Wortham Ctr, Houston, Hit Hard by Hurricane Harvey

The Hedgehog is sorry to report great damage to Houston’s Wortham Theater Center due to the terrible force of Hurricane Harvey. Wortham is the home for the Houston Grand Opera and the Houston Ballet. The Hedgehog reported on the many contemporary dance events of the Dance Salad Festival held there in March, 2016.

More than a month after the Hurricane, the stage floor was still damp. Storage spaces below the orchestra pit had housed costumes, shoes, and other stage properties. These items, ruined by water, added toxicity and bad odors to the space as they mouldered away . Dressing rooms for the corps de ballet were in ruins with broken mirrors and furniture as well as ruined floors.  Dyes used for costumes also added to the dangerous chemical soup. Air conditioning, electrical and mechanical systems were wrecked.

Nevertheless, the show went on: the Ballet opened in the Hobby Center for the Performing Arts, September, and the Opera had its season opening in the George R. Brown Convention Center, October. Predictions for the return to the Wortham Theater Center range from May, 2018, to October, 2018. Living in San Francisco where rebuilding and repairs to venues including the Opera House, Veterans Building, and City Hall from the 1984 earthquake continued for years, the Hedgehog wishes Houston a speedier recovery.

DARPAN: SHAMBHAVI DANDEKAR KATHAK CONCERT

October 15, in Santa Clara, CA, Shambhavi Dandekar presented a concert of Kathak dances performed by expert performers including herself and guest artists as well as performances by her students. This was a brilliant program: the students added a great deal to the presentation while the artists were able to explore the further reaches of Kathak both as movement art and storytelling. It was a delightful excursion through the realms of the classical dance art from ancient times in Northern India.

Shambhavi Dandekar, Kathak artist and director of SISK, the Shambhavi Institute of Kathak, of California and India

The program opened with extraordinary works performed by Tejaswini Sathe, Director of SISK in India and sister in law of Ms. Dandekar. As Ms Dandekar had injured her shoulder and needed to restrain her movements, Tejaswini flew in from India. A dance element that was most noticeable was her eloquent arm movement. In Kathak, the essence of the dance is usually the complexity of the rhythms beat out by the feet. Ms Sathe’s movement was expressive throughout her body. She opened and defined the space through which she moved by the graceful, generous use of arms, while traveling through the stage space still keeping rhythms in her feet, arms and head. She performed Devi Stuti, a tribute to the feminine energy in the universe, and Rudra Taal, an explosion of challenging rhythms.

Tejaswini Sathe, Guest Artist, Director of SISK, India

Mr. Rann Shinar ably performed a story in Kathak. He enacted a son devoted to Vishnu, a cruel father angry at his son’s devotions, and Narsimha, the fourth incarnation of Vishnu who came to slay the father whose true identity was the Demon King.

Chief Guest of the event was Kala Ramnath, Indian violinist, singer, composer, and recent recipient of the Sangeet Natak Academy’s award, India’s most honored arts award.

Ghungroos/Footbells worn by Kathak dancers

SISK’s adult students performed a musical teen tal in Raag Kalaavati. It included traditional dances, footwork and gestures. The eight dancers were accompanied by music by Chinmay Kolhatkar. The students performed very well. Obviously well trained and well rehearsed, their performance and the dances performed by other students created an excellent tour through Kathak, both its technique and meaning. Ms Dandekar achieved something special with her students: she had choreographed works which were suitable for their abilities and therefore let them shine. The dances were clean, strong, and expressive.

The announcer and narrator was Samita Pradhan. She was outstanding. The commentary added a great deal to the audience’s appreciation for the program.

Tabla Drums

Tabla player Tanmay Bichu was central to the performance. Performing with Shambhavi he played abstract forms of tabla compositions, Peshkaar, Kaida, and Chalan in a ten beat taal, Jhaptaal. One needs to see and hear a fine tabla performer such as this one to appreciate and be knocked off one’s feet by the seemingly endless mathematical complications of the rhythms and the speed of the musician’s hands and fingers as he plays. These complex rhythms were incredibly matched by Ms Dandekar’s feet as she danced with him. It appeared to be a conversation but one that might not be put into words. The audience must be available in the moment, all senses tuned only to the rhythmic sounds. Once it stops, one may become aware that during the rhythmic slicing and mixing of time in the music, time had stopped.

Senior students danced Chatrang, meaning four colors, representing four elements of music depicting storytelling (Nritya). The four are Bandish, melodic composition; Taraana, abstract syllables set to melodic composition; Sargam, notes of melodic composition; and rhythmic syllables. It is fascinating to this audience member how much of the music and dance plays with abstractions even while a story floats on top. In Chatrang, Krishna and the Gopis (young women keepers of cows) play Holi in Vrindavan. Holi is the holiday when devotees exult in spraying bright colors on each other. Vrindavan is the garden in which Krishna loved to frolic as a child. These dancers succeeded at communicating the essence of the story while dancing Kathak’s rhythms and turning movements. For the audience, it was another, more advanced step in learning about Kathak.

