Wednesday, September 30, 2009

ArtsPreview 2009-10: The season in jazz

Jazz vocalist Sophie Milman.
(Illustration by Pat Crowley)

Editor's note: This is one in a series of 10 stories previewing the Palm Beach County and regional arts season for 2009-10.

By Bill Meredith

As is often the case, the South Florida jazz season for 2009-2010 involves more quality than quantity. Which isn't necessarily a bad thing, and the coming season even includes a few pleasant surprises.

Like the Dirty Dozen Brass Band, one of New Orleans' leading jazz horn units, playing at one of South Florida's top rock clubs. The veteran band makes a stop on its My Feet Can't Fail Me Now 25th anniversary concert tour by taking the stage at the Culture Room in Fort Lauderdale on Oct. 17 (8 p.m., $14.99).

Grammy-winning, Cuba-born trumpeter Arturo Sandoval is another brass master, and he presents his softer side in A Time for Love, a collection of ballads from a forthcoming release on Concord Records. As part of the University of Miami Frost School of Music's Festival Miami 2009, Sandoval performs Oct. 17 at Maurice Gusman Concert Hall in Miami (8 p.m., $30-50).

Bassist and University of Miami instructor Chuck Bergeron toured in historic big bands led by Buddy Rich and Woody Herman. Now he leads his own big band, the South Florida Jazz Orchestra, which also features many other South Florida jazz educators. On Nov. 11, in a Gold Coast Jazz presentation, they offer material by Bergeron's former bandleaders and beyond in Jazz Legends of Yesterday, Today and Tomorrow at the Broward Center for the Performing Arts' Amaturo Theater in Fort Lauderdale (7:45 p.m., $35-40).

Veteran saxophonist Tom Scott has had a long and successful career as both a bandleader and session recording musician -- with 29 solo albums, three Grammy Awards and more than 450 total recordings. He kicks off the 10th anniversary season for the Jazz Arts Music Society (JAMS) of Palm Beach on Nov. 16 by taking the stage at the Harriet Himmel Theater, located within CityPlace in West Palm Beach (8 p.m., $35).

There are gifted singers and gifted pianists, but seldom do the two meet. Eliane Elias is an exceptional exception. The Brazilian jazz double-threat plays tracks from her new CD, Bossa Nova Stories, with her quartet in the South Florida Jazz organization's 18th anniversary concert Nov. 21 at the Miniaci Performing Arts Center on the campus of Nova Southeastern University in Davie (8 p.m., $40-125).

Dave Grusin is a Grammy- and Academy Award-winning keyboardist and composer, and he's joined by guests Jon Secada, Patti Austin, Gary Burton, Arturo Sandoval, Nestor Torres and Sammy Figueroa for Jazz Roots: An Evening With Dave Grusin. The evening will include Grusin's movie themes, and a rare performance of his contemporary jazz rendition of West Side Story, on Dec. 4 at Knight Concert Hall at the Adrienne Arsht Center for the Performing Arts in Miami (8 p.m., $25-125).

Vocalist Ann Hampton Callaway may be best-known for her Tony-nominated role in the hit Broadway musical Swing!, but she's also performed with trumpeter Wynton Marsalis and the Lincoln Center Jazz Orchestra, and has an extensive recording catalog leading up to her latest CD, At Last. She appears on Jan. 2 at the Lyric Theatre in Stuart (8 p.m., $45).

The exuberant playing of pianist Cyrus Chestnut draws from influences ranging from the rhythmic Fats Waller to the unorthodox Thelonious Monk. In his Gold Coast Jazz performance of Jazzin' Elvis, Chestnut and his trio perform a variety of jazz standards, mixed with Elvis Presley hits, on Jan. 13 at the Broward Center (7:45 p.m., $35-40).

The concert that commemorates JAMS' actual birthday features the quintet led by pianist John Colianni ,whose body of work includes being a part of bands led by Lionel Hampton and Mel Tormé. Colianni's brand of high-energy jazz piano is displayed on his quintet's latest CD, Johnny Chops. On Jan. 26, that energy will fill the Harriet Himmel Theater (8 p.m., $35).

Trumpeter Chris Botti is a rarity in modern music -- a gifted jazz player who's able to fill large concert halls. Before his latest solo outing, Chris Botti in Boston, the trumpeter played fusion with drummer Bill Bruford, bassist Tony Levin and guitarist David Torn and also worked with pop singer/songwriters Joni Mitchell, Sting, and Paul Simon. Botti appears on Jan. 28 at the Kravis Center for the Performing Arts' Dreyfoos Hall in West Palm Beach (8 p.m., $25-100).

One of jazz/fusion's godfather guitarists, Larry Coryell ,and one of the leading modern Hammond organists, Joey DeFrancesco, unite in the Larry Coryell-Joey DeFrancesco Trio. Having already appeared with drummers from veteran fusion star Alphonse Mouzon to DeFrancesco's youthful bandmate Byron Landham, the six-string master and the grinding keyboardist star in a South Florida Jazz presentation on Feb. 13 at the Miniaci Performing Arts Center (8 p.m., $35).

Esperanza Spalding boasts a surprising combination of talents by being a vocalist, bassist and bandleader -- and all at the tender age of 23. Raised in a multicultural household in Portland, Ore., she sings in English, Spanish and Portugese, and has already worked with jazz icons Pat Metheny, Stanley Clarke and Joe Lovano. She appears Feb. 20 at the Duncan Theatre at Palm Beach Community College in Lake Worth (8 p.m., $27).

JAMS' official anniversary concert features a quartet co-led by trumpeter Marvin Stamm and pianist Bill Mays. The two distinguished traditional jazz veterans are joined by bassist Richard Drexler and drummer Marty Morrell on Feb. 23 at the Harriet Himmel Theater (8 p.m., $35).

Twenty-two-year-old pianist Eldar surprises with his stunning recent release, Virtue. Born Eldar Djangirov in Kyrgyzstan, the pianist has recorded since his early teens, but raises his art to a new level on the new CD. He's joined by the disc's rhythm section, bassist Armando Gola and drummer Ludwig Afonso, on March 11 at Festival of the Arts Boca in Boca Raton (8:30 p.m., $25-50.)

As the leading vibraphonist and educator of his era, six-time Grammy winner Gary Burton has a great ear for youthful jazz talent. His Next Generation Band features rising young musicians in guitarist Julian Lage, pianist Vadim Neselovskyi, bassist Luques Curtis and drummer James Williams, and the quintet plays a South Florida Jazz concert on March 13 at the Miniaci Performing Arts Center (8 p.m., $35).

Born in Russia and already a huge success in Canada, vocalist Sophie Milman is likewise growing on American audiences. Her new release, Take Love Easy, follows the 2007 CD Make Someone Happy, which won a Juno Award (the Canadian equivalent of a Grammy). At age 26, Milman's husky voice, looks and jazz sensibilities might result in stardom in the United States in the near future. She appears on March 17 at the Kravis Center for the Performing Arts' Rinker Playhouse (7 p.m., $38).

The Palm Beach Pops presents Big Bands and All That Jazz!, which re-creates the music of the great swing orchestras with guest vocalists Lynn Roberts and the Swing Set Singers on April 2-3 at the Kravis Center's Dreyfoos Hall (8 p.m., $29-89), April 5-7 at Carol & Barry Kaye Performing Arts Auditorium at Florida Atlantic University in Boca Raton (8 p.m., $29-69), and April 8 at the Eissey Campus Theatre at Palm Beach Community College in Palm Beach Gardens (8 p.m., $75-85).

Cuban pianist Omar Sosa and his Afreecanos Quartet, play what the band's name implies -- an eclectic blend of African and Cuban music with some free jazz thrown in. The three-time Grammy nominee plays tunes from his latest CD, Tales From the Earth, during a South Florida Jazz stop on April 10 at the Miniaci Performing Arts Center (8 p.m., $35).

