Archive for the ‘The Arts’ Category

Black like me

Thursday, October 28th, 2010

I don’t know who won the City of Lights Sweepstakes, I just know it wasn’t me. I didn’t enter.

Not because I wouldn’t like a free trip to Paris — I’d love one.

No, the contest was sponsored by American Airlines and Not an outfit I was familiar with. The flyer I got in the mail said “The social network is your passport to black travel. … Music, black history, dining—all from a black traveler’s point of view.”

That sounds like fun, but I’d have a hard time convincing anyone of my blackness. I could dye my eyebrows and remaining hair blond and say I had a rare skin condition, or claim that I was a black albino, but the truth is I was born white and I’ve never grown out of it.

I think the invite had more to do with my ZIP code than anything else, which suggests that maybe American and BlackAtlas should have done a little more homework before mailing the thing. Or the outfit they chose to do the mailing, something called Valassis, which claims an address of “One Targeting Center” in Windsor, Connecticut. Sounds like a place Jack Bauer would like.

But I hope whoever won the contest has a great time in Paris, and I hope I never get a mailing from, cause I’d really have to say no to that one.

Bearing up

Wednesday, September 29th, 2010

On my ride home Monday night, I got a close-up view of the beer-and-marijuana klatsch the National Association of Urlacher Jersey Owners was sponsoring near Soldier Field. It was a pleasant evening, laced with smoke and the smell of grilled meat and onions.

Then came the game. I think Lovie Smith’s real goal is to give everyone in town high blood pressure. He certainly succeeded in our house, and one measure of that is that I’m writing about football. The Packers must have gone away convinced there were people in the stands with voodoo dolls — what other explanation could there be?

If lawyers had written ‘I am the Walrus’

Friday, August 20th, 2010

I had to sign a contract the other day and was struck by one of the things I was agreeing to:

“Q. Miscellaneous.
“(1) Where applicable, the singular form shall include the plural, and the masculine form shall include the feminine and neuter, and vice versa.”

It was only a real estate listing agreement, but isn’t he/she/it/we/they the sort of enlightened, inclusive, metrosexual thinking we should all aspire to? Goo goo gajoob?

Dusty but priceless

Thursday, August 19th, 2010

There’s a Facebook page called Newspaper Ledes That Have Nothing to Do with Their Stories, so I wish the newsletter I got recently from Linn Records had been a newspaper story instead, because I’d submit it. It’s a winner:

“As far as fantastical daydreams go, uncovering a dusty but priceless Stradivarius in a cluttered cupboard or neighbour’s garage sale has to rank up there with winning the lottery or viewing Earth from orbit. That’s not quite how Susanna Yoko Henkel came by her Stradivari built violin but she certainly plays it with the touch of a performer who has been gifted unworldly skill.”

I’d like to see the cluttered cupboard where she didn’t find the violin, or the view of Earth from the orbit where she was gifted the skill, but I’m too much in awe to get out of my chair.

Pinheads in Brainland

Wednesday, August 11th, 2010

Wouldn’t that make a great name for a band? If the New Yorker’s Hendrik Hertzberg, who came up with the phrase, doesn’t use it, I hope someone does. I’d use it, but I don’t have a band.

So, OK, I’ve used it as the title for this blog post, but it deserves better. Novel? Album title? Jim Jarmusch movie? Get busy, America!

Naming rites

Thursday, July 29th, 2010

I was surprised to see a tour boat on the Chicago River yesterday named “Summer of George.” Not a very boaty name, is it?
A perfume, maybe, or even a band. But a boat?

A little stroll over to Google revealed that it’s the title of a Seinfeld episode. OK. Other unboaty Seinfeld episode names include “The Nose Job,” “The Andrea Doria” (actually a good boat name, unless you want anyone to pay to get aboard) and “The Hot Tub.”

Boatiest episode name? “The Serenity Now.” And, not surprisingly, there are loads of boats with just that name.

Trouble ahead, lady in red

Friday, July 16th, 2010

I’m surprised there’s only one Google hit for “Tripping on Power Chords,” which will be the title of my book about the Grateful Dead if I ever write one (doubtful — I like the band but don’t know enough to write another paragraph, let alone a book). The current hit — in a Yahoo answer to the plea “Boy drama! Please help fast!!!!!!!!!!?” — looks like a typo to me, and needs some company.

It’s in Wikipedia, it must be true

Wednesday, May 5th, 2010

Activities involving rutabagas

Rutabagas are commonly carved into decorative lanterns called jack-o’-lanterns for the Halloween season throughout Britain and Ireland.

The International Rutabaga Curling Championship takes place annually at the Ithaca Farmers’ Market on the last day of the market season.

You never know what you’ll find when you look stuff up. And hey, here’s a short bio of Vera Baker. She’s the woman rumored to have had an affair with Barack Obama in 2004. And here’s a whopping big discussion on Wikipedia about whether the bio belongs there at all.

Four years is a long time in national politics for a story like that to be around without gaining at least a little traction. If anyone had wanted to use it to keep the guy out of the White House, they had their chance. And now it’s six years since the first rumor? Which means some lazy journalist is just about to — oh, here’s Michael Sneed retailing it in the Chicago Sun-Times. (And good luck getting that link to load, by the way — maybe the paper is just embarrassed by it.)

