of portamento, ferocious bowstrokes, and little continuous vibrato.) If you like it just a tad more conventional, I don't see this disc high up on your wish list, especially not at full price when the complete and dependable Ysaÿe cycle barely costs more.

Classical Week in Washington (5/30)

Classical Week in Washington is a weekly feature that appears on Mondays. If there are concerts you would like to see included on our schedule, send your suggestions by e-mail (praecentor at yahoo dot com). Plan your concert schedule for the entire month of June with our Classical Month in Washington (June).

Tuesday, May 31, 7:30 pm (final performance)
Giacomo Puccini, Tosca
See the review by Jens F. Laurson and Charles T. Downey (Ionarts, May 15)

Wednesday, June 1, 7:30 pm; Saturday, June 4, 2 pm
Camille Saint-Saëns, Samson et Dalila (starring Carl Tanner and Olga Borodina)
Washington National Opera, Kennedy Center Opera House
See the review by Charles T. Downey and Jens F. Laurson (Ionarts, May 18)

Thursday, June 2, 7 pm; Friday, June 3, 8 pm; Saturday, June 4, 8 pm
National Symphony Orchestra, with violinist Frank Peter Zimmermann (Britten, Violin Concerto No. 1; Shostakovich, Symphony No. 11)
Kennedy Center Concert Hall
See the review by Jens F. Laurson (Ionarts, June 3)

Friday, June 3, 7:30 pm (preconcert lecture by Joseph McLellan at 6:30 pm)
Hesperus, Spain and the New World (Washington Early Music Festival)
St. Mark's Episcopal Church (3rd and A Streets SE)
See the review by Charles T. Downey (Ionarts, June 4)

Saturday, June 4, 10:00 am to 5:00 pm
Workshop for Voices and Instruments: Music of Philippe Rogier
Directed by Philip Cave, with Piffaro and Michael Holmes (Washington Early Music Festival)
St. James Episcopal Church (222 8th Street NE)

Saturday, June 4, 2 pm
Camille Saint-Saëns, Samson et Dalila (starring Carl Tanner and Olga Borodina)
Washington National Opera, Kennedy Center Opera House
See the review by Charles T. Downey and Jens F. Laurson (Ionarts, May 18)

Saturday, June 4, 2 pm
Kamehameha Schools Children's Chorus (from Honolulu), traditional Hawaiian songs
National Museum of the American Indian

Saturday, June 4, 7:30 pm
Chantry and Piffaro, Madre di Dio (Guerrero, Gombert, Victoria) (Washington Early Music Festival)
St. Mary Mother of God Catholic Church (727 5th Street NW)
See the review by Charles T. Downey (Ionarts, June 5)

Saturday, June 4, 7:30 pm
Washington Men's Camerata: Down by the Salley Gardens
Kennedy Center, Terrace Theater

Saturday, June 4, 8 pm
Gay Men's Chorus of Washington, NakedMan (song cycle, wtih the Ft. Lauderdale Gay Men's Chorus)
Lisner Auditorium

Saturday, June 4, 8 pm
Baltimore Symphony Orchestra with Bruno Leonardo Gelber, piano (Mendessohn, The Hebrides; Mozart, Piano Concerto No. 23, K. 488; Elgar, Enigma Variations)
Music Center at Strathmore
See the review by Jens F. Laurson (Ionarts, June 11)

Sunday, June 5, 3 pm
The Baltimore Consort, ¡Cancionero! (Romances, villancicos, and improvisations of Spain, circa 1500) (Washington Early Music Festival)
St. Mary Mother of God Catholic Church (727 5th Street NW)
See the review by Charles T. Downey (Ionarts, June 6)

Sunday, June 5, 3 pm
15th Annual Chamber Music Concert (music by women composers)
National Museum of Women in the Arts (1250 New York Avenue NW)

Sunday, June 5, 6 pm
Verdi, Luisa Miller (Washington Concert Opera)
Lisner Auditorium
See the reviews by Charles T. Downey (Ionarts, June 9) and Jens F. Laurson (Ionarts, June 10)

Sunday, June 5, 6:30 pm
National Gallery Orchestra (Emil de Cou, guest conductor)
Music by Debussy, Doppler, and Beethoven
National Gallery of Art

——» Go to last week's schedule, for the week of May 23.

30.5.05

Picasso's Girls from Arles

An article (Arlésiennes de Picasso en Arles, May 27) from France 2 Cultural News announced that the Fondation Vincent van Gogh in Arles will open a special exhibit this summer—Pablo Picasso, portraits d'Arlésiennes (1912-1958) (.PDF), from July 7 to October 17—bringing together 12 of the arlésienne portraits made by Pablo Picasso (six paintings, three drawings, and three lithographs), between 1912 and 1958, now scattered around the world (my translation and links added):

