The Citi Performing Arts Center has posted a comment on its homepage regarding today's story on the organization's hiring and spending practices.
Here's the statement, verbatim:
"Geoff Edgers article in today’s Boston Globe implies that compensation paid to Josiah Spaulding is directly affecting some of the Citi Performing Arts Center’s public programming, namely Free Shakespeare on the Common. This is not the case.
What the Globe article doesn’t convey is that Mr. Spaulding’s compensation has already been reported by several Globe columnists in previous years, dating back to 2003. In fact, internal decisions to offer Spaulding the compensation reported in the Globe dates back to 2001.
Mr. Spaulding’s compensation is governed by the Citi Performing Arts Center’s board of directors, which unanimously and collectively supports Spaulding in his role as President & CEO. Spaulding’s compensation in no way affects existing or future programming initiatives. Likewise, any insinuation that existing board members or current employees are in any way violating any conflict of interest is absurd.
The Center’s Board of Directors, its Executive Committee, Finance and Compensation Committees stand behind the Center’s governance and overall compensation processes that have been adopted in the by-laws of the institution. The Citi Performing Arts Center remains focused and committed to implementing its new strategic plan.
John William Poduska, Sr.
Chairman of the Board, Citi Performing Arts Center"
Perhaps it's silly for me to even pretend you haven't seen this. But if you haven't, you need to. Mediabistro then has the inside scoop on how poor Merry Miller stumbled into, and through, her supposed puff-piece interview with actress Holly Hunter.
Is there something in the water? Bergman, Tom Snyder, Bill Walsh and now... Italian film director Michelangelo Antonioni.
Here's what former Globe critic Jay Carr has to say.
The Guardian on the director's five best scenes.
And a clip from Jay Scheib's Antonioni-inspired production "This Place is a Desert," which played at the Institute of Contemporary Art earlier this year.
Amid struggles, arts center chief got $1.2m bonus
By Geoff Edgers, Globe Staff | July 31, 2007
Not long before the Citi Performing Arts Center decided to make drastic cuts to its popular summer production of Shakespeare on the Boston Common, its board agreed to pay president and CEO Josiah Spaulding Jr., a $1.265 million bonus.
[Add: Wesley Morris on Bergman.]
"Ingmar Bergman, the “poet with the camera” who is considered one of the greatest directors in motion picture history, died today on the small island of Faro where he lived on the Baltic coast of Sweden, Astrid Soderbergh Widding, president of The Ingmar Bergman Foundation, said. Bergman was 89."
Neck braces, rats, and club-hopping... the inside dope on Boston Ballet's ongoing tour from principal dancer Romi Beppu.
Tuesday July 17th
Finally after a long plane ride and swollen feet we have arrived. Tenerife! It is about 1pm Spanish time / 8am Boston time. And we have been flying through the night. All of us are quite exhausted with the exception of maybe Carlos Molina who was smart enough to wear a neck brace that allowed him to sleep on the flight without getting a neck spasm. He was a funny sight at the moment, but in reality, the smart one!
All I want to do at this moment is SLEEP! I fight the temptation knowing that an innocent “rest period” could result in a death nap and screw up my evening sleep – thus prolonging the jet lag that I feel.
We go to La Radio restaurant across from the hotel. It would be our first experience into discovering that service in Spanish restaurants requires patience! Lunch is not an hour event, rather a 2 ½ hour sit down extravaganza. After the first hour and a half, Karine is just about falling asleep into her huge plate of tortilla (Spanish omelet). Raul spots a huge rat hanging out on the floor near us. Great. He then makes an announcement to all of us in the restaurant about the presence of our new friend, and we call him Ratatouille. Trinidad, at another table, jumps up on her chair. Are we having fun yet?
Thursday July 19th
Class and dress rehearsal for La Sylphide. Theatre is gorgeous from outside. Looks like a modern art sculpture, half of it surrounded by water. First thing I notice are couples making out everywhere. This must be the place to “get romantic”. I can definitely see why. Class is in the studio downstairs – it is a maze to get there, but we finally find it. Yikes! Floors are HARD! This seems to be the general consensus all around. We manage though and after class, we do a run of the Balanchine program in the studios. Hard floor but all of us agree, it better to move to get our bodies over the jet lag and tired muscles.
Friday, July 20th
1st show kicking off the Spanish tour is sold out! Good performance – everyone danced well and you could feel the love from the crowd. We must have taken 5 or 6 full company bows. A great feeling!
Saturday, July 21st
10:30am Company is downstairs at the buffet breakfast in the hotel. We all look tired, perhaps a bit grumpy. Café con leche seems to be the popular beverage at the moment.
“No eggs again” Rie utters – “Hmm, I guess we’re too late again”. Little does she know that the smart people sit near the tray of eggs and down them as soon as they arrive. We are learning, slowly.
Back at theater for Balanchine program rehearsal. First up, Serenade. Yikes. This stage is a little small for this ballet it seems. The girls are having a few spacing problems so we adjust to accommodate the stage. The corps girls are a little on edge knowing that the tight fit is affecting lines and formations. Next up, “Who Cares?” rehearsal. No problem with spacing, as there are only 4 dancers in this piece. We mark though it for spacing and music mainly. Tony is calm, telling us to do what we need for tonight’s show. Last ballet to rehearse - 4 T’s. Same situation as Serenade, tight squeeze on the stage, but we manage to rework the spacing issues.
Break time! I’m starving! We decide to eat in the theater’s canteen, being too tired and lazy to venture out to a restaurant. John has already announced that jamon con queso sandwiches are only 1 Euro! He hoards 3 or 4 sandwiches and carries them outside of the theatre where James and other dancers are laying out in the sun near the water trying to get in some last minute tanning time before the sun goes down. We chow down and head into the wig and makeup room (a.k.a. the internet café) where we all congregate with laptops to check emails, catch up on bills, and find out the latest You Tube video. Sabi meanwhile, who has been declared the official photographer of Boston Ballet’s tour, is all business, checking out his latest shots of the La Sylphide performance. We all ooh and aah over the photos – he seems pleased with the results.
Basta! Rest time before the show.
9pm show. First performance of Balanchine program was fantastic! Everyone pulled it together and the team spirit and energy of the company could be felt in all three ballets. Even though the house was not as filled as the previous evening, the people of Tenerife who came seemed very warm and excited with the Balanchine extravaganza. Good start to the tour, and this calls for a salsa club celebration!! After heading back to the hotel and getting a bite to eat some of us decide to head out to El Son, a Salsa club recommended by Lorna and Nelson. We follow, ready and in the mood to party after a long week. We arrive at around 3am – the club is hopping. Totally different scene here than in the U.S. The music is fantastic, and the energy is contagious. Karine, Rie and I start dancing amidst a crowd of grade A Spanish salsa dancers. We have no idea how to salsa, but we don’t seem to care and neither do they. Oh my god! It is so in hot in here. “Muy calor y muy caliente” in both ways. Where is Larissa? She came in with us, but is no where to be found. Finally we spot her near the back of the club dancing with a random Spanish guy. She is all smiles, and is loving every moment of it. Wish I had my camera. An hour later, the rest of the Boston Ballet dancers arrive at the club – now the party has really begun! We basically took over the entire middle area of the club, everyone clearly a little tipsy, ready to party and have some fun. Lorna and Nelson the Queen and King of Salsa, dance like uncaged animals, we all cheer them on.
5:30am... back to the hotel. We are sweaty, tired and have swollen feet from the cute stilettos that we just had to wear! I need to sleep!
Sunday, July 22nd
Travel day to Las Palmas
Let’s call this day “the ferry ride of sickness” Getting from Tenerife to Las Palmas requires an innocent 2 hour ferry ride. No big deal, right? Oh, were we wrong. We board the massive ferry and are happily surprised with what we find inside. Comfy seats, a snack bar area, plenty of walking around space and decent bathrooms. I think, Good - I’ll take a nap, as I am still a little sleepy from the salsa night. We take off, heading for Las Palmas. Karine immediately sits up, a little concerned at how rocky and wavy the boat feels on the water. She is becoming a little tense and the jokes are now over. Lorin comes over and directs us to where the restrooms are in case of emergency, acting as if he were an employee on this ferry. (He has been one of the favored comedians on this tour so far) about a minute after he leaves, I start feeling extremely queasy, uneasy and nauseous. I tell Rie that I’ll be in the bathroom. She follows me in. I know from the look on her face that we are both on the same page as far as how our stomachs feel. After that, without going into too much detail, let’s just say that many of us in the company spent the majority of the ferry ride in the bathroom. Stomachs churning, pale faces, and an overwhelming feeling of “get me off of this boat now!”
Tempe Ostergren, company member, sewing pointe shoes poolside in Las Palmas, Canary Islands. That's Kirsten Hwang, Boston Ballet's Company Manager, next to her. (Photo by Elizabeth Olds.)
Better start changing the stationery. And get that website fixed. Because the Massachusetts College of Art is now... (drumroll, please)... the Massachusetts College of Art + Design.
That's the word we just got from Governor Deval Patrick's office:
"...With 22 concentrations in a wide array of disciplines – including fashion design, industrial design, architecture, and graphic design, among others – MassArt prepares its graduates for distinctive and innovative achievement and plays a key role in attracting talented people to the region and strengthening the New England economy. The addition of “Design” to the college’s formal title reflects more accurately its full range of programs and considerable impact on the region’s creative industries."
I love hearing Steve Morse tell stories. Here's his take on the Police, who play a pair of shows at Fenway this weekend. I'm not letting the anti-Police backlash get me down. The Police were definitely my favorite band in sixth grade. I still remember taping "Regatta de Blanc" on the old hi-fi.
Today, timpanist John Grimes (below) checks in from the Handel and Haydn Society's Prom visit. Here's where to find our previous post from mezzo-soprano Katharine Emory.
Friday, July 20, 2007
How often is it that one learns of a colleague being scheduled to fly out of the country from the same terminal, but on a different airline at the same time as one? It turned out Heinrich Christensen, sometime organist with Handel and Haydn these past two seasons (remember our Holiday Sings at Symphony Hall) and Music Director at King's Chapel who succeeded the late Dr. Daniel Pinkham was scheduled to fly on Icelandic Air to Denmark to play a series of organ recitals. So, we met at the airport and partook of a sumptuous salmon and potatoes dinner. I remarked on the noticeable lack of greens and wondered if this was supposed to be purposeful on the part of the dieticians ensuring there be a paucity of roughage intake prior to these transcontinental flights.
Heinrich remarked he had never seen someone eat as many potatoes in a single meal since he left Denmark ages ago. It was a hefty portion. I neglected to remember that i would be fed dinner and breakfast on the flight in a compressed succession of just over 5 hours, but heck.
I flew on British Air. The 777 was spacious and seats looked comfy until about mid-flight when suddenly I tried to get up to go to the restroom and felt as if I had been a sardine confined to a tin can and needed a fork to lift me out of my seat. Still, the service was gentle and the sound system quite good.
Which leads me back to the beginning of the flight. It was characterized by a somber start. I plugged in the headset and immediately heard something I did not recognize but which was totally engaging. It was the filler material passages in between the important tunes in Candide, so for a few moments there all I could remark upon were the clarity of the voices, English diction, etc. and wonder if it was one of the lesser known Gilbert & Sullivan operettas or a broadway show with which i was unfamiliar.
Well, I started thumbing through the book to find the station and the work. I thought it nice that the last passenger was also listening to classical music and was assured not all hope is lost for mankind. Still, as I perused the book I then heard the beginning of "We'll make our Garden Grow" and was very moved. When I finally looked at the entry, it was the "definitive" recording with Leonard Bernstein, himself, conducting June Anderson and Jerry Hadley! I thought, "my god, this man has just taken his own life."
As I listened to the whole work on its replay, I was greatly saddened to hear such a gorgeous tenor voice, beautiful diction and overall artistry. Bernstein had a way of discovering and giving a chance to young musicians. It was a great lesson to all of us, something we should strive to emulate in our lives.
