Music and Arts
Archived Posts from this Category
Archived Posts from this Category
We renewed our membership at the AGO this year. I’m not sure J. was entirely convinced, but I kind of like the idea of supporting at least one local museum and you never know what interesting thing may show up to justify a visit to McCaul and Dundas. We paid a visit to the AGO one Sunday afternoon last year after it re-opened, but we didn’t see much aside from Frank (the new restaurant), the European art and artifacts in Thompson collection (most memorably, Rubens’ Massacre of the Innocents), and the new Frank Gehry contemporary art space on the 3rd-5th floors. (We weren’t there for very long and I think we paid more attention to the space than the art therein.)
So I decided to use my Civic Holiday today to get a sense of what the new AGO is really like. I didn’t go back to the new Frank Gehry space, preferring to concentrate my efforts on the first two floors.
In general, the new space is clean, well-organized, and visitor-and-art-friendly. There’s a small but functional and reasonably welcoming cafeteria in the basement where I had a quick lunch (grilled club sandwich and coffee). If all you are looking for is a decent bite to eat, this is a much better bet than Frank — which is high-concept and expensive but not really memorable as a food experience. I later discovered the Members’ Lounge in Grange House which serves (I suspect) essentially the same food as the cafeteria in a more attractive setting.
As far the collections go, the AGO is in a rather strange situation. They are the lucky recipients of the Ken Thompson collection, which has incredible quality and depth in the kinds of art and artifacts that Thompson was interested in. There are rooms full of works by well known Canadian painters (from Krieghoff to Lauren Harris to David Milne), an enormous collection of of model ships, and a large display of Chinese snuff boxes. And much more. Not everything is to my taste but it is clearly the work of a serious collector applying intelligence and taste to the investment of a very considerable personal fortune. Apparently Thompson did not collect a lot of European painting, but what he did collect was and is memorable — notably, of course, that Rubens but also some early Flemish paintings. In the Canadian paintings rooms the curators have given up on finding wall space for labels, opting instead for a read-and-return Gallery catalogue for each room.
By contrast, the Gallery’s own main collection is a much more hodgepodge affair. Essentially, they have a few really good pieces from here there and everywhere, and a lot else that is not as memorable. They have dealt with this situation in a fashion that is interesting though only partially successful. Sensibly, they have eschewed a chronological approach, beginning their European Gallery with a room full of some of their best stuff — Dutch paintings by Rembrandt, Hals, Cuyp, etc. In other galleries they have adopted a more thematic approach, mixing old and new, European and decidedly non-European. Some of these galleries work better than others. There is an room full of paintings of women, which makes for an interesting reflection on how women have been portrayed in the arts through the ages. (There is also the suggestion, worded so cautiously as to say almost nothing, that men have portrayed women differently from women — a theme perhaps worth exploring further.) Not quite as successful but still worth considering is an attempt to group together a number of European paintings (and a contemporary shadow-puppet film) as exploring themes of multiculturalism and cultural conflict.
Some other attempts to make use of this approach are not nearly as compelling. Perhaps the most striking failure of curatorial imagination is the presentation of the older pieces in the Museum’s Canadian collection. The paintings are thrown hodgepodge (Pitti-Palace-style, as it were) on to a wall, without any kind of labelling or identification (to be fair, I think a number of them were also presented this way under the old regime). The one piece of curatorial text that is supposed to assist the viewer is the suggestion that we should look for the power relations expressed in these paintings. I’m not sure what this is supposed to mean. The best I can come up with is that the curators don’t think they’re very good paintings (some of them clearly are not), but they’ve been on the wall so long that people will complain if they take them down, so why not leave them up as an exercise in deconstruction for the viewer?
