Posted on February 16, 2017
Image Credit: Chris Lee
In these chaotic times, music has the ability to raise the spirit. Without borders, it transcends the politics of walls and exclusion. This past Monday, Mahler For Vision, a Concert for the Restoration of Vision at Carnegie Hall showed that we can overcome that which divides us to create greater well-being. The goal is to end treatable cataract blindness worldwide. The ability to bring new life – a life with vision, to over 100 million women, men, and children through simple surgical procedure is truly a wonderful mission. Mahler’s Symphony No. 2 in C minor dovetails perfectly with this mission, a towering work of thematic ‘Resurrection’ in life and beyond.
200 musicians from 22 countries and 72 different orchestras assembled together for one common cause to make music, beautiful music to support this great cause. Conductor George Mathew understood this moment in history explaining in a pre-concert talk that Gustav Mahler was an immigrant, and adding, “contributions of people who erase boundaries are far too great to measure and far too great to ignore.” By working together, Mr. Mathew stressed the importance of a better future ahead “for the most vulnerable of our fellow human beings.”
Image Credit: Chris Lee
Mahler had strong philosophical leanings towards life and music. The Symphony No. 2 is a culmination of a spiritual journey that took over six years to synthesise between 1888 and 1894. The dramatic nature of the first movement Totenfeier (With complete gravity and solemnity of expression) is a continuation of the “symphonic poem” he was working with in his first symphony. Both works were born from troubling personal times, Mahler was jilted by a lover without warning.
In the second symphony, Mahler finds resurrection and conclusion to his work in the unlikeliest of places – a funeral. He wrote about the work, “I entitled the first movement Totenfeier, and if you want to know, it’s the hero of my symphony in d major (the first one) whom I bury here and whose life I catch from a higher point of view in a pure mirror. At the same time there is the big question: Why did you live? Why did you suffer? Is all this only a big terrible fun? We will have to find any answer to these questions if we should continue to live – yet even if we should continue to die! If ever somebody has heard this call in his life – he will have to give an answer, and I give that answer in the last movement”
Mahler finishes his great work with a poem in order to balance the power of the first movement. The poem takes its start from a memorial service of another great conductor and pianist Hans von Bulow, who ironically dismissed Mahler’s earlier version of the work saying, “it had surpassed all acceptable bounds of dissonance.” Great art always comes perseverance. How wrong von Bulow was, as Mahler went on to be one of the most influential composers of the twentieth century and the Symphony No. 2 continues to be a spine-tingling affair today.
Voice takes centre stage in the grand finale that lasts over 30 minutes. Indre Thomas, soprano and Susanne Metzer, mezzo-soprano with singers from the MASTERVOICES chorus unfurl the true vocal power of the last movement, expanding the great acoustics of Carnegie Hall with their angelic tones and heraldry.
With Wings which I have won,
In love’s fierce striving,
I shall soar upwards
To the light which no eye has ever seen!
Image Credit: Chris Lee
Music For Life International takes its name from the MUSIC FOR LIFE concert organised by Leonard Bernstein in 1987 to benefit AIDS victims. Bernstein understood the power of music to heal. This spirit lives on. Mahler for Vision is Mr. Mathew’s seventh global humanitarian concert since 2006, his last being Shostakovich for the Children of Syria in January 2014.
George Mathew is a shining example of my father, Leonard Bernstein’s creed that art can ‘do work in the world.’ He has worked tirelessly through music to move and uplift people.
~ Alexander Bernstein, President, Leonard Bernstein Foundation
Our souls are filled with beauty but it is vision that brings it to light. More information on programming and how to donate can be found at http://music4lifeinternational.org/Music_for_Life_International/Home.html.
Posted on January 28, 2017
Caspar David Friedrich, Wanderer Above the Sea of Fog, 1818 Oil on Canvas
The ASPECT Foundation for Music and Arts presented Romantic Vienna at the Italian Academy this past Thursday as part of the Musical Capital series. The program works to further understanding of “music in context.” The evening focused on two works, Franz Schubert’s Sonata for arpeggione and piano in A minor and Brahms towering Quintet for piano and strings in F minor — a solid dose of the spiritual and aesthetic values of nature. And of course the imagery of dreams.