Hadley had a wonderful career and was part of a very meaningful place in America's 20th century musical heritage. It is so sad, he saw his life at this recent juncture as having been other than that. One is left with many questions and cannot help but draw parallels to one's own life and career as a free-lance musician. This is not an easy life for many. It requires strength and soldiering on through tough times.
Arriving in London, of course it was a major schlep on the Piccadilly line from Heathrow to the hotel and I took at least one wrong train when O switched over to the District line, but then who doesn't. That afternoon, I left the hotel and attended the musical Billy Elliot at the Victoria Theater.
What an incredible show! One gets a glimpse of how Brits now view Margaret Thatcher. Most of us have seen the movie, but the musical is actually quite faithful and very creatively presented. Elton John outdoes himself with the music. The kids acting and dancing are terrific, especially the Billy I saw in this matinee production, a young lad of 14 from Manchester. If he is any indication of the talent today being sown in England, all hope is not lost in our culture. Go see it!
Saturday, July 21, 2007
Heathrow, Hiltons, and Rehearsals
It seems that this Hilton hotel is not always on the ball. They ran out of PC Internet use cards and no one could access their e-mails for one whole day. I posted my first blog and then went mysteriously silent. Part of the reason was that once we were committed to rehearsals, it seems our concentration was totally focused on that aspect of things. Not until we emerged at the end of the day did our thoughts turn to blogging or drinking, whichever was of first priority. You can guess which that would be.
But, let's take a step backwards to the day of the orchestra's scheduled arrival at Heathrow. I was asked to perform the task of taking an afternoon train to the airport, connecting with the bus company representative and meeting the musicians as they emerged from Customs inspection in order to guide them toward the awaiting bus. Sounds very simple, right? Well, nothing was going to be very simple on that day. A tremendous flash flood occurred throughout London and apparently in many parts of southern England that morning. I was standing in the Hilton lobby chatting up an English couple about my age who had traveled to the city to take in the theater. They went to about 3 plays in two days and managed to attend a son's wedding on the 2nd day as well. The husband had driven his car into the city and was complaining about a 100£ ticket he got for going overtime at a nearby meter. i sucked in a deep breath and thought, he doesn't understand that i already feel i live in a third world country. My cup of espresso cost $6.00 and i thought Starbucks in Newtonville was pricey!
Well, arriving at Heathrow, one emerges from customs to be greeted by a wall of family members of all nationalities, limo drivers with signs, bus drivers and tour company reps all vying for an empty space in order to be seen. That afternoon, the sudden rains had caused extensive flash flooding which incapacitated the small branch line that stops at Olympia station on the Underground, so I had to take a bus up Kensington High Street to Hammersmith in order to catch the Picaddilly line to the airport. Well, that took a bit longer than I had anticipated. But, i made it on time.
To my shock, the flight was scheduled to land at 8.20PM but had in fact made great time and landed at 7.49PM. The good news was that they hadn't been offloaded as yet. In fact, it took a good hour and a half after arrival before they actually received their luggage.
When I first arrived at the airport, there must have been 2,000 greeters out there. It looked like a great confabulation of the United Nations, hardly an Anglo Saxon in sight. What a contrast to 30 years ago when I first saw London.
Well, an hour and a half later the crowd was down about 1,000 and you could actually see some empty space in between people. I managed to locate the bus, the bus rep, a couple of choristers found me and eventually a few bewildered instrumentalists came through the exit doors. Soon we were whisked back to West London, but suddenly the driver pulled up to a different Hilton. As I looked out the window, I instinctively popped up out of my seat and said, "no, it's a different Hilton". Soon, after consulting his satellite finding device, we were on our way around the neighborhood and pulling up to our target domicile.
Everyone soon discovered the bar on the second floor. This was to become our watering hole and general community center. Very comfortable, open space, friendly foreign summer student type waiters and bartenders and dear prices...natch! if you like Boddington's and other flat tasting British ales, this was the shop for it. I tend to prefer the Czech and German pilsners so I had to settle for the Stella Artois instead just to feel a little bit of raspiness going down the gullet with each swallow.
The first day of rehearsals was scheduled to be a marathon. We were bussed to the Royal Academy of Music which is on the street behind and just below Royal Albert Hall. The rehearsal space was a small concert hall. It had good acoustics, attractive, old and charming. Ben Hoffnung, yes, the son of the well known musical racconteur and cartoonist Gerald Hoffnung, is the timpanist of the London Mozart players. He has worked with Sir Roger Norrington on many occasions and was scheduled to play tambourine in the fall scene of the Seasons with us. He too, had agreed to provide me with kettledrums for the affair. As I alighted from the bus, i saw him schlepping the drums out of his auto, so I ran over to lend a hand. We hit it off nicely. He walked me through the necessaries concerning how to handle his instruments, etc. and we were soon off and running.
The rehearsal scheme for the day was to proceed as follows: First, 2 hours followed by lunch; then 2 more hours followed by dinner, and then 3 hours, followed by pub time (that was, of course, unscheduled but essential to every musician alive).
As the Brits might say, we were quite nackered by the end of the day. Rehearsals went well. Norrington showed great pleasure throughout the rehearsal period. You couldn't do wrong by the soloists conscripted for the event ... they were terrific, particularly the soprano and tenor. The Brit extra musicians had played much with Norrington in the London Classical Players and the concertmistress was top shelf. She knows the piece really well, gets a big generous sound out of her instrument, leads well and very musically. Norrington, one could ascertain, felt very comfortable with her at the helm. The orchestra sounded strong.
That evening while we were in the bar, the busload of singers arrived from Boston and their customs and Heathrow experience in general was even less strenuous than that which greeted the band the evening before. We all breathed a sigh of relief. Soon, they too joined us in the bar and we steeled ourselves for the first joint rehearsal the following morning.
So, we proceeded to day two. Everyone was amazed at how things were seeming to work out quite well.
This is a terribly depressing, and slightly bizarre story, of the apparent double suicides of Jeremy Blake and Theresa Duncan (below). Her blog remains up, haunting considering that Duncan posted a final message the day she died.
Two recent Globe stories you may have missed. I wrote Sunday on the reduction of free Shakespeare on the Common. And my colleague, Mark Shanahan, revealed the world of LMontro, the "unofficial barber of the Red Sox."
Maestro Levine passed on Verbier, but he's heading to Cincy in 2010.
The folks at Boston Ballet, embarking on a tour of Spain, have promised to zap us updates and pictures over the next few weeks. We start with a photo of company member Kelsey Hellebuyck unloading her case in the Canary Islands. Soloist Sabi Varga took the pic.
Here's a clip I recorded on my Mac when I was in Indianapolis hanging around with Colts owner - and keeper of "The Scroll" - Jim Irsay. It is worth the price of admission.
Sean Buffington, Harvard's Associate Provost for Arts and Culture, is leaving to take over The University of the Arts in Philadelphia. Just 38, he'll be the third president since the institution gained university status in 1987.
We know Buffington because of his relationship with the Harvard University Art Museums and American Repertory Theatre. He heads to a school that, according to the press release announcing his tenure, has an $80 million endowment.
The Handel and Haydn Society made its Proms debut this week, and we were fortunate to have a few diary entries sent our way. I'll post from mezzo-soprano Katharine Emory (below) today and follow with timpanist John Grimes tomorrow.
Thursday, July 19, 2007
Packing for Proms
It's 6.30pm and I've done all the packing I can stand for the day, knowing that tomorrow will be filled with last-minute checking of toiletries, reading material, electronic updates, etc. Of course, the cats have both enjoyed the process, setting their soft little bodies down inside the suitcase ("Take me! Take me!"). It's good that they're so cute, given that they've shed contrasting fur all over my Handel and Haydn black velvet performance gown... Yes, add the lint brush to the toiletries list!
Weather in London looks to be sadly wet and chilly, but that won't stop me from exploring as much as I can during our free time. I've already purchased tickets with some of my colleagues to see "The Car Man" by Matthew Bourne. A matinee was chosen in anticipation of jet lag and the need for an early bedtime Sunday night. Sigh. I wish I didn't need sleep at all! There's so much to see and do in our few precious hours of non-rehearsal or performance!
One unexpected delight is that my neighbors Chuck and Lu are going to be visiting their daughter and grandchildren in London while I'm there. I convinced them to buy tickets to our concert! I think we'll be getting together afterwards for a drink, which should be lovely. It's such a pleasure being able to share what I do with my neighbors! Some are able to come to my performances in the New York area, but few are even aware of the Handel and Haydn Society, so I am going to enjoy introducing them to this ensemble that has been an important part of my musical life for so very long. It's a great way to show off! Maybe they'll buy some CDs?
That's it for now. My neighbor Laura is making me dinner so that I don't have to create a mess in my kitchen tonight. Plus there's almost no food left anyway! Andy (my husband) comes home from his job around midnight tonight (he's the moving light technician for the show Mamma Mia! on Broadway). He's been an enormous help with all the technological aspects of this trip (downloading software onto the GPS to include the U.K., backing up my computer in case of disaster while we're gone, etc.). He's a veteran packer, too, having toured with shows, opera companies, ballets, and the like for years. So he'll help me decide if I should bring the bathing suit or that extra pair of whatever. I'm so happy that he's joining me, though it won't be until later (he arrives Monday morning).
There's something SOOO hard about anticipating a trip, even when you know how wonderful it will be! I just look forward to getting to the airport; that should make it all real enough! Ah, I wonder how the hotel will handle so many singers singing scales and arpeggios in their rooms to warm up before 9am Sunday morning?!? Should prove entertaining at least!
Friday, July 20, 2007
Written on a plane
Oh the excitement of travel! For me, it starts out with the unlikely aspect of a complete lack of appetite. My stomach so perfectly expresses what my mind cannot fathom: the anxiety that comes from anticipation of the unknown. Andy makes me breakfast but I can barely eat. Coffee, on the other hand, I can drink forever...(with soy milk to avoid the phlegm-production that lactose-laden products like milk create - it's a singer thing). I wonder how easy it is to get soy milk for coffee in the U.K.?
The day is spent in packing and crossing off items on lists. I also spend extra time with the cats, knowing that they already sense something is going on; routines are not being observed!
The ultimate shock comes when Andy and I both realize that we're ready early. EARLY! He's gotten permission to miss "light check" at Mamma Mia! in order to take me to the airport himself before heading to Broadway. I'm eternally grateful for the extra time together.
We go to a local diner for a late lunch before heading off to Newark. (Most of the chorus is leaving the next morning from Logan Airport.) I confess that, even though we're going to see each other in a couple of days, we take our goodbyes seriously - either that or he humors me!
Getting through security was a breeze. Hallelujah. I can't imagine what the orchestra must go through with their instruments. It's been ages since anyone's even asked me to explain the strange round metal object I carry in my purse (pitchpipe). Sigh. I remember joking about its doubling as a pizza cutter in the old days; we don't joke about anything at airports anymore.
I wait for my flight to board - it feels like an eternity, so I fill the time with studying my music. Because I live in NJ, I was allowed to miss the brush-up rehearsal Wednesday night. Still, I don't want to let down our chorus master, John Finney, nor embarrass myself at the Sunday morning rehearsal in London. I mouth the German text in rhythm to re-familiarize myself with the piece, wrapping my mouth around the complex consonants as silently as I can so as not to disturb the man reading next to me. His book is about arrows and archery!
Finally! I'm on the plane and we're taking off. New York at night is a glorious sight and my view is particularly spectacular and meaningful. The air is crystal clear so I can easily see the distinctive lights of the Chrysler and Empire State buildings. Even Times Square is easily distinguished from my window seat. How amazing to think that my husband might see the lights of my plane were he to be outside right now...
Soon I arrange my neck pillow and attempt sleep. It's important to get on London time as soon as possible to get my voice in its best shape for Sunday's rehearsal. I'm drinking lots of water on the plane as dryness is a singer's nemesis. It's inevitable on long flights, but we do what we can to stave it off or minimize it at least. Alas, alcohol dries the throat even more, so - for me - my first Guinness will come after the concert Monday night!
But first things first - reset the watch for England time and drift off... When I wake, it will be in another country!
