Sunday, April 11, 2010

Djesben at Adams-Morgan's Bossa

For a long time I was curious about the World-Groove-Jazz group Djesben (“JESS-ben”) where Wanchuk's friend Christian sings and plays Appalachian dulcimer. Tonight they performed at Bossa Bistro and Lounge in Adams-Morgan at 7:30pm, so I walked up there when it was a little past 7pm. I had not been to Bossa before nor had I attended such kinds of performances (I mean, non-classical ones), so I was not sure how the whole thing was going to work out. Fortunately, I saw Christian right at the entrance; we chatted a bit, and then I went inside, ordered a glass of red wine, and started looking for a table. The venue was small, and it was not very crowded but almost all tables close to the stage were occupied. I found a good seat though. The atmosphere was very casual; and the people, friendly. I usually have great difficulties talking to people I don't know but to my great surprise this time I found myself easily chatting with my neighbors.

The show began, and it was very enjoyable.
Djesben is a trio of multi-instrumentalists whose diverse backgrounds guarantee to delight with a variety of styles: jazz standards, bebop and bossa nova, as well as original tunes influenced by music from around the globe. The instruments of Djesben are not those of the typical jazz trio
Topher Dunne plays the Chapman Stick, a 10-string tapping instrument with the range of a piano.
Katy Gaughan plays a battery of percussion centered around her conga drums, the tall, wide-bellied hand drums of Latin music.
Christian Crowley plays the dulcimer, a small stringed instrument from the Appalachian mountains that can be strummed like a guitar or bowed like a violin.
All three have been known to sing, usually led by the dulcet tones of Mr. Crowley. Other instruments played by Djesben members in concert settings have included violin, viola, accordion, harp, guitar, bass, pennywhistle, hammer dulcimer, and some double Stick work.
By 7:30pm the club was full of people, and everyone was enthusiastic and appreciative. Check out their future performances:

After Djessben's performance I walked over the Duke Ellington bridge to the Woodley Park-Zoo station and took the metro home. It was a long and productive day.

Three exhibitions at the National Gallery

When the Interval meeting ended it was about 10pm in St. Petersburg but only 2pm in DC. I decided to go to the National Gallery where I knew there were two exhibitions I was interested in. The NGA is open until 6pm on Sundays which makes Sunday a perfect day to go there if you work Mon-Fri.
I first went to see The Sacred Made Real: Spanish Painting and Sculpture, 1600–1700, the exhibition that
showcase[s] major paintings by Diego Velázquez, Francisco de Zurbarán, and Francisco Pacheco, with painted and gilded sculptures carved by Gregorio Fernández, Juan Martínez Montañés, and Pedro de Mena, among others. The exhibition […] reveal[s] the dynamic and intricate relationship between two-dimensional pictures on canvas and painted sculptures. Many of the sculptures have never been exhibited away from the Spanish churches, convents, and monasteries where they continue to be venerated and to inspire the faithful.

Gregorio Fernández (1576–1636)
and unknown painter
Ecce Homo
before 1621
painted wood, glass, and cloth
Museo Diocesano y Catedralicio, Valladolid
Image courtesy National Gallery of Art,
Washington, DC
Juan Martínez Montañés (1568–1649)
and Francisco Pacheco (1564–1644)
Saint Francis Borgia
c. 1624
painted wood and cloth stiffened with glue size
Church of the Anunciación, Seville University
Image courtesy National Gallery of Art,
Washington, DC
Francisco de Zurbarán (1598–1664)
Saint Serapion
oil on canvas
Wadsworth Atheneum Museum of Art, Hartford, Connecticut,
The Ella Gallup Sumner and Mary Catlin Sumner Collection Fund
Image courtesy National Gallery of Art, Washington, DC

I then walked from the East Building where the Spanish exhibition was located to the West Building to see Hendrick Avercamp: The Little Ice Age.
In the first exhibition devoted to Dutch landscape artist Hendrick Avercamp (1585–1634), scenes of skating, sleigh rides, and outdoor games on frozen canals and waterways bring to life the lively pastimes and day-to-day bustle of the Golden Age. Displayed in the intimate Dutch Cabinet Galleries, some 14 paintings and 16 drawings capture the harsh winters of the period and the activities they made possible. Avercamp—the first artist to specialize in painting winter landscapes that feature people enjoying themselves on the ice—made the “ice scene” a genre in its own right. Within these winter scenes is a social narrative as well: unencumbered by status, all classes formed one community on the ice. Avercamp was also an outstanding draftsman who made individual figure studies that he utilized not only in his painted work but also in compositional drawings.

