Hartford Symphony Orchestra article, Hartford Advocate, 1995
“[Music] is a free art, gushing forth—an open-air art, an art boundless in the elements, the wind, the sky, the sea!” Claude Debussy
Nature has been for millennia perhaps the greatest source of inspiration for art. As the first century Roman philosopher and dramatist Seneca put it: “All art is but an imitation of nature.” More recently, the 18th century English poet Alexander Pope wrote: “All are but parts of one stupendous whole / Whose body nature is, and God the soul.” Three of the four works on the upcoming Hartford Symphony Orchestra program are directly inspired by nature, specifically bodies of water.
One of the great composers of our time, Sir Michael Tippett, will join his friend and compatriot, HSO Music Director Michael Lankester, in introducing his latest—and last— work, to Hartford audiences this week. The ninety-year-old composer’s haunting work, inspired by a lake in Senegal that changes in hue from green to pink in the noon sun, received its New York premiere last month by the Boston Symphony Orchestra at Carnegie Hall.
Although Tippett is in declining health, Lankester describes the composer as “The youngest person I know. He believes everything lies ahead. He is extremely ‘hip’!” Tippett was jailed as a pacifist during the Second World War. According to Lankester, who worked with Tippett early in his career, “What is most important is his compassion, his view on what is wrong with the human species. He is a totally free thinker, not tied to any traditions.”
Lankester will lead the orchestra on Tuesday, November 28th and Wednesday, November 29th in a program of music by Liadov, Tippett, Glazunov and Debussy. Liadov’s “The Enchanted Lake” will begin the program, followed by Tippett’s “The Rose Lake.” Violinist Leila Josefowicz will perform Glazunov’s Violin Concerto in A minor, Op. 82, and the program will conclude with Debussy’s poem of the sea, “La Mer.”
Russian composer Anatoly Liadov (1855-1914) was a shy man who lacked self-confidence, his proclivity towards laziness having been attributed to his dreamy, otherworldly nature. He began his opera Zorushkya (from which “The Enchanted Lake” is taken) around 1880, but the opera languished for decades, and was never finished. “My ideal,” Liadov said, “is to find the unearthly in art. Art is the realm of the non-existing... Give me something unreal, and I am happy.” “The Enchanted Lake,” according to the program notes by Richard E. Rodda, “evokes the light shimmering on the water’s surface and the rippling motions of ebullient nymphs playing in it depths.”
Russian composer Alexander Glazunov occupies a place in the history of Russian music between the death of Tchaikovsky and the rise of the modern school of Shostakovich and Prokofiev. His only violin concerto dates from 1904-1905. Abraham Vainus wrote of the work: “It is an excellent sample of the urbane turn-of-the-century habit of crossing melancholia with virtuoso brilliance.” Seventeen-year-old soloist Leila Josefowicz began playing the violin at the age of three, and has performed several times on national television. She was a recipient in 1994 of the prestigious Avery Fisher Career Grant.
“La Mer” by Claude Debussy (1862-1918) was begun in 1903. David Cox asserted that “‘La Mer’ is the best symphony ever written by a Frenchman.” The first section is entitled “From Dawn to Noon on the Sea,” causing the mischievous French composer Erik Satie, almost an exact contemporary of Debussy, to remark that he liked the part at quarter to eleven the best. As he was completing “La Mer,” Debussy wrote, “The sea has been very good to me. She has shown me all her moods.” Those shifting moods, reflecting the temperamental nature of the ocean, are captured beautifully in this classic work by one of the great twentieth century composers.