Monday, July 23, 2007
Back from Dress!
Just back from the dress rehearsal in the hall. And what a hall it is!!! Royal Albert Hall is the quintessential old world European concert hall - red velvet trim, box seats, columns, and archways all around. A dream to sing in! Today we could all hear each other clearly and the acoustic was very friendly to the singers in particular. The BBC had cameras everywhere in preparation for filming the concert tonight. Their staff was incredibly friendly and treated us with respect and humor.
I think this is the best hall I've ever sung in - it seats an incredible 5000, yet feels more intimate by far than Symphony Hall in Boston. In fact, the feel is more like Jordan Hall. Apparently, there will be people standing as well as sitting for the concert tonight, as the cheap seats are actually standing room! The BBC rep told us that the standing room areas are actually the best places to experience the concert acoustically, too.
So now, we're on break until the bus leaves the hotel at 5.30 this evening. Time to find some food and then relax before the concert!
Monday, July 23, 2007
A superb rehearsal
Well, no entry yesterday as the hotel ran out of internet access cards! We had a superb rehearsal at the Royal College of Music just behind the Royal Albert Hall. Acoustically things were a bit difficult - it felt muddy and we had trouble hearing. Still, everyone - orchestra and chorus - was on their game. Sir Roger seemed in a good mood indeed.
The soloists are incredible. Sally Matthews (Hanne) has a remarkably dark, sometimes dusky timbre to her voice. Yet it can soar and move with a sparkling agility when the music calls for it. Tenor James Gilchrist (Lukas) is a gift to the world of oratorio. (I hope that Handel and Haydn audiences remember his brilliant performance in the St. Matthew Passion a couple of years ago.) I am in awe of his ease with all aspects of the music and with his complete lack of pretension in everything that he does. His intelligence comes out through his musicality and the result brings the listener in - from intimately nuanced pianissimo to dramatic forte. And his wonderful rapport with Ms. Matthews makes their duets a charming treat. The bass, Jonathan Lemalu, has a deep, rich timbre that is perfect for the role of Simon.
After rehearsal, we had the rest of the day to play! Many did the sights; I went to Sadlers Wells with 3 other choristers to see Matthew Bourne's "The Car Man" a ballet based on Carmen set in an auto body shop! It was marvelous. Post-play, we walked through all sorts of London districts, vaguely setting our sights on heading back to the hotel. We walked through the theatre district and many fancy shops, Trafalgar Square, Buckingham Palace, Picadilly Circus, Knightsbridge, and eventually back to Kensington. Had to be at least 6-8 miles. It was exhausting and wonderful. The weather all day was perfect - sunny and clear. A tourist's dream!
Back at the hotel with my "take-away" from a little hole in the wall called Luscious Organic, I couldn't wait to shake off my shoes and watch some TV before going to sleep.
I've heard art can have healing powers. Well, the Gardner isn't taking any chances. On three Tuesdays - August 7, September 4 and October 2 - the museum is bringing wellness experts from exhale mind body spa into the Stefano Arienti installation. There, visitors will be instructed on "incorporating restorative meditation and Chinese vibrational therapy."
It's free with admission, but reservations are required, so call 617- 278-5156 if you're interested.
There's also some sort of discount at the spa offered to museum members, which you can check out by calling exhale mind body.
Stefano Arienti: The Asian Shore (partial gallery view). Photo by Stewart Clements Photography, 2007.
The other day I was considering purchasing a Michael Nesmith t-shirt when I googled upon Nurit Wilde, the woman with whom the former Monkee had a child. Turns out Nurit liked to take photos and, in my humble opinion, she snapped some pretty intriguing pictures. (She also played a photographer in a Monkees episode.) So I wrote to Nurit with a few questions. Here's her response, and some images. You can also click over to her website to buy prints.
I was born in Israel and left for Czechoslovakia in 1950 when I was five years old. I eventually moved to Canada where I went to school and graduated from college after which I came to Los Angeles where I now live. I worked at the Whisky and The Troubadour as a light and sound person and got to meet and know many of the up and coming performers and actors of the late 1960s. I actually started snapping photos with a Yashica that my friend Larry Hankin (The Committee) left with me for safe keeping. I just started photographing everything and everybody with a 50mm lens and no light meter. Eventually I got some feel for how a camera worked and I would just take photos when we were hanging out or when I was working at the clubs. I went on to use a Pentax, a Nikon and settled on the Olympus OM1. I never studied photography and just winged it so I don't think I ever lived up to my potential and never took it
seriously enough, alas.
I only have a point and shoot digital but I am seriously thinking of getting an SLR. I still use my Olympuses and a Holga just for fun. I mostly take photos of animals and friends and my son Jason Nesmith, who is a musician.
I would say that Neil Young and The Monkees are my popular photos. I hope this does it.
Neil Young, 1966
Tim Hardin, 1967
Penny Marshall, 1974
Jackson Browne, 1966
Nurit Wilde, today
Tom Palmer has an update on the Museum of Fine Arts purchase of a nearby property.
Here's my story on Macomber's lawsuit, which alleges that the Institute of Contemporary Art owes the now defunct construction company $6.6 million.
"The Museum of Fine Arts said today it has agreed to buy the nearby Forsyth Institute property in the Fenway as part of its expansion plans.
No financial details of the transaction, which involves a building with 107,000 square feet of space on 1.6 acres of land, were disclosed in a statement issued by the two parties."
The maestro is fine, the Boston Symphony Orchestra says. But he's not going to Verbier on doctor's orders.
Sadly, Leon Fleisher (below) won't be appearing, as scheduled, on Sunday at Tanglewood because of what the Boston Symphony Orchestra is describing as "tenosynovitis (an inflammation of the tendon sheath) in both hands."
He will be replaced by pianist Marc-André Hamelin, who is making his BSO debut. The musical program won't change, with Hamelin playing Beethoven’s Piano Concerto No. 5, Emperor, at the afternoon concert.
To mark the 25th anniversary of "Big Science," the album has been reissued with two extra features, the video from "O Superman (For Massenet)" and the b-side, "Walk the Dog."
Also, check out Laurie Anderson's website for other extra stuff.
Here's a recent essay on the record for the uninitiated.
Robert Brustein, founder of the American Reportory Theatre, will have his play, "The English Channel," premiered in September at Suffolk U's Walsh Theatre.
The play, which runs from Sept. 6 to 15, will be directed by Wesley Savick.
The press release offers the following:
"The year is 1593. The plague has closed the Elizabethan playhouses and William Shakespeare is taking refuge in the Mermaid Tavern, writing sonnets. The playwright is tangled up in sexual, artistic, and political intrigue with other young Elizabethan men and women – poet and rival Christopher Marlowe, Emilia, the mysterious Dark Lady, and Shakespeare’s patron, the Earl of Southampton. The English Channel is theatre luminary Robert Brustein’s comic and provocative imagining of Shakespeare’s coming of age as a playwright. The content of this play is not recommended for children."
This sounds as if it is a long way from becoming a reality, but Tom Palmer has the scoop on Developer John B. Hynes III's plans to build a performing arts center down on the waterfront.
Here's the section of the story that might be of interest to arts watchers, particularly those wondering how this plays into today's big challenge: Filling the seats we have.
"Arts community leaders say that, while there may be a shortage of popular shows to fill the theaters with a thousand or more seats, there are more than enough troupes to fill more modest facilities. Hynes's performing arts facility could have as many as 3,000 seats, he said -- but would be designed so it could be broken down into smaller spaces of a few hundred seats each.
"What has always been needed in the Boston area are these smaller venues, in the 250 to 300 seat size -- not the big commercial house," said Spiro Veloudos, producing artistic director of the Lyric Stage Co. of Boston, now located at 140 Clarendon St. in a space with 244 seats.
"If there was a 350 to 400 seat theater on the waterfront, I'd be looking to rent it to add to the space we have."
Terry Teachout, a smart writer whether in print or out in the tubes, comments on the state of arts criticism. Thanks for bringing us back to Hooterville.
I just got my tickets for the Meat Puppets gig at the Middle East in September. To understand just how unlikely it once seemed that Cris and Curt would take the stage together, read this depressing and stunning article from 1998 by David Holthouse.
Dr. Gonzo is gone, but this mumbling interview with Keith Richards lingers on. A free Slim Jim to anybody who can accurately transcribe this exchange.
Alan Gilbert (below) has been named to succeed Lorin Maazel at the New York Philharmonic. Considered part of the Philharmonic family - his mother is a violinist in the orchestra, as was his father, who retired six years ago - Gilbert was, as Daniel Wakin describes it, a frontrunner for the job for some time. At 40, Gilbert is quite a generational change from Maazel, 77. Which brings me to another young conductor, Gustavo Dudamel.
If you remember, Dudamel, 26, has been hired to take over at the Los Angeles Philharmonic. The orchestra isn't wasting time. This morning, when I scanned through the new release section of my iTunes, I noticed a DGG release of a Bartok concert conducted by the Venezuelan music director, and for just $5.99.
Metropolis Mag's Philip Nobel (below), he of the "botched box" review of the Institute of Contemporary Art, has more to say about his critique in the latest issue.
"...Which brings us back to that column from two months in which I expressed some concern, perhaps even annoyance, at the ongoing, and I believe, irresponsible fluffing of star architects by so many architecture critics. As the latest example of this widespread and persistent phenomenon, I looked at Diller Scofidio & Renfro’s new building for the Institute of Contemporary Art (ICA), in Boston, which was greeted with all kinds of praise despite being, I and a few others have argued, not quite the thing. There’s little delay here (ah, for the immediacy of a blog), but I’d like to respond to some of the response to that column.
First, re: general changes of cruelty, I was wasn’t being sarcastic when I wrote of DS + R, “Architecture is hard – they’ll do better next time. Right?” That was meant to be earnest sympathy, as well as a suggestion of a more fitting tone than fanfare with which to appraise the work of architects who are in effect still learning how to build. Who is served by pretending an honest spring-training single is a pennant-winning home run?
Many people have also suggested, in private communications and on the busy comments thread at Metropolismag.com, that it was unfair to pick on the ICA alone. Why, more than a few have asked, did I not also mention “Danny in Denver,” “Danny in Toronto,” or “Zaha in Cincinnati”? Only because, I’m ashamed to say, I haven’t visited those buildings. But I have written about overhyped projects comparable to the ICA many times here, arguing, for instance, that Steven Holl’s dorm at MIT, Norman Foster’s Hearst Tower, Frank Gehry’s IAC headquarters, and – the granddaddy of them all – Peter Eisenman’s Wexner Center are as building failures in a way you would never know only by reading the fog of praise the obscures them.
This relates to another line of criticism that my housemate, returning from her sanctum out back, describes at the “jolly good but” school – readers in favor of my conclusions but wishing for a more comprehensive critique. To that I will say that this column, part of an ongoing discussion even if entered midstream, and not a series of freestanding essays aspiring to completely encircle a given subject, something that is rarely possible in 1,200 words anyway. I could no more cover all the bases in that May column than I will here in July. But I will also shamelessly refer readers looking for a more thorough discussion of the mechanics of starchitecture, the role of critics, and the effect of the whole circus on the wider profession to my 2005 book on the World Trade Center reconstruction, long stretches of which are concerned with nothing else, and which can now be purchased online for a penny.
On a final note, I do regret not having given a gentlemanly prepublication heads-up to Charles Renfro, whom I’ve known for years and like very much. But I will correct that now by extending to him an invitation to bash my backyard handiwork or to write about anything else that may be on his mind, in this space. It’s only fair."
No idea, but this video, from a recent Sly appearance, does seem to show that he can still bring it.
Tickets are being released for the Police shows at Fenway. According to the press release: "With the sight-lines for this tour even better than anticipated, a new block of tickets is on-sale now for the previously sold out shows in Boston at Fenway Park - July 28th & 29th."
Starting at 10 a.m. Wednesday, you should be able to buy tickets to see Sting & Co. for both performances ($225.00 and $95.00 plus applicable service fee) at Ticketmaster.com, all TicketMaster outlets, and by phone at 617-228-6000.
