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Flight as metaphor in Ross's "Blackbird Rising"

No single episode in Buffalo's 186 year history has inspired more speculative prose than the Pan American Exposition of 1901, the city's quixotic six month gambit on the world's stage that was intended to showcase Buffalo--then the nation's 8th largest city--as a rising 20th century industrial metropolis.  What should have been the city's most triumphant moment will always be remembered instead for the national tragedy that eclipsed it, the assassination of President William McKinley by the anarchist Leon Czolgosz during the President's visit to the exposition in early September of that year. 
The exposition, which utterly transformed development of the city but left behind only a single permanent architectural structure--today's Buffalo & Erie County Historical Society Museum on Nottingham Terrace--has been the subject of numerous historical and pictorial studies and served as the backdrop of one previous novel--Lauren Belfer's City of Light (1999). 
Now with last month's release of Buffalo native Gary Earl Ross's Blackbird Rising: A Novel of the American Spirit (Full Court Press), we have an estimable work of historical fiction that aims not only to depict the sights and events of the exposition's spectacle from perspective of the city's African-American citizens of that era, but also to imagine its convergence with one of the central themes of African-American literature: the fugitive slave narrative of flight, liberation, and ultimate recognition as a proud and free people who've contributed mightily to America's story of idealism and redemption.

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Russian romantics

Paremski-hair The other day I had the pleasure of interviewing Natasha Paremski. She is the 21-year-old Russian-born pianist coming to Artpark Saturday night to play the Rachmaninoff Second with the Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra. That is Paremski's hair pictured at left. I found the picture on her Web site and I liked it and had to run it.

My interview with Paremski is running in Saturday's paper. Meanwhile, I thought I would pass along a couple of videos of her.

Here is Paremski playing Tchaikovsky's First, beginning with "those sledgehammer chords," in a kind of documentary about Tchaikovsky. Paremski makes kind of sweeping statements during the course of it, but that is what you do when you are 21.

Paremski also became involved with a documentary made by Sting and his wife, Trudie Styler, about Robert and Clara Schumann. Sting and Styler read letters written by the famous musical couple, and Paremski is one of the musical performers who play excerpts from the Schumanns' music.

"I must tell you, that working with Sting and Trudie was one of the most inspiring and enlightening experiences of my life. They are both the most kind-hearted, generous, and fun people. In fact, they are so down-to-earth and engaging that one quickly begins to forget that one is in the presence of true celebrities!!" That is Paremski's comment on the project on her Web site.

Funny, it sounds as if a publicist wrote that. It just does! But I like this clip of the video I found on the Web site of the British paper the Telegraph. Sting and Styler, with their impassioned readings, give the impression that they care deeply about the Schumanns. I like to believe that they do!

Paremski has quite the celebrity buzz going. I can't wait to hear her play that glorious Rachmaninoff Second.

Meanwhile, here is Rachmaninoff himself playing the concerto's first movement.

And here is figure skater Lu Chen skating to the second movement.

And to complete our offbeat tour of the piece, here is the last movement -- the finale -- as played by Joan Fontaine in the melodramatic 1950 movie "September Affair." (The real pianist on the soundtrack is the Buffalo native Leonard Pennario.)

What a concerto this is!

I can't wait to hear what Natasha Paremski does with it.

-- Mary Kunz Goldman

Figure of mystery

Figlin The Clarence Summer Orchestra is concluding its season by bringing in an unusual pianist, Arkadiy Figlin. It's hard to find concrete information about Figlin. The notes sent in by the Clarence orchestra are pretty sketchy, and he does not have much of a presence on the Internet. But from what I can make out, he sounds intriguing.

Figlin appears to be from Moscow, where he got his grounding in piano. A press release says he studied at the "Moscow Institute of classical piano" -- I am unsure whether that means the Moscow Conservatory, or the Maryinsky Institute, or what. What does seems clear is that he plays classical music and jazz, in addition to music for ballet classes, which is available on CD. And this is interesting: Figlin has released a jazz trio CD of standards that was reportedly praised by Horace Silver.

Above left is a picture of Figlin I found looking around the Internet. Here is something else that turned up: Figlin recently played for a ballet performance at Chautauqua and was interviewed briefly by the Chautauqua Daily. He appeared there with his wife, pianist Nataliya Pinelis.