Sir Michael Tippett’s “The Rose Lake” was commissioned jointly by the London, Boston, and Toronto Symphony Orchestras, in celebration of the composer’s ninetieth birthday. It was on a holiday in Senegal in 1990 with a friend that Tippett discovered Le Lac Rose, whose color transformed from green to a translucent pink. The composer wrote: “The sight of it triggered a profound disturbance in me: the sort of disturbance which told me that the new orchestral work had begun.” Tippett describes the five sections of the piece, which are essentially a set of variations: “Overall one can think of the piece as manifesting a progression from dawn to dusk.” The sections are lyrically titled: “The Lake begins to sing”; “The Lake is in full song”; “The Lake Song is echoed from the sky”; “The Lake Song leaves the sky”; and “The Lake sings itself to sleep.”
Tippett is generally considered to be one of the great English composers of the century; time will tell how much of his music endures, and history will determine his place in the Pantheon of great composers. However, he has certainly made his mark with a large body of work, covering a huge range of genres: symphonies, operas, oratorios, and solo piano and chamber music. Generally considered to be a conservative composer (a stigma that Brahms also had to overcome), his work since the 1960s has branched out to include what many would consider to be avant-garde elements, including the influence of jazz, blues, rock, spirituals and, in the first movement of his fourth symphony, the amplified sound of his own breathing. His earlier work shows the influence of 17th century English composers such as Henry Purcell and John Dowland, as well as the neoclassicism of Igor Stravinsky. Operas such as “A Midsummer’s Marriage,” “King Priam,” and “The Knot Garden” have taken their place in the modern repertory, and his 1940s oratorio “A Child of Our Time” is regularly performed. A lighter work, written for the birthday of Prince Charles, has also found favor. Another well-known work is his “Fantasia Concertante on a Theme of Corelli,” a Baroque composer whose work was also paid homage to by another great contemporary English composer, Ralph Vaughan Williams. Tippett’s final work, “The Rose Lake,” is a kind of Last Will and Testament for one of the significant composers of our time.
Sir Michael Tippett will be speaking, along with Michael Lankester, about his final work, “The Rose Lake”, in a pre-concert talk at 7:00.
New Curator of African-American Art at The Wadsworth Athenaeum, Hartford Advocate, 1995
Art museums face a number of challenges in the nineties. In addition to struggling to stay afloat financially, museums across the country are redefining their mission, partially in response to changes in society. Multiculturalism has been a guiding force for cultural institutions that are seeking to broaden their base of support. Often viewed as elite, upper class, white (usually male) institutions, art museums have been struggling to reach out to a more diverse audience, and respond to the needs of a culturally diverse population.
The nation’s oldest art museum, Hartford’s Wadsworth Athenaeum, opened its doors to the public in 1844. Daniel Wadsworth (1771-1848), Hartford’s wealthiest citizen and a beloved patron of the arts, donated the land and funded the original building, and chose the architects. He also donated his carefully chosen art collection, which included works by some of the greatest painters of the day, including paintings by Wadsworth’s friend and ‘Father of the Hudson River School’ of painting, Thomas Cole.
The Athenaeum has been an innovative force on the cultural scene since its inception, not only by introducing Hartford to some of the most significant and adventuresome art in the world, but also in its programs for and about African Americans. A. Everett “Chick” Austin, named director in 1927 at the age of 26, made possible numerous innovative programs, including the inauguration of the Athenaeum’s auditorium with the world premiere of Gertrude Stein and Virgil Thomson’s avant-garde opera “Four Saints In Three Acts,” the first to include an all-black cast. In the 1960s and ‘70s, Director James Elliot organized exhibitions such as “Poets of the Cities” and “Through Young Black Eyes.”
More recently, the Amistad Foundation was created in order to facilitate the acquisition of the Simpson Collection of African American art and historical artifacts from Randolph Linsley Simpson of Northford, Connecticut.
Deirdre Bibby is the new executive director of the Amistad Foundation and curator of African-American art at the Wadsworth. “A number of people banded together to raise funds to purchase the Simpson collection, and established the organization called the Amistad Foundation, which was brought together as a non-profit to buy the collection.” That collection, one of the most significant in the country, contains approximately 6,000 objects which are on long-term loan to the museum, and which are used as the basis for exhibitions in the Amistad Foundation Gallery at the Wadsworth. The gallery, which opened in 1992, is devoted to preserving and interpreting the rich and diverse African-American cultural experience.
