Saturday, January 30, 2010

Music review: Cleveland Orchestra does right by Bernstein

Pianist Joela Jones. (Photo by Roger Mastroianni)



By Greg Stepanich

Leonard Bernstein always was torn between the needs of his composing and conducting lives, and in the end, the lure of the podium proved too strong for him to write as much music as he said he wanted to.

In a previous Miami residency, Franz Welser-Möst and the Cleveland Orchestra tackled the first of the three symphonies Bernstein composed, and Friday night they brought us the second. Titled The Age of Anxiety from the W.H. Auden poem that inspired it, the Bernstein Second was finished in 1949, when the composer was 31.

The symphony is more or less a piano concerto, and in listening to it, the audience at the Knight Concert Hall got to hear the work of a composer who, had he not pursued work in the popular theater, sounded as though he could have been an American Shostakovich, and more's the pity that he wasn't. The Cleveland's own pianist, Joela Jones, was the soloist for the symphony, which despite its occasional lapses of taste and somewhat sketchy formal organization, is a work of real quality that should have a more secure place in the repertory.

Jones, a native of Miami who studied at Florida State University and the Eastman School, is a decent pianist who took care of her often boisterous part with vigor and solid technique. But she also sounded quite stiff, and in moments such as the bluesy fifth section (The Masque), Jones was missing the sense of loose, athletic abandon that makes this kind of jazz-besotted music really work.

Orchestrally, there were all the benefits of listening to a major American symphonic ensemble: Full, silky strings, beautifully blended wind and brass sections, and the confident expectation that no difficulty would truly be beyond it. In the first of the symphony's two parts, the opening clarinet duet was dark, rich and lovely, for instance, and in the five-beats-to-a-bar fourth variation the orchestra gave the music a crisp, engaging feeling of play.

In the second part, the strings played the big Dirge theme with majesty and sweep, and the last of the six sections had a kind of grandeur and sense of arrival that Bernstein seemed always to be searching for in the finales of several of his theater pieces. While the music didn't persuade everyone, judging by comments overheard during the intermission, Welser-Möst and the Cleveland did good service for a neglected American work by programming it.

The concert opened with the overture to the opera La Forza del Destino, easily the most popular of Verdi's orchestral preludes. The Cleveland was able to give this music a kind of power and hugeness that the composer almost surely never encountered in the opera theaters of his day, but the music itself is ideally suited for it. Welser-Möst favored a very brisk tempo and some odd accents, especially in the theme for Leonora's prayer, and the clarinetist added a saucy little mordent to his solo a few moments later.

This was high-quality Verdi nevertheless, with a massiveness and unity to the brass sound in particular that served as a most effective color contrast to the rest of the orchestra in the unison E's that open the work, and in the section soli later on.

The final work Friday night was the Symphony No. 3 (in E-flat, Op. 55, Eroica) of Beethoven, one of the seminal works of the canon and one that never fails to astonish by its boldness and originality, especially for its time. Welser-Möst's interpretation was quite unusual, but I found it refreshing and provocative without doing any injury to the music.

Given this conductor's affinity with Bruckner, one is tempted to say that he approached the first movement as though it was Bruckner rather than Beethoven; here, all the phrases had an exceptional liquidity and smoothness, and the dramatic points were made in a narrative fashion that stressed peaks of phrase and dynamic, rather than motif. It was a Beethoven with a sort of rubbery logic in which the music ebbed and flowed, with plush rather than sharp accents: a Romantic, vivid Beethoven with little trace of the Classical tradition in sight.

The funeral march second movement was also in this vein, with a rather fast tempo and a focus on melody rather than drama. Unlike many interpretations, the march kept moving, with a somber rather than anguished fugue, and quietly expiring at the end of natural causes rather than stumbling into silence after pauses between gasps of grief. Again, not a reading that would please traditionalists, but effective just the same.

In the third movement, the scherzo started with an almost imperceptible chatter before building into its climax. The three-horn trio, unfortunately, was rather rough, with a couple blown notes in this most exposed of horn passages the first time through, though it improved with repetition.

The finale also had a hurry-up kind of tempo, with no careful introduction of the simple theme for effect. Welser-Möst pushed through all the variations until the central one with the slow oboe solo, losing some of the interest in hearing how Beethoven took the theme and made so much of it. But it was undeniably exciting even in its hastiness.

I don't know that I'd want to hear it quite this way again, but it's a tribute to Welser-Möst and the orchestra that they were able to make it work so well and still get across the monumentality of what Beethoven accomplished almost 200 years ago.

The Cleveland Orchestra and music director Franz Welser-Möst will repeat this program tonight at the Knight Concert Hall in the Adrienne Arsht Center on Biscayne Boulevard in downtown Miami. The concert begins at 8 p.m. Tickets: $50-$160. Call 305-949-6722 or visit www.arshtcenter.org.

Music review: Violinist Numata shows power, wide range

Violinist Yuki Numata.


By Greg Stepanich

If eclecticism is the name of the game for today's younger virtuosi, then to be successful these days requires that you play all those different kinds of pieces equally well.

It won't do, in other words, to have a middling Mozart but an incandescent Shostakovich. Too much is expected, but that doesn't mean you can't shine a little brighter in some things more than in others.

Thankfully, the Canadian-born violinist and onetime New World Symphony fellow Yuki Numata has a good grasp of many varieties of style, and while her specialty is contemporary music, she was most persuasive Wednesday afternoon throughout a recital whose designated lodestar was J.S. Bach.

In an appearance accompanied by the Korean-born pianist and current New World fellow Hyojin Ahn at Stage West in Palm Beach State College's Duncan Theatre, Numata offered an engaging, often refreshing program that showed an intelligent musical mind at work. She is a strong, polished player who kept even the most flashy parts of her recital tightly under control, and that helped the audiences follow the Bachian braid woven through three of the pieces more easily.

The most contemporary choice Numata made in her Young Artist Series performance was a work by the American composer Ryan Francis, a native of Oregon who still is in his 20s and is studying for a doctorate from Juilliard. Francis' piece, Sillage (the word is French for "wake," as in what a boat creates as it moves along the water), sounds directly inspired by the B minor Partita of Bach, the Allemande movement of which Numata played just before it.

Sillage, composed in 2008, is designed to be played after the Double section of the Allemande, and listeners found that the musical conversation was continuing in a completely different place. In this work, the violin plays virtually non-stop the same basic broken-chord pattern of the Double, but plays it entirely at a whisper, floating above wee-hours jazz-flavored chords in the piano.

It was nothing if not evocative, and an interesting, compelling choice for this recital. The Bach Allemande that came before it received a sober, respectful reading, and much the same can be said about the Beethoven sonata -- No. 7 in C minor, Op. 30, No. 2 -- that opened the program.

In the Beethoven, Numata showed herself to be a player of considerable physical strength; if the first movement was not especially propulsive, it was big and precise, and she partnered well with Ahn, a pianist of admirable technique and the same kind of contained focus.

The second half began with the second of the six solo sonatas (in A minor, Op. 27, No. 2) of the Belgian virtuoso and composer Eugène Ysaÿe, a work that begins with a quote from the Bach E major solo sonata. Here, Numata showed a different side of her performing personality. Unleashed on the vividness of this piece, with its frequent citations of the ancient Dies irae church melody, Numata played with broad emotion and high drama.

She also demonstrated a thorough mastery of the sonata's considerable difficulties, which in addition to a long list of flashy technique stunts, include often-startling shifts of mood, particularly in the first movement. The second movement's melancholy song was played with force and beauty, and in the third (Danse des Ombres) she let the theme of the Sarabande blossom with warmth before moving on to the variations.