Upon arriving in Provence in 1912, Picasso painted his first Arlésienne in Sorgues (Vaucluse), in the middle of the Cubist period. He then began a series of portraits of this emblatic figure of Provence, work that was interrupted during the war years. The artist returned to the Arlésienne in 1958, painting her in the person of Jacqueline, his companion at the time.
The exhibition will feature Picasso alongside works by other artists, including Gauguin and Monticelli, and photographs by Picasso's friends Man Ray, Lee Miller, Dora Maar, Lucien Clergue, and André Villers. I have briefly mentioned the theme of the arlésienne, or girl from Arles, before, in a post a long time ago about an archeological discovery in Arles:
The Arlesian woman mentioned at the beginning of the article is a reference to a famous story by Alfred Daudet (1840–1897) called L'Arlésienne, in the collection Lettres de mon moulin (.PDF, 1866), in which a young man from the countryside pines after a beautiful but ultimately unfaithful woman from Arles. Unable to marry her and desperately unhappy, the young man throws himself from the top window of his house and dies. The Arlesian woman herself never appears in the story, although she is constantly discussed. Daudet adapted the story as a play in 1872, for which composer Georges Bizet (1838–1875) wrote some charming incidental music (collected into two suites). The story was also set as an opera (L'Arlesiana) by Francesco Cilea with a libretto by Leopoldo Marenco, premiered in Milan in 1897 with a young tenor named Enrico Caruso as Federico.
The arlésienne is in some ways a metaphor for the beautiful woman who cannot remain faithful to one man. Why that was fascinating to Picasso is anyone's guess. A search of Enrique Mellen's incredible On-Line Picasso Project also revealed another work with that word in the title, a 1969 ink drawing. Van Gogh's famous portrait of Madame Joseph-Michel Ginoux, in the Met, shows the basic characteristics of the traditional Arles dress that Picasso also depicts, surreally, especially the headdress, which Picasso typically renders like an axe planted firmly in the woman's skull.

Opera on DVD: Vivaldi's Orlando furioso

Available from Amazon:
Available at Amazon
Antonio Vivaldi, Orlando furioso, Marilyn Horne, Susan Patterson, Kathleen Kuhlmann, San Francisco Opera (1990)
I've been steadily working my way through the operas on DVD in my Netflix queue (see previous posts on this topic here, here, here, and here). We are still really discovering the operas of Vivaldi, so I was happy to see the staged production of that composer's Orlando furioso from San Francisco Opera. My dissertation was a comparison of court ballets and operas in France derived from four stories taken from Ariosto and Tasso, so I find any opera related to those epics interesting by default. (Marion Lignana Rosenberg's essay on Orlando furioso for Playbill is a great introduction to the epic.) However, what this opera does to Ariosto is try to compress all of the major storylines and characters into far too short a space. (Having looked at a lot of musical works derived from Ariosto and Tasso, I think that one narrative thread of these complicated epics is more than enough material for an opera libretto.) Let me not mince words: the libretto of this opera is a mishmash, a pathetic frame on which to hang some glorious arias.

The singing in this production is definitely worth suffering through the libretto, and to produce this opera well, you need a cast with no weak links. This one is excellent, beginning with the incomparible Marilyn Horne in the title role (created by the contralto Lucia Lancetti, one of the first great trouser-role specialists in Venice in the 18th century). Horne had such incredible resonance in her low range, combined with nearly flawless agility, all of which she had to use to navigate her maze of melismatic arias. (As I learned from the invaluable L'Opéra Baroque Web page of Jean-Claude Brenac, Marilyn Horne's history with this role goes back to the first modern revival of the opera, at Verona's Teatro Filarmonico in June 1978, directed by Claudio Scimone and with James Bowman in the alto castrato role of Ruggiero. More or less the same production was revived in 1981 in Paris for the Festival de France.) Musically, you will have no complaints with the entire cast. The staging was, I thought, somewhat boring for this sort of over-the-top piece, although I enjoyed the dancers who accompanied Alcina (Kathleen Kuhlmann), costumed as marble statues who magically come to life (when I first saw them I thought they were awfully lifelike). Not having heard the recent Naive recording of this opera, I can't tell you how it stacks up, but I have read good things.

Ruth Laredo Dies at 67

I have just learned that concert pianist Ruth Laredo, who had become a renowned interpreter of Scriabin's music, died suddenly on May 25. As it turns out, I feel that much more fortunate to have heard her play last year at the National Gallery of Art, a performance that I reviewed here on March 30, 2004 (and, yes, she did play Scriabin that evening, the "Trill" sonata). I was shocked to learn the details of what led to her death:

American pianist Ruth Laredo, who was known for groundbreaking recordings of the complete works of Scriabin and Rachmaninoff, died in her sleep Wednesday night at her New York City apartment. She was 67. The cause of death was ovarian cancer, according to her sister, Rayna Kogan, West Bloomfield, Mich. Laredo had been living with the disease for four years but was performing until several weeks ago. Her last appearance was May 6 at New York's Metropolitan Museum of Art in her popular, long-running performance-lecture series, "Concerts With Commentary."
I was shocked because that means that when I saw here last year, she was playing in the advanced stages of ovarian cancer. As far as I know, that concert was her last appearance in the Washington area. (Strangely, there was no mention of that in the obituary in the Washington Post, by Matt Schudel on May 28. The Post did not review that concert, by the way.)

