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.

 

PHOTOFAIRS/San Francisco: International Photos at Ft. Mason

 FuscoFlagAn exciting new photography event opened in San Francisco, June 26, and runs through Sunday, the 29th, at the Festival Pavilion, Ft. Mason Center. Sunday’s hours are 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Admission is $12-$15. Anyone curious about what’s happening in the world of photography around the world will find much to think about, and art lovers enjoying the Marina on a Sunday afternoon will also find a lot of interest. PhotoFairs opened first in Shanghai, September, 2016. San Francisco is its choice for the American venue. It features galleries from fourteen countries, twenty-two cities, and says it presents “cutting edge contemporary photography on a global scale.” Its artist selection focuses on those “never before seen in the Bay Area” as well as some West Coast artists.

FuscoReach

Paul Fusco’s photographs from the train carrying Bobby Kennedy’s body to Washington, D.C. for burial in Arlington Cemetery, June 8, 1968, made an arresting and engrossing series of 21 images selected from a vast archive of these pictures. Some thousand of them had been in the Library of Congress. Fusco stood on the train and continually snapped the pictures capturing the emotions of endless lines of Americans watching, saying good-bye. The boy displaying the flag of his country, shown above, is a detail of one of the photographs. Danziger Gallery also has a set of these photos available in a book or sold individually.

   Mali#2The work of Seydou Keita, photographer from Mali, showed a group of nine small photos framed separately in one large display frame. They resemble family photos without any obvious event that would have brought the individual pictures together. The individuals pose with serious faces. There is a man with two children. A little boy leans into the man’s shoulder; the little girl’s right hand is tucked under the man’s wrist in a touching connection. A woman in elegant dress is posed on a settee. The onlooker is peering into life somewhere else; it is hard to turn away from these people one is meeting without having met.

   The Fall (VU à Paris)  The motion in Denis Darzacq’s photographs La Chute #15 and La Chute #2 (pictured here) catches one’s eye from across the hall. La Chute means The Fall. The French photographer went to Parisian neighborhoods where, in 2005, there had been riots. He captured young residents of the banlieus doing acrobatic feats and breakdancing in the streets. Suspended in an arc in the moment of the photograph, the man could be falling from a very great, mysterious height as much as performing an energetic dance in an otherwise deserted place. One cannot see the tops of the buildings; it’s impossible to know from what heaven, Eden, or twentieth story he might have fallen.

It adds up to a wonderland of imagery to wander through. The journey through the Festival Pavilion, situated right on the Bay, is rewarded by a cafe with places to sit and review the sensory impact with lunch or a drink. For this viewer, many of the “new” approaches to photography were not totally new, but for this viewer being totally new is not always a value in itself. The chosen theme for a central exhibit was that the photographs had been altered in some way so that they were no longer, you know, just photographs. An artist might puncture the image, glue other objects onto it, or combine it with other media.

In addition to the exhibitions, PhotoFairs scheduled public programs, panels and artist talks. For more information, see www.photofairs.org. For online tickets: www.photofairs.org/sanfrancisco/visitor. PhotoFairs will return to Shanghai and San Francisco, Sept. 2017, and Jan. 2018. Picture of lady reaching toward the train is a detail from Paul Fusco’s photographs; picture of man with two children is a detail of Seydou Keita’s pictures. Pictures shown here may not be reproduced or used for personal or professional/commercial purposes. They are the property of the galleries and artists. Picture of La Chute #2 is courtesy De Soto Gallery, Venice, CA. Seydou Keita’s work is represented by Danziger Gallery. Paul Fusco’s work is also represented by Danziger Gallery, New York.

42nd Street in Naples, Florida: ALL GOOD PARTS

220px-42ndStreetLPHave you ever heard someone describe reading a book by skipping through it for “the good parts,” or watching a movie by using the fast forward to see just “the good parts?” 42nd Street is ALL good parts; the greatest Broadway songs, the most amazing dancing. The dialogue lasts only long enough to set up a reason for the next dance. There are a couple of plots which are resolved in the songs and dances. This is a great show. Its run at Artis-Naples included six shows; two days had matinees and evening shows. How did the dancers do it? The high energy and extraordinary talent never flagged. Their performances in Naples opened their sixteen week, fifty city tour. Give yourself a gift; see it.