Our informed readers certainly know how to distinguish the Boston Symphony Orchestra, Boston Pops, and the Boston Pops Esplanade Orchestra, but what about folks on the outside...
Here's an interesting blog entry from the Philadelphia Inquirer's Peter Dobrin.
No, this isn't the version of the Pops heading to Philly.
This newspaper thing, a.k.a. "my job," still seems to puts some considerable demands on my time, so I've been slow to blog on the first few nights of Tanglewood.
The New York Times has Jimmy's Mahler concert covered.
Jeremy Eichler takes in British conductor Mark Elder.
And this story, the latest from the classical-music-is-not-dead files, tells us how we can buy the discs with Levine doing Elliott Carter, John Cage, Milton Babbitt and Gunther Schuller.
News from Boston Ballet:
The company, via a release, announces "the conclusion of a comprehensive, three-year fundraising campaign that the organization launched in October of 2004. With a total of $35,789,273 in gifts and pledges received by June 30, 2007, the effort will exceed its original goal of $32.5 million.
The Campaign for Boston Ballet reflected multiple aspects of our institutional mission, as well as the need to reduce the Company’s traditional dependence on revenue earned from ticket sales and tuition.
"We set out to advance our overall fundraising capability and future planning while advancing our progress in four key areas-artistic excellence, educational initiatives, financial stability and endowment," recalled Executive Director Valerie Wilder, "We are very pleased to have reached and exceeded our goal."
The cornerstone gift of the campaign, a $3.5 million endowment bequest from the estate of Dr. Beatrice H. Barrett, stands as the largest single contribution ever received by the Company. The campaign generated four additional commitments of $1 million or more, including a challenge gift from Trustee Lizbeth Krupp and her husband, George, that will establish an endowment for the production of contemporary ballet repertoire. The solicitation of matching gifts for this endowed fund will continue beyond the official close of the campaign."
It seems like ages ago, but I spent my first vacation day in Vermont at a Wilco show. Rick Levinson, the house photographer for Higher Ground, the production company that put on the show, was nice enough to send along a bunch of his shots from the concert. For a blogger's review, click here.
Here's today's piece on Anna Schuleit, a "genius grant" winner commissioned by the Institute of Contemporary Art to create a project on a Boston Harbor Island. She did, on Lovells, though, as you'll read, she would prefer you call it a "work in progress".
Here are the details of what Mark Tribe, assistant professor of modern culture and media at Brown, will do today, at 5 p.m., on the Common:
"Exploring the parallels between the current war in Iraq and the Vietnam War, artist and curator Mark Tribe will stage re-enactments of Vietnam-era protest speeches this July on the sites where they were originally delivered. The re-enactments will take place in Boston on July 14 and in Washington, D.C., on July 26, 2007.
The events are part of Tribe’s Port Huron Project, a series of re-enactments of protest speeches from the New Left movements of the 1960s and ’70s. Each performance in the project is staged at the site of the original speech and is delivered by an actor to an audience of invited guests and passers-by. To reach a wide audience, videos of these events are also distributed on DVD and posted online at YouTube and other sites. The project is named after the Port Huron Statement, the visionary manifesto of the Students for a Democratic Society (SDS), a radical student group formed in 1962. The first event in the series, Port Huron Project 1: Until the Last Gun Is Silent, took place Sept. 16, 2006, and was based on a speech given by Coretta Scott King at a peace march in Central Park in 1968.
At the re-enactment Saturday, July 14, 2007, at 5 p.m. on Boston Common, an actor cast by Tribe will deliver a speech originally given by author and activist Howard Zinn at a peace rally in May 1971. In the speech, Zinn argued for the necessity of civil disobedience to protest the war in Vietnam and called on Congress to impeach the president and vice president of the United States for the “high crime” of waging war on the people of Southeast Asia. The erformance, titled Port Huron Project 2: The Problem is Civil Obedience, will take place at the northwest corner of Boston
Common, near the intersection of Charles and Beacon streets, the exact site of Zinn’s original speech."
Now this is a long one. But I figure if you get bored, you're perfectly free to click over to Tyra and the dolphins. Independent curator James Hull did not appreciate Globe critic Ken Johnson's take on the Büchel situation.
"The first sentence clearly establishes the biases of the “critic” and irresponsibly places blame singularly on a valuable regional art center that has won accolades for almost everything it has done artistically and economically since it opened–until now.
Johnson concludes, as if he is in some way a good judge of the complicated legal and budgetary issues that have not even been made public, that the Museum’s response is “sad, dumb and shameful.” What is shameful is that Mr. Johnson did not consider that there may be two sides to this story.
Just to put my take in perspective, I have been working with artists to create installations of all kinds on a limited budget for over 15 years. I am an artist who fund raises for myself and other artists and volunteers my time at a non-profit gallery to install work for public exhibition. I have written reviews of exhibitions that have been published in Art Papers, ArtsMedia and Big Red and Shiny. I have also worked with artists as an installer at the List Visual art Center at MIT, ICA Boston, the Thread Waxing space, the DeCordova Museum and Sculpture Park, The High Museum of Art and Barbara Krakow Gallery. Additionally I have had to work with installers at the Huntsville Museum of Art to have one of my own installations installed to my specifications for the Triennial “Red Clay Survey” several years ago.
This is just to say that I looked at view this in a the situation in a much more open minded way than Mr. Johnson. Which is not much of a challenge, considering that he spent the entire article vilifying an institution whose side of the story he barely even mentions except to quickly list that the artist had already used up a budget of $300,000 after agreeing to do the installation for $160,000. He gives the museum’s past record short shrift in the second paragraph saying “ Mass MoCA is known for sponsoring artists with ambitious, big ideas.” This actually is just a disguised compliment that Johnson pays to the artist implying he was another artist with a big idea. When the museum tried to remind visitors of the successes it had always had in the past Johnson again attacks them saying, “Mass MoCA has compounded its misdoings by mounting a slick, disingenuous, egregiously self-serving photo and text display called “made at Mass MoCA” ... “The implicit message is that Büchel must be a real jerk to have been so uncooperative.” Show me a single museum that does not brag and archive its past exhibitions. The message is only implicit and egregious because this critic does not want anyone to get both sides of the argument.
To call the installation “slick”–which I think is an underhanded compliment about how well installed the temporary, unplanned “Made at Mass MoCA” installation must have looked–showing the unmentioned skills that the institution can muster in a crunch were not good enough to satisfy the artist (or were they?).
I am not faulting the artist yet, just because I agree with some of the Bloggers and writers that gave more consideration than Mr. Johnson to the obvious similarities of this legal battle to the artist’s stated practice. The text for a recent exhibition Hauser & Wirth Coppermill in London's East End states:
“Büchel often appropriates mass media sources such as the Internet, printed political pamphlets and everyday household objects. His work is informed by an explicit political awareness, often telling of new forms of propaganda...” perhaps referring to Mr. Johnson’s article!
It goes on to say, "'Capital Affair' (also 2002), another collaboration with Motti, promised the entire exhibition budget to the gallery visitor who could find a cheque hidden within the exhibition space of the Helmhaus in Zurich. Büchel repeatedly manipulates and exploits the perceived power of the social and legal contract, subverting the relationship between artist and audience while insisting on a more active political role for both.”
It is not unreasonable, given his past history, to think Buchel may include his legal contract and exhibition budget as fodder to be used in his artistic practice and his installation. After all there is no such thing as bad press–at least for an artist–unfortunately that may not ring true for an institution that has to raise money from almost any source available in order to survive.
This possibility was obvious to others as well, just not to Mr. Johnson, as a posting on the Blog ANABA by Evan demonstrates...
“ Regarding the Büchel kerfuffle: I've been following it for awhile now, and I've come to the conclusion that perhaps his intent all along was to have a "non-show show" at Mass MoCA. It seems like something he would do--create a lot of hype, pull a supposed "freakout" at the last minute, force the folks at Mass MoCA to cleverly conceal everything, post some newspaper clippings about the whole thing and voila, you have a VERY tongue-in-cheek and subversive show. In any event, it's pretty clear to me that Büchel did indeed manipulate the powers-that-be in the press and Mass MoCA to get something out of it, even if it was just some more exposure.”
Yet another posting says:
Man, I pretty much ALWAYS side with the artist, and hate curators claiming artistic license... but I have to hand it to Joe Thompson and Mass Moca for one-upping Büchel at his own "subverting the relationship" game.”
One reason to consider why this explanation was ignored by Mr. Johnson comes from Johnson’s own writings on the artist from a few years earlier at the Swiss Institute, New York (which he quotes in his Boston Globe rant) where he describes the exhibition space as “a grungy, fully furnished apartment with a meandering cinderblock wall running through it. There is a visceral absurdity about the wall, and it is sad how it divides and isolates two people who, we may imagine, might otherwise productively commune and collaborate.”
Could the “two people” of Johnson’s Swiss Institute review be replaced by the Museum vs. Büchel for the same effect? Might the artist want the burlap and tarps of the “Closed” Mass MoCA exhibit to function like the cinder block wall?
Many reasonable questions such as these were omitted by Johnson throughout the incendiary article and replaced by argumentative suppositions like “What may seem to museum workers a perfect solution may not necessarily be acceptable to an artist who has an extremely exacting vision” while the museum implicitly has no vision, not to mention that the installers, many of whom are artists, get slighted by Johnson as well in this slur. I guess the MoCA installers and even his imported, salaried swiss assistants were incapable of making things look “grungy” in just the right way.
The funny thing is (and it was so one sided as to be mildly entertaining!) that after describing a ...“ a grungy, fully furnished apartment with a meandering cinderblock wall running through it” and a “labyrinthine space” ... “animated by mysteries the visitor could only guess at” Mr. Johnnon anoints it “a miracle of industry and imagination” because the trash and old beer can strewn coffee table, old rugs and the cinderblock wall were “exacting” I guess. Johnson could instantly see “ that the artist worried over every object in it the way a literary novelist worries over every word and every sentence.”
Yet Mr. Johnson fails to accept The Mass MoCA installations burlap and tarp covered space, saying visitors will be “mystified by what he or she encounters”. Continuing this sudden change of heart Johnson’s description continues “as you follow a path through the unfinished installation, you can see through the openings below the tarps parts of cars, trucks, trailers ....the second story of a white clapboard house...a guard tower and an almost completely reconstructed interior of an old movie theater.”
He then concludes–in telling contrast to his “miracle of industry and imagination” response to the Swiss Institute installation of a single “grungy” apartment, that “it is altogether a gloomy, frustrating and not at all illuminating experience.” Can we really be expected to believe Mr. Johnson had a completely opposite response to two similarly rambling, Alice in Wonderland installations by the same artist?
Another ANABA blog entry says:
“My impression, and I saw "the show", is that Büchel was overwhelmed by the huge space - unable to finish on-time and within budget - while trying to maintain his demanding character at the same time - and just couldn't deal.... so he abandoned it until safely back home in Switzerland, where he perhaps began to embrace the new nature of the piece.
Really, this works out better for him, because even with ALL of the stuff they put in there (a movie theater, mobile homes, many vehicles and cinderblock walls and shipping containers, a HOUSE) it still looks all spread-out and very much like you are in a single gigantic room, not the disorienting gosh-am-i-still-at-an-art-show? effect that he is able to get in a more manageable space. The museum putting up a maze of tarps and opening the space without permission is doing him a favor... more notoriety for him, and it will actually look better.
I hope that the closeness of Mr. Johnson to this artist, his belief that institutions should not ever question the desires of an artist that they collaborate with (does he accept that term?) and spend whatever money the artist demands are held in check in future opinion pieces that the Globe chooses to publish.
Maybe Mr. Johnson should reread the “List Of Demands” printed in the Globe and see if he has indeed been had.
It makes you think doesn’t it?
Just one final note: Try to remember that, even though your years as a mighty art critic for the New York Times may have convinced you that there is only one interpretation that really counts– YOURS –art is almost by definition a subjective experience. Please try to look at things from more than one perspective in the future, you will serve your Boston Globe readers far better if you do.