At the end of the last movement, her final triple-stop cadence came up just a hair under pitch, but those chords followed a passionate, powerful reading in which the Dies irae motif and the tightly wound main theme were punched out for maximum effect.

Numata closed her recital with a tasteful reading of the Ravel G major violin sonata. The violinist's basic orientation toward firm control of the music could be heard clearly in the second, jazz-influenced movement, titled Blues.

The slangy blue-note main theme was big but not self-indulgent or overly broad, a good example of Numata's fidelity to the different styles she handles so competently.

The young Russian violinist Mikhail Simonyan is next up in the Young Artist Series at Stage West, in a recital set for Wednesday, Feb. 24. Simonyan has scheduled the Violin Sonata No. 2 (in G, Op. 13) of Edvard Grieg, the Ravel showpiece Tzigane, and Tchaikovsky's Souvenir d'un lieu cher. Pianist Alexei Podkorytov accompanies. 3 pm, Stage West, Duncan Theatre, Palm Beach State College, Lake Worth. Tickets: $22. Call 868-3309 or visit www.duncantheatre.org.

Friday, January 29, 2010

Weekend arts picks: Jan. 29-Feb. 3

Jupiter and its moon, Io.
(Photo by NASA/Jet Propulsion Laboratory)


Music: This weekend, the Houston Symphony Orchestra comes to town as part of a limited national tour, and it’s bringing the universe along with it. Conductor Hans Graf will lead the Houstonians (and the women of its chorus) in the great seven-part tone poem The Planets, by English composer Gustav Holst, accompanied by high-definition NASA images of our universe projected on a giant screen. It’s a merging of technology and music that some might find troubling – the emphasis will be on the images, not the orchestra – but it’s doubtless going to be a unique and impressive show. Also on the program is French composer Henri Dutilleux’s Timbres, Espace, Mouvement, and Stravinsky’s early Scherzo Fantastique (Op. 3). 8 pm Saturday at the Kravis Center (tickets: $25-$85), and 8 p.m. Sunday at the Broward Center for the Performing Arts in Fort Lauderdale (tickets: $25-$60). Call 832-7469 (Kravis) or 954-462-0222 (Broward).

Speaking of guest orchestras, the Cleveland Orchestra offers its second series of concerts starting tonight at the Knight Concert Hall in Miami’s Adrienne Arsht Center. The groundbreaking Symphony No. 3 (in E-flat, Op. 55, Eroica) of Beethoven shares the bill with Symphony No. 2 (Age of Anxiety) of Leonard Bernstein. The concert opens with Giuseppe Verdi’s overture to his opera La Forza del Destino. Staff pianist Joela Jones solos in the Bernstein, and music director Franz Welser-Möst conducts. Tickets: $50-$160. Call 305-949-6722 or visit www.arshtcenter.org.

Closer to home, the Lynn Philharmonia, student ensemble at the Lynn University conservatory of music, presents its annual program of student concerto winners. These concerts are a good way to catch some local rising stars whom you might be catching at the beginning of major careers. The winners are pianist Natasa Stojanovska, cellist Aziz Sapaev, bassoonist Carlos Felipe Vina and violinist Maryna Yermolenko. Albert-George Schram conducts. 7:30 p.m. Saturday and 4 p.m. Sunday at the Roberts Theater on the campus of St. Andrew’s School in Boca Raton. Tickets: $30. Call 561-237-9000 or visit www.lynn.edu/tickets.

Violinist Leonid Sigal.

Further north, the Atlantic Classical Orchestra opens it chamber music series on Saturday morning at Stuart’s Blake Library with a free concert by violinist Leonid Sigal, ACO’s concertmaster. Sigal, accompanied by pianist Kimball Gallagher, has programmed an all-Russian concert featuring the beautiful Sonata No. 2 (in D, Op. 94b) by Sergei Prokofiev, the Divertimento of Stravinsky, and two pieces by Tchaikovsky: His Serenade Melancolique and Valse-Scherzo. The concert is free admission and starts at 11 a.m. in the library at 2351 S.E. Monterey Road. Call (866) 310-7521 or visit www.acomusic.org.

Hildegard of Bingen (1098-1179).

And speaking of female choruses: The women of Seraphic Fire, the Miami-based chamber choir, present a concert called Kisses of His Mouth: Music of Ecstasy. On the program are pieces by the 12th-century mystic Hildegard of Bingen (O Ignee Spiritus) and the American composer Samuel Barber (Heaven Haven). Also featured are pieces by Monteverdi, Couperin, Gluck, Mozart, Palestrina and John Dowland, plus a new work (Kisses of His Mouth) by Seraphic Fire guitarist Alvaro Bermudez, set to lines from The Song of Songs. The group performs at First United Methodist Church in Coral Gables at 7:30 p.m. tonight, at 8 p.m. Saturday at All Saints Episcopal Church in Fort Lauderdale, and at 4 p.m. Sunday at Miami Beach Community Church in Miami Beach. Tickets: $35. Call 305-285-9060 or visit www.seraphicfire.org. – G. Stepanich

The kick line of all kick lines, from A Chorus Line.

Theater: Long before there was reality TV, director-choreographer Michael Bennett conceived a stage musical about 17 dancers vying for eight slots in a new fictional show, baring their innermost thoughts in a grueling marathon audition session. The show, of course, is A Chorus Line, which went on to win nine Tony awards and the Pulitzer Prize, becoming the longest-running show in Broadway history at one point. The 2006 revival, directed by Bennett’s co-choreographer Bob Avian, clones the original staging without losing any of the impact, as you can see at the Kravis Center beginning Tuesday, Feb. 2, for a week. Tickets are available at (561) 832-7469. – H. Erstein

Émilie Dequenne in The Girl on the Train.

Film:
Basing his 2009 film The Girl on the Train (La Fille du Rer) on an actual case in which a young French woman falsely claimed she was the victim of an anti-Semitic attack, director Andre Téchiné (Changing Times) avoids the potential sensationalizing of the story for the more subtle, human behavior themes. Émilie Dequenne (Rosetta) is impressive as the girl, Jeanne, and Catherine Deneuve adds a touch of class as her mother. The film is divided into two segments -- Circumstances and Consequences -- sort of a French Law & Order. At Emerging Cinemas in Lake Worth and Mos’Art Theatre in Lake Park. – H. Erstein


A Milanese half-armor, circa 1590, to be on display
at the American International Fine Art Fair.


Art: Beginning next Wednesday, a host of international dealers and collectors will converge at the Palm Beach County Convention Center for the American International Fine Art Fair (AIFAF). The AIFAF features more than 80 dealers from Europe and America, including objects from paintings to sculpture, antiquities and antiques. It can be a great education to look at the wide spectrum of objects, talk to dealers and attend the many informative lectures that are offered throughout the seven-day fair. Particularly of note are two talks: At noon Feb. 3, Geza von Habsburg, an art historian and Habsburg descendant, will present Habsburg Tapestries: An Exhibition at The Norton Museum of Art. And at 4:30 p.m. Feb. 4, Sir Timothy Clifford, formerly of the Victoria and Albert and British museums, gives a talk called Collecting European Paintings, Drawings, Prints and Sculptures. – K. Deits

Thursday, January 28, 2010

Art review: Pinball exhibit evokes a lost America

The backglass art from the King of Diamonds pinball machine,
made by Gottlieb in 1967.
(artist: Art Stenholm; designer: Ed Krinsky)



By Jan Engoren

As video killed the radio star, so did it kill the pinball machine.

