Jacob’s Pillow 2008 Festival Season Preview

Jacob’s Pillow may have evolved beyond biblical allusions to the Book of Genesis, but the spirit of its namesake is exquisitely infused into the fabric of the choreographic creations that have swept across the Pillow’s three stages, carving a legacy that is nothing short of divine. Opening with Garth Fagan’s theatric masterpiece Griot New York and concluding with the wit and charisma of Larry Keigwin’s Keigwin + Company, the 2008 Festival season, I have no doubt, will be no exception.

A Musical Weekend at Williams, I: Berkshire Symphony Orchestra, Ronald Feldman, conductor

Williams has traditionally placed a high value on the arts without exactly pursuing the disciplines to the level of more specialized institutions, like Bard or Oberlin, except perhaps in the visual arts. The ‘62 Center has changed that in respect to theater, and the new facilities, as well as the distinguished faculty who have been hired to go with it, like Omar Sangare, the brilliant Polish playwright, poet, and actor, have attracted the sort of students who might otherwise have chosen Yale or Tisch. The Williams community, Berkshire residents, and whoever decides to make the trip, can expect great things in the future. Music, while very much a Cinderella in terms of physical plant, considering the problematic acoustics of Brooks-Rogers and Chapin Hall, is nonetheless richly endowed with talent of the first order, and many of these assets were much in evidence this past weekend in departmental chairman David Kechley (recently awarded an ASCAPlus Award as well as an Aaron Copland Award composer residency from Copland House), cellist-conductor Ronald Feldman, and, on Sunday, David Porter, Harry C. Payne Visiting Professor of Liberal Arts, who is as much a classicist as a musician.

A Musical Weekend at Williams, II: David Porter plays Charles Ives’ Concord Sonata

Charles Ives’ Concord Sonata is without a doubt one of the great monuments of American music. It is not heard often, because it is difficult for both the pianist and his audience, and perhaps that is a good thing. It would be a pity if, like Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony, it were played too often in unworthy performances. It embodies the highest principles of American thought and American music, and a performance of it should remain a special occasion, as if it were a secular Missa Solemnis.

Alfred Brendel’s Farewell Recital in Boston, Symphony Hall, Boston: Haydn, Mozart, Beethoven and Schubert

For his Boston farewell program, Alfred Brendel chose a selective cross-section of the repertoire he has cultivated through much of his career, and a fascinating selection it was, both in terms of Mr. Brendel’s taste and the inter-relationships between these mostly classical composers. [Click here for a review of his New York farewell with James Levine and the Met Orchestra.] There was no Schoenberg, no Schumann, and Liszt only as an encore. One felt that he had concentrated on the very marrow of his repertory. On the other hand, it came as a powerful discovery to experience the various forms—the overall shapes—of these four works within the compass of a single concert. Brendel has always been especially strong in comprehending and delineating classical structure and form, and now, at the very end of his public career, he appears to have distilled it to the utmost. Haydn’s rich F minor variations, which unfold over a melancholy walking figure in the bass, preceded the musically unusual, but traditionally constructed Mozart sonata, which concludes with an introspective rondo, also set at an ambling pace, cobbled from an earlier independent work. After this, Beethoven’s concentrated Sonata quasi una Fantasia, seemed like a revolutionary outburst, although all Beethoven actually did was to pare his movement-structures down to the point where they could function in support of an improvisatory style. After the break these three strikingly different, but equally terse classical works were followed by Schubert’s Romantic expansion of classical form to encompass a wealth of drawn-out melodies, harmonic invention, and subtle changes of mood.

Henry David Thoreau meets Raymond Chandler, Two American Eccentrics, Pt. I Introduction and review of Searching for Thoreau: On the Trails and Shores of Wild New England, by Tom Slayton

As full of detail as his book is, Slayton never loses track of his purpose and his theme. He does indeed find Thoreau in the places, plants, and animals he studied. His kind of participation is not of Thoreau’s intense, totally absorbed kind, since he is basically a rationalist, but I think no one could argue with his basic tenet about Thoreau, that he was a seeker of the wild: “He was a good Romantic…but he was also a naturalist and came to understand that wildness did not have to be found only in wilderness…For him it was a pervasive quality—close to what the ancient Chinese called the Tao, the mysterious, all-encompassing force that winds the mainspring of the universe. He searched for it everywhere.” ( p. 3) Slayton constantly returns to this theme as he visits and revisits Thoreau’s haunts. whether in obvious places like the Maine woods or in heavily developed places like Cape Cod or Walden Pond. He puts it in the forefront of his conclusion, quoting Thoreau: “In Wildness is the Preservation of the World. Every tree sends its fibres forth in search of the Wild…I believe in the forest, and in the meadows, and in the night in which the corn grows.” Or as Walt Whitman said in a quotation that follows hard upon it: “I believe a leaf of grass is no less than the journey-work of the stars.” While some may see these statements, both confessions of belief, as pure Goethe, it is enough to ponder them in themselves.

The Glass Menagerie by Tennessee Williams at the The Royal Lyceum Theatre, Edinburgh

From time to time, the American expat, no matter how unpatriotic his sentiments may be, develops a certain homesickness for his motherland. This regret may take on a gluttonous form, causing a longing for hamburgers, fried chicken, hot dogs or “freedom fries.” Being rather put off by the thought of an heart attack, I decided to feed my cravings instead by attending Tennessee Williams’ The Glass Menagerie at the Royal Lyceum Theatre in Edinburgh, directed by Jemima Levick.

Paul Taylor, Themes and Variations, and Susan kae Grant, Night Journey at The Hallmark Museum of Contemporary Photography

The Hallmark Museum of Contemporary Photography has expanded. It now boasts two state-of-the-art galleries, each in separate buildings, which it is now using to host two one-person shows, one a retrospective of Paul Taylor’simpressive photographic work, and the other a specific project by Texas photographer Susan kae Grant. Both exhibitions were inaugurated by slide lectures by the artists, making for a full and extremely stimulating evening. These were held at the equally impressive Hallmark Institute of Photography, which specializes in commercial photography and the business of photography, but, as this evening showed, it provides students with a constant flow of inspiration from the very best fine art photography. The present exhibitions are particularly sophisticated examples of this. As Paul Turnbull, the executive director and curator of the HMCP, pointedly asked the students at several points in the evening, “Are you making photographs, or are you taking pictures?” hence the lectures contained more technical considerations than those addressed to the general public. All the better.

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