Monday, November 29, 2010

Grand Rapids Symphony - 11/20/10

The evening began with Ritirate notturna di Madrid, by Boccherini (1743-1805), arranged by modern composer Luciana Berio (1925-2003). It was a charming, short piece with little evidence of Berio’s modern work.  The program notes were very informative in explaining Boccherini’s intention of portraying an approaching, and then departing, band on a street in Madrid.

Samuel Barber’s Symphony No. 1 was composed as one movement, and although it was fast-paced, the various sections were easily discernable. Although it had its moments of beauty and interesting instrumentation layering, it was our least favorite of the evening.

The highlight of the evening was Carmina Burana by Carl Orff. The music is incredibly  dramatic and used to that effect in various movies. Probably everyone in the world has heard the opening “O Fortuna.” Text and translation were provided in a separate 4 page insert and the noise of paper rustling was disconcerting at times. If one is unfamiliar with the text, the issue becomes whether to follow along with the translations or to sit back and wrap yourself in the music. It’s a difficult call.

By not following along or not knowing the text, one might wonder at the shrill, grating solo by Brad Diamond (Oh, you’re a swan being roasted; in that case, well done.) One would also miss the ribaldry and humor of the poems.

The other two soloists had much bigger roles to play. Carrie Hennessey sang beautifully with her smooth, soprano voice, but Aaron St Clair Nicholson was the star of the night. His baritone range was extensive and each solo was expressively performed. There were a few times, however, when the chorus seemed to be overwhelming him.

The Grand Rapids Symphony Chorus was very powerful yet so controlled. There was never a voice hanging on after a cut-off and the performance was extraordinary. Occasionally throughout the work, the Grand Rapids Youth Chorus rose to play their part in the performance. At the conclusion, Music Director David Lockington looked quite pleased, and the audience was as well.

Saturday, November 27, 2010

ArtPrize - Fall 2010 - the Big, the Bad, and the Beautiful



Thousands of words have been written about this event and I’m going add a few more with these observations.

If your entry is not in the central downtown district, you don’t have a chance of placing in the top 25.

If you create something huge, and you are in the central downtown district, you will likely be in the top 10.

Create a face or a landscape made out of tile, used wine corks, plastic balls, etc., and you will get people’s attention.

People who never otherwise come downtown Grand Rapids will wander around the city like lost souls, irritating everyone who regularly frequents the city.

Driving downtown is treacherous for reason stated above.

For ArtPrize purposes, people will go where they can see the most for their time. Hence, outlying areas displaying 1-10 pieces will not bring in people, and this should not surprise anyone.

Venues displaying only through an outside window are lame and should be discontinued.    

Venues closed during the day on weekdays are equally lame and should be shunned.

Meijer Garden was a well-run venue hosting numerous exhibits. It had a regular bus run but still didn’t have a chance of competing with downtown venues.

All that being said, I loved wandering around looking at the ArtPrize exhibits and hope that it will bring more people into Grand Rapids on a regular basis. I’d like it to be easier to view every exhibit without spending two weeks driving around to do so, however.

“Art” is lost among the venues and the large creations. Although I admire the craft, the  ingenuity, and workmanship of many things I saw, was it art? I am fond of Nessy and the Steam Pig, but are they art? They’re creative, outdoor sculptures meant to engage and entertain. I loved the sentiment and story behind the huge penny, but is it art? The mermaid out of toothpicks? That’s just tenacity and toothpick craftsmanship. An exhibit at a downtown church was mostly religion-infused opinions, and a few interesting works of art were lost among them. Another downtown church was open during the day only on weekends when crowds were the thickest so it was skipped.

The one entry that really had an impact on me was the photography of Ryan Spencer Reed in the DeVos Place. Entitled “Detroit Forsaken”, the photos looked like scenes from a third world bombed-out country, but it was inner city Detroit. If he had been displayed in the Art Museum, he might have had a chance.     

For all of its weaknesses, ArtPrize brings great benefits to the city, not the least of which are the many outdoor murals that remain part of the city scape. And perhaps everyone who comes downtown next year will know how to get to the Art Museum, except the person who deliberately walked on the salt and earth exhibit.