Scissor, Paint, and Chisel: Art by Robert Hall and Enzo Torcoletti

October 17, 2017

What do you make of the mature years, in a career as an artist and teacher of your craft?

In Bob Hall’s oeuvre, the culmination of collage-keeping (for that is what artists do: keep and recycle), he has taken what is at hand and has remembered, over a life of seven decades, and he has told us stories about ourselves, our common culture, with both the good parts and the regrettable moments of history.

His narrative, which travels the cut edges of his scavenged images, tells us of ancient languages, wars, vanished civilizations, storms, and the injustices of modern life.He directly addresses the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, Northern Africa, the obsession with fossil fuels, and the conquests to control them, with a scolding of our rich society exploiting poor people in foreign lands to increase profits.

How can acrylic/collages do all this? It is the juxtaposition of images which creates the insistent message in each picture. He conflates the violence in our wars abroad with the violence in our country. He “sneaks” as a Gestalt, an image of arms and hands, which seem to be pieces of sculpture until it sinks in that these are human parts, buried in rubble from explosions. He shows us soldiers, “dressed to kill,” juxtaposed with soldiers whose eyes searchingly plead for mercy from mortal wounds.

These are not “pretty” works; a quick glance would only tell you that they are attractively-rendered, and colourful. Technically, Hall has not invented a new way to paint, but, a double-take pulls you into the narrative, which is the most important aspect of his work, and you find yourself searching the pictures, reading the narrative, discovering the reasons you looked in the first place: you have to understand what it means. Hall reveals the dark side of Humanity.

Enzo Torcoletti, by contrast, gives us the other aspect of the eternal, a theme enveloped in forms i would describe as, modern neo-classical. His work suggests; it does not pronounce. It is most always about gesture.

Surrounded on four walls by Hall’s acrylic/collages, Torcoletti has displayed 6 sculptures, made of materials such as wood and various coloured marbles from quarries throughout the country. Each is uniquely rendered, giving us the range of his virtuosity.

The first of these is “Silent Idol,” of grey North Carolina marble. It is a vertical, slender work with alternation of shape and texture: elongated triangles of highly-polished surface, counterpointed with elongated rectangles, roughly striated with horizontal ripples. The apex, emerging from the highly polished “chest” of the figure, is a “head” with a through and through hole: the all-seeing eye of the idol. But, as with contemporary “celebrity-type” idols, one looks into the eye, and sees through the figure, to “nothing.”

All of these works are about 3-4 feet, not monumental, but authoritative in their use of gesture. Torcoletti is a master of human gesture. “Venus Disrobing,” for instance, captures a movement so ordinary, and yet, so universal, that it adds an additional gesture to Classical Venusian iconography.

Made of Vermont, Tennessee and Georgia marble, the figure of Venus stands on a grey-white base of dull finish, with shallow chisel marks on the surface. The figure, itself, by contrast, is a highly polished carving in a warm, flecked, rose-tan stone, with a softly-textured white Georgia marble garment, covering her head and arms, the forms of which which are suggested in the folds. The whole effect is less erotic than tenderly sensitive to human gesture.

A master sculptor sees the possibilities in the material and takes its weaknesses and turns them into strengths. So Torcoletti does with “Ambrosia II,” made ofbeautiful Red Bay wood, in several sections, “split” from the main body of the figure, with the adjacent parts, “fitting” loosely, with dowels; the vertical seams
of each section painted black, to accentuate the line of the figure, which curves, as the human body does in gentle motion. Even the checking of the wood adds to the gesture.

The next piece in the lineup is a modest figure of Indiana limestone with a green marble base. Suggestive of Archaic Greek archetypes, the piece, titled, “Gemini,”
is simple in execution, with a mat surface and vertical drapery dividing the figure in two, reinforcing the doubling notion of the astrological sign, Gemini.

The calm attitude continues in another wooden piece, “Goddess (Eve),”
carved from Sassafras wood. The proclivities and declivities of this figure swirl around the waist (literally, as one can move the upper part), with parts of the figure abstracted into swelling breasts/shoulders, hips, expressing the “power” of a Goddess in proud gesture.

The grain of this beautiful wood, a sienna red-brown colour, recalls the ripples of “wet-drapery,” found on carvings from Greek 5th century BC sculptures. As always, Torcoletti exploits the properties of his material, enhancing the idea.

The only reclining figure, “Fragmented Model,” carved from a beautiful piece of onyx, is not as unified a form as the other pieces. Torcoletti has been limited, as sculptors are, by the shape of the block of marble, to carve a figure whose gesture suggests reclining on her elbows. He follows the grain of the stone, from the neck to the knees, searching out the form, which is a successful one, but the visual intrusion of 2 hard-edged, “L” shaped supports, where elbows would have been, breaks the sinuous line of the piece. Perhaps these were needed as support for the armless female figure, but one imagines, if they were not there, and the balance of the piece could rest on the mid-section of the figure, that the empty space below the chest where arms would have been, would add greater tension and drama to the work.  Perhaps, this is an early work. No dates were given.

This is a stimulating exhibition of two very different artists. The juxtaposition of their work adds to the impact of each one. Reddi-Arts has provided, once again, a chance to see exceptional work by master artists.

 

Advent: a Time of preparation, December 18, 2016

Preparation for the New Year, to continue living with new courage.

Hope is the essence of Advent, this is the time of renewal. Art is the embodiment of hope. Some artists use art to reflect the struggles of the day, but, without the element of hope, art cannot transcend the temporal and become a harbinger for the future.

Art carries within the act, within us, as we experience it, prayers for healing the world’s wounds. The essence of art is a sense of the Whole: a connection with humanity, nature, and ultimately, universal truths, which we can only intuit.

My Advent began with a re-arrangement of my small universe: my home environment which contains meaningful arrangements of decorative boxes, objects, ceramics, glass and pictures. These are changed with the seasons, to keep my mind fresh.   

Today as I put away the past, I chose, subconsciously, things made from many cultures from all around the world, many where I have traveled: Japanese ceramics, Chinese and Korean porcelain, turned stone bowls from ancient Syria and modern Pakistan (where I have not traveled; these were a gift), glassware from Romania (a gift from a young Romanian pianist) and Italy, a Buddhist bell from Thailand (purchased from the Freer Gallery in Washington), a Chinese glass snuff bottle with a painted motif of cranes (a gift to my sister from one of her students).

Cranes also grace my tiny, Korean celedon cup, a symbol of peace and longevity. A feather with a streak of sky blue nestles between small rocks from Mediterranean waters off the coast of Turkey, seated, like imaginary passengers in a small porcelain boat made by a Japanese student I met at the University of Florida, where we made pottery at a student union workshop 15 years ago.

Overseeing these metaphors for peace is a very special manipulated photograph with hand colouring by my friend, the artist, Diane Farris. It was made as one in a series she created after bombings and fires destroyed African-American churches in the South.
It features a church schema cut away, on one side, healing waters flowing around and inside, a lotus leaf, subliminally conjuring the peacefulness of Buddhist thought, with a ghostly iridescent-gold mist, delicate blue grey waves, overall bronze-tinted, tonally, with little contrast except for the outline of the church and its East- facing window. It expresses to me a prayer: perseverance, patience and ultimately, triumph over evil.

