Posts Tagged ‘juilliard’

Apollos Girl

May 24, 2015

Art, Music

apollo and lyre



The Oxygen of Ravishing

Absolute perfection makes its own oxygen, and, every once in a while, we get lucky. Recently, at the earthly paradise that is the Morgan Library and Museum, there were four exhibitions in absolute balanceeach one revealing a period and a unique point of view, collectively inspiring a kind of trance to buffer the rasp of city life. morgan 0Beginning with Embracing Modernism (a show to mark the 10th anniversary of the Morgan’s engagement with the 20th century) you could see up close what artists were thinking about as it passed by.

morgan6There were icons on every wall: Matisse; Schiele; a surprising Mondrian landscape(Dunes at Dornburg); a dialogue between Red Grooms and Lyonel Feininger; one of Warhol’s Campbell Soup cans (Tomato) cuddling up to a wad of dollar bills; morgan2outrage about the Vietnam War from Ken Jones and Nancy Spero; the usual mid-century downtown suspects; right up to Marlene Dumas’ morgan1“Confusion as to What Comes Out of Our Hands”almost a hundred in all. Perhaps of variable quality but, taken together, an intimate snapshot of a kinetic century by its close watchers.

Right next door, Piranesi’s majestic drawings of Paestum (on loan from Sir paestumJohn Soane’s Museum) were an 18th-century collector/architect’s (Soane’s) bow to the 6th-century B.C. builders of Paestum’s ruins. Fortunately for us, Soanes met Piranesi near the end of his life, and acquired fifteen of the huge works now at the Morgan. Just look at them! The scale, the detail, the skill with which Piranesi’s pen immortalized the ancient city. It’s the kind of human hymn that no computer working overtime on CAD can ever sing.

Also on the ground floor: Lincoln Speaks: Words that Transformed a Nation. This is a mighty statement, rich in anecdote and including a film, Lincoln Speaks. morgan9It transcends cliches by offering some of the modest catalysts that made Lincoln who he was: Kirkham’s Grammar (he memorized it) which assured him that ”Grammar instructs us how to express our thoughts correctly. Rhetoric teaches us to express them with force and eloquence.” There is a cast of the morgan10hands responsible for writing the documents inseparable from the man, and the documents themselves: the Inaugural Address of 1865; the Thirteenth Amendment to the Constitution (Abolition); the Emancipation Proclamation; and Walt Whitman’s “O Captain!, my Captain! our fearful trip is done…” written by the grief-stricken poet after Lincoln’s assassination. There is no dry history hereonly a deep well of emotion that takes hours to subside. Like all the Morgan’s shows, it can be revisited on line.

morgan 7Finally, a ride up in the glass elevators to see Barbara Wolff’s Hebrew Illumination in Our Timelike Piranesi, a bow to the distant past. But here, Wolff chooses to employ the painstaking techniques of the medieval monks who dedicated themselves to Biblical volumes . She chooses the Old Testament, gold leaf, the richest colors and exuberant imagery to celebrate her texts. A film reveals her technique. This one can be also found online to savor at leisure.

One last glance: from June 26-October 11, the Morgan will celebrate another anniversary: Alice: 150 Years of Wonderland, bursting with Shepard’s images and everything you’ve always wanted to know about Lewis Carroll’s immortal girl child. Be there, breathe deeply of the oxygen, and make your way to the Metropolitan Museum for China: Through the Looking Glass. (another hommage to earlier sources). Clearly, Alice travels well and just keeps on growing,…

Juilliard Opera: Oxygen for the Ears

iphigeniaThis has been an amazing year for the school’s Olympian vocal ambitions, realizedeven exceededin two recent productions: Gluck’s Iphigénie en Aulide (rarely performed) and Mozart’s The Marriage of Figaro (hardly a day goes by without its shenanigans somewhere on the planet).

Iphigénie is simply gorgeous music, Gluck’s gift to the memory of Euripedes’ last play (407 B.C.) and Racine’s adaptation of it (1674). Juilliard’s version was a marriage of updating (modern dress) and set (a gloss on the pared-down scenery of ancient Greek theatre) and profound respect and affection for the traditions of ancient Athens and 17th-century Paris. It was win-win all the way.

I have grown really tired of new productions of old works which, in the panic to make them palatable to new audiences, bend them entirely out of shape—both alienating their long-suffering fans and fooling no one under the age of 35. But no one involved in the creation or performance of this Iphigénie was guilty of such intentions. To start with, David Paul’s staging was simplicity itself, yet by virtue of the skill of the cast’s powerfully expressive singing and Paul Hudson’s lighting, caught and sustained fire. Heartbreak fury, and tragedy received their due, compressed for our ears. glover1
Jane Glover
, whose baton—like some celestial dowsing stick, can find every shade of dramatic juice in the rigors of Baroque musicwas breathing with the singers right up to the deus ex machina. The luxury of long and diligent rehearsal time turned an ancient epic history into an entirely modern fable for old fans and young listeners alike, strong in its emotional magic and meticulous in every detail. It’s what can happen when talent is the glue that holds intentions and realization together and everyone is on the same page.

