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Rachmaninov Vespers: Why I Cried

Posted on: August 27th, 2014 by Inna Heasley 7 Comments

On September 7th, 2014 Choral Arts Philadelphia will perform one piece of music that holds an absolutely special place in my heart: Vespers (All Night Vigil, Op. 37) by Sergey Rachmaninov.

 

Besides cherishing a direct native connection to the Russian music and unsurpassed love for Sergey Rachmaninov as a person and a composer, I treasure this piece because it represents a life-altering discovery I made in my mid-20s .

 

During the first 24 years of my life in the Soviet Russia, after having studied classical music and its history at a full-time music school for eight years, I had no idea about the existence of the Vespers or any other sacred music by any other composer whatsoever! This is how well this information was locked away from public eye in the Soviet Union. And since I never knew to ask the question, I never looked for answers.

 

Fast forward now to the early 9o’s, my first few weeks in the United States where I was brought on a contract to interpret for a group of Russian dancers.  The day I got my first paycheck, I went to the Tower Records store (remember those?) to look for recordings of my favorite composers, including Rachmaninov and Bach.

 

As I searched the Bach and Rachmaninov sections, I came across some odd titles like St. Matthew Passion, B-Minor Mass, Vespers, The Bells. “What’s this?” – I said to myself in total bewilderment, because I knew every piece of music those guys ever composed. I had to buy the Vespers CD, out of curiosity (I now think it was actually a cassette tape – remember those?). I played it on my Walkman (remember those?)…  And I cried. I cried because I felt betrayed. Then I cried some more because life was SO MUCH MORE BEAUTIFUL than I had imagined. Because the humanity had the gift of the Vespers all along!!!

Lighting the candles during All night vigil.

Lighting the candles during an All night vigil.

 

Ironically, that same year, late 1991, following the collapse of the Soviet Union, Christmas was finally officially announced as a national holiday in Russia. It was openly celebrated for the first time in over 70 years, on January 6, 1992.

 

This landmark event was followed by the arrival of massive country-wide restoration process of the entire Orthodox culture: from the beautiful architecture and commencement of industrial church bells production – to religious education, faith-based literature and declassification of archival church documents. And it inevitably meant that the Orthodox music, and with it all other sacred music, that had been muted in Russia for over 70 years was finally given back to the people it was written for.

 

The Rachmaninov Vespers was performed in a public concert in Moscow on that first Christmas Eve of 1992.

 

Every time I get to sing this work – and this will be my third time – it is a transcendental life event, an experience of the highest spiritual, physical, emotional and mental order which simply can’t be described in words.

 

Singing it here in the U.S. for the American audiences fills me with great honor and gratitude for their responsive energy, for their respect to this music and their thirst to hear more of it. And singing it with Choral Arts Philadelphia is going to be an amazing experience!

 

We performed it in 2012 at the Cathedral Basilica of SS Peter and Paul in Philadelphia. Here is my favorite excerpt:

 

IF YOU GO:
Gretna Music Festival

Sunday, September 7, 2014 at 7:30 PM

Pre-concert talk by the festival founder Carl Ellenberger at 6:45 PM

More information at www.choralarts.com

 


 

Interview with violinist Rebecca Harris

Posted on: April 7th, 2014 by Inna Heasley No Comments

Ahead of her solo performance of Biber’s Mystery Sonatas this month, I got a chance to chat with this amazing artist.

 

A specialist in the field of historically informed performance, Rebecca Harris is in high demand as a versatile soloist, chamber musician and orchestral player, as well as a teaching artist. She can be regularly heard playing and recording with the Philadelphia baroque orchestra Tempesta di Mare, as well as many other prominent ensembles like Pennsylvania Ballet orchestra, the Philly Pops, Piffaro, Seraphic Fire, Publick Musick, New Trinity Baroque, and so many others.

 

If you have been to any of Choral Arts Philadelphia concerts in recent years, you also know Rebecca and her violin very well. She is a regular leader in the newly launched Bach@7 Cantata Series.

 


Q: Do you come from a musical family? What brought you to music, and to violin in particular?

