Arts on the Horizon: December

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By Rodger Skidmore

Not the Girl with a Pearl Earring

     First, Vermeer painted the girl, then Tracy Chavelier wrote the book, Scarlett Johansson played Vermeer’s maid in the movie, and Sandra Organ Solis choreographed the ballet. Such is the arc to immortality if, perhaps, the protagonist is an attractive, quietly alluring woman. 

     Ah, but what if the painting is of a celibate 17th century friar with a gold earring, pointing to a pile of drawings? Yes, in a Hollywood movie he might be portrayed as a lecherous Italian curate saying, “Why don’t you come up and see my etchings sometime?” to some Gina Lollobrigida-ish young starlet.

     Well, yes, that is exactly what he said. Not to a young lady but to the well-to-do Medici family, as he was interested in selling those drawings for quite a few lira.

Or, perhaps trade them for some political favors. Or, perhaps … someone in Hollywood should option the rights for the movie. And for the background story they could go to the book GUERCINO’S Friar with a Gold Earring by David M. Stone.

     When going through a museum, viewers often know the story behind the paintings. If one is of a young lady holding a baby whose head in encircled by a golden halo, they may have their own standard reaction, reverential or appreciative of 16th century brushstrokes (or both), depending upon their deepest feelings. But, if the gallery has 15 similar paintings, they may not linger when viewing the fifth toward the center of the room. And if the painting is of a large muscular man with long hair, pushing apart the pillars of a temple, they might think “Oh, Samson,” take a second look, and then move on.

     More’s the pity if the painting is of a lowly cloaked figure holding up a drawing. They might just keep on moving toward a larger painting of a herd of goats on a hillside. True, a lovely green hillside, but they will have missed not only the gold earring in the friar’s left ear, but will not have read about him in the small plaque on the wall to the lower side of the painting, which gives some of that really good backstory.

     It has been said that a picture is worth one thousand words but, at times, one hundred words can do wonders. One can see much in a drawing done in black ink. But, by adding color, specific details can become much clearer. Words can also add color and meaning to even the best of paintings. And, as this exhibition is wonderfully curated by Stone and by Sarah Cartwright, chief curator at the Ringling, one sees not just this one painting by Guercino, of Friar Bonaventura Bisi, but a number of others (including one of Samson). And paintings by Bisi as well. He was a wonderful miniaturist in his own right.

     “If these walls could only speak,” is often said of old buildings. The walls of the Searing wing at the Ringling speak volumes. Like the tale of the Protestant Queen of Sweden who converted to Catholicism, went to Italy, saw a painting by Bisi (it is on display here), and wanted it for herself. But Bisi had already promised it to the Medici family. So Bisi …

    Stone’s book was recently published in conjunction with the opening of this exhibition, with the same name, at the Ringling Museum. The show opened in October and will run through the first week of this coming January. Info at Ringling.org.

Johann Sebastian Bach’s Goldberg Variations

     Bach wrote 30 of them in this one work. That seems like a lot of variations, all based on one aria (a particularly beautiful melodic and tranquil bass line). It should be noted that, while 30 is a pretty nice number, Handel, in 1733, published his Prelude and Chaconne in G major HWV 442, an aria with 64 variations. 

     Mozart, not to be left out, wrote 12 variations on a children’s folk song from France. We know one variation of that tune as Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star.

     Variations on a theme can also be done by abstract painters, Sidney Guberman, a painter based in Atlanta, once did a series titled One Hundred Views of Mont Blanc. The outlines of the mountain were not different, but the colors of the slopes, valleys, and precipices, in each painting, were. So too, can choreographers. One being George Balanchine; Balanchine based his Theme and Variations of classical ballet on the final movement of Tchaikovsky’s third orchestral suite which, like Mozart’s, contained 12 variations.

      The ballet opens with a corps of 12 women and a principal couple. The two principals move amongst the women during the variations with a finale of the full corps of 26 dancers.

     One of Twila Tharp’s most famous ballets, In the Upper Room, is danced to the nine pieces that Philip Glass wrote for this most physically exhausting work. It takes a tremendous amount of energy to project softness, tension, and restraint. Dancers appear like waves at dusk – advancing and subsiding in apparently equal amounts but nevertheless still moving forward.

     By Dec. 15 and 16, you should have recovered from Thanksgiving dinner and eaten all the leftovers. What better way to finally get some exercise than by watching the ballet corps, soloists, and principles of the Sarasota Ballet burn off their calories at the Sarasota Opera House in their third program of the season, Moments of Meaning. Info at Sarasotaballet.org. 

A destination wedding

     When two people wish to become united, and share their joy with those who share such joyful wishes, they often come together at a particular destination. In late December and early January, that destination is Sarasota. The occasion is the wedding of the love of music to the playing of that music during the 20th anniversary season of the Perlman Music Program-Suncoast.

