Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Paintings by Dov Talpaz

A few years ago, I encountered the work of a young artist named Dov Talpaz as part of a show put up by a group of fellow art school colleagues.

His work is representational, often drawing on literary themes. Serious in tone, figural yet abstract, inventive in color and perspective, cohesive in vision, Talpaz is an artistic descendant of El Greco and Edvard Munch. Each picture's narrative is emotional or psychological rather than active, and is expressed through color, form, and perspective. His strongest work reveals characters caught up in the inevitable and personal workings of their fate. They seem to display themselves to us in intimate acceptance of their condition. We empathize and yet understand that their world is not our world. We can only see each other only through the window of the artist's imagination.

Dov currently has a show in New York City, details below. It only runs through September 3rd, so you'll have to hurry to catch it. I highly recommend it.

Paintings by Dov Talpaz

August 23 - September 3, 2008

Opening reception Saturday, August 23, 6- 9 pm.

Manhattan World Culture Open Center

19W 26th Street, 5th floor (between Broadway & 6th Ave.) New York, NY

Gallery hours:

Open on Monday and Friday, 12 – 6 pm.

Saturday, 2.30 - 6 pm. Wednesday and Thursday

by appointment, Please call 212.244.7200.

For more info you can write to dubitalpaz@walla.com

or call 718.789.7920

Sunday, August 24, 2008

"Fear not, Mary!"

Et incarnatus est
De Spiritu Sancto
Ex Maria Virgine,
Et homo factus est.

And was incarnate
by the Holy Ghost
of the Virgin Mary,
and was made man.

When Mozart set these words from the CREDO in his C Minor Mass, K. 427, he created a remarkably human way of understanding this central miracle of Christianity, extrapolating from the text—the way a great preacher does—to reveal deep truths.

Et incarnatus est, these lines of the Mass, rote and dry from weekly incantation, suggest a direct yet mystical congress between Mary and various parts of The Trinity. To become pregnant by the Holy Spirit and give birth to the Son of God is certainly no routine miracle, and Mozart proposes a musical realization of this spiritual - corporeal union, giving voice to Mary's sacred acceptance in this mystical moment.

The work is set for soprano solo, accompanied by strings with an obbligato trinity of flute, oboe, and bassoon. Graciously opening with the trio of winds, the soprano answers their greeting with a simple, chant-like melody. The winds begin to woo, encircling the soprano in a beautiful cloud of contrapuntal caresses. The music of the wind instruments takes the role of the Holy Spirit preparing Mary, represented in the soprano solo, to become a mother. As the movement progresses, the soprano line gradually opens up, becoming more and more elaborate with trills, melismatic ornamentation, and great leaps of tessitura. Finally, a quartet cadenza for the winds and soprano carries the audience through an extended state of exquisite tension, ending in a gentle cadence. Back to earth, rocking rhythms sooth in the afterglow of mystical intertwining.

Et homo factus est.

Mozart's wife Constanze sang the first performance.

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

"(Time out of Mind)"

I was walking down the street with a copy of James McCourt's new novel, "Now Voyagers: Some Divisions of the Saga of Mawrdew Czgowchwz, Oltrano, Authenticated by Persons Represented Therein, Book One: The Night Seas Journey," when I ran into a friend:

"What are you reading?" he asked.

To the unfortunate uninitiated, James McCourt and his fictive (but mythically alive) diva, Mawrdew Czgowchwz (unpronouncable, but "Mardu Gorgeous" is accepted performance practice), is a fairly ambitious topic for a casual street corner encounter. "It's James McCourt's new novel." A glimmer of recognition. "Not Frank McCourt . . . James." How to describe the author of the book under my arm? "If Firbank is like Mozart, James McCourt is like Richard Strauss." It was the best I could come up with.

I picked up "Mawrdew Czgowchwz" a few years ago, led to it by various reviews. The first chapter was dazzling and confounding, I wasn't sure what had just happened to me. Turning back to the first page, I reread it straight through, realizing it was, indeed, dazzling and fabulous. Immediately, I called my friend, Matt, and read the whole chapter to him over the phone. No one's been the same since . . .

It is not for everyone. Perhaps the first sentence will reveal which campahem—you're in.

"There was a time (time out of mind) in the sempiternal progress of divadienst, at that suspensory pause in its career just prior to the advent of what was to be known as "Mawrdolatry," when the cult of Morgana Neri flourished in the hothouse ambiance of the Crossroads Café, in the shadow of the old Times building, across Broadway from the very hotel (a ghostly renovated ruin) where Caruso had sojourned in the great days, whose palmy lobby, once ormolu and velvet, had been transformed into a vast drugstore, and in Caruso's suite a podiatrist had been installed."

Sunday, August 10, 2008

Theme and Variations

In the right hands, theme and variations can musically approximate thought: one idea held in the mind, turned over, examined from every angle. I think of the middle movement of Mozart's B-flat Major Piano Concerto, K. 456. Its eight bar theme in G Minor expresses such sadness, such quietness in the face of loss, and then in the last four eighth-notes, it gently ends in B-flat Major. A simple cadential figure briefly touches a sunnier world. It's as if the experience of pain brought to mind memories, souvenirs, of when hope was possible. The theme is repeated, variations ensue, and the thought process of working through that initial idea begins. This movement is a true masterpiece, and all the romp and jollity of the last movement cannot mask the memories of what came before.