And as a new exhibit of nostalgic Americana at the Cornell Museum of Art and American Culture in Delray Beach makes clear, the rise of computer technology and video have sent pinball machines down the road of forgotten Americana: the automat, the Victrola, the jukebox, the 1959 Chevy.

Pinball machines were in their heyday from the 1930s to the 1970s, found everywhere from beachside arcades to bars, pool halls and candy stores. The Cornell now has 28 of them on display from the collection of Florida resident R. Steve Alberts in an exhibit that runs through the end of March.

Today, collectors prize the machines not only for the game but for the original artwork on the side panels, gameboard and backglass. It’s worth spending some time at this exhibit if for nothing more than to be reminded of a simpler time and a pastime that has gone the way of the transistor radio.

This exhibit, with a good sampling of some of the best-known games, fills two large rooms and a part of a third. It is evident that the curators attempted not to recreate an arcade but to display the machines in a manner befitting a museum, and also to showcase them as a way to introduce the machines to a younger generation.

“The museum has recently refocused itself to reach a younger demographic and has renamed itself the Museum of Art and American Culture,” said Joe Gillie, Cornell’s executive director. “We believe this will help us come into our own as a museum and showcase exhibits that are relevant to our younger visitors."


Bally's Addams Family game, made in 1991,
and the best-selling pinball machine of all time.
(artist: John Youssi; designer: Pat Lawler)

Of particular note are many of the most popular games of recent eras, such as the Williams Company’s Black Night, circa 1980, which has the first multi-level gameboard; the Haunted House with three levels, by Gottlieb; and the best-selling pinball machine of all time, The Addams Family, created in honor of the camp 1960s TV series after Williams and Bally merged in the late 1980s.

The primary audience for many of these games was adolescent males, and you can see why when you look at the artwork, much of which features buxom, curvaceous women, comic-book heroes such as Spider-Man and the Incredible Hulk, TV shows such as Star Trek and Bonanza, sports heroes such as the Harlem Globetrotters and Muhammad Ali and even a patriotic red, white and blue Evel Knievel with a blonde woman in hotpants and tight T-shirt.

The golden age of pinball is considered to be the decade from 1948-58, due in part to the Gottlieb Co. adding "flippers" to a game called Humpty Dumpty. Flippers gave the player some control over what had been purely a game of luck and transformed it into a game of luck and skill.

Before that, pinball had been considered something of a dodgy pastime. During Prohibition, pinball machines were blamed for helping lead young men into lives of gambling and crime. One picture in the exhibit makes that point: It's New York Mayor Fiorello LaGuardia smashing a pinball machine with a sledgehammer.

Despite their checkered past, pinball machines rebounded in popularity and secured their place in popular culture. The 1970s saw the second biggest advance in the industry since flippers. Solid state technology, computerization and electronic displays came into existence, making the older mechanical games obsolete.

English rockers The Who immortalized the Pinball Wizard in their 1969 rock opera, Tommy. An early 1970s machine named after it is here in the exhibit; actress Ann-Margaret, who starred in the film version, modeled for the backglass artwork.

Adding to the ambience of the exhibit is a collection of neon pinball and arcade signs on loan from the Puppetry Arts Center in Palm Beach as well as assorted pinball ephemera, such as pinball ornaments, arcade tokens and collector books and posters. A real treasure is the Coke machine piggy bank designed to replicate a miniature pinball machine, complete with moving parts.

The neon pinball and arcade signs could have been used to better effect by mounting them in a concentrated display, creating more of a tone and feel of an actual arcade and better evoking the feel of a lost era.

The backglass art for Darts, made by Williams in 1960.
(artist: George Molentin; designer: Steve Kordek)


In the main exhibit hall, I recommend viewing the short mini-documentary, Tilt: The Battle to Save Pinball: Year 2000. It is fascinating to watch as the Williams Co. designers and developers, as well-known in their industry as Bill Gates or Steve Jobs are in theirs, discuss their last-ditch attempts to save the endangered game and their efforts to compete in the new video marketplace.

Their vision resulted in the first combined video pinball machine called Revenge From Mars. The film runs about one hour, and if you can’t spend the whole time, at least try to listen and get a sense of an era of American inventiveness.

Just to the right of this film, sits the actual game that is the subject of the documentary, Revenge From Mars, developed by Williams before it closed down the pinball division of its company and concentrated on the business of making slot machines.

Unfortunately, viewing this machine in its static state is like watching a 3-D movie without the glasses. To see Revenge From Mars in all its glory and to understand the full impact of its innovation would require you to play the game, which isn't possible.

For me, the exhibit could reach another level by recreating more of the actual ambience (without the smoke, of course) of a traditional arcade and by having more than two machines available to play.

In its upstairs display, the museum does have two working machines that the public can play – the Williams F-14 Tomcat on loan from the personal collection of Christopher Lemon, and The Games, by Gottlieb, on loan from Joey Restivo and Metropolis Entertainment. The original cost? 1 play (five balls) for 25 cents.

Try it, and do more than test your skill. Reclaim a piece of Americana.

Jan Engoren is a freelance writer based in South Florida.

Pinball Palooza: The Art, The History, The Game runs through March 28 at the Cornell Museum of Art and American Culture at Old School Square in Delray Beach. Hours are 10:30 a.m. to 4 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday, 1 p.m. to 4:30 p.m. Sunday. Admission is $6 general; $4 seniors and students 13-21, $2 for ages 5-12 and free for children under 5 years old. Delray Beach residents receive free admission the first Sunday of each month through April.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Music feature: Violinist O'Connor to play genre-busting recital

Violinist Mark O'Connor.
(Photo by Erica Horn)


By Bill Meredith

Some musicians are so adept at different styles that they get tagged with the phrase "they can play anything." Fewer actually earn the distinction, since most don't get the chance, or even seek, to play every style.

American violinist Mark O'Connor is the exception, since the 48-year-old has practically been there and done all that. He conquered Gypsy jazz and swing while working with iconic French violinist Stephane Grappelli, bluegrass, country and folk music with mandolin master David Grisman, and fusion and instrumental rock with the Dixie Dregs.


That was all before his 21st birthday, and his dexterity practically extended to every stringed instrument. O'Connor was primarily a guitarist with Grappelli, who also schooled him on the nuances of the violin. He played both with Grisman (while picking up tips on the mandolin from the bandleader and Mike Marshall and using them to teach himself), and was a double-threat as both violinist and electric guitarist with the Dregs.


O'Connor has played violin exclusively since 1997, and has since delved into the classical music realm as both a player and composer. His latest release, Americana Symphony, is based on the historic American westward expansion. It features O'Connor performing his compositions and arrangements with the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra (conducted by Marin Alsop), and was released on the violinist's own label, OMAC.

Few violinists succeed in the classical world without having studied at a prestigious conservatory, college or university. But ever true to form, O'Connor has a creative take on the schooling he received during the formative years of his late teens and early 20s.

"A lot of musicians can point back to the things they learned during their college years," O'Connor says. "I played with Grappelli, Grisman and the Dregs during what would've been those years, so I can say the same thing. Between Stephane, David and [Dregs guitarist] Steve Morse, I got to learn from some of the greatest improvisers in music.

“I did have a lot of teachers before then, in violin, guitar, voice, theory, percussion and dance. When I was 12, my musical academic schedule probably rivaled most college course loads. I took classical, flamenco, bluegrass and jazz lessons on guitar alone. But I taught myself a lot, too. I was creative, and always very curious."


