Archive for January, 2012

brothers quay

January 31, 2012

Since winter has decided not to come this season I’ve been finding some alternative dark comfort in the shadowy interior spaces of the quirky, unique film anthology of the Brothers Quay. Like the missing season, the palette of their movies operates within a very specific visual range- relying on shadows, shapes, texture, and contours for interest rather than color.

It would be easy to describe the Quay vision in vague terms such as “dreamscape” and “nightmarish” but those are meaningless descriptors. Since no two individuals’ dreams or nightmares are alike, who can say what a definitive one “looks like”?

Instead let’s appreciate the Brothers’ singular, incomparable aesthetic. Their work is meticulous, artful, and – at its best – unsettling.

Here are some great samples. Enjoy.

And please join me in burning some sage and doing a snow dance. It’s time we saw some already. This winter is ridiculous.

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sat. night @the vets

January 21, 2012

Renee Fleming - photo by Decca/Andrew Eccles

“We can listen to this stuff in our cars, or on our computers – but isn’t it more fun together?”

That’s an understatement. Especially when coming from Renée Fleming, tonight’s guest soloist with the Rhode Island Philharmonic and its conductor, Larry Rachleff.

The occasion was the “re-introduction” of Veterans Memorial Auditorium (re-branded these days as “the VETS“), the gorgeous 62-year old performance space that will now serve both the Providence Performing Arts Center (PPAC) and the Philharmonic.

The Auditorium has an interesting history, having begun as a Rhode Island Freemasons project in 1927 and then finally opening in 1950 after work stoppages during the Depression and the Second World War. Since then the stage has welcomed everyone Luciano Pavarotti and Tony Bennett to – tonight, making her Rhode Island debut, Ms. Fleming. She mentioned that, inspiring a chuckle from the audience when she said in her comfortable way, “it’s nice to still be able to have a debut…”

I didn’t know what the program was before arriving there tonight. It didn’t really matter, I’ve seen Fleming in concert before and I knew I wanted to be at this one regardless. So when I finally got a program and checked out the lineup I was happy to see a good mix of crowd-pleasers on there along with a couple of more unusual selections. Ravel’s song cycle Shéhérazade, for example, is a standard work among singers but much less so in the concert hall. An absolute delight to hear performed live, by artists who revel in the richness of Ravel’s orchestration and still allow its transparency to shine. The woodwinds in particular sounded lovely, with every note coming through clearly thanks in part to the acoustic paneling now enveloping the stage’s interior space. And it’s not very often a conductor breaks a baton during the performance, as Rachleff did during the program opener – nothing like the rousing Hector Berlioz Roman Carnival Overture to make that happen!

Among the more familiar works were the “jewel song” aria from Charles Gounod’s Faust, Tosca’s Vissi d’arte, and Vilja’s song from Franz Lehar’s The Merry Widow. Fleming staples, all, and wonderfully performed with great spirit, charm, and (of course) proficiency. But the real highlight for me came shortly into the second half of the program, with Antonín Dvořák’s sublime “Song to the Moon” from Rusalka. Long have I thought of this as a Fleming specialty piece, and she confirmed that connection tonight when she introduced it by calling it her “signature aria”. If there is a single particular attribute she gives to that aria, it is her warmth. Rusalka may be a water spirit but when Renée Fleming inhabits the character, Rusalka is infused with the very touch of humanity she strives for, in the opera’s story.

And then as if the concert content wasn’t enough, the night ended with three sparkling encores – another showstopper, Giaccomo Puccini’s “O mio babbino caro” (from Gianni Schicchi), and two songs from Leonard Bernstein’s Westside Story – “I Feel Pretty”, and “Somewhere”.

While the first phase of The Vets’ (now completed) renovation primarily focused on infrastructural and ‘back stage’ improvements, the next stage is said to promise more publicly visible and tangible improvements in accommodations and other areas. When that’s done we can hope that maybe Ms. Fleming will be invited to return for a reprise of tonight’s superb “re-dedication” gala performance.

a rothko kind of day

January 21, 2012

Saturday, January 21st and the city’s seeing its first serious snowfall of the season. Very strange – the delayed season this year, not the fact that we’re seeing some winter at last here.

Overnight showers have left a skiff here or there over the last month or so, but nothing like the inches that are (finally!) starting to pile up now on the apartment windowsills.

Took a drive past the nearby beach earlier today and I was struck with how the low atmosphere flattens out the layers of foreground (snowy beach, low tide beach) and background (Massachusetts Bay and sky) into a Rothko-reminiscent scene of stacked horizontal panels.