“My interest has to do with the collection, as well as the whole notion of partnership,” Bibby says. “The idea of a dialogue with a museum of this size is intriguing to me, as is the museum’s commitment to advance the discussion of African American art and culture. It is a profound statement.”
Bibby assumed her new position at the Wadsworth September 5th. Patrick McCaughey, the museum’s innovative Director, notes, “This is an absolutely key appointment, both for the Wadsworth Athenaeum and for art museums in New England. It is the only full-time curatorship of African-American art in any major New England museum. We are thrilled and excited at having attracted someone of Deirdre Bibby’s reputation, experience, and proven skill as curator and scholar. We look forward to a long and exciting association with her.”
Bibby’s resume is impressive. Most recently she was executive director of The Museum of African-American Art in Tampa, Florida (1991-95); from 1985-91 she was head of the Art & Artifacts Division at the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture at the New York Public Library; from 1981-85 Bibby was Associate Curator at the Studio Museum in Harlem. Other appointments include a 7-month project as Visual Arts Coordinator, Mid-Atlantic States Arts Consortium in Baltimore; Curator at the Afro-American Historical and Cultural Museum in Philadelphia; and Director and Curator at the Ile-Ife Museum of Art in Philadelphia. She received her B.F.A. in Painting in 1974 (minoring in Museum Studies) at Massachusetts College of Art in Boston; she has an M.A. in Art History from the City University of New York; and she received a Certificate from the Museum Management Institute at UC Berkeley in 1993. She has received several honors, including inclusion in two volumes of “Who’s Who,” has organized at least a half dozen major exhibitions, and has published and lectured extensively.
One of Bibby’s goals is to make the collection better known within the local and regional community, and to provide access to it once it is cataloged. “Hopefully, we will be able to attract researchers. The collection is a tremendous resource for early 19th and 20th century artifacts. There is a need to make the collection more accessible; I want to organize traveling exhibitions. I think this partnership represents a model that smaller programs can use to advance their cause, such as colleges or alternative spaces. This is a win-win situation; the Wadsworth Athenaeum is providing a mechanism for the Amistad Foundation to advance its mission, to make that body of material available. It is also a major benefit for the museum; the collection has a subject body of material that responds to the community of Hartford. This museum is in a diverse community, and the collection has an obvious relation to this constituency.”
“Funding and staffing are standard challenges,” Bibby says. “There seems to be a vitality that I want to move along with. My greatest challenge is to balance my time so we can put forward the collection, through residential exhibitions and other programs. Hopefully, there will be continued support of this museum through an increase in the membership body, who feel that they have a vested interest.
“What is important here is that there is a dialogue; we are speaking to the community at large—black and white. If they have access, they need to understand the context. That will help bring diverse groups together. Museums are tremendous in terms of their power to change lives. This has to do with education, as well as esthetic excitement. The museum provides access to history, and also presents that history.”
The Wadsworth, like any museum, recognizes that in order to survive financially, it must broaden its base of support. Bibby says that through the turmoil of the sixties, the drying up of funding through the NEA, and shrinking corporate support in the eighties, museums, including the Athenaeum, must be creative in order to articulate who is going to support the museum, and reach out to them. African Americans represent a majority in Hartford, so it is only logical that the museum should reach out to them.
Bibby is excited about the possibilities of continuing to develop a partnership between the Wadsworth and the African-American community. “I have talked to colleagues and artists; people are genuinely excited that things will grow. I feel excitement and vitality.”
Both the Amistad Gallery and the Fleet Gallery of African-American art will open in new spaces in January 1996, after the million-dollar renovation of the main entrance lobby is completed next month. The new lobby will be dedicated during the Festival of Trees Preview Party, an annual black-tie Holiday event, the evening of December first, and will open to the public the following day.