29.5.05

New Opera Houses

Not to throw fuel on the fire, but I'm going to say something more about architecture. Following up on the Le Corbusier exchanges with Fred Himebaugh, David Sucher, and A. C. Douglas, I made a humorous suggestion for a present to get them, which provoked a "rant" (his word) from David Sucher at City Comforts. David presented again his thoughts on Le Corbusier's Ronchamp chapel:

But my point is that so much of our reaction to famous buildings (and other famous things, too, of course) stems from a mediated view of them, from knowing who designed it and therefore being primed to be impressed. I believe that this Chapel has facades so ugly that if you saw them in media, you would be turned off...so you rarely get to see them. The post was an attempt to deal -- not with Le Corbusier -- but with the formation of public opinion in which so-called connoiseurship -- the sort of thing you see at certain well-informed but snobbish blogs, in fact -- preempts your own reaction.
Copenhagen Opera HouseI'm not sure if I am one of those certain blogs, but I just wanted to say again that I meant my gift suggestion post only as a joke. David is right about Le Corbusier being known mostly by a reputation based largely on a few approved images. His buildings are, for the most part, somewhat off the beaten path, which may explain why I haven't seen any of them in person. David has some valid and interesting ideas about public architecture, too, so I wonder what he might think about the trend to build new modernist opera houses these days. (Concert halls and museums, too, but that's too much to think about right now.)

I didn't comment on Henning Larsen's new opera house in Copenhagen when it opened, but the pictures look nice (again, I am proving David's point). Lucky Alex Ross was there earlier this year, to review Poul Ruders's opera Kafka's Trial, and gave us this photodiary in addition to his review (Kafka Sings, New Yorker, March 28). There are some more pictures here. An excellent article (High Drama at New Danish Opera House, January 15) by Kirsten Grieshaber ran in the New York Times around the time of the opening, recounting the architect's opposition to the finished version of Denmark's first opera house, because the donor insisted on some changes to his design. (The metal grid that was added to Larsen's all-glass plan for the façade was compared by the Danish newspaper Politiken to the grille of a 1955 Pontiac.)

On the evening news from France 2 the other day, I saw a little piece on the new opera house in Beijing. The architect is Paul Andreu, who will unfortunately probably always be remembered in association with the new Terminal 2E that he designed at the Roissy airport (Charles de Gaulle), part of which collapsed suddenly just over one year ago. The National Grand Theatre was commissioned as part of the updating of the Chinese capital in preparation for the 2008 Olympics, and much of the building is being done by non-Chinese architects. It's huge, with seats for 6,200 people inside (the Copenhagen house sits only 1,400), and as you can see from the picture shown here, it's an eye-catcher (reminding me somewhat of Anish Kapoor's sculpture Cloudgate in Chicago). The video on the French news showed that the exterior shell is now mostly in place. David Eimer's article (Anger builds over Beijing's 'alien' theatre, May) in the London Sunday Times has a lot of good commentary on the project.

Lastly, earlier this month (article from May 3), the Koreans announced their plans to build a new opera house on a manmade island in the middle of Seoul's Han River, which began with sponsoring an architectural competition. Proposals are due on June 10, and the city plans to make a decision by the end of July, with the building finished in 2009.

UPDATE:
On June 1, David Sucher at City Comforts graciously accepted my symbolic penny for his thoughts on these new opera houses. His response was, as always, well considered:
if the site is an urban one (or wants to be one) and creating a comfortable walkable environment is part (unstated or not) of the program then the only thing which interests me is how does the building meets the sidewalk? It is of no personal interest to me whether it is "modernist" or "traditional." A good architect can do a pretentious and sloppy job in either style if he/she ignores the street, as did Gehry in Los Angeles or Koolhaas in Seattle.
Take a look at the whole thing. Thanks, David!

27.5.05

Turandot in the Stade de France

You may remember the production of Puccini's Turandot that was staged in the Forbidden City, in Beijing, in September 1998. Since then, there have been other productions of this opera in exotic locations, the most recent that I know of being the Beittedine palace in Lebanon, where the opera was staged last July. Well, I have another one for that list, as I learned in an article (Le Stade de France s'échauffe avant "Turandot", May 28) by Pierre Gervasoni for Le Monde. Tonight, there is a staged production of Turandot in the Stade de France, as part of the publicity campaign for Paris's bid to host the 2012 Olympics.

It's not the best acoustics for opera, of course (they have a very expensive sound system in place), but Chinese film director Yimou Zhang (House of Flying Daggers, 2004; Raise the Red Lantern, 1991), who staged the production, has a stage 175 meters [574 feet] wide, 70 meters deep [230 feet], and 35 meters [115 feet] high, and over 1,850 lighting instruments. That's 4,000 square meters [almost 1 acre] of surface for a cast of 60 dancers and 120 chorus members, plus principals and an orchestra of 80. In fact, Yimou Zhang was the director of the Forbidden City production, and in the Stade de France he has built a set that recreates the Forbidden City (my translation):