The curators have unfortunately done something similar, minus the hamfisted political overtones, for the gallery with their Impressionist and pre-Impressionist European paintings. The Impressionists (some nice Pissaros, but nothing spectacular) get their own space and actual labels; the unidentified (largely but not entirely?) pre-impressionist works on the other wall get the Pitti Palace treatment. I suppose it’s a statement of sorts (they point out that these methods of presentation are faithful to the respective approaches taken in the salons where these paintings would have been first shown), but frankly some of the paintings on the non-Impressionist wall are more interesting than those on the Impressionist wall and it would be nice to know more about them.
This kind of thing is really a failure of curatorial intelligence, and this is the most disappointing thing about the new AGO. We all know the AGO is not the Metropolitan Museum of Art, and they need to work with what they have. As some of the new galleries demonstrate, the thematic approach can be an effective way of presenting art that is arguably not of the the first rank but nevertheless not lacking in value and interest. Perhaps it’s just that this approach needs to be handled in a less hamfistedly political way.
Along the same lines, I started my day at the Gallery with the Drama and Desire special exhibition. There are a few really impressive pieces here, as well as some stuff that is at least worth seeing. (I suspect the unstated theme of the exhibit is to some extent “it’s what we could get our hands on”.) It’s mixed in with a lot of fairly ordinary French and English painting, especially in the earlier galleries of the exhibition. Like the other galleries, it’s a mix of really good, decent, and indifferent, which could be redeemed by some kind of context/history/whatever for the viewer. And there’s clearly a story here, but we’re not getting much of it from the curatorial notes on the wall.
At first I thought someone was pranking the press when I saw this item:
LONDON (Reuters) – It was dismissed as “career suicide” and a joke, and some fans returned the record thinking it was faulty, but rocker Lou Reed is re-releasing a digitally remastered version of his 1975 album “Metal Machine Music.”
And, despite the absence of melody and vocals and the unending presence of feedback, the 68-year-old rocker best known for his work with the influential band The Velvet Underground is touring Europe playing music inspired by the record with the Metal Machine Trio.
For the uninitiated, Metal Machine Music is quite possibly the biggest eff-you ever issued to a label by one of its artists. The whole thing is — apparently, I’ve never heard more than five minutes of it and I very much doubt anyone on the planet has subjected themselves to its entirety — atonal, lyric-free metallic/industrial noise. And feedback, oh yes, lots and lots of feedback. I feel sorry for the poor sound engineer stuck with digitally remastering the thing.
An “improvisational” show based on such cacophony would, I’m sure, be good for beer sales in the venues. I’m picturing an entire audience of European 60somethings watching Lou et al screech away randomly onstage…. all hearing aids firmly in the Off position.
Ah, art: the one unassailable reason for a Europe tour. Go, Lou.
The obvious solution to a garbage strike is to leave town.
Well, actually we had our trip to Boston planned for at least two months. J. read in the NYT about a once-in-a-lifetime exhibition coming to Boston’s Museum of Fine Arts (MFA), and we realized we had a bit of time in late June, and, besides, J. had never been to Boston and I hadn’t been since 1999 or thereabouts.
We flew Air Canada, which was uneventful on the way down, and slightly more eventful on the way back since they cancelled our flight. We were fortunate to get seats on the next flight out which was also the last flight of the day. In town, we stayed at the Copley Square Hotel in the Back Bay, which was apparently the first hotel in the back bay, having been in business since 1891. It was just renovated last year and re-opened with a modern hip international-style look — a bit hipper than we really needed or would ordinarily be willing to pay for, but they had a very good promotion for their “interior view” rooms. Since these rooms remain a nonnegotiable part of the hotel’s structure, I wouldn’t be too surprised if there were more such promotions in the future. It’s very conveniently located just off Copley Square, near a number of other hotels, shops, and restaurants, within reasonable walking distance of many attractions and convenient to the subway which will get you pretty much anywhere you’re likely to want to go. The 39 bus also stops right at the hotel’s doorstep which is actually probably the fastest way of getting to the MFA.
We spent our first day wandering around Boston, up to the old North End — an slightly odd combination of Revolution Era landmarks and Boston’s Little Italy — where we visited Old North Church and drank iced coffee and double espresso (J. and I. respectively) in an Italian cafe. We wandered back through Quincy Market (now unfortunately transformed into a food court) and downtown with lots of photo ops, finally getting back to our hotel via Boston Common, the Public Gardens, and Newbury Street.
