April 2010

NOTES & COMMENTS

Bach and a British Convict
Unconventional British cellist Matthew Barley recently performed before a small audience of "hard-bitten offenders" in Winchester prison. He recounts: "As soon as I was in the room I realised that if I just started to play my cello there was no way I was going to win this lot over at all--they were tough. I sat there for a few seconds with my heart in my mouth wondering what to do. Then somebody in the crowd looked at my computer set-up and asked what software I was using, so I began talking about music technology and demonstrating how it worked. I ended playing solo Bach. A guy at the back in his sixties had tears running down his face. 'I never knew something so beautiful existed,' he said. He wasn't aware of that type of music. He'd never seen a cello in his life." [Quoted in "How to Sell Classical Music to the Masses," Times (London), March 4, 2010]

EXHIBITION: Mini Size, Maxi Quality
Masterpieces of European Painting from Dulwich Picture Gallery, Frick Collection, New York City, through May 30, 2010. There are just nine paintings in this special loan exhibition at the Frick. As well as providing pleasure in themselves, they offer art lovers yet another reason to visit Mr. Frick's mansion to view his collection again, or for the first time. Rembrandt's captivating Girl at a Window [more] [more] is the star of this show, though we must say that we find the impasto (thickly applied paint) on her left cheek more than a little distracting. (See the exhibition press release essay [search for "impasto"] on this practice.)

The Dulwich Picture Gallery, in London, is England's first public art gallery, founded in 1811.

Stamps We Can Do Without
In late December the U.S. Postal Service unveiled its 2010 Stamp Program--including a sheet on Ten Abstract Expressionists, which went on sale in March. Understandably, we were not invited to serve on the 15-member Citizens' Stamps Advisory Committee that critic Judith Dobrzynski approvingly reports selected the paintings. Lee Rosenbaum, also pro-AbEx, helpfully provides a detailed list of the ten paintings. For our part, we'll wait for the August 12 issue of the stamp honoring Winslow Homer's Boys in a Pasture [more].

Do You Avoid Avant-Garde Music? Accept the Challenge!
We quote from the program notes for a music festival sponsored last year by the Athenaeum Music & Arts Library and San Diego New Music, featuring an avant-garde chamber group appropriately called "Noise":

In their day, the music of Mozart, Beethoven, even Brahms was considered avant-garde; strange, alien and dissonant. Many devoted music lovers eschewed the new sounds in favor of the comfortably familiar. Others accepted the challenge, accessing and familiarizing themselves with music that would become classics for the ages. So it remains today, as we approach the often difficult and seemingly alien music of 20th and now 21st century composers. Without challenge there is little reward; accept it, and a new world of sensual, aural pleasure may be yours.

Seemingly alien? Listen to the Noise Quartet performing works for your aural pleasure, and decide for yourself. We especially recommend "Fear Ever Present" and "Church Car."

EXHIBITIONS: The Art of the Book in Two Extraordinary Shows
Two of the world's renowned examples of the art of manuscript illumination have long resided in New York collections. But because they are in bound books ordinary art lovers have never been able to view more than two pages at a time. Concurrent exhibitions in New York this spring offer an unprecedented opportunity to experience their riches in depth: The Art of Illumination: The Limbourg Brothers and the Belles Heures of Jean de France, Duc de Berry (Metropolitan Museum, through June 13, 2010) and Demons and Devotion: The Hours of Catherine of Cleves (Morgan Library & Museum, through May 2, 2010). Give yourself plenty of time to savor each page. And don't miss the chance to leaf through the marvelous facsimile edition of the Hours of Catherine of Cleves in the middle of the gallery at the Morgan. --M.M.K.

Meet Our Sponsors: Ann Long Fine Art
Ann Long Fine Art (Charleston, S.C.). If you enjoy classically realist contemporary art, this gallery's website is a must that rewards regular visits. Click on the image for the current exhibition, Woman, which makes us dearly wish we could be in Charleston this month. If you see it in person, let us know what you thought. (See our home page for a complete sponsor listing.)

A Bright Young Star Shines at City Ballet
Earlier this year we attended a performance of Peter Martins's full-length production of Swan Lake by the New York City Ballet and were swept away by a young dancer named Sara Mearns in the lead role of Odette/Odile. Having seen great ballerinas from Margot Fonteyn to Cynthia Gregory and Natalia Makarova in this classic role, we had high standards of comparison, and Mearns made an indelible impression from the moment of her first entrance. What is most remarkable is that she is only 23 years old. Still more amazing, she was snatched from the corps two years ago to make her debut in this part, which ballerinas so young rarely have both the technical mastery and dramatic intensity to tackle, much less do justice to. The Martins production is a rather drab affair--designed by the Danish painter Per Kirkeby in an abstract expressionist mode--but Mearns more than redeems it with her extraordinary incandescence.

My, My, How We've Grown!
March 1997: Our first online foray, when Aristos was still a print journal. January 2003: The first online issue. And now, this issue: April 2010. For the complete online Aristos archive from June 6, 1997, through October 13, 2009, see our page on the amazing Wayback Machine. See also, of course, our own archives for the print version and the online review you are now reading. You can help us continue to grow!

Butterfly at City Opera
Though I was for several years an enthusiastic subscriber, I haven't revisited New York City Opera since the disastrous hiring and abrupt departure of the Belgian impresario Gerard Mortier nearly did the company in. Now struggling to regain its former glory, City Opera is reprising one of the highlights of its past repertory, Mark Lamos's stripped-down but highly effective production of Puccini's Madama Butterfly. Having seen a very moving performance of this production two years ago (starring the Korean soprano Yunah Lee as Cio-Cio-San), I highly recommend it--apart from a departure from tradition in the final scene that seemed totally out of character for the submissive young geisha who gives up all for the love of an American naval officer, only to be forsaken by him. Nonetheless, this is a production worth seeing. --M.M.K.

Letters to the Editors
We invite readers to comment on items published in this or past issues (see the Aristos archives for examples). Letters may be edited for clarity or length, but the writer will always be consulted prior to publication.

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