Jean-Christophe Giletta, adjunct director of the Stade de France, specifies that there are plans to show close-up images on two giant screens on either side of the stage, which will also carry subtitles of the libretto. He recalls how the production was brought to Paris: "After having mounted Turandot in 1998 in Beijing in the natural setting of the Forbidden City, Yimou Zhang proposed to revive the production in Seoul in 2002, for the World Cup Soccer championship in South Korea. Seduced by the images of that production, we decided to bring it to Paris." In the meantime, the sets created for Seoul had been destroyed and most of the costumes and props had disappeared. So the budget for the Turandot in the Stade de France has risen to 3 million € [US$3.76 million].
That cost is shared with other organizations, because after a single performance in Paris, the whole kit and caboodle will go to the Olympic Stadium in Munich on June 25 and to Gelsenkirchen on July 6. Irina Gordeï will sing Turandot, Ukrainian tenor Viktor Lutsiuk (whom we just heard in The Maid of Orleans at Washington National Opera in April) will sing Calaf, and Yao Hong will perform the role of Liù.

UPDATE:
More pictures here.

26.5.05

Lost In Italy, Part 3

Ionarts contributor Mark Barry sends his third missive from his fantastic trip to Italy. Here are Part 1 and Part 2. He has been posting some great pictures from the road.

The Galleria dell'Accademia (The Academy Of Fine Arts), founded in 1563, is the first school established in Europe specificially to teach drawing, painting, and sculpture. The big draw here is Michaelangelo's David. It is worth the wait. The long line to get in moves by half every 20 minutes. Once in, there he stands, all 17' of nude male perfection. Michelangelo was 29 when he sculpted this out of a single stone. Most of the tourists leave after seeing David, but real treasures are on the second floor. There are several galleries of paintings, religious icons, and altar pieces by Florentine artists such as Lippi, Bronzino, Pontormo, Botticelli, and yes, Michaelangelo; he owned this town.

The beauty of Venice and Florence for me is the walking, at least 5 miles a day with very steep terrain and lot of steps. Get lost, and you will, but enjoy, because every corner has a surprise. Pinch yourself.

Collegiata, San Gimignano, May 2005From Florence to Siena and a night in San Gimignano. The Baroness was in need of wild boar tagliatelli and Vernaccia. We spent two nights in the area. This was a main stop on the pilgrim route from Northern Europe to Rome. The small duomo of the Collegiata has a series of frescoes based on the life of Christ. My favorite is the racy vision of hell by Taddeo di Bartolo. Hell seems much more exciting than the other option.

Padua: Cappella degli Scrovegni. Enrico Scrovegni built this chapel in 1303 to spare his dead father from eternal damnation, nice boy. [Dante still places him in Inferno, Canto XVII—CTD.] In turn we get the frescoes of Giotto, the father of western art; what James Brown did for soul. You’ll need reservations and arrive an hour early to watch a movie and get background info. It's helpful. This is also time to decontaminate, to prevent damage to the chapel. It took a few years for me to get here, so what's another hour.

The glass doors to the waiting room slide open, and the attendant guides you into the chapel; you have 15 minutes. It's breathtaking. The blue ceiling, although worn by time and the elements, is still majestic. It must have been stunning in its day. With only 15 minutes your eyes move quickly, then a slow pass, then a broad sweep. This is why the movie is helpful, to navigate particular panels. Giotto's version of hell is, of course, my favorite. I never thought the devils' tails could do so much probing!

This was a great trip, very inspiring. Where's my cappuccino?

Mark Barry (www.markbarryportfolio.com) is an artist who may actually come back from Italy to his home in Baltimore.

More on Janáček Operas in France

Following up on my last post about productions of the operas of Leoš Janáček in France right now. I wanted to add a few comments from an article (Janacek trois fois au sommet, May 24) by Christian Merlin for Le Figaro, which mentions first the special centennial Jenůfa that reopened the Théâtre du Capitole in Toulouse (which I wrote about back in October) (my translation):

You might think that the 2004/2005 season was the Janáček Year in France. The Opéra de Lyon is going one step further: a real Janáček festival, even offering several chances to see Jenůfa, Kát'a Kabanová, and The Makropoulos Affair in three consecutive evenings. What a tour de force in a theater hardly equipped to carry off this sort of repertory schedule: the stagehands must have a lot of sleepless nights! [...]

The best part about this schedule is that it galvanizes the public, which one hopes will be won over definitively to Janáček's cause and his theater in music, so eloquent and human: judging by the enthusiastic ovations, that has succeeded (who ever said the Lyonnais were cold?). But also the singers, as each singer is involved in at least two of the three operas, meaning that a troupe spirit has been created. As for the orchestra of the Opéra de Lyon, forced to undergo a marathon runner's training regimen to which it is not accustomed, it has risen to the occasion: the constant quality of its playing remains the common factor of these three productions, with a slightly lower quality in Kat'a on the second night. This regularity is due to the excellent leadership of conductor Lothar Königs, whom we already admired in Wozzeck last year but who has surpassed himself here: the 40-something German merits all praise for the drama and intelligence of his expressive and rigorous conducting.
Of course, the Met had Janáček this year with Kát'a Kabanová. Hello, Washington National Opera (PDF)?

