Monthly Archives: September 2013

Unexpected, Unplanned, Art-Induced Ecstacy

It was the sort of perfect early autumn day where the sun is warm, but there’s a sort of cool breeze, and the sky is blue and cloudless, and I was walking back to the metro under the influence of several mimosas that I had enjoyed at brunch with several close friends, when I happened upon one of my all time favorite divas, Leontyne Price.

Leontyne

It’s not something I do very often, but upon seeing this ad, I thought, well, it’s not like I’m in a hurry, and admission to the Smithsonian doesn’t cost a penny, so I decided to go in to the gallery and take a look.  When I asked about the ad I saw, the woman at the information desk directed me to the third floor where I found an exhibition of portraits of great American entertainers, which included the above portrait of Leontyne Price, and two other opera singers, Marian Anderson and Maria Callas, alongside portraits of the likes of Duke Ellington, Ethel Merman, and Leonard Bernstein.

Marian

I had only intended to see the exhibit advertised with the portrait of Leontyne, but it’s so easy to succumb to an art binge once you’re in the gallery, isn’t it?  So, of course, as I was making my way back out of the gallery, a flashing light caught my eye, and I went to take a look at the large exhibition room of modern art where that light was coming from.  I became immediately drawn to a sculpture of a horse built from driftwood, whose skeletal form was striking and beautiful from every angle.  Ok, just this hall and then I’ll head home, I thought, and wandered around to look at the other works on display.

gallery

I never could have guessed what was about to happen to me as I made my way into a darkened alcove where there was a colorful installation painted on the wall and floor, with colored lights shining on it.  It seemed to glow.  Neat, I thought the artist used a black light on florescent paint.  But then, as I started to leave the dark room, I noticed that something had changed.  It had turned red.  Oh, the lights change color.  As I made my way back into the center of the room, the painting changed again.  I gasped as the lights now made the paint appear black and white.  It was like it was an entirely new painting.  I sat down on the bench as the light began to alter again.  Now light was focused on just one small area of the painting, leaving the rest black, now the light changed to a blue-green tint causing one shape to appear to emerge in three dimensions; as the light and colors continued to change the painting seemed to come alive. Maybe it was the mimosas, but I felt a knot in my stomach as my pulse quickened.  I suddenly felt quite emotional.  It was beautiful and strange and haunting and cheerful and sad.

I’m not sure how long I sat, bewildered and in awe of this magnificent art installation, but eventually I made myself get up.  Outside the darkened chamber was information about the artist and the work:  

David Hockney
Snails Space with Vari-Lites: “Painting as Performance”

When I read in the blurb that Hockney had a long career designing sets for opera, the emotional response I had experienced seemed to come into context.  This art installation is like a silent opera, with all the drama and catharsis a good opera ought to have.  It moved me, just as an opera should.  I’m not sure I’ve ever been so affected by a piece of visual art.

All of this is to say that, the next time you’re out wandering the city, and you see an ad promoting an art exhibition, go take a look!  You might find something unexpected and wonderful.  And if you’re in DC, go see this piece!

 

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Symphony Concert Cancelled: Musicians unable to play due to Drooling over Sexy Condructress

File under:  Things that have Never Happened

I have a habit, when an idea for a blog entry occurs to me, to send an e-mail to myself with the idea.  For months now, I’ve had an e-mail sitting in my in box which says simply, “conductor gender gap.”

I’ve always been interested in finding ways that two of my favorite topics, classical music and feminism, intersect, and with a dearth of woman on the podiums of the world’s orchestras, this was an obvious source of blogging inspiration.  But I could never quite figure out how to approach it.

Enter Vasily Petrenko

The young and hot (in more than one sense of the word) music director of the Oslo Philharmonic has enraged level-headed classical music fans after some pretty backward remarks he made in an interview with a Norwegian newspaper.  Norman Lebrecht’s blog* has the following translation: 

I believe that when women have families it is difficult to be as dedicated as is required in this business. Another side is that orchestra musicians respond better to men at the podium. They have less sexual energy and can better focus on the music.  A sweet girl on the podium makes them think about other things, says Petrenko.

When one is angry it is advisable to count to ten.  1. . . 2 . . .3 . . . 4 . . . oh fuck it.

Let’s break this down.

I believe that when women have families it is difficult to be as dedicated as is required in this business.

Any woman who has ever tried to advance in any professional field has probably encountered this sentiment at some point.  “Women dont work good cuz women make babies.”  This is Feminism 101.  In the 21st century, society still believes that when a man and a woman start a family, it must be the woman who sacrifices her professional career to care for children.  This is the “Having it All” debate.  There’s not much point in discussing this first part of Petrenko’s statement because feminists have been discussing it for fifty years.  So let’s move on.

Orchestra musicians respond better to men at the podium. They have less sexual energy and can better focus on the music.  A sweet girl on the podium makes them think about other things, says Petrenko.

First of all, does the phrase “sweet girl” give anyone else the willies?  I’m interested to know if it sounds just as creepy in the original Norwegian.  (I’m looking at you, Aksel!)

Now, what this remark says to me is that Petrenko is incapable of seeing a woman as anything more than a sex object.  It makes me wonder how he is able to concentrate on conducting when there might be a “sweet girl” caressing her cello in the front row of his orchestra?

Petrenko has since apologized, claming that his comments were misconstrued, and he has the utmost respect for the likes of Marin Alsop, but if you ask me, his attitude points to a glaring problem in classical music. 

Think for a moment.  How many famous conductors can you name off the top of your head in ten seconds:  James Levine, Herbert von Karajan, Leonard Bernstein, Daniel Barenboim, Esa Pekka-Salonen.  Oh look!  They’re all men.

How many famous women conductors can you name?  Marin Alsop.  Wikipedia lists only 65 women in its catalogue of women conductors

This season, Jane Glover will make her conducting debut with the Metropolitan Opera, leading the orchestra in (the most misogynistic opera ever written) Mozart’s The Magic Flute.  She will be only the third woman ever to lead the Met’s orchestra.  That’s three women since 1880.  Hooray for feminism!

It would seem that this is a glass ceiling that has only begun to crack, and the likes of Vasily Petrenko are working to keep it in tact.

*A blogger who finds sexism abhorrent, unless, of course, it’s used to smear a musician he doesn’t like.