“I am excited about the reopening of the Amistad Foundation and Fleet galleries,” Bibby says. “I’ m delighted to be here. I simply continue to look forward to the challenge of developing the collection, and implementing programs. There is an opportunity to take a critical look at the work of the artists we will be presenting. Some exciting things are happening.”
Violinist Chee-Yun Performance Preview, Hartford Advocate, 1995
Violinist Chee-Yun is living the kind of life most of us only dream of. A former child prodigy, she is successful creatively, commercially, and critically. She jets around the world, delighting crowds with her beauty, charm and masterful musicianship. Best of all, she is down-to-earth, humble, and genuinely appreciative of her success. She is also a good daughter.
Chee-Yun is coming to New Britain, Connecticut on Saturday, October 21 to perform the Violin Concerto of Felix Mendelssohn—himself a child prodigy and gifted violinist—with the Farmington Valley Symphony Orchestra. Gramophone Magazine said of Chee-Yun’s interpretation of this classic work: “Chee-Yun’s Mendelssohn, full of sparkle and imagination, goes readily to the top of the list of recommended versions. Her tone is sweet and full, her playing wonderfully polished, her feeling for Mendelssohn’s line and phrase quite extraordinarily sure.”
Chee-Yun, a native of Seoul, Korea who makes her home in New York City, says she is looking forward to returning to Connecticut; she replaced the great violinist Isaac Stern at one of last year’s FVSO concerts at Miss Porter’s School in Farmington. “I ran into students of my teacher in Korea,” she said in a recent interview. “Some of them were studying at Julliard. It was great because I was playing in front of all these bright young girls.” Chee-Yun came to New York from Korea in 1980 at the age of 12 to study at Julliard.
Chee-Yun’s brief career has been extraordinary. In 1985—at the age of 15— she was soloist with the New York String Orchestra under Alexander Schneider at Carnegie Hall, and the Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C. In 1988 she won First Prize in the Concerto Competition at Julliard. The following year she made her debut as a recitalist in New York. In 1990 she was awarded the prestigious Avery Fisher Career Grant, and that summer studied with Rudolf Serkin and Alexander Schneider at the Marlboro Music Festival in Vermont. In 1993, Chun-Yee returned to Korea to receive the “Nan Pa” award, Korea’s highest musical honor. In March of ‘93 she released her debut album of virtuoso encore pieces, to critical acclaim (her second CD is a collection of French violin sonatas; her latest, Sonatas of Szymanowski and Franck, is reviewed below). 1993 was a big year for the young virtuoso; she performed the Mendelssohn Concerto with Gerard Schwartz at the Mostly Mozart Festival in New York. That summer she toured Japan with Michael Tilson Thomas where she gave the Japanese premiere of Lou Harrison’s Suite for solo violin and American Gamelan. As if that weren’t enough, Chee-Yun was invited to perform at the White House for the Clintons and other notables. In June 1994 she was invited by Isaac Stern to play at the farewell concert in Washington for Mstislav Rostropovich, one of the century’s great cellists and director of the American Symphony Orchestra, along with Stern, Jean-Pierre Rampal and Yo-Yo Ma. This season she will make her debut in Israel on a six-concert tour with the Haifa Symphony. Not bad for someone who is just 25.
Bernard Holland of the New York Times said of Chee-Yun: “This is a talented instrumentalist, with the kind of high-gloss tone that pulls sensuously at the listener’s ear.” The Sunday Times, London, proclaimed: “Chee-Yun is becoming one of the most talented—and in demand—violinists in the US.” With all the fanfare, it was refreshing to discover how unpretentious and charming this young woman is.
Chun-Yee has two older sisters and an older brother. The oldest sister studied piano at Julliard, which inspired Chee-Yun to come to New York. Her father traded an import & export business of “Special Steel” in Korea for a liquor store at 11th Street & 2nd Avenue in New York to be near his daughter at Julliard. Her mother emigrated to New York ten years ago to provide a safe environment for her family. Chee-Yun is very close to her mother, and visits her every week at her New Jersey home.
