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A new take on Cubism

For anyone who has ever launched expletives at the finnicky, rudimentary "undo" functions on computer software programs, this video rings horribly true. For others, it's just a fun short that brings together art and technology in a pretty clever way. It's credited to Ming-Yuan Chuan from the National Taiwan University of Science and Technology. Check it out:

--Colin Dabkowski

Voices from the past

HofmannHere is a great ghost story, just in time for Halloween: In Russia, researchers have discovered the world's oldest recordings of classical music. For years, musicologists suspected that these recordings -- on wax cylinders -- existed.  But for decades, there was no sign of them.

Now they have been found, and next month, their contents will be released on the Marston CD label.

The bad news is that there is a lot of surface noise. You cannot expect this stuff to have modern sound quality, no matter how many engineers go to work on it. But the good news is, we now have the first known recordings of pianist Josef Hofmann (pictured on the left) as well as the earliest recordings of music by Bach, Wagner, Verdi, Chopin, Schumann and others.

You get to hear Hofmann playing a transcription of Wagner's "Magic Fire Music." And the composer Anton Arensky playing piano in the first recorded performance of the enchanting Trio from the Scherzo of his Piano Trio No. 1. And singers who created roles in operas by Tchaikovsky and Rimsky-Korsakov.

Musicologists welcome these recordings partly because they show the style in which musicians performed during the time period these cylinders were made, between 1890 and 1895. But the recordings are fascinating even just as curiosities. As the New York Times wrote in a story on the find: "Ghosts come alive, and the listener mingles with them."

Want to hear and see the ghosts for yourself? The New York Times' Web site has an interactive page that lets you look and listen. Find 10 minutes when you won't be distracted, and click here.

To read the New York Times' report on the find, click here.

Thoughts and opinions are welcome.

-- Mary Kunz Goldman

Listen! the winds

Frontier_2Behold, to the left, the members of the Frontier High School Wind Ensemble and the Erie County Wind Ensemble in rehearsal this week. If they look preoccupied, that is because they are working on an unusual program, to be presented tonight.

This is a Side by Side concert, in which mature musicians coach their school-age counterparts. The Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra adopts the same strategy with student musicians. For tonight's concert, Frontier High School Wind Ensemble Director Michael Shaw has made his own transcription of Johan Halvorsen's "Suite Ancienne." The Erie County Wind Ensemble is performing that on their own. Then the two groups together are tackling a new wind arrangement of Bernstein's "Symphonic Dances from 'West Side Story.'"

Shaw points out that these dances, in their orchestral form, were just performed last night on WNED's "Great Performances" series by the San Francisco Symphony and former Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra Music Director Michael Tilson Thomas. He says: "Concert band musicians have long wished for a transcription of the suite, but until the publishing of this brand-new setting, the Bernstein estate had not sanctioned one."

It's great when our student ensembles and the musicians show such a spirit of adventure. Want to cheer these folks on? The concert starts at 7:30 tonight -- this is Thursday night, we're talking about -- at Frontier High School, 4432 Bay View Road, Hamburg. It's $3 for adults, $2 for students.

-- Mary Kunz Goldman

UPDATED: Frank Lloyd Wright on 'What's My Line?'

A rather tense and not particularly amusing segment, but nonetheless fascinating to see the man himself on film. [Via About Last Night]:

And because I just couldn't resist:

--Colin Dabkowski

Continue reading "UPDATED: Frank Lloyd Wright on 'What's My Line?'" »

'Action/Abstraction' makes ripples on its way to Buffalo


The landmark exhibition "Action/Abstraction," spearheaded by the Jewish Museum and currently on view at the St. Louis Art Museum (hilariously abbreviated SLAM), has been gaining generally positive attention from a variety of critics, including the New Yorker's Peter Schjeldahl and Time's Richard Lacayo. The praise for the exhibition is as much for the top examples of Abstract Expressionism it contains (its headlining pieces are both from the collection of the Albright-Knox Art Gallery), as for its organizational conceit. The show is meant to be viewed in the context of a great critical debate over how this art should be interpreted, represented by the heavyweight formalist critic Clement Greenberg and the somewhat more radical but no less vehement viewpoint of his nemesis, Harold Rosenberg.

Continue reading "'Action/Abstraction' makes ripples on its way to Buffalo" »

Babel Series continues with Michael Ondaatje

There is no central unifying theme in the work of Canadian writer Michael Ondaatje.  His work resonates with a polyphony of voices, a collage work of perspectives.  He is less a self-appointed truth teller than a narrative anthropologist sifting through the boneyards of memory or a map maker searching for correlations between what our senses tell us and how we choose to project that information upon the world.