Lying near her picture is a portfolio I made, covered with handmade paper, its woodcut design, carved and printed by a Japanese woman master in the 1930s. It contains photographs my German-born father, John Koscielny, made from glass plates in 1925, as he traveled through Norway with his best friend, Harry Berger Nielsen, Norwegian violinist, a fellow student at the Leipzig Conservatory.  Diane Farris made contact sheets for me so that I would have a record of this journey by two friends. Years later, when technology made it possible, I scanned the original plates and printed them on Rives BFK, a wonderful French, handmade paper. These, I collated as a gift for my sister, now deceased. They have come back to me.

The message of all these lovely objects, created with discipline and love of material, is that their integrated cultures are a reminder of our common humanity. We can love one another, respect one another, and celebrate the infinite variety of human expression and religious worship. We are, after all, members of the same family.

Peace on Earth! Good will to all men and women and children, and animals, and the rest of the natural world! Pray for all the victims of war, prejudice, and exclusion.

 

Finished! July 20, 2016

A Portfolio of drawings, pastels and paintings with artist’s statement in the form of a poem: Because, copyright 2002-2016.

After a hiatus following my sister’s death in 2015, I went back to work in the studio this spring, inspired by the suggestion of Diane Farris, the photographer and author, 14 years ago, that I make pictures to accompany the poem and turn it into a book.

Not feeling I have either the resources, or the inclination to make a book of the poem, a box of my design and construction with the poem/pictures in the form of a portfolio, seemed more to my usual mode of working.

The idea of a box is a precious one. A box holds treasures, secrets, tokens, unexpected things. I have boxes of all sizes, made of unusual materials in my surroundings: tiny Chinese boxes made of porcelain, with a single shark tooth fossil, larger ones, made of carved cinnabar, a wooden inlaid one made by my father in 1948 for my grandmother, containing old cracker jack prizes of great ingenuity, Japanese wooden boxes, for porcelain, filled with photographs of loved ones, rattan boxes of beloved correspondences, modern plastic boxes:  my grand-niece’s drawings and letters from earliest childhood to the present, family archives, personal and professional archives, photos, slides, files with ideas for artwork, ceramic experiments, sketchbooks, saved things for collages, such as feathers, shells, dried flowers, antique family baby dresses, lace, and so much more. There are boxes which I made covered with vintage Japanese patterned papers from the late 1930’s to early 1940’s, and, of course, the plexiglas “boxes” [sculptures] which contain the continua of my three-dimensional engraved drawings.

My late friend, Dr. Anwar Kamal, a great collector of art, shared his memory of the box he had as a child in India before Partition. He lived in a village in the Punjab near an ancient archeological site. He and other children played among the deserted ruins where he found “treasures” of porcelain fragments and colourful beetles which he saved. When Partition came and the upheaval of migration forced his family to flee for their lives, he lost that beloved box. An art historian once suggested that the reason people become obsessed with collecting art is because, as children, they suffered the loss of toys or something else precious to them.

I began my box making in graduate school. I suspect the impulse was partly to protect my spirit from what is sometimes the brutal process of higher education. It was, perhaps, a message that said, you may look, but you may not destroy what is my essence.

My latest box, my new portfolio, is opaque, covered in Japanese papers, large (24 x 18), and one must open it and handle, with care, the poem and the drawings. At the age of 75, there is a solid record of my artistic legacy. My essence is no longer in danger. How liberating!

Anne Koscielny, Pianist 1936-2015

A Remembrance: Music and Spirit of a Great Artist

Relevant Links:

You will find recordings of her live performances on YouTube: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=p-SnQ-ovD64. There is also an interview on You Tube with her regarding the 32 Piano Sonatas of Beethoven, which she performed in a complete cycle in each of numerous venues throughout the United States over two decades, along with several recordings of her live performances by other composers, such as Chopin, Schumann, Schubert, Ravel.

Other links of interest:

http://slippedisc.com/2015/02/sad-news-chopin-semi-finalist-dies/

http://www.music.umd.edu/news/post/1353

http://harttalums.blogspot.com/2015/02/anne-koscielny-passes-away.html

http://www.instantencore.com/buzz/item.aspx?FeedEntryId=79118

http://wnpr.org/post/star-making-machinery
http://wnpr.org/post/music-endure-frozen-tundra

http://www.worldcat.org/title/anne-koscielny-piano/oclc/174509788

 

 

My sister, the pianist, Anne Koscielny, died, February 15, 2015, at her home in Heath, Massachusetts, in the presence of her daughter, Cecile, and me and her gentle health member, Ryan.

She had been diagnosed with incurable glio blastoma brain cancer on her 78th Birthday in May, following an operation to remove a tumor from her right frontal lobe.

Amazingly, she was able to perform a demanding concert in her home for 30 people a month later. However, her choice to have chemotherapy and radiation treatments interfered with her quality of life, and her energy began to decline, steadily, although her brilliant mind never faltered, her memory and sense of humor remaining intact.

Miraculously, she, her daughter, grand-daughter, and her son-in-law and I traveled to France in August. Her joy of being in Paris and Provence was worth all the difficulties associated with wheelchairs, international flights and connections, taxis, restaurant access, museums, and churches. She wished she could stay there, forever. And, so did we.


In her last weeks, when she spoke less often, she had said, in response to me, as I told her daughter I thought Anne was trying to teach all of us how to communicate without words, “That’s exactly what I’m trying to do.”  Of course, that was what she did so well, as a musician, and what I have also dedicated my life to doing as an artist. Listening, and looking, directly, into the eyes of our loved ones tells us much of what we need to know. One must open up silence to give and receive the message.

She gained courage in the face of something she had always feared, with her quest for the “answers” to the mysteries of life, and of death, continuing to the end.

The last few moments were peaceful and, as she took her final breaths, her beautiful aquamarine eyes brightened as she looked, directly, into mine. She was no longer afraid. Her soul passed out of her eyes, peacefully.

It was a sacred moment.

I am grateful for some of the more important lessons my older sister taught me throughout my life. Among these, were proper grammar, how to drive a car, the vast piano repertoire, musical taste in performance derived from listening to the masters of the art. Her greatest lesson was her last gift to me: how to die with grace.

A brief summary of her career follows:

Her career as a pianist spanned several continents: Europe: beginning in Poland, where she was a finalist in the 1960 Chopin Piano Competition, performing with orchestras in Warsaw and throughout Poland; Germany, Italy, Austria, London, England, where she debuted at Wigmore Hall; Brazil, South America; Taiwan, performing with the Taipei Symphony; The Peoples Republic of China; and the United States, where she debuted at Kennedy Center, performed at the National Gallery and the Phillips Gallery in Washington; in New York, where she won the Kosciusko Foundation Award, The Fulbright Award for study in Vienna; performing throughout the United States as a soloist as well as with orchestras, such as the Boston Pops, the National Gallery Orchestra, the Hartford Symphony, and The Jacksonville Symphony. Her perfomances were heard on NPR, as well.

 

She was an celebrated Professor of Music at the Hartt College of Music in Hartford, Ct, for 27 years, and, beginning in 1987, at the University of Maryland, College Park, where she was invited to be Artist-in-Residence, becoming a Full Professor there, retiring in 2000.