Back when she was hired as the Institute of Contemporary Art's new director, Jill Medvedow promised the "Vita Brevis," the public art program she had founded, would continue.
Well... we've recently learned that the ICA will no longer do "Vita Brevis". But fear not, the ICA's Deputy Director Paul Bessire says. Public art remains a mission at the ICA. It's just that the Latin term is getting the heave ho.
Bessire notes that the program's name "has resulted in some confusion by the public, including the assumption that the program is endowed by an individual named Vita Brevis, or that the ICA is housing a separately operating public art organization by the name of Vita Brevis.
The last public project to be noted as a Vita Brevis project was Julian Opie's Suzanne walking and Julian walking located on the Northern Avenue Bridge 2005-06.
And no, this has no impact on the ICA's budget for public art. We continue to be committed to the presentation of public art in Boston."
CultureGrrl is on top of the Rutelli negotiations, as the Italian culture minister talks about his meeting with collector Shelby White.
The North Carolina Symphony, home of Handel and Haydn's Grant Llewellyn, looks to make a dramatic expansion.
It's bad enough the dude had to play Ringo in Beatlemania. Now, Michael Bellusci's got to deal with a bad right ear. He's not alone, crazy boomers.
I've always had doubts about Whole Foods. Maybe it's the fact that whenever I go in there, whether I'm buying enough food for a week of family consumption or just a papaya, I always end up with a $736 bill. Now a little dirt on the company's CEO.
The Smoking Gun lets us know what Elvis C's lady expects at a gig. And the Canadian crooner doesn't stop at her favorite Pinot... she needs a yoga space that's big enough for five people lying down and the room should have a "VERY clean floor". And don't get us started on the instructions to photographers on capturing a "great beauty shot".
I'm not kidding. You need to go to her page, scroll down to VIDEO GALLERY box and click to see if the supermodel-turned-TV host can conquer her fear.
This is a tad lengthy, but if you're interested, here's my piece on Doug Marlette from 2002 in the (Raleigh, N.C.) News and Observer.
Hillsborough -- The writers began to talk back in June. That's when galleys of Doug Marlette's first novel began floating around town. The early buzz was not good. Marlette, the editorial cartoonist known for his fearless newspaper takedowns and satirical comic strip, "Kudzu," had done the unthinkable in "The Bridge." He had aimed his pen at his neighbor, writer Allan Gurganus.
This did not sit well in Hillsborough. Over a decade, the once-grimy mill village has, thanks to quaint rows of historic homes and its proximity to the academic cradle of Chapel Hill, attracted the A-list of the local writing community. And nobody exemplifies the spirit of Hillsborough more than Gurganus. His home, next to a historic graveyard, is a kind of mountain voodoo church, each room containing a set of artifacts: washboards, carved Jesus heads, stained glass. He throws a popular Halloween party and maintains close relationships with bookstore managers, radio hosts and the rest of the writers on the roster -- Lee Smith, Hal Crowther, Michael Malone, Annie Dillard, Alan Shapiro and Tim McLaurin, among others.
Now, the word was, the high priest of the Hillsborough writer's colony had been wounded.
Passages of "The Bridge" were underlined, pages dog-eared to mark the crime. Before long, Marlette began to get phone calls and letters. The dispute centered on the character of Ruffin Strudwick, who shared several distinctive features -- red sneakers, the Halloween party, authorship of a Civil War epic -- with Gurganus. Strudwick was also a boozy, fashion-challenged jerk. Marlette's response: This was fiction, not the author.
Gurganus isn't talking about "The Bridge," but through interviews with his friends, letters and e-mail, the story emerges.
"He was very hurt," said Lee Smith, mentor to many an aspiring Triangle writer and author of "Fair and Tender Ladies." "I would have been so hurt. Take the most idiosyncratic traits that you have and make fun of them and make fun of your work. I would be in tears."
Smith called Marlette as soon as she heard about the character. She told him he still had time to change Strudwick before the book was published. Forget it, he said. They would not speak again.
For Marlette, who moved to Hillsborough in 1991, these complaints marked the start of a campaign against his book. Over the fall, he would be accused of sins ranging from character assassination to homophobia and, perhaps worst of all, bad writing. He would have a reading at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill canceled. He would cut himself off from anyone -- writers, artists and assorted admirers -- he suspected of being in the Gurganus camp. Marlette was under attack, increasingly suspicious and angry. In other words, he was right at home.
Because conflict has always traveled with the Pulitzer Prize-winning cartoonist. As a teenager growing up in the South, his turmoil was largely internal, that universal, small-town desire to live somewhere, anywhere, other than with his conservative, Paul Harvey-listening family. Once he escaped, Marlette became the consummate agitator, an editorial cartoonist who took on senators, sports heroes, even the pope. If a cartoonist is doing his job, Marlette once wrote, his "hate mail runneth over."
Now, he had created a war of words in the peaceful writer's colony of Hillsborough. And he didn't sound like a man ready to back down.
"The premise is Allan's feelings were hurt and people's feelings should not be hurt and all I'm questioning is why Allan should be exempt from that," Marlette said. "I'm not exempt from that. My feelings are hurt all the time."
Marlette says he never meant to cause any trouble, at least consciously. "The Bridge" is supposed to be a love letter to the town. Using a mix of family history, research and imagination, Marlette tells the almost-forgotten story of the underprivileged millworkers, or lintheads, who were crushed in the '30s when they tried to unionize.
The protagonist is Pick Cantrell, a Pulitzer Prize-winning cartoonist who returns to his native South after losing his job at a New York newspaper. Back home, Cantrell finds an alternative history that contradicts the seemingly redneck exterior of his family. In particular, he finds that his grandmother, Mama Lucy, who packs snuff and a .38 pistol and terrorizes several generations, was bayoneted by National Guardsmen at a plant. The book centers on this discovery and how it helps Cantrell come to terms with his roots.
"The Bridge" may be fiction, but Marlette didn't have to stretch much to imagine Cantrell. Like his character, Marlette won a Pulitzer for editorial cartooning and worked for a Long Island newspaper until last year, when his contract wasn't renewed. His paternal grandmother, Grace Pickard, was bayoneted in 1934 during a union demonstration in Burlington.
Marlette also shares his character's need for reconciliation. As a child, he always felt out of place, as if he had dropped into the center of a Southern family from outer space. Also, the Marlette family never really settled, the product of father Elmer's military service.
From Greensboro to Burlington and Durham. To Laurel, Miss., and eventually Sanford, Fla. Cantrell and Marlette also share a mother with a serious mental illness. With Elmer away for long stretches during Vietnam, Billie Moore, as hard as she tried to hold herself together, would break down, sobbing uncontrollably. She would eventually be institutionalized.
The teenage Marlette, the middle of three children, spent a lot of time alone. He was not successful with girls, a fact he has brought to life for 20 years through Kudzu, his comic strip alter ego. He drew, all the time. His images were often inspired by Mad magazine and TV culture.
Over time, they became sharper edged and political. At just 21, Marlette landed a job as the Charlotte Observer's editorial cartoonist.
He was part of a wave of Vietnam-era cartoonists, the generation that included Tony Auth, Jeff MacNelly and Mike Peters. Marlette's work was brash and biting, but with a sense of humor and outrage anchored by a decidedly Southern take on morality. Having spent much of his childhood in church, he could quote Bible passages at will and attack, without fear, when a religious leader or policy struck him as misguided. For years, he would submit an anti-death penalty cartoon to his bosses in Charlotte. It showed Jesus carrying an electric chair on his back. The cartoons never ran.
"His expectations of his fellow human beings are not high," says Ed Williams, the longtime editorial page editor at the Observer. "He thinks that most people are quite happy to live unexamined lives. He just thinks that is wildly hilarious. So he's not a guy who will go far out of his way to avoid offending people, but I don't think that's because he dislikes people. That's because he has an uncanny ability to see things clearly. I don't think it's any accident that his first edition of cartoons was called 'The Emperor's New Clothes.'"
Marlette has had cartoons spiked at every stop. In an episode he fictionalized in "The Bridge," Newsday published a Marlette drawing critical of the pope and then, after a flurry of complaints, apologized to its readers. In real life, Marlette swallowed his pride and moved on; in "The Bridge," Cantrell beats his publisher with a yachting trophy and is arrested.
"A cartoon cannot say 'on the other hand,' and it cannot be defended with logic," Marlette wrote in 1991's collection "In Your Face." "It is a frontal assault, a slam dunk, a cluster bomb. Journalism is about fairness, objectivity, factuality; cartoons use unfairness, subjectivity, and the distortion of facts to get at truths that are greater than the sum of the facts."
Marlette, who is 52, has long felt he had to adapt the story his grandmother first told him in the early 1980s. Like Cantrell in the novel, he had come to understand so much more about himself through her tale. He realized that he was not a non sequitur, that in fact he had been spawned by a rabble-rousing, populist family of political agitators.
Over time, Marlette considered adapting the story as a musical, just as he had with "Kudzu." He also considered memoir, before deciding the form would limit him too much. About five years ago, Marlette started writing the novel. To juice up the contemporary side of the book -- "The Bridge" is told in flashback -- Marlette created a place he called Eno, effectively Hillsborough. He took the most colorful aspects of people he knew and slapped them onto characters. Then, as ovelists do, he made stuff up. That meant the Strudwick character acquired headstones stolen from a slave cemetery for his grounds and an "angular face flush with alcohol and the giddy delight of the born party host and social director." Marlette also created Russ Draper, an Episcopal minister who refers to Strudwick as "queer as a football bat."
This did not amuse Brooks Graebner, minister at the Episcopal church Marlette's family attended in Hillsborough. Though he declined an interview for this story, Graebner asked publisher HarperCollins to remove his name from the novel's acknowledgments. HarperCollins agreed, as its staff decided to stay out of the dispute. Graebner also wrote Marlette and asked him to soften the character. "I'm made very uncomfortable by having the character based in any way on my life and ministry referring to a homosexual person being 'as queer as a football bat,' " Graebner wrote. "I regard such sentiments as a violation of the baptismal covenant of my church. ..." The cartoonist didn't respond. His family started going to a Methodist church.
As the controversy gathered steam over the summer, Marlette tried to hold his tongue. Oh, he would send frustrated e-mail messages to friends and drop off-the-record hints when pressed by reporters. But he did not seek out the attention, at least from the press.
Marlette decided his ultimate revenge would be success. He enlisted his closest friend, the South Carolina novelist Pat Conroy, to write a blurb for the book jacket -- "The finest first novel to come out of North Carolina since the publication of Thomas Wolfe's 'Look Homeward Angel'" -- and even featured the same cover artist who had done Conroy's most famous book, "The Prince of Tides."
Marlette's novel received generally positive reviews across the South, including in The News & Observer. It didn't approach New York Times best-seller status, though Marlette's local publicist, Katharine Walton, noted it earned placement on several lists considered important in the publishing world, those compiled by Independent and Southeastern Booksellers. "The Bridge" sold out its first printing. There has been talk of a movie deal.
The local alternative press, though, hasn't mentioned any of that. It focused on the spat. Independent Weekly writer Melinda Ruley wrote that Marlette had "punctured Hillsborough's communion with itself and mortified its illustrious population." Spectator writer Todd Mormon, first in print and then in an Internet posting to the lt.music.chapel-hill newsgroup, savaged Crowther and Bull's Head Bookstore manager Erica Eisdorfer, who canceled a Marlette reading. (Eisdorfer declined to comment for this story.)
Conroy, who speaks to Marlette virtually every day, told his friend the hometown reaction to "The Bridge" confirmed what he has been saying for years. That Hillsborough's image -- a place where published authors generously help younger writers; where poets, essayists and novelists gather for parties and softball games -- is nothing short of propaganda. He has taken to calling it "the Lee Smith myth."
"I've now seen a novel come out of Hillsborough," Conroy says. "It's called 'The Bridge' and it proved that the worst place to publish a novel in the United States is Hillsborough, North Carolina, where they call your publisher and try to get it not published."