UPDATE:
See also Nicolas Blanmont, La France à l'heure Janacek (La Libre Belgique, May 31).

25.5.05

Lost in Italy, Part 2

Ionarts contributor Mark Barry sends his second missive from his fantastic trip to Italy. Here is Part 1. He has been posting some great pictures from the road.

Galleria degli Uffizi, Florence, May 2005Thursday was our fourth day in Italy. We drove south from Venice to Florence. We stopped for the night in the seaside town of Cesenatico. This must be a very busy summer spot, but at this time it was a sleepy village along the coast. I’m writing this from a balcony overlooking the Adriatic.

From the coast we wound our way over the Alps, an incredible journey. The Giro d'Italia bike race is going on now, and I expected to run into them around any corner; we did not, but there were many riders along the way, mostly men, some in their 60s. As a flat-trail rider I was humbled by their effort.

We entered Florence at mid-afternoon. Did you know that when you drive through the historic area without a hotel pass, cameras generate electronic tickets? And if you drive in an ambulance-only area—well, we’ll find out soon enough. Florence is a loud, busy place; but if you want great art, all the masterpieces you’ve only seen in reproductions, you MUST come here. Michelangelo, Bronzino, Botticelli: if you're an art pilgrim and not moved to tears when you finally see the Botticellis at the Uffizi, I don’t want to know you. As luck would have it all museums are free this week!

Boboli Gardens, Florence, May 2005I was here about five years ago on a day trip. At that time I walked to the Uffizi and entered with only a short wait and the galleries were nearly empty. This trip there are no passes for general admission until June 16th (see image above). The only possiblility is with a guided tour. On one hand, it’s wonderful that so many people are looking at art, but on the other hand it means looking for a scalper.

Not to worry, there’s much more to see, like the Pitti Palace, built by banker Luca Pitti starting in 1457. It was taken over in 1550 by the Medici and became their primary residence. Not a bad crib: it has room after room of masterpieces by Titian, Tintoretto, Giorgione, and this nice little Madonna and Child by Raphael, which you may have seen reproduced a few times. In addition to the art collections, the palace has the extensive Boboli Gardens, which could take a good day to cover.

There is a show up now about Maria de Medici, called A Florentine Princess on the Throne of France. Maria married Henry IV in 1600, becoming the second Medici queen of France. Michaelangelo attended the wedding and apparently helped to plan the occation. An artist and a party planner, too!

Mark Barry (www.markbarryportfolio.com) is an artist who used to live in Baltimore and has now fled to Italy.

Le Corbusier on DVD

Now we know what to get Fred and David for their birthdays. For them and others who think that Le Corbusier is not all he is cracked up to be (and, before you send that hate-mail, I don't necessarily disagree), I mention the article (Tout Le Corbusier en seize DVD pour 5 800 euros, May 26) by Frédéric Edelmann for Le Monde (my translation and links added):

Echelle-1 and Codex Images International, two Japanese companies specializing in digitalization and visualization processes for high-resolution images, have put their skills at the service of the Fondation Le Corbusier by editing the complete set of plans, sketches, and studies of the Swiss architect. Until now, these plans could only be consulted in microfilms preserved by the foundation at the Square du Docteur-Blanche, in Paris, the only source of documentation for researchers as for the general public. Thirty-four thousand color documents have been digitalized from the originals (recto and verso, as needed), to be compiled in four sets of four DVDs each. The first set, which has just been published, brings together the projects and completed buildings dating from 1905 to 1930, from the Villa Fallet in La Chaux-de-Fonds, in Switzerland, to the Soviet Palace imagined for Moscow and the Radiant City, which remained a utopian dream. The collection will be completed by the projects from 1953 to 1964 (the Venice hospital and the French Embassy in Brasilia), with a fourth set expected at the end of 2006.
The outrageous price for 4 DVDs—5,800 € [US$7,287.68] (only 5,000 € [US$6,282.50] if ordered before June 30)—seems to indicate that the intended audience is limited to libraries and research institutions. The only question is: will the Library of Congress receive a copy?

A Night of Schubert on Black Mountain

What would I do with my summers if I had all the money in the world? Drag my family around the world going to summer music festivals, of course! And here's one that sounds interesting, the Schubertiade in Schwarzenberg, Austria, which was described in an article (Schubert parties in the Alps, May 24) by David Willey for BBC News:

In an Austrian village amid majestic Alpine scenery where distant cowbells are usually the only sound, the curtain has gone up on one of the world's most unusual classical music festivals. Five minutes before the start of each concert, two horn players stand outside the concert hall, built in the mountain chalet style, and play a short duet. This is the signal for those who have been strolling through the green meadows around the beamed concert hall - constructed entirely of wood from local forests - to take their seats. The duet was composed by Viennese maestro Franz Schubert - as is most of the music and particularly the songs, or lieder, played at the Schubertiade festival. Music lovers from more than 30 countries gather here in the village of Schwarzenberg each year between May and September for four cycles of concerts at the modern, acoustically perfect concert hall. [...]