The big bonus in following Juilliard Opera productions is being able to watch young artists develop and grow in real time as they try on major roles for size, and offer recitals in the interim. It all happens very fast. With many singers also members of the Met’s Lindemann Young Artist Development Program, it can seem almost instantaneous. Let’s just take this spring: Iphigėnie took place in mid-February followed (a scant ten weeks later) by The Marriage of Figaro. Here, thewadsworth approach was not minimal; director Stephen Wadsworth had all the bodies moving at warp speed—perfect for Figaro’s clockwork commedia—and dressed to the 18th-century nines in Camille Assaf’s brocades and knickers. From the bed and boxes of the beginning to the movable shrubbery and strategic lanterns of the
end, it was, frankly, a knockout!figaro2

But this was the real joy: not only had several singers inhabited Iphigénie’s implacable world, but Ying Fang (a heartbreaking Iphigénie) proved herself an adept and natural comedian in Figaro; as her voice soared in Susanna’s arias, figaro1her body created its own elegant and personal slapstick. Who knew? And Takaoki Onishi (faithful Patrocle) became a slippery Count Almaviva; Virginie Verrez, a striking Clymnestra, put on pants and turned into Cherubino (I should add that Myles Mykkanen’s triumph as an ardent Lensky in last year’s mykkanenEugene Onegin in no way prepared me for his bumbling Don Basilio.) But it’s unfair to single out anyone in these productions; they are marvels of ensemble performance, giving us opera as it can, and is meant to be; an intimate, emotional experience for the eye, the ear, the heart and the mind. (They) make hungry where most (they) satisfy…and there’s always next season. Pay attention to the school’s overflowing calender of performances.

Apollo’s Girl

January 31, 2014


 apollo and lyre

And Now for the Really Good Stuff….. 

Miss Hill: Making Dance Matter

dance on camera 2014Today’s marching orders were easy: get to Lincoln Center somewhere around noon to join the standby line for Dance on Camera’s opening night (and only) screening of Miss Hill: Making Dance Matter. Of course it’s sold out, but maybe you’ll get lucky…

Greg Vander Veer’s sensational account of Martha Hill’s miss hill1 long, productive life overflows with joy from its first images and music, as American Modern Dance is born in the hills of Vermont, to its final summing up of how the power of bodies expressing emotion directly transformed  our vocabulary of movement forever. It’s one hell of a ride, and Vander Veer and his editor, Elisa Da Prato, make sure it’s a full gallop all the way through. Where it excels is in the superb rhythm of its editing and the canny telling of its dynamic story; they are in perfect balance, along with the sheer momentum of the dance footage itself and the information on how Modern Dance came to be.

Martha Hill became its rock and miss hill 5advocate, stifling her own performing talents to build the careers of pioneers: Martha martha grahamGraham,  Doris Humphrey, Charles Weidman and Hanya Holm. She created a dance community that beckoned students, from Paul Taylor pina bauschto Pina Bausch. They, and many others, would have fallen by the wayside without Hill. She could not, and would not, give up. Ever. 

Her adventures are given their due, yet there is uncommon delicacy (and wit) in presenting miss hill2Hill’s own conflicts about giving up performance to ensure the careers of geniuses of movement, as well as her radiant (but very private) private life, and – almost shocking in its brutality – The New York City Ballet’s commandeering of Hill’s dance department at Juilliard. How did this tall reed of a woman prevail against the Rockefellers, the Ford Foundation, and the Balanchine juggernaut? Because of the intense devotion she had inspired  among thousands of teachers, students and dance lovers who bombarded everyone involved in the coup with letters of protest. The letters won, Balanchine’s company expanded its own School of American Ballet separately, and Juilliard remained a hotbed of the Modern Dance Hill had championed for decades.

The comments of friends and colleagues are there for insight but – to be honest – the lavish archival and contemporary footage of bodies in ecstatic motion and the entirely universal drama of Hill’s story will haunt you long after the final frame. With a compelling original score by Florent Ghys that perfectly bridges the decades, Peter Buntaine’s cinematography, Di Prato’s tour-de-force editing, and Vander Veer’s direction, Back Camerathey light a fire that is contagious and give passionate evidence of a revolution that changed the way the world looked at dance.  

The Martha Hill Dance Fund remains part of Hill’s community and, like Hill herself, did not waver in its belief that this film must be made.  We owe them, its makers, and its subjects a debt of gratitude. If you have never seen dance before, Miss Hill will be a revelation. There’s only one drawback: it deserves eternal life and full houses after the lights and the music go off at Lincoln Center.  I will be back soon with more on the film and the filmmakers. In the meantime, see what you can do…and watch the video.

Tim’s Vermeer

Lucky for Tim’s Vermeer that SONY has put its muscle behind this brilliant entertainment, even luckier that Penn and Teller and Tim Jenison tim's vermeer 4(the trio behind the proceedings) had the means and the smarts to make it, and luckiest of all that Jenison appears wholly unfamiliar with the phrase “to give up.”  In other words, the trifecta that makes movies possible. And should you have any doubts about just how idiosyncratic and wonderful this movie is, be reassured: after its initial screening at the NY Film Festival, a later screening at SONY drew a number of critics seeing it for the second (and even the third) time, trying to parse out its theories and their intricate execution. 