Figlin comes more into focus Sunday, when he joins the Clarence Summer Orchestra in a performance of two of Gershwin's most famous pieces, the "Rhapsody in Blue" and the Concerto in F. Arie Lipsky, the orchestra's music director, conducts. Rounding out the program are Dvorak's "Carnival Overture" and the noble last movement of Brahms' First Symphony.

The concert starts at 7 p.m. at the Clarence Town Park, 10405 Main St., Clarence. Admission is free and refreshments are available. In the event of rain, the music moves inside to Clarence High School, 9625 Main St., Clarence.

-- Mary Kunz Goldman

Art Dialogue: An Allentown staple


Some work from Art Dialogue Gallery's current show. Photo from

In my recent story on the burgeoning Allentown gallery scene in this past Sunday's Spotlight section, I wrote about several neighborhood galleries that are contributing to the so-called "critical mass" that's now developing along Allen Street and a few blocks north and south of it.

In my listing of galleries, meant to be clipped out and carried along by readers interested in taking an impromptu, self-guided gallery crawl, I left out the Art Dialogue Gallery. Though the listing wasn't meant to be comprehensive (and there are a few other spaces that didn't make it in either, for one reason or another), it was a definite oversight. So, to Art Dialogue, a longstanding gallery which hosts all manner of exhibitions -- most notably members shows for the Western New York Artists Group -- my apologies.

At the moment, the gallery is hosting a show of work by David Miller, Michael Tunney, S.J. Christine Walsh and Thomas A. Wolf. It recently closed a much talked-about exhibition of work by Richard and Thomas Kegler, two brothers from a wildly artistic family. And next up, from Aug. 28 to Oct. 2, is the annual exhibition of work by members of the Niagara Frontier Watercolor Society. Check it out.

--Colin Dabkowski

Merce Cunningham's Buffalo


Even though he was 90 and had lived a long life, I was sad to learn of the death of the great dancer Merce Cunningham on Sunday. He intrigued me. I had always kind of hoped I could meet him.

Cunningham -- seen above in a picture I like -- had an important relevance to Buffalo. More accurately, Buffalo had a relevance to him. The Merce Cunningham Dance Company had an important residency here in early 1968. I read about it the book "Chance and Circumstance," the colorful 2007 memoirs of Carolyn Brown, a longtime mainstay of the Cunningham company.

Brown writes how good the residency was for the company.

The company left New York City in early February of '68 and did not return until early April. Upstate New York touring -- to Ithaca, Hamilton, Rochester, Oneonta, Geneseo, Brockport, Fredonia -- is not fun, especially in winter. The weather is guaranteed to be terrible, travel hazardous and, with few exceptions in those years, the accommodations poor, the food worse, the theaters dismal, and audiences unreliable. Fortunately, the first four weeks of this tour were taken up with a residency sponsored by the State University at Buffalo and Buffalo State College, giving Merce the luxury of having his company available to him 24 hours a day, with concentrated time to choreograph two major works whose premieres would take place at our residency's end.

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Raw audio: State legislators on the arts

Last Tuesday, a group that included New York State Sen. Antoine Thompson, D-Buffalo, and assemblymen Sam Hoyt, D-Buffalo and Steve Englebright, D-Setauket, met at Kleinhans Music Hall to talk about arts funding in a newly Democratic (and totally chaotic) state legislature. Read Tom Buckham's story on the meeting here. I'll have some more on what came out of the meeting in Thursday's paper, but for now, you can listen to the raw audio of the panel right here:

You can also download the MP3 file here.

--Colin Dabkowski

Castellani's 'Aprons' gets national attention

When the Castellani Art Museum announced the opening of its current exhibition "Artistic and Functional: Aprons from the Karen Anderson Collection," my first reaction was incredulity. My second reaction was to read through the press release, which promised that visitors would be "captivated by the array of styles and awed by the sewing skills of appliqué, embroidery, smocking and tatting." And despite the noted and irresistible allure of appliqué and smocking, my third and final reaction was -- quite understandably, I think -- to file the announcement away in the folder I keep for issues of terminal boredom.

This was obviously nothing less than a rush to judgment. In truth, though the prospect of an apron exhibition doesn't appeal to my individual appetite for the diverse and bizarre in the visual arts, the Castellani's well-known folk arts program knows its audience well and consistently designs exhibitions with calculated appeal to small but dedicated parts of the community with a great interest in the decorative arts.