RH: My family enjoys music but there are no other professional musicians besides myself. I learned to play the recorder in elementary school, and free violin classes at school became available when I was eight. Although it was just circumstance that brought me to the violin, I loved it immediately.

 

Q: You are an accomplished musician on both baroque and modern violin. What is the difference between these two instruments, and what different techniques do you have to use when playing them?

RH: The instrument has changed relatively little in its long history – other instruments, for example the flute and trumpet, have changed much more. The modifications that have been made since the seventeenth century version of the violin were for the purpose of enabling the violinist to more easily meet the technical demands of the music of the time. For example, as a more cantabile style of playing became desirable, the bow was elongated and made heavier at the tip, which makes it easier to achieve a singing line. I choose to perform music of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries on an instrument built in the style of the time, since it’s the ‘tool’ that the composers of the period used, and it can inform interpretation of the works. Likewise, I perform 19th and 20th century music on a modern instrument. Performing in a historically informed style goes beyond the choice of instrument, however – it’s about developing an understanding of the style and musical language of the time.

 

Q: You also have an active teaching career. Please share a few words about it and what it means to you?

RH: I am on the Teaching Artist faculty of The Philadelphia Orchestra, and I visit children in Philadelphia public schools each week through the orchestra’s School Partnership Program. I also perform for a fantastic organization called LiveConnections, that offers innovative programming to communities that may not easily have access to live performances. I see it as my responsibility as an artist to engage with people beyond the concert stage – music is a living art that needs people, so we need to keep passing it on.

 

Q: What advice do you have for young men and women who want to be successful in whatever they pursue in life?

RH: Stay true to yourself, and work with intelligence. Success to me is not about collecting accolades, but about using your gifts and skills to the benefit of those around you.

 

Q: You will be playing two violin sonatas from Biber’s Rosary Sonatas on April 9th. A few words about this work and about Heinrich Biber.

RH: Biber was one of the first great virtuoso violinists, working in late seventeenth century Austria. The Mystery (Rosary) Sonatas are a collection of sixteen works, each one connected to one of the mysteries of the Holy Rosary, plus one that represents the Guardian Angel. The sonatas each require a different re-tuning of the violin (a technique called scordatura), which creates unique and unusual possibilities for chords and timbres.

 

For Bach@7, I will be performing The Carrying of the Cross and The Crucifixion, two of the sonatas that represent the Sorrowful Mysteries. I chose these particular works because they reflect Lenten themes, as do the rest of the works on the April 9th program. Both sonatas use different scordatura, so you will notice that I use a different violin for each piece.

 

The Carrying of the Cross takes the form of a set of dance movements, surrounded on either side by a fantastical introduction and finale. To me, familiar dance forms played on an instrument that is mis-tuned suggests the paradox of the carrying of the cross – walking and carrying a burden are not unusual physical activities, but the context is unprecedented.

 

The Crucifixion is full of contrasts, which I see as reflecting the many aspects of the Crucifixion in scriptural terms – the public violence, the intimacy of Jesus and Mary as she sees him on the Cross, ultimately the joy of the promise of the resurrection. The finale of the sonata is dramatic – it could be seen as a depiction of the earthquake, the tearing of the veil and the resurrection of the saints as told in the Gospel according to St. Matthew.

 

Biber did not state imagery explicitly in these works – these are merely my way of interpreting the music that I perform. Whatever one’s faith or philosophy, the subject matter of the Mystery Sonatas invites contemplation of universal themes – of the strange and wonderful, of questions that cannot be answered, and of reality upturned. That is where their true beauty lies.

 

Read Rebecca’s blog post on Biber’s Mystery Sonatas.

 

 

Q: The audiences will get a chance to hear you play some of the Biber’s Mystery Sonatas again at the end of April, as a Tempesta di Mare artist recital series. Will it be the same program?

RH: I will perform the Crucifixion Sonata, alongside other works by Biber: selections from the Mystery Sonatas, two pieces from another set of sonatas and the Sonata Representativa, which uses animal sounds!