Sneed — as she frequently reminds her readers — used to be a real journalist. She was at Jonestown! But I can’t remember the last time she wasn’t essentially a flack for the political backstabbing classes and assorted crawly people. When the paper was richer and fatter, it could afford to have her. These days, I don’t know how it can. If that’s the kind of journalism you want for your 75 cents, fine. If not, write the woman and her bosses and tell her to do a real job.

Until she starts doing that, just think of her column as another activity involving rutabagas.

Straight, no chaser

Wednesday, April 21st, 2010

The Baroque Band’s concert tonight was another casualty of the Icelandic volcano’s ash cloud: violinist Nadja Zwiener, who was to appear with the group. Replacing her was Rachel Barton Pine, no stranger to Chicago audiences.

The program consisted of eight concertos from Vivaldi’s “L’Estro Armonico,” all for various string combinations, including four for four violins. In other hands that could be a recipe for intonation problems, especially given the demands of the music, but there were very few tonight.

The demands of the concert included a change of position for the violinists as all took turns in solo spots. It would have looked like musical chairs if there had been chairs.

The opening movements of the first two concertos (Nos. 7 and 2) were very dramatically conceived, the string chords bitten off, the dynamic changes striking. Every time I hear this group, I’m impressed by the sense of theater they bring to what they play.

I think the high point for me was the middle movement of No. 8 for two violins, with Wendy Brenner and director Garry Clarke sharing the solo spots. Not only was their playing sweet and well-judged, the accompaniment, particularly by fellow violinists Pine and Mathew Cataldi, was especially sensitive. In all the concertos, in fact, the band was very alert when backing whoever was soloing. Elizabeth Hagen’s viola in the largo e spiccato of No. 1, for instance, underpinning Brenner and Pine, was very fine.

The only rocky ensemble I noticed was at the beginning of the fugue of No. 11, but Clarke followed it with a lovely reading of the concerto’s largo. The last piece on the concert, No. 10 for four violins and cello, will reappear later in Baroque Band’s season in Bach’s transcription as a concerto for four harpsichords. In this performance it featured almost the only ornamental flourish of the night, by Pine at the end of the largo.

Which made me wonder if that was what Zwiener would have brought to the party, for the virtual absence of embellishment stood out for me. In the four-violin pieces maybe that was an understandable decision to avoid chaos, but some of the short chordal adagios were made for a bit of improvisation. I heard a couple of added runs by Cataldi, but by and large they played things pretty straight. Did it hurt? No. The drama they brought to the pieces was tonight’s key, and those adagios are short enough there was never a sense of “what’s missing here?”

I wish the acoustics had been kinder to cellist Craig Trompeter, but where I was sitting they reduced some of his playing to a mumble. The few times I heard him clearly he sounded quite good. Jerry Fuller’s bass also disappeared from time to time, but his pizzicato in one of the largos (No. 11? I admired it but neglected to write it down!) was very pretty. The room otherwise gave a warm, full sound to the group.

A woman near me remarked to someone at intermission about Vivaldi writing the same concerto 500 times, but I don’t think it was fair based on this concert. Sure, a little more variety — winds! — might have helped, but that kind of variety costs. Besides, if there are stretches of violins noodling in thirds here and there, there are also melodies so wayward you wonder what on earth Vivaldi was thinking. And that very angular fugue in No. 11. No wonder Bach liked it. These are craggy pieces and Baroque Band both revealed and reveled in that cragginess.

Another win for the Chicago Early Music Festival. And Baroque Band.


Bach, but no Beethoven today

Wednesday, April 21st, 2010

Day 2 of the Chicago Early Music Festival, and a noontime concert at the Cultural Center’s Preston Bradley Hall. I can’t walk into that building without shaking my head that the city ever thought of tearing the place down, but Chicago’s funny. Anyway, today’s show was also part of the Dame Myra Hess Memorial Concert series, so there were two overlapping audiences in the room, and they packed the place. People were standing, sitting on the floor, lying down. One woman was doing yoga stretches. I wound up sitting on a radiator cover about as far from the band as it’s possible to be, so what I heard may not have been what the Bach and Beethoven Ensemble played.

BBE is a pretty new local group. They started their first season last fall, and their two concerts this week as part of the festival are good exposure. Today’s began with one of Corelli’s Opus 5 sonatas for violin and continuo (No. 2), and violinist Brandi Berry immediately caught my attention with her stylish embellishment of the lines. The group showed a nice attention to phrasing, relaxing the tempo when appropriate and easing up sometimes at cadences.

There were some intonation problems in the Bach sonata for violin and harpsichord, but Berry and harpsichordist Jason Moy made lovely work of the slow third movement. I wish I’d been closer to the performers for this one, because the harpsichord — particularly the bass notes — was a bit hard to hear at my distance.

The Chaconne by Jacques Morel that concluded the concert was delightful. Ever heard of the guy? Me neither. But it featured some entertaining duetting between Berry and cellist Anna Steinhoff, sometimes veering unexpectedly into minor mode, which they emphasized nicely. An impressive outing by this young group!