Chee-Yun started playing the violin at the age of six, and made her public debut at the age of eight in Seoul, after winning the Grand Prize of the Korean Times Competition.
I asked her what it was like to receive the prestigious “Nan Pa” award. “It was sort of a surprise. I was not ready to receive [it], although it was very nice. It was the biggest honor; when my teacher was receiving the award, I thought, when I was 40, maybe, I would get it.”
I asked her about playing at the White House. “It was a really nice surprise.” The day before the White House performance, she was scheduled to be performing in Phoenix, and would arrive in D.C. by 3 pm the day of the festivities. “I had 2 hours of sleep before playing. I was nervous; President Clinton and the vice president were there. They moved the podium for me, otherwise no one could see me.” She was clearly amused that the President and Vice President of the United States were moving furniture around for her.
When I asked if the heavy demands of her touring and performing schedule were exhausting, she seemed unfazed. “I love it. I can’t imagine doing anything else. Not all of my performances are up to my satisfaction, but I have the next time to prove I can do better. I’m the happiest person in the whole world at that moment [when I’m performing]. It’s addictive. I forget about all the hard work. [When you perform] you feel like you’ve reached out to a lot of people; it’s a really nice feeling, and I feel that much better about myself. I’m very insecure. I’m much happier when I’m performing.” When she starts to feel sorry for herself, she says, “I kick myself in my butt; I am so fortunate, there are so many talented musicians who were not as fortunate.”
Chee-Yun shrugs off the suggestion that she is a celebrity. “I look forward to many more years working with great musicians. I don’t think I am a celebrity. I try not to think too much about it. That’s when you start to go downhill. You get big-headed, lose perspective, become not very pleasant to be around. Many of the greatest musicians are humble; I think that’s why they are so great. People can see through you. My mission is to reach out to as many people as possible, and bring classical music close to their lives.”
Chee-Yun is particularly fond of the Romantic composers, but has also worked with some of the outstanding contemporary composers. “I love Mendelssohn—this is my favorite repertoire.” Referring to the Lou Harrison piece she will be premiering in Japan: “It’s neat. Lou Harrison is like a big Santa Claus, a nice guy. His music is influenced by Asian music. He studied traditional Korean music for 10 years.”
Fortunately, young performers like Chun-Yee are willing to stretch a bit to perform some of the more demanding repertoire. “I premiered Peter Lieberson’s “Suite for Violin and Piano” this past June with Peter Serkin,” a pianist she describes as “a genius, a really neat person, down to earth—no ‘attitude’ whatsoever. He had incredible patience with me. Peter Lieberson’s piece seemed at first impossible to play.” But she stuck with it, and says of the experience, “I became more confident with my playing after that. Peter Serkin and Peter Lieberson are a great team, they’re great friends. I felt like my artistry had made a quantum jump [working with them].”
Asked if she has recorded Beethoven’s violin concerto, Chun-Yee responded, “I played it, but will not record it in the near future. I’ll perform it when I’m a little older and more mature.”
At Julliard, Chun-Yee has been privileged to work with some of the finest teachers in the world, including Dorothy DeLay. “She was my primary reason for coming to Julliard. She’s a wonderful teacher. She taught me a lot about life, about the music business. She was like a grandmother. At first I was intimidated by her, since she had taught Midori, Itzhak Perlman, Nadia Salerno-Sonnenberg, Gil Shaham.”
On her accompanist, Akira Eguchi: “He’s wonderful; [when I first heard him] he blew my mind away. He’s gonna be a great name.”
Chee-Yun plays a 1669 Rugieri, which she describes as “fabulous; I love my instrument. I’m lucky to have a patron. She was very supportive of my career; she knew I had no money. She volunteered to help.”