Our second day was devoted to the MFA. The special exhibition — on till mid-August — is a comparative exhibition of Titian, Tintoretto, and Veronese, three leading Venetian sixteenth-century Venetian painters. All are obviously first-rate artists, but our favourite by a long measure was Titian — J. putting it in terms of Titian being a “once-in-a-century” painter and the other two “once-in-a-decade” painters. Tintoretto is interesting, with canvasses characterized by great energy and outward drama, but Titian is often capable of capturing the same dramatic intensity with greater complexity and richness. Their later works sometimes made us think of El Greco and Rembrandt respectively. I’m not sure what to make of Veronese based on what was on offer — I think numerically he had slightly fewer paintings on display than the other two — and a certain amount of what I saw struck me more as not-Titian or not-Tintoretto than as something distinctively Veronese. Apparently Titian himself — a generation older than the other two — preferred Veronese to Tintoretto, though that may have had as much to do with personal and professional reasons as with any view of their respective artistic merits. In the evening after dinner we walked through the Back Bay and parts of Beacon Hill.
We went back to the same neighborhood on our third day to see the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum, a palazzo-style building built to order to accommodate the collections of its founder, Isabella Stewart Gardner (1840-1924). Gardner was a woman of considerable means and strength of personality who acquired a very distinctive collection of art, mainly European pre-1900, which in its day was more significant than the collection next door at the MFA. It’s still a very impressive collection, a whole that is more than the sum of its parts, with a number of significant old masters (including another famous Titian). It is also the scene of one of the most (in)famous art thefts of the last century, dating from the early 1990s, where about a dozen works were stolen including a Rembrandt and a Vermeer.
We had some time left in the afternoon and took the subway over the Cambridge to see Harvard University, unfortunately a bit underwhelming as far as we were concerned. I think perhaps we have just spent too much time hanging around universities.
We spent our last day in the Back Bay, taking in views at the Public Gardens, walking along the Charles, and finally popping into Trinity Church, a remarkable Romanesque-style Episcopal church designed by the American architect H.H. Richardson and dating from the 1870s. It is interesting partly for its engineering, sitting like other buildings of days on multiple wooden poles that carry the weight of the building through the Back Bay infill to solid clay.
I’m probably showing my age, but I’m relieved that the grownups have intervened and cancelled a planned rave in the old Don Jail. The new owner’s site had the wrong tone, and something like this was probably inevitable. More here and here.
The old jail could be used as a performance art venue, but in all decency it has to be in a context that works with themes around suffering and despair, both experienced by the inmates and by their victims, and by the people who worked in the building before it was a Doors Open curiosity.
The place has a dark history – not playfully Gothic dark, but really seriously dark, and I don’t think that’s registered with the people offering ‘ghost tours’. More below the fold.
A good new kids’ album for those interested who haven’t run across it - Snacktime by Barenaked Ladies. Tested on a recent long car trip with success. Worth getting just for the alphabet song, which starts with “A is for Aisle” and goes downhill from there. The kids may not get it but they’ll want to know why you’re laughing.
This was two weeks ago, but I am still very excited that COC has appointed a new General Director, Alexander Neef. He is currently the Director of Casting at the Opera National de Paris.
Sondra Radvanovsky, Adrienne Pieczonka, and now Neef. Toronto is becoming world class!
Given the state of the classical music market you can’t blame people for trying to be inventive.
But we are still recovering from the design of one of EMI’s latest releases, a Chopin disc by the Argentinian pianist Ingrid Fliter. Donald Manildi raved about it in International Record Review this month and I picked up a copy as part of our CD shopping binge a few weeks ago.