Four of South Florida's leading female jazz vocalists -- Brenda Alford, Rose Max, Wendy Pedersen and Nicole Yarling -- team with a top area jazz ensemble in South Florida Jazz Divas & The Gold Coast Jazz Society Band, led by saxophonist Eric Allison, on April 14 at the Amaturo Theater (7:45 p.m., $35-40).

Jazz Roots: Piano Latino presents the fascinating trio of New York City-born salsa master Eddie Palmieri, Dominican Grammy winner Michel Camilo, and 23-year-old Cuban sensation Alfredo Rodriguez, a discovery of Quincy Jones, on March 16 at Knight Concert Hall at the Adrienne Arsht Center (8 p.m., $25-125).

Bill Meredith is a freelance writer in South Florida who has written extensively on jazz for publications such as Jazziz and Jazz Times.

Monday, September 28, 2009

Music review: Dutch group gets Delray Baroque off to vigorous start

From left: Daja Leevke Hinrichs, Emily Thompson,
Marc Dupere and Marcin Swiatkiewicz.

By Greg Stepanich

It's useful to remember that no matter how far we've come from the Baroque era, good music of whatever age will engage interested young performers and be reborn anew.

The time to really notice that Saturday night was in the ensemble selections of a concert by the Netherlands-based Haagsche Hofmuzieck, a young trio (joined by a guest violinist to make a foursome) that opened the first-ever Delray Baroque mini-festival at St. Paul's Episcopal Church.

In the third Water Music suite (HWV 350, in G) of Handel, you could hear the wit and insouciance of this fine little band throughout, as the harpsichord would play with plucked-cello accompaniment at one point, to be followed directly thereafter by the Baroque flute and the violin playing pizzicato, for a completely different, utterly refreshing color.

By now this familiar music has been arranged for any instrumental combination you can think of, but what matters is the attractive, direct quality of the music itself, and Haagsche Hofmuzieck stayed completely true to it while offering its own arrangement.

Further evidence of this quartet's scholarly-yet-engaged manner came in two other ensemble pieces that used the full quartet: a trio sonata (in D, Op. 13, No. 2), by the French violinist and composer Jean-Marie Leclair, and one of the Paris sonatas (in E minor) of the eminent German composer and Bach contemporary Georg Philipp Telemann. Neither of these works was written for the Haagsche combination -- flutist Daja Leevke Hinrichs, violinist Emily Thompson, cellist Marc Dupere and harpsichordist Marcin Swiatkiewicz -- but there was nothing inauthentic about these vigorous performances.

The Leclair sonata, which opened the second half of the concert, was particularly charming, full of delightful tunes and real humor; the second movement, with its repeated notes in the main theme like an invitation to a country dance, and the catchy melody of the finale causing more than one head in the rather large audience at the church to bob along in time.

Ensemble was quite good throughout the evening, especially in the faster movements, and there the audience could get a good sense of the considerable chops that each player has. This was evident in the Telemann sonata that closed the formal program, which had a recurring little motif in thirds that sounded as though it was overstaying its welcome on the beat in the fifth movement, titled Distrait.

But it was precise and sharply played, and in the finale, the extra liberties taken by Swiatkewicz's rolling-thunder harpsichord approach helped build the music to a point of real grandeur and power that was quite unlike anything else on the program.

Solo performances also were part of Saturday's concert, including a solo cello Ricercar (in D) by Domenico Gabrielli that Dupere played with the requisite virtuoso elan to take advantage of the increasingly difficult reiterations of the opening material. Swiatkiewicz played a four-part suite by Henry Purcell (in G minor) with a closing chaconne added, and demonstrated a sensitive hand that had the right somber elegance for the sarabande movement, as well as plenty of muscle for Purcell's big melodies in the opening prelude.

Violinist Thompson also took a solo turn with a passacaglia from one of the so-called Mystery Sonatas of Heinrich Biber, also in G minor. This is a quietly blossoming piece that begins with near-immobility before expanding into something more elaborate. Biber's music doesn't have the range of something like a Bach violin partita, and Thompson had to focus instead not on the interest of the music, which was slight, but on its intensity. That worked, actually, and in that sense successfully communicated the religious intention of its composer.

But the best moments of the concert came when all four players were working together on something, and you could enjoy their tight ensemble and clear joy in making music. For an encore, the group played an arrangement of the Badinerie movement from Bach's Orchestral Suite No. 2 (in B minor, BWV 1067), which put Hinrichs in the spotlight.

She has a lovely sound and an admirable ability to get a full sound most of the time out of her Baroque flute; too often these pretty-but-soft instruments get lost in the continuo uproar. But not here: Hinrichs showed good technique, played this popular piece briskly, and her companions were with her every athletic step of the way.

Delray Baroque continues Sunday at 4 p.m. when concert organizer Keith Paulson-Thorp, St. Paul's music director, plays a solo concert of harpischord music, including Handel's The Harmonious Blacksmith, a suite by C.P.E. Bach, and sonatas by Pietro Paradies and Franz Joseph Haydn. Other, more recent music gets a hearing, too, including a sonatina by Ferruccio Busoni, excerpts from Sir Herbert Howells' Lambert's Clavichord, and Tango for Tim, by the contemporary British composer Michael Nyman. 4 pm, St. Paul's Episcopal Church, Delray Beach. Tickets: $15-18, $5 for students. Call 278-6003 or visit

Saturday, September 26, 2009

Art review: Erbe show offers reminders -- good and bad -- of a bygone America

Fantasy in Pursuit II (1983), by Gary T. Erbe.

By Jenifer A. Vogt

Anyone who has ever tried to paint knows that it isn’t easy to realistically portray the world around us.

Realism, as a style, necessitates a rare combination of inherent artistic talent, learned draftsmanship, and a distinctive patient observance of the banal. So it’s sort of energizing to marvel at an artist whose work exhibits this visually stunning combination. And it adds to the “wow” factor when you discover — as is the case with Gary Erbe — that they are self-taught.

Gary T. Erbe: 40 Year Retrospective, now at the Boca Raton Museum of Art, spans the time period of the 1960s to the present. The 50 works on display illustrate the progression (and perfection) of his distinct style, which he calls "levitational realism,” and occasionally reference the influence of artistic movements, such as Cubism. Erbe’s work is earmarked by his skilled depiction of commonplace objects, such as baseball cards, comic books, and musical instruments combined with a teary-eyed, joyful reminiscence – primarily for the America of the 1950s.

The Big Splash (2001), by Gary T. Erbe.

Erbe’s significance lies, partly, in his personal take on trompe l’oeil painting. The term dates to the Baroque period and roughly translates from French as “trick of the eye.” This style of painting creates an optical illusion of three-dimensionality. (Think for a moment of those wonderful inner-city building murals that make you want to jump right into them.) Erbe, though, doesn’t use this technique to depict scenes for the viewer to step in to, but rather to bring inanimate objects to life in a vibrant, bounce-off-the-canvas-at-you way.

His mastery of trompe l’oeil is remarkably evident in his depiction of brass fixtures, such as the brass buckle of the saddle on the merry-go-round horse in Fantasy in Pursuit II (1983), the painting that greets you at the exhibit’s entrance. I stared at it for a while before moving to the side of the painting to confirm that it was painted — and not stuck on. Erbe paints in oil and this gives his paintings a slick smoothness and finish that mimics the photos in glossy magazines.

Of his style, Erbe has said, “While there are elements of trompe l’oeil in my work, I have less of an interest in fooling the eye in favor of stimulating the mind.” He is concerned with challenging his viewer by creating a collage of juxtaposed objects that float in mid-air: hence, Levitational Realism. As for process, he often begins with a still-life arrangement of objects, as seen with Ambush (1998), which is shown alongside the still-life box he crafted to paint from.

Subway Series (2008), by Gary T. Erbe.