Her former students came from all parts of the world. Many of them traveled to be with her during her illness, from Asia, Ireland, New York, Washington, Boston, Baltimore, and other cities, regardless of weather. Her colleagues, as well, made the difficult trek to the northwest corner of rural Massachusetts to be there with her, for support, and, finally, for her funeral on February 21, a day which ended in the silence of heavy snow.

She lived her life kindly, and well: a spontaneously joyous (often hilarious), generosity of spirit shared with friends, family, students, and audiences.                                                                                      

Rediscovering French Masters: Corot and Delacroix at the Louvre

 

My grand-niece and I entered a room at the Louvre, looking for another artist, and encountered the galleries devoted to Corot. One thinks one "knows" Corot from familiarity, but instantly, I was struck by how fresh and beautiful his work is, especially, as far as colour is concerned. The architecture of his works, whether landscape, cityscape, or portrait, is so solid, so anchored. I can think of no other artist who can make one feel so confidently paced in space, other than Hans Holbein.

My 14 year old grand-niece was particularly taken with his work, and kept returning to certain pieces, for a second look. It was delightful to notice, as others did, her resemblance to Corot's models. Someone passing by said, "It's enough of a resemblance to be a relation."

I am constantly seeing facsimiles of famous artist's models in contemporary society. From Italian women holding chubby babies in their laps (think Raphael), to young male German tourists, (think Dürer), or, the young girl with dark eyebrows and large eyes at the check-out counter (think Matisse), to the light and colour of landscapes, (Constable), seascapes, (Turner, Monet, Gericault, Delacroix, et al), one is constantly reminded of the special qualities of life and nature artists have chosen to point out to us.

In one of the galleries, mostly devoted to Corot, there were two striking pictures, almost side by side. One, a watercolour study for Gericault's Raft of Medusa, the other, a painting by Delacroix, Orphan Girl in the Cemetery. Both works resonated as we later entered the Grand Gallery and saw the huge painting by Gericault which we could compare with the compositional study seen earlier. And then, Delacroix: The Massacre at Schio, which features a young boy figure based on the Orphan Girl..the painting is especially poignant in view of the atrocities playing out in the Middle East this summer.

With all it's technical flaws, the very monumental painting, The Death of Sardonapolis is still a stupendous picture to look at. The composition is so dramatically different from everything else around it, the drama, or, melodrama so heightened, that one can understand how controversial it was when it hung in the Salon as one of Delacroix's first entries onto the art scene. The other large Delacroix, Liberty Leading the People, held up very well as an iconic image. And, as we left, I glanced at the composition and colour of the monumental David paintings and realized what a leap into the modern world Delacroix had made with his compositions and his colour.

Even with his large overhead mural, Apollo Vanquishing the Serpent Python, 1850-51, in the Apollo Gallery, surrounded by Baroque sculpture and painting from the reign of Louis XIV, he managed to hold his own originality. Because it is a late work, and an official commission, his style is more harmonious with the setting, but loses nothing of the energy of his dramatic composition. The colour is overwhelming, other works in the gallery are dull by comparison. He holds his own, over a 150 plus years later.

There is much still left to learn from the Masters, and still much "unfinished business" of ideas and forms for present and future artists.

©Margaret Koscielny, October 1-2, 2014

 

August___1914: 100 Year Anniversary

"August____1914," the date stamped in red ink on a little pasted paper form, "Date due" at the top. The small volume was "The Georgics," by the great Roman poet, Virgil [b., 70 B.C.,d.,19 B.C.].

Down in the dark of the deserted second subbasement floor at the University of Georgia Library, this 3rd year student was accompanied by a librarian who joked that, sometimes, they caught students "making out" in the stacks, because nobody except librarians came down there to look for anything. It was 1961.

Dr. Harry Carracci Rutledge, Classics Professor wanted me to read "The Georgics" in the original Latin, out loud, to myself, to appreciate the beauty of the original language. The finest teacher I ever had, in any discipline, Dr. Rutledge was the inspirer of my desire to dig deeply into literature, to discover the classical allusions in modern works. His world view as a scholar matched my curiosity about the layers of history which thrust up, like geological extrusions, bringing memory of ancient times into the present. A unified whole of human and earthly knowledge to be discovered.

The poignancy of the date, "August___1914" carried me away to my own grandfather's history. It was the date of German mobilization, and Opa's role, as an Polish Uhlan, in the Prussian Army. It was, also, probably the last generation of young Georgia men to read "The Georgics" in Latin.

Classical studies seemed a bit irrelevant after the carnage of that war. The flower of that age,who studied the subtleties of human knowledge, who strived for a compleat education, was now dead, replaced by tough survivors of the war: materialists, pragmatists, future workers and businessmen. The lessened role of the intelligentsia, the notion that a study of Greek and Latin and other languages was not necessary in a modern world, gripped the American psyche and influenced our education system.

The discipline future leaders of our culture had gleaned from declining Latin nouns, conjugating Latin verbs, the insights from a study of Ancient Greece and Imperial Rome, and, most especially, the joys of reciting Classical poetry was lost in the carnage of The Great War.

I held the book in my hands, and I cried for the all lost young men. And, for our culture.

Copyright, Margaret Koscielny, July 31, 2014

Kindness vs. "Pleasing People"

Above all, I believe in being kind.

Kindness is comfort. All people need comforting. Life is hard: each person suffers. We are equal in this regard.

"Pleasing people" comes from intimidation. It comes from fear. It is a movement into the self; it is the result of maneuvering for self-protection. The need for self-protection is rooted in abuse: mental or physical, societal, cultural, institutional, etc.

Kindness moves outward. Kindness is empathy for the human condition. Some of the kindest people are those who have suffered the most.

Women have traditionally tended toward "pleasing people" because of eons of abuse which have imprinted in the female instinct the need for self-preservation.
There have always been strong women who discerned the difference between actions deriving from intimidation and those which connect one human to another on a spiritual level.

Kindness is strength. Kindness acts come from self-confidence. "Pleasing people" is weakness and comes from lack of self-esteem.

There are times when "pleasing people" and kindness overlap, at least, in appearance. This can be misinterpreted, disparaged, and sometimes taken advantage of by the unscrupulous.

Instincts are spontaneous. Empathy is spontaneous. Le Corbusier one stated: "Spontaneity is the very essence of the human spirit."

Self-esteem is deeply rooted: its expression is transparent to the observer. How to turn the spontaneous action of a woman with low self-esteem into one of confidence is problematic. It requires a continuing effort, therapy, good friends, changed relationships, and different choices of environment.

One simply must change her life and her mind. She must re-condition every aspect of her habits, thought processes, dreams of the future.

The Woman's Movement did not go far enough. It dead-ended into a quest for personal power, but it failed in changing the universal female condition of exploitation and abuse.

WOMEN ARE THE MOST OPPRESSED MEMBERS OF THE HUMAN RACE.

Every woman should commit to changing these circumstances.

WOMEN CONSTITUTE THE MAJORITY IN THE ENTIRE WORLD.

This is potential power which could change their status as well as change the world for the better.

Some of the ways the current power structure hinders this from coming to fruition
begins with economics as it effects salaries, health benefits, leave time and career advancement. Distractions, such as fashion, cosmetic surgery, celebrity-watching, entertainment themes with dubious role models of actresses and performers feed feelings of inadequacy and low self-esteem. The focus is on superficial appearances and low expectations, the stock in trade of advertising partnered with corporate, government and institutional intentions of maintaining the status quo of female oppression.