Us vs. them?
The writers, when asked at first, would dismiss the controversy as a tempest in a teapot, a tale perpetuated mainly by the media. "The writers don't talk about it," said Kaye Gibbons, who lives in Raleigh but is friendly with the crowd. "We've got things to do."
Not exactly. When the subject of "The Bridge" came up at a dinner party, according to Tim McLaurin, Hal Crowther lit into Marlette. Crowther, a columnist for the Independent Weekly who hadn't read the book, only the passages in question, couldn't understand how somebody could savage a friend like that. He also was angry that his wife, Lee Smith, had been accused of telling her friends not to support "The Bridge," a charge she denies.
McLaurin has always liked Smith and Crowther, but he didn't think Marlette wrote anything particularly savage. So he said so. Like Marlette, McLaurin was starting to think of the war of words as a battle over something more than the book.
"I love Lee Smith dearly, but Lee came from a very privileged background in a lot of ways," says McLaurin, who has written in detail about his own journey from the tobacco fields to the world of literature. "The book itself is about social struggle, and here's Doug, the grandson of this woman who was actually bayonetted for standing up for her beliefs, suddenly confronted by people who are of a very artsy-fartsy community, very aware that we are literary, we are of the arts, who know literature and can identify the difference between a Monet and Velvet Elvis, and 'We're going to quell this disturbance right quick because it's hurting someone we care so much about.' And when Doug didn't immediately back down and say, 'I'm sorry,' and he got up his redneck hackles, I think that's where it all sort of began."
As Marlette has battled the response to "The Bridge," he has pushed that theory, that his book has exposed a class split among the writers. He thought about who had spoken up on his behalf. Kaye Gibbons, who has used her own poor, rural childhood as inspiration for her work. Conroy. McLaurin. Then he looked at the other side.
"Have you noted that all who oppose me and my book among the local literati and their hangers-on come from the golf courses and private schools of privilege?" Marlette wrote in an e-mail message in December.
"I note that those writers who support me and my book come from the wrong side of the tracks like me. Could it be that my book is a challenge to the economic elite, the educated elite of today, the bourgeois bohemians, trodders on the headstones of slaves and lintheads, as represented by Ruffin Strudwick, descendant of the mill superintendent, and that these people who oppose my book are simply bayoneting lintheads again?"
That theory, circulated through town, struck the Gurganus crowd as absurd. Wasn't it Marlette who, upon his arrival in town, had bought the $1 million Burnside property? Didn't he and his wife, Melinda, throw parties, at which then-UNC basketball coach Dean Smith could mingle with the New Yorker's Calvin Trillin?
"If you have a certain kind of paranoia with respect to class, I can see how it would appear like one vast conspiracy," says the poet Alan Shapiro, a longtime Gurganus friend. "But like most conspiracy theories, they're based on a suspicion that precedes the very actions that they supposedly justify. He carried that suspicion into this situation. In a way, it seems like he's sort of engineering this sequence of events to make it look like everybody's out to get him."
Getting over it
By year's end, Marlette had grown tired of the controversy. That's what he said. Then, like virtually everybody else, he would start to talk about it again. But now there had been an important breakthrough in the lines of communication.
It started this way: On a Sunday before Christmas, during an appearance at the town library, Marlette was asked if there were, as in the book, stolen slave gravestones in the yards of Hillsborough residents. Well, Marlette said, he had heard that perhaps Crowther and Smith had one.
A friend in the audience reported this to Crowther. As both sides recount it, the next day Crowther called Marlette and threatened to sue. Doug and Melinda Marlette both got on the phone. For the first 20 minutes, they argued. Then Crowther listened. About the reading canceled by Gurganus' friend at UNC. About Marlette's local publicist being driven to tears by several writers who told her not to work with Marlette. About planted, negative reader reviews posted on Amazon.com that the online retailer eventually agreed to remove.
Crowther explained his own position. He didn't agree with how Marlette had jabbed Gurganus and then had criticized Smith, but he had not been part of any kind of conspiratorial campaign.
"All I knew was Allan's side because they didn't say anything to anyone," Crowther says. "Whether or not it's believable, they have this passionate story they want to tell and they wanted to tell me about this orchestrated attack on their lives and their book. I don't think this is cynical. I do think it's sincere. I don't think it's rational, but I do think it's sincere."
By now, to himself at least, Marlette started to think there was more behind the Strudwick character than he originally had thought. As a great believer in instinct and the subconscious, maybe he had somehow meant to drop a bomb in the neighborhood. At the least, he had misjudged Gurganus. "The Allan that I knew -- mischievous, hilarious, witty -- would have loved this character," Marlette would say. "The one that showed up to read the book, I didn't know."
He wasn't sure where everything would lead. Talking to Crowther had been a start, but only toward a truce, not a renewed friendship. And he still hadn't spoken to so many of the other players.
Just after New Year's, Marlette sat down to write Crowther a letter. He started by admitting that he had made a mistake in not communicating his side of things. So now he would. He detailed what he and Melinda had experienced because of a book that he called "a valentine to this town, this state and this region and to my people, the invisible, impoverished cotton mill workers whose toil put clothes on the backs of the privileged like you and me."
Marlette listed the locals who had called him to complain. A photographer who told him he was poisoning the town. Booksellers who told him they had been warned his book was homophobic.
"I am writing this letter to set the record straight," Marlette states at the end. "I appreciate your coming forth to express your point of view. 'The Bridge' is about reconciliation and redemption. But not at the expense of rewriting history or glossing over the truth. As for us, we're not interested in apologies if that was indeed what you were offering. Just clarity."
Doug Marlette, who died in a car crash early this morning, didn't have much use for me. A few years back, when I was working in North Carolina, I profiled him in regard to a dust-up with his fellow writers in the town of Hillsborough. Seems Marlette had angered some of them - including Allan Gurganus - by portraying them not so favorably in his debut novel. (The characters were given pseudonyms, but were quite easy for the locals to pick out.)
For whatever reason, Marlette thought I portrayed him unfavorably. I didn't agree. I'll post the text of the story later if I can track it down.
Though he wrote fiction, Marlette's drawing - or more specifically, his editorial cartoons - are what put him on the map. He won a Pulitzer Prize in 1988. Here's one of the cartoons that made up his winning entry.
John Szarkowski died Saturday, and the Los Angeles Times has an obit. But Mark Feeney, Globe writer extraordinaire, was inspired to write a piece for this space, and we're grateful. Here is Mark's take...
Most anyone reasonably conversant with the visual arts would recognize the names of three of the four most influential figures in the history of 20th-century photography in America: Alfred Stieglitz, Walker Evans, and Robert Frank. Far fewer would recognize the name of John Szarkowski, who died Saturday in Pittsfield from complications of a stroke. He was 81.
Like Stieglitz, Evans, and Frank, Szarkowski (pronounced shar-KOFF-ski) was a photographer _ quite a good one, if not a great one. Szarkowski's importance came not from his use of a camera but his thinking about its use. For nearly 30 years, he was curator of photography at the Museum of Modern Art (1962-1991). The history of that post is not unlike that of left field for the Red Sox _ instead of going from Ted Williams to Carl Yastrzemski to Jim Rice, it was Beaumont Newhall to Edward Steichen to Szarkowski. Szarkowski was the Ted Williams of the three.
It's not just that he organized more than 100 exhibitions. It's not even just the quality of those exhibitions. The "New Documents" show Szarkowski put together for MoMA in 1967 may be second only to MoMA's "Family of Man" show, a decade earlier, for its impact on photography. It made the reputations of not one but three great photographers: Diane Arbus, Garry Winogrand, and Lee Friedlander. Szarkowski effectively discovered William Eggleston with the exhibition he mounted of his work in 1976. His monumental four-show retrospective of Atget's works may be unsurpassed in photography as the full, rich synoptic presentation of a single career.
Even more than the shows, it was the specific nature of Szarkowski's thinking about photography that was so important. Like Newhall and Steichen, Szarkowski brought to the job the nuts-and-bolts knowledge of a practicing photographer. The second Friday after 9/11, I spent an afternoon sitting with him on the porch of his country house in East Chatham, N.Y. When a photographer came to take his picture, Szarkowski had a grand time swapping stories about taking picutres for advertising displays, as he'd done as a young man in Chicago. ("Put some salt in the beer, and boy, watch that head foam up, hmm?") He was happy talking about bringing his portfolio to Evans' office at Fortune the first time he went to New York. He was really happy talking about the tricks of the trade.
That knowledge informed his view of even the grandest achievements of the medium. "All I was doing was showing the best stuff: those people who could be most profitably stolen from _ like Atget," Szarkowski said that day. "Stolen from": what a great, telling, and absolutely pertinent phrase. What was it T.S. Eliot said? "Mediocre artists borrow, great artists steal"? Szarkowski understood. He also understood that, to quote Eliot again, "The only [critical] method is to be very intelligent." It's hard to exaggerate the robustness of Szarkowski's intellect. The man was blazingly smart _ and he had a prose style worthy of conveying that fire: vivid and precise, muscular and witty. There's a reason such books as "The Photographer's Eye" (1966) and "Looking at Photographs" (1973) remain indispensable. But open at random almost anything he published, and the prose will be superb, the insights wondrously keen. To offer just a single example, he once described Winogrand in his street photography as "hoping for an instant of stasis _ a resolution so gently provisional that it would scarcely seem to halt the efflorescence of change." "Gently provisional": the perfection of that pairing of modifiers is beyond praise.
The catalogues of the many shows Szarkowski organized can't capture the experience of having seen the pictures hung, of course. They remain well worth seeking out, nonetheless, for the superb introductions Szarkowski contributed to so many of them. The single most useful observation I've ever encountered not just about photography but any artistic enterprise was his saying somewhere that "the central act of photography [is] the act of choosing and eliminating."
The fundamentally functionalist attitude was the third element in his influence. Szarkowski may have been the first person to see photography whole. Yes, Atget's work was superior to the snapshots in your parents' photo album _ but both belong to the same medium. It sounds so obvious, but it's a crucially important point, and it defined almost everything Szarkowski did at MoMA. That Friday afternoon on his porch, he spoke of his belief in "the catholicity of the medium . . . the idea that art photography and other photography is all one thing. I don't mean it was all good. I mean it was all one medium. To try to make a distinction on the basis of good intentions was harmful to the medium. If one was going to think of photography, one had to think about it as one piece." That wasn't to dismiss aesthetic discrimination _ not hardly. It was, though, to see how photography in its entirety was different from any previous form of visual art, and thus a crucial means to better understand it.
"Some stuff really is better than other stuff," Szarkowski said. "The reason it's better is it provides more nourishing material for subsequent artists to deal with, hmm? No matter how good a PR you've got, the PR person is eventually going to die. In the long run, the tradition is defined by subsequent artists. . . . Some artists are better than others for that reason. They contribute more, they enrich the pool more, the pool of future possibilities, defining the grounds for subsequent experiment, hmm? Tradition is not a lot of old pictures. It's what we know of what has been achieved so far."
Szarkowski had a remarkable presence. He grew up in rural Wisconsin and had the look of a man used to hard labor: practical, down to earth, decisive. You just knew that when he clicked his camera's shut it really clicked. Sitting, he did not slouch. Walking, he strode. His laugh was chesty and deep. He was the cultural mandarin as drill sergeant _ his presence was that commanding, that vigorous.
Inevitably, the subject of 9/11 came up that afternoon. The world's experience of the fall of the Twin Towers spoke to the limits of the medium he loved. "No matter how many times you see a picture of those planes going into those buildings," he said, "it's always a question, never an answer." He just tossed off the remark, but it seemed to me then _ and it still does now _ as profound an observation about the nature of photography as I've ever heard.
I'm lucky enough to own a few pretty good pictures: an Evans, a couple of Kerteszes, a couple of Helen Levitts. My favorite is a John Gutmann. Forced to choose, though, I'd trade them all for those 3 1/2 hours spent listening to that man sitting on a porch next to an apple orchard on the far side of the Berkshires. No one else has made me see photographs so clearly.
