Archive for February, 2014

Page 3: Bart Teush

February 14, 2014

Architecture, Style, History (Part One)

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1. The Brutal and the Nasty

I have the distinct sense that the world has swerved in the last fifty years from brutal to nasty and that architecture both reflects and sheds light upon that shift. Therefore, let’s start the New Year comparing and contrasting three buildings: one an iconic example of the extremes of Brutalism; the second, an evolution of Brutalism so extreme it set new standards for Brutalism; and the thirdbuilt fifty years laterjust plain Nasty.

First, what do I mean by Brutal and Nasty? 

Brutal is large-mannered, assertive (to say the least), unapologeticcall it overbearingat its best exhilarating, at its worst cold, uninviting, impenetrable. Brutal confronts, engages and defines surrounding space. Nasty ignores surrounding space. Brutal dominates; Nasty diminishes. Brutal is serious. Nasty is glib, mercurial and untrustworthy. Brutal plays to win, and takes no prisoners. Nasty takes hostages. Nasty has a neurotic relationship to power, feeding upon schadenfreude, Brutal thrives on independence and self-sufficiency. 

Architectural Brutalism uses basic materials confidently in their unadorned state—concrete, stone, glass, and steel—preferably oxidized. Nasty architecture communicates no apparent love of its materials, merely their effect. It uses glass, steel, aluminum, titanium, bronze, copper; whatever, wherever. Le Corbusier is the patron saint of Brutalism, along with some brilliant acolytesPaul Rudolph, Gordon Bunschaft, Moshe Safdie, Kevin Rocheto name a few. 

Nasty? Its collective patron saints are all the deconstructivist “starchitects” who turn a blind eye to the neighborhoods, where they build whatgehry residence they will just because they can. Nasty’s acolytes are all those who regard the world as mere backdrop to their inventions without regard to scale or context or, more precisely, what on a small cleveland clinicscale may pass as a local folly (Frank Gehry’s residence in Santa Monica, right), becomes on a large scale a neighborhood bunker bomb (Frank Gehry’s Cleveland Clinic Revo Center for Brain Health, on the left).

Approaching architecture as a form of sculpture without regard to scale or context, Nastiness is capable of hair-raising originality at one extreme and jaw-dropping inappropriateness at the other. (Consider, in addition to Frank Gehry, Coop Himmelb(l)au, and Zaha Hadid, to name a few.)

Yes, I realize that this Manichean taxonomy might better be applied to politics or personal pathology. But I want to identify architects in this schema because architecture is the most political of the Arts, impacting real, often public, spaces, and because its practice has consequences in the polity. Architects are subject to civic codes, beholden to local approvals, obligated to safety and environmental standards–not to mention that they and their builders employ thousands in fulfilling their plans. But far more important, a building’s public influence can last sometimes centuries, defining space, place, and the community. That’s a long half-life for Nastiness and its practitioners.

2. The Brutal 

I have lived through the entire Age of Brutalism—that is, architectural Brutalismone reaction to the aridity of Modernism, and the source of many brooding, dark and windswept corners where trash collects in American cities. I’m thinking of some near-by examples in New Haven, Connecticut, arguably a center for Brutalism. Numerous buildings come to mind including the Kevin Roche’s Knights of Columbus World Headquarters (still standing), next door knights of columbus hqto his equally Brutal New Haven Arena and Parking Structure, now merely a vacant lot in New Haven’s long-suffering downtown.

Kevin Roche, Roche Dinkeloo Associates, Knights of Columbus Headquarters (background), New Haven Coliseum and Parking Structure (foreground), New Haven, Connecticut

But the two buildings that truly define the esthetic limits of Brutalism were, coincidentally, completed in the same year (1963), and each was a commission by Yale University. One is Paul Rudolph’s intricate (if that’s a word I’m permitted to use in connection with Brutalism) Art and Architecture Building (A&A), which has survived since its opening , frequently renovated and recently restored at great expense to Yale. The other is The Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library designed by Gordon Bunshaft, then of Skidmore, Owings and Merrill

The Brutalism of the 114,000-square-foot south facade detailA&A  was nothing if not hard-won. The concrete was poured into wooden forms, but the finished slabs lacked the jagged textures Rudolf had envisioned: instead, a uniform ribbed surface remained. This rudolph and facadebrought a team of masons hoisting themselves over the exterior and interior walls hammering away at the concrete until the perfect texture was produced.

 

a  a with lighted windows

 

This was only the first of many setbacks that dogged A&A throughout its history; for example, in 1974 there was a costly purge of exposed asbestos, which Rudolph had used, reportedly, as much for its flaky texture (unfortunately the flakes would fall like snow) as for its thermal properties. But an even greater scandal involved the designated users of the building. 