WOMEN MUST HELP EACH OTHER TO FULFILL THEIR POTENTIAL.

WOMEN MUST BE KIND TO ONE ANOTHER, AND TO MEN.

And kind men who care make the greatest difference of all.

ⓒMargaret Koscielny, April 30, 2014

 

 

Hiatus on Blogging

This has been a very difficult time for our family with the recent illness of my sister, a noted pianist.

We plan travel in the weeks ahead, to take advantage of the time which will allow us, as a family, to celebrate her life and give her, as well as all of us, hope for a miraculous outcome. Our focus is on the joys of life, love, and the communion of friends and colleagues who have responded so generously, giving their time, traveling great distances to be with her, to cook and to help drive her to treatments.

When malcontents rant that the world is filled with scoundrels, I can only counter with the facts, as we have witnessed: people are filled with empathy and good will towards their fellow human beings when they are in distress. Among the people who have been the most loving and generous are people in the arts: musicians, an artist and an architect, an art curator, several university professors, and former piano students of my sister. Her neighbors have been extraordinarily generous with their time and energy, helping to find the best medical facilities and heath care assistants. Human beings once more rise to the occasion, meeting our expectations of the German proverb our father used to quote: "as you holler into the forest, so it echoes you back." As a teacher, a hostess, a friend, my sister is hearing many beautiful echoes of her life, so well and generously spent for others.

On A Roll!

It's been a month since I last posted, but that is because I have been channeling my thoughts away from writing to the movement from my eyes to my heart to my hand to paper, with pen, ink, scissors and glue.

Paraphrasing e.e. cummings: Springtime is drawing time! So, viva sweet Spring!

My new pictures are large, black and white, and I'm not giving any secrets away until I add them to my web site in the near future. I'm building a show of these with my 3-d drawings (maquettes), plus some new ones which are an extension of my new drawing collages. (With a plan to make them into larger works of a permanent  transparent material.)

It's been a while since I was this excited about my work. I'm taking the advice I gave out in January to elder artists: keep working! You will surprise yourself with break though into new territory, or, perhaps, a refined realization of what you have been too busy to notice, that what you have been doing for the past 50 years had a potential you hadn't tapped into!

Those collages I started making from old work I was throwing away back in 2009, although not directly related to what I am doing now, was a liberation from the past. The new collages have new drawing. The clarity is startling to even me!

Hooray! Back on the roll!

Enzo Torcoletti at the Cummer Museum Sculpture garden

Approaching the Cummer from the West on Riverside Avenue, it would be easy to miss the"frieze" of sculptures by Enzo Torcoletti installed between large square, fluted columns parallel to the street. This is because of the placement of the columns, which obscures his modestly-sized works until one is stopped at the light, or while standing on the sidewalk immediately opposite the configuration. The installation of the works, when approached from a sidewalk intended for that purpose, are somewhat overwhelmed by the weight and scale of the columns plus the heavy lintel overhead, connecting the "façade." But, at least, we are allowed to see the work up close.

The insistence of the architecture does not prevent Torcoletti's works from asserting their authority as works of art. He has chosen pieces, all figurative, which encompass a range of stone material, carving technique, as well as various degrees of abstraction covering his career from the 1960's to the present.

We are treated to the Brancusi-like Embrace, from 1969, with its polished surface of very white marble and shallow carving within a cubic block, which emphasizes the emotional aspects of the idea. This work contrasts strongly, with Upper Nile, from a more recent date. This stunning work is done in a dark grey stone which Torcoletti has carved into a twisting shape, crowned by rough cutting at the top, which flares out from the figure. It is a metaphor for the river, which flares at its entry to the Mediterranean, while darkly mysterious, like the continent through which it flows.

There are a few other figures from early in his career which border on a kind of schema, which tend to look a bit dated compared to his mature work. But, they are mostly from the early phase of a career which has been shaped by steady self-criticism and awareness leading to genuine development of ideas around the subject of human form. One such example of a compleat idea is a dark grey piece which is iconic in form. Compact, with alternating smooth, polished surfaces and rough cutting, this piece has, at its apex, through cutting, suggesting a head with religious meaning. Not necessarily a specific religion, although a cross-shape suggests a face. I found myself thinking of this piece long after I had seen it. This only happens with works that have substance to them.

There are numerous works, here, ranging in various coloured stones, from white to pink, or buff, to red and dark brown, to grey. They are all approximately the same scale, much smaller than the works shown at JMOCA this Winter.

Torcoletti has established a recognizable style without repeating himself. This is most evident with the larger works, not seen here, but there are works at the Cummer exhibit which suggest the broad range of his thinking and technique.

The outdoor exhibit which is open at all hours, free to the public, will be at the Cummer until January 2015.  Do not miss it. It is part of a well-deserved celebration of Torcoletti's work which started at JMOCA in a one man show at the end of 2013, which I have reviewed earlier.

There are a few other artists in this area who also deserve retrospectives at either of the two museums. Jacksonville tends to turn against the past accomplishments of its artists, as well as every good thing invented in the past. As a result, the city keeps trying to "reinvent the wheel," as a sage elder friend describes it. Let us hope that the interest in Torcoletti's work is not diminished, and that it will serve to stimulate more exhibits, perhaps even group shows of other deserving senior artists from the area.

Remarkable Chamber Performances

When was the last time you heard a chamber concert which featured three string quartet ensembles, two string duos and two violin solos with piano accompaniment, while sampling the works of Borodin, Saint-Saëns, Mozart, Vivaldi, Massenet and Shostakovich? And were performed by musicians ranging in age from the teens to the forties?

If you were sufficiently tuned in, you would have heard this concert by the present and former chamber music students of Prelude Chamber Music, Inc, along with three members of the faculty, two of which are members of the Jacksonville Symphony Orchestra, at their Annual Patron Appreciation Party at a beautiful home in San Marco, graciously offered by a local music lover as the venue. The home was a perfect setting for what chamber music was originally designed for: an intimate space for 50-75 people with sympathetic acoustic.  

For the past 13 years, senior musicians from the community, along with their colleagues from the Symphony, have been conducting an annual summer day camp
which has drawn musicians of all ages from as far away as Maryland, Brunswick, St. Augustine, and other communities surrounding Jacksonville. In addition to classes where they are coached in chamber performance, students study music theory, history, composition, improvisation, singing, and orchestra. They hear daily special events which feature the performances of "visiting firemen," outstanding musicians passing through the area, the resident chamber group, The Ritz Players, and imported national and international ensembles, such as the Enso Quartet, St. Lawrence Quartet, and, this summer, The Dover Quartet, who give Master Classes and free performances to the public.

This great opportunity for special young people to excel and to grow in their chosen field has provided the foundation for further study at major music conservatories. In the case of minority students, it provides a link to activities which are inclusive and colour-blind. Having watched these students, and, in fact, all of them over several years, I can attest to the steady development of raw talent into serious musicians. It is also an opportunity for older musicians to refresh their skills, while having the pleasure of playing chamber music with their peers.