For me, the chance to enjoy Schubert's incomparable music in the setting that inspired the composer on his walks in the Austrian countryside has been an experience I shall not easily forget. One morning, I watched mountain trout swimming in a nearby torrent. And the same evening, I listened to Schubert's song "Die Forelle" - describing that very scene.
English tenor Ian Bostridge sang in the opening concert this year, with composer Thomas Adès and the Belcea Quartet. Renowned Lieder singer Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau, who celebrates his 80th birthday this month, and pianist Alfred Brendel are also on the program. Although Schubert's music is predominant, there are other composers featured. Concerts continue through September 10.

Lost in Italy, Part 1

Ionarts contributor Mark Barry has sent his first missive from his fantastic trip to Venice. He promises many pictures but has had trouble with reliable computer connections.

It’s a long flight to Venice when the seats are inches apart and the couple in front are large fidgety water buffalos, on their way to catch one of the many cruise ships leaving from the port. But, once you get here, fortunately, that’s all a memory. It’s so nice to get away and experience a different culture.

Palazzo Ducale, VeniceLet’s see, Venice in three days: walk, walk, and more walk; it’s great. I love watching all the people, the fashions, and the hand gestures that are so prominent in Italian art. Everything! is important and requires a major discussion. If there is one complaint, it's that Venice is expensive. The euro this trip is about .72 to the dollar. If possible, get a hotel package with museum passes included. We luckily did and had a gondola ride too, normally 100 euros—no, really!—and that was a story worthy of hand gestures. To get a true feeling for the city a gondola ride is essensial. We met our gondoliere in front of the Disney store.

Calder sculpture, Venice, May 2005
Sculpture by Alexander Calder, at the Grand Canal entrance to the Peggy Guggenheim Collection, Venice, with Sandra Magsamen in the background
Coffee, warm milk, pastries; so nice. In addition to the grand master Paolo Veronese’s amazing work at The Doge’s Palace there is a small exhibit of his paintings at the Correr Museum in Piazza San Marco, of mythological compositions and portraits. Lucian Freud is the next exhibit here, starting June 11th. So many museums, so little time.

What I did see, and it is one of the most popular places in Venice, is the Peggy Guggenheim Collection. I would have loved to go to a dinner party here. What a collection of art to be surrounded by and to call this home! I could get used to this. The lady had a good eye and championed so many of the greatest artists of the century: Klee, Miró, Kandinsky, and of course Jackson Pollock (his own room of five paintings [formerly the "guest bedroom," hee hee!—CTD]). I missed the Dalí exhibit in Philly, but here I saw his Birth of Liquid Desires. Picasso, Magritte, Albers, and a very cool hammered silver headboard by Calder, fit for a queen.

I noticed several young people, obviously American, working in the galleries; it pays to be nosey. The Guggenheim offers a three-month paid internship (650 euros a month). The young woman I spoke with was from the University of Michigan. Why didn’t I know about this!

Mark Barry (www.markbarryportfolio.com) is an artist who used to live in Baltimore and has now fled to Italy.

UPDATE:
Mark has put some pictures of Venice online. How much are plane tickets to Europe right now?

Blogging Finland

Thanks to The Cranky Professor, I learned about one of the Washington Post blogs, Robert G. Kaiser's Finland Diary, for which the blogger and a photographer are traveling around Finland, "the world's most interesting country that Americans know least about." Given our admiration for the musical life of the Finns, I have a feeling it will become a regular read. Does Marja-Leena know about it yet?

UPDATE:
She does now! Artist Marja-Leena Rathje, who was born in Finland and lives in Canada, has some interesting comments to add to those of the Finland Diary. Thanks for reading, Marja-Leena!

24.5.05

New Edition of Van Gogh Letters

Here is something else I have yet to see picked up in the anglophone press. According to an article (La correspondance de Van Gogh réeditée, May 23) from France 2 Cultural News, a team of Dutch scholars is in the process of a thorough, new edition of the correspondence of Vincent Van Gogh. The new edition began in 1994/1995 and is planned to conclude in 2006, when it will be published in some 15 volumes; a CD-ROM will be released in 2008. Leo Jansen and Hans Luitjen, of the Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam, initiated the Letters Project with "the idea of publishing the texts of Van Gogh as they were written, without any correction or interpretation, almost without changing a single comma." They have been sharing the work—some 600 letters in Dutch and 300 in French—with the Constantijn Huygens Institute in The Hague (my translation):

The scholars met together in Auvers-sur-Oise on May 20, for the 115th anniversary of the painter's arrival in this village where he would eventually commit suicide two and a half months later, at the end of July 1890. The only edition of the Dutch painter's 900 letters has been the 1914 transcription of Johanna Van Gogh Bonger, the widow of the painter's brother, Theo Van Gogh, which is still a major source in spite of its imperfections. "It was very good work for its time, but certain passages, thought scandalous, were censored" and entire passages were simply "forgotten," says Wouter Van Der Veen, a research assistant at the University of Utrecht (The Netherlands), who was responsible for Van Gogh's letters in French.