There are only a handful of contemporary authors who bring as compelling a mix of artful storytelling, historical nuance and keen awareness of both the richness and limitations of language to their work as Ondaatje, who visits Buffalo to read from and discuss his work in the Babel Series at 8 tonight in Asbury Hall at Babeville, 341 Delaware Ave. The subscription series has been sold out for months.

Ondaatje, who was born in Ceylon (now Sri Lanka) in 1943, but emigrated with his mother to England, and later Canada -- where he became a Canadian citizen in 1962 -- is best known in the United States for his 1992 Booker Prize-winning novel The English Patient, which was adapted into an Academy Award-winning film by the English director Anthony Minghella in 1996. Minghella died unexpectedly this past March at age 54.

For those who haven't read it, Ondaatje's novel set in the Italian countryside during the closing months of World War II differs significantly from the Minghella film -- which, you'll recall, was the target of satire in a classic Seinfeld episode shortly after its release. The novel doesn't focus nearly so closely on the two parallel love stories (Almasy with Katharine Clifton and the Nurse Hana with the bomb defuser Kip), but rather on the lyrical qualities of loss, memory and space.  It's a beautifully written book and deeply moving in its poetics of trauma, but it's hardly a page-turner.

In Canada and much of the rest of the English-speaking world, Ondaatje is more widely recognized as the author of Coming Through Slaughter (1976), loosely based on the life of New Orleans jazz pioneer Buddy Bolden; In the Skin of a Lion (1987), a novel that introduces several characters that continue on into The English Patient set among Toronto's working-class immigrant population in early 20th century; Anil's Ghost (2000), set in his war-torn native Sri Lanka; and last year's Divisadero, a meditation on broken families and divided family narratives.

As is the case with most Toronto-based writers, he is no stranger to the Buffalo area. Several times back in the late '70s and early '80s when he was considered primarily an avant garde Canadian poet (see his There's a Trick With a Knife I'm Learning to Do: Poems, 1963-1978), Ondaatje appeared in Robert Creeley's "Walking the Dog" series of readings and talks at the University at Buffalo. I was a graduate student at UB at the time.

Creeley was a strong supporter of Ondaatje's work, and his endorsements are still featured on the covers of all the Canadian's early works, including his groundbreaking The Collected Works of Billy the Kid: Left Handed Poems (1970), a genre-stretching book of what was subsequently called "historiographic metafiction" comprised of poetry, prose and images incorporating quotations from and pastiche of, both historical and pop-culture sources of information about the late 19th century American outlaw William H. Bonney, better known as Billy the Kid.

--R.D. Pohl 

The blogger who plays Beethoven

Jdenk Last night, I was lucky enough to hear pianist Jeremy Denk play Beethoven's "Hammerklavier" Sonata at Holy Trinity Church, in a concert presented by the Ramsi P. Tick Memorial Concert Series.

What a piece this is, and what a performance Denk gave. Funny thing is, though, I kept getting a weird feeling as I watched and listened. That is because I kept picturing Denk in his apartment surrounded by empty Styrofoam containers and Chinese food cartons.

Because every once in a while I peek at Denk's blog. He calls it Think Denk (in German, "Denk" means "think"). The blog is very funny, even though I do not agree with him politically and even though he writes in his blog only about once a month. Well, learning the "Hammerklavier" can keep you pretty busy. Denk is going to play this wild and woolly sonata on Nov. 11 at Carnegie Hall's Zankel Recital Hall.

In his blog, Denk refers pretty regularly to his slob, single-guy lifestyle. "Journey of a Thousand Pop Tarts: The Posting of a Concert Pianist," ran one recent headline in his blog. Nachos are mentioned as often as Brahms and Schubert. Now here he was, sitting down at that beautiful Steinway at Holy Trinity. How am I not going to think about those nachos and Pop Tarts? It is like telling yourself not to think about a brown cow. You can't help it!

This is a new experience, reading a musician's blog and getting the odd feeling that you, well, know him. It is an experience we are going to be having more and more often. We will have to get used to it.

A behind-the-scenes note about Denk that I did not have room to write in the review: He practices obsessively, hour after hour. The folks who run the Tick series whispered that he was practicing all day, up until a half an hour before the performance. Then we heard him practicing at intermission, too. He was playing the treacherous beginning of the "Hammerklavier."

I am not the only one to wonder how much practicing is too much. There have been very great pianists who believed that it was beneficial to limit yourself, so you could keep your head clear and your playing fresh. Denk didn't seem to have a problem in that department but you never know, the stress of so much intense work could eventually catch up with him. I hope he makes it a priority to take some time out to breathe.

Perhaps that way he would have more time to blog.

Denk's blog is read widely in the classical music world because of its blend of humor and scholarship. Has anyone else checked it out?

