Archive for the ‘The Arts’ Category

Sorry, Bill, I couldn’t resist

Thursday, July 7th, 2011

Bob Mankoff’s New Yorker piece this week reminds me, I started a limerick a while back and never finished it. So here goes:

There once was a Jungian analyst
At a seminar. He was a panelist
on “Freud and Cigars
and Women in Bars.”
He sighed. “Bill Clinton should handle this.”

Of cabbages and kings

Friday, June 3rd, 2011

Last night at Hyde Park Union Church, Baroque Band wound up its season with Handel’s oratorio “La Resurrezione,” which will be repeated Saturday in Evanston and next Wednesday at Symphony Center. The piece was written for an Easter 1708 performance at the palace in Rome of Marchese Ruspoli, who spared little expense in putting it on: expert singers, a crack band led by Arcangelo Corelli, and an intended audience of the city’s wealthiest and most powerful men, many of them cardinals.

This is difficult music, written for the best singers and players in a European music capital by a young (Handel was 23), ambitious, talented composer determined to impress his benefactors and his listeners. That we don’t hear “Resurrezione” more often says nothing about its quality, for there is much astonishing music here.

By and large, Baroque Band and the singers acquitted themselves very well. If last night’s performance had a dress-rehearsal quality to it at times, perhaps it’s because director Garry Clarke was herding the largest, most diverse group I’ve seen him direct so far: in addition to the usual strings were pairs of flutes, oboes, and trumpets, plus recorder and bassoon — and five singers. That’s a lot of moving parts, and the fact that only one name was listed in the program for oboe and flute (and no recorder) suggests that personnel questions hadn’t been fully answered when the booklet was printed.

Of the soloists, soprano Josefien Stoppelenburg stood out for her creamy tone, dead-on accuracy and dramatic interpretation. Everything she touched shone. Nearly as impressive was baritone Mischa Bouvier, who also brought great drama to his role. Countertenor Ian Howell was a bit overmatched by the full band in “Vedo il ciel,” but sang well and showed great restraint in not ornamenting “Augelletti, ruscelletti” (sharing the line with unison violins, a challenge in both tuning and taste that he met quite nicely). Tenor James Kryshak (no, you don’t remember him from “The X-Files,” that was Alex Krycek) also sang well and with a convincingly Italianate lilt. Soprano Diane Atherton suffered by comparison. Whether it was unfamiliarity with the part, jet lag, illness, jitters, whatever, she struggled with the coloratura of the opening number (admittedly a very demanding aria) and was a bit wooden in recitative. But a lovely, slightly wobbly, voice, and she improved through the evening. All five singers were daring, if not always stylish, in ornamenting repeats.

So. Kings, no, but cardinals. And cabbages? Only one. I had to stop at the grocery for a cabbage before the concert, so brought the thing in with me. It sat beside me in my bike helmet and enjoyed the show. A product of nature, it understood the importance of nurture to performance, and the effects changes in temperature and humidity can have. It heard, but was unfazed by, the problems in the oboes (tuning and perhaps mechanical). Ditto the trumpets, and to a lesser extent the flutes. All these instruments have elements in common with their present-day descendants, but key differences. And it’s the nurture, the day-in, day-out playing of the things, that’s needed. Look at the strings: They sounded on top of their game, some beautiful, well-shaped, dramatic playing.

Fred Holmgren, one of this country’s best baroque trumpeters, once told me he really learned to play the baroque trumpet in an opera pit, doing “Giulio Cesare” every day for a month. You learn to play the thing through repeated exposure to the instrument under slightly different performance conditions — its and yours — and learning how to react when it tries to strangle you. And you sharpen your “period ears” in terms of tuning, balance, articulation.

We need more opportunities for all these players to perform — more bands, more concerts — so the strings have equal partners in the winds and brass. The more opportunities these musicians have, the better they’ll get. I plan to hit Wednesday’s performance at Symphony Center to see how a bit more exposure to “Resurrezione” works for them.