The “Wiener Klassik” or Viennese Classical Style between 1780 and 1827 led by Haydn, Mozart, and Beethoven reflected order and symmetry. Vienna, the capital of the newly minted Austrian Empire, became a center for musical performance and composition raising the prominence of this city. The death of Beethoven in 1827 ushered in a new period of Romanticism, a seed that the great composer planted with his late works that were moving away from strict classicism. In Franz Schubert’s (1813-1897) short lifetime he continued this process of compositional experimentation that was greatly effected by new developments in the musical instruments, namely the piano. The arpeggione, a six-stringed hybrid between a cello and a guitar also had a brief moment is music history. Schubert would play in salon-style performances that were convivial in nature. Stephen Johnson, the eloquent BBC Radio presenter, commented on the intimacy and non-competitive nature of these musical soirées in his preconcert talk that touched upon this period of profound change both economically and artistically.
The arpeggione, a six-stringed hybrid between a cello and a guitar had a brief moment is musical history. The instrument took center stage in Schubert’s Arpeggione Sonata, a work of wistful nature that toggles from nostalgia to a more airy nonchalance. “As the accompanist Graham Jonson puts it, its character is one of mellow introspection and poignancy rather than profound tragedy,” read the liner notes. The sense of longing and wonder in the piece perfectly illustrates the very Romantic characteristic of reverie.
Johannes Brahms (1813-1897) Quintet for piano and strings in F minor was the main event of the evening, a composition that has the ability to lift both musicians and observer out of their seats. A powerful work of High Romanticism the Quintet passed through stages of instrumental preference, from string quintet to Sonata for two pianos before crystallizing in its present form. Brahms dedicated the work to Princess Anna Hesse in Berlin who was an ardent supporter and tantalizing court figure. Stephen Johnson painted a wonderful picture of Brahms as a Janus-like figure, deeply embedded in the study of classicism but heavily engaged in the psychology of Romanticism. This intense emotional makeup is on full display throughout the work described as “positively Byronic” by Johnson.
Portrait of Anna Langäfin von Hessen by Franz Xaver Winterhalter
A wonderful ensemble led by Vsevolod Dvorkin on piano were in sync throughout Brahms’s distinguished work. The theme, which is stated in the first eight measures, takes a dramatic and extended journey. The first movement in Allegro non troppo is a study of thematic inventions and rhythmic variety while tendering a noble character through chromatic leaps into major key inflections and syncopation. The Andante is a quiet intermezzo contrasting the tumultuous action and contrapuntal character of the allegro. After this incredibly sensual movement, the Scherzo takes on more ominous tones accentuated by the plucking of the cello in C. The pulsating Allegro Finale ranges from F to D-flat-major, to C minor and back to F with qualities reminiscent of Brahms’s “Hungarian Dance.” The agitated final measures emphatically return to the final three notes of F minor scale with the resounding force.
The Musical Capitals series continues on February 23, with Prague: Czech Romantics. For more information visit www.aspectfoundation.net.
Posted on January 27, 2017
February 17–May 29, 2017
Exhibition Location: The Met Fifth Avenue
Parade de cirque by Georges Seurat (French, Paris 1859–1891 Paris) 1887–88, Oil on canvas, 39 1/4 x 59 in.
The Ringling Bros. announced in January that it will be closing its run of 146 years this May, a year after letting its elephants free. As life itself gets more anomalous perhaps there is less of a need for big tent attractions. Centered around Georges Seurat’s masterpiece Circus Sideshow, the roots of this carnival fascination will be explored in a thematic exhibition at The Met of more than 100 paintings, drawings, prints, period posters and illustrated journals. Seurat’s great work spurred interest in other artists in the late 19th century leaving behind many depictions of what we affectionately call in the parade of life.
The Met wonderfully describes Circus Sideshow, “Seurat took a raucous spectacle that depended on direct appeal, the banter of barkers and rousing music, jostling crowds, and makeshift structures, and he silenced the noise, rendered the staging taut and ordered, hieratic and symmetrical, exquisitely measured and classically calm. Enveloped by the hazy gloom of night, the players and public are presented with the solemnity of an ancient ritual.”