Have you ever marveled at Vermeer’s trademark use of light? So has the trio named above. Is it some unique strike of DNA lightning, or is there some music lessonmore scientific (but no less compelling) explanation ? In fact, both David Hockney  (who wrote “Secret Knowledge: Rediscovering the Lost Techniques of the Old Masters”) and Philip Steadman (who wrote “Vermeer’s Camera: Uncovering the Truth Behind the Masterpieces”) have been proponents of the scientific option for years, and you will hear from them in due course.  What you will also encounter in due course in Tim’s Vermeer is OCD (which might have become tiresome in less original hands and minds) and what can be accomplished by someone in full thrall to it who gets mad, gets even, and proves his point by, well, painting a Vermeer: “The Music Lesson,” after getting permission from its owner(the Queen of England) to commune with it for half an hour—no cameras vermeerallowed. Throwing in a trip to Delft, renting a storage unit in Houston with the same northern light as Vermeer’s original setting, grinding the original pigments and weaving the original fabrics that Vermeer employed gives new meaning to do it yourself;  the rest is history. Which our Three Musketeers (and their backstage army) rewrite in their very own delicious way.

There’s more—much moreto be had in the film’s packed 80 minutes, and having a cup or two of coffee before you see it will open your eyes, your mind, and jolt your ambition into high gear. But should you want to try this at home, first read the books and see the film at least twice.  You can do it!

Finding Vivian Maier

vivian maierThis is another wholly original film, brought to life by two dedicated obsessives who wouldn’t give up: the film’s subject, “a mysterious nanny, who secretly took over 100,000 photographs that were hidden in storage lockers and discovered decades later,” and producer-director John Maloof, who found a box of her negatives at a locker auction, and was fatally hooked when he worked his way through the images. 

The box changed his life and his direction; he went on a quest for every picture Maier might have left behind and, eventually, tracked down her employers and now-grown charges maloofto find a mystery that grew more challenging as he uncovered its elements—and still remains only partially solved. The only part of the picture that has become clear is that Vivan Maier was a true genius; her images were stunning.

Finding Vivian Maier opens on March 28; save the date.  trailer

More on Maier and on John Maloof later, too…
Later: it seems lawyers have gotten into the mix, so the mysteries and ultimate ownership of the prints and negatives may create a Bleak House-like scenario of long duration. Meantime, see Judy Gelman Myers’ interview with John Maloof:

Fearless Predictions

September 22, 2013




Theater, Music

With today’s autumn equinox already drowning in a tsunami of must-see, must-hear, must-taste sensations, it’s time to get out your calendar and your credit card and get down to business.

Theatre for a New Audience (TFANA) opens its newtfana house in Brooklyn the Polonsky Shakespeare Centerwith a Very Big Gun: A Midsummer Night’s Dream directed by Julie Taymor, with an original score by Eliot Goldenthal. It’s been 29 years since Taymor and Goldenthal created a 60-minute taymorversion of the play for TFANA at the Public Theater ; now they have time, space, and a budget for a full-length version with a cast of 36. It will be fascinating to see what Taymor makes of Shakespeare’s forest and addled lovers! Tickets are likely to go quickly, so speed is of the essence. Dream’s previews begin on October 19 for a November 2 through January 12 run.  Tina Benko and David Harewood star as Titania and Oberon. And don’t forget to check out the rest of TFANA’s inaugural season:

r-JOYCE-DIDONATO-large570One of last season’s greatest pleasures were master classes by world-class singers: Joyce Di Donato (at Juilliard) and Thomas Hampson (at the hampsonManhattan School of Music). Working with graduate students who had previously learned how to produce their best sounds, both singers dispensed with the details of vocal technique to concentrate on interpretation of text: Di Donato (opera) Di Donato Hampson (lieder) Hampson

They zeroed in not only on the meaning of the words, but of the story being told and of the character doing the telling.  For those of you who know only the bright lights and bling of our television talent shows, these classes are a revelation. Having a good well-trained voice is only the beginning; knowing what to do with it is as complicated (and as rewarding) as advanced Dungeons and Dragons. There are so many choices…

To give you a heads-up on this season’s riches, a few hints: MSMNY has expanded its vocal master classes to include some personal faves: Lauren Flanigan, Martin Katz (one of the world’s best coaches), Stephanie Blythe, and the Met’s Dwayne Croft (the best Sharpless in living memory).  Hampson will return and, as has been his practice, enable his class to be streamed live.  See for schedules. A precious bonus: master classes at both institutions are free. 

And while we’re singing the praises of singing, here’s one juliabullock_hiresvery long-lead tip: Juilliard’s luminous Julia Bullock (currently in Perm starring in Purcell’s Indian Queen) will return to New York in 2014 to present a recital in Merkin Hall on March 11, and to light a fire in Massenet’s Cendrillon at Juilliard in April. I know it’s early. But get your tickets any way you can. Trust me on this one…..

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