42ndSt

42nd Street was originally a novel by Bradford Ropes. In 1933, it became a successful, Busby Berkeley movie. Its original production as a Broadway musical was in 1980, produced by David Merrick, directed and choreographed by Gower Champion who won Drama Desk and Tony awards for the choreography. Gower Champion, tall, handsome ballroom dancer with his wife/partner Marge, became an multi-award winning Broadway choreographer and director. Life is more dramatic than theater would dare to be: Champion died the afternoon of 42nd Street‘s premiere. Merrick made the announcement at the closing curtain. Not even the ingenue dancer lead, Champion’s real life girl friend, knew it had happened.

BigChor42ndjpg

The Broadway show was revived in 2001, ran for 1,524 performances, and won Tony awards including Best Revival of a Musical. The story: Peggy Sawyer, a young dancer-singer from Allentown, PA, arrives late to audition for the ensemble of the new show, Pretty Lady. She physically bumps into the producer, shows her dancing, and is taken into the ensemble. The leading lady, Dorothy Brock, a well known singer, suddenly cannot do her part, the other dancers suggest that Peggy is the perfect replacement, and she is. The producer, Julian Marsh, falls for Peggy. In this company, Peggy is played by Clara Cox, Dorothy by Kara Gibson Slocum, and Julian by Matthew J Taylor. They were sensational. The other actor-dancer-singers were also sensational, “triple threat” stars. The original music is by Harry Warren; lyrics by Al Dubin. 42nd Street the movie with Ruby Keeler and Dick Powell had the songs: 42nd Street, You’re Getting to be a Habit with Me, Young and Healthy, and Shuffle Off to Buffalo. The Broadway show includes more Warren and Dubin songs: Lullaby of Broadway, from the movie Gold Diggers of 1935 won the Academy Award for Best Original Song, 1936; We’re in  the Money was in Gold Diggers of 1933; I Only Have Eyes for You, was in the 1934 movie Dames. There are even more great songs, all by Warren and Dubin. When Matthew J Taylor sings Lullaby of Broadway, you will feel the audience catch its breath. It is a very great moment. The tour covers the country; for example, Wilkes Barre, PA; Buffalo, NY; Davenport, IA; Rockford, IL. Every cast member  deserved an ovation. As Julian Marsh says, “You’re going out there a youngster, but you’ve got to come back a star.” Don’t miss it. Artis Naples offers an outstanding Broadway series including Something Rotten! and Beautiful. See artisnaples.org for more information.

Itzhak Perlman at Davies Hall: the Great Human

Itzhak Perlman performed an astonishing, wonderful recital at the San Francisco Symphony’s Davies Hall, January 16. That’s right, it was his usual: astonishing and wonderful. The packed to the rafters audience was entranced by his virtuosity, the graceful program choices, his presence. Seeking words for this article’s headline a phrase from Al Huang, dancer and  tai chi master, came to mind: the great human. That’s what Itzhak Perlman is for all of us.

Perlman-ItzhakItzhak Perlman

Rohan de Silva is the pianist who partners Perlman. He appears to be perfect both as musician and collaborator.

rohan-de-silva_175wRohan de Silva

Itzhak Perlman could play anything, so it is especially interesting to see his choices for this recital. In addition to being technically challenging for a musician, not for this musician but a musician, the selections projected a sense of balance. There were works of four great composers. Each one was a master who created the essence of his era.

Anonio Vivaldi (1678-1741)th-2 Vivaldi’s Sonata in A major for Violin and Continuo (1709), Opus 2, no. 2, is brilliant, quick, lively. It darts and skips yet always maintains its self-control, defining the early 18th century character. It was a time of conservative control pregnant with revolutionary change. It was bursting with creativity.  The program note said the sonata would be brief; it was over before one could be certain what had happened except the dazzling brilliance of the composer meeting his match.

81914355Ludwig van Beethoven (1770-1827) Beethoven’s Sonata in F major, Opus 24, Spring (1801) was a Beethoven masterpiece of the early 19th century. It is so lovely and full of delight that one can forget the extraordinary composer’s vision and musicians’ technique required to make this sound easy as water rolling over rocks. Beethoven took risks. In 1801, it was innovative for having four movements instead of three and for the more equal relationship between piano and violin. Beethoven did not give it the name Spring, but it fits. Its cheerful beauty is a pleasure and reminds the listener that great music can smile for us.