Like art, the circus represents many things to many people, but for artists, those sensitive souls, it was a double-edged attraction grasping both its fiction and truths. Paul Bouissac says in his conclusion to Circus as Multinodal Discourse: Performance, Meaning, and Ritual, “The circus encapsulates all the challenges of human existence. The fundamentally same game is refracted from act to act. The odds follow a crescendo which eventually leads to a soft landing in the cradle of unanimity. The circus provides us with a sense of fusion, risk, and triumph.” Baudelaire famously referred to art as a gamble. Certainly, artists can relate to life up on the high wire.
This ancient ritual of entertainment is woven into the very essence of culture. Cirque de Soleil seems to be the new standard measure. The show must go on as they say. This unique exhibition will surely provide in great measure an interesting look into the pageantry that has excited or in some way horrified generations for over a century.
Grimaces et misères: les Saltimbanques by Fernand Pelez, 1888, oil on canvas, Musée du Petit Palais, Paris
Posted on October 7, 2016
Opening Night – October 5th, 2016
ASPECT Foundation for Music and Arts’s novel mission aims to develop a form of integrative performance that includes a pedagogical component intertwined with performances to bring greater understanding to the audience in terms of historical background and significance of the works performed.
ASPECT’s North American premiere was held in the ballroom of Casa Italiana, a landmark McKim, Mead, and White structure in classic Renaissance style. The intimate setting added to the charm of the opening night concert that featured a link between Bach and Mozart in the name of Baron Gottfried van Swieten. Historian Paul Berry explained that the ambassador to Frederick the Great in Berlin, van Swieten, was responsible for introducing Mozart to the work of J.S. Bach. At the time, Bach’s fugal art was largely out of favor and this “conduit” gave Mozart access to the great Baroque masters’ contrapuntal music, in particular, the studies embodied in the Well Tempered Clavier.
Mozart composed 6 Preludes and Fugues for string trio after J.S. Bach. A piercing performance of Mozart’s Prelude and Fugue in D minor acted as a musical introduction to the evening. This led into a conversation regarding Bach’s Fifteen Sinfonias for string trio, BWV 787-801 that illuminated the incredible variety of voices and emotions reaching its apex with an epic F minor composition and ending in dark woods of E major. This difficult performance of all the Sinfonias ranging back and forth from major to minor was gamely executed by violinist Dmitry Sitkovetsky, Dov Scheindlin, viola and Sergey Antonov on cello.
After intermission and another illustrated talk by Mr. Berry touched upon “Mozart’s own coming to terms with music of Bach” and the composer’s ability to create complex dialogues of great emotional resonance. Ignat Solzhenitsyn joined the string trio on piano for Mozart’s Piano Quartet in E flat major, K493. The strong question and answer or “a subject looking for a fugue” of the first movement is all Bach but as the piece progresses to the Allegretto the influence of Haydn emerges in the dense layering of motives. And as Stephen Johnson remarks in the liner notes, “the exquisite Larghetto beautifully balances elements of rapt aria and meditative ensemble.”
Historical development in classical music is a measure of influence. Predominant styles radiate through the ages of compositional conventions. J. S. Bach’s inclination towards contrapuntal form was truly against the grain of popular music at the time. Mozart’s interpretation of Bach’s most seminal studies gives historical significance to an aspect of music that stands the test of time.
Posted on May 25, 2016
Steven Kaltenblach is a guy I can relate to, an overlooked prankster cutting through the pomp of circumstance of the art world. Tucked into the back corner of Marlborough is a small sample of his conceptual work and sculpture. A typed essay from 1968, “A Short Article on Art Expression” begins with “The manipulation of perception is a valid goal of art expression.” And continues, “There are three factors which determine the nature of any perception: the object perceived, the environment in which the perception takes place, and the person who expresses the perception.” A message in a bottle washed upon the banks of Chelsea close to fifty years later reminding me to be aware of constructs of looking at art. The essay was included in the catalog of the 1969 exhibition, “When Attitudes Become Form,” which would be a great title for a Koons exhibition.