Apart from skill and technique, what’s most striking in Erbe’s work is the stardust that emanates from his nostalgia for the America of his 1950s childhood — and, especially, baseball. The fun and reverential way that he depicts baseball memorabilia in Baseball Album (2003) will make you smile. Players, hats, gloves, banners, bats, cards and magazines are all placed in a shrine with reverential awe. And it’s obvious that Erbe’s fascination with the sport continues with the same reverence in Subway Series (2008).

Apart from baseball, Erbe’s other passion, clearly, is music. Many paintings joyfully and wryly depict musicians, instruments and song lyrics. In Take Five (1981-82) a hardworking musical trio has just finished its break. Look alongside the bottom of the painting where you’ll see a discarded flask, coffee cup, and cigarette butts.

Take Five (1981-82), by Gary T. Erbe.

Also, note that Erbe has included his name on the trombone because this is something he does in various paintings throughout the exhibit. Once noted, it’s fun to look for and find in other works, such as in an unusual spot in Lifeline (1996) and a few others that I won’t give away.

Yet despite the loving tributes, other works allude to the dark side of the Fifties, in particular, to racism and segregation. Southern Nights (1999) juxtaposes the tools of southern lynch mobs, including a white tablecloth transformed into a KKK hood, a rope for hangings, a wheat stalk and scythe, and the song lyrics to When It’s Night Time Down in Dixieland. Other works, such as Southern Shadows (2001) and Arrangement in Brown and White (1997), are marked by white paint splatters. Here Erbe more subtlety acknowledges the profound oppression and exploitation of black culture that marked this decade.

The Erbe reinforces the Boca Museum of Art’s notable dedication to American art, which brings significant contemporary painters to our backyard. As with the recent Andrew Stevovich exhibit, Erbe’s work exhibits a wry, tongue-in-cheek amusement for the mundane — and for making the mundane intriguing and appealing. But, most importantly, these shows encourage viewers to look beyond the sleek surface and consider the ideology and symbolism that artists infuse into their work. And therein lies the true genius of American painting.

Jenifer A. Vogt is a marketing communications professional and resident of Boca Raton. She’s been enamored with American painting for the past 20 years.

Gary T. Erbe: 40-Year Retrospective is on view until November 8. Tickets: Adults $8, seniors $6, free for children 12 and under. Hours: Wednesday-Friday, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m, Saturday and Sunday 12-5 p.m. Closed Mondays, Tuesday and holidays. Call 561-392-2500 or visit

Friday, September 25, 2009

Weekend arts picks: Sept. 25-28

Norman Gitzen with The Sound of Miami.

Art: Award-winning Lake Worth sculptor and master builder Norman Gitzen has been chosen to participate in Miami GuitarTown, a public arts project featuring 10-foot-tall fiberglass Gibson Les Paul model guitars that are painted by local and national artists. The enormous guitars will be showcased throughout Miami in parks, landmarks and sponsored locations, and will be auctioned off to raise funds for the Art and Culture Center of Hollywood, the Dade Community Foundation and Miami Children’s Hospital.

A VIP reception at 7 p.m. Saturday will kick off the Miami GuitarTown Auction Gala at the Seminole Hard Rock Hotel & Casino in Hollywood, with the live auction beginning at 8:30 p.m. Gitzen’s guitar, titled The Sound of Miami, was inspired by the music of Gloria Estefan and South Florida’s Cuban-American population, which Gitzen says “gives Miami that hot, zesty attitude…My guitar is a tribute to all those Cuban-Americans who are missing their beautiful homeland that they were forced to flee.” For more information, call 305-573-3523. -- K. Deits

Lala, by Amanda Valdes.

Opening tonight at the Mos'Art Theatre in Lake Park is Reel Art, billed as a collection of cinema-inspired contemporary art. Curated by Brigid Howard (who will also be exhibiting her paintings with cross-stitch and embroidery), it will showcase eight local artists’ views on the world of film. The exhibition includes works by Jacksonville photographer Ross Howard, Boynton Beach photographer Brent del Rosario, and South Florida artists Javier Sanchez and Amanda Valdes.

The Wicked and the Weak, by Talya Lerman.

From Lake Worth are painter Sandy Lerman, mixed-media artist Talya Lerman and installation artist Sue Stevens. The Manhattan Short Film Festival will also open tonight at Mos’Art, an independent cinema located at 700 Park Avenue. For more information, call (561) 337-6763. -- K. Deits

Haagsche Hofmuzieck.

Music: [This item has been updated; an earlier version had the wrong date and time for the Delray concert.] The music of the Baroque will be on the program tonight at Palm Beach Atlantic University and on Saturday at St. Paul's Episcopal Church in Delray Beach, when the young quartet known as Haagsche Hofmuzieck presents two concerts of works of composers from J.S. Bach to Handel, Telemann, Biber and Vivaldi. Founded in the Netherlands as a trio, Haagsche Hofmuzieck is touring with a guest violinist and has recently released a disc of flute sonatas by Bach, Handel and Telemann on its own label. Tonight's concert at the DeSantis Chapel on the PBAU campus begins at 7:30 and is free admission; Saturday's concert at St. Paul's starts at 7 p.m. and costs $15-$18. It's also the first program in the church's Delray Baroque mini-festival, which will feature three more concerts. For more information, call PBAU at 803-2970, or St. Paul's at 278-6003. -- G. Stepanich

Duo Gastesi-Bezerra.

Also at PBAU this weekend is the school's Hispanic Heritage Festival, which will feature concerts Sunday by Duo Gastesi-Bezerra and on Monday by violinist Alfonzo Lopez. Brazilian-born Marcio Bezerra and his Spanish-born wife, Estibaliz Gastesi, are familiar faces on the local music and educational scene, and as performers they tirelessly seek out new music for two pianos. Their program at 3 p.m. Sunday (free admission) features music by Xavier Montsalvatge, Alba Rosa Vietor, Carme Fernandez-Vidal, Dinah Menezes, Edino Krieger, Piazzolla, and PBAU's own Marlene Woodward-Cooper. The concert at Persson Hall will also feature poetry readings by Marina Sanchez, Lenin Rodas and Alma Gallego.

On Monday, the Venezuelan-born Lopez, accompanied by his countrywoman Michelle Tabor, will play music by Granados, Albeniz, Ginastera, Manuel Ponce, and Andres Sas, as well as another piece by Woodward-Cooper and a work by Lopez himself. The concert starts at 7:30 p.m. in Persson Hall and also is free admission. For more information, call 803-2970. -- G. Stepanich

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Film review: Frank tale of elder love stumbles on routine plot

Ursula Werner and Horst Westphal in Cloud 9.

By John Thomason

[This review has been updated to correct a factual error.] Even as statistic after statistic shows that senior citizens fornicate just about as much as the rest of us, showing sex among elders remains taboo in American film and TV.

If not found under the “educational” auspices of HBO’s Real Sex, senior citizen flesh is usually only depicted in sophomoric comedies for cheap laughs (recall the hospital scene in The Hangover or Andy Griffith’s embarrassing orgasm-face in Play the Game).

Then again, it’s only natural for movie executives to succumb to the knee-jerk “eww” factor in approaching senior sex; it’s not clear the public wants to see it. Sex among old people has been stigmatized by a generation of people who like to think their parents only had sex one time – the day of their conception – and certainly not afterwards. Thinking of 50-year-olds doing dirty deeds is bad enough, but the inhabitants of retirement communities? Why, that’s just wrong.

Countries more mature than this one have gotten past both the prudish censorship hurdles and societal stigmas, if indeed there ever were any. Look at Britain’s The Mother, for instance, or, most recently, German director Andreas Dresen’s Cloud 9.

The film, which opens Friday at the Lake Worth Playhouse, is about an older woman who is cheating on her husband of 30 years with a virile, young 76-year-old stud. Within five minutes, we see seniors tear off each other’s clothes with adolescent fervor, and the sex is presented matter-of-factly, like everything else in this severe chamber drama. In its honesty and veracity, it’s even physically arousing.

But these moments, however much they shatter preconceptions about senior sex in mainstream cinema, belie an otherwise routine melodrama with messages that hardly resonate beyond grass-is-greener clichés.