SchumannFantasiestucke for Violin and Piano, Opus 73 (1849) by Robert Schumann (1810-1856) has three “fantasy pieces.” Each has a different personality: “Delicate and with feeling;” “Lively, light;” and “Fast and with fire.” This work from the last part of Schumann’s short life is something unexpected. While Schumann was central in creating the Romantic idea in music, by 1849 he had begun to reexamine classical forms and style. Other musicians, including his wife the great pianist Clara Schumann, may have expressed dismay but also may not have fully appreciated Robert Schumann’s searching intellect. Impossible to know what this reconsideration and study might have led him to create, but we do have his late work to enjoy and move us.

StravinskyIgor Stravinsky’s Suite Italienne for Violin and Piano (1933) represented the 20th century. Stravinsky (1882-1971) took five movements from his Pulcinella, a ballet with Leonide Massine choreographer/lead dancer and designs by Picasso, to arrange as the Suite Italienne. Rearranged and published several times with the Italienne name, Itzhak Perlman and Rohan de Silva performed the final version. It includes the original five movements plus a Scherzino. This fascinating suite kept the listener’s attention with surprising rhythms and glorious sounds. Including a Tarantella, Gavotte, and Minuetto, it proudly embraced its origins in dance. The piano and violin definitely danced together and separately. Stravinsky credited Pulcinella as his “discovery of the past” which “made the whole of my late work possible.” Perlman balanced his program with two great composers, one known as Romantic, one as neo-classical, looking back into much earlier music for an understanding of where his own might go.

ENCORES: Anyone who has had the privilege of attending an Itzhak Perlman recital knows the encores are an essential part. He did not disappoint us. He took his bows with his partner, that extraordinary pianist. They left the stage, the audience continued to applaud, hope in every heart. He returned followed by Rohan de Silva and the page turner who carried a tall stack of music books. Not content with one sight gag, Itzhak Perlman then turned through pages clipped together. He told the audience that he keeps a list of the encores he has played in San Francisco. It goes back to 1912. He wouldn’t want to repeat something that someone who had been there in 1912 had heard, but then someone who had been there in 1912 probably couldn’t hear it anyway. He said he wouldn’t be able to remember and the audience could not hear, so he could play anything.

In fact, he played five encores. Each was fantastic in its own way. The unifying thread was the masterful, brilliant technique. He plays incredibly fast, he plays with a lyrical heart; it is all there. First was Tempo di Minuetto in the Style of Pugnani, by Fritz Kreisler. Aria des Lenski from Eugene Onegin, by Tchaikowsky followed. He played Caprice in A minor by Polish violin virtuoso and composer, Wieniawski. Any one of those pieces would be an admirable encore for which any audience should be grateful, but Mr. Perlman has spoiled us. We always want more. He played the theme from Schindler’s List, by John Williams, which he played for the movie. He ended with Brahms’ Hungarian Dance #1. It was the absolute right music to have whirling in my head as we left.

Itzhak Perlman radiates love for music and for his audience. He is now on tour of ten western cities in fourteen days including San Diego, Tucson, Costa Mesa. He could decide to play only for Queen Elizabeth II and select heads of state. He is at the pinnacle; he’ll still play for Mesa, AZ. He plays a Klezmer reunion concert, January 23, in Santa Barbara. His recital at Disney Concert Hall is January 24, Los Angeles. Do not miss a chance to hear him play. See www.itzhakperlman.com FOR MORE HEDGEHOG HIGHLIGHTS ON ITZHAK PERLMAN, please see Ax & Perlman: Dynamic Duo of Music in San Francisco, Jan. 20, 2016, and Itzhak Perlman at the San Franciscio Symphony, Jan. 22, 2015.

American Impressionism at Baker Museum, Naples, Florida

The Baker Museum, part of Artis – Naples, Southwest Florida’s premier center of visual and performing arts, is showing the exhibition, In a New Light: American Impressionism, 1870-1940, until March 12, 2017.  It is a vast and varied collection of more than 100 American paintings and drawings from the Bank of America collection. It is well worth a visit or visits in order to take it all in. There are works by well known artists, and one of the great assets of the exhibition is exceptionally fine work by artists who are not now well known at all. The evolution of painterly techniques demonstrates the American artists’ interest in art in France: concern with light; looser, lighter brush strokes; work done outside, in plein air. What’s in the pictures, however, is assuredly American. The new light is not only the attention to light and the way it changes our perceptions but also the new perspective from America as it looked at its own world.

TrinityChTrinity Church, c. 1930, detail, Oil on Canvas painting by Guy Carleton Wiggins(1883-1962)

The exhibition is organized chronologically, reflecting the growth of artistic schools through nearly a century. The Hudson River School took notice of the great beauty of the American landscape, especially in upstate New York. For some painters, the astonishing sight of Niagara Falls was quintessentially American in its huge size and grandeur. If Americans could not take pride in the antiquity of their relatively new country, they had no need to worry. Their landscapes were more majestic and entirely different than the often painted beauties of Europe.