Yale commissioned the building to house two of its professional schools. Without question, Rudolph did not hide the fact he favored the architects. The wonder is he favored them so crudely and disruptively. It was never surprising that the painters resented being squirreled away in the basement levels cut off from the natural light reserved for the architects above.

Indeed, when fire engulfed A & A in 1969 (there were few doors, and apparently no fire doors whatsoever), the painters used the fire (reported by some—probably falsely—as having been set by an Urban Planning student “in protest”) as an opportunity to demand improvements. They were never fully accomplished until 2008, when Yale completed both a renovation and an addition to A&A. But the controversy brought into sharp focus the Brutalist esthetic and psychology. 

As Mark Alden Branch wrote in the February 1998 Yale Alumni Magazine:

“To them (the painters), Rudolph’s building epitomized all that was wrong with architecture—it was arrogant, aloof, divorced from history and from the buildings around it. Robert Venturi, who, ironically, began teaching at Yale under Rudolph, made a point in lectures and in print of condemning Rudolph’s ‘heroic’ works in comparison with his own humble, ‘contextual’ buildings.”

Everybody regarded it as a tour de force, but its spirit was overbearing,” says Mark Simon, ’72MArch. “It was one man’s vision of how you were going to occupy it, a temple to architecture at the cost of function. It ignored about two-thirds of its users.”

The wonder is that the spirit of Brutalism can be stretched as far as it was in another building on the Yale campus. Completed the same year as Rudolph’s overbearing A&A buildingGordon Bunshaft’s exhilarating beinecke exteriormasterpiece of geometry and materials, the Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library, just a five-minute walk from A&A.

The Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library, Yale University Exterior

Beinecke hovers over a public plaza. Its neighbors are the neo-classic Commons (where Yale Freshmen dine); Woolsey Hall; and the offices of the President and the Corporation of the University.

Beinecke is the very opposite of A&A—an implacable rectangular solid, rendered in white travertine squares framed by grey granite, floating over a band of dark glass, set on a slim pillar at each corner; it vibrates between simplicity and complexity, monumentality and breathtaking delicacyevoking at once the scale of Brutalism and the poise of its neo-Classical neighbors.  beinicke interior panels CU

 

beinicke interior panels

Each of the 3/4” marble panels (which detractors, looking for trouble, have compared to television screens) is so thin that daylight shines through the stone, illuminating the interior in the caramel and ochre glow of the translucent marble; it references the marbled edges and leather bindings of the rare books shelved within a soaring clear glass cube rising as the central core of the interior. Pretty amazing.

ecke central coreBeinecke Rare Book Library Interior, central glass enclosed core containing and displaying the rare book collection

I’m mentioning Bunshaft’s and Rudolf’s buildings together not only because they represent the extremes of Brutalist estheticone dangerous, the other relatively safe—but each is a considered building which gives us an opportunity for intimate engagement with the architect.

a & a interior with orangeI am confident that Rudolph walked through every inch of his building, savoring its variations of light and texture, traversing the polished concrete floors and sinking into the plush persimmon carpeting, turning a corner from cozy alcove to expansive vista. All without benefit of computer graphics.

Notwithstanding Rudolf’s impolitic blunders, I am not surprised that the most recent transformationof (and addition to) his building by Gwathmey Siegel, have changed the critical tune.

Nicholai Ouroussoff, in his New York Times article (August 27, 2008), noted that “The result should stun those who have continued to deny Rudolph’s talent. Now seen in its full glory, his building turns out to be a masterpiece of late Modernism, one that will force many to reappraise an entire period of Modernist history and put Rudolph back on the pedestal where he belongs.”

More to the point, the Brutalist esthetic has been established as a major impulse of Modernism, embracing buildings as potently problematic as A&A and as sumptuously simple as Beinecke. Neither building is an obvious guggenheimfit in its neighborhood, but each enhances the neighborhood, sets it in motion, invigorates it, like the Guggenheim did decades ago as it spiraled up on its street corner of the Manhattan grid.

Certainly neither is modest nor shy about its size. But just as Frank Stella could not have executed his monumental steel pieces in miniature to the same effect, size matters in Brutalism; the sheer weight of the materials often flirts with gravity, seldom shy about gravitas. This is serious architecture for serious people.

But where are the massive planes of yesteryear, the heart-stopping cantilevers and heroic architectural engagement of space and material? While its eyesores remain tenacious, its glories are being overshadowed by the Just Plain Nasty, which includes all of those buildings that have appropriated the aggressive forms of Brutalism without its soaring ambition and understanding of detail. Imagine Mad Max outfitted by Tommy Hilfiger.