As if to prove a nationwide interest in the show, which closed July 19, Museum Magazine featured a short article on the exhibition in its June/July issue. You can see the full spread after the jump.

--Colin Dabkowski

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Buffalo's 'Tough Stuff' hits the Pacific Northwest

A still from "Transient Views of WNY," a film by Terry Cuddy. Part of "Tough Stuff from the Buff," a traveling exhibition running through Aug. 2 in cities across the Northwest.

This press release has been buried at the bottom of my inbox for a little too long, but it's totally worth checking out. A pair of guys from Buffalo, filmmakers and bicycle enthusiasts both, have embarked on a bike tour of the Pacific Northwest to exhibit a collection of Buffalo-made film and video works.

Marc Moscato and David Gracon have been cycling through British Columbia, Washington and Orgeon and screening films by such Buffalo luminaries as Tony Conrad, Meg Knowles, the Real Dream Cabaret and scads of others. The project, called "Tough Stuff from the Buff," is an attempt to share Buffalo's impressive creative output in film, video and media art with the other side of the country, which remains largely in the dark about the city's vast and vaguely defined network of so-called DIY (do-it-yourself) artists.

The pieces in the show, a release from the pair states, represent "a diverse group of artists, from accomplished media makers to youth-produced projects" and reflect "the city’s public spaces, political struggles and its resiliency under late capitalism."

Next up on the tour is a stop tomorrow at Seattle's Vita Warehouse, followed by pit stops in Tacoma, Wa., Olympia, Wa., Chehalis, Wash. and Portland, Or. See the project's Web site here.

--Colin Dabkowski

Slow Poetry: Recipe for a new avant-garde?

In a earlier posting, we examined the curious ascendancy of Flarf,a subgenre of contemporary poetry that originated as a series of intentionally "bad" writing stunts by a small group of experimental poets, but has since developed into a self-styled avante-garde insurgency.  Flarf appropriates the dominant information technologies of our to era to harvest the linguistic detritus of our culture and remix it into a provocative anti-aesthetic.  In exploring "the inappropriate in all its guises," from the tasteless and the juvenile to the disturbingly "offensive" and politically incorrect, over the past decade, Flarf has laid claim to the critique of late capitalism and postmodern culture advanced by 20th century Language Poetry and Critical Theory. 
Judging simply by its notoriety, Flarf has succeeded in positioning itself as an irritant to mainstream literary standards of craft and taste, but over the past year a rival sensibility has emerged to challenge its pre-emptive claim to being the exclusive 21st century poetics of resistance to the status quo. 
So-called "Slow Poetry" is the coinage of University of Texas at Austin based poet/critic Dale Smith, who has written extensively on the concept in his Possum Ego blog.  Smith's often cited analogy is to the "Slow  Foods" movement founded in Italy in the late 1980's by Carlo Petrini to resist the monoculture of fast food (i.e.,  MacDonald's opened a franchise near the Spanish Steps of Rome in 1986) spreading across Europe and defend the regional, culturally-based cuisines based on wholesome, locally produced fruits, cheeses, wines, and vegetables.
Slow Poetry's culinary associations are readily apparent, but Smith's use of the term refers more broadly to an entire constellation of progressive thinking (i.e., the so-called "Slow Movement" and "Slow Theory") about the aesthetics of environmental sustainability and renewable resources, the reassertion of various localisms as a response to the encroachments of corporate globalization, and perhaps most immediately, to a reconsideration of the roles of process, tradition, and pleasure not only in the writing and reading of poetry, but also in other kinds of art making.

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Poems from the heart


Clifford Bell is a former Buffalo Council member at Large, but more important, he is a poet at large. Bell, pictured above in a Buffalo News photo, has become known to local radio listeners over the years through his inspirational poetry readings on WUFO-AM. Now he has come out with a new book of his poems, called "Clifford Bell: A Full Life."

A longtime member of the Lutheran Church of Our Savior, Bell has a direct, unpretentious style that can be funny and prove useful in confronting matters of faith and principle. He is disarmingly sincere, and he helps us laugh at ourselves.

"The other day when someone asked/ Can you help me at the church / I had a hundred things to do / Cause I was sitting on my perch..."  begins a poem called "Busy."

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