Chee-Yun returns to Korea every year, visits with elementary school friends, and eats lots of Korean food. Much of her family is still there, and she takes her mom with her so she can visit old friends. “I go to Japan annually. My career has taken off in Japan recently. Japan has been good to me. I was there in November for three weeks with the St. Petersburg Camerata, and I’m going to Korea in December.”
Chee-Yun plans to keep New York as a base of operations, for now. “I would love to live in Connecticut when I’m married and settled down. I don’t want to raise kids in the city.”
In her free time Chee-Yun reads, goes out with friends, goes dancing, shopping, and eats some more Korean food. “The Restaurant guide book is one of my favorite books.”
She enjoys several of the museums in New York, but “MoMA [The Museum of Modern Art] is my favorite.” One of her favorite artists is the Spanish Surrealist Salvador Dali. “He was an artist who had the perfect technique.” In high school she took a fine arts class, where she developed an appreciation for fractals, those images created by mathematically-based patterning, usually computer-generated, that bear striking resemblances to natural forms.
There have been many allusions to the relationship between music and mathematics, from the mystical ruminations of Pythagoras to investigations of the marvelous complexity of Johann Sebastian Bach’s music, to contemporary musical investigations using computers. Chee-Yun has tapped into a seemingly miraculous synergy between the mathematical, rational demands of learning some of the world’s most complex music and the intuitive, natural flow of creative expression. This is the mark of a great artist. It will be instructive and fascinating to see what she will do next.
Paul H. Jimerson is a writer and artist who lives in Massachusetts’ Pioneer Valley.
Chee-Yun CD Review
Chee-Yun, Violin/Akira Eguchi, piano; Szymanowski & Franck Violin Sonatas, Denon (CO-78954).
Right from the dramatic opening double stop of the Szymanowski sonata, Chee-Yun lets us know she is in control of the music. Her playing is impassioned but restrained, meaning we get to really feel the music without feeling we are listening to a bravado performance. Her control of her instrument is remarkable; there is no tenuousness. It is a serenely beautiful performance. The ensemble playing between Akira Eguchi and Chee-Yun is perfect. There is no tension between the players, but a serenity and wonderful interlacing of sound. A Sonata is, after all, for two instruments, and the piano part is just as important in the Szymanowski as the violin part. Eguchi’s opening of the well-known Franck sonata is delicately lyrical, and both players breathe new life into a somewhat tired old classic. Chee-Yun manages to make the violin seem to imitate the human voice, calling forth a kind of plaintiveness that is the essence of Romanticism.
Paul H. Jimerson
Theater Reviews, Daily Hampshire Gazette, Northampton, Massachusetts, 1995
“Tales from the Flats...”
Kidney Mime Theatre
“Vito On The Beach,” “Ask A Nice Girl”
Anyone who has taken even a cursory glance at the arts listings for the Pioneer Valley knows that there is a preponderance of great events happening continuously. There is almost too much to keep track of, let alone attend. In this column, I will pick a few outstanding events or exhibitions to give you some sense of what’s out there.
Each column will have a theme; Painting, Photography, Dance, Poetry, Music. For this first foray, I have focused on several exciting theatre events coming up this weekend.
Holyoke is one of those towns that doesn’t get a whole lot of respect. Hispanic residents, who comprise 31% of Holyoke’s population, are beset by prejudice, misunderstanding, and worse. Back in the late 1980s, one of the huge trash burning conglomerates tried to build an incinerator in the Hispanic section of town; the local people fought it and won.
Holyoke is a rich and diverse community. This weekend, the Fine Arts Center at UMass will present “Tales From the Flats: Colors y Familias” by the prominent New York playwright Sandra Rodriguez. It’s a two-part play, created through improvisation just six weeks before its debut this past July in Holyoke, and tells the stories of Latinos in Holyoke, using monologues, dances, and rap-style speeches. The first part, “Colors,” addresses issues of youth gang violence and friendships; “Familias” deals with Latino issues between children and parents.