After retiring as director of photography at the Museum of Modern Art, John Szarkowski returned to taking and presenting his own photographs. (file 1997/new york times)
Mobius, a wandering collective since 2003, has signed a lease to open a gallery and performance space in the South End. The new home, at 725 Harrison Avenue, is going to need some work, and Mobius is looking to raise around $20,000 to add a bathroom, do window treatments, and get the place open for a September opening. (That's not firm, but likely.)
I asked Director Nancy Adams why Mobius didn't just move out of town, a la Jerry Beck and the Revolving Museum. Here's what she e-said:
"Jerry is his own man. We're a long-established group of collaborators - 15 to 20 of us depending on the year. Most live in or close to Boston. We can't just move. No one would attend meetings. The organization and space would fail. The organization has remained relatively stable because it flies close to the ground and has this complicated group of artists and a board of directors at its core that gives it balast, more than that, life.
And we're simply Boston people. We looked in Somerville, Cambridge, we've looked out of town too, but we keep coming back to Boston."
An interesting endnote on the Boston Pops season, and particular the "Pops on the Edge" program.
I noticed quite a few empty seats at the first Cowboy Junkies concert, on a Saturday night, and that's for a show I was led to believe was selling better than the Sunday night performance. So I asked for the numbers.
It isn't pretty. The Pops filled 65.4 percent of the Symphony Hall seats for the Cowboy Junkies shows, and just 50.1 percent for the Hem gigs. For perspective, keep in mind that the overall season attendance - without "Edgefest" - was 90.2 percent.
One more thing. "Edgefest," which seemed so commercially viable when Guster and My Morning Jacket were in the house, has now layed three consecutive eggs, ticket-sales wise, dating back to last year's Aimee Mann shows.
I woke up at 4:30 a.m. needing to get out the door. I've been off for six work days. Is that a crime? For somebody unaccustomed to vacation, it feels like I have committed some sort of gruesome act against the working man. Okay, deep breath. As of 7:19, the e-mails are checked. I'm ready to get cracking on a story due later today. We'll see about a fuller report on the break later... for now, a few items of interest.
Consumed during vacation, partial list:
- Wilco (at Shelburne Museum, in Vermont)
- "Lost," first season
- "Dharma Bums"
- Glenn Gould, "Goldberg Varations," Zenph re-performance
- Red Sox games, on shortwave
- Montreal Jazz Festival
- Story Land
- "Cloud Nine"
From Rinde Eckert:
The following is the record of a conversation with Reinhart Poole, a character of my creation who has become something of an alter-ego. Poole is the main character in ‘Horizon’ a new musical play of mine. Poole is a Christian minister. This colors his views.
Poole: You’ve been pondering the role of theater in society – the use of it?
Eckert: Purely as a correlate of my search, not as a focus.
Eckert: I lack the scholar’s or the intellectual’s enthusiasms and command of history, so my speculations on the morphology of social norms or the genealogy of idea (the various weddings and assignations and their various heirs and bastards) must be pretentious.
Poole: Let me consider the state of theater then.
Eckert: By all means. The stage is yours.
Poole: My concern, of course, is a loss of faith in the poetic that steered theater into the rich but perilous narrows of psychological realism, presumably in response to the phenomenal success of the novel and its eloquent structuring of the inchoate psyche in hours and hours of sentences and paragraphs. One can build impressive castles in that many pages. Alas, the theater, being the ‘poor player’ ‘struts its hour on the stage and is heard no more.’ Yet, through cunning and genius the theater made itself novel-like in the scope of its psychological depth and realism, its artfully detailed drawing rooms, kitchens, and gardens. Then, of course, movies entered the contest, essentially becoming graphic novels, thus further complicating the identity crisis of theater. The movie combines the detail of the novel, and its ability to change the scenery at a stroke, with pictures, music, and voices. Am I warm?
Eckert: Do you mean to imply that the temptation of playwrights will be to write screenplays masquerading as plays, that the poetic content of theater, its poetic strengths are no longer quite trusted, that main stream theater is essentially a movie manqué?
Poole: That, or the alternative form of resignation: spectacle
Eckert: Spectacle is a form of resignation?
Poole: Spectacle as spectacle (not, for instance as the necessary extension of a poetic idea but as a fascination with grandeur) is like a little girl dressed up in her mom’s clothing shouting “Look at me!” Mom, of course, is watching TV, so she may need to be shocked to attention.
Eckert: What are you driving at?
Poole: If we fail to understand the poetic poser of theatrical art, its genius for transfiguration of the ‘chemistry’ of the sanctuary, if we lose faith in the intrinsic religious mystery of this gathering, if we fail to be thoroughly present and aware of the poetic power of the questions: Who are we and why are we here, we become second class story tellers holding the coat-tails of the contemporary giants of linear story-telling: the novel and its inspired child, the movie (not to mention that cunning little bastard TV and its brilliant cousin the computer)
Eckert: What is all this? What do you propose? You want to throw out unity of time and place? You want to throw out ‘Death of a Salesman’ because it’s too literal, too real, a movie manqué, as you put it?
Poole: No. No pogroms. Just an avowal of faith and a frank acknowledgement of the temptations we face, the giants we have to slay to get to the gold at the heart of the cave.
Eckert: You want to turn theater into religion?
Poole: No. But theater, in my terms, is an offering. It is, or ought to be, attempting to transform the chemistry of the sanctuary, the room.
Eckert: Isn’t that what theaters are doing now, minus the religious rhetoric.
Poole: Perhaps a few. The rest seem a little unclear about the project. Many of them behave as if a play or more precisely a theatrical offering is a theaters way of making a bigger theater. Look, the value of religious thinking is that it pays attention to the source, it acknowledges a power at the heart of the church that isn’t actually contained or defined by that church. It says “when two or more are gathered in the name of what is Holy (or Whole) the place becomes a place of worship. You see, one needn’t tear down the theater, one has only to reaffirm one’s commitment to the original God. One need only change one’s definition. One has only to say “we are trying to find ourselves in this room, here, now. We are altering the molecular structure of the room. The comedy is deep here. The tragedy is deep here. The chemistry is volatile. We are attempting to illuminate the darkness, we are saving ourselves from darkness.
Eckert: Sounds as pretentious as one could get.
Poole: Yes, it is. It’s tragically, artfully , dangerously, comically pretentious. Exactly what it should be. We are reinvigorating the strangeness of a world that has been drugged by conventional anodynes, little narratives of no metaphoric sweep, no real danger, and no prophetic power.
Eckert: I’m uncomfortable with these terms.
Poole: You prefer cooler terms, safer terms? Theater as extension of politics? Theater as yet another entertainment in a world of entertainments? Theater as political narrative in a crowded field of narratives (movies, novels, sitcoms, miniseries)? Theater as propaganda?
Eckert: Isn’t theater useful in those terms?
Poole: Look, the difficulty with a theater that pretends to resemble the world, that sees itself as having a specific didactic function through the ‘confession” or “the little slice of life” or the “subtle morality play” is its apparent resignation to the status of subordinate to the larger theater it is bound to serve. Confessional, social, and political theater, prides itself on its lack of pretension, saying, in effect, ”this room is just the antechamber to the real theater which is out there in the world expressing itself as politics. The”real theater”, apparently is the unfolding story of justice and power. The best theater can hope for, according to this scenario is to do its job well as little life lesson or documentary or propaganda.
Eckert: Isn’t confessional work essentially poetic.
Poole: It can be, of course, but I have a natural suspicion of confessional work. I resent, finally, being seduced by the easy victory of its sentimental powers over my little wilderness of ironies, creating the same exact pathos every time. I’m similarly annoyed by an axiomatic iconoclasm that seeks to subvert the power of sentiment by blunt refusals, offering us a kind of ‘cool’ that supposes itself beyond the reach of temptation, well defended from the sentimental forces, and therefore oblivious to the presence of those same forces tunneling under while their dummy siege engines are drawing fire from the fortress wall. The presumed impregnability of the ‘cool’ leaves them oddly and pathetically vulnerable. No, “cool” never had much of a future. Its victorious pose is not ultimately convincing. The work is still in the field, disguised, hiding in the mud, or sitting around the campfire as one of them, memorizing the plan of attack, fathering rebellious children, subtly introducing doubt about the omniscience of their little golden gods, learning their habits, inexplicably stealing things of little value and replacing them with common utensils or fortune cookies with profound predictions.
Eckert: We seem far away from the church here.
Poole: I’m a scattershot allegorist.
Eckert: You prefer that to, say, historical analysis?
Poole: The parable, to simplify this, has an advantage over historical analysis because it admits that is can’t be true and therefore has some truth to it, whereas inspired analysis, seduced by its command of the facts, begins to think itself true, therefore it has no truth at all.
Eckert: We are back to a kind of mystery then?
Poole: Right back in church.
Today, we've got Jeremy Rosenberg, a Los Angeles-based writer and editor. He is the consulting Project Manager for Farmlab, and was the consulting Public Information Officer for Not A Cornfield.
It's been a while…
Exhibitionist, thanks for the cybersquat.
Can someone out there please tell me if that cheap pizzeria is still located at the Fenway end of Boylston Street? You know, that joint that used to, at least, serve single slices the size of a tennis racquet's head? And didn't they keep the condiments chained to the counter?
I'd look the place up myself on Google Earth, but I'd probably get distracted checking for crop yields in the Victory Gardens.
Or looking for otters swimming in the Muddy River.
I mean, those were otters, right? Rats can't grow that large.
Speaking of wild things, out here on the best coast, twenty months or so ago I was at cultural forum when I heard one of the Wertheim sisters – was it Margaret or Christine? – point out that Los Angeles was full of "feral institutions."
If I understood correctly, then the point of the 'feral' comment was that Los Angeles is a new city that developed culturally outside the controlling traditions and structures of the Academy; this allows for all sorts of idiosyncratic, visionary, and hybrid organizations to form and thrive. In short, not everyone is Symphony Hall.
The nomadic Institute For Figuring, co-directed by the sibling Wertheims, is one such example of untamed L.A.-based culture. The most famous local example, and justifiably so, is David and Diana Wilson's storefront Museum of Jurassic Technology, over on Venice Boulevard, in Culver City features bats that fly through walls, Athanasius Kircher hagiography, and a complimentary Russian Team Room. Just like the Met, right?
Next door to the Jurassic is the Center for Land Use Interpretation, or, as it's pronounced in the abbreviate, "clooey." The small crew who work there are like the Indiana Joneses of geography. CLUI's guidebooks make for ideal touring of desertscapes that somehow turn out to brim with mothballed and active military installations, mining operations, and centers for new age spirituality.
Now, please don't just take my word for all the following, since, again, I'm on the company payroll, but Farmlab is likewise considered a feral joint. We're part art production studio, part think tank, part free-of-charge salon, music, film, and dance venue. We've built a 32-acre full-service park, salvaged trees from the doomed South Central Farm, and with roller derby players and musicians in tow, delivered planters to skid row, to name a few early projects.
Farmlab is a fully funded initiative of the Annenberg Foundation, part of the avant-garde re-imagining of project- or place-based philanthropy. (Also big out west: venture philanthropy). The Farmlab and NAC founder, creative director, visionary -- and my boss -- is Lauren Bon. She's also a trustee of the Foundation whose grants help support many of the area's feral hatchlings.
Many of my fellow Farmlab consultants are part of other local feral operations. Paolo Davanzo, Ken Fountain, and Lisa Marr – yes, that famous indie-rockin' Lisa Marr – are among the folks behind the Echo Park Film Center, a neighborhood microcinema and community-based youth-and-seniors educational facility. Rochelle Fabb, formerly of your burghMobius , just finished a Farmlab gig. She came out west to work with the Rachel Rosenthal Company. Farmlabbers Jaime Lopez Wolters and Sarah McCabe are burners , participants in that annual West Coast fleeting oasis, Black Rock City.. Irene Tsatsos ran Los Angeles Contemporary Exhibitions. Sean Dockray who helped out for a while during NAC, is with Telic. Janet Owen Driggs co-founded Raid Projects. Gerardo Vaquero Rosas was a South Central Farmer. George Herms is a feral institution all to his leonine self. Adolfo V. Nodal [again, like Bon, my boss] a city insider and President of the Cultural Affairs Commission, has multiple feral side projects, including helping create La Casa del Tunel: Art Center, a cross-border cultural institution based in Tijuana, Mexico. Nodal's wife, Tammy Singer, is part of Los Animistas, a trio of artists and scientists who work out of Cuba and show in L.A. and TJ.