I’m starting to think the disc is really pretty good. But I’ve found that to get there, we’ve had to purge the effect of possibly the weirdest bit of marketing design I’ve seen in a serious classical release. The packaging features numerous pictures of the pianist, all of them subtly but unmistakably drawing attention to cleavage. OK, so sex sells. But then the overall theme of the design is this soft-focus ultrafeminine garden wedding fantasy theme in pink and green. So we’ve covered both halves of the market (or at least the heterosexual portion thereof), but meanwhile poor Chopin, not to mention the considerable musical merits of Ms. Fliter’s playing, get buried in some weird combination of Maxim lite and Martha Stewart Weddings.
It’s an interesting example of how packaging can affect the view of the product, at least until the packaging effect wears off.
…is not so much with music downloading, it’s with the math.
Let’s look at this piece from yesterday’s Star, shall we?
Sales of CDs are down 20 per cent worldwide and 35 per cent in Canada, compared to 2006.
An estimated 1.6 billion music files are downloaded in Canada each year on “grey-market” peer-to-peer systems, representing $1.6 billion in lost revenue, using the iTunes price model of 99 cents per download.
Well, if you do the math correctly it would be $1.584 billion. Let’s not shove that extra $16 million in there.
But first, can we see some proof that lost CD sales are in some tangible way related to peer-to-peer sharing? Because just putting those two sentences side-by-side isn’t doing it for me.
…oh, hang on, there is no proof. The data say something else entirely. Digital distribution has been good for Canada’s music industry. (Alright, that’s 2005 data, but I don’t imagine the expense end of the equation has altered all that much in the last year or two, and the data below are also from 2005.)
And again with the oft-repeated falsehood that one peer-to-peer download = one lost sale. Two problems here.
Virtually every song ever recorded is available through peer-to-peer file-sharing (more than 79 million recordings). Only 3 million songs are available on legal sites.
This implies all peer-to-peer file sharing is not legal. Not so. There’s material there that’s past copyright expiry. As well, lots of artists allow their stuff to be shared freely. How much is there legally? These sources are certainly not going to tell us:
Sources: Songwriters Association of Canada; Canadian Record Industry Association; PricewaterhouseCoopers LLB
Just for fun, Toronto Star, next time how ’bout consulting some sources that aren’t just corporate bumf?
If this pathetic mishmash of lies and innumeracy is the best the industry can do, no wonder they keep turning out craptastic music that nobody wants to buy.
An interesting piece on string quartets and the psychological dynamics thereof, in the Times of London. It marks the disbanding of the Alban Berg Quartet after nearly 40 years.
(Kind of reminds me of Vickram Seth’s An Equal Music, a book I remember being inexplicably fond of when I read it some years ago.)
One of the first things we did in setting up our calendar for Ottawa to get season’s tickets for the National Arts Centre Orchestra. I used to go with my Mom ages and ages ago when I was in high school, and my parents now share two tickets with another couple down the street (usually used by my Mom and Mrs. M.), so it was an obvious thing to start going again now that we’re back in town.
We were a bit nonplussed at our first two concerts, both conducted by principal conductor Pinchas Zukerman. The notes are there, no doubt, but for a piece to come to life you need things like focus, energy, and colour, and well, if these things were there we weren’t hearing them.
So we approached last week’s concert with guest conductor Eri Klas with a mixture of hope and trepidation.
In fairness, unlike the stalwarts Zukerman was conducting last week’s music was almost completely unfamiliar to me: a new NAC commission, Barber’s Cello concerto (which I don’t think I’ve heard before in any form), and Dvorak’s 9th (which is one of those pieces that’s kinda sorta familiar but I’ve never actually owned a recording). Nevertheless, to my ears, the contrast was like night and day. All of sudden, well, there’s “there” there–energy, focus, and structure–and unsurprisingly the audience was enthusiastic, with several curtain calls after the Dvorak and about 2/3 of a standing ovation.
The NACO is a smallish orchestra and has certain built-in limits in terms of the kind of sound it can produce and the repertoire it can perform convincingly. In the right hands, though, it’s very definitely on my “worth going to” list.