 

Q: How would you describe your experience with the Philadelphia Bach Collegium and Choral Arts Philadelphia? What do you think about the Bach@7 Cantata Series so far?

RH: The Bach@7 series has been a great success this year. One of my favorite things about Choral Arts is their warmth towards the audience – they host receptions after the concerts, and get to know people. I also love how clear and sparkling their German is when they sing, it is beautiful. The collegium is a joyful group to play with – there are so many fantastic players of early instruments in Philadelphia, it’s a great community.

 

Q: What kind of people inspire you?

RH: People who have courage and integrity. Artists who take risks.

 

Q: What is your dream venue and a dream work to perform there?

RH: I would love to perform Bach at the Thomaskirche in Leipzig.

 

Q: When not performing, rehearsing, or teaching – what is your favorite pastime?

RH: Reading and painting – for me, a musician, quiet activities are very important!

 

The full interview is also published on the Choral Arts Philadelphia site.

 

 

 


 

New Bach Cantata Series Draws Wide Attention in Town

Posted on: February 18th, 2014 by Inna Heasley No Comments
Matt Glandorf conducts Choral Arts and the Bach Collegium orchestra members during a pre-concert warm up. Photo: Inna Heasley.

Matt Glandorf conducts Choral Arts and the Bach Collegium orchestra members during a pre-concert warm up. Photo: Inna Heasley.

I would like to congratulate Choral Arts Philadelphia and The Bach Festival of Philadelphia for launching the brilliant Bach Cantata Series this 2013-2014 season!  In the first half of the run, the series has already generated a lot of interest among the Philadelphia audiences, musicians and the media.

 

Named “Bach at Seven” (or Bach@7 for short), the programs take place at the historical Saint Mark’s Church near Rittenhouse Square (17th & Locust Streets) and feature a Bach cantata and other related music of any historic period. This could be a choral piece and/or an instrumental or organ work.

 

Each program (there are six offered this season in the series) lasts only one hour, including a live commentary by artistic director Matthew Glandorf. This is followed by a free informal post-concert reception  for all, a chance to  recharge with a light snack and fine wine,  have a good conversation and build some meaningful personal connections.  Combined with the “pay-as-you-wish” admission option and the timing of the programs (7 pm on a Wednesday night), these events have opened doors to some new audience demographics, including families with children, students, young professionals, and other folks who normally wouldn’t attend a classical music concert.

 

In addition, this is a unique chance for the Philadelphia public to hear some shorter choral, vocal or instrumental gems of all styles and periods, that are rarely or almost never performed in live concerts just because they are so hard to program into a larger concert setting.  As a singer with the group myself, I feel grateful for this season as it has been an exciting personal journey of discovering and learning some beautiful and challenging works by Hugo Distler, Charles Stanford, Orlando Gibbons, Bob Chilcott and more… and of course, by J.S. Bach himself.

 

All the Bach@7 post-concert receptions are generously sponsored by the Moore Brothers Wine Company (based in Pennsauken, NJ), with Mr. Greg Moore himself happily serving some of his finest wine samples to the attendees.  Additionally, the February program is sponsored by Hold-A-Plate, recently founded by a University of Pennsylvania young designer John Zax.

 

THIS IS WHAT THEY SAY ABOUT BACH@7:

 

  • In this brief video (produced by PR Perfect), the audience members were asked to share their thoughts about the inaugural program in October 2013:

 

 

  • WHYY’s NewsWorks reporter Peter Crimmins praises Bach@7 for attracting younger audiences in this feature piece.

 

  • “Wonderful idea – and cosmopolitan. How often, when visiting major European cities, do you discover early-evening classical concerts offering a good dose of music without monopolizing your evening?.. The idea’s time has come. St. Mark’s Church was close to full (Glandorf expressed surprise) and the reception was warm, possibly indulgent…”  (The Philadelphia Inquirer, by David Patrick Stearns)

 

  • “Glandorf describes the one hour Bach@7 concerts as an “Art Break.” The post-concert reception adds the perfect finishing touch, complete with some notably delectable wines, provided by a local wine merchant who offers his wares with the same enthusiasm that Bach lavishes on counterpoint. Bach would have fitted easily into this scene— mingling with his audience and his fellow musicians in the same way Glandorf and his musicians joined the party…”  (Broad Street Review, by Tom Purdom)