By mastering everything from exactingly written classical pieces to improvised jazz passages, O'Connor has proven to be an open-minded rarity. On Jan. 31, he’ll get a chance to prove it without a safety net, as he plays a solo violin recital in a Live Arts Florida presentation at Wellington Community High School Theatre.

The Jan. 12 earthquake in Haiti has turned the concert into a Haitian relief benefit. Live Arts Florida is donating all parking revenue, and all net ticket and vending proceeds, to the Haitian Relief Fund of the Southeast Diocese of the Episcopal Church. The funds will be used for food, medical supplies and housing for the people of Haiti.


"I've been doing something like this for 20 years," O'Connor said before the show, "and I keep refining and developing it to make it better."

This version included tributes to Grappelli, Nicolo Paganini and Texas folk fiddler Benny Thomasson, arrangements of standards, O'Connor's caprices, and three different sets of improvisations. The violinist also played in a variety of different tunings during what amounted to an around-the-world violin performance.


Now living in the heart of Manhattan, O'Connor has made the east-to-west trek (not to mention the reverse) that his Americana Symphony portrays. He was born in Seattle in 1961, played with Grisman while based in San Francisco, then became a prominent session musician in Nashville. The first in his ongoing series of annual string camps started there while he was teaching at Vanderbilt University from 1993-96, and he added a West Coast camp after moving to San Diego (also since relocated to New York City).


"We did the first camp 16 years ago," O'Connor says, "but that location has since been moved to Johnson City, Tennessee. And we just included New York City [the first camp there occurred last July in Manhattan], which was tremendous. We went over our cut-off number of 200 and got around 250 students.


“It was 270 with all the teachers, and there were lots more in the audience during the concerts we did, so there may have been 300-400 string players total. It may have been the biggest gathering of them, in recent memory, for one event in New York City." By introducing young musicians to Western classical, jazz, American folk and world music -- on equal terms -- O'Connor aims to break down the figurative walls between musical genres.


O'Connor's inaugural string camps formed an educational snowball that has only grown. He's recently been an artist-in-residence at the Berklee College of Music in Boston, the Herb Alpert School of Music at UCLA, and the Frost School of Music at the University of Miami (for the 2009-2010 season).


He's also self-published the first two volumes of the new O'Connor Violin Method books, which will grow to a series of 10 beginner-to-advanced volumes. Distributed by Shar Music, each features sequenced tunes and exercises; theory, history and ear training, and play-along CDs.

The series is subtitled "A New American School of String Playing," and it takes students on string music history lessons through Americana -- including hymns, African-American hoedowns and spirituals, folk songs, ragtime, jigs, reels, ballads and American classical movements. O'Connor plans to expand his violin method books to include viola, cello and double bass.

"These first two books are crucial," he says, "because you have to hook kids or you lose them. They feature American music, but there are also illustrations and history boxes. I started to put this concept together over the years, because there's no reason why you can't learn how to play the violin using American literature, as opposed to European."


"Sometimes it's hard to figure out how to move things along pragmatically," O'Connor continues, "because they're stuck. I feel that's what's happened for hundreds of years with American string playing. There's been all these camps, niches and little corners, and they're all dug in and don't see everything else. And all genres are guilty of that in this country. I grew up in that environment, and it was so frustrating, because I wanted not only to participate in different areas and genres, but wanted to cross-pollinate.


“Grappelli did that beautifully, and when you look at the patriarchs of American music, they did that too. People like Bob Wills, Bill Monroe, Chuck Berry and Elvis Presley stirred up new sounds, and energy, by mixing ingredients."

O'Connor has truly come of age as a composer since his 1996 Sony Classical debut Appalachia Waltz, which featured classical icons Yo-Yo Ma (cello) and Edgar Meyer (double bass). Its 2000 offshoot, Appalachian Journey, won a Grammy Award. O'Connor's first full-length orchestral score, The Fiddle Concerto, has been performed more than 200 times, and his 2007 Folk Mass was recorded with the 40-voice Gloriae Dei Cantores choir. He received a commission from 15 symphony orchestras to compose Americana Symphony, which is subtitled "Variations on Appalachia Waltz."

"Getting that symphony on disc was a major achievement," O'Connor says, "and Marin Alsop and the Baltimore Symphony helped to make a beautiful recording of it, for which I'm really thankful. It's a real journey; you can almost feel the crossing of the prairies and the Rocky Mountains in the music. Now I'm hoping that orchestras will decide to program it, and I know that ones in Memphis, Tucson and Kansas City are looking at it.

“The past year has been the busiest I've ever had. I have tons of writing commissions now; probably enough to last me for years. I don't know how I'll get it all done."


The violinist's solo performance in Wellington followed a series of January performances by his Hot Swing band, which honors the World War II-era Hot Club of France band that Grappelli led with guitarist Django Reinhardt. In February, O'Connor's itinerary includes playing his String Quartets Nos. 2 and 3 with Ida Kavafian, Paul Neubauer and Matt Haimovitz in Toronto and performing with the Amarillo Symphony Orchestra in Texas. His next CD, to be released in April, is the live Jam Session -- which will feature jazz and bluegrass musicians like Hot Swing guitarist Frank Vignola and Nickel Creek mandolinist Chris Thile.


Clearly, O'Connor practices the educational dexterity he preaches. And having more of an open mind than he does a formal musical education isn't hurting his status at the pulpit.


"It's amazing how many major music schools and conservatories are inviting me not only to perform, but also teach in the past two years," O'Connor says. "I've been invited to the Cleveland Institute of Music, and I think I was the first non-traditional classical string player to give master classes at both Curtis
[Institute of Music in Philadelphia] and Juilliard. Those are interesting breakthroughs, and what it says to me is that there's a developing interest in American string styles.

"Some of the top violin students in the world go to Curtis," adds the burgeoning educator, his voice mixing pride with amazement. "And they were learning my caprices and string quartets."


Call it the dawn of O'Connor's brave new world symphony.


Bill Meredith is a freelance writer based in South Florida who has written extensively on popular music and jazz.


Mark O'Connor
will perform a solo violin recital in the Wellington High School Theatre at 7:30 p.m. Sunday, Jan. 31. Tickets: $30-$35 (with various discounts for students, members and seniors). Call 888-841-ARTS or visit www.liveartsfl.org.

Monday, January 25, 2010

Arts feature: Poetry festival starts somberly, ends in joy

Poet Marie Howe.


By Chauncey Mabe

In the dark times, will there also be singing?
Yes, there will be singing.
About the dark times.


-- Bertolt Brecht


A somber tone dominated the sixth edition of the Palm Beach Poetry Festival, with the distinguished faculty focusing on “poems of witness” and elegies for the dead. Yet by Saturday, the busy last day of the festival, the atmosphere had turned almost giddy with the sheer joy of poetry.

As Marie Howe remarked during the afternoon panel discussion, “An elegy is a love poem.”

Carolyn Forché set the grave mood the previous Monday, when she opened the festival with a discussion of her influential 1993 anthology, Against Forgetting: Twentieth Century Poetry of Witness. She was joined by Ilya Kaminsky, who came to America when his family fled anti-Semitism in the Soviet Union.

The emphasis on elegy arose from Kevin Young, whose latest collection, Dear Darkness (2008), was inspired by the death of his father. In March, his anthology of elegiac poems, The Art of Losing: Poems of Grief and Healing, will be published.