Albert Fuller used to say, "What's past is prologue." Yet you cannot go backwards. You cannot touch the past. Music is experienced as memory and emotion, which is also how we process the experiences that change our lives.

Friday, August 08, 2008

In and Out of Context

While rehearsing the first movement of Ravel's Le Tombeau de Couperin, the conductor isolated an inner line in the strings. Underneath the melodic exuberance of the violins, the violas and cellos play a descending chromatic line: searching, nostalgic, almost mournful. It reminded me that each of the movements in Ravel's suite is dedicated a friend killed in the First World War. This work is not sombre, but stashed away amidst the sparkling exterior, are clues to other truths.

Tuesday, August 05, 2008

Context—In and Out of the Cage

"I have nothing to say and I am saying it." --- John Cage

The other evening, my friend, Pedja Muzijevic handed me an advance copy of his wonderful, new CD on Albany Records, "Sonatas & Other Interludes." You can pre-order your copy from Amazon by clicking here.

The ingenious conceit of this recital is its form. The title references Cage's cycle "Sonatas and Interludes," which groups 16 Scarlatti-sized sonatas interspersed with four interludes, all played on "prepared piano." Pedja has chosen eight of Cage's prepared-piano sonatas and places them between works (the "Other Interludes" of the title) by Scarlatti, Liszt, W. F. Bach, Schumann, Strauss, and a Chopin paraphrase by Michalowski. In this context, the Sonatas become the Interludes; those kind of inversions would certainly have delighted John Cage. In a surprising sense, the CD presents two recitals superimposed, which is not unlike the way Cage and Merce Cunningham worked.

As a musical programmer, I have been continually impressed by Pedja's innate sense for contextualizing music of disparate periods in ways that compliment and enhance. Fans of his series, The Movado Hour, will have many memorable examples at the ready. In this recording, the tart, concision of Cage's sonatas—not to mention the altered timbre of the "prepared piano"—acts as citrus palate cleansers between courses of a well-planned and well-executed meal. Pedja and I were both close friends of the late Albert Fuller who often discussed musical programs in terms of fine menus, and indeed Pedja uses this metaphor in the personal note that introduces the program. As for the performance, Pedja plays beautifully throughout, deftly moving through some three centuries of musical styles with ease and dexterity. The distinctness with which he presents each historical period is so natural, one almost forgets the sophistication this kind of musical thinking requires.

Another notable aspect of this CD is its theatricality. Were this a live performance, the performer would require at least two pianos on stage and, of course, the para-musical work of altering the entrails of one of them for the Cage sonatas. The intricate manipulation of the piano required for the Cage works elicits some fine insights in Pedja's program note:

"Sonatas and Interludes includes instructions not found in any volume of Czerny études. The performer is asked to 'prepare' the piano by inserting screws, blots, plastic and rubber into the strings. It is all too easy to note that Cage's instructions are wonderfully explicit and vague at the same time. It IS John Cage after all! However, the same can be said for Beethoven or any other composer. It is exactly that vague, gray area that makes us play the same works over and over; precisely because there is no definite 'truth.'"

In his program note, Pedja disabuses us of the notion that this recording has an "underlining story, title or subtext," and I certainly won't quibble. However, as I listen again and again to this CD, at each work's ends, my ear yearns for the next unexpected sound. The recital is a page-turner, a cliff-hanger. This listening experience is quite outside the classical-music norm, and works like the finest story-telling. Its juxtapositions open unexpected vistas, and you never end up where you thought you would. How often can you say that of a piano recital?

One bit of acknowledgment is due: the recording is made possible through the generosity and vision of Jim and Yukiko Gatheral.

Now, go get yourself a copy. Don't deprive yourself!

(Photo credit: the portrait of Pedja is by fashion photographer, and friend, Bell Soto.)

Monday, August 04, 2008

In Context—Mozart and Beethoven

I have played primarily (mostly?) Mozart for the last two weeks. In that context, rehearsing Beethoven's fourth symphony today brought into relief the rhetorical differences between the two composers.

Mozart is always an opera composer. In symphonies, concerti, and chamber music, the lyrical (without the lyrics, mind you) explicitness of his rhetoric sings forth from the operatic stage. His cast of characters listens, responds, provokes, flirts, dances, and weeps. The lacking libretto is merely a technicality.

Beethoven's is a purely instrumental rhetoric, more abstract, yet in some ways more elemental. In a Beethoven symphony there are not characters, per se, rather the interplay is between emotions summoned through the composer's singular mastery of harmonic narrative and rhythmic persuasion. Whereas it is not easy to imagine words set to Beethoven's melodies, his music is vivid in meaning and formally cohesive.

Mozart's music lives in a world of intricate human relationships. Beethoven reaches for truths beyond the world of words.