Amy’s Garden

Friday, May 6th, 2011

Last fall, I noticed people carving a swoopy pattern into a lawn north of the Shedd Aquarium. I couldn’t tell if it was abstract, Arabic lettering, Sanskrit – what? Then I saw people planting bulbs in the carved-out beds, and figured it was a garden.

And so it is. Amy’s Garden, or “Amy’s Blend,” as the little plaque near it says. It’s one of two such gardens (the other is at Mall of America in Minnesota) in honor of Amy Erickson, a former Caribou Coffee employee who died of breast cancer. The bulbs were tulips, and now they’re blooming. It’s a lovely sight, and a lovely way to remember someone. Many of the bulbs, according to a Caribou press release, were dedicated by the coffee chain’s customers. I hope they come to see it. I hope you come to see it, too, since it’s prime tulip weather.

I wish I knew what the pattern represents. If I can find out, I’ll update this.

Overheard . . .

Friday, April 1st, 2011

Near Madison and Wells, one guy to another: “Yeah, but when I do that you say ‘fuck off.'”

Naming rites

Wednesday, March 16th, 2011

There’s a store near my office called Dress Barn Woman. If that sounds like a place you’d shop, you’ll be glad to hear that Shirt Shack Man is coming to the mini-mall soon, right next to Liquor Store Wino and Burger Fry Fatty.

It was a dark and stormy night

Friday, February 25th, 2011

Sometimes a piece of writing reaches out of its story and pokes you in the eye:

“Murder leaves a crater that must be backfilled, starting at the topsoil of the final hours. She was celebrating a birthday she would never reach.”

Somebody at the New York Times should have backfilled that crater.

We all scream

Thursday, January 20th, 2011

But not because we’re afraid of ice cream. Or gelato. Which was what puzzled me when I ran across the word “gelatophobia” when Googling something yesterday.

Predictably, I read it wrong. It’s “gelotophobia.” And it has nothing to do with ice cream. It’s the fear of being laughed at.

A related term is “gelotophilia,” the joy of being laughed at.

Best of all, and probably most familiar to all of us, “katagelasticism” — the joy of laughing at others.

What got me started on this was reading Bikesnobnyc, a blog that gleefully makes fun of anything bike-related that smacks of faddishness or pretension. Not solely bike-related — he’s quite happy to take potshots at passing minimalists, for instance — but mostly. I started wondering at the derisibility of his targets, then wondered if that’s actually a word, then Googled it and wound up briefly startled that anyone would be afraid of ice cream. The hit was: “Were they really laughed at? That much? Gelotophobes and their history of perceived derisibility.”

It appears to be an actual article in an actual periodical, “Humor: International Journal of Humor Research.” That by itself was good for a laugh. Somebody put one over on Wikipedia, I thought. But if they did, they did a very convincing job of it.

The editors, editorial board members and consulting editors are all academics, but I couldn’t help wondering. There’s someone named Goh Abe. “But I just got here,” I say. There’s someone else from the University of Pecs. Can the University of Abs be far behind? It’s the kind of list that Haywood Jablowme ought to be on. And the motto: “Don’t look here, the joke is in your hand.”

OK, kidding about the motto. Still, my suspicions aside, the thing seems to be on the up and up. It’s been publishing since 1989, and its website has a helpful list of its articles, including:

  • Schizophrenics’ Appreciation of Humorous Therapeutic Interventions.
  • Humor in Marital Adjustment.
  • The Engendered Blow Job: Bakhtin’s Comic Dismemberment and the Pornography of Georges Bataille’s ‘Story of the Eye’ (1928).
  • Hairy Turkish Cartoons.
  • Humor as Defeated Discourse Expectations: Conversational Exchange in a Monty Python Text.
  • Humor and Anality.
  • The Politics of Dirty Jokes: Woody Allen, Lenny Bruce, Andrew Dice Clay, Groucho Marx, and Clarence Thomas.
  • Sexual Humor on Freud as Expressed in Limericks.
  • Irony Comprehension: The Graded Salience Hypothesis.
  • Humor in Apes.
  • Quisling Humor in Hitler’s Norway: Its Wartime Function and Postwar Legacy.