During a break in Saturday’s programs, Miles Coon, founder and director of the festival, said the week had been anything but a downer, despite the dark and serious subject matter of many of the readings.

“There’s been a lot of elegiac poetry,” Coon said. “Carolyn Forché and Kevin Young seemed to inspire a lot of people. Thomas Lux read a couple of elegies. Ilya Kaminsky. But there is an element of joy in elegy, and then there is just the power of poetry in general.”

By any metric, this year’s festival was a success. The six days of workshops drew more aspiring poets than ever, with a waiting list for the 96 seats. Poets came from 25 states and several foreign countries to study with Howe, Forché, Young, Kaminsky, Lux, Stephen Dobyns, David Wojhan and Mary Cornish.

Many of the daily public events – poetry readings, panel discussion and performance poetry – drew near-capacity crowds.

During Saturday afternoon’s panel, “Beloved and Influential Poems,” Howe praised her workshop participants. “My students worked so hard this week,” she said.

Among this year’s students, Donna Hunt came from Athens, Ohio, to study with Kevin Young. An adjunct English instructor at Ohio University, she’s already been published in literary magazines like The Diagram.

“I had a great week,” Hunt said. “Everything was amazing, like just being in the same room with Marie Howe or Carolyn Forché.”

The Saturday panel proved a potent celebration of poetry, with the acclaimed poets on stage – Pulitzer finalists, Guggenheim fellows, National Book Award finalists—reading and discussing their own favorite poems.

Lux chose We Are Many, by Pablo Neruda, for example. Forché read On Living, by Nazim Hikmet, who she named the best Turkish poet of the 20th century. Among the other selections were poems by John Berryman, W.S. Graham, Hart Crane, W.H. Auden, Robert Frost and William Butler Yeats.

“It’s an impossible task, picking out one great poem,” said Wojahn, a Pulitzer finalist in 2007 for Interrogation Palace: New and Selected Poems 1982-2004. “I think I now have an iPod behind my cerebrum with 400 of my favorite poems and sometimes I put it on ‘shuffle.' ”

Lux noted that all the poems selected were by men, even though the panel included three women. Moderator Campbell McGrath, South Florida’s most distinguished poet, added that only three of the selected poems were by Americans.

The panel briefly discussed the question of whether American poets don’t “have as much at stake” as Europeans or Latin Americans. Kaminsky suggested modern U.S. poets are drunk on irony, while Wojahn said “the professionalization” of poetry might make modern poets “too comfortable” to take risks.

But the poets seemed less in the mood to worry about political correctness than to exult in its pleasures.

“I don’t think poetry is as complicated as we sometimes want to make it,” Lux said. “Every time I read (Hart Crane), I get a physiological response, like an electric eel shooting through my body. Poetry for me is more visceral than anything else.”

Cornish, who spoke movingly of a grandmother “who recited poetry only when she was fishing,” said favorite poems provide balance to the chaos, speed and bad news of modern life. “This is my balance to the headlines,” Cornish said. “This is my balance to how can I cake one more headline about the Supreme Court.”

Howe and Wojahn closed out the week’s readings on Saturday night. “The people in my workshops were wonderful,” Wojahn said, “and I’m scared shitless to be in a room with poets I’ve been in awe of for 30 years.”

The festival ended with performances by slam poets Andrea Gibson and Anis Mojgani. Host Taylor Mali called them “two of the best performance poets today,” offering as evidence: “They have no other jobs. They support themselves going place to place, performing their poems.”

Mali, himself a four-time National Poetry Slam team champion, praised Coon for including performance poetry from the festival’s inception.

Last year, Mali was one of the slam poets on stage, but in a conversation earlier in the day, he noted that he has attended the festival for three years – as a student.

“I make my living teaching poetry,” said Mali, who lives and works in New York. “But you never get so good you can afford to stop studying. There’s a lot stage and page poets can learn from each other.”

Chauncey Mabe is the former books editor of the Sun-Sentinel. He can be reached at cmabe55@yahoo.com. Visit him on Facebook.

Opera review: Second cast outstanding in PB Opera's 'Otello'

Allan Glassman and Michele Capalbo in Otello.


By Rex Hearn

Shakespeare’s tragedy Othello was the basis for the libretto Arrigo Boito wrote for Giuseppe Verdi, who at the time Boito approached him about the opera was 71 years old and considered himself retired.

But three years later, in February 1887, Otello had its triumphant premiere at La Scala, and this work plus Verdi's final opera, Falstaff, are considered the pinnacle of the Italian opera tradition.

Saturday night's second-cast performance at the Palm Beach Opera confirmed this: It was a truly grand production.

From his first-act entrance, tenor Allan Glassman established his character and credentials as Otello with a booming Esultate! L'orgoglio musulmano (Rejoice! The Mussulman's pride is buried in the sea). His voice, brilliant in victory and stentorian in tone, which Glassman maintained all evening, projected beautifully.

He has the vocal quality of an early Callas in its dramatic overtone, timbre and delivery. His artistry in the way he shapes each phrase was most impressive, and he let his voice carry on the breath, bel canto style, without pushing. He has a heroic tenor, which this part cries out for.

The cunning, two-faced ensign, Iago, sung by baritone Daniel Sutin, made the most of this meaty role, conniving, persuading, and plotting Otello’s downfall. Sutin’s voice is a first-class instrument; it has a rich, iron-edged quality that made one never doubt he would succeed. Perhaps only a little more obsequiousness in his acting would have been in order.

Daniel Sutin as Iago.

Sutin led a fantastic brindisi in Act I with fine choral backup, and sang the Credo masterfully in Act II. This Credo, Boito’s only divergence from Victor Hugo’s translation of Shakespeare’s plot, which was his source, is needed to establish Iago as the Mephistopheles, the bad guy, of the opera. In doing so, Boito met with Verdi’s approval : "Most beautiful, and wholly Shakespearean," opined the maestro of Boito’s new, well-chosen words.

As Desdemona, the Canadian soprano Michele Capalbo rose to great heights. Her beautiful voice and subtle acting created an artistic gem that shone brilliantly from start to finish. In the Act I love duet, Gia nella notte densa (The night is dark and silent), she was indeed Otello’s lover and equal. Their love felt real.

Michele Capalbo as Desdemona.

But as Iago’s sly plots against her man progress, Capalbo showed her anxiety and concern as Otello falls away from her, mistakenly believing she is in love with Cassio. In the bedroom scene of Act IV, the great Willow Song was most tenderly and beautifully sung, as was the Ave Maria that came next. Capalbo has an elegant way of finishing off her vocal line by drawing her voice back momentarily on high notes, holding audiences in thrall for what is a lovely softening effect. This was a touching and memorable performance.

Cassio, a young captain of the guard, sung by tenor Norman Shankle, is the unsuspecting victim of Iago’s cunning. He sang his role wonderfully well. His bright tenor and arrogant swagger had one rooting for his promotion, which we knew would come from his cool demeanor : he’s made governor of Cyprus in place of the discredited murderer, Otello.

Mezzo-soprano Irene Roberts was a fine Emilia, and bass Grigory Soloviov sang the role of the Venetian ambassador, Ludovico, very well.

Director Bernard Uzan came up with a good idea for the climactic murder: There wasn't a pillow in sight when Otello kills Desdemona, strangling her from behind as she stands on the stairs. Uzan also moves crowds like no other; he had the Palm Beach Opera chorus becoming Venetians, Cypriots and Greek men-at-arms in no time.

And the chorus was superb. This is a group made up of young and exciting voices that beats the Metropolitan Opera's wobble-prone group by a mile. All praise, then, to chorus master Gregory Ritchey for his thorough training.