In Chatrang and all of the program, the costumes were elegant and colorful. Care was taken to match or vary color and styles, but there was never a chance for a great costume innovation to trip up a dancer. Costumes were by Sheetal Oak, Isha Phadke, of Pune, India.

Three artists visiting from other cities performed a Shiva Drupad in Raag Natbhairav and taal Dhamaar, a fourteen beat cycle. Each of them is the founder and director of a Kathak school and each one comes to the Bay Area to acquire further learning from Ms Dandekar. They are Meenal Chakradeo, Meenal’s Academy of Performing Arts, San Diego; Shaili Bhandari, Nrita Shaili School of Kathak, Phoenix; Ekta Popat, Storytellers School of Dance, Houston. Their dance had choreography and vocals by Param Guru Pandit Maneesha Sathe. These dancers made a beautiful and powerful trio.

Triveni, meaning the confluence of three rivers, was a dance of the three moods of Raag Kedar: taraana (abstact syllables set to melodic composition), tabla compositions, sargam (notes of melodic composition). These students in their third year of Kathak study performed beautifully.

Tejaswini Sathe and Shambhavi Dandekar

Ms Dandekar demonstrated her polished acting skills in an Abhinaya piece, Yashodhara. Named for the wife of Bhagwaan Buddha, the touching dance represented the sacrifices of a wife whose husband is seldom available to her and leaves her alone. She longs for a true marriage of companionship and love. When, at last, her husband returns, he has become Gautam Buddha and helps others to achieve enlightenment. She understands and follows. The dance is based on a Hindi poem by Maithili Sharan Gupta.

A change of pace was a challenging Kathak piece set to music by the contemporary rock group, Coldplay. The song, Sky Full of Stars, expressed the dancers’ passion for dance and its role in their lives according to the narrator. It was an exciting, energetic piece skillfully performed. The dancers reveled in the challenges of cross cultural art.

The program closed with a fantastic match up with Shambhavi Dandekar, Tejaswini Sathe, and Tanmay Bichu. They outdid each other and themselves, each set of rhythmic divertissements over coming the next. It was dazzling!

 

 

REVELATIONS: Art from the African American South

This is the exhibition you must not miss. It will open your eyes and pull on your heart. Here is art that so many of us do not know about by artists whose names one may not yet know. REVELATIONS: Art from the African-American South at the De Young Museum, in San Francisco’s Golden Gate Park, shows sixty-two works by African American artists of the Southern US. These pieces are now in the permanent collection of San Francisco’s Fine Arts Museums. Let’s all say, Hurrah!  The work represents artists of several generations. It reflects history and emotions of the African diaspora from the centuries of capture and transportation from homelands, slavery, brutal segregation and racism, to civil rights struggles and current battles for equality and freedom of expression. Strains of African traditions are intertwined with other aspects of American culture in the art.

Lonnie Holley (b.1950), Him and Her Hold the Root, 1994. Fine Arts Museums San Francisco

As most of the artists did not have formal art education, they taught themselves through individually developed processes. They use found materials, both natural and man made. in assemblages  as often as they might use traditional paint and brushes. Lonnie Holley’s work above uses rocking chairs; a smaller, “female” one leans on the taller “male” one. They support a root which must have been picked especially for its expressive shape. The root can reflect both the historical family roots of the rocking chair couple and the potential future created by the couple. Lonnie Holley said, “My thing as an artist, I am not doing anything but still ringing that Liberty Bell, ding, ding, ding, on the shorelines of independence. Isn’t that beautiful? Can you hear the bell I’m ringing? And will you come running?”

Joe Minter(b.1943), Camel at the Water Hole, 1995, Fine Arts Museums, San Francisco

Joe Minter’s work was displayed in his yard in Birmingham, AL. He called it the “African Village in America.” It was the best known of the yard displays which were often the only exhibition of work by these artists. His sculpture above is made of pick-axes and shovels which refer to the hard labor of the African-Americans exploited during Jim Crow days and slavery. Minter has said, “The way you make an African a slave, you make him invisible. I’m making the African visible.”

Born in Emelle, AL, 1928, Thornton Dial is one of the better known, more widely exhibited artists in this group. He said, “My art is the evidence of my freedom.”

Thornton Dial (1928-2016), Lost Cows, 2000-2001, Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco

His surprising sculpture above is constructed of cow skeletons, golf bag, golf balls, mirrors, enamel, Splash Zone compound. He said, “When I start making something I gather up the pieces I want to work with. I only want materials that have did people some good but once they got the service out of them they throwed them away. So I pick it up and make something new out of it. That’s why we pick up these things. Negroes done learned how to pick up old things and make them brand-new. They had to learn them things to survive, and they done got wiser for doing, wiser by looking at the things and taking them into the mind. You call that ‘smart.'” The cow bones are painted white; the pelvic bones are placed to remind one of Ku Klux Klan masks and bring doubts about white supremacy when the “white” humans are so dependent on darker individuals to do their daily work from cooks to nannies to caddies.