 

  • “This approach, according to artistic director, Matt Glandorf is designed to encourage as many people as possible to attend the series. This goal was inspired by the large number of citizens of Leipzig, regardless of wealth, who attended the cantata performances back in Bach’s time. Is it working? If attendance of other concerts in the series matches the numbers I saw on December 18th, the answer is “yes!”… True to other Choral Arts concerts I’ve attended, the program was interesting and the performance quality was very high…”  (Examiner.com, by Sharon Torello)

 

RELATED LINKS:

Press Release: “Bach At Seven” Cantata Series – Original Innovative Programs Continue Into Spring 2014

Choral Arts Philadelphia videos on YouTube

Newsletter preview of Bach@7 – Spring 2014 (this link expires on March 11, 2014)

Interview with soprano Leslie Johnson

L to R: Rebecca Harris and Mandy Woman, violin; Danieal Pierson, viola, during pre-concert warm up at the inaugural Bach@7 program. October 2013.
Photo: Inna Heasley.

 

 


 

A New Partnership: Composer David Ludwig

Posted on: December 9th, 2013 by Inna Heasley No Comments

It is my extreme pleasure to announce that PR Perfect got hired to represent David Ludwig, one of the most talented, versatile, and up-and-coming composers in the region!

 

I met David during the audio recording session of his choral music album by Choral Arts Philadelphia last year.  When the recording came out, we plotted for a while how it could be promoted.  Then, in June of 2013, quite by a serendipity, I was asked by LocalArtsLive’s Sharon Torello to do a series of videos with David for a composer profile Sharon was planning that summer.  So, we met in his historical office at The Curtis Institute for an hour and a half, and I got to torture David by making him answer my questions in front of a video camera about all things interesting, like his thoughts on modern classical music, music for movies, his family history and his upcoming bassoon concerto premiere with the Philadelphia Orchestra. And then David invited me to attend the concerto premiere at the Kimmel Center.  The beautiful and dreamy music from David’s “Pictures from the Floating World” is still sounding in my head, and it is my high hope that the Orchestra will find the means to eventually record this piece they commissioned so it can be shared with the world.

 

In each of my encounters with David, I have been touched by his friendly and unassuming demeanor, his open and accessible nature, and his sincerity.  And how he remains so humble, while great milestones and achievements add up to decorate his CV.  Some of these are things that even seasoned composers often only dream of.

 

It is for the moments like this that I love my work in public relations. It brings amazing new people into my life, and it takes me to amazing new places that I might never have otherwise visited. There is so much to learn from each and every one of these experiences. I never stop to be grateful for it.

 

I’m looking forward to bringing you some news about David’s upcoming projects soon.  Stay tuned!

 

 

 


 

Philadelphia Premiere of Rachmaninoff’s rarely heard opera “Francesca da Rimini” June 24-27, 2013

Posted on: May 30th, 2013 by Inna Heasley No Comments

Poster design by ModernGood

Russian Opera Workshop was founded in Philadelphia in 2011 by Ghenady Meirson (faculty member at the Academy of Vocal Arts and Curtis Institute of Music) as an independent summer training program for aspiring and professional opera singers. Like no other opera training program in the world, the 30-day Workshop offers an intensive immersion into the Russian language and vocal training, followed by free public performances of the studied repertoire. Participating opera artists arrive from across the United States and from abroad.

 

“Now in its third summer season, Russian Opera Workshop has established itself as one of the world’s most important and influential programs, right here in Philadelphia. Even Russians from Russia want to participate,” says Meirson, the program founder, principal coach and pianist. Indeed, its alumni success is impressive: as of Spring of 2013, five opera companies nationwide hired Russian Opera Workshop artists in the roles they learned here.

 

The 2013 season will open on Monday, June 24th with a lively lecture about Francesca da Rimini given by a renowned American composer Daron Hagen, followed by the concert of the Russian Romance Songs, which will introduce all the Workshop participants to the audience, with Laura Ward at the piano.