Now to the specifics. Leading off, the Honors Quartet from the University of North Florida, led by Joseph Henderson, first violin, Julia Sedloff, second violin, Saori Kozawa, viola and Paul Lee, cello, performed the Nocturne from Borodin's String Quartet No. 2. Elegant tone, balanced dynamics, with subtle passion and sentimentality, the group blended with Henderson's tender reading in a gentle launch to the concert. This was followed by The Swan from Saint-Saëns Carnival of the Animals, with Leah Chappell, cello and her sister, Marie, harp. Leah, a former Prelude camper and graduate of F.S.U. played this favorite piece with sensitive understanding, while her sister, Marie, performed on the harp, creating a sparkled accompaniment like so many trails of water following the path of the swan.

Two faculty, Chris Chappell, violin, and Ellen Olson, viola, both members of the Symphony, performed the Rondeau from Mozart's Duo in G Major, K 423, one of his delightful smaller works which carry so much deep meaning. These two musicians performed together in such a manner that the simplicity of Mozart's music took a natural path to the listener.

This was followed by movements 2 and 3 of the familiar Vivaldi Harp Concerto, performed by three members of the Chappell family, with Ellen Olson, viola. Marie, harpist, is the 15 year old daughter of Chris Chappell, and has, in just a few short years, acquired an excellent technique with the ability to express musicality in a manner beyond her years.

Joseph Henderson, violinist, returned as soloist with the pianist, Yukino Miyake, to play the Introduction and Rondo Capriccioso of Saint-Seans, a standard piece in the violin repertoire, and one that continues to be a favorite of audiences because of the range of feeling with major demands on technique for the violinist. Henderson, who is graced with an elegant, reserved presence, displayed a spirit which plumbed the sweetness of Saint-Sean's composition while meeting the test of the flamboyant, spirited Rondo. Blessed with long fingers and musical taste, Henderson, a graduate of Prelude Chamber Music Camp and currently student at UNF, has steadily developed his talent, leading one to anticipate his successful future in music as he matures and develops his range of expression.

Meditation, by Jules Massenet was given a poignant rendering by Chris Chappell and his wife, Sara, pianist, as a familiar musical offering contrasting with what was to follow with the last movements of the Shostakovich String Quartet No.8 by the Honors Quartet of Jacksonville University. Eagerly and authoritatively led by Edward Latimer, first violin, with Joseph Schmidt, second violin, Jake Campbell, viola, and Joseph Engel, cello, the group exploded with Russian passion, the extreme rhythms and demanding range of sound of Shostakovich's masterpiece driving the music forward toward the final movement, somber, mystical, ending in a whisper of sound. This was an exceptional performance by a well-coached and rehearsed ensemble who have learned how to work together to create a whole musical experience. One hopes there is a future for this quartet of young men who play so well together. As individual musicians, there is no doubt that they will be successful, but one hopes that there will an opportunity for them to continue as a group, as they seem to have the necessary chemistry to continue as such.

To contribute to tax deductible scholarships for Prelude Chamber Music, Inc., please visit their beautiful web site, at http://www.preludechambermusic.org or write the director, Jeanne Majors at majorkey@bellsouth.net for further information.

More Questions for Artists:

What is it about your work which could change how people view the world? Or perceive? Or think?

Do you draw every day? Why do you draw the way you do? What are you after in your drawings?

What materials have you chosen? How do you use your material in ways that no one else has used them? Have you discovered new materials to make art not used in the past by anybody else?

What earliest memories do you have which directly feed the way you perceive the world, use material, and provide the focus of your life's work? How has your environment shaped your art?

What contribution have you made to art which no one else has done before you?

What do you hope to accomplish for yourself? For Art?

Toward A New Paradigm For Art

Re-reading art critical writings, such as Clement Greenberg, Rosalind Krauss and others from the the 1950's to the 1980's, is a reminder for this artist of how much our contemporary situation has changed because of the digital revolution connected with the growth of global capitalism.

From the instant shock we experienced as we first viewed Earth from the Apollo Mission and realized that there were not boundaries between countries, that we humans were alone, and together, on one Planet, we have created a cybernetic linkage throughout the world through the Internet. All this, in less 30 years!

During this time, the Earth has suffered struggles between International Capitalism and cultures locked into religious and tribal patterns, which due to lack of universal education and the enlightenment which follows, have not created modern technology to assist their economic, social and agricultural needs. At a disadvantage, their natural resources and people have been exploited, their economic systems overwhelmed by foreign products, and their political self-determination undermined by corrupt alliances with Multinational Corporations and military interventions.

These cultural struggles have generated wars, displaced whole populations, racial and religious persecution, with individual and collective acts of dramatic destruction.

With Globalism has come Totalitarian Capitalism: the "new world order" promised by former President George Herbert Walker Bush at the end of his term. In 1990, a full ten years before the Millennium, the new term, "Globalism," reverberated throughout mass media, even appearing in fashion magazine articles. It all sounded so wonderful! Multiculturalism was also part of the "new world order" as a component of what turned out in the end, to be a reaching for a larger global consumer market.

Globalism was, and is, a planned order of consumption, with cheap manufacturing, marketing, profits and more consumption in an "endless" loop. Sustainability be damned! The tragic consequences to the Earth environment, human and animal health is shared by Art Institutions. Nearly everyone now serves the hegemony of the Totalitarian Capitalist model. It takes great will power to avoid the lure which drags even artists into the maelstrom of Materialism with its rewards of possible fame, celebrity, wealth.

Through global interconnection, art fairs, world class museums in so-called developing countries, the art world is exposed to diverse expressions by artists whose originality is derived from their individual cultures. But, like the world music movement, such art is threatened with a homogenization that eats away at the moral, religious and social meanings behind the work of these artists.

This is the effect of business models of production which have crept into Art Institutions which have embraced a system dependent on marketing. The Art Tradition which was formerly dependent upon connoisseurship and educated eyes which provided  filters that refined the search for important talent has been replaced by a demand for easily identifiable images which can be marketed via the web.

This unfortunate state of affairs has extended to museums which have allowed themselves to become dependent upon corporate sponsorship and Trustees who come from the corporate world: a world which does not tolerate challenges to its power. A mindset which is built on mass exploitation is not going to be amenable to Art which challenges the system which the Trustees represent: the sacred role of Art to nurture the individual spirit while revealing the flaws in contemporary society.

This situation is enough to create despair among the cognoscenti, the artists, experts, serious collectors, critics and museum curators, but not, thank goodness, to discourage the Brave, who labor on in search for meaningful art, keeping their integrity and moral values intact, not catering to vapid consumer tastes.

Grand themes still exist in Art. There are still artists, such as Richard Serra, who creates work which uses and reflects the cosmic laws of physics. There are those who celebrate the natural world, such as James Turrell, the poets who walk the mountains and forests, such as Richard Long and Andy Goldsworthy, expressing human awe over those cosmic forces which can be experienced in the visible world. Through mathematics, the order which it represents, the logic of a unifying idea is used by Dorothea Rockeburne to create work that expresses the ideal of a moral, transcendent Universe.

So, ART IS NOT DEAD! The banalities of Warhol, Koons and the empress-without-clothes, Marina Abromovic, are worn out. Warhol's values are passé. Koons has none, and Abromovic is a pathetic object for the admiration of libidinous men of a certain age. Art has a greater purpose than merchandise for the jaded, the bored and the visually ignorant with too much money.