You’ve seen this story before: Inge (Ursula Werner) leaves her caring and sweet, but boring and predictable, husband Werner (Horst Rehberg) for a new and exciting beau named Karl (Horst Westphal). Like many a poor sap who’s gotten the shaft in many a familiar love triangle, Werner is presented as a fine and devoted husband, the perfect companion to grow old with. Problem is, Inge has already grown old with him, and when she stumbles upon someone new, she finds both liberation and sexual fulfillment through infidelity.

The sex she shares with Werner is passionless missionary doldrums; with Karl, she tries everything, revitalizing old areas of stimulation. Her forbidden life with Karl is skinny-dipping in tranquil lakes; her mandated life with Werner is complaining that he dropped his cigarette ashes in the bowl with the pretzel sticks.

Adopting the rigid Scandinavian minimalism of Scenes From a Marriage and the Dogma 95 movement, Dresen’s aesthetic uses no music but gains powerful traction from incidental noises on the soundtrack, like the metronomic drip of percolating coffee and the piercing chime of a ringtone. The latter effect signals a pointlessly bleak coda that somewhat exploitively tries to turn a garden-variety tale into a morality-laden tragedy.

Dresen runs into a double-edged sword here: By turning these senior citizens’ dilemmas into a traditional formula, it renders their problems universal, thus making us forget the novelty of their ages. Which is great, except that the novelty is what makes Cloud 9 so unique. It’s less a film about a senior citizen lighting her sexual fire anew as it another infidelity story.

There are elements of sexual frankness and cinematic purity in Cloud 9 that we could certainly use more of; too bad they’re housed in a plot that’s old enough for retirement.

John Thomason is a freelance writer based in South Florida.

CLOUD 9 (WOLKE NEUN). Director: Andreas Dresen; Cast: Ursula Werner, Horst Rehberg, Horst Westphal; Distributor: Music Box Films; Rating: Not rated; in German with English subtitles; Opens: Friday, Lake Worth Playhouse; opens Saturday, Cinema Paradiso, Fort Lauderdale

Monday, September 21, 2009

Music review: Bergonzi quartet opens season in admirable style

The Bergonzi Quartet, from left: Scott Flavin, Glenn Basham,
Ross Harbaugh and Pamela McConnell.

By Greg Stepanich

Things really jumped outside the chamber music box Sunday afternoon when violist Pamela McConnell started declaiming lines from Leonard Bernstein's version of Candide and waving costume jewelry as her three colleagues played Glitter and Be Gay.

Charming, funny, and a crowd-pleasing moment, but what was most striking about the Bergonzi String Quartet's concert at St. Paul's Episcopal Church in Delray Beach was its admirable seriousness, and the high level of polish and quality with which this fine ensemble opened the 2009-10 classical music season in Palm Beach County.

The Bergonzis, who have been based for years at the University of Miami, were filling in as a last-minute replacement for the previously scheduled Vitali Quartet, a foursome of Mexican musicians whose cellist suffered a serious wrist injury earlier this month. The Bergonzi quartet has a sterling reputation for its work in music from South America, and opened the concert with the First Quartet (Op. 20) of Argentina's Alberto Ginastera.

Written in 1948, the Ginastera quartet has all the hallmarks of the composer's mature style: driving, heavily accented rhythms, intense dynamics, and an affinity for chords drawn from sources such as the open strings of a guitar. The Bergonzis (in addition to McConnell, they are Glenn Basham, first violin, Scott Flavin, second violin, and Ross Harbaugh, cello) brought it off with fire and aplomb, with only a bit or two of muddiness in the very difficult up-from-the-depths arpeggiated figures Ginastera likes to use in his codas.

The quartet showed how much variety there is Ginastera, whose music's relentlessness often spurs charges of monotony and tedium. Here, for instance, the second movement was quiet and mysterious even as it percolated steadily away, and two fine solo passages from Harbaugh and Basham gave real expressivity to the third movement, with its noonday-heat feeling of stasis and slow unfolding. The treacherous ending, toward which the musical language of the entire piece has been resolving, was right on the money, bringing a neat climax to the work and shouts of enthusiasm from the decent-sized audience.

Three arrangements by violinist Flavin were featured next, ending with the Bernstein Glitter and Be Gay mentioned earlier. The set began with a deft instrumentation of the Schubert song Erlkonig (D. 328) in which the music for each of the speakers in the song -- Erl-King, child, and father -- was given to a separate instrument. This worked well, and the next arrangement, a recasting of the Puccini song Morire?, salvaged from La Rondine for an Italian Red Cross benefit in 1917, had a salon-orchestra sound that was completely appropriate for this pretty tune and its direct emotional appeal.

Flavin's arrangement of the Bernstein song also was quite effective, and the clowning that went with it added some real mischievous fun to the afternoon; perhaps it could have used a fuller sound as the closing accelerando material got under way.

After a brief intermission, the Bergonzis closed the concert with the Quartet No. 14 in D minor, D. 810, of Franz Schubert, known as Death and the Maiden for the song of that name that supplies the material for its second movement. This was an excellent performance in every important respect, beginning with the dramatic opening bars, which some quartets like to hammer to the point of harshness.

But in the Bergonzis hands it was forceful and contained at the same time; the effect was one of strength and nobility without being overly dramatic. That same sense of precision could be heard throughout the movement, with the chords clearly and carefully voiced in playing that showed off the range and depth of this ensemble.

The second movement, too, had a good sense of balance; starting with a hushed playing of Death and the Maiden and branching out into variations that were notable for sounding like logical outgrowths of the initial bars rather than tacked-on virtuoso pieces. In the Scherzo that followed I could have used a little more agitation, maybe a slightly faster tempo, though the elegant, sturdy performance it got was right in keeping with the rest of this interpretation, and the trio portion was surpassingly lovely.

The Schubert ended with a vivid reading of the tarantella finale, and here once more the approach to the music was noteworthy for its coolness and control. But that didn't make it any less exciting; the ability of each of the four Bergonzi members to play his or her part with great accuracy and exceptional teamwork guaranteed a riveting last movement, and that is precisely what its highly appreciative audience got.

Haagsche Hofmuzieck, a Netherlands-based Baroque trio joined by a fourth guest artist for this appearance, opens St. Paul's Delray Baroque series on Saturday night with music by J.S. Bach, Handel, Leclair, Telemann, Biber, Purcell and Domenico Gabrielli. 7 p.m. Saturday, St. Paul's Episcopal Church, Delray Beach. Tickets: $15-$18. For more information, call 278-6003 or visit

Saturday, September 19, 2009

ArtsBuzz: Caldwell to present concert version of Sondheim's 'Sunday'

Sunday Afternoon on the Island of Grand Jatte (1884),
by Georges Seurat (1859-1891).

By Hap Erstein

In his few short months on the job as artistic director of the Caldwell Theatre Company, Clive Cholerton has learned a great deal about “the art of making art.” So it should come as no surprise that he says his favorite musical is Stephen Sondheim and James Lapine’s Pulitzer Prize-winning Sunday in the Park With George.

The surprise is that he has found a way to bring to Palm Beach County that pointillist musical about post-Impressionist painter Georges Seurat, his modern-day disciples, the creation of his masterwork Sunday Afternoon on the Island of Grand Jatte and the process of making and marketing art.

The show, which premiered on Broadway in 1984, presents some distinct production challenges, which makes it an ideal candidate for the Caldwell’s new Broadway Concert Series, staged readings of shows that the theater wants to “beta test” to gauge audience acceptance for a future larger production or simply to produce as a concert because it would otherwise be beyond the casting or production limitations of the Caldwell.

Sunday in the Park With George will be presented for five performances only, Oct. 8-11, at the Count de Hoernle Theatre in Boca Raton, with tickets ranging from $25-$35, available by calling (561) 241-7432 or (877) 245-7432, or by ordering online at

Casting is not yet set, but Cholerton has signed local favories Elizabeth Dimon and Laura Turnbull, as well as Broadway veteran Melissa Minyard (Les Miserables) in the pivotal role of Dot.