PartHassamOld House, East Hampton, 1917, detail, Oil on Canvas, painting by Childe Hassam (1859-1935)

There are fine examples of works by William Morris Hunt and George Innes. Hunt was instrumental in bringing the French Barbizon school to the US; Innes was greatly influenced by it. The Barbizon focus on the beauty of nature influenced the Impressionists. Among  American Impressionists included in the exhibition are Childe Hassam and Lilla Cabot Perry. Early 20th century artists such as John Sloan and George Wesley Bellows, and painters of the American Southwest including E. Martin Hennings, Joseph Henry Sharp and Oscar E. Berninghaus show the variety of people, experiences, and natural settings that make the US.

DMHFLooksProfFormer Docent at Baker Museum, studies painting in In a New Light: American Impressionism, 1870-1940

Felicie Waldo Howell’s (1897-1968) coastal landscapes and Frank Nudersher’s (1880-1959) paintings of New York and St. Louis allow American locales to project their personality as though a city sat for its portrait. There is energy in Guy Carleton Wiggins’ Wall Street, the flags above it and even the snow falling on it. The painting acknowledges it’s not the Champs Elysee while it uses techniques learned in part from the French. No, the work says, “It’s not the Champs Elysee, and hooray!”  For more information see artisnaples.org

Gladys Knight & the SF Symphony: Still the Empress of Soul

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Gladys Knight had her first great hit when she was 16 years old. She is called the Empress of Soul, but her domain includes Gospel, which she started singing at home in Atlanta when she was 4; R&B; Pop; and something called Adult Contemporary which could include all the others, too. She has No. 1 hits in each of those categories. Her performances with the San Francisco Symphony with her own vocal quartet and musicians, Dec. 12 & 13, rocked Davies Symphony Hall. Her smiling, up beat presence, her terrific voice, the great songs from whenever all added up to an entertaining, uplifting, fun, touching night of music.

Gladys-Knight

The years have done nothing to diminish her singing or her person. Anyone out there who is of the age to have been young when Gladys Knight & the Pips were new can be happily assured that she looks and sounds fantastic. She prowls, skitters, and boogies across the stage. In fact, just standing still she is dancing. As a solo performer and as part of the much celebrated group, she has won seven Grammy awards and recorded thirty-eight albums. Ms Knight never sat back; she was always working, creating, producing, performing.

3175-web-gladysknightWith so many songs that the packed to the rafters audience wanted to hear, was she able to fit in all the hits in her non-stop 85 minutes on stage? A lot of them. Heard It Through the Grapevine, The Nitty Gritty, If I Were Your Woman–and more from the Pips era were there. She and JaVont’e Pollard, one of her quartet, sang If I Were Your Woman as a dramatic, alluring duet. The Pips, her brother and two cousins, retired after decades of success, in 1988. From 1987 on, she recorded solo. At Davies she also performed a tribute to great ladies of song including Ella Fitzgerald and Lena Horne, singing songs associated with them such as The Man I Love and Stormy Weather. No worries, Neither One of Us (Wants to be the First to Say Goodbye) was there, too.  

th Ms Knight performed and recorded with many celebrity singers including Ray Charles, Patti Labelle, Cyndi Lauper, Dionne Warwick. In 2009, she sang His Eye is on the Sparrow and The Lord’s Prayer at Michael Jackson’s funeral. Her friendly patter during the concert made it clear that her faith is central to her. She and her singers sang The Church Said Amen, in beautiful harmony. She  created and directs Saints Unified Voices, a Mormon themed choir. The performers accompanying her were first rate. Singers: Alexus Hoover, Brandon Smith, Porcha Clay, JaVont’e Pollard. Stellar musicians: Leon Turner, pianist and Musical Director; James Davis, guitar; Joseph Green, bass; Yuko Tamura, keyboard. Gail Deadrick conducted the San Francisco Symphony. Ms Deadrick has served as conductor, pianist, and arranger for many artists in addition to Ms Knight (for whom she is also a tennis partner) including Marilyn McCoo, Nell Carter, Nancy Wilson. It was inspiring to be presented with music made by Ms Knight’s collaborating artists. She closed with Midnight Train to Georgia: tears of joy all around Davies Hall. Gladys Knight tours in Jan. 2017. See gladysknight.com