Wouter Van Der Ween also notes semantic errors in the 1914 work, as well as confusion in the "dating of the letters" and the desire to "embellish" or "correct" the painter's writing. "Van Gogh wrote like he painted. To correct his grammar would be equal to correcting the perspective in his paintings," he adds. In order to respect the original text, the scholars, for the first time since the edition of Johanna Van Gogh Bonger, have worked directly from the painter's handwritten letters, made available by the Van Gogh Museum. "Every comma, every period has been put back in. We have also taken into account excerpts that were never published, annotations in the margins, what Van Gogh struck out, and what he wrote in the margins," explains Wouter Van Der Veen.
Obviously, such a resource will become immediately important, not only to historians but for the people who assess and sell works attributed to Van Gogh, which have become highly sought after at auction. The Letters Project will publish each letter in its original language, in parallel with an English translation.

23.5.05

The Michelangelo Code

Waldemar Januszczak, an art critic for the London Sunday Times, has an obsession with Michelangelo's greatest work, the ceiling of the Cappella Sistina. He has just made a television program presenting his theory about Michelangelo's ceiling frescoes, called The Michelangelo Code, which was broadcast on BBC 4 on May 21. I read two articles about this film but have not been able to watch it myself. First, from Waldemar Januszczak's own article in the London Sunday Times (The Sistine Chapel has a secret, May 8):

What connects the massacre of the Branch Davidians in Waco in 1993 with the birth of printing and Michelangelo and Jerusalem and the Sistine Chapel and that angry minor prophet who wrote book 38 of the Old Testament, Zechariah? It is not, I admit, the sort of question one asks oneself merrily every day. But it is what I forced myself to keep asking as I poked about for the best part of 20 years in the nether regions of civilisation, round and round the houses, in and out of libraries, through Rome, Jerusalem, Bethlehem and a place in Portugal called Evora, seeking to crack the lost code of the Sistine Chapel.
Michelangelo, Zechariah, Sistine Chapel ceilingHis theory hinges on the placement of the prophet Zechariah (another image), who is seemingly in an unimportant position, from the entrance that tourists use to enter the chapel. However, if you enter the place as the Pope does, the first image you would see is Zechariah, and Januszczak has rethought the chapel's decoration from that vantage point. What was the message Michelangelo might have been trying to send to his employer, the second della Rovere pope, Julius II? (The first pope from this family, Francesco della Rovere, when he was Pope Sixtus IV, named several of his relatives to the College of Cardinals, including the nephew who later become pope; he also built the Sistine Chapel and is its namesake.) What made Zechariah so important?
It was, of course, Zechariah who predicted the coming of a character called the Branch, who would rebuild the temple and prepare us for the end of the world. I’m not going to go into any sort of detail here about the Branch and his identity. It’s all in the film I have made about the chapel’s secret, but I was particularly delighted to track down the origins of the chapel’s funny shape — it has the basic outline of a treasure chest in a pirate movie — which was copied from an obscure Christian cartographer called Cosmas, whose chief claim to distinction is that he refused to accept that the earth was round. Cosmas insisted the earth was rectangular, and shaped, as it turned out, exactly like the Sistine Chapel. Am I saying that the popes who commissioned the ceiling and rigorously controlled its iconography were flat-earthers? You bet I am. And Michelangelo would certainly have painted what he was told to paint.
Januszczak's theory is that Julius II believed he was the Branch, a new messiah, predestined to do great things like knock down old St. Peter's, build the new one, put on armor, and lead an army into war to take back the papal territories. The Sistine Chapel, he says, is a coded message about what the Pope believed was his Biblically ordained destiny. Apparently, David Koresh of the Branch Davidians had the same delusion. Another article I read (Cracking the lost code, May 10) by Jim Gilchrist for The Scotsman has a more independent perspective:
Januszczak, now 50, started his investigation into the meaning of the frescoes some 20 years ago. Having had the chance to inspect the ceiling at close quarters from maintenance scaffolding he found the ceiling, close up, "quite scary, but what a sight ... like a football pitch of images stretching in all directions." However, the experience left him "feeling as if there was something going on in these paintings about which I’d never been told; as if, somehow, the chapel was famous for the wrong things". He came down from the scaffolding determined to crack the secret and, two decades on, he declares to camera: "I’ve done it, but I sometimes wish I hadn’t."
Is Januszczak cashing in on the last of buzz from The Da Vinci Code? He insists that he was at work on his theory long before the book was published:
"Dan Brown’s book is a load of nonsense; mine is fact. But - and it’s a big but - just because Dan Brown’s book is nonsense doesn’t mean to say that Catholics and popes and painters don’t think that way, and that these sorts of mysteries don’t go on. "The trick is to separate fact from fiction, but if Dan Brown has awakened an interest in Renaissance art, good on him. I’ll be eternally grateful."
Well, even without reading the book, I've been critical of The Da Vinci Code. Now that I've read it, I can say with full justification just how bad it is. I have found one review of the Januszczak film: Tom Adair, Strange feeling from the Sistine ceiling (The Scotsman, May 22). Surely, David Nishimura at Cronaca will be able to tell me what to think about this crazy theory from a learned, scientific point of view.