A Winter Scene with Skaters near a Castle
c. 1608–1609
oil on panel
The National Gallery, London
Image courtesy National Gallery of Art, Washington, DC

Colf Players on the Ice
c. 1625
oil on panel
Mrs. Edward Speelman
Image courtesy National Gallery of Art, Washington, DC

A Winter Scene
c. 1610–1620
oil on panel
National Gallery of Ireland, Dublin
Image courtesy National Gallery of Art, Washington, DC

Whenever I go to the National Gallery I always pay homage to two paintings: Rembrandt's Self Portrait and Dalí's Last Supper. The Rembrandt is at the Gallery 48, right next to the Dutch Cabinet Galleries where the Avercamp exhibition is installed. Sometimes the painting is away, on loan to another museum, but fortunately this time it was there. I always feel a sense of a family member missing whenever this portrait is traveling.
I then headed downstairs to the Concourse between the West and the East Buildings, turned to the little corner by the elevator where I expected to see the Dalí and was stunned to find an empty wall there. I went back to the Information at the West Building and was told that the painting has been moved to the Mezzanine level at the East Building, by the huge elevator there. I turned back and finally found the The Sacrament of the Last Supper … hanging just opposite to the entrance to The Sacred Made Real: Spanish Painting and Sculpture, 1600–1700 exhibition where I had started today!

There was still about an hour before closing. I checked the list of exhibitions and took the Concourse back to the East Building to see From Impressionism to Modernism: The Chester Dale Collection on the first floor. What a surprise this was! In my ignorance I had no idea that a vast majority of my favorite 20th century artworks at the National Gallery have come from the Chester Dale's collection.
Diego Rivera
Chester Dale, 1945
oil on canvas
Chester Dale Collection
Image courtesy National Gallery of Art, Washington, DC
Chester Dale's magnificent bequest to the National Gallery of Art in 1962 included a generous endowment as well as one of America's most important collections of French painting from the late 19th and early 20th centuries. This special exhibition, the first in 45 years to explore the extraordinary legacy left to the nation by this passionate collector, features some 83 of his finest French and American paintings.

Among the masterpieces on view are Jean-Baptiste-Camille Corot's Forest of Fontainebleau (1834), Auguste Renoir's A Girl with a Watering Can (1876), Mary Cassatt's Boating Party (1893/1894), Edouard Manet's Old Musician (1862), Pablo Picasso's Family of Saltimbanques (1905), and George Bellows' Blue Morning (1909). Other artists represented include Paul Cézanne, Edgar Degas, Vincent van Gogh, Henri Matisse, Amedeo Modigliani, and Claude Monet.

Dale was an astute businessman who made his fortune on Wall Street in the bond market. He thrived on forging deals and translated much of this energy and talent into his art collecting. He served on the board of the National Gallery of Art from 1943 and as president from 1955 until his death in 1962. Portraits of Dale by Salvador Dalí and Diego Rivera are included in the show, along with portraits of Dale's wife Maud (who greatly influenced his interest in art) painted by George Bellows and Fernand Léger.
My jaw dropped to the floor and remained there as I was walking from room to room to room filled by my favorite masterpieces. And get this: that Dalí painting that I had just gone to see? It was none other than Chester Dale who urged Dalí to create The Sacrament of the Last Supper, which he later purchased and bequeathed to the National Gallery of Art!!! Isn't it fascinating how everything has tied together at my visit to the museum today?
Chester Dale and Salvador Dalí at the preview of The Sacrament of the Last Supper
on Easter weekend

March 30, 1956
National Gallery of Art, Gallery Archives
Image courtesy National Gallery of Art, Washington, DC

“Interval” biweekly meeting

For the past few months I've been participating — via Skype — in biweekly meeting of the music club Interval in St. Petersburg, Russia. The club, founded by and continuously led for almost 40 years by its leader — musicologist and composer Abram Grigor'evich Yusfin (A.G.) — now meets every other Sunday. Between 1988 and 1992 when I left for the US I tried to attend every Interval meeting. It is great that now, 18 years later, I can do so again via Skype! And the most amazing thing is that it is as if there were no temporal gap: the spirit is the same, and so are the people.

This time, after the usual review of the latest cultural happenings in Russia in general and in St. Petersburg in particular, the conversation involved several topics:
  • Is it necessary for an artist to consider himself a genius (not necessarily in a public way but at last internally) in order to realize his creative potential? Yes for some (Zhukovsky, Tchaikovsky) but No for others (Shostakovitch)
  • How, in the world over-saturated with information, do we choose what to listen to and what to read? Friends' recommendations? Reviews of the critics we trust?
  • In his context A.G. asserted the value of a printed book/score as an artifact whose physical attributes can communicate some essential aspects of the intellectual work it contains. He said that its purely electronic downloadable manifestation is somewhat impoverished because it lacks those physical attributes. He claimed that he could tell certain things about a book without even opening it. To check his claim, Slava gave him a book he was carrying and challenged him to assess it. A.G. took the book in his hands and without looking at its front or ever opening it said that it contained some engaging stories. It turned out that this was a history book with some interesting anecdotes. Go figure…
  • How do we know that the artists who a tradition says are the pillars of culture are really who it says they are? What if we are just conditioned from the childhood to admire the music of those who were accidentally/arbitrarily selected by a certain elite? But then there are consensuses: it is hardly an accident that Chopin was championed by the likes of Liszt and Mendelssohn
  • How do we know that equally talented composers were not forgotten because of vagaries of their fate? A.G. suggested that one of the future sessions could be dedicated to the “forgotten” and “semi-forgotten” composers (Fomin, Rubinstein, Mosolov, Lurye)
  • What role does an interpreter/performer play in making certain composers famous?
  • Does quantity translate into quality when it comes to listening: if one has five sets of all 100+ Haydn's symphonies does this make him a more appreciative and discerning listener?
  • Kasimkhan mentioned in passing Scarlatti as an example of the second-tier composer but I said that the recent ABT performance of Alexei Ratmansky's Seven Sonatas with a pianist on stage playing seven sonatas by Domenico Scarlatti made me reevaluate Scarlatti's music as being deep, contemplative, and transparently simple, in a good sense.

