This week's ArtsBeat column focused on a promising cross-cultural collaboration now under way in the city of Syracuse. The focal point of the collaboration, in which several Syracuse cultural organizations are mounting programs that reflect in diverse ways on the Impressionist movement in visual art, is a small jewel of an exhibition at the city's Everson Museum of Art.
"Turner to Cezanne: Masterpieces from the Davies Collection," is not your typical touring blockbuster show. It features some 50 works of art from the collection of Welsh sisters Gwendoline and Margaret Davies, who, during their collecting careers in the early to mid-20th century, amassed a significant trove of works by pre-Impressionists like J.M.W. Turner and Corot, straight-up Impressionist masters like Monet and Pissarro and post-Impressionists like van Gogh and, perhaps most importantly, Paul Cezanne.
It's a big week for the Albright-Knox Art Gallery, which today announced the appointment of Leslie Zemsky as the first female board president in the institution's history. To the surprise and relief of many an art-lover, the gallery also announced today that it would extend its hours to be open six days a week as opposed to a paltry four, starting Nov. 3.
The gallery also opened its exhibition of recent work by North Tonawanda-born artist Robert Mangold (look for a preview of the show in tomorrow's Gusto), who was in attendance at the gallery today for an event announcing several major new acquisitions and forthcoming exhibitions. Times are as tough economically as they've ever been, but from the looks of it, the Albright-Knox is soldiering through with tremendous momentum.
They're two of Western New York's most important living artists.
One is a renowned photographer and social documentarian--a former optometrist and political activist who turned to photography after being professionally "blacklisted" during the McCarthy Era. His stark, unsentimentalized depictions of poor and working class people living on Buffalo's East and Lower West Sides over three decades (especially his "Remembering The Forgotten Ones" series) are increasingly recognized as among the finest portfolios of 20th century documentary photography ever produced. Even as he approaches his 100th birthday on December 30th of this year, he remains vitally engaged in the arts community and with causes that promote social justice.
The other, an artist and writer less than half the age of his compatriot, is an enrolled member of the Onondaga Nation who was raised on the Tuscarora Indian Nation in Niagara County. Over the past two decades, he has transformed himself from a self-supporting Buffalo State College student into an award winning, nationally recognized poet and novelist, a leading figure in Native American literature, and the Lowery Writer-in-Residence at Canisius College.
Listen to Gansworth read selections from "From the Western Door to the Lower West Side."
I thought Abdel-Rahman El-Bacha did a fine job with the Rachmaninoff First Piano Concerto. He capitalized on its witty ending -- perfect showmanship, I thought at that point, perfect. Delicate playing seemed to be El-Bacha's strong point (piano was his forte, haha). He knew how to use that skill to best advantage.
Shall we return to one of my favorite topics, concert finery? I thought it did justice to the romantic feel of the Rachmaninoff that El-Bacha wore the old-fashioned tie and tails. You see that so rarely these days. Watching him sit down and flip those tails over the bench, that set the stage nicely for the virtuosity that followed. Rachmaninoff epitomized the glamour of what we now call the Golden Age of Classical Music. And El-Bacha, who is Lebanese but lives in Paris, is quite a glamorous gentleman. The picture up above shows him in the exotic setting of the Roman ruins at Baalbek in Lebanon.
The Rachmaninoff First is a concerto you don't hear too often. I have gotten to know it very well and I am beginning to think it is as good as the bigger and more popular Second and Third. It has that incredibly beautiful slow movement. And it was nice of El-Bacha to favor us with more Rachmaninoff -- the G Minor Prelude -- as an encore.
News Critic Emeritus Herman Trotter's review contained a forthright assessment of "An American Place," the piece by Kenneth Fuchs that began the concert, that has sparked an intriguing discussion in the "comments" sections. Fuchs is a friend of BPO Music Director JoAnn Falletta from their days at Juilliard. Contemporary music is usually interesting in that people are often hearing it for the first time and opinions are frequently all over the map. This piece was a case in point.
Altogether, an invigorating concert.
There is so much to hash over!
-- Mary Kunz Goldman
I have finally fulfilled my dream of seeing the movie "Bright Star," about the English poet John Keats. A few things about the movie disappointed me. For one thing the actor playing Keats, above, does not have the dreamy quality of the Keats we know from portraits, below.
I was thinking about that and I do not know if I can blame the movie. Probably the actor who played Keats -- his name is Ben Whishaw -- did as well as anyone would. I can not imagine an actor playing Keats and getting it right. Just as I cannot imagine an actor playing Mozart or Schubert and getting it right. You can say what you want, these people just were not like the rest of us.
I tend to come at things from a music perspective but when I think of Keats I equate him with Franz Schubert. They lived at just about the same time. Keats' dates are 1695-1821. Schubert, slightly younger, lived from 1797 to 1828.
Both were of course tragically short-lived. Keats died at 25, Schubert at 31. And in retrospect it seems meant to be that they died so young. Both of them seemed to have one foot in the other world. It has always seemed to me that their work has an otherworldly sorrow and beauty.
Here is a lighter thought. It is touching that both artists died before they were able to work out getting married, and neither ever outgrew that funny bohemian phase you are in when you are young. Neither Schubert nor Keats had any money. Their friends supported them, took up collections for them, consoled them in heartbreak, looked after them. And they were young and dreamy. I thought the movie nailed that. You saw Keats woolgathering at his desk. Schubert's friends said they would show up in the middle of the afternoon and he would still be lolling around in bed with his guitar. The guitar was in fashion then and Schubert would use the guitar to work out his songs.
It is also funny that neither ever outgrew the things you love when you're young -- knights and ladies, Arthurian legend, mythology, torrid romance. In high school my friends and I swooned over Keats' "The Eve of St. Agnes." We actually got obsessed over that poem. I also had this passion for Schubert songs, like this song that I loved when I was 15 or 16. It was a translation of a poem from Sir Walter Scott's "The Lady of the Lake" and you could see the knight and feel the horse galloping. I loved that song. (Who am I kidding, I still do. I just sat and watched that link all the way through thinking, that is a great song. And the video isn't bad either.)
One last word about music and this movie. The main theme was a clever vocal arrangement of the heartbreaking Adagio from Mozart's B flat wind serenade. They should have given Mozart more credit -- his name appeared, unforgivably, only at the tail end of the credits, among a bunch of other selections used here and there in the film. But it was a good idea to use this music -- another masterpiece that twists your heart, by an artist gone too soon.
-- Mary Kunz Goldman
This quote from wise critic Harold Clurman about the bad habits of theater critics goes just as well for film or literature, and is worth keeping in mind for audiences and critics alike:
Notices during a season follow a pattern very much like this: The season opens around September 25; on, let us say, November 2 someone will write about "the best play of the season"; on March 10 we will hear that still another is "the dramatic tops"; April 10 one hears of "a play never to be forgotten," and by May 31 the author or authors of these slightly hysterical encomiums will conclude that on the whole "it has been a lousy season."
--Harold Clurman, April 8, 1986
Word came on Wednesday (via Donald Rosenberg of the Cleveland Plain Dealer and to me via CultureGrrl) that an Ohio probate court, as expected, gave the Cleveland Museum of Art permission to use money from endowments restricted to art purchases for the ongoing expansion of its facilities.
The decision, which as I wrote some weeks ago, will have audible reverberations in a museum world seeking increasingly creative -- and some would say desperate -- funding measures. The question at hand is whether the Cleveland museum's decision honors the "spirit" of its now-deceased donors intentions when they gave money to the museum in the early and mid-20th century.
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