-- Mary Kunz Goldman

Alabama Boys & The Apocalypse @ Hallwalls

Novelist Charles McNair's Pulitzer Prize nominated 1994 novel Land O' Goshen (St. Martins Press) is set in a secessionist, dystopian Alabama at some point in the near future after America's second Civil War.  An army of Christian Soldiers loyal to a fundamentalist minister controls much of the old Confederacy, suppressing an insurgency of dissidents and freethinkers.

As in Cormac MacCarthy's The Road, the protagonist through whose eyes we witness much of this anarchy loosened upon the world is a boy--in McNair's case a 14 year old orphan named Buddy, who possesses a certain supernatural outfitting which permits him, when disguised as the "Wild Thang," to engage in acts of insurrection against the theocracy.  Described by Library Journal as "part allegory, part horror tale, and part apocalyptic prediction," Land O' Goshen catapulted the debut novelist to widespread acclaim.

These days McNair is Book Editor at Paste Magazine, a nationally distributed culture and music publication. His writing has appeared in Saturday Review, Paste, Southern Living, The Black Warrior Review, and Negative Capability.  His literary reviews appear regularly on CBC radio and in the London Times Literary Supplement.

Tonight at 7 p.m., he will join fellow Alabama native and Buffalo State College professor Allen Shelton in "The Alalbama Boys & the Apocalypse," an Exhibit X Fiction & Prose Series reading sponsored by the UB English Department and Hallwalls Contemporary Art Center at Hallwalls Cinema, 341 Delaware Ave., near Tupper.

Shelton is the author of Dreamworlds of Alabama (University of Minnesota Press, 2007), a book we described in this space last year as "a rich, haunting and often humorous collection of intertwined essays that ranks with any "exile narrative" I've read in years...part memoir, part social theory, part lyrical evocation of his upbringing and early adulthood on a family farm in the Appalachian foothills of northeastern Alabama (near the town of Jacksonville).   In a narrative that references his intellectual precursors--not only Marcel Proust and Walter Benjamin, but Kafka, Freud and Marx as well--Shelton seamlessly reconstructs a "memory palace" of decontextualized artifacts that is the simulacrum of his former nuclear family and agrarian way of life."

--R.D. Pohl

Open readings return to Cheektowaga

It's been over six years since the last open poetry or prose reading in Cheektowaga.  For several years in the late 1990's a Walden Avenue bookselling chain store near the Galleria Mall partnered with Just Buffalo Literary Center to present open readings on Sunday nights in the store.  Then a corporate shakeup deposed that chain store's community relations director, and the readings were history.

Tomorrow (Tuesday) evening at 7 p.m., poetry and prose readings return to Buffalo's eastern suburb with the premiere of a new monthly open reading series on the campus of SUNY's Empire State College in the Appletree Business Park, 2875 Union Road in Cheektowaga.  The series is organized and hosted by Empire State College professor Carole Southwood, whose first novel Call Me Shady we wrote about in this space earlier this year.

The featured reader is Perry S. Nicholas, an English professor at Erie Community College North, with two chapbooks of poems Stars That Cover You and Rooms of the Atrium in print.  He is a two time Pushcart Prize nominee, an award-winning teacher, and a longtime advocate for good writing in the Buffalo area.  As is the custom here with the open reading format, there will be a sign up sheet at the door with ten "open reading" slots for poets and prose writers to share five minutes of new or time-tested work.  A brief reception will follow.

--R.D. Pohl

Two guitars

Does anyone else notice how Buffalo is turning into the classical guitar capital of the world? Surely the JoAnn Falletta International Guitar Competition has something to do with it -- but whatever the reason, we have guitarists coming out of our ears. Two are heading this way in the very near future.

The first is Marcin Dylla, the intriguing young Polish artist who won the Falletta competition in 2004 and his since returned as a judge. Dylla will be playing at First Presbyterian Church at 7:30 p.m. Saturday. Admission is $20 at the door.

It has been fun having Dylla around. He has such charm. The audience loved his winning performance in '04, and he was easily named the Audience Favorite. Subsequently he told The News' Tom Buckham: "To have the opportunity to play in concert in such a great competition is special. My best performance with an orchestra was here."

The second super-guitarist headed to town is also making a return trip here. This artist is Jason Vieaux. It's pronounced, as I understand it, "vee-OH." Vieaux, who now teaches at the Cleveland Institute of Music, grew up here -- in Williamsville, near Transit and Wehrle, he told me once in an interview. "We were right off the exit that said Depew," he said. Which I loved. It is not every day you get to hear an internationally renowned artist say that.

Vieaux will be joining Marylouise Nanna and the Ars Nova Musicians for a concert in this year's Viva Vivaldi series. He will be a soloist on the fourth concert, which takes place Nov. 23 at 6:30 p.m. -- at First Presbyterian Church, the same church where Dylla is playing Saturday. Viva Vivaldi is always much anticipated and this year's festival has many highlights and surprises. Please watch for details in next Friday's Gusto.

-- Mary Kunz Goldman

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