(l) Rothko's Untitled (Blue, Deep Blue, Yellow) - (r) Wollaston Beach

May there be many more days like this before spring comes.

andsnes in the house

January 13, 2012

Andsnes playing Grieg today

Earlier this week, WGBH’s Fraser Performance Studio got its very own fbook fan page. Just in time for the space to welcome one of the world’s finest pianists – Leif Ove Andsnes – for our weekly feature, Drive Time Live with Cathy Fuller.

He’s in town for this week’s performances with the Boston Symphony Orchestra. Beethoven’s C Major Piano Concerto is on the program, the first of his mighty handful of five “piano vs. orchestra” masterpieces.

Andsnes shared some insight today on the work: “The slow movements by Beethoven – it’s not a private confession, it’s a speech to humanity. And that’s very touching, it’s a such broad feeling which is very different from Mozart or Haydn.”

Life as a touring soloist is challenging, to say the least. There are stories of notable soloists calling the front desk at their hotels just to verify the name of the city he or she is in. Who can keep track of all those time zones?

Andsnes is clear about one thing. While he could live in “any city in the world, as long as it has an airport, to be able to get around” – he’s learned a lot about himself over the years. “I’m getting more and more sure of the fact that I cannot move away from Norway. It’s a fantastic place.”

We’re glad he’s here this week. Tomorrow night’s concert is one I’ve been looking forward to for a long time!

Leif Ove Andsnes at WGBH this afternoon

radio coffeehouse

January 9, 2012

radio coffee house - milton, ma

Radio + coffee = irresistable combo. Right? Yep, at least to me.

Stopped by the Radio Coffeehouse this afternoon in Milton, MA. It was a little detour on the way to getting my new MA driver’s license at one of the area’s only RMV branch offices, in nearby Roslindale. Might as well procrastinate for a few minutes and stop off for a good cup of local java. Seriously. It’s not like a short delay in getting to the RMV could adversely impact what already promised to be a painfully time-consuming process.

I’ve been in search of a great cup of coffee since moving to MA around three months ago. Seems like a crime here, the hometown of Dunkin Donuts, to admit out loud that I don’t like their coffee. But I don’t. I really don’t. Always served much too hot, in styrofoam cups, it’s watery and flavorless and it’s not helped by the fact that they insist on fixing it up mysteriously behind the counter instead of making milk and sweeteners available for folks to do it for themselves and get the balance of ingredients just to taste. Problem is, with so very MANY DD shops around they appear to have the corner on the market and, surprisingly for such a cosmopolitan town, I’m discovering that there aren’t that many local coffee shops to be found in Boston. That’s fine, you don’t need many. You just need a few good ones.

The Radio Coffeehouse is a good one. Coffee’s fine, and the homemade cupcake with delicious (and generous!) buttercream icing hit the spot perfectly. Styrofoam cups are the standard here, too, unfortunately, and the coffee’s still fixed up behind the counter instead of by the customers themselves. But at least it’s done well, with care from the counter help to listen to the requested additions and get them right. (Creamer and a packet of sweetener: it’s not hard to get right, but you’d be surprised how often it’s messed up anyway.)

And check out the radio collection that runs the length of the shop – can’t beat that.

I’ll be back, and next time I’ll bring my own cup for them to fill.

PS – Best cup of coffee and overall experience I’ve had so far is at the Thinking Cup right next to Boston Common. Fabulous pastries too – French macaroons, mini cheesecakes, homemade Danishes…mmm…

twelfth night

January 6, 2012

Twelfth Night

by Laurie Lee

“No night could be darker than this night,

No cold so cold,

As the blood snaps like a wire,

And the heart’s sap stills,

And the year seems defeated.

 

O never again, it seems, can green things run,

Or sky birds fly,

Or the grass exhale its humming breath

Powdered with pimpernels,

From this dark lung of winter.

 

Yet here are lessons for the final mile

Of pilgim kings;

The mile still left when all have reached

Their tether’s end: that mile

Where the Child lies hid

 

For see, beneath the hand, the earth already

Warms and glows;

For men with shepherd’s eyes there are

Signs in the dark, the turning stars,

The lamb’s returning time.

 

Out of this utter death he’s born again,

His birth our saviour;

From terror’s equinox he climbs and grows,

Drawing his finger’s light across our blood –

The sun of heaven, and the son of god.”


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