Maybe The New Yorker’s Robert Mankoff was thinking about “Humor in Apes” when he wrote about “The Monkeys You Ordered,” a site that sends up the magazine’s cartoon contest. It’s a funny piece. The examples he gives of the site’s work are pretty funny, too.

Bikesnob (and maybe Paul Krugman, too) could glean insight from “Irony Comprehension: The Graded Salience Hypothesis” if it answers the question “why don’t people get it when I’m obviously making fun of something?”

I was going to take a look at the Monkeys site, but apparently Mankoff’s readers have crashed it. Servers down. Now who’s laughing?

In the meantime, maybe I’ll check out some of those hairy Turkish cartoons. Or work on my Freud limericks. “There once was a Jungian analyst…”

And maybe I’ll make some money off all this. I think I’ll start an exercise program called kelatogelastics.

It’s like calisthenics, except you do it sitting at a computer. You pay me $100, we read Bikesnob together. Much laughter, good workout for core muscles. Pay me another $25 and we read Mankoff (he writes less often, that’s the only reason for the price break). Ditto the New Yorker cartoons. You get a good workout and a good laugh, I get $100, maybe $150 if you go for the whole Monty, so to speak.

Just as calcium strengthens regular bones, laughing at others strengthens funny bones. And makes me fabulously wealthy if I play it right. Meanwhile, I’m not sure about the Quislings, but I’d like to know more about that engendered blow job.

Three Bs

Tuesday, January 11th, 2011

Not only are the Bears in the playoffs, but we got to hear some Schmelzer this week, which is just about as rare.

That (the Schmelzer, at least) is thanks to the Bach and Beethoven Ensemble, a small local group that specializes in early music on period instruments. Monday’s concert at the Cultural Center’s Preston Bradley Hall was of Italian music (the Austrian Schmelzer was made an honorary Italian for the occasion), and it was a delight.

The Schmelzer began with a lovely set of variations above a ground bass, then became more solo-with-accompanists in style, showcasing the violin. From there we plunged into a contrapuntal display by Biagio Marini, with violinist Brandi Berry and cellist Anna Steinhoff trading motifs, Steinhoff striding quite independently. Berry described the following piece, by Marco Uccellini, as like “a baroque soap opera” due to its shifting moods and harmonies. The group ably brought out its distinct eccentricity.

The choice to perform Corelli’s Opus 5 No. 3 sonata without the harpsichord was inspired (and no knock on harpsichordist Mark Shuldiner). You might think it would sound bare-bones, but no, it was very full; Steinhoff was both a sensitive accompanist and an equal partner.

Shuldiner got his chance to shine in a Frescobaldi toccata, and Corelli’s variations on “La Follia” concluded the show. Both Berry and Steinhoff handled the virtuoso challenges with style, but it was a variation near the end of the piece that was especially striking: Shuldiner dropped out, the tempo eased and Berry produced a haunting, mysterious sound above Steinhoff’s quiet tread. Magic.

Happy New Year, indeed!

Egging them on

Friday, December 3rd, 2010

Baroque Band took on Handel’s “Messiah” Wednesday night at the Cultural Center, and the performance was every bit as fleet and exciting as we’ve come to expect from Garry Clarke and his players.

Chicago choir Bella Voce ably handled the choruses, and the four soloists — soprano Josefien Stoppelenburg, countertenor Mark Crayton, tenor James Kryshak and bass Craig Irvin — did standout work. Stoppelenburg was particularly good, navigating both the pace Clarke set and the demands of the music with apparent ease. Topping it off, she ornamented with taste. Her pronunciation was odd at times, probably because she’s Dutch — something one wouldn’t have learned from the program notes, which gave little information beyond the names of the performers and sponsors. More information next time, please.