Speaking of attitudes and environments the only imaginative thought I could wrangle from Richard Serra’s exhibition at Gagosian was the analogy of “house of cards.” How much intellectual and emotional weight can be derived from cold steel? It is like the Richard Tuttle show at Pace, a study a poetic self-importance and conceptual materialism. Perhaps it is the particularly American tendency of overemphasis that I have a distinct aversion to. The entire Serra exhibition is a manipulation. But later I thought three rooms of cold steel really did make an interesting statement after all: ABOVE BELOW BETWIXT BETWEEN, EVERY WHICH WAY, SILENCE (FOR JOHN CAGE).
Car culture is explored in “Shrines To Speed,” a nostalgic exhibition at Leila Heller Gallery, filled with big names from Warhol, Basquiat, Prince, Hopper, Koons, and Eggleston. Bruce High Quality Foundation is also included reminding me of their work entitled ‘We Like America and America Likes Us’ at the 2010 Whitney Biennial that projected classic movie scenes from the windshield of a classic Cadillac ambulance. But the thinly sliced Citroën by Gabriel Orozco is still by far the most cunning statement on car culture for me. It is interesting to note that car design today has lost its independence and in many ways the result is not sexy or seductive. All automobiles look essentially the same now. There is no rust, no distinguishing elements and all the colors are soothing. The aesthetic decline marks the dumbing down of the smart car where autonomy is erased. Like globalization itself, homogeneity is the goal.
You are bound to learn something at Bruce Silverstein, a gallery that is always pushing the envelope of photography. The title of their new exhibition “Songs and the Sky” comes from Alfred Stieglitz’s cloud study series “Songs of the Sky” which became Equivalents (1925–1937). The exhibition encourages listening to music as a complement to the photographic display. I tapped into an interesting work by Henry Cowell, a eastern leaning composition derived from plucking the piano strings. At times I felt like I was in a derelict basement with groaning pipes as I look at the photos by Barbara Morgan who captured Martha Grahams “Deep Song” (1937) a response to the Spanish Civil War. I will have to return for further enlightenment.
More music awaits next-door at Luhring Augustine whose program has been exploding with sound over the last few years. Janet Cardiff and George Bures Miller have created a true gesamkunstwerk out of an old caravan. “The Marionette Maker” (2014 ) simultaneously conjures the freedom and mechanization of art while revealing it as a spectator sport, part and parcel of the entertainment industry. A very apt statement on the condition of artistic appreciation and practice today. This installation has to be experienced. The object (s) perceived, the environment in which the perception takes place, and the person (s) who express the perception are in a perfect groove of profundity. And that’s not all: In the back room a table full of speakers will play clanging guitars conducted by your shadow. The result is eerily reminiscent of Jim Jarmusch’s Dead Man soundtrack by Neil Young.
I have never seen so many Ken Price drawings together in one place until I went into Matthew Marks. The artist’s color sense and intellect is eye-opening and off-beat. The are constructed with the extra-sensory in mind, hallucinatory. On e can imagine the Fabulous Freak Brothers walking out of one of his landscapes. Looking at all them made me appreciate a red box truck, the green leaves and blue windows outside the gallery even more so.
Lastly, I had an immediate had a knee-jerk criticism of Jocelyn Hobbie’s portraits at Frederick and Frieser due to their candy land colors and empty, thoughtless faces. But the more I let them work discreet charm and indiscretion, the more I came to appreciate their beauty and compositional flair. This is popular art that mirrors the vapid, airbrushed imposition of fashion magazines that appeals to a broad set. Hobbie has manipulated perception well enough for a sold out show.
Posted on February 5, 2016
Posted on January 25, 2016
“Do not stay fixed on the ground! Courage! From out! Who has the arms and head, with joyful vigor, is at home everywhere.“
-From Goethe’s “Les Années de Pèlerinage”
Matan Porat’s intimate concert at Buttenwieser Hall pays homage to the rising and falling semitone motif through the history of Western music with tremendous self-expression and freedom. The sheer complexity of moods from lamentation to exaltation and everything in between, made for an engaging musical experience filled with contrast and consonance.