The scenery was provided by the Cincinnati Opera. Donald E. Thomas supervised the lighting, and the follow spots were accurate and on target.

And the orchestra in the pit sounded and played brilliantly under the baton of Bruno Aprea. They did justice to Verdi’s seamless continuity and sumptuous orchestral writing with keen playing, which is what we have come to expect from this excellent symphonic ensemble of 70 or more musicians.

This is one of those operas where music and lyrics combine to make a masterpiece. Poetry and song are balanced in lyrical forms. With this production, the Palm Beach Opera's new general director, Daniel Biaggi, is putting his stamp of quality on the company as it moves toward its half-century, just two short years from now in 2012.

The sky’s the limit.

Rex Hearn founded the Berkshire Opera Company in Massachusetts in 1985. He has been reviewing opera in southern Florida since 1995.

Otello will be performed at 2 p.m. today at the Kravis Center with tenor Allan Glassman as Otello, soprano Michele Capalbo as Dedesmona, and baritone Daniel Sutin as Iago. Tickets: $23-$175. Call 1-800-572-8471 or visit www.pbopera.org.

Sunday, January 24, 2010

Art review: Escher retrospective fascinates, overwhelms

Rind (1955), woodcut by M.C. Escher.


By Gretel Sarmiento


A young man stands looking at a picture of a ship in the harbor of a small town with its little turrets, cupolas and flat stone roofs, upon one of which sits a boy, relaxing.

Two floors below him a woman gazes out of the window from her apartment, which sits directly above a picture gallery, where a young man stands looking at a picture of a ship in the harbor of a small town.

This is Print Gallery, by Maurits Cornelis Escher (1898-1972). The Dutch graphic artist (known by his initials as M.C.) was never an architect or photographer, nor was he a mathematician or philosopher.

But he became all of the above for works like this, precisely drawn riddling images that have become hugely popular, in some cases even iconic, all over the world. Newly opened at the Boca Raton Museum of Art is what organizers say is the largest exhibit of Escher’s work ever assembled in the United States, not so much an exhibition as an “invasion,” according to curator Rock J. Walker.

Hand With Reflecting Sphere (1935), lithograph by M.C. Escher.

The exhibit, formally called Marc Bell Presents: The Magical World of M.C. Escher, is named for Bell, a Boca Raton-based entrepreneur who owns Penthouse magazine, a network of adult social-networking sites, and has won two producer Tony awards (for Jersey Boys and August: Osage County). He joined forces with Walker, who owns the second-largest collection of Escher works in the world, to present the exhibition.

On display through April 11 are hundreds of Escher's original artworks dating from 1919 to 1969, including about 70 drawings, studio furniture, memorabilia and more than 250 woodcuts, lithographs and mezzotints. Keep moving. Look around. Because the next print is more fascinating than the one before.

And if you walk out or skip a room, you might just miss the reason why you came in the first place -- or why you'll remember Escher forever.

The exhibit is divided into ten sections, starting with Early Prints and Drawings. Here is the first of many works to consider reflection and symmetry as well as duality of black and white and good and evil: Scapegoat. It is one of a series of woodcuts Escher created for a friend's booklet entitled Flor de Pascua (Flowers of Easter). He was only 23 when he made it. Notice the large hole drilled into the top left. That's the printing block, canceled. You see it here for the first time. The artist made sure his work wasn't reproduced.

Day and Night (1938), woodcut by M.C. Escher.

The ascending and descending up-and-down theme that appeared in 1938 with his first great lithograph Cycle is spotted here on the 1930 Street in Scanno, one of only three large-format Italian lithographs Escher created. Scanno is set in a village. A woman is seen knitting surrounded by stones and multiple stairways leading who knows where.

Cycle, in turn, sees a smiling boy running down steps unaware of his fate. In a few more steps he turns into marble and becomes one with the tile ground and the building. That brief detour before reaching the Italian landscapes? Take it. It's bound to surprise you, brighten your day or, if you feel as the artist did, disturb you.

"The hippies of San Francisco continue to print my work illegally," Escher wrote in 1969. He was referring to the vintage blacklight posters that publishers in San Francisco and Chicago had managed to make from his work. Glowing in this dark room under ultraviolet light are 14 of his works, including Dream, Spheres and Inside St. Peter's. Oh, it gets cooler.

Details aside, the neat thing about Escher's work is that it involves us, the spectators, a great deal. His works are fascinating, but ultimately we decide whether the water in Waterfall runs downhill or uphill and whether the habitants in High and Low can ever meet. If in Sky and Water the eye focuses on the light spaces, we see fish. Focus on the black and we see birds.

Inside St. Peter's (1935), wood engraving by M.C. Escher.

Even Dream, which is not as tricky visually, can't resist in inviting us to participate. Is the bishop dreaming about a praying locust or is the entire image the dream of the artist? We decide. And very few notice the Big Dipper on his 1933 Phosphorescent Sea lithograph. Hint: watch for the tiny white dots on the dark gray sky.

No other piece reflects the exactness of his work as well as Smaller and Smaller, a 1956 woodcut and wood engraving. This is the most detailed of all his prints. To obtain this ridiculously explicit precision he used special lighting, high-powered magnification and minute tools. No wonder walking through the exhibit we get the feeling Escher must have been a very serious, strict person.

To achieve this level of artistry, to nail each line and each dot, each step of the creating process ought to have been taken seriously. No mistakes could be afforded. Escher drew his designs onto specially prepared blocks of German limestone using lithographs pencils. A master lithographer would help the artist first wet the stone evenly, then apply ink and finally print it slowly under tremendous pressure of a large roller press. Escher inspected the finished lithographs and destroyed any that failed to meet his standards.

Reptiles (1943), lithograph by M.C. Escher.

All but 10 of his stones were destroyed following printing -- he would cancel them by scratching an X so his work couldn't be reproduced. Two of those stones are here on exhibit: one of the Convex and Concave lithograph and the other one of Three Worlds. Looking at them is even better than looking at the end results. The same happens when looking at the woodblocks for Owl and Old Olive Tree. We think of pieces of wood going through surgery, autopsy or labor. Theirs is a necessary pain to give birth to unbelievable art. We can imagine Escher then as a doctor, a surgeon.

Others like Walker prefer to call him the Einstein of the art world: the bridge between art and science. And not only that. A storyteller as well. Take Reptiles or, better yet, Encounter, one of his masterpieces of graphic storytelling, which depicts the meeting of a happy optimist (in white) and a cautious pessimist (in black). The pessimist keeps his finger raised as if giving a warning while the optimist approaches him cheerfully. Eventually they shake hands. One wonders what conversation they'll be having later on.

Magic Mirror (1946), lithograph by M.C. Escher.

This and his "impossible buildings" works -- Waterfall, Ascending and Descending and Belvedere -- are evidence of the artist's own transformation. After 1936 Escher abandoned reality as the main source of inspiration and fed his art from his imagination. Judging by the works that followed, his was an extraordinary mind, busy with not just with inconceivable constructions but the regular division of the plane, rings, spirals, mirror images, and the conflict between the flat and the spatial. He couldn't have enough. Realistically speaking, we can.

No gallery room disappoints here, but after a while even Escher starts to look repetitive and then it's all up to curiosity. As fantastic as he is, the success of the exhibit has more to do with how much you think you know of him as it does his skill.

Snakes (1969), woodcut by M.C. Escher.