To tantalize us further, Cholerton mentions a few other shows he is considering for future Broadway Concert Series performances -- Ragtime, Most Happy Fella and City of Angels. Further proof of Cholerton’s good taste.

Friday, September 18, 2009

Weekend arts picks: Sept. 18-20

A painting by Anthony Burks.

Art: The EG2 Northwood Gallery is hosting a brief solo show for painter Anthony Burks that begins tonight and lasts through Sept. 30. Tonight at 6 p.m., Burks' wife, Trina Slade-Burks, will also be debuting and signing her book of poems, affirmations and art titled What Is My Priority? The book deals with the emotions of a multi-disciplinary artist. The Anthony Burks Collections exhibition is free of charge; the gallery is located at 408 Northwood Ave. in West Palm Beach. Hours are Wednesday through Sunday, 5 p.m. to 8 p.m. For more information, call Trina Slade-Burks at (561) 714-6674.
She Brushed Past Me, by Gregory Hubbard.

Also on Friday night, an opening at the Clay, Glass, Metal, Stone Cooperative Gallery will feature ceramic artists: colorful sculptures by Wellington resident Gregory Hubbard; carved pots and orbs by Palm Beach artist Sara Lerner; functional, hand-thrown pieces by Boynton Beach artist and FAU ceramics professor John McCoy; and clay sculptures by Edith Perla-Smith, a Peruvian native residing in North Palm Beach. The opening is from 6 to 10 p.m., and the gallery is located at 605 Lake Ave. in downtown Lake Worth. For more information, call (561) 588-8344. -- K. Deits

Megan Fox in Jennifer's Body.

Film: Yes, I know, this is where you generally come to find an obscure art house pick, but Megan Fox is from Port St. Lucie, she does have the power to steam up glasses and she is really quite funny as a man-eating high school hottie-turned-vampire in Jennifer’s Body. The script, by Oscar winner Diablo Cody (Juno), is very knowing about the clichés and traditions of the teen horror genre, so it cleverly nods to them and also subverts them. All right, call it a guilty pleasure, but give it a try. -- H. Erstein

The Jove Comedy Experience.

Theater: This is as slow as the local theater scene gets, the post-summer but still uncomfortably hot period just before the professional troupes begin their fall seasons. Virtually every company in Palm Beach County is dark this weekend, but if you are itching for some live entertainment, try the Atlantic Theatre’s Jove Comedy Experience, which is performing its latest bill of improv, sketch and musical comedy called Quarter Back to the Future: A Football Comedy. It plays this Saturday, Sept. 19, at 8 p.m. General admission tickets at $15, available by calling the box office at (561) 575-4942. -- H. Erstein

Alberto Ginastera (1916-1983).

Music: As mentioned last week, the Bergonzi String Quartet, based at the University of Miami, will start off the classical music season at St. Paul's season this weekend with music by Ginastera (Quartet No. 1, Op. 20) and Schubert (Quartet No. 14 in D minor, D. 810, Death and the Maiden), along with two arrangements of songs by Puccini (Morire?, written as a benefit for the Italian Red Cross during World War I) and Leonard Bernstein (Glitter and Be Gay, from Candide). The concert begins at 4 p.m. Sunday at St. Paul's Episcopal on Swinton Avenue in Delray Beach. Tickets: $15-$18; call 278-6003 or visit -- G. Stepanich

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Film review: Odd 'Informant!' relies on Damon's star turn

Matt Damon in The Informant!

By Hap Erstein

Oscar-winning director Steven Soderbergh is like a box of chocolates. You’re never sure what you are going to get. His recent releases -- the epic political biography Che and the low-budget independent art film on the world of call girls, The Girlfriend Experience -- have virtually nothing in common with his newest film, The Informant!, a jaunty comedy about a real-life corporate whistle-blower starring his Ocean’s Eleven (and …Twelve and …Thirteen) cast member, Matt Damon.

With its opening titles that wink at us while declaring the movie’s fidelity to fact and the sitcom-like bounce of the Marvin Hamlisch musical soundtrack, The Informant! all but insists that it is nothing to be taken seriously. Although its plot is not too far off from Soderbergh’s earlier, earnest Erin Brockovich, the breezy tone of The Informant! is far more reminiscent of Steven Spielberg’s fable of lighthearted larceny, Catch Me If You Can.

Instead of an impostor, it concerns a duplicitous biochemist for Archer Daniels Midland, the agribusiness conglomerate that specializes in corn syrup derivatives, food additives and price-fixing. As Mark Whitacre, the longtime executive who goes undercover to gain evidence against the company for the FBI, Damon is blithely nerdy. Having added 30 pounds, a fake-looking mustache and a cheesy hairpiece, he brings the suave James Bond to no one’s mind except his own.

When Whitacre agrees to become a double agent for the feds, strapping on a wire to obtain the aural evidence of collusion, he is suddenly excited by the idea of becoming a government hero and do-gooder. In addition, he is so far out of touch with reality he sees himself succeeding to the top ranks of the company once his corrupt superiors are hauled off to jail.

The only problem is Whitacre is not that bright, and he blunders his way through many an electronic eavesdropping situation that he bungles. Or maybe he is far smarter than any observer would ever give him credit for, because we eventually learn that he has been siphoning off millions of dollars along the way.

The book that all of this is based upon is deadly serious in tone, but Soderbergh and screenwriter Scott Z. Burns have turned it into a goofy comedy. The voiceover narration by the Whitacre character is laced with nutty irony and the mere fact that all of this could have actually happened becomes a darkly wry statement of how screwed up the corporate landscape -- and the federal justice system -- really are.

Standouts in the cast are Scott Bakula as Whitacre’s increasingly incredulous FBI contact and Melanie Lynskey as his puzzled, but loyal wife. Still, the crucial performance that makes the whole movie work as well as it does comes from Damon. Though he fancies himself an Ian Fleming secret agent, his lumbering gait and one-beat-too-slow verbal delivery puts the lie to that image. He makes us identify with him, picturing ourselves in such a quandary and rooting for his unlikely extrication from the enveloping net around him.

All of these filmmaking choices are risky, and the movie has its share of misfires and miscalculations. But we have seen the straight dramatic version of stories along these lines, so another would likely be redundant. The Informant! is an odd, often unbalanced, minor film, but brash and surprisingly entertaining.

THE INFORMANT! Studio: Warner Bros.; Director: Steven Soderbergh; Starring: Matt Damon, Scott Bakula, Melanie Lynskey. Rated: R. Opens: Friday, at most commercial venues

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Theater review: Mosaic's 'Rock 'n' Roll' a heady evening of Stoppard

Antonio Amadeo, left, and Gordon McConnell in Rock 'n' Roll.
(Photo by George Schiavone)

By Hap Erstein

More than 40 years ago, Czech-born journalist-turned-playwright Tom Stoppard burst onto the world stage with Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead, his hommage to Samuel Beckett and the emptiness and impotence of his characters.

Ever since, however, Stoppard (at right) has been stuffing his plays with heady ideas and dialectical notions, moving from nothingness to cerebral overload. He is the kind of writer who challenges an audience to keep up with him -- and it often is not easy -- but how refreshing to encounter a play that contains more than one can reasonably process in a single sitting, rather than those that spoon feed us less.

Such a thought-laden play is Rock ’n’ Roll, a juxtaposition of Czech history from 1968 to 1990, from the Prague Spring reforms to the subsequent repressive aftermath, with the period’s rebellious rock music. Stoppard puts a face on such potentially dry material, letting us see that tumultuous time through the eyes of a staunchly Marxist professor at Cambridge, his cancer-ravaged wife and his star pupil, a Czech who leaves the comforts of academia for the upheaval in his homeland.

Still, while Stoppard wants to draw us in to the emotional turmoil of these characters, it keeps being overshadowed by the politics. At least it does in Mosaic Theatre’s Southeastern premiere production, which has not yet achieved the clarity, verbal agility and seeming effortlessness that the play requires.