Crayton suffered a bit in comparison to the other singers because his voice is smaller (well, everybody’s voice was smaller than Irvin’s), but sang well. My only complaint might be his ornamentation in the repeat of “He was despised,” which made the melody almost chirpy and at odds with the words. I’ve heard others do similar things to the piece, often with jarring results. Maybe the key is to vary the characterization, not so much the notes.

Since I didn’t take any notes during the performance, this isn’t a full review, more an appreciation of an excellent job. A few rocky entries by the choir, one or two ragged moments in the strings, an occasional melody gone astray and a crash that sounded like a card table being thrown downstairs were about the only flaws (and the crash was hardly the band’s fault). Oh, and the notes. This performance was sponsored in part by the city of Birmingham, England, whose first “Messiah” came in 1760. If there was anything special about the circumstances, the forces used, the edition, we weren’t told. If there’s nothing to be said, we weren’t told that either.

Before the concert began, I was looking at the program when a woman sitting next to me burst out laughing. She pointed to a line in it: “His yolk is easy.” Over easy, we said simultaneously, giggling. Well, Clarke certainly egged on the band: his tempi were swift (I saw Irvin stifle a smile in both “Why do the nations” and “The trumpet shall sound” as he zipped through them) but seldom felt rushed.

All in all, an invigorating performance.

Which reminds me, I meant to write about BB’s first concert of the season a while back but never got around to it. A tasting of Italian string music, it gave the lie to the easy stereotype of the baroque schools: German=counterpoint, French=rhetoric, Italian=melody. Sure, there was melody aplenty in the pieces, but Clarke took care to bring out the architecture, and not just in the fugal movements. In addition, he gave us a great oddity in the Marcello, a fascinating piece I’d love to hear again.

I’m looking forward to the rest of the season, especially “La Resurrezione” in June. City Musick and Chicago Opera Theater have given memorable versions of the oratorio (the very louche Jesus at the end of COT’s was a hoot), so it will be exciting to hear it again.


I meant to include this earlier. It popped up during a Google search for Baroque Band. Order yours today!

Nostalgic tales

Monday, November 29th, 2010

Among the most fascinating examples recount American officials’ meetings in September 2009 and February 2010 with Ahmed Wali Karzai, the half brother of the Afghan president and a power broker in the Taliban’s home turf of Kandahar.

They describe Mr. Karzai, “dressed in a crisp white shalwar kameez,” the traditional dress of loose tunic and trousers, appearing “nervous, though eager to express his views on the international presence in Kandahar,” and trying to win over the Americans with nostalgic tales about his years running a Chicago restaurant near Wrigley Field.

That’s from this morning’s New York Times, in a story based on diplomatic cables released by Wikileaks.

That restaurant was The Helmand, at Belmont and Halsted. Although I knew the Karzai family ran the restaurant — and several other Helmands around the country — until today I wasn’t sure which member was in Chicago. I ate at the restaurant more than once, which means I’ve met and shaken hands with a man “widely understood to be corrupt and a narcotics trafficker,” according to the cable the Times quotes. It was probably 20 years ago, so my vague memory of an elegant man may be suspect. I remember he was described as a former fighter pilot in stories at the time about the restaurant.

At our house, The Helmand lives on in a recipe for kaddo borawni, a delicious sauteed pumpkin in yogurt and meat sauce dish. (The recipe I linked to is from the Baltimore Helmand, but the Chicago recipe is similar; it was published in Specialties of the House, a 1988 cookbook of recipes from Chicago restaurants.) My wife was going to make it last night, but we were distracted by the Bears’ win over Philadelphia and ate Thanksgiving leftovers instead. So we’ll have the kaddo borawni tonight and join Mr. Karzai in his nostalgia for The Helmand.