Directed by Gloria Zelaya, the play seeks to create a vivid picture of life in Holyoke’s Hispanic community. “Tales From the Flats” is the result of the Latino Theatre project, part of the New World Theater, which is in residence at UMass’ Fine Arts Center. One of their goals is to use theatre “as a tool to reflect, bring together, and stimulate local communities.” The Springfield Advocate has called the play “...High-spirited, fast-paced and well acted.”
Another issue-oriented event, which takes a somewhat lighter approach, and is aimed at children and their families, is The Kidney Mime Theatre, “An Evening of Hilarious Family Fun,” being presented this weekend at The Hartsbrook School in Hadley. Michael Kidney, the heart and brains of “Kidney,” says the presentation is not just pure silliness, but that about two-thirds of the sketches have “elaborate stories with messages of hope,” and deal with such topics as loneliness, substance abuse, and self-respect. One sketch deals with a teenager who is shy about making a call to someone of the opposite gender. “It portrays the struggles a teen might have making that call,” says Kidney, and after being hung up on, being “shot out of the water,” it addresses the issue of “trying to find some way to find joy in [the character’s] regular life without relying on someone else,” a lesson we would all do well to learn. The theme is “finding joy in aloneness, as opposed to loneliness.” The 90-minute performance also has sketches about a burglar who finds that crime does pay, but in “unusual” ways; a senior citizen who recovers his self-esteem; and there will be a farewell in Native American sign language. The Michigan Free Press said of The Kidney Mime Theatre: “More involving than dance....more beautiful than theatre.”
The now legendary Peter Schaffer play “Equus,” made into a film by Sydney Lumet in 1977 starring Peter Firth as the troubled boy and Richard Burton as his troubled psychiatrist, is a psychosexual thriller. Hampshire College’s upcoming production, directed by Hampshire student Mary Whithed, will be “a departure from linear narrative,” according to Hampshire Theatre Department’s Ellen Jones. It is an expressionist play in which people play the parts of the horses, and deals with “adult themes,” which in this culture means “sex.” The New Yorker described “Equus” as a “continuously exciting dance of exploration through the mind of a boy who loves horses, worships the quality of ‘horseness,’ and commits a dreadful crime in the name of that worship.” It is difficult to describe the plot without spoiling the effect, so I will just encourage you to see this disturbing and suspenseful play for yourself.
Another event coming to the University this weekend is the presentation of two one-act plays, “Vito on the Beach” by Samuel Schwartz and “Ask A Nice Girl” by Jack Neary, at the Curtain Theater, Fine Arts Center. Both directors, Laura Tischler and Sam Rush, are second-year students in the graduate directing program at UMass. Both plays are comedies that deal with the nature of facades. “Vito” is a two-character play about the relationship of an ex-fighter and the artist he hires to paint his “final portrait.” It is set on a bare stage with no props, and deals with getting beyond the facades we put up to keep people out. “Ask” is an “out-and-out comedy,” according to director Sam Rush, who runs New Century Theatre in Northampton with the play’s author. The story involves a community cable TV talk show set in Worcester, whose theme is “The art of being and finding nice girls.” The show breaks down the “esthetic distance,” the audience in the theatre becoming the talk show audience. Rush says, “the audience is expected to participate in this show, kind of like a Riki Lake show.”
“Tales from the Flats” can be seen October 13 & 14, in Bowker Auditorium, UMass, at 8pm (545-2511, or 1-800-999-UMAS); “Kidney Mime Theatre” will be at The Hartsbrook School in Hadley, 173 Bay Road, October 14 at 7pm (586-1908); “Equus” is at Hampshire College October 12-15 and 19-21 on the main stage, Emily Dickinson Hall at 8pm (549-4600); and “Vito on the Beach” and “Ask A Nice Girl” will be presented October 11-14 at 8pm in The Curtain Theatre, Fine Arts Center, UMass (545-3490).