Glyndebourne Watch

On May 19, the Summer 2005 season opened at the Glyndebourne Festival, with Rossini's La Cenerentola. In an article by Stephen Moss ('Glyndebourne is much more honest than Covent Garden', May 9) for The Guardian, director Peter Hall and conductor Vladimir Jurowski (music director at Glyndebourne since 2001) spoke about their collaboration on the Rossini opera and, even more interesting, what working at Glyndebourne is like:

Hall argues that at Glyndebourne, unlike at most opera houses, a partnership of equals is possible. "Apart from Bayreuth," he says, "it's the only opera house in the world where the director is treated as seriously as the conductor. In all other houses in my experience, the conductor is king." [...]

"I think this is a much more honest opera house now than Covent Garden. I just went to see Rheingold and paid £175 for my ticket. That's a disgrace. This is our national subsidised opera. They should have double the subsidy and cheaper prices. Here, it's a private enterprise and people pay what it needs to charge, but no one's making money out of it. The artists work here for less than they normally get because the conditions are the best." Hall evidently adores the artist-friendly conditions, but he does allow himself one jibe. "There is a certain kind of Rolls-Royce smugness about Glyndebourne. All the staff have it. It makes me ratty now and again, and I say, 'Pull your finger out and do it quickly; don't do it in Glyndebourne time, do it fast.' But they're allowed that smugness. After all, where else do you rehearse in the set on the first day, have sufficient time to do the job properly, and have that number of orchestral rehearsals? Most opera houses are factories whose object in life is to chuck on as many operas as possible and get away with it."

Jurowski, who is about to go to a casting meeting while Hall consumes a fruit salad, can finally get a word in. "I take Glyndebourne's traditions as part of the deal," he says. "It's like a masquerade. The audience wearing black tie is no different from us as musicians dressing up in tails in the pit, which does not always suit the music. I don't think Wozzeck should be played in white tie and tails. The whole machinery of music and theatre-making has aged enormously since it was invented and we should think, without getting hysterical about it, how to improve it. Some aspects not only of Glyndebourne but of any opera theatre are old-fashioned; it is a slightly rigid tradition but what is more important is the reaction we artists can cause in the audience. If people leave Glyndebourne with a sense of emotional shock or with some questions which were raised during the performance, we can consider ourselves happy."
According to the review (Tempestuous tale goes down a storm, May 21) by Andrew Clark for the London Financial Times, despite the traffic jams and terrible weather, the Rossini was "one of the best nights Glyndebourne has enjoyed in many a year. [...] After so many dispiriting Mozart productions at Glyndebourne in recent years, it was good to find the privately run Sussex opera house returning to Rossini and scoring a triumph." All in all, it looks like a nice season at Glyndebourne. I find three productions possibly very interesting: Smetana's The Bartered Bride (a revival of the 1999 production by Nikolaus Lehnhoff), Handel's Giulio Cesare (with William Christie, most days, leading the Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment, David McVicar directing, and Sarah Connolly singing the title role), and Jonathan Dove's Flight (a 1998 Glyndebourne commission, which takes place in an airport lounge and is about a group of passengers whose plane has been delayed by a storm, with Richard Jones directing).

UPDATE:
The Glyndebourne Magic Flute does not fare so well, in the review by Warwick Thompson, Glyndebourne's 'Magic Flute' Could Use a Little Fairy Dust (Bloomberg News, May 23).

Scanner Art

I like to see how artists adapt to new technologies, so I was interested in what I read in an article by Roger Cox ('When you isolate something, you isolate its beauty...', May 10) for The Scotsman (in case the link fails, as it did for me while writing this, Google has the article cached). An artist named Denis Doran put away his analog camera and started using a flatbed scanner to create images, taking it with him to all sorts of locations. The article has some descriptions of what he makes:

The first group are large scale (2m x 1m) diptychs. Their bottom halves are direct scans of the ground - soil and pebbles, with the odd green shoot pushing through. Doran had to rip the lid off his scanner in order to make them. The top halves, meanwhile, are abstract "ghost images" of the allotment, taken from the same patch of earth as the corresponding scans, but using a Polaroid camera and looking out into the world instead of down. Doran explains: "For the lower images, the scanner lays on the ground. What’s touching the scanner glass is in focus and what isn’t touching the scanner glass falls away, so the image you’re left with is a virtual cast of the ground. The Polaroids were taken from the same spot and then ripped apart. You get a ghost image that way - a negative image as the picture is developing." [...]

The second group of images in Common Ground are much smaller (50cm square) but in their way they are just as arresting as their larger neighbours. Using his trusty scanner again, Doran has taken plants that most gardeners would characterise as weeds, such as dandelions and bindweed, and photographed them against a plain black background. This void-like backdrop, combined with the way that any parts of the plant not in contact with the scanner glass quickly fall out of focus, make the subjects look as if they are falling through space. "I think when you isolate something, you isolate its beauty," says Doran. "By removing the context, you can ask people to pay attention to the something that might otherwise be overlooked."
The show is called Common Ground, and it's on exhibit at a place called Street Level Photoworks in Glasgow through June 11. You can some photographs of Doran in the gallery here.