 

On June 25-27, Russian Opera Workshop presents, in concert, a Philadelphia premiere of S. Rachmaninoff opera Francesca da Rimini, and P. Tchaikovsky’s Romeo and Juliet, a rarely performed scene from the unfinished opera based on Shakespeare’s drama.

 

Rachmaninoff’s Francesca da Rimini, an opera with the libretto written by Tchaikovsky’s brother Modest, premiered in Moscow in 1906. It is based on the story of Francesca da Rimini in the fifth canto of Dante’s epic poem The Inferno (the first part of The Divine Comedy). The performance of Francesca da Rimini includes a chorus comprised of singers from local choral groups: Philadelphia Singers, Choral Arts Philadelphia, Mendelssohn Club, and Vox Ama Deus.

Dante Gabriel Rossetti "Francesca Da Rimini"

 

All performances start at 7:30 PM at the Helen Corning Warden Theater, the Academy of Vocal Arts, 1920 Spruce Street, Philadelphia, PA, 19103. Performances are in Russian with English supertitles. Admission is FREE, with open seating.

 

The public performances are preceded by a series of three vocal Master Classes led by premiere voice coaches and professors, June 7-21, 2013, which are also open to public at no charge and offer a unique chance to observe the training process

 

For more information and full schedule, please visit www.RussianOperaWorkshop.com.

 

The above art image is from a public domain at Wikimedia Commons.

 

 


 

The Bach Festival of Philadelphia April 28-May 5, 2013

Posted on: April 26th, 2013 by Inna Heasley No Comments

Today’s METRO PHILLY features a nice preview article about the Philadelphia Bach Festival 2013 by Shaun Brady who interviewed the Festival’s artistic director Matthew Glandorf .

 

View the full festival schedule and information.

 

And here are three videos produced by PR Perfect to preview three out of four Bach Festival events:

Matthew Glandorf: Bach and the Art of Improvisation

Sunday, April 28, 2013 at 4 PM:

 

 

Back Before Bach – with Piffaro, The Renaissance Band

Saturday, May 4 at 7 PM:

 

 

J. S. Bach: Great Mass in B-Minor

Sunday, May 5 at 3 PM:

 

 

 


 

Interview with Eric Whitacre

Posted on: March 24th, 2013 by Inna Heasley 1 Comment

I am thrilled to share with you this audio/video which I was fortunate to record with Eric over the phone, while he was attending the ACDA National Conference in Dallas, TX.  Below I also offer you two links:  my introductory blog post about Eric and his Singers as well as the partial transcript of this interview, both currently posted on LocalArtsLive.com.

 

Background: Sharon Torello, the founder of LocalArtsLive.com asked me to interview composer/conductor Eric Whitacre to preview his debut U.S. Tour with Eric Whitacre Singers. The tour included a single appearance of the ensemble in Philadelphia’s Kimmel Center on March 20th which drew highly enthusiastic crowds of audiences of all ages, with many college and high school choir groups in attendance.

 

 

THE ERIC WHITACRE PHENOMENON

Ever since 2007, when I heard Eric Whitacre’s music for the first time and subsequently was fortunate to sing some of it with Choral Arts Philadelphia, I was forever drawn to his unique style: the ideal balance – not a conflict – between the humanity and technology. The honest and heavenly, ancient-sounding spectrum of harmonies is happily married to the bold use of contemporary expressive means, which — blended together — work amazingly well to deliver the true meaning of the poetry straight into my heart. And these “delivery means” do not incorporate just singing. Eric often takes singers outside their “vocal box” and makes use of their abilities to whisper, speak, make noise, clap, snap, hit percussion, etc. (a great example is his Cloudburst where, in the second part of the piece, singers are imitating the sounds of thunder and a downpour)… Read the rest of the article here.

 

Read the partial transcript of my interview with Eric Whitacre.