Back when I used to write The Secret City column for the calendar section of latimes.com, I'd have to go seeking out these sorts of burgeoning orgs – from the eerily happy creator of the Banana Museum to the intrepid builder, and re-builder, of the Velaslavasay Panorama.
These days, I sit at Farmlab and feral folks come to us. Paid salon presenters at the spot have included many more local feral-ites – Jenna Didier and Oliver Hess from Materials & Applications; David Burns, Matias Viegener and Austin Young from Fallen Fruit, Mark Allen from Machine Project; Fritz Haeg of GardenLab.
The Los Angeles Urban Rangers stop by, as do representatives from Outpost for Contemporary Art, Dublab, Puppets (After Dark), and FoLAR – Lewis MacAdams' projected forty-year effort to restore the concrete straight-jacketed Los Angeles River, now gaining tangible traction.
Okay, Exhibitionist. What more do you want to know? I'll start winding down now, but first, how about some local feral publications? There's Feral House, which with a name like that, might as well lead the list. L.A. might have lost Judith Regan, but we still have Taschen America. Local staffers include Jim Heinman and my pal, Nina Wiener. The company offices are on Sunset Boulevard, in the "Crossroads of the World" building, which by the w ay, looks like a boat, a la the Coca-Cola bottling plant on Central Avenue, and that old Dust Brothers recording studio on Hyperion Avenue. In the rag world, Coagula Art Journal, maverick Mat Gleason's tabloid, is officed in a former brewery. And – for consenting adults only, please – the erotic drawings of Tom of Finland are showcased, by an eponymous foundation, in a stately Craftsman house on the eastside of town.
So, in the end, what tames feral? Is it time? Money? Family obligations? Peer or political pressure?
Elsewhere, maybe. But out here, who knows? After all, we've got fires, earthquakes, and – were it to ever rain again – mudslides. We've got highly paid entertainment industry executives who spend their days debating, say, what color a CGI monster ought to be.
The Getty has a tram. Cal Tech's JPL was built from the TNT-tinkering, Alstair Crowley-loving DNA of Jack Parsons. Larry Flynt and Arriana Huffington live here – though as far as I know, not together.
In the meanwhile, somebody call the Isabella Stewart Gardner. Maybe they want a Tom of Finland traveling show?
That's all I got. Exhibitionist; come home soon.
Matthew Guerrieri writes about classical music for the Globe, and is also responsible for the blog Soho the Dog.
With 4th of July this week, it's hard to avoid Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky's 1812 Overture. Effort may also be required to avoid some comment about the incongruity of a piece about a French-Russian military engagement figuring so prominently in civic celebrations of American independence. Oddly enough, and probably inadvertently, it's more appropriate than you think, particularly here in Boston.
The 1812 Overture commemorates the Battle of Borodino, when Napoleon's army attacked Russian forces under the command of General Mikhail Golenishchev-Kutuzov in what turned into perhaps the bloodiest single-day battle in modern history-casualty estimates range from 65,000 to 120,000. (Here's a virtual survey of the battle, complete with relevant passages from Tolstoy's War and Peace.) Though nominally a French victory, some weeks later, the Pyrrhic results forced one of the most notorious retreats of all time, with the Grande Armée limping out of the Russian winter reduced to something like one-tenth of its original strength.
This was music to the ears of New Englanders, who opposed the other War of 1812, between the United States and Britain, with hardcore fury. Majority "War Hawk" Republicans, led by President James Madison, had initiated the conflict, incensed over involuntary impressments of American sailors into the Royal Navy (necessitated by Britain's long-running war with Napoleon), and the British blockade of commercial shipments to France, which was impoverishing Southern trade. But Yankee Federalists saw "Mr. Madison's War" as a threat to their own economic interests, and their marginalized minority status in Washington drove them to extreme anti-war measures: secession was seriously discussed, and Massachusetts governor Caleb Strong would even attempt to initiate his own secret peace talks with Britain.
Any French setback was a British boost, and thus welcome news in New England—in March of 1813, for example, there were services at Boston's King's Chapel in celebration of the French retreat, followed by the typical 19th-century oration and banquet. (Of course, Napoleon held on until 1814, which probably saved the United States—by the time Waterloo freed up the British military, American defenses, initially ill-prepared and incompetent, had improved such that the result was stalemate, not defeat.)
It's doubtful that any of this was in the mind of Arthur Fiedler when he programmed the 1812 Overture for the Boston Pops' Independence Day concert in 1974, which most people consider the origin of the modern tradition.(Andrew Druckenbrod of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette traced the history back in 2003.) With its sixteen notated cannon shots, the piece lent itself both to extravagant outdoor performance and fireworks (at least in the days before fireworks came with inane pre-recorded soundtracks). But as you listen to it this year, see if you can't hear an echo of the anti-war Federalist glee that greeted news of Napoleon's debacle, a tribute to the long tradition of Yankee contrarianism.
Incidentally, the war indirectly resulted in another unlikely collision of Russian culture and American patriotism. Among the American delegation that sailed for Europe on the USS John Adams in the waning days of the war to negotiate the Treaty of Ghent was one William David Lewis, who would stay to help his brother's import-export business in St. Petersburg. Lewis was tasked with learning German and Russian to facilitate business contacts-and as part of his studies in the latter, he produced a Russian version of "Yankee Doodle" in 1815:
(Reproduced from Norman E. Saul, "A Russian Yankee Doodle." Slavic Review, Vol. 33, No. 1 (Mar., 1974), p. 52.)
Lewis's literal translation, I think, makes as fine an American anthem as any:
There is such a ridiculous nation in the world where every one is happy, each lives as he takes it into his head, for they are all free.
Chorus. Yankee Doodle they all cry out, Oh! what a beautiful tune, it will do to dance by or advance by to the terrible battle.
I worked with Orla Swift down in North Carolina. She's a reporter and critic for the News & Observer, a National Arts Journalism Program fellow and, for the purposes of this blog, an avid tango, swing and salsa dancer.
Take it away, Orla.
Lots of mainstage performers teach workshops while they're here in Durham, N.C., for the American Dance Festival. It's one of the perks for ADF's summer students. But most of those are master classes — and students are expected to have some mastery, too.
When I heard Pilobolus was offering a two-hour class for regular people — including modern dance neophytes — I couldn't resist.
Pilobolus has a whole different dance language from most of its ADF peers, with gravity-defying gymnastics and human sculptures that a non-"Pil" would need a gallon of Crazy Glue to imitate. It's a language people love; they draw capacity crowds at ADF every year.
I wanted in on their secrets — even if the open invite fell on deaf ears and I would be the only klutz in a room full of Alvin Aileys.
To demystify the class that demystifies Pilobolus, I made a photo essay showing what happened.
OK, so I was right. The group of 27 featured few non-dancers. People were already stretching when I arrived.
After intros, we started by walking around the room in random patterns, trying not to bump into each other. Then Pilobolus dancer Renée Jaworski, our instructor, told us to meet each other's eyes and try to orbit gracefully around each other as we passed. We did this in pairs and quartets, too.
We collided a lot.
Partnering exercises came next. Here, in "base and perch," one person got in any position and the other made her way over him, with the only rule being to avoid putting our full weight on unsupported body parts and always maintain contact. We switched roles back and forth across the room.
Here, I rolled like a log over my partner.
In this one, we had to press against each other as we lowered to the
floor and then — grrrroan — up again. No hands, and no talking. This
was hard. It's easier if you keep your whole back in contact, not just your shoulders. And each person has to exert equal pressure, no matter how large or small her partner is. We traveled like crabs in this position.
I never did master being in front for this one. The front person has to lean forward without bending at the waist. The back person is a counterweight, hooking her arms under the other person's armpits and over his shoulders and eventually hanging completely off the ground. Then the back person, maintaining the same relative position and connection, leans back until the front person is off the ground. We had to travel, too, just like Pilobolus' famous compound-creatures. My partner looked to be in her 60s, but she carried me with apparent ease.
This photo implies that you can use wires and twist-ties. You can't.
Another counterweight exercise.
I survived the class, though my leg and back muscles are still mad at me. But I'm glad I did it. And since the Conn.-based Pilobolus is your neighbor, chances are that they'll have similar workshops in Mass. soon, so you can try it, too (none yet, but keep an eye out here.
You may be a bit worse for the wear afterward. But it's worth it.
*No dolls were harmed in the making of this photo essay. These are all shelter dolls, with no prior dance training (but an inexplicable excess of tutus). Any smeared lipstick or other evidence of past indiscretions is the fault of some kid out there, not me.
Think about adopting a shelter doll.
For ADF news, reviews and multi-media features, go here.
From Bill Arning...
This week I will be catching up with the Boston art world crowd, hearing about the recent Venice Biennale, Documenta and Skulptur Projekte Münster openings, and debriefing them for their lists of what is most worth seeing there. (I am taking the mature tack this time, going later in the summer for more quality art-viewing time and less celebrity-filled parties.) Where do I go when I want to have quality conversations with my colleagues from the greater Boston visual-arts world? Not the first Friday art opening zoo, which is fun but really more about socializing than art talk. Instead I know I will see my colleagues, including artists, collectors, gallerists, critics and museum folks at the scores of great summer music concerts that more than anything else call together the movers and shakers of Boston culture. Because art folks love to talk about art more when the official focus is on music.
I was away and missed the already legendary Critique of Pure Reason's Jandek show at the ICA, but it seems that everyone who cares about art that was not in Venice was there, and all interpreted the night more as an art event than a music event. Working with Dan Hirsch and his Non-Event team I got to host a music night of my own at The MIT List Visual Arts Center in May with Japanese noise artist Keiji Haino doing a live film soundtrack to JO by Cameron Jamie, the Paris-based artist whose retrospective we have up through July 8th. Local globetrotting curator Marjory Jacobson was there rubbing noses with the new contemporary art theoretician at Brandeis Peter Kalb, who I had been hoping to meet. I did, but was too nervous to get his card, after Haino chastised me about wearing ear protection, saying "No Bill, that's not Rock and Roll!"
Tonight, the Polyphonic Spree are performing at the Paradise, and their shows make a lot more sense when interpreted as art. Last tour when they were doing their white robes, Christian revival show schtick, the discussion among the art folks was that their popularity signaled a post-ironic turn in culture. They had seized and recoded the pleasurable aspects of collectivism that make otherwise normal people embrace fundamentalism. This week they bring their fashionable neofascisti black-shirt look to Avalon, and my guess is that it will be read as a comment on our lives during wartime. Then Thursday's Tortoise show in the courtyard of the MFA is also sure to be full of art folks enjoying the summery outdoor post-rock grandeur of a live Tortoise show. Bring your business cards.
After a few years here one knows whom one will see at what type of concert. The recent closing night of BMOP's season featuring a debut of a truly marvelous Evan Ziporyn piece and a star-turn by DJ Spooky was packed with art collectors as well as my MIT arts colleagues, since Ziporyn has taught here for years. There is a whole other set that I only see at BSO events. I luckily have wildly diverse tastes, as does Stephen Prina, a world-renowned artist and professor at Harvard and Andrew Witkin, artist and director at Barbra Krakow Gallery. As musical wanderers we have formed a little posse that structures our art lives and music lives together. Boston might be a thought of by outsiders as a Baseball and Seafood city, but in truth the cultural life here all intersects only in the concert hall and/or mosh pit.
Stephen Prina and Andrew Witkin with Arning (right) before Prina's acoustic
set at the Carpenter Center, 2006
Keiji Haino with Arning after his live film soundtrack event at
MIT, May 2007