Thornton Dial (1928-2016), New Light, 2004, Fine Arts Museums San Francisco

Thornton Dial’s New Light is powerful and mysterious. His materials are wood, wire, twine, caning, cloth, wire screen, cow bone, enamel, Splash Zone compound on wood. The statement is overwhelming, an example of why art often is not well represented through verbal description; why those who know say “if he wanted to write an essay, he would have written an essay, ” instead of painting a picture, composing a sonata, or creating this assemblage. Mr. Dial, who passed away, 2016, however, is an eloquent spokesman for himself and his art. “Art is like a bright star up ahead in the darkness of the world. It can lead peoples through the darkness and help them from being afraid of the darkness. Art is a guide for every person who is looking for something. That’s how I can describe myself. Mr. Dial is a man looking for something.”

This magisterial acquisition includes paintings, sculptures, drawings and quilts by twenty-two artists. Eight of the artists were included in the 2006 exhibition of The Quilts of Gee’s Bend. Some of the works are clearly representative and some more devoted to pure design, like the quilts; there are revelations throughout. Often pigeon-holed as “outsider” art or “folk” art what you see here is art. The exhibition opened June 3, 2017, and will close April 1, 2018. Do you really need a reason to come to San Francisco? Put this show at the top of the list.

Artists’ quotes from the magazine, Fine Arts, published by the Fine Arts Museums San Francisco. Photographs courtesy Fine Arts Museums San Francisco. For a fascinating profile of the man who amassed the collection of art by African Americans in the South,  see https://www.washingtonpost.com/graphics/lifestyle/bill-arnett-african-american-art-collection/

DEGAS, IMPRESSIONISM, & HATS: SF LEGION OF HONOR

For lovers of the French Impressionist painters and those interested in French, fashion, and women’s history, there is just one more week to see the extraordinary exhibition, Degas, Impressionism, and the Paris Millinery Trade, at San Francisco’s Legion of Honor Museum. The exhibition can be enjoyed for the exciting collection of paintings by Degas, Renoir, Morisot and others and also for the rich context of the paintings.

Edgar Degas, The Millinery Shop, 1879-1886, Art Institute of Chicago.

In late 19th century into the years just before World War I, a hat was a necessary part of one’s clothing. It clearly described one’s place in society. The more embellished with ribbons, plumes, and in some cases whole birds, the more one could be regarded as part of the idle rich. A straw boater was a necessity for men and women even if one never owned a boat. At the same time, a woman wearing a straw hat might also be a woman who wore bloomers and rode a bicycle. The craze for elaborate hats gave the millinery industry a huge economic boost at exactly the same time that the invention of the department store allowed middle class shoppers access to a vast variety of purchases. The independent millinery shops existed side by side with the department stores’ mass produced products and became more exclusive, catering to the desires of wealthier women competing for the finest, most up to date hats.

Edouard Manet, At the Milliner’s, 1881, Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco.

Although their customers might be very wealthy, the women who worked at a milliner’s shop were not. The head of the shop, called the premiere, could make a fair living, but she needed an array of workers who were skilled with a needle, knew about felting, and were desperate enough to work exceedingly long hours for next to nothing in pay. The hours could extend around the clock at the height of a “season.” Millinery workers were exposed to the dangers of mercury used in the felting process and arsenic used in taxidermy to keep from decay the birds or small animals on the hats. Twelve or fifteen hours of breathing such elements in an attic room without ventilation could cut short a milliner’s career if not also her life. This was a good setting for the spread of  tuberculosis.

The reputations of millinery workers were compromised by the idea of female workers as prostitutes. Income was slight; additional resources might be accepted and surely were offered. The milliners often wore samples of their creations or were seen working in the shops either making the hats or selling them. For the middle or upper class shopper-onlooker, the woman was a commodity much like the hat. Manet’s painting above with a woman whose shoulder is bare may represent a customer trying on hats or a milliner revealing more about herself.

Edgar Degas, The Milliners, ca.1898, Saint Louis Art Museum

The Impressionists took a strong interest in the changing society around them and found inspiration in the emerging middle classes, contemporary sporting pastimes, and real occupations. All of this is examined in the paintings in this exhibition. Additionally, one may look at the pictures of the millinery shops and see, for example, Degas’ focus on color and design. The hats can be seen as pools of color making an all over design and the women working with the hat part of the design themselves just as they are both creators and tools of the millinery industry. The exhibition includes a fascinating array of hats of the era. Don’t miss a chance to see them: the hats have stories to tell. Not least of the stories is how at least 300 million birds were killed for their plumage in the year 1911 alone. Perhaps only the Great War, which changed fashion to less extravagant styles, slowed the massacres by imposing massacres of its own.