 

 


 

Choral Arts Philadelphia offers authentic Rossini

Posted on: January 21st, 2013 by Inna Heasley No Comments
One of the most popular composers of opera, Rossini spent the last forty years of his life in retirement in Paris.  Composing mostly for fun during this period, he nonetheless produced his two fine religious works, the Stabat Mater and the Petite Messe Solennelle.  Choral Arts will perform the Mass with its original instrumentation:  an historic pianoforte and an harmonium, creating a sound world that is foreign and fresh to our modern ears.  A brilliant cast of soloists, led by renowned Julianne Baird, specializes in period vocal performance and will add the icing to this brilliant confection for our delight.

 


 

CURRENT PR PROJECTS

Posted on: November 9th, 2012 by Inna Heasley No Comments

CHORAL ARTS PHILADELPHIA TURNS 30! 

SUNDAY, DECEMBER 16 @ 4 PM:  Premiere chamber chorus led by Artistic Director Matthew Glandorf, Choral Arts Philadelphia presents J.S. Bach’s Magnificat (with the Christmas interpolations), Antonio Vivaldi’s Gloria, and Audience Sing-Along in a festive Christmas program celebrating the ensemble’s 30 years of outstanding music making. With The Philadelphia Bach Collegium performing on period instruments and soloists Steven Bradshaw, Leslie Johnson, Benjamin Starr, and Jenifer L. Smith. Full info and tickets. Press Release.

 

MOYO YOGA (Montgomery County, PA) launches a major project to preserve, restore and open to the community the Lochwood Estate, a historical local property. Through active involvement and support of local businesses, volunteers and artists, this newly reconstructed space will offer expanded services, workshops and programs on yoga, wellness, arts, and natural living.  Grand opening date announcement coming soon!

 

 

 

 


 

Who’s Afraid of Horrible Jargon? Or, The Role of an Arts Critic vs. Reporter

Posted on: August 17th, 2012 by Inna Heasley 4 Comments

By Lewis WHITTINGTON

Lewis Whittington’s articles on the performing arts have appeared in several print and online publications including The Philadelphia Inquirer, The Advocate, Dance Magazine, American Theatre Magazine, Playbill and Stage Directions. 

 

I am very excited and honored to welcome Lew to my blog! I have so enjoyed many of Lew’s intelligent insights on classical music, ballet and dance that I asked him to contribute to my blog by taking a look at the role of an arts critic.  I am very happy he said “yes”!

 

As an arts journalist I try to be mindful of the real role critics and criticism should play in the world of arts. I think of the essential primer found in Oscar Wilde’s classic The Picture of Dorian Gray where one of the characters instructs that “diversity of opinion about a work of art shows that the work is new, complex, and vital. When critics disagree the artist is in accord with himself.”

 

This truism is unfortunately ignored by audiences who follow lofty opinions, not to mention the dictates of the commerce of art. It is perhaps colder comfort for the playwright, choreographer, conductor, composer or artist who is at the financial mercy of professional critics, fairly or unfairly, not to mention hostile audiences.

 

Wilde also proclaimed that, in the scheme of things ‘All art is useless,’ so, by association, critics should be considered even more expendable. The irony here is that Wilde, of course, lived for art and actually went to jail just as much for his artistic criticism of Victorian hypocrisies, as he did for consorting with male prostitutes.

 

My other favorite line about critics in from Evelyn Waugh’s novel Brideshead, Revisited. When the young Oxford student tells his father that he wants to be an artist, his father responds with this thinly veiled missile from Waugh: “I won’t have undraped models all over the house…or critics with their horrible jargon.”

 

Whenever I read those breathless blurbs on posters of movies, plays and operas I always think of that phrase – horrible jargon – and try to itemize, without dwelling, when I have been guilty of said jargon myself.

 

Unfortunately, horrible jargon and the fallout buzz can steer the course of art and careers.

 

The list of important plays, operas, ballets and symphonies that were trashed, misunderstood and closed down because of bad reviews is astounding. A few examples of the prevailing critics being pathetically wrong:  

 

  • Vaslav Nijinsky’s Le Sacre du Printemps, the site of a theater riot, with dissenting critics actually doubling their venom by thrashing Igor Stravinsky‘s score.
  • Georges Bizet’s Carmen was rejected by critics because it was the first hybrid opera to incorporate comic and tragic aesthetic.
  • West Side Story limped along in tryout towns, drawing venomous coverage from theater writers.