The Corporate "muzak," giant video installations of meaninglessness in major museums, provide backdrops for the artistically bankrupt. A new paradigm is needed for genuine artists and their audiences to provide the spark which can ignite social forces to combat ersatz-entertainments-masquerading-as-art which dull the senses, sap the spirit, and render audiences passive. Trusting one's eye, the viewer, the curator, the critic, is led toward those artists who have the power that comes from insight to make Art which causes us to question and to act. History assures us of this.
 

 

New Paradigms for artists

A challenge to artists: when you have your next exhibit, request a notice be posted stating that a percentage of the artist's net income from sales will be donated to charities and foundations for the benefit of society. Such charities can be for aid to sick or indigent elder artists, food banks, health foundations, animal rights and health organizations, reading programs for children and adults, environmental organizations, etc. If you can't afford this, let your patrons know you will be volunteering for a service organization on a regular basis.

By doing this, you send a message: artists are not doing what they do for money. They are doing it because they care about the world they live in and the world they want to leave behind. It is their Art with which they aspire to change the status quo for the better. Take Materialism out of the process. Disarm the corporate-business model, the one that promotes celebrity and wealth at the expense of ideas and social welfare.

Such an action could have a ripple effect. Collectors could also match the donation of the artist, on the spot, and double the contribution to those worthy causes. And, self-interest is not likely to suffer: tax- deductions for everyone.

Artists should live their Art. That's the ethical and moral imperative.

Questions for Artists

What is Art for?

What moral responsibility does an artist have?

What obligation does an artist have to create art with ethical and moral values?

What exemplary model for the whole society can an artist create as a paradigm?

Which path to Art would you follow, as an artist? Van Gogh"s or Andy Warhol's?

As an artist, how do you see yourself?

Is Art just another job?

Please feel free to comment. These are not just rhetorical questions. And, they are not easy to answer.

Works in Progress

The lack of posts in the past few weeks is not due to lack of thoughts, or ideas for posts. It is because I can't walk, talk and chew gum, figuratively speaking. When I go into art-making mode, it's hard to express myself in words. It seems I have two sides to my brain, as an ambidextrous person, which work well together in some activities, but not when I'm deeply involved in making art, which requires my whole self.

But, stay tuned, as I am percolating some thoughts which riff off of some I have already expressed here in earlier posts, regarding the state of art, now.

A serious art critic friend of mine in New York sourly expressed that it was very discouraging that there was too much to deal with in the current art scene. I have my theories, and some of the New York Times critics have theirs. I think we are all trying to direct the discussion toward more seriousness and away from so much commercialization and corporate-sponsored stuff. So, stay tuned. I'll be back with some more ideas, soon.

Real Time Art vs. reproductions


Modern technologies such as the slide projector, film, video, and television have presented us with deceptions, rather than actual experiences of Art.

The fallacies of Art "Appreciation" presentations with the unavoidable distortions inherent in lecture slide shows have presented us with a situation which perpetuates "Lies" about Artists and their works.  These fallacies put too much garbage between us and the Art. (As does television, discussed below.)

Such deceptions subvert an Art image through technologies which translate an Art Work into altered sizes, colours, removing all tactile qualities, i.e., characteristics of media, material, and variations in surface levels, such as the 3-dimensional aspects of impasto (paint), relief, textures, projection of the piece from the wall, the work's relationship to the surface on which it is hung (if a painting), or the space in which it is installed (if a sculpture). To see the REAL THING for the first time, intimately, in Real Time, in a museum is a shock!

The resulting heavy weight of misrepresentation throws the Art Work off balance, leading to a viewer's misinterpretation coupled with an attendant lack of real understanding of the artistic significance of the Work.

As an artist who suffered the requisite art history lectures in a darkened amphitheater with faded, poorly-photographed slides of Art shown vastly out of scale with the real size of the Works, I am an advocate of the only alternative: an encounter with the Real in Real Time.

Thus, the necessity of museum visits. Any art department of a university which does not include these visits as part of the requirements for an art history or studio course is negligent. A student who does not have such opportunities on a regular basis should hold the university accountable for not living up to their responsibility to offer honest curriculum . An analogous situation would be to teach a chemistry class without a lab or chemicals, or physics without models, literature without books, law without studies of court decisions.

Thus begs the question: should every art student abandon the inferior art education in these institutions and gravitate towards art schools in larger communities where there are museums possessing significant collections? Could universities add trips to cultural centers as a required part of the curriculum be included in the price of tuition? It would certainly test the sincerity of a university's commitment to Art Education, the expertise of the professors, and the inner drive of the art student to complete his Bildung. [Bildung: a German word, meaning life-long personal growth through education, suggesting the intention of living to one's full potential.]

Personally, my answer to the question: if the institution of higher education has a great collection, such as Harvard or Princeton, and art schools, which are located in cities where access to the greatest collections are located, Chicago Art Institute, Boston School of Fine Arts, Philadelphia Academy, Tyler School of Art (Philadelphia), Corcoran School of Art (Washington, D.C.), Art Students League, New York Institute of Art, Pratt (New York) for instance, then, that is where students should study art.

The democratization of Art in America has been a failure: after a 50 year period of expansion in state university art programs, much mediocrity characterizes a large percentage of work produced by graduates of programs which have not included encounters with the great works of Art which should have been an integral part of a compleat education.

I will speak for my own education experience. I earned two degrees at one of the largest university art departments in the U.S. It was not until I traveled throughout the country and abroad over a 30 year period visiting museums in Boston, Washington, Chicago, San Francisco, New York, Paris, London, Milan, Venice, Bern, and not until I lived in New York City for 10 years that I finally obtained the art education (through daily encounters with great art) which I craved as a seriously committed artist. In essence, I had wasted 7 years of my youthful energy in the 1960's rebelling against the limitations of the prevailing pattern in university art education and, for 2 more years, was mis-directed toward teaching, which, though a noble profession, was never my ultimate ambition. Working in a museum for 5 years provided great opportunities for a much wider art education by a Harvard-educated Director, Joseph Jeffers Dodge, who taught me, to give only one example, the joys of 17th Century Art and its attendant history, for which I had not developed an appreciation, for I had not been prepared, thoroughly, while a student, for understanding the importance of this period to the subsequent development of European art. From this point on, I committed to being a full time artist so that I could study art in a more focused manner.

One could argue that art education for the educated masses is a good thing. I agree. But, when that so-called education distorts the very meaning of Art, then, neither society, nor Art, benefits. Europeans, for instance, have an advantage, for, even in the most provincial places, there are examples of great art, architecture, and public art works. It would seem that many ordinary people, there, learn by osmosis as well as education, from constant exposure to art in their environment, resulting in an understanding and appreciation which allows for tolerance. Art, for them, is normal activity. Here, for the general public, it is mostly the playground of those who have enough money and time to spend on it. As for the rest, in America, art is mostly a target of outrage, ridicule, or, a matter disregarded as a serious topic for discussion; either that, or fodder for Corporate prestige. Art, as decoration, without philosophical implications.

One only needs to look around at the American landscape to see dreadfully unsuccessful examples of public art which special (ignorant, but well-meaning) civic committees, and panels of local (self-described) art professionals have judged as the "best" of American art. This is where the "Lie," or deceptive education practice ultimately leads us. Uninformed choices with mediocre results.