This exhibition was organized by the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco and the Saint Louis Art Museum. Simon Kelly, Curator & Head of Modern and Contemporary Art at the Saint Louis Art Museum also organized the 2014 exhibition Impressionist France: Visions of Nation from LeGray to Monet. Read about it at www.livelyfoundation.org/wordpress/?p=486

The exhibition is open through Sunday, September 24. Tickets will be timed during the closing week. Hours: Tues.-Sunday, 9:30-5:15. see legionofhonor.org/visiting

ANN WOO: ARTIST, COMMUNITY LEADER

With great sadness, The Lively Foundation announces the passing of Ann Woo. Ms Woo was a participant and supporter of the International Dance Festival@Silicon Valley. She taught a week long (M2F©) workshop and a class on Full Day of Dance© in Classical Chinese Dance, IDF@SV 2015. In addition, she choreographed a premiere work for her dancers to perform in the 2015 Festival Concert. It is a shock to realize she has been taken from us.

It was a special delight to offer her teaching Classical Chinese dance to both adults and young dancers, age 12 and up. She was an exceptional person in so many ways. She was the Founder and Director of CPAA, Chinese Performing Arts of America. She earned a Master’s Degree in Electrical Engineering and was a successful business woman in Silicon Valley. She has an incredible 9 patents to her name. When she studied EE at UC, Berkeley, she was the only woman out of 120 students!

Ms Woo turned her energies to advancing the understanding of Chinese culture through the arts, especially dance. She received many awards. she was the Co-Founder of the Asian Heritage Council, Chair of Arts & Culture for the Cupertino-Hsinchu Sister Cities Association, Executive Director of the Chinese Folk Dance Association in San Francisco. Her company has performed in major theaters in San Jose and San Francisco, and she has been profiled by SPARK on KQED-TV.

Ann Woo (2nd from left) with some of her students at IDF@SV, 2015. Usha Srinivasan, far right.

Chinese Classical Dance has a very special way of moving that makes the dancer seem to glide through the air, just above the floor. Ann determined that her IDF@SV students would learn that and the beautiful manipulations of props, enormously long silk scarves or fans, which is an integral part of the dances.

A personal note: I met Ann Woo through Usha Srinivasan, Founder & Director of Sangam Arts. Ann and I met and immediately hit it off. We shared personal and artistic values. Then, I learned that another friend, Leianne Lamb, had taken Chinese Folk Dance classes from Ann. So, although we saw each other far too seldom, there was a feeling of the net of community holding us together. When I saw her at her Center, she had beautiful roses from her garden on her desk. She loved her roses. She invited me to present my dance, Face to Face, a  quartet, on her Gala Spring Festival. It was an honor to be part of this exceptional program which included music and dance of several different Chinese cultures. I admired her immensely hard work in establishing her Center and her dedication to expanding understanding through sharing culture. This is a very great loss.

URMILA VUDALI: A Work in Progress, Bharatanatyam Concert

Congratulations to Urmila Vudali for her remarkable performance, August 6, at the Cubberley Theater, Palo Alto. Her presentation of classical Bharatanatyam items was exquisite. Her footwork was especially admirable for clarity, quickness, and complete coordination with the orchestral and vocal accompaniment. Traditionally, the Bharatanatyam performer travels through specific types of dance in a prescribed order. The first half of Ms Vudali’s presentation followed that form beginning with the Pushpanjali, then the Varnam, and the Maiyya Mori. Pushpanjali offers flowers and asks the blessing of her lord, her guru and the audience. Her Pushpanjali ended with verses praising Saraswati, goddess of learning and music. The bright opening excited the onlooker to wonder if the artist’s first movements were so light and brilliant what more could come. The Varnam is the longest piece. This one included sketches of stories from epic tales of Indian liturgy and  myth. It was challenging work for the dancer to represent both monsters and heroes while maintaining her own strength and grace. Devotion to Vishnu connects all the stories. The dancer needs to imagine herself in these characters in addition to enacting the movements that are supposed to represent the characters. Ms Vudali revealed she has that something extra that a classical dancer needs beyond technique. Draupadi is a princess in the Mahabharata. Her story is complex, but I have seen one particular drama represented in Bharatanatyam and Odissi dances. Draupadi is to be a prize bet on by her family’s enemies. The winner’s henchman is set to unwrap her sari. Draupadi pleads with him to stop and prays to Krishna, an avatar of Vishu, to rescue her. A miracle occurs: the man is able to unfurl the sari, but the folds of fabric will not stop piling up while Draupadi herself stays properly attired. While Ms Vudali performed, this audience member felt the terror and then the relief of Draupadi. What a triumph for a young artist to be able to transmit the heart of the story to the deeply engaged onlooker. It was no longer just a dance. Closing the first half, the Maiyya Mori, choreographed by Lavanya Ananth, is the popular story of Krishna as a child who has butter on his face but still tells his mother has not taken any butter. The interplay between the playful child and loving mother–both represented by Ms Vudali–was lighthearted and touching.