Artistic director Richard Jay Simon deserves credit for stretching himself and his actors with Rock ‘n’ Roll, but in its opening weekend, it was the ambition that was most evident rather than the mastery of the material.

As the play begins, fervent Communist Max (Gordon McConnell) is trying unsuccessfully to prevent shaggy-haired graduate student Jan (Antonio Amadeo) from dropping out of school for the cultural revolution occurring in Czechoslovakia. So off Jan goes, taking only his treasured rock ‘n’ roll recordings.

In Prague, Jan soon attracts the attention of the secret police, is jailed and reduced to years of work in a bakery. He eventually returns to England, long after Max’s wife (Laura Turnbull) has died, for a climactic reunion with Max and a reconsideration of their political ideals.

As densely packed as that synopsis sounds, it leaves out the play’s tangential inclusion of the poetry of Sappho, the rise and fall of rocker Syd Barrett from the group Pink Floyd, the Czech Charter 77 declaration and the many other references that have led Simon to pass out four-page glossaries with each program.

Simon has certainly gathered some of the area’s best performers for the three central roles, but at this point, they still seem to be wrestling with their dialogue, spouting diatribes from the author rather than conversing. It is that ownership of the script by their characters that is missing, the potential portal to the play’s heart.

Sean McClelland takes over much of the theater with his scenic design, with the twin poles of Prague and Cambridge at opposite sides of the space, and a versatile middle ground playing area in between. Nothing has been stinted on this season opener for Mosaic, except perhaps some additional rehearsal time for the cast.

This is not a fully satisfying evening of theater, but there is so much to take in in Rock ‘n’ Roll that it can be sufficient nourishment for the mind regardless of how much of the play flies by overhead. There is plenty here to think about, even if you are likely to be left unmoved.

ROCK ‘N’ ROLL, Mosaic Theatre, 12200 West Broward Blvd., Plantation. Continuing through Oct. 4. Tickets: $37. Call: (954) 577-8243.

Laura Turnbull in Rock 'n' Roll.
(Photo by George Schiavone)

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Music feature: Boca club owner hangs on, testifying for the blues

Blues entrepreneur John Yurt.
(Photo by Skip Sheffield)

By Skip Sheffield

It’s never been easy playing and singing the blues, especially here in South Florida, at the extreme southern end of America.

The last couple years have been unkind to area blues fans. First, Musicians Exchange co-founder and blues champion Don Cohen died. Then the Bamboo Room in Lake Worth, the finest blues venue in South Florida, closed indefinitely. The all-genre concert club City Limits went dark in Delray Beach in early 2009 as well.

But John Yurt hangs on. Now in its third year in a modest 1946 vintage blockhouse at 7200 N. Dixie Highway in Boca Raton, Yurt’s blues club, The Back Room, is a tribute to one man’s love affair with the blues, America’s true roots music.

It’s an affair that began when he was a lad of 7 or 8 in his hometown of Johnstown, Pa. Little Johnny was watching The Ed Sullivan Show with his family, and one of Ed’s guests was blues great B.B. King.

“It was just about the coolest thing I’d ever seen,” Yurt said recently in his Delray Beach home, just a chip shot away from the city’s public golf course. “I didn’t know anything about the blues, but I thought I’d better learn.”

Yurt, 46, has been learning ever since. The Back Room is one of the last sources for blues in Palm Beach County, and all of South Florida, for that matter. Some clubs have blues nights or blues-themed parties, but the Back Room is (almost) all blues, all the time.

And like many a paramour, Yurt isn’t getting rich pursuing the object of his devotion.

“It’s been the worst summer ever,” he admits. “We’re barely hanging on. Comcast (Yurt’s immediate neighbor) has been hassling me about people parking in their parking lot when we do have a good night. We do have a lot of good acts coming in October and November. It will be the time to see if people really want the blues.”

Yurt fled Johnstown at age 25 in 1988, following a girlfriend to what is now Lynn University in Boca Raton. That relationship didn’t work out, but then Yurt met Evelyn Cunningham, now his wife and mother of his two children, John Patrick, 15 and Catherine Rose, 11.

Evelyn’s mother is Carolyn Cunningham, widow of Bill Krauss, a legendary Delray Beach character who founded the Arcade Tap Room, the Patio and West Side Liquors. The Arcade Tap Room was famous as an artists’ hangout in the 1930s. The Patio was a posh place with fine dining, dancing and fancy fashion shows.

West Side Liquors was a humble concrete brick house just west of Swinton Avenue. Its main clientele was Delray Beach’s black community. Carolyn Cunningham still owned West Side Liquors when Yurt began dating her daughter. Yurt persuaded Carolyn he could convert a storage area, literally a back room, into a small blues venue.

Carolyn was skeptical, but when West Side Liquors got the contract to cater the first Virginia Slims International Tennis Tournament in 1993, everything changed.

“We catered the VIP area with really fancy wines, liquors and beer,” Yurt recounts. “I told people about West Side Liquors and the Back Room, and celebrities began showing up. After that it really took off.”

It took off so well neighbors began to complain about the noise and the crowds. After only a year or so, Yurt closed the first Back Room and looked for a larger venue. He found it about a block away on East Atlantic Avenue, across from Old School Square.

It was here that the Back Room enjoyed its greatest success, with virtually every blues great short of B.B. King visiting, and Yurt, a blues guitarist himself, often sitting in.

“I can’t tell you what a thrill it was hearing and playing with greats like Johnny Johnson, Gatemouth Brown, Sam Myers, Junior Wells and James Cotton,” he reminisces. “Sadly, they are dropping like flies. James Cotton still plays, but he has to carry an oxygen tank around.”

Sometimes careers were made in the back room. One night, Fort Lauderdale guitarist Albert Castiglia was in the house when Junior Wells was playing.

“Junior was looking for a guitarist and he invited Albert to sit in,” Yurt said. “He hired him on the spot that night. Albert played and toured with Junior Wells until Wells died.”

Albert Castiglia is now a rising young blues star in his own right. He’ll be returning to the Back Room on Oct. 24.

“Albert may be a local boy, but the last time he played the Back Room, it was our best night in Boca ever,” asserts Yurt.

J.P. Soars and the Red Hots.

Another local boy is guitarist extraordinaire J.P.Soars of Boca Raton. Soars hosts an open mic night on Wednesdays. On Thursday he plays with his own group.

There is no cover either night. Not bad for seeing a guy who won this year’s Best Guitarist and Best Unsigned Group award at the 2009 International Blues Challenge (IBC) Awards in Memphis.

“Since it opened three years ago, the Back Room has been a godsend for me,” said Soars, 40. “It is the only actual blues club in South Florida, as far as I know. Having a steady gig there has enabled me and the band to hone our craft and get really tight. We just played Montreal and it was great.”

Yet another “local boy” is Junior Drinkwater of Delray Beach. Drinkwater was the very first act at the first Back Room, and though he is now a senior citizen, Drinkwater is still going strong.

Other October attractions are Tinsley Ellis (the only St. Andrew’s School graduate to become a blues star) on Oct. 3; Eric Culbertson on Oct. 10; a “Harmonica Blowout” on Oct. 16 with Mark Hummel, Watermelon Slim, Magic Dick and RJ Mischo; and Larry McRae on Oct. 24.

When this year’s third annual Florida Blues Festival Nov. 6-8 at Nova Southeastern University in Davie was abruptly canceled, Yurt stepped into the breach.

”They had planned all the groups’ Florida dates around the festival,” Yurt explained. “This is a chance to salvage something for the musicians and fans.”

The relocated, downsized festival begins with an evening of J.P. Soars and IBC winners on Friday, Nov. 6; Kenny Neal on Saturday, Nov. 7, and Bernard Allison on Sunday, Nov. 8.

Yurt normally charges a nominal $10 at the doors for national acts.