More in the next installment, where we discover Nasty in our midst.

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Cooper’s London

February 4, 2014

Music/CDs

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Crossing Over: Go on, Risk it!

Gone are the days when the Met refused to look at a singer if (s)he  went on and did a Broadway show or concerts of popular songsMarta Eggerth with her husband Jan Kiepurasomething that happened to Jan Kiepura and his wife, Marta Eggerth, for example. (In her case, it was compounded; she made an MGM movie with Judy Garland!) Today, for the record companies it’s all about crossoverand personally I’m delighted. Good music is good music, whatever its idiom. You cannot attack Irving Berlin for not being crossover berlin2Beethoven or Brahms. You simply have to accept or recognize that within his genre and approach he was among the very bestand that his music lives on. Also, singers who perform this music (though they’re not trained for it or associated with it), have simply learned to adapt their technique for the best results.

So I welcome and recommend recent discs by Diana Damrau and Natalie Dessay, and an earlier tribute to Mario Lanza (and hence, in its way, Caruso) by the Maltese tenor, Joseph Calleja. Not to mention the songs of Richard Tauber being resurrected by Piotr Beczała in an exceptionally lovely album.

sills and burnettThe skill, charm and sheer joy that Beverly Sills brought to her TV shows with Carol Burnett and Julie Andrews made the point that she understood the craft of the popular idiom and was as artistically committed to it as her partners.

Indeed, Andrews was known to prepare songs for showsor her fine recording of The King and Iwith at least as much zeal as the great lieder singers, repeatedly checking and trying out every variation for colouring each word and musical phrase until she got them the way they ought to be (in her opinion).

But there’s another avatar of crossover who remains in my heart: the brilliant singing actress Teresa Stratas. When I was a child in Toronto, my piano lessons at the Royal Conservatory of Music ran from 4 PM-5 PM. Every week, while my mother waited for me in a Conservatory hallway, a teen-aged girl named Teresa would turn up for a singing stratas bohemelesson that started at 4.30. My mother said Teresa was miserable because her family were forcing her to study opera, claiming they could see she had a real gift for it. But what she really wanted to do was make a career of singing pop stuff, as she did with her sister several times a week to entertain the diners in the family’s restaurant.

A few years later my mother took me to hear to hear Teresa sing her first Madama Butterfly for the then-fledgling Canadian Opera Company. We went backstage to say hello, where my mother relished saying: “See, I told you your parents were right and that you should stick to the opera lessons!” “But,” said Teresa, “I still love singing pop, Broadway and crossover showboat 2jazz, and now they won’t even let me do that.” Later in her career, when she could demand her own way and get it, she returned to her teenage passions, to prove that opera and pop were not mutually exclusive.

When I started the magazine Opera Now, I met Teresa briefly again at the launch party for the recording of Show Boat on which she brilliantly plays Julie, bringing all her acting and vocal skills to the part and proving that, if she had not stuck with her opera lessons (as our mothers recommended), she might have had a hell of a career on Broadway. Mind you, being a definitive Salome or Lulu is not bad going, either.

Natalie Dessay, like Beverly Sills, has a naturally light voice used with such intelligence that she can sing everythingZerbinetta or Marie in La Fille du Régimentwith as much conviction as Violetta in La Traviata and other, heavier roles (not excluding Marie in Berg’s Wozzeck or, just this last season at the Met, Cleopatra in Handel’s Giulio Cesare). crossover dessay and legrandWorking with Michel Legrand, who studied with Nadia Boulanger before he was “sidetracked” into film scores and songs, Dessay has created what promises to be the first of a new series of recitals. In this first oneEntre Elle et Lui (see below)she sings exquisitely a range of Legrand songs, many of which are now standards. Her programming is smart and varied. Legrand said of her that she “sings my music with so much joy, yet so much anguish, such lightness of touch, such despair, such laughter and tears.” All I can do is quote Harold Arlen:  “Ain’t it the Truth!”

As with all the best crossover performers, like Stratas or Risë Stevens when they switched gears, Dessay understands the art of developing a simpler, non-operatic style, and matches Legrand’s superb pianism note for note.  Also, it has to be said, the microphone is in love with Dessay’s voice. Working mainly in their native French, the two create a wonderful smoky atmosphere (think cabaret club), but you will also love “Papa Can You Hear Me?” from the movie Yentl; “Les moulins de mon Coeur” (“Windmills of my Mind”) from The Thomas Crown Affair; and the duetsfirst with Patricia Petibon (“Chanson des Jumelles”) and then with Laurent Naori (“Duet de Guy et Geneviève”), both from the film Les Demoiselles de Rochefort. It’s an impact equal to Barbara Streisand’s first Broadway albums. Dessay also brings to mind both Stratas in her prime and Maria Ewing’s jazz evenings at Ronnie Scott’s in London, where that singer discovered and deployed a whole new vocal technique and range to interpret the music.