The program was titled A Work in Progress. It suggests the artist is still striving toward perfection with the guidance of her guru and the support of her loving family. It also tells us about this exciting time in Urmila Vudali’s life as, at fourteen years old, she is becoming herself.  We are all works in progress in that respect. An artist selects and must have the training to be able to select. We all make choices that shape our lives every day. Congratulations to Sangam Arts and its President, Usha Srinivasan, for producing another program which honors an ancient tradition in the arts while also introducing the audience to the art of another culture. Ms Vudali’s guru, Navia Natarajan, is a greatly respected artist and teacher who divides her time between India and the Bay Area. She choreographed the Pushpanjali and Varnam as well as the dance, Baya’at Al-Ward (The Flower Seller), a charming piece set to an Arabic song about a girl selling flowers. It was accompanied by Lee Dynes, Oud, and Hannah Doughri, vocalist. In another cross cultural exploration, Ms Vudali was joined in two duets by Akhil Srinivasan Joondeph. Odissi is another classical dance form of India with movement styles different than Bharatanatyam. Odissi’s shapes are softer; the dancer’s body has a difficult posture to maintain following three sideways curves. It was very interesting to see the sharper, more percussive Bharatanatyam next to the Odissi which was so well represented by Mr. Srinivasan Joondeph. Having a duet of a male and female dancer gave dimension to the representations in Srita Kamala, the first duet, for example, of Vishu and his consort Lakshmi. The original choreography was by the great Odissi master, Guru Kelucharan Mohapatra. It was adapted as a duet by Niharika Mohanty, who is a premier disciple of Guru Kelucharan. The dancer appears as Vishnu fighting a giant snake and as Rama killing Ravana, a demon. Their second duet was the Thillana, the traditional closing dance. The dance celebrates lord Padmanabha, music and dance. Its Bharatanayam choreography was by Lavanya Ananth, and the Odissi by Niharika Mohanty. It was a pleasing visual harmony.

Mridangam

The dances were accompanied by musicians from India: Srikanth Gopalakrishnan (vocal), B.P. Haribabu (mridangam), Kiran Athreya (violin), Mohan Raj Jayaraman (flute). Navia Natarajan  played the nattuvangam and introduced each dance. The presence of the fine orchestra elevated our experience of the dancing.

What a thrill to watch a young artist bringing her fresh energy to classical dance. Just as when you look at a young person you may see resemblances to her parents in her appearance, gestures, the way she speaks, to look at an emerging artist one may see the guru who brought her to this point, but also the guru’s own teachers and the teachers of the teachers’ teachers. As the dancer moves you will see her, the single artist, but the movement will let loose the shimmering, nearly transparent, dancing selves who are there in her present movements. When she makes one step, the Earth will move a little with the force of so many generations of artists stepping in her step and through her. It is the DNA of Dance itself.

Classical Indian dance contains the life of a whole and diverse culture. It is the wisdom of guru Navia Natarajan to set the Bharatanatyam dance with Odissi, another dance tradition, and to another culture’s music. We all can learn from each other’s stories. We may even see our shared humanity in our universal, human longing to hear one more story before we go to bed.

Photo of Urmila Vudali by Prabhakar Subrahmanyam, courtesy of Sangam Arts

For a Hedgehog Highlights article on the August 27, 2014 concert MOTHER & CHILD, with Urmila Vudali and Usha Srinivasan please see http://www.livelyfoundation.org/wordpress/?s=usha+srinivasan

 

 

SF Symphony: Tchaikowsky & Shostakovich Ignite the Night

Two days after the performance of Tchaikowsky’s Symphony #5, the tunes come back to my mind. Right now, it’s the gorgeous waltz from the third movement. I cannot put it out of my mind and really do not want it to go. Last night, it was the “Fate theme” that opens the symphony with an ominous, foot dragging rhythm. The late music writer, MIchael Steinberg called this the “Fate theme” because of an observation written by Tchaikowsky in his notebook as he began to compose this majestic work: ” Intr{oduction}. Complete resignation before Fate, or, which is the same, before the inscrut{able} predestination of Providence.”

Conductor Manfred Honeck led the San Francisco Symphony in a brilliant performance of Tchaikowsky’s 5th Symphony and Shostakovich’s Suite on Verses of Michelangelo Buonarroti, May 26, 2017.

Fate reappears to interrupt harshly the enchantment of the second movement. It wafts onto the dance floor to frighten the couples mesmerized by their waltz. In the end, after what may be violent struggles, Fate steps in and literally stops the music. Heart beats are suspended, breaths are held; the music begins again louder and faster, reaches its heroic climax, but is it a win by knock out for Fate? Or did the human step over the laws of gravity and predestination to become himself? I do not know. Troubled by that powerful yet ambiguous ending, late in the night I remembered Herman Hesse’s comment: “Your fate loves you.” Perhaps Tchaikowsky was wrestling with his angel. The SF Symphony audience rose to its feet, cheering each performer, the whole ensemble, and Maestro Honeck. Tchaikowsky knows how to make an orchestra expand its sound, express its melody with delicacy and verve, and give his listeners music that will possess them.