“If I were still in Delray I could do it for just $5 because of greater attendance,” he says. “I’ve got to charge more in Boca because I just can’t attract as many people.”

In addition to seeing his blues heroes vanish one by one, Yurt had his own wakeup call in April: A mild heart attack.

“I had my last cigarette on the way to the hospital,” he confesses. “I’ve quit drinking other than a little red wine, and no more cheeseburgers for me. They put in some stents in my heart. I’ve lost 10 pounds and I’ve never felt better.”

There may be a number of promising newcomers, but Yurt does not foresee a huge blues resurgence any time soon.

“How many original tunes can you write with three chords?” he asks. “I think all the best stuff has already been written.”

Skip Sheffield is a freelance writer based in South Florida.

For more information, call 561-988-8920 or visit

Nick Curran and the Lowlifes, live at the Back Room.
(Photo by Skip Sheffield)

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Weekend arts picks: Sept. 10-13

Dogluver I, by Nancy Spielman.

Art: The South Florida Cultural Consortium Media and Visual Arts Fellowship offers stipends of $7,500 and $15,000 to its winning fellows, and the $15,000 awards are the largest such awards given to individual artists by any local arts agency in the United States. Tomorrow night at Florida Atlantic University's Boca Raton campus, an exhibition of work by the 2009 fellowship recipients opens in the Schmidt and Ritter art galleries. Dual opening receptions in both galleries begin at 7 p.m., and the exhibit, which lasts through Oct. 31, is free to the public. (Gallery hours are 1 p.m. to 4 p.m. Tuesdays through Fridays, and 1 p.m. to 5 p.m. Saturdays.)

The 2009 recipients are: Ali Codina (Miami-Dade), James Drain (Miami-Dade), Gean Moreno (Miami-Dade), Gavin Perry (Miami-Dade), Frances Trombly (Miami-Dade), Colby Katz (Broward), Samantha Salzinger (Broward), Nancy Spielman (Broward), Blane De St. Croix (Palm Beach) and Karley Klopfenstein (Monroe). For further information, call 561-297-2661 or visit

A ceramic vessel by John McCoy.

Meanwhile, in the art gallery at Palm Beach Community College's Eissey Campus, an exhibit of abstract painting and ceramic pieces, Oil and Fire, opens at 5 p.m. Tuesday and runs through Oct. 9. The exhibit features work by well-known FAU professor and functional potter John McCoy, ceramicist Ellen Bates, who glazes platters using aerial photographs as reference, and painter Irene Stanton, who creates mixed-media landscape painting.

An Everglades-inspired plate by Ellen Bates.

The gallery is located in the BB Building at the Eissey Campus, 3160 PGA Blvd., Palm Beach Gardens. Hours are Monday, Wednesday and Thursday from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., Tuesday from 9 a.m. to 8 p.m. and Friday from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. For more information, visit or call (561) 207-5015. -- K. Deits

Sunset Rider, by Melissa Miller Nece.

On Friday, the annual faculty show at West Palm Beach's Armory Arts Center gets under way; there also is a Hispanic Heritage show as well as a large juried exhibit of works from the Florida Artist Group: 78 paintings, sculptures and photographs. Melissa Miller Nece of Palm Harbor won the Elizabeth Morse Genius Award for a 14-inch-by-26-inch colored-pencil work called Sunset Rider, while Eleanor Richter of Coral Springs received an award for an interesting 36-inch-by-28-inch watercolor titled The Stroller, which shows different perspectives of people on the beach projected onto a woman’s torso.

The Stroller, by Eleanor Richter.

The show features local artists Lois Barton (Jupiter), Cecily Hangen (West Palm Beach), Eydi Lampasona (Boca Raton), Joan Lustig (North Palm Beach), Nadine Meyers Saitlin (Boca Raton), Fern Samuels (Palm Beach Gardens) and Lorrie Williamson (Jupiter). For more information on The Florida Artist Group, call Hangen at 561-832-1717. The exhibit opens at 6 p.m. Friday, and runs through Oct. 3. For more information,, or call (561) 832-1776.

Dumpster (1994), by George Segal.

Finally, a taste of the season is available at the Norton Museum of Art tonight, with its monthly Art After Dark evening featuring curator Glenn Tomlinson speaking about the just-opened exhibit, George Segal: Street Scenes, featuring the work of the Pop Art sculptor. Tomlinson speaks at 6:30 p.m., and the theme for tonight's Art After Dark gathering, which lasts until 9 p.m., is Homecoming Night: Wear your school colors, T-shirt or hat, and you'll get $1 off admission ($8 for adults, $3 for ages 13-21, free ages 12 and under). Visit for more information.

Far & Away VI, by Cheryl Maeder.

And on display starting tonight in a Miami gallery is work by West Palm Beach photographer Cheryl Maeder, in an exhibit from Oxenberg Fine Art at Chelsea Galleria-Wynwood, 2441 N.W. 2nd Ave., in Miami. The exhibit, Go Figure: A Celebration of the Human Form, runs through Sept. 18. -- K. Deits

Peter Ilyich Tchaikovsky (1840-1893).

Music: This weekend marks what essentially are the first concerts of the 2009-10 season, beginning tomorrow night in Miami and Saturday night in Fort Lauderdale with members and guests of the Walenstein Symphony Orchestra organization playing chamber music by Tchaikovsky. On the program at the University of Miami's Gusman Hall (Friday) and the Broward Center for the Performing Arts (Saturday) are the Piano Trio in A minor, Op. 50, the String Quartet No. 1 (in D, Op. 11), and the string sextet known as Souvenir de Florence (Op. 70). Players include familiar area names such as violinist Mei-Mei Luo and cellist Christopher Glansdorp in the quartet, and pianist Natasa Stojanovska in the trio. Tickets range from $10-$30 for both concerts, and both begin at 7: 30 p.m. in their respective venues. For more information, call 877-733-3032 (Gusman) and 954-462-0222 (Broward). -- G. Stepanich

Robert McDuffie.
(Photo by Christian Steiner)

The American violinist Robert McDuffie is in the thick of preparing for December, when he'll premiere a new work written for him by Philip Glass called The American Four Seasons. But you can see him Sunday afternoon at the University of Miami's Gusman Hall, where he's appearing the first of this season's Pinecrest-based Sunday Afternoons of Music, now in its 29th season. On McDuffie's program are Stravinsky's Suite Italienne, the Beethoven Sonata No. 7 (in C minor, Op. 30, No. 2), and a selection of lighter fare including an arrangement of Gershwin's It Ain't Necessarily So, the Hoedown from Copland's Rodeo, John Williams' Schindler's List theme, and the Ashokan Farewell of Jay Unger, made famous as the theme from Ken Burns' The Civil War. The concert begins at 4 p.m., and tickets range from $10-$35. Call 305-271-7150 or visit -- G. Stepanich

The Bergonzi String Quartet.

Update: The Vitali String Quartet, scheduled to appear next Sunday on the St. Paul's series in Delray Beach, has had to cancel because its cellist is recuperating from a hand injury. But the Bergonzi Quartet, the resident ensemble at the University of Miami, has ridden to the rescue and will fill in for the Vitali. On the program: the beloved Death and the Maiden quartet (String Quartet No. 14 in D minor, D. 810) of Franz Schubert, the Second Quartet of Argentina's Alberto Ginastera, and other pieces. Tickets for the Sept. 20 concert are $15-$18; the music begins at 4 p.m. at St. Paul's Episcopal Church in Delray Beach. Call 278-6003 or visit -- G. Stepanich

The cover of Bruce Springsteen's latest album.

And then, of course, there's Bruce Springsteen. The perennially popular singer-songwriter has been at it for 37 years, and he and the E Street Band are showing no signs of slowing down, touring now in support of their latest album, Working on a Dream. New Jersey's favorite son, who has added 25 dates to this latest tour, appears at 7:30 p.m. Sunday at the BankAtlantic Center in Sunrise. Tickets: $39-$100.75. Call Ticketmaster at 954-523-3309 or visit -- G. Stepanich

Antonio Amadeo and Gordon McConnell in Rock 'n' Roll.