Diana Damrau is more Sills than Streisand in her new album Forever, in which she sings songs from operettas, musicals and movies. The twenty-one songs are such interesting choices that I kept wondering just who dominated the crossover damrau foreverselection processDamrau or her producer? And I found it riveting to hear some of the Broadway songs (popular in Germany) sung in translation. Certainly there is not one track that doesn’t fit her voice, and she totally inhabits each one: Kalman, Lehár, Lerner and Loewe, Sondheim, Gershwin (“Summertime” is stunning) and even the Sherman Brothers (“Feed the Birds” from Mary Poppins). Ably abetted by David Charles Abell and the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra, Forever is a treat that also reminds you how good the music actually is and makes you want to go back to the complete show or operetta. It also makes me want to hear Damrau in Bernstein’s Candide and many other things.

The boys are getting in on the crossover act, too. crossover keelLong ago, Howard Keel (once George London’s classmate) told me that he studied with Lotte Lehmann; she was instrumental in pushing him in the direction of Oscar Hammerstein II and an audition for replacing the legendary Alfred Drake as Curly in Oklahoma! Keel feared that, if he got the job, the Met would never look at him again. Before he would meet with Hammerstein, Lehmann had to promise she would intercede when he wanted to return to the classical worldwhich, of course,  he didn’t, having found himself totally at home in musicals from the first rehearsal. But Lanza (who, according to Toscanini, had as great a natural talent and sound as the great Caruso himself), was unable to make the shift back to classical opera when he wanted to for many reasons. Surely one of them was the perception of managements of that era of his Hollywood career: he was a turncoat, a sell-out and a lightweight.

crossover callejaThe point is that the two worlds were kept separate in those days and that the opera house despised performers who popularized opera or who sang it (and popular music) outside the opera house itself. Fortunately and sensibly this is no longer the case. Nowadays we can enjoy Joseph Calleja on a recital disc like Amore or, better yet, Be My Love (his tribute to Lanza), and see him at the Met at the same time. Piotr Beczała has also just crossed over with Heart’s Delight, reviving the songs of Richard Tauber from the worlds of operetta, film and popular song. Both men are superb singers with serious careers and both are unashamed advocates of this music which, while it may be perceived as lighter than operatic repertoire, is certainly no less technically, dramatically or vocally demanding. It requires its own sensitivities beczalaand interpretative powers and a wide-ranging intelligence from people who more often sing Verdi, Donizetti or even Wagner. The sheer loveliness of Beczała’s voice in particular shines in his crossover album.

These recordings illustrate two things: firstly, that creating popular music is no less important than creating the recognized “classics” (and we do well to remember that most classics started out as popular music in their day); and that if artists at the level of Dessay, Damrau, Calleja and Beczała are interested in the job we should respect their commitment to a wider range of expression than previous artists were permitted. And also, frankly, just wallow with pleasure in some of the lush tunes!

Every one of these discs is worth having in your collection; be thankful they are performed with such skill and enjoyment. If you don’t like musicals or operettas, forget it; just don’t sneer at the artists or audiences who do, or underrate the artistry needed to excel at these idioms. Opera, musicals and jazz are not mutually exclusive. They are all simply at different locations, or represent different shades, on a spectrum, as these four artists demonstrate.

And don’t forget that recording of Jerome Kern and Oscar Hammerstein II’s Show Boat. Conducted by John McGlinn, it featured not only Teresa Stratas but Frederica von Stade, Jerry Hadley and Bruce Hubbardall opera singers inviting you to cross over with them. Just say yes!

Erato 5099993414821 Natalie Dessay, Michel Legrand: Entre elle et lui

Erato 5099960266620 Diana Damrau, Forever: Unforgettable Songs from Vienna, Broadway and Hollywood. The Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra conducted by David Charles Abell

Decca 478 3531 Joseph Calleja, Be My Love: A Tribute to Mario Lanza. BBC Concert Orchestra conducted by Steven Mercurio

Decca 478 5340 Joseph Calleja, Amore. BBC Concert Orchestra conducted by Steven Mercurio

DG 479 0838 Piotr Beczała, Heart’s Delight: The Songs of Richard Tauber. Royal Philharmonic Orchestra conducted by Lukasz Borowicz


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