In the summer of 1974, Shostakovich received a book of poems written by Michelangelo. it was a gift from Shostakovich’s great friend, Leo Arnshtam. It was a year before the composer’s death. His health was ruined by cancer. He had had heart attacks eight years and three years earlier. He had had polio. He had been hounded through life by Stalin and his henchmen. At night, he would stand outside smoking so that when They came to take him away, They would not awaken his family. He kept composing, although he kept hidden some work which he knew would be controversial. Fortunately, the Soviet climate for culture was improving; unfortunately, it was happening late in the life of Dmitri Dmitrievcich, surely one of Russia’s most gifted composers and faithful sons.

Shostakovich composed Suite on Verses of Michelangelo Buonarroti that summer. First, it was written for bass voice and piano. Then, he orchestrated it. The result opens the heart and mind of the listener. This was the SF Symphony’s first performance of the work. Baritone Matthias Goerne performed with them. He sang with sensitivity and understanding of the text and the music. His voice can be raspy or gentle; able to embrace the music when it is subtle or soaring. It was a performance which this listener will long remember. Maestro Honeck conducted with attention to each section of the songs and music. He is an active participant in the Symphony’s excellent music making.

Shostakovich selected eleven poems by Michelangelo. They express a variety of subjects which are part of Shostakovich’s life story as well as many life stories, especially of artists. They are: Truth, Morning, Love, Separation, Anger, Dante, To the Exile, Creativity, Night, Death, Immortality. The music also follows the arc of a life, beginning with an Adagio for Truth, then two Allegrettos for Morning and Love. Michelangelo was a Florentine. The great Florentine poet Dante had been exiled from the city two hundred years before Michelangelo remembered him in verse. Shostakovich knew what happens when the powerful confront an artist. There is economy in the music. Neither agony nor joy is overstated. Music does not muffle the voice or shunt it aside. The final verses lead to a surprise.  Night, an Andante, and Death, an Adagio, take over Creativity‘s flowering energy. Immortality, the final verse, is rendered by Shostakovich as an Allegretto, a spritely vision dancing on a hilltop. Its simplicity and bright purity change everything.

Curiously, Shostakovich drew the melody of Immortality from something he had written when nine years old. Nothing was lost.

Pictures, from top: Tchaikowsky, Manfred Honeck, Shostakovich, Michelangelo Buornarroti

 

Stanislaw Skrowaczewski: Meeting the Maestro

The Hedgehog notes with great sadness that Stanislaw Skrowaczewsi passed away, February 21, 2017. The Minnesota Orchestra performed a special concert as his memorial. Skrowaczewski has a special place in The Hedgehog’s heart as we had great pleasure interviewing him for the Fall, 2006, issue of The Hedgehog (Vol. 4, No. 1) Born in Lwow, Poland (it is now Lviv, Ukraine), 1923, his gifts were apparent from an early age. He began to study violin and piano at age four, to compose at age seven, made his first public recital at eleven, and conducted Beethoven’s Third Piano Concerto at thirteen. In his mid-twenties he became, successively, Music Director of the Wroclaw, Katowice, and Krakow Philharmonic Orchestras, and then of the Warsaw National Orchestra.

After World War II, he studied in Paris with Nadia Boulanger, co-founded an avant-garde music group, Zodiaque, and won prizes for his compositions. His symphonic works, from the late 1940s-early 1950s such as Symphony for Strings and Music at Night, are still in the repertory of European and American orchestras. In fact, it was the San Francisco Symphony’s premiere performance of Music at Night which was the occasion of our meeting with him. He composed more than 36 orchestral and chamber works. After Skrowacewski won first prize in Rome’s Santa Cecilia International Competition for Conductors, 1956, George Szell invited him to make his American conducting debut with the Cleveland Orchestra. This acclaimed performance led to his appointment with the Minnesota Orchestra (then named the Minneapolis Symphony Orchestra). He and his wife had to defect from Communist Poland to take this position. He said that he and others were not allowed to conduct whole areas of music, “including Stravinsky.” He was Minnesota’s Music Director, 1960-1979, and then became their active conductor laureate. He was principal conductor of the Halle Orchestra in Manchester, England, 1984-1991, and returned to Poland annually to conduct in Warsaw and Katowice. Poland gave him its highest honor, naming him Commander with White Star. Minnesota also honored him with the McKnight Distinguished Artist Award  for contributions to Minnesota’s Arts and Culture, 2004.

(For a copy of The Hedgehog with the Skrowaczewski interview and photo portrait by Jonathan Clark, please contact livelyfoundation@sbcglobal.net    A limited number of these back issues is available. These quotations from Stanislaw Skrowaczewski are published with permission of The Hedgehog, a publication of The Lively Foundation. The copyright belongs to The Lively Foundation.  PLEASE DO NOT QUOTE OR REPRODUCE WITHOUT PERMISSION.)