Perhaps, this is why, if a foreigner thinks of an iconic American image, it is the Coca-Cola™ bottle or the banal scupture in New York Harbor, The Statue of Liberty (by a French sculptor!). If we were to think of Florence, it would be Michelangelo's David, Paris, The Victory of Samothrace, at The Louvre, Berlin, The Brandenburg Gate, or the Altar of Zeus from Pergamon, Rome, Bernini's Baldacchino, The Vatican, Michelangelo's Pietá,  London, The Elgin Marbles, or Leonardo's, Virgin, Child and St. Anne, and so forth.

American media, instead, offers its consumers token, ersatz art experiences: TV documentaries featuring formulaic museum tours interspersed with brief interviews, the art in the background of the interviewee, or the art work scanned within 10 seconds or less. The other favorite genre is the prurient artist biography, focusing on how miserable his life was because of his neurosis, love life, or insanity, plus his poverty. The superficiality of such an approach erodes the impact of Art and its meaning within a cultural context, contributing to the notion of Art as perishable "entertainment." Thus, the blockbuster mentality which drives droves of uncomprehending masses to the "must see" exhibit, so they can brag that they "saw" it. Art as Fashion: art of the "moment."

There are still, in spite of the state of media and other forms of art education, significant exhibits at the major museums. From these opportunities, the best American artists are inspired, which is a tribute to their serious study of Real Art in Real Time. They are qualified to be taken seriously as artists because they truly understand what came before, through encounters with THE REAL THING: Great Works of Art, with the attendant understanding of their meaning in the scheme of a larger world of Art and Life.

©Margaret Koscielny, 2014

Enzo Torcoletti at JMOCA

Enzo Torcoletti at JMOCA and the Cummer Museum of Art and Gardens

A dreary post-holidays visit to the Jacksonville Museum of Contemporary Art provided the happy reward of an important exhibit of Enzo Torcoletti's sculptures which wed the modernism of Brancusi's elegant reductions and the material force of Noguchi's virtuosity with stone and wood, with Classical themes and mythology. This is an artist who has consistently grown his own original ideas from his masterful predecessors.

Every artist builds his work where there remains "unfinished" business from the past. Torcoletti's mature work, developed in Italy and St. Augustine over the past 35 years or more, carries tradition as a companion, but not as a straitjacket.

It is difficult for me to think of another sculptor in North East Florida with his deep awareness of past cultures married to an understanding of material limitations and possibilities, which Torcoletti utilizes in his masterful, seductively beautiful oeuvre.

The only other sculptor of note in this area is Joe Segal, whose works also reveal a dedicated development of a strong aesthetic over a career of several decades.

Unfortunately, the rest are hobbyists, or amateurs without foundational knowledge of art history and/or the skills: mechanical, spiritual or intellectual, which a serious artist must have an abundance of. In addition, artists must carry tradition with an awareness of our time in order to avoid the complacency of provincialism, with its ignorance of the larger world of art.

Torcoletti  is honored with two exhibits: one at the Cummer Museum as well as the one at JMOCA. (I have not yet seen the exhibit at the Cummer.)

At JMOCA, too little space has been provided to give each work distance for full, unimpeded viewing. It would have been better to have shown his works in the larger galleries, or at least used the other side gallery, opposite. Nevertheless, the intimacy of the small gallery allows the work to be seen in close juxtaposition, reinforcing the diversity of form and surface which he has so skillfully shaped.

The pieces are human-scaled, and the shaping of each element has the warmth of human touch, even when the work has been polished, as with the wooden elements of certain pieces, or ground to a uniform surface as with granite and marble. His choice of material is appropriate to the themes he uses for inspiration.

In only a few pieces, the bases are either non-existent or generic. Whether that is because they may be destined for permanent public placement which might be a limitation in this regard, or, whether Torcoletti has other reasons,  the absence of bases which "finish off" some of the works is not serious enough to interfere with the overall success of his works. (This is my only criticism) One thinks of Brancusi who made the base a part of the sculpture, often changing them, or recycling other bases for better effect. Torcoletti does finish, or integrate with the carving, the bases of certain pieces which adds to the strength of those sculptures.

The splendid large drawings Torcoletti has included which are studies or designs of the works shown either here or at the Cummer Museum, give insight into the meticulousness of Torcoletti's thought processes. In these beautiful drawings, one senses the chiseling and emphasis of form which will evolve from his initial ideas. Some of the works have not yet been realized, which is tantalizing for the viewer.

The finished quality of these drawings suggest that they are the final presentation, rather than working drawings, or sketches of ideas for sculpture, although there are revealing glimpses into the complexity of installation for some of the large, outdoor, public pieces. These are the works of a truly professional artist who thinks out the contingencies of sometimes difficult installations.

It would have been interesting to see some of Torcoletti's initial drawn markings from which we might learn more about the inner rhythms of his thought processes. We are presented with the virtuosity without a sense of the struggle for form which every artist goes through as part of the process. In a museum show, such as this, working drawings should also have been presented. It is the initial intuitive drawings which reveal the first response to a vision and tell us so much more about the artist.

Drawing is the foundation of any serious work of art. It is the skeleton upon which the artist builds his dreams. Torcoletti shows his strength of vision in his drawings and his deeply refined, tactile sculptures in this outstanding exhibition.

http://southlightgallery.com/enzo-torcoletti/

http://www.joesegal.com/resume/

Legato...Line in music: world class music-making

David Finckel, Cellist and Wu Han, Pianist in concert

In a digital world with snippets of thought translated into pixels of 0's and 1's, we are losing sense of the lyrical..the line that carries a thought, a sound, an idea through space and time. In music, this line is called "legato" and is used to express, to tie together, much like a sentence, separate notes into a wholeness of thought. (This also is an element in visual art and ballet, but more about that another time.)

A master of this on the cello, David Finckel, was heard last night in a performance at St. Paul's-by-the-Sea as part of the free Beaches Fine Arts Series. He was partnered by his wife, the exuberant Wu Han, in works by Russian composers of the late 19th, early to mid Twentieth century; the two, international stars in the concert galaxy.

Opening with the Prokovieff Sonata C Major, Op.119, written in 1949, Finckel gave us a range of dynamic expressiveness from the most delicate pianissimo to robust animal-like leaps with a huge sound which could compete with the athleticism of the piano part with its typical "Prokovieff-ian" bombast. If there was anything else a composer could coax out of either instrument, one would have to wait for John Cage's "prepared piano" pieces later in the century, and his composition for nude cellist, wrapped in cellophane.

Prokovieff could be quite a "rude" composer, from early in his career, breaking rules right and left, aggressively re-arranging the music world's idea of the proper order of musical notes. Another Russian rival, Igor Stravinsky, was doing the same thing in Paris, while the Austrian, Arnold Schoenberg, was whooping it up in Vienna, alarming folks with his twelve-tone rows. This was the Twentieth century, and by golly, things were just going to have to change! (Like it or not.)

But, Prokovieff still possessed enough of that mysteriously romantic, sometimes nostalgic, Russian genetic code which allowed him to create memorable melodies of infinite sweetness, overlaid with Soviet-induced cynicism, sometimes stopping at the point of irony and sarcasm. He even created some compositions for the piano entitled, "Sarcasms." He could also go in the other direction with his "Visions Fugitives" for Piano, Op. 22.