The journey began with Domenico Scarlatti’s (1685-1757) Sonata in D minor K32, a composition that has an immediate ascending (and descending) melodic line, a questioning theme in the form of a lament. François Couperin (1688-1773) the French Baroque composer noted for his tone poems continues the narrative in ‘high style’ with “La Muse-Plantine” from his Pièces de clavecin. The Czech composer Leos Janáček (1854-1928) who mined the rich history of Czechoslovakian folk music, in particular that of the southern region of Moravia, followed suit with “Intimate Sketches: Just blind fate?” a meandering impressionistic work indicative of the time period. Janáček’s colorful work feathered seamlessly into Felix Mendelssohn’s (1809-1847) “Song Without Words Op. 62 No. 1” a pleading romantic affair, softly played and accentuated. The sweetness continued into the Norwegian composer Edvard Hagerup Grieg’s (1843-1907) Lyric Piece, Op. 12, No. 1, a graceful aria without complication in stark contrast to Béla Bartók’s (1881-1945) short work with ostinato effect, Mikrokosmos, Book 6: From the Diary of a Fly. The complex pattern manipulations and canonic progression within Bartok’s buzzing arrangement perfectly mimics the erratic yet determined nature of a fly.
Brahms’s sweetly agitated Intermezzo in E minor, Op. 116, No. 5 followed the comical musical notions of a pest pleasantly. Part of Brahm’s seven Fantasias for piano written 1892 these works linger in the mind with elegance. Another work in E minor, A Mazurka by Chopin, continues the homophonic textural qualities in the Brahm’s work but with a little less emphasis on the bass and greater expression in the right hand. The French conductor and composer Pierre Boulez’s Notation No. 11 inserted next with cinematic vitality. Boulez (1925-2016), an avant-garde polemicist, created lasting works in the 1940’s and 50’s. The piano miniatures he composed in 1945, the 12 Notations, remain an important part of modern classical music and act here as intermediary to defined sections within the program.
Robert Schumann’s (1810-1856) “The Prophet Bird” takes a different flight, the short downward minor third. The spirited voicing or cries in this slow movement are part of Schumann’s “Forest Scenes,” and conjure similar notions of strange flight in the introductory section. French composer, Erik Satie (1866-1925) provides a measured technical interlude with Gnossienne No.2. The Gnossienne was a new term for a musical composition that Satie created with a certain religious connotation. The music scored in free time is quite experimental in its harmony, marking another deviation in the program.
We can all relate to Claude Debussy’s (1862-1918) “Des pas sur la neige (Footprints in the Snow)” after the recent blizzard that hit New York City over the weekend. The work from Debussy’s Préludes, Book 1 No. 6, has a four note motive that is present throughout with the impression of trudging through the snow, triste et lent. Borat followed this sad and pensive journey with the lively Baroque Gigue from Janáček Partita No. 1 in B flat major by J.S. Bach. The flashy contrapuntal texture is a nice way to climb out of a knee-high snowdrifts. The joviality is continued in the Lyric Waltz in F major, from “Dances of the Dolls,” by Russian composer Dmitri Shostakovich (1906-1975) and Beethoven (1770-1827) adds lightness of being with a Bagatelle in A-flat Major.
Another wonderful Notation, #4, from Boulez marks a new direction of musical intensity leading into another Gigue, this time by Mozart in G major, K. 574. The connection between the two is striking. The longest work in the program, Liszt’s “Années de pèlerinage: Vallée d’Obermann,” has a somber effect. Coupled with Gyorgy Ligeti’s (1923-2006) Musica ricercata: V. Rubato. Lamentoso and Gyorgy Kurtag’s (b.1926) Játékok: Doina one begins to weight of Hungarian classical tradition.
A Notation from Boulez into Alexander Scriabin’s (1872- 1915) Vers la flamme, Op. 72. marks the mystical turn in the program. Scriabin’s flair for illusion is poetic. The unbroken ascension conveys simply the titular notion, “Towards the Flame.” Before returning to Scarlatti again Porat pours his soul into a triumphant Improvisation, working the entire keyboard with the zeal of youthful exuberance. The Scarlatti theme appears again like a memory, turned inside out by so much in between wrapping up a pattern of classical ideals and associations.
Posted on January 15, 2016
“In every man’s heart there is a secret nerve that answers to the vibrations of beauty.” – Christopher Morley
Designed by Calvert Vaux, the famous cast-iron Gothic Bridge or No. 28 was erected in 1864 near the north gatehouse of the Reservoir by 94th Street. It was engineered by the J. B. & W. W. Cornell Ironworks. It is one of the many simple pleasures in Central Park.