Theater: No one juggles politics and wordplay like Tom Stoppard and, occasionally, as with his newest work, Rock ‘n’ Roll, he gives his characters an emotional heft as well. History is on his mind, the history of his native Czechoslovakia from 1968 to 1990, juxtaposed with the history of rock music over that same time. The results are heady stuff, but with a cast that includes Gordon McConnell, Laura Turnbull and Antonio Amadeo, Plantation’s Mosaic Theatre seems headed in the right direction to crack the play, in its Southeastern premiere. Opening this weekend and running through Oct. 4. Call (954) 577-8243 for tickets. -- H. Erstein

Film review: 'Herb & Dorothy' chronicles the art of acquisition

Herb and Dorothy Vogel, art collectors extraordinaire.

By Hap Erstein

Unassuming and wildly unlikely, Herbie and Dorothy Vogel would not seem out of place in a South Florida condo, whiling away their retirement years with a hot game of gin rummy or mah-jongg. Instead, as the affectionate documentary Herb & Dorothy recounts, they are the toast of the New York art scene as nurturing, instinctive patrons who amassed a major collection worth millions of dollars.

The fact that they did this on two civil service salaries makes their story all the more amazing. He was a postal worker who never finished high school and she was a librarian. Throughout their lives, they lived on her income and used his to buy art, often supporting significant, but unrecognized, artists when no one else would, paying for the work in installments when necessary.

Director Megumi Sasaki, a former journalist, takes us on a tour of the Vogels’ world, into their tiny, rent-controlled Manhattan apartment, filled with pet fish, turtles and cat, stuffed with artwork, which adorns the walls and ceiling, but is mainly stacked in piles or shoved under their bed. When they eventually donate their collection to the National Gallery in Washington, D.C., it amounts to nearly 5,000 pieces of art that requires five massive moving vans to transport to its new home.

Much of the film, which opens Friday and plays for the week at Lake Worth’s Emerging Cinemas, focuses on the artists that the Vogels discover and champion. They concentrated on Minimalism and conceptual art, which was beginning to emerge in the ’60s. It is not that they necessarily understood the art -- the Vogels readily concede that they did not -- but it was what they could afford. Still, many of the artists, from Chuck Close to James Siena to Christo, talk of what good, knowing taste the Vogels have.

For their part, they explain that they only had three rules of acquisition. They had to afford the art, it had to be portable enough to be brought home in a taxi cab or a subway car and it had to fit in their apartment. Some of the work is highly minimal, like the piece of rope with frayed ends that Mike Wallace is particularly skeptical of during his 60 Minutes interview with the Vogels. (Yes, they became media darlings, too, for their story is so deliciously irresistible.)

They began collecting just as the art market was beginning to explode, so the collection soon spiraled in value. But the Vogels were adamant that they were not doing this for money and they never sold anything they had bought. They felt that they truly were custodians of the art, so they eventually went in search of the right institution to donate it to, with the same care that they gathered it in the first place.

Herb & Dorothy is foremost a great story, but Sasaki gets exceptional cooperation and access from the Vogels, following them as they go on buying visits to their favorite artists and to chic art gallery openings, where they seem all the more out of place.

Originally, both Herb and Dorothy yearned to be artists themselves, but when they accepted the fact that they were insufficiently talented, they threw themselves into collecting with a similar passion. The way they have make art the center of their lives is both amusing and inspiring, well summed up in this entertaining hour and a half.

HERB & DOROTHY. Studio: Fine Line Media; Director: Megumi Sasaki; Rated: Not rated; Screens: 2 p.m. and 6 p.m. Friday through Sunday, 4 p.m. Monday through Wednesday, 4 p.m. and 8 p.m. Thursday, Black Box Theatre at the Lake Worth Playhouse. Call 586-6410.

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Film review: 'September Issue' oddly lightweight Wintour's tale

Legendary Vogue editor Anna Wintour,
in The September Issue.

By John Thomason

Caricature can be an incredibly damning cross to bear. Just ask Yoko Ono, Joan Rivers and Sarah Palin, to name a few prominent women whose names have been partially or forever sullied by the media’s manipulation of their characters.

When perception becomes reality, truth blurs into fiction: Sarah Palin never said, “I can see Russia from my house,” just as Marie Antoinette, another victim of caricature, never proclaimed, “Let them eat cake.”

This is not an effort to launch a pity party for Palin – just to provide context to which Anna Wintour, the longtime editor of Vogue, certainly can relate. In Lauren Weisberger’s bestselling The Devil Wears Prada, cruel and heartless fashion editor Miranda Priestly was the Charles Foster Kane to Wintour’s William Randolph Hearst, and Meryl Streep’s wicked onscreen portrayal of Priestly all but cemented the caricature of Wintour as an icy witch who treats her numerous underlings like ratty pairs of Levi’s.

Even her name sounds chilling: Wintour, a word evoking the frostiest of the four seasons while simultaneously suggesting a kind of dinosaurish creature out of Final Fantasy: Be sure to buy this potion for the best defense against the winged wintour!

But if The September Issue, a new documentary about Wintour and the development of Vogue’s fattest issue ever, accomplishes anything, it humanizes the lithe fashion mogul, whose pageboy haircut and no-nonsense demeanor have been staples at every major international fashion event for decades. Sure, she can kill careers with – literally – the blink of an eye, and she doesn’t have much tolerance for anything less than perfection, but since when did this become a negative attribute? Since when did your boss need to be your friend?

Wintour’s perceived ruthlessness could just as easily be labeled “efficiency” without any spin. She knows what she wants and is not one to waste time. And the results speak for themselves.

But aside from revising Wintour’s polarizing public image, this documentary, directed by War Room producer R.J. Cutler, is too puffy and lightweight to challenge anything about the world of fashion journalism, a term many would consider an oxymoron. It has plenty of amusing moments, mostly stemming from the day-to-day quarrels between Wintour and Grace Coddington, the magazine’s model-turned-creative-director and one of the few members of the Vogue establishment willing to stand up to, and even defy, her boss.

But unlike Cutler’s War Room, a timeless and essential political document, one gets the impression that he’s sacrificed some of journalistic objectivity for the starry appeal of insider perks. Nobody comes off looking negatively here, and as the magazine risks a crash-and-burn just a week before its biggest issue closes, it’s hard to believe there wasn’t more backstage drama than the restrained snippiness Cutler presents.

Nor does Cutler address the controversy surrounding some of Wintour’s decisions. He credits her as a trailblazer for placing celebrities on the magazine’s covers, but fails to mention the outrage from animal-rights activists over her single-handed revitalization of fur.

The film’s finest and most illuminating moments find Cutler interviewing Wintour and her daughter at home, digging beneath the showbiz glitz and office grind to probe the editor about what the rest of her family of esteemed political journalists and activists think about her career (“They’re amused by it,” she says, revealing some self-awareness with a tinge of melancholy).

Her daughter Bee has no interest in the fashion world and instead is pursuing a law degree. This discussion leads to an awkward moment between daughter and mother in which Anna is seemingly unwilling to accept this reality. Bee elaborates in a one-on-one sit-down with Cutler in which she criticizes the silly, life-or-death importance of her mother’s industry, which will come off as a voice of blasphemy or rationalism depending on the viewer.

Would that Cutler have taken this distinction a bit further and looked at the social and cultural implications of Vogue and its multimillion-dollar industry – or at least provided more of Wintour the person, less of Wintour the editor – it could have been more than a myopic vindication story debunking his subject’s caricature. But that’s about all it is.

Wintour closes the film herself by asking Cutler, “So what else?” I couldn’t help wondering the same thing.

John Thomason is a freelance writer based in South Florida.

THE SEPTEMBER ISSUE. Director: R.J. Cutler; Distributor: Roadside Attractions; Opens: Friday; Venue: Most area theaters