The night of my first hearing of this sonata, my sister showed me a record album by an unknown (sic) Russian cellist, Mstislav Rostropovich, whom she declared to be "the greatest cellist in the world." (This was 1964), And, so he was: a force of Nature. And, what set Rostropovich apart from the other cellists of the day was his beautiful legato, the singing quality, matching the violin in its purity of tone, with none of the "tubby" sound that the cello can succumb to in lesser hands. His sound was ethereal, like something heaven sent: a transcendental, floating sound. David Finckel is his successor, not only in time, but in technique, having studied for a time with Rostropovich. But, Finckel is his own man: what he brings to the playing of the cello he can claim as his own creativity.

The balance of this creativity is in his choice of collaborator an wife, pianist, Wu Han, who, with the difficult repertoire of the evening, the Prokovieff, Shostakovich's Cello and Piano Sonata in D Minor, Op. 40 (1934), Scriabin's Five Preludes for Solo Piano, Op. 16 (1894-1896), followed by the Rachmaninoff Sonata for Cello and Piano in G Minor, Op. 19 (1901), gave lie to a common  misperception that sonatas are for cello with piano "accompaniment."

In all these pieces, there is plenty of hard work to share all around! And Wu Han expresses her part with so much of what the Chinese refer to as Chi: Cosmic Dragon's Breath. Great energy in spirit, with the warmth of her particular musical nature  combined with a formidable technique, Wu Han is a great match for her husband. She "grounds" him with her earthiness, while he threatens to slip away into the Empyrean. Not that he isn't able to return the favor in certain movements of these pieces, especially, in sections of playful counter point in the second movement of the Prokovieff. Their collaboration is an example of genuine musical communication: nothing "rote" about their performance.

The Shostakovich Sonata changes moods so drastically, reflecting the internal and sometimes external turbulence of the composer's life as he lived, delicately balanced on the edges of a Soviet cultural razor blade. The legacy of moral choices he had to make remains in the music: tensions abide and underlie every phrase. Contrasting the First movement with the Second, the music moves from contemplative, tender melodies to the Second Movement, a nagging argument between the two instruments, lapsing at intervals into tenderness, only to resume, at the end, a final outburst of aggressive emotion. The Largo opens with a tragic theme which hints at futility, so often found in Shostakovich's compositions. These moments were ones which resonated so with his audiences who shared his sense of helplessness, brought about, in part, by reluctant complicity with the Stalinist totalitarian system which provided, literally, no way out. Yet, in the final Movement, his spirit rebounds with a playful, dance-like exchange of the cello with the piano, both instruments musically skipping, then running along, like children at play, asserting the joy of living. So, balance is, temporarily, restored.

The miniature Scriabin Piano Preludes provided a perfect transition to the Rachmaninoff Sonata which ended the concert. Wu Han gave a rendering of exquisite simplicity, which underscored the purity of Scriabin's mysticism. Not melodramatic as his later pieces, Fantasies, Etudes, and the coloristic, bizarre Poem of Ecstasy for orchestra, they capture more the meditative, contemplative side of the Russian character in the Late Romantic era.

Finally, Rachmaninoff's beautiful cello and piano Sonata, typical of the warmth of emotion and the loving character of much of his music, ended the program. David Finckel is a natural for this piece, expressing all the lyricism, largeness of Russian musical generosity, and most of all, creating a legato which enveloped the piece in a seamless world of rich sound, ranging from the warmth of the deepest part of the cello to its delicate mists of pianissimo. Aways, a certain melancholy lies within Rachmaninoff's music. To express this, while not descending into morbidity is important, for Rachmaninoff was also capable of humor and kindness of spirit in his personal relationships with other musicians. (To kill the time one day, while he waited for the always tardy Fritz Kreisler to show up for a rehearsal, he composed, Variations on Kreisler's violin composition, Liebesfreud, which they had been rehearsing for a recording. Kreisler was not apparently not amused, but it is a splendidly happy piece, expressing with improvisatory-like pianistic exuberance, the ever popular Kreisler piece.) Wu Han's grasp of the technical difficulties of the piano part was powerful, rhythmically interweaving the beautiful melodies of piano with cello in such a way that the total effect was unified: legato, fulfilled.

The encore was a transcription for cello and piano of one of Rachmaninoff's piano Preludes: a musical motive of tender "farewell" to the audience which showed its gratitude for the extraordinary musical quality of the evening.

I am not able to re-create this performance in words, except to say that, having heard various cellists, besides Rostropovich, play these pieces, that David Finckel and Wu Han gave an evening of truly great, inspired, virtuoso music making, making this concert the answer to a question someone, rhetorically, asked, why are we doing this? Along with hundreds of others, venturing out on a rainy evening for a 36 mile round trip to hear a concert, the answer: to nourish our starving musical souls. It was entirely worth it. Those musicians and music-lovers who missed it because of complacency, laziness, or irritation with the rain, or, perhaps, fatigued by Friday "end-of-the-week-ness" are the poorer for it: too bad. Just try to do better the next time this duo comes to town, or the music gods will punish you.

 

 

The Generosity of Artistic Tradition and Professionalism in the Arts

In my previous post about chamber music in Jacksonville, I made the statement that, in essence, the universities and the Jacksonville Symphony were "subsidizing"  free chamber music concerts throughout the city. To clarify, the musicians from these institutions receive no financial support from their parent organizations for these concerts.

The point is that Jacksonville is blessed with the opportunity to hear excellent performances by musicians on a level audiences would not be able to experience if it did not have two excellent music departments at the two universities, and, even more importantly, if it did not have the Symphony to supply steady employment. Someone has to provide the means to pay the bills, and if it is not the taxpayers, or benefactors, or patrons, or ticket holders, then, there is no music by professionals.

A quick glance at the web sites of the musicians and programs for concerts will inform the audience that all of the musicians, without exception, have been educated at the prime music conservatories of this country with many having advanced degrees, representing many years of study. In addition, all of the musicians have had experience playing in other orchestras, performing under conductors of every stripe and reputation.

Nearly all musicians teach. They do this not only for extra income, but because that is the tradition in the arts: to pass on to the next generation the knowledge of the past. Phillip Glass, the composer, commented that his teacher, Nadia Boulanger was the student of Fauré, who studied with a student of Beethoven. Just three degrees of separation from Beethoven! And, his example is not exceptional. My sister, a concert pianist and professor of music, studied with a student of a student of Liszt! Only two degrees of separation from a great composer and pianistic artist. So, teachers matter. And whom teachers have studied with also matters.

In violin studies as well as piano, there are even schools of playing which are identifiable in the performance styles of musicians going back many generations, such as the Russian School (Leopold Auer), the Belgium School (Ysäye), etc. This is probably true for all instrumentalists. The cognoscenti know about such stylistic details, which adds to their appreciation of artistic tradition and knowledge adding to their understanding of how music is performed.

These are some of the sacred values in the arts, thus demanding, I think, the respect of audiences for musicians who believe it is valuable and important to pass them on to the next generation. There are few professions with such generosity of spirit.

Footnote to my previous post: another important venue for free concerts which I neglected to mention is the Jacksonville Public Library Downtown
Program established by composer and fine arts librarian, Ed Lein. Check the Library web site at jaxpubliclibrary.org for upcoming dates and times.