Form follows function perfectly in the arch bridge. Elegance and grace, aesthetic qualities with emotional character, mark this footbridge that passes over a bridle path. The structural refinement of proportion between the voids and the masses and the balance among the closed surfaces and openings creates visual harmony and rhythm.
The bridge spans a short distance of 37 feet 5 inches but packs a visual punch delighting the eye from nearly every angle. The open spandrels are a nice contrast to the voluminous swooping of the arch and the quatrefoil tracery pattern of the railing above. The lateral pressure of the arched abuts Manhattan Schist from the park making the bridge a perfect component of its surroundings.
Photo Credit: Jet Lowe
Posted on December 17, 2015
Karl Haendel “Organic Bedfellow, Feral Othello”
October 22 – December 5, 2015
Mitchell-Innes & Nash
Karl Haendel describes his own practice as “honest work about contradiction and hypocrisy.” The meticulous photo-based drawings he creates are certainly honest, everything else combines pretense and conceptual plotting that suggests that Haendel has a command on visual culture and enjoys playing with it.
There is something immediately striking, both visually and intellectually, about the entire installation. The gallery space is completely transformed, animated by figures in yoga poses and apes atop various geometric forms. The powerful structural relationship of black and white design re-frames the gallery and stimulates the senses like the staging of a high-end boutique. Hand-drawn QR codes on display blocks furthers the idea of consumer space while other drawings reference self-bondage. Everything is familiar and unfamiliar at the same time, adding to the emotional uncertainty of quiet agitation.
The title itself is paradoxical, “Organic Bedfellow, Feral Othello.” Othello was not free but held captive by the immorality of others. Imprisoned by sexual jealousy, Othello’s self-deception leads to murder and suicide, the hideous crime of passion play. The insertion of the “Organic Bedfellow,” our biological predecessor, ape, whose primal nature comically collides with this artificial space is pure monkey business.
Haendel is not talking about Nietzschean evolution of ape-to-man-to-superhuman but rather devolution of opposing forces of nature and culture. It is culture that prevents Othello from true love. Today, true understanding of our selves is difficult because we are so consumed. Haendel makes us beautifully aware of the trappings of consumer culture; contrived spaces, unnatural and filled with void.
“What could be a better foil in understanding human evolution than everyday moments of devolution, which have remained a part of our species for thousands of years: getting cold, quenching thirst, being out of breathe. Black and white may be defined in opposition to each other but this is also what makes them inextricably linked. Our evolution is our devolution. Our devolution is our evolution. When we recycle, somewhere deep down inside we acknowledge the hypothetical end of Earth for our species, and when we couple, somewhere deep down inside we resist it.”— Karl Haendel
Posted on October 30, 2015
Alex Katz at the Met
October 9, 2015–June 26, 2016
Alex Katz is having a year. The prolific artist had gallery shows in London and New York as well two museum shows: Alex Katz: This is Now at the High in Atlanta and Brand-New & Terrific: Alex Katz in the 1950’s at Colby College Museum of Art, in Maine where the artist has a summer studio. A third exhibition at The Metropolitan Museum of Art, which opened October 9th – June 26th, 2016, was organized from donations to to the museum from Glenn Fuhrman, Leonard A. Lauder, and Katz himself. This intimate exhibition of eight works covers key points in Katz’s career including two cutouts from the 1950’s, a ominous cityscape, and several portraits of Katz’s wife and his circle. The show looks splendid in one of the finest nooks in the museum, the south facing Gallery 918.
A quintessential New York artist, Alex Katz was born in Brooklyn in 1928, graduated from Cooper Union and developed his unique style in the shadow of New York School, abstract expressionists like Pollack, De Kooning and Rothko. Katz’s simplified approach to portraiture is deceptively beautiful and imaginative. His work invades space and makes an immediate impression through scale, planes of color and impeccably quirky composition. Katz has reached a highly refined aesthetic that is instantly recognizable but never dull. In a world filled with cacophony sometimes it is pleasing to have some clarity.
And one last image from the Whitney Museum’s exhibition “America is Hard To See” where Katz’s “Red Smile” 1963 was paired with Warhol’s “Before and After, 4” 1962.