Thank god (and those Estonian guys) for Skype!

Saturday, April 10, 2010

Garth Fagan Dance

Having spent a few hours at the nicely climate-controlled office I headed out to Virginia. A good acquaintance who's doing his PhD at the George Mason University offered me a free ticket to the Garth Fagan Dance performance at the Center for the Arts there.

I saw Garth Fagan's troupe several years before, and I was fairly impressed back then. I was looking forward to seeing them again, and to say I was not disappointed would be a severe understatement. The three-part program offered a representative view of Mr. Fagan's oeuvre, from 1981 Prelude to 2001 Translation/Transition. Astonishingly, the 1981 piece still looks choreographically fresh and vibrant. But the highlight of the evening for me was the second part, Mudan 175/39, with the score featuring the works by contemporary Chinese American composers Zhou Long, Tan Dun, and Lei Liang. The beauty of geometric and spacial patterns created by groups of dancers was accentuated by their stunningly sleek and colorful costumes, and the unmistakable Faganesque choreography featuring dancers in a stunning balancing acts was in harmony with the tonally and rhythmically complex musical pieces. The overall impression was simply mesmerizing.

Copyright 2009 The New York Times Company

Fagan is one of those rare artists, like Cunningham or Taylor, who have managed to invent their own recognizable choreographic vocabulary. The venue at Mason in nice but, truly, his company should be performing at the Kennedy Center.

Photos: Garth Fagan Dance

Today's highlight: I was very grateful to my acquaintance for bringing me to such a great performance. He recently returned from the trip to his native China, and he surprised me by bringing a couple of very nice presents for me: a bookmark with a plate that resembles a particular face makeup in Chinese opera, and a decoration featuring Sun Wukong, a main character in the classical Chinese epic novel Journey to the West (西遊記).

Birthday present for my brother

My brother is going to be 50 soon, and I had been thinking about a birthday present. Having come up with no bright ideas I gave up: I called him today and asked what he would like. He said that a Kandinsky album would be something he'd like to have. After reviewing what's available I picked the one that had the most color illustrations. The authors are German, so hopefully it was printed in Germany: the fidelity of color images is usually better in the books printed there, and my brother, being an amateur painter himself, is very sensitive to the true reproduction of colors.

I had the book gift-wrapped and shipped directly to my brother. Thanks Jeff Bezos for!

ChALLERGY Blossom. Complaint Choir of DC. Catching up with Wanchuk

Spring in Washington, DC can be a beautiful time, with the Cherry Blossom festival, etc., but for me it's the worst season: flowers and trees are in full bloom, and so are my allergies — fueled by ubiquitous and exuberant pollen.

Every morning I wake up with my eyes red and itchy and with the lids glued together with some tear-based liquid the exact nature of which I don't want to know. After I manage to unstick my eyes and glance in the mirror what stares back at me is a red-eyed monster looking as if he was drinking all night long. If only ... All night long I was trying to get some sleep, in vain.

To pull myself together I have to take all these drugs: Flonase, to spray it into the nostrils; Elestat, to drop it into the eyes; Allegra, a pill to swallow; and then sometimes Albuterol, to be able to breathe ...

And then some are surprised when I say I prefer snow to this Chermageddon. What's so surprising? Have you ever heard of anyone allergic to snow? It's a no-brainer, people, don't you understand?!

Worst thing is: the condo does not switch the A/C on until later, so I face an unenviable choice: keep the windows closed and suffocate of heat or keep them open and suffocate of my respiratory system shutting down because of insufferable pollen.

Thankfully, I have a job; and there is a climate control system at the office. I plan to go there later today, work for a while (and enjoy the breathable environment), and then leave from there for the Garth Fagan Dance show.

The office is just three metro stops away. But then there are bastards that light up while standing on the metro escalators and couldn't care less that their fetid smoke inevitably spreads behind them, and that people with respiratory problems or just an allergy are not necessarily in a position to run up the escalator to get ahead of those selfish idiots.

Today's highlight: I've learned that — finally — Washington, DC has joined the great valitskuoro (Complaints Choir of the World) movement. Glory Hallelujah! Check out our “local chapter”: Complaints Choir of Washington, DC  and their video:

I have finally caught up with Wanchuk on Skype. He is now in Bern, Switzerland: slightly under the weather and shocked by Swiss prices (surprize, surprize).