If you are an Escher expert, you'll be looking for your favorites. If you know little, you'll wonder what comes next. If you are in the middle, you'll think him amazing whether you make it to the last print, Snakes, or leave halfway through.

If by the end of the exhibit you feel saturated, even a bit dizzy, don't feel bad. Be proud, feel cool, smarter: You have just witnessed Escher in all his glory. "Only those who attempt the absurd will achieve the impossible,” he wrote. “I think it's in my basement ... let me go upstairs and check."

Cocky. Yes.

But can you blame him?

Gretel Sarmiento is a freelance writer based in South Florida.

Marc Bell Presents: The Magical World of M.C. Escher can be seen through April 11 at the Boca Raton Museum of Art in Mizner Park, Boca Raton. Admission is $8 for adults, $6 for seniors. The museum is open from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Tuesday through Friday, and 12 p.m. to 5 p.m. Saturday and Sunday. On the first Wednesday of each month it is open from 10 a.m. to 9 p.m. Call 561-392-2500 or visit www.bocamuseum.org.

Drawing Hands (1948), lithograph by M.C. Escher.

Saturday, January 23, 2010

Opera review: 'Otello' decent but spotty at PB Opera

Soprano Sabina Cvilak.


By Greg Stepanich

For its first staged production of the season, the Palm Beach Opera on Friday presented a decent, if unremarkable, production of what is often considered Giuseppe Verdi's finest opera.

Otello, which for the composer marked a bold advance toward a seamless fusion of music and drama, requires a kind of singing and acting that it only got intermittently on the Dreyfoos Hall stage at the Kravis Center. Nevertheless, it was a good night at the theater overall, and a refreshing, brainy way to get the staged season under way.

The American tenor Carl Tanner was the Moor who loved not wisely but too well, and at his best Friday night, he sang with an appealing lyric sound. It's a pretty voice, very Italianate, and doubtless delightful to listen to in lighter repertoire. Here, though, a more heroic, heavier voice is needed; one missed the weight that would make the words la gloria, il paradiso ring out in the Act I love duet, for example.

Tanner's acting was also hit-or-miss. Much of the time he seemed to be uncomfortable moving around on stage, rather than dominating it, as the tough guy who just whipped the Turks would be expected to do. But as his voice warmed up, his acting got more natural, and he became more persuasive as a man driven into a jealous rage, gasping out, rather than singing, the first measures of Dio! mi potevi in Act III.

As Desdemona, the Slovenian soprano Sabina Cvilak offered a strong, rather dark voice with a wide vibrato in the upper reaches. She sang noticeably flat in her first couple entrances, but by the third act, her voice had risen to the occasion, filling out and blossoming as the drama turned to center on her.

The true test of any Desdemona is the fourth act, with some of the most beautiful pages in any opera, and here Cvilak won the only solo applause of the night. She was quite effective in the Willow Song and Ave Maria, singing the repeated Salce, salce, salce nearly inaudibly but most compellingly, and she was able to move from there to her farewell outburst to Emilia with convincing power.

As a couple, Cvilak and Tanner had no chemistry whatever, which isn't fatal to the success of the opera, but it would have helped sell the lackluster singing of the Act I love duet and the swift emotional changes of the Dio ti giocondi set piece in Act III, not to mention the very end of the opera.

The most consistent singing, and best acting, came from the American baritone Tom Fox as Iago. He sang well throughout the opera, seizing the listener's attention from the very start with a bronze-like sound of real quality and presence. The top three or four notes of his range were missing, but Fox covered for them, snapping off the high yelp of the Act I drinking song, for instance, rather than belting it out. That drinking song had a nice touch as well, as orchestra and Fox did a fade on the falling phrase of the refrain, evidence of a sophisticated, canny musicianship.

Fox's acting was that of a confident, thoroughly professional performer, at home in the spotlight, and he imbued his character not just with the requisite menace but a kind of manly force that made it easier to see why his transparent stratagems worked so well.

The young American tenor Norman Shankle was an adequate Cassio, with a somewhat lightweight voice that showed its very attractive coloring to best effect in the handkerchief exchange with Iago in Act III. He, too, is a singer who would be good to hear again in lyric romantic roles. Mezzo-soprano Irene Roberts, a member of the Palm Beach Opera's Young Artist program, sang respectably as Emilia, with a voice of good size and roundness.

Perhaps best of all in this Otello was the orchestra, which save for one flubbed horn cue at the end of Act I, played beautifully in a score that calls for the ensemble to supply most of the psychological underpinnings as well as the accompaniment. Bruno Aprea conducted them with his usual excellence, engagement and passion, unleashing all their strength in the big choral scenes and bringing surpassing tenderness and delicacy to the Willow Song. Only a slightly slower tempo in that Act IV scene might have helped make it more poignant.

This is a handsome Otello, with evocative sets from Allen Charles Klein and traditional late medieval-early Renaissance costumes in a multiplicity of colors. Veteran French director Bernard Uzan makes good use of his stage, keeping the action from bunching up or getting static.

The chorus was not particularly good at the outset, shaky and off cue in their outbursts during the storm, and the male voices were weak. The women, however, sang nicely in the Act II song for Desdemona, and the massed ensemble singing in Act III was properly forceful.

What this performance lacked most was a sense of furious forward motion, a feeling of events spinning out of control. Part of that has to do with casting the wrong kind of tenor voice for Otello, and part of it Friday night probably had to do with opening-night unfamiliarity. But it has to have that kind of drive to make the denouement work -- in Shakespeare as well as Verdi.

Otello will be performed at 7: 30 p.m. today at the Kravis Center with tenor Allan Glassman as Otello, soprano Michele Capalbo as Dedesmona, and baritone Daniel Sutin as Iago. Friday night's cast returns for a second performance at 2 p.m. Sunday, and tonight's cast returns at 2 p.m. Monday. Tickets: $23-$175. Call 1-800-572-8471 or visit www.pbopera.org.

Norman Shankle as Cassio in Palm Beach Opera's Otello.

Friday, January 22, 2010

Weekend arts picks: Jan. 22-28

A teaset by John McCoy.

Art: For the past 36 years, John McCoy has been teaching visual arts and art history to students at Florida Atlantic University. Many of his students now have successful art careers, and some of them have come together to celebrate McCoy's ceramics work in a retrospective exhibition.

The list of exhibitors for John McCoy and Friends reads like a Who’s Who of South Florida ceramics: Joel Betancourt, Timothy Brown, Christine Colombarini, Louis Colombarini, Michael Conti, Amelia Costa, John Cutrone, Shirley DeWitt, Toni DeWitt, Garry Dick, Giannina Dwin, Nena Escobar, John Foster, Kimberly Giberga, Catalina Hoffman, Gary Johnson, Gemma Kibben, Brian Kovachik, Justin Lambert, Scott Lammer, Jackie Lanier, Bill Lennox, Mark MacDonald, Jennifer McCurdy, Joseph Meerbott, Newton Oshinsky, Courtney Page, Sylvia Rosen, Brian Somerville, Susan Urbanek, Karla Walter and Leona Zegar. While his students’ work varies considerably, McCoy creates expertly crafted wheel-thrown vessels, bowls and other container forms that are wood-fired, creating unique surface patterns and color.

“I am a functional potter. In my work, I strive for qualities of simplicity, honesty and a sense of fluidity," said McCoy, who did graduate study with ceramic great Rudy Autio at the University of Montana, in his artist's statement. The exhibition opens from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m. today at the Ritter Art Gallery on FAU’s Boca Raton campus, and runs through March 5. For more information, call 561-297-2966.