THE FOLLOWING IS QUOTED from Skrowczewski’s Hedgehog interview:after I won the first prize in conducting in Rome, the career went so fast that I stopped composing.” “…a concerto and a symphony that I composed over four or five years; that was a lot of work, and went very slowly. I write slowly, and I wrote very few things, and many I destroyed later. Music At Night is one of five or six works written between 1949 and now that I have kept. now I have many commissions. The first is a piano concerto for left hand for Gary Graffman, sponsored by the Curtis Institute where he is president.” On the current state of music composition, “There is no better word than the French, de grande volard, “it means the arts go down.” On musicians, “Oh, the state of orchestras is technically very, very good, and we have great conductors, I think…The education musically in America is terrific…there are so many that for one opening in a major orchestra you have a hundred very good musicians.”

For a copy of The Hedgehog with the Skrowaczewski interview and photo portrait by Jonathan Clark, please contact livelyfoundation@sbcglobal.net    A limited number of these back issues is available. These quotations from Stanislaw Skrowaczewski are published with permission of The Hedgehog, a publication of The Lively Foundation. The copyright belongs to The Lively Foundation. DO NOT QUOTE OR REPRODUCE WITHOUT PERMISSION.

MONET:The Early Years, Legion of Honor Museum, San Francisco

It is an art exhibition with your favorite paintings even though you probably have never seen them; it offers a new way of looking at the work of a familiar, great artist; it is 100% a delight. All that and more is what visitors to MONET: The Early Years will find at the Legion of Honor Museum, San Francisco, from right now to May 29, 2017. As advised by Max Hollein, Director of the Fine Arts Museums San Francisco, do not wait until the last week to go to this show! Monet is such a well-loved artist; the museum is expecting crowds. Do not wait; you will want to linger once you are there and you will also want to return.

A Hut at Sainte-Adresse (1867) The first of Monet’s views of the sea from the perspective of an overlooking high cliff. It has a foreground that has mixed levels, grasses and undergrowth. The beat up looking hut is at a lower level than the vegetation on the hill, and the sea presents calm water in the sunlight with white sails at the horizon. It was important to Monet; he showed it in 1868  and then three more times through the next two decades.

Claude Monet (1840-1926) is so well known:  the man with the long beard in his garden at Giverny, the paintings of water lilies, haystacks at different times of day, the train station. It is hard to imagine him young, penniless, struggling to earn recognition as well as to pay his rent and buy food. The works in the exhibition come from 1858 , his first exhibited work, to 1872. This is the Monet whose paintings inhabit the exhibition. The paintings enliven each gallery with the young master’s color and light. They also represent surprising genres including still lifes, portraits, and genre paintings in addition to the landscapes with which he will be identified in the future. He did the earliest painting in the show when he was 18; in his 20s he is already brilliant in his presentation of deep forests, blustery seascapes, people who become color in motion on the beach or by a pool.

La Grenouillier (1869) In this summer, Renoir literally sustained Monet and Camille  bringing them bread. The two painters spent time together at this atmospheric swimming spot with cafe as well as a walkway and pool. Renoir painted three pictures and Monet made this and aother. Painting the light and colors reflected in the water seems to have fascinated Monet. He shows people moving in different directions, creating new dimensions. The distant trees in pale yellow-green contrast with the wavy, cool, blue black water.

He traveled to the Netherlands and to London in search not only of new subjects but also new buyers. He was able to sell work especially in the Netherlands. The visitor to the exhibition will find examples of his brilliant painting which do not look entirely like the later, more familiar Monet. He traveled with his lover, Camille Doncieux, who became the mother of his child and, later, his wife. There are touching, intimate portraits of both Camille and the infant, Jean. These paintings reveal characteristics of Camille and also the tenderness of the artist.

The Cradle (1867) Camille and Monet’s son, born during a time of poverty and struggle is presented here with a joyful intimacy. The figure is Julie Vellay, Pissarro’s future wife.

The Red Kerchief (ca. 1869) is a touching glimpse of Camille glancing in the artist’s window. Monet kept this painting with him his whole life. Camille passed away in 1879.

The Magpie (1869) shows a countryside in deep snow. The pale branches of the trees are lined with snow. There is a fence, and a magpie sits on the gate. To look at this painting is to learn that snow is not only white, in fact, depending on the light cast on it, it is violet, pink and gray in and out of shadow. There are no humans in this scene, but the hedge, trees, and bird are full of life in the quiet landscape. Its light is glorious, making a scene that should be cold offer depth, balance, harmony.

In 1871, Monet and his family fled Paris to escape the Franco-Prussian War. He returned in 1872 to settle in Argenteuil about 12 miles out of Paris. There he painted the towpath along the river at different times of day, an anticipation of magnificent series to come. By this time, he had achieved financial peace of mind and also found recognition amongst his peers. He exhibited with Renoir, Cezanne, Degas, Pissarro, and Sisley, in 1874, in the first Impressionist Exhibition and in the second Impressionist Exhibition, 1876. His mastery of his own style was apparent. This is a great exhibition.