     While young performers from around the world will be arriving earlier to start practicing the playing of music, from Dec. 29 through Jan. 5, we will be able indulge in our love of music on the grounds of the University of South Florida Sarasota-Manatee. There will be a series of viola and cello masterclasses, chorus and orchestra rehearsals, and works in progress recitals.

Hearing the formation of the music, followed by how it is progressing, will culminate in a celebration concert on Jan. 6 at the Opera House. The PMP string orchestra will be conducted by Itzhak Perlman and the PMP chorus by Patrick Romano.

For those that choose to attend the celebration dinner that follows, both Toby and Itzak Perlman, as well as students, staff, and faculty of the Perlman Music Program will be in attendance at Michael’s on East – along with entertainment by PMP students and faculty.

     The orchestra and chorus, having had their day at the Opera House, the PMP chamber quartet will get to shine with a recital held Jan. 8 at First Presbyterian Church on Oak Street. The students are paired together in quartets that blend their individual styles, showcasing their talents. Info at Perlmanmusicprogramsuncoast.org.

Plumbing the depths of music hook, line, and sinker

     There is a new music series titled Listen Hear Salon Concerts, with the here being St. Boniface Episcopal Church on Siesta Key. The pilot for this project was held last year at the Sarasota Art Museum. The first program included an historical arrangement of Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony (1886) and a new arrangement, for solo piano, of his Leonore Overture. The objective was, with the musicians, to explore how instrumentation and arranging can affect an experience of musical works.

     A second program included Brahms’ Violin Sonata No. 2 in A Major and discussed time versus timing, and sharing insights into how these concepts have changed over the last century.

     On the 16th of this month, this season’s first program will include the world premiere of 12 Preludes for Solo Piano by the Catalonian composer Marc Migó, performed by Marisa Gupta. This will be followed by a discussion between the composer, Ms. Gupta, and the event’s host and Artistic Director, Max Tan, about the process of composing new works and the relationship between composers and performers. The program will end with a performance of Stravinsky’s Divertimento, by Gupta and Tan.

     There will be two Listen Hear events in March. The first, on the 8th, will be Celebrating the Life, Music, and Words of Ned Rorem. This will be curated by pianist Marisa Gupta and baritone Tom Meglioranza and will focus on the ten songs in Rorem’s Aftermath written in the wake of 9/11, relative to the universal experience of grief and loss. It invites us to contemplate what it means to be human and at peace.

     The second event, on March 20, will be a preview of the April 3 Carnegie Hall Recital of Max Tan, violin and Marisa Gupta, piano. They will be performing Clara Schumann’s Three Romances, Thomas Ades’ Märchentänze, Igor Stravinsky’s Divertimento, Eugéne Ysÿe’s Ballad-Sonata No. 3 for solo violin, and Richard Strauss’s Violin Sonata. Info at Soundboxventures.org.

     Just a quick note for your calendar, Max Tan, as an alum of the Perlman Music Program, will also be playing on Jan. 20 in a tribute titled Remembering Roger, Celebrating the Legacy of Roger Tapping, at the Universalist Church of Sarasota. Tapping was a former violinist with the Juilliard String Quartet who passed away in January of 2022. The program will include a Piano Quartet by Mozart, a Piano Quintet by Schumann, and a new work by Michelle Barzel Ross, String Quartet – In memory of Roger Tapping. Ms. Ross is guest first violinist this year with the Juilliard String Quartet and will be playing at this concert. More info at perlmanmusicprogramsuncoast.org/roger/.

Los Angeles, Philadelphia, and London

     These cities are at latitudes 34, 39, and 51 so, not very much in common – except that Randall Goosby (yes, that Randall Goosby, the exceptionally talented international violinist) has played with the orchestras of each of those cities. And, now that hurricane season is over, he will be playing at the Van Wezel with the Sarasota Orchestra, on the second and third of December. Goosby actually started his career here in Florida, playing with the Jacksonville Symphony at age 9 and later studying with, and being an alumnus of, the Perlman Music Program. In 2010 he was the youngest person ever to win the Sphinx Concerto competition.

     Do you remember what you were doing when you were 19? Well, Mozart, probably in his spare time when he wasn’t playing video games, was busy composing his Violin Concerto No. 3 (not his first or second, but his third – amazing what the youth of the world can do when they aren’t messing around playing on the computer). Goosby is a bit older than 19 (he’s 27 now), and will be the soloist playing the younger composer’s third concerto.

     Wine, with a bit of age to it, can have a special flavor. So too with violins. The one on which Goosby will be playing is 261 years older than he is – a 1735 Guarneri del Gesù violin loaned to him by the Stradivari Society.

     Another selection on the program also features the violin, John Corigliano’s STOMP. This piece for violin and orchