Posts Tagged ‘cuba’

Apollo’s Girl

January 13, 2016

apollo and lyre

O, Arturo—O, Sandoval!

Walking into the World Music Institute’s recent concert at the 92nd Street Y, you knew right away that something BIG was going to happen. The stage was packed with things that go bang in the night: conga drums, snare drums, bongos, claves, maracas, three electric keyboards (with attachments for Latin bells and whistles), a piano, a few guitars and trumpets, and loudspeakers and wires. Many wires. If I’m leaving anything out, it’s because before the inventory was completed the lights dimmed, the applause began, and suddenly they were there in the shadows—sidemen and conspirators

Cuban emigre Jazz musician Arturo Sandoval performs on trumpet with his band with Kemuel Poig on piano, John Belazguy on upright electric bass, Johnny Friday on drums, Dave Siegel on keyboard, and Tiki Pasillas on percussion at the Kaufmann Concert Hall of the 92nd Street Y, New York, New York, Wednesday, December 2, 2015. The concert was co-presented by the 92nd Street Y and the World Music Institute. CREDIT: Photograph © 2015 Jack Vartoogian/FrontRowPhotos. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.

CREDIT: Photograph © 2015 Jack Vartoogian/FrontRowPhotos. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.

slipping into place among their instruments. Then he was thereArturo Sandoval himselfundisputed trumpet, keyboard, guitar and percussion meister and, yes, a man of many moves.

From his personal space he dreamily played a few notes on the electric keyboard and, as seamlessly as they had appeared on the stage, the band was with him. Blowing, plucking, striking, fingering, their music flowed by. Standards alternated with Latin classics summoned by fans and countrymen calling out from the audience, joining in a collective swoon. Sandoval moved from genre to genre, from instrument to instrument like a Cuban Pied Piper; wherever he went, everyone followed. The sound of cooking rose from the stage as the evening’s gifts were built to a master plan of his devising. It was the building (as much as the cooking) that defined the program. Because it’s not just about being able to play virtually any instrument in any style or any key, or being able to dance nimbly ditto (often while playing one or more instruments), but about being a born entertainer. So Sandoval’s offerings were brilliantly calibrated between fast and slow, classics and cutting-edge, chestnuts and original compositions, as they shape-shifted to keep the audience close. And, like most great performers, he revels in the connection he spins and keeps alive until the last note of the last encore and the fervant applause.

Sandoval is no ordinary musical genius; born in Cuba in 1949, he studied classical trumpet, served in the Army cleaning barracks while making music at night, and trying every way he could to develop his musical ambitions. After meeting and bonding with Dizzie Gillespie in Havana in 1977, he joined Paquito De’Rivera and Chucho Valdez to found the Afro-Cuban band Irakere a year later. Gillespie 01-ArturoSandoval-Dizzy-Gillespie-Courtesy-of-Arturo-Sandoval-620x384continued to spread the word about Sandoval’s talent and to include him on many of his own international tours. On one of them, in 1990, Sandoval decided to leave Cuba and to live permanently in the United States. Since then, he has racked up astonishing numbers: a search of the Internet serves up over 40 albums; collaborations with pop and jazz icons of every genre; titles of 16 movie and TV scores (including one for the HBO biopic For Love or Country: The Arturo love or countrySandoval Story, starring Andy Garcia); an original ballet score choreographed by Debbie Allen; and a trumpet concerto album with the London Symphony that includes his own classical concerto. Oh, and there’s the memoir (Dizzy Gillespie: The Man Who Changed My Life), the books on trumpet technique, the Oscars, Grammies, and Billboard Awards, and the Presidential Medal of Freedom. That about sums it up. medal of freedom

Meantime, at the Y, he ran the gamut of his limitless repertoire, giving the adoring crowd a medley of seasonal favorites punctuated by a brief account of his first American gig at Carnegie Hall (straight off the plane and onto the stage) and a display of his monumental technique: first on the trumpet, with a tribute to Maynard Ferguson, then on the piano with a composition of his own, smiling as he scorched the entire keyboard andsomewhere in between—launched the sassiest. most original, anarchic and exhilarating version of Peanut Vendor, ever. There were, of course, a few encores (part of the master plan) and, finally, a valedictory to the audience: “When you go home tonight,” he implored, “instead of watching TV, download the lyrics to this song and you will sleep so well! And you will smile when you wake up…”

Then he raised his trumpet to his lips one last time and played Charlie Chaplin’s “Smile”, pulling out all the stops. Shameless? Yes, but it did the job, moving everyone out into the street smiling, their tears mingling with the falling rain.

Arturo Sandoval will be on the road, coming back this way at the Blue Note in late spring: And the World Music Insitute and its new artistic director, Par Neiburger, will have some surprises up their collective sleeve for the rest of their 30th anniversary season: It’s a win-win situation.

Apollo’s Girl

July 31, 2013

Art, Music, Film

 Apollo+dance+with+the+muses-1024x768-20491 (2)

Fearless Predictions (and a Surprise)

First, the surprise: I have to admit, right off the bat (pun intended) that I’ve just never been able to get excited about baseball. Spent evenings with friends who really got into the game, but remember the intervals between plays seeming endless; the action that had them screaming and rising to their feet for every hit, every run, felt (to a woman who loved tennis and hockey) like perpetual slow motion. I also remember dozing off and, when I grew up a little, remembering urgent appointments elsewhere until I was no longer asked to be part of the couch potato cheering section.

But I promised you a surprise, and there is one: cuban baseballA friend (similarly inclined) recently took me to The Eighth Floor for what was supposed to be a flyover of Stealing Base: Cuba at Bat on our way to dinner.  What a revelation! As it turns out baseball is the Cuban national passion, inspiring prose, poetry and, in the case of this exhibition, a trove of witty and fascinating paintings and sculptures, even some film, on the subject. The flyover was canceled as we loped repeatedly around the show, our delight increasing with each tour and revelation (and some welcome Cuban snacks).  Could we have been wrong all these years? You have til September 2 to discover for yourselves; take advantage of the pleasure, and see what this congenial Flatiron gallery has coming up:

Now for the Fearless Predictions…

4 x 4 Festival. If baseball is a new friend, early music goes back a long way (yes, steinanother pun). And there’s nothing cooler in the dog days than a scrum of viols, sacbuts, theorbos and portative organs to lure you into chilling out with like-minded souls. Led by Avi Stein, who can summon the best players, 4 x 4 is a loose consortium of friends and colleagues who play and sing up and down the Eastern seaboard and around the world, a live organism forever separating and reconnecting as their repertoire demands.

Of course the energy of their shared passion pervades their work, and includes forays into contemporary and pop repertoire, too. QuicksilverBehindthescenesIt’s an attitude reflected in the names of their individual groups (most have at least one of their own): Guido’s Ear, Quicksilver, Apollo’s Fire, King’s Noyseplayful and ecstatic at the same time. Nothing doleful here! Whenever it was composed, it’s music for our time. This year’s four-part feast began last night and continues through August 2. So get thee to St. Peter’s Lutheran Church on time (concerts begin at 7pm; admission is free and first-come, first-served; there is a $20 suggested donationmake it it’s a bargain at the price!) Programs:

Film/Video: Opera, Dance

Emerging Pictures has scored another coup Ira_Teaching(its president, Ira Deutchman, is known for his visionary taste and quick-moving distribution skills) with a summer series of top-of- the-line live-in-HD dance and opera performances recorded live at the Bolshoi, The Hague, Covent Garden, and now — throughout August — at La Scala. To celebrate Verdi’s 200th anniversary, the menu includes performances of Aida, Don Carlo, and La Traviata, with big names and bigger-than-life drama: Alagna,  Urmano, Furlanetto, Zajick, Gheorgiu, Vargas.  The programming brings the best of global Angela-Gheorghiu-Vargas-Traviata-RomalyparaLNPara_LNCIMA20130124_0377_5performances to the United States, with options far beyond the stages of the Metropolitan Opera. It’s an exciting (and affordable) idea, with venues all around the country, and technology that permits long-distance live Q & As.  To find out what’s coming up (and where), see

And if you want to see Emerging Pictures current film lineup (some of the best of what’s playing now or coming soon), It’s all good!

Apollo’s Girl

August 7, 2012



Latinbeat and a Little More

We’ve got two calls to action here: before I get down with Latin Beat  I must warn you that you have less than 24 hours to see Mike Leigh’s Topsy-Turvy. Part of the Film Society’s series of NYFF’s past-perfect picks, it’s being shown only once—tonight at 6pm. Whatever your plans, you will just have to change them. Trust me. Even if you have to beg at the box office or whine piteously on the standby line.

Mike Leigh has a huge palette, but Topsy-Turvy was one of his biggest surprises, and surely one of the best. Like a favorite uncle’s 19th-century chromolithograph come to life, Leigh’s gorgeous take on the Victorian era, its infatuation with all things Japanese during the 1885 exposition, the fabulous Gilbert and Sullivan, their evergreen Mikado, the backstage tumult that made it sing, and the intimate pains of Gilbert’s marriage should not, and cannot, be missed. And if you can’t get in, flood the Film Society’s office with pleas for an encore showing.

And now, back to Latinbeat.

Like its namesake, Chinese Takeaway (Argentina) will fill you up, but leave you wanting more. There is a sly, deliciously loopy humor to the film, anchored by just the right emotional heft and some serious issues. A really ingenious story, told through Sebastián Borensztein’s artful writing and direction and the performances of Ricardo Darin and Ignacio Huang, is matched by technical values that make the entire meal a pleasure. The jokes are actually funny, and the cast has as much fun as the audience. There are surprises, too (also ingenious). In fact, the director claims it’s based on a “true incident”. Maybe. But, on the other hand (no spoilers here), you will have to stay through the credits to find out what that incident was. DO NOT LEAVE THE THEATER! It’s definitely worth the wait. There are few comedies of this skill and wit around. Make sure you find time to enjoy it.

Then, there’s Unfinished Spaces (Cuba). It’s an architectural, political and moral tragedy that had me poised to open my window, like a refugee from Network, to scream “I’m sick and tired and I’m not going to take it any more!” Of course I will tell you why. Please bear with me (second call to arms and digression alert):

When you have seen a lot of architecture, it’s hard not to be aware that it’s not just about the building itself, or the materials it’s made of, but where, and how, it fits into its cityscape. In New York, the cityscape was on a human scale for more than a century, with the occasional iconic skyscraper popping up for appreciative ogling. It made for a uniquely varied and compelling skyline. But no more. Now it’s become all about that scourge of the urban landscape: air rights. So that anyone with enough money and lack of care can snatch them, grab the capital, and put up something both overwhelming and overscale wherever it can be shoehorned in. Designed, of course, by a starchitect who needs to keep his name in the limelight and his staff on salary.

A perfect example: Frank Gehry’s 8 Spruce Street, plunged into a streetscape of once-and-former three-story houses—an ever-diminishing reminder that New York was once both vibrant and humane. Where J & R now stands there was a theater that staged the American premiere of Don Giovanni;  in living memory, there was an aged bookseller nearby whose dusty volumes were on offer near the corner of Park Row and Anne Street. More: the row of modest brownstones opposite Carnegie Hall have been replaced by the current candidate for “New York’s tallest building,” One 57, with 90 stories, by Christian de Portzamparc. The list grows longer every day.

But it’s not just about size: it’s about context, and celebrity. The Hearst Building was designed by Joseph Urban in 1928. It’s understated but sturdy, and was always meant to support a tower. A matching tower, for which Urban’s original design remained unbuilt because the Depression intervened—until 2006, when Norman Foster’s Hearst Tower opened its doors to receive the Hearst Corporation’s working stiffs back to their new glass-and-steel quarters. Foster has specialized in work that calls attention to itself not only for its size, but for its inappropriateness. (Anybody remember when Prince Charles went on a tear about the architect’s proposed addition to London’s National Gallery—the “monstrous carbuncle on the face of a much-loved and elegant friend”?) So each new hulking contestant is another nail in the coffin of peaceful coexistence of periods and styles; its success depends on how much noise it can make, how much attention it can steal, and for how long.

Which brings me back, believe it or not, to Unfinished Spaces. In 1961, Fidel Castro decided to build a multi-disciplinary national arts school on what had been Batista’s pride and joy: an exquisite golf course for Cuba’s pre-Revolutionary elite. Three architects were commissioned, each one to design different buildings for different disciplines; their designs were unique, free and venturesome for the era. They incorporated historical building materials and iconic themes, and modern technology, driven by Utopian ideas. The ballet school in particular, by Italian architect Vittorio Garatti, was as graceful as the performers it was meant to house. But nothing, in art or architecture, ever goes exactly as planned.

The new buildings attracted a certain amount of spite and resistance; someone whispered in Castro’s ear that they were “not good architecture,” and work was stopped in its tracks. The ballet school was closest to being finished, so it became a repository for a number of interim enterprises. But without maintenance, the buildings decayed and turned into unloved wrecks. Until the pendulum began its return journey, drawing the attention of author John Loomis book filmmakers Alyssa Nahmias and Ben Murray and, finally, the regard of the World Monument Fund and a pending designation as a UNESCO World Heritage site.

Enter Carlos Acosta, a Cuban ballet hero who has achieved superstar status abroad, who will be returning to Cuba to direct the Cuban National Ballet, to be housed in Garatti’s former Ballet School building, to be “converted” (according to the New York Times) by Norman Foster. Acosta and Foster are “working together to transform the buildings for future use”. Unlike Joseph Urban, long dead, whose plans for the original Hearst Tower were simply tossed on the junk heap, Vittorio Garatti’s plans are very much extant, as is Garatti (now living in Italy) himself. How exciting it would be to have the architect’s vision completed (with updated systems), rather than completely obscured by another architect who revels in the practice.

Shooting for almost a decade, the filmmakers have managed to turn a dauntingly complex story into a sizzling narrative and balancing act. It’s sure to haunt you as the final chapters, still being written, are played out. Although the film is scheduled for PBS broadcast in the fall, Latinbeat has done us the favor of making it available on the big screen; for this subject, with its stunning visuals, it’s the way to go. And the filmmakers will be there in person for both screenings (August 11 and 13).

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