 

Well, Nijinsky went mad and Bizet had a heart attack before they knew that they had changed their respective arts forever. The “fab four” of West Side – Lenny, Jerome, Arthur and Stephen – collectively made the critics eat their words as the show became a cultural phenomenon and each of the creators went on to dominate two generations of American musical theater.

 

In his book Look, I Made the Hat Sondheim adroitly defines the difference between critics and reviewers.

 

“Reviewers are reporters, their function is to describe and evaluate, on first encounter, a specific event,” they are “victims of deadlines…They are of necessity drive-by shooters.”  In contrast, critics have the luxury of time, which “affords them distance, they can take in the whole range of the art and the artist.” Sondheim also notes deftly that “over time even the better reviews become desensitized, and atrophy sets in.”

 

Ouch! But think of what he could have said and how many examples could he have given, starting with the first very negative critical response he received for his masterpiece musical Company.

 

Of course, the other side of the spectrum is a writer who is completely drunk on his own laudatory opinions.

 

Pauline Kael’s review of the artsy potboiler Last Tango in Paris springs lustily to mind. Clammy film, clammier review. Kael may have had an artistic epiphany that it would change film forever, but even its legendary star, Marlon Brando, claimed he had no clue as to what it was about. The fallout was that even though Tango was an international hit, it aided in creating a backlash against films with less arcane, but more relevant, sexual content.

 

I bring up Kael and the movies to make a key point in criticism as it is practiced now:  movie reviewing has all but ruined the reviewing of live performance. People expect tag line assessments – the typical Meryl Streep IS Margaret Thatcher hyperbole that is so common. Or worse, the thumbs up/down condemnations of Caligula in the Coliseum.

 

The jargon used for movies is lacking in the extreme when you are reporting what occurs live on a performance stage – with living, breathing actors, musicians, and dancers who are collaborating in real time with a technical crew after working daily with a creative team. The production budgets alone make them completely different enterprises.

 

Choreographer Twyla Tharp punctures reviews by branding them ‘abstracts.’ Indeed, dance and instrumental music present the most challenges for a writer to translate into lay terms and, if done well, can have the most benefits, since by nature, these art forms are languages in themselves.

 

My preference is to be stealth as much as possible and write a review heavy on concrete technical analysis then have fun with the rest. But for various reasons that is not always possible. To make a critical point and move on, not to dwell on moments the audience should discover themselves.

 

The actor Richard Burton made the salient point in an interview with Dick Cavett in 1980s, that  praise-lavishing critics can ruin an otherwise magical moment and ruin it for everybody including the performer.

 

It is best to read reviews that hit all of the major bases, without being formulaic, petty or cheap. It is a balancing act of rhetorical devises. Editors consistently prefer more casual, chatty observations. The great dance scholar and critic Gary Parks’ credo was “Report what you see on stage and the rest will fall into place.”  This is, for me, a guiding principle.  Reviewing is in fact an intense reporter’s assignment and at its best it calls on many journalistic skills that can illuminate.

Actual reportage can be especially valuable in dance and music, more abstract forms which, unlike movies and plays, generally have much less exposure than other more mainstream entertainments.

 

Then there are “coded” reviews, which in the past occurred most frequently in dance, a point by point description of a performance carrying the unstated message that the critic disapproves of the performance, but is too polite to spell it out. I think it is healthier to state your view cleanly –  pro, con or mixed – just so you back it up. And always without piling on. Make a substantiated critical point and move on to the next journalistic point.

Authoritative criticism and certainly the more valuable craft of actual reporting can be a useful tool in navigating the arts and where you want your money and time to go. Especially helpful in hard economic times.

 

But it is my view that no one should follow a critic’s opinion, you should follow your viewer instincts and allow the experience of arts in all of their potential forms.

 

Lew Whittington, arts journalist & guilty-as-charged fouffy critic

 


 

inna@pr-perfect.com
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