The Pont Neuf in Paris, an Impression (1872) “An impression” meant both a quick look and the result of the artist’s quick look. The small figures with umbrellas wending their way across a bridge recall the Japanese art which excited Parisian artists beginning in the 1850s. The Pont Neuf’s urban setting offers  different visions according to the changing light. The slick street, the puff of smoke from a boat, the darker traffic to the side; the color reflects the movement of objects and people creating their own patterns in a cloudy world.

Monet: The Early Years was organized by the Kimbell Art Museum in collaboration with the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco. George T.M. Shackelford, the Kimbell’s Deputy Director, is the curator of the exhibition. Esther Bell is the FAMSF Curator in Charge, European Paintings. For more information, see legionofhonor.org/monet   Museum hours: Tues-Sun 9:30 a.m.-5:15 p.m.

photos: All photos by Jonathan Clark, Mountain View, CA.

Jean-Yves Thibaudet and SF Symphony: Extraordinary!

The San Francisco Symphony, conducted by Lionel Bringuier, performed an extraordinary concert, January 28, at Davies Symphony Hall. The program featured seldom heard selections by Kodaly and Ravel and Beethoven’s 4th Symphony, perhaps the least often performed of his nine symphonies. The brilliant, ever surprising Jean-Yves Thibaudet was soloist for Ravel’s Piano Concerto in G major. The result was colorful, dynamic, fascinating,; an exceptionally fine night of music.

Kodaly  Zoltan Kodaly’s Dances of Galanta (1933) opened the evening. The work is so original, varied, and delightful it seems to pack a whole program into its mere fifteen minutes. Kodaly (1882-1967) may be best known for his excursions into the Hungarian countryside to collect folk songs and dance music. However, the folk rhythms and styles in this five movement suite are made into mighty, breath taking classical music as they went through Kodaly’s fantastic imagination. His music is not a graduate thesis. His understanding of the music played in the Hungarian and Transylvanian folk traditions was his key into new creative territory. The Dances of Galanta alternates between forceful rhythms and sparkling tunes. No reason to think of music inspired by dances as anthropology, unless, when remembering Bach’s Gigues, Bourrees and Sarabandes one also identifies those pieces by the dances that gave them their names and studies them as cultural anthropology of European court life.

RavelPianoMaurice Ravel (1875-1937) was also a great composer whose attachment to his ancestral home, the Basque country near the French-Spanish border, influenced his work. His compositions with reference to Spanish music are not quotations of Spanish folk sources but have risen out of the rich resources in Ravel’s mind and heart.   2-Photo-by-Decca-Kasskara-tone-1200x627  Jean-Yves Thibaudet was amazing. He is a musician-magician. He has been a star performer since winning awards in his teenage years. He performs with great mastery and allegiance to the music. Although he is charismatic onstage, he is not a showboat; he is only a great pianist. Ravel’s Concerto in G major for Piano and Orchestra (1932) gave him opportunities for power and gentleness. It was a stunning performance. The Concerto in G was first concerto he performed publicly. He was 11 and had won a competition. He told his teacher he wanted to perform this; she said, no, maybe Mozart or Mendelssohn. He learned the impossible first movement and convinced her. His teacher, Lucette Descaves, had been Ravel’s friend and had performed this Concerto with Ravel conducting. Mr. Thibaudet has said this made him feel he knew Ravel. His debut with the SF Symphony was in 1994; they are still a splendid partnership. The wind section was particularly wonderful. In addition to his Spanish/Basque roots, Ravel was entranced by American jazz. In the first movement there are two notes which seem direct from Rhapsody in Blue. Ravel’s jazz exists in his riffs on what the piano can do with the pianist’s astonishing technique: rapid fire trills to effects the pianist creates through pawing at the keys. The Adagio movement: is it inspiring love or gently lamenting it? During intermission I heard a grandmother from Boston tell her piano playing grandson from San Mateo that there is sadness and suffering in love and that’s what makes the blues. Ok, I’ll listen again. thibaudet-jean-yves-980x520

Beethoven’s Symphony No. 4 in B-flat major, Opus 60 (1807) is bright, cheerful, and races along doing special musical stunts while occasionally breaking into laughter. There are moments of darkness, but they are overtaken by the energy and continual invention of Ludwig van Beethoven (1770-1827).

lionel-bringuier-2-120x67Maestro Bringuier had a triumph with this performance. He did not force the Symphony to be played in fewer minutes than the predicted 31; he did not contort the SF Symphony players into latex, Iron Man outfits. Lionel Bringuier is also a French musician who started his stellar career very young. His professional conducting debut was at age 14 on French national television. He was resident conductor of the Los Angeles Philharmonic for six years before becoming Chief Conductor and Music Director of the Tonhalle Orchestra Zurich, in 2012. He gave us the experience of Beethoven’s music, and it was an exciting, challenging, engulfing experience. Pictures, from top: Zoltan Kodaly; Joseph-Maurice Ravel; Jean-Yves Thibaudet by Decca Kasskara, courtesy SF Symphony; Jean-Yves Thibaudet; Lionel Bringuier.