Black Watch from the National Theatre of Scotland

The Iraq War is an infuriating abomination and I am more than happy to see anything that attacks it. I am also, as it happens, not against seeing fine theatre. Therefore, I was delighted to see two birds killed with one stone at the National Theatre of Scotland’s production of the Edinburgh Festival hit Black Watch at the Scottish Exhibition & Conference Centre (SECC) in Glasgow, as the play continues its tour through the UK, and then on to North America. [Since its first performance at the Edinburgh Fringe in 2006 in an unused drill shed, Black Watch has played before sold out audiences and won numerous awards, not only the Fringe First, but South Bank Show Award for Theatre, the Critics’ Circle Awards (to John Tiffany as Best Director) and others. It played to sold-out audiences at St. Ann’s Warehouse,Brooklyn in October-November 2007, and will return there in October 2008. – ed.]

Bad Art vs “Bad Art”

Many art dealers and some curators find any number of artworks randomly passing under their noses in endless variety on an almost daily basis. One can go from a putative Michelangelo to a catalogue of the work of some obscure short-lived Soviet abstractionist to, for example, a certain Ohio artist, who dresses like Abraham Lincoln and produces landscapes with magic markers in fast food restaurants, to a collection of Elvis music box liquor decanters without a pause to catch one’s breath. Such experience should, one would think, give one an infinite curiosity about human image-making, and a burning desire to uncover the secrets of any artifact that might come one’s way. Such is not the case, however. Even the most receptive among us are apt to let something go by, perhaps that modern Piranesi impression one has inherited or an attractive, but decidedly minor oil of boats in Provincetown harbor one has bought for a song in a flea market. These can liven up any back corridor or populate the attic unexamined. Then, there is Ebay…

Biava Quartet, Clark Art Institute, Haydn, Kodály, Mendelssohn

It is perhaps not entirely accurate to call the Biava Quartet (named after the distinguished Philadelphia violinist and conductor Luis Biava.) a “young” quartet, since it is already ten years old. During that time they have collected an impressive array of prizes, including the Naumberg Chamber Music Prize and a first at the London International competition. Today they hold the Lisa Arnhold Quartet Residency at the Juilliard School, serving as graduate quartet in residence and teaching assistants to the Juilliard Quartet. This Juilliard connection is not without significance, since, as cellist Jason Calloway mentioned while introducing the Kodály, the Juilliard Quartet were their mentors. During the Biava’s Sunday afternoon concert, the relationship was constantly apparent, not only in their tight ensemble and disciplined rhtyhm, but in their sound, which recalls not so much the mellowed timbre of the Juilliard Quartet today, but the brilliance and bite of their earlier years. On the other hand, the Biava Quartet’s approach to ensemble textures is quite different. They are more interested in the changing, varied textures created by contrasts among the four instruments. The violinists and violist play standing, while the cellist sits on a podium, which gives them a little more acoustic space around each instrument, not to mention brilliance. This was particularly striking in the works on the first half of the program, which of course must reflect their musical interests, especially since both works are seldom played.

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