Nigel Coxe Piano Recital, Daily Hampshire Gazette, 1995
The great twentieth century playwright Antonin Artaud once wrote about the difference between live theatre and film, describing an almost mystical relationship between the audience and performer that he claimed is not a part of the film-going experience. We are so used to watching movies and television, and mindlessly absorbing their influences, that it is easy to forget the power and importance of live performances.
Walt Whitman wrote: “To have great poets, there must be great audiences.” Probably the most important quality of a great audience is attentiveness, and not necessarily knowledge, although the more one knows, the more one is likely to be attentive and receptive to the work.
Nigel Coxe, a well-known local pianist and teacher who has had a great deal of experience presenting music, believes the audience “plays an important part” in the performance. “Some audiences are rather dead and unresponsive,” he says, and that makes it difficult to get across to them. “Some can help you to play in a special way,” by their attentiveness and presence. “Each person has an effect; they are more participatory than they realize.”
John Cage, one of the most remarkably innovative composers and performers of the 20th century, wrote: “The structure we should think about is that of each person in the audience...[whose] consciousness is structuring the experience differently from anybody else’s.”
Mr. Coxe will be presenting a program of works by Bach, Debussy, Bartok and Chopin on Saturday, September 30th at 8pm at Bezanson Recital Hall at the University of Massachusetts, and will explain in a personal way, prior to each piece, how these seemingly disparate composers are related. “Since program notes are often not read,” Coxe says, “I like to tell people a little about the music, generate a spark of interest. The current program is unusual in that it combines what might look at first sight as if I just threw a lot of pieces together. However, underlying it is a certain logic or attitude.”
The program begins with one of the French Suites by Bach, an atypical work by the great Baroque master, which, according to Coxe, is not often played. Jumping from the 17th to the 20th century, he will perform a beloved work by Claude Debussy, the suite “Pour la Piano,” which is “his first mature work for piano,” a piece in which Debussy came into his own, a very original piece, which Coxe says is an homage to the Baroque era. “We think of Debussy as a great Impressionist, but he was conscious of his roots.”
The Bartok work, “Improvisations,” is composed of eight short movements, the seventh an elegy to the memory of Debussy.
Also on the program will be Chopin’s “Fantasie,” opus 49. “A fantasy suggests something very free, but it is structured,” Coxe remarks. “Chopin felt his music was based on Bach and Mozart, and Chopin instructed his students to start their day playing Bach.”
Commenting about how he organizes a recital, the pianist notes, “Variety and contrast are more interesting to me; I hope it will be interesting for the audience. The program has suites, fantasies... and Bach is a kind of lynchpin.” Coxe likes to put together musical works that have some contrast, and also some “interior” relationships.
Nigel Coxe was born in Jamaica, and at the age of 14 traveled to England on a musical scholarship. He served in the British army, which he says everyone did in the 1950s. He was a professor at the Royal Academy of Music, and was later elected a Fellow there. After associations with several smaller American schools, including Smith College, Marlboro College in Vermont, and a small college in Alabama, Coxe came to UMass several years ago. “I don’t teach properly unless I’m playing,” he says, “and I don’t play properly unless I’m teaching—they feed each other.” Teaching a great deal is a limitation, he says, because “teaching takes a lot out of one.”
“We live in a time when music is easily available to many people,” Coxe says, and most people “don’t realize what goes into one piece of music.” Coxe’s recital promises to be a fascinating explication of not only what goes into the creation of a piece of music, but how various styles and eras in music are related.
The recital will be dedicated to the memory of distinguished piano technician and student of Nigel Coxe, Tom Malone, who worked on pianos at Amherst, Williams, and Mount Holyoke Colleges, and the University of Massachusetts at Amherst. Malone received the Baldwin Fellowship, which enabled him to work with pianos at Tanglewood and tune for some of the great musicians of the century, including Leonard Bernstein.