Michael Jackson, by Harrison Funk.

Meanwhile, it's FOTOFusion Week at the Palm Beach Photographic Centre, and that means plenty of interesting activities for photo enthusiasts. It starts this afternoon with a free interactive seminar by fashion photographer Douglas Dubler, who will photograph fashion models and explain how to get magazine-quality shots. New York Fashion Takes Palm Beach will last from noon to 2 p.m. in the courtyard of City Center.

And tonight is the FOTOFusion Photograph Auction, which features 25 unique prints by world-famous photographers, including Harrison Funk (Michael Jackson) and Douglas Kirkland (Marilyn Monroe). Proceeds benefit Picture My World, an outreach program for at-risk kids. Daile Kaplan, vice president and director of the Swann Galleries, will conduct the auction, which lasts from 6:30 p.m. to 8:30 p.m. The $5 admission to the museum’s galleries is waived the week of FOTOfusion. Palm Beach Photographic Centre is located at 415 Clematis St. in West Palm Beach. Call 561-253-2600 or visit www.fotofusion.org.

Marital Dysfunction, by Kelly Manganaro.

The Clay, Glass, Metal, Stone Gallery in downtown Lake Worth opens an exhibit tonight featuring the work of Linda and Kelly Dean Manganaro, Sarah Lerner and Victoria Rose Martin. The Manganaros collaborate on art and also create work independently. A common thread is that they are artists, antique dealers and art collectors, and that they create assemblages of antiques, modern retro items and found objects. Kelly is an expert woodworker and welder, fashioning everything from jewelry to massive lighting structures and fantasy furniture. Linda’s work is highly personal, combining events to create highly symbolic sculptures. The exhibit opens from 6 p.m. to 9 p.m. today, and regular gallery hours are Wednesday through Sunday from 1 p.m. to 9 p.m. Call 561-588-8344 or visit the gallery's Website.

And from 10 a.m. to noon Saturday, Elayne and Marvin Mordes will open their Whitespace Collection to the public. Inside the main collection is a smaller gallery called Whitebox, which is a curated community-based artist’s project space showing emerging and mid-career artists. The current exhibition, The Cruelty of Youth, is a snapshot of the new aesthetic in photography and video emerging in young Chinese artists. It is open to the public, and the $12 entrance fee includes a tour of the entire collection of contemporary art. Partial proceeds will benefit the Community Foundation of Palm Beach and Martin Counties. Whitespace Collection is located at 2805 N. Australian Ave. in West Palm Beach. For more information, visit www.whitespacecollection.com. -- K. Deits

Francisco Solorzano, David Nail,
Brian Smith and Gordon McConnell
in The Sins of the Mother.
(Photo by SigVision Photography)


Theater: In celebration of the more than 70 plays that Israel Horovitz has written in his 70 years, theaters all over the world are producing his stage work, many of which are set in his adopted seaside town of Gloucester, Mass. As part of that continuing birthday tribute, Florida Stage not only has the Southeastern premiere of Horovitz’s latest script, The Sins of the Mother, but Horovitz himself is directing the production. It is the story of five men, former fish-processors who hang around their dormant stevedores’ union hall, who share a violent secret. Previews begin on Wednesday, Jan. 27, prior to the official opening of Friday, Jan. 29. Call (561) 585-3433 for tickets. -- H. Erstein

Colin Beavan and his daughter, Isabella.

Film: How far would you go to make a statement about our wasteful way of life and heavy carbon footprint? In the amusing documentary No Impact Man, married-with-child New Yorker Colin Beavan resolves to spend a year using minimal greenhouse gases. In other words, no electricity, no appliances, no non-organic produce and, ugh, no toilet paper. What is not clear is whether he really wants to save the planet or merely land a book and movie deal, both of which have happened. Still, his attempt at avoiding any negative impact on the globe puts a serious strain on his marriage. The film will make you think about ways to be more ecological, but chances are you will not follow Beavan’s experiment yourself. At Emerging Cinemas in Lake Worth and Mos’Art Theatre in Lake Park. -- H. Erstein

Soprano Sabina Cvilak.

Music:
This might be one of the biggest opera weekends locally in some time, with no fewer than three different productions hitting the boards over the next few days.

Begin with Otello, Verdi's penultimate opera and perhaps his best, in the first production of the year for the Palm Beach Opera, which opened its season in December with a performance of Beethoven's Ninth Symphony. Tonight, the American tenor Carl Tanner stars as the Moor of Venice and the Slovenian soprano Sabina Cvilak is Desdemona, who faces a tragic end just after singing two of the most beautiful arias in Italian opera back to back. Tanner and Cvilak also sing the roles on Sunday afternoon; Alan Glassman and Michele Capalbo take over Saturday night and Monday afternoon. Bruno Aprea conducts. 7:30 p.m. today and Saturday, 2 p.m. Sunday and Monday, at the Kravis Center, West Palm Beach. Call 800-572-8471 or visit www.pbopera.org.

Soprano Eglise Guiterrez as Lucia.

Meanwhile, the Florida Grand Opera mounts its second production at the Ziff Ballet Opera House in Miami on Saturday with Donizetti's Lucia di Lammermoor. The Cuban-born soprano and local favorite Eglise Gutierrez stars in this bel canto blowout with one of the most celebrated mad scenes in all opera, as Lucia stabs her husband of only a few hours to death and then staggers out from the bedroom in front of the horrified wedding guests in a bloodstained gown. Israel Lozano is Edgardo, Lucia's real love, for six of the eight performances -- 7 p.m. Saturday and 8 p.m. Jan. 26, 29, 31, Feb. 4 and 6 . Maria Alejandres and Mark Panuccio take over at 8 p.m. Jan. 27 and 30. All January performances are at the Ziff; the two February shows are at the Broward Center in Fort Lauderdale. Tickets range from $21-$225; call 1-800-741-1010 or visit www.fgo.org.

Finally, the Gold Coast Opera mounts four nights of Johann Strauss II's most popular operetta, Die Fledermaus, under the auspices of Sunset Entertainment. Fledermaus has to do with a couple, their mischievous maid, and a big party at Prince Orlofsky's house, and it's full of charming tunes that have proven every bit as durable as Strauss' dance music. This offshoot of Jenny Kelly's Baltimore-based Teatro Lirico d'Europa touring company has brought good nights of opera to auditoriums across the country. Shows, all at 8 p.m., are set for Monday at the Eissey Campus Theatre in Palm Beach Gardens; Tuesday at the Miramar Cultural Center; Wednesday at FAU's Kaye Auditorium in Boca Raton; and Thursday at the Broward Center. Tickets range from $40-$55, depending on the venue. Call the various box offices or visit www.sunsetet.com.

The Fauré Piano Quartet. (Photo: Kasskara)

If your taste runs more to chamber music, Palm Beach's Society of the Four Arts continues its venerable Sunday afternoon series with the Fauré Piano Quartet, a German foursome in residence at the Music Lyceum in Karlsruhe. The quartet will play the Piano Quartet No. 1 (in C minor, Op. 15) by its namesake, Gabriel Fauré, and the Piano Quartet No. 1 (in G minor, Op. 25) of Johannes Brahms. Perhaps most intriguingly, the group also has scheduled the early Quartettsatz (i.e., "quartet movement") of the young Gustav Mahler, written when the future composer of the Resurrection Symphony was a promising 16-year-old student at the Vienna Conservatory. 3 p.m. Tickets: $10. Call 655-7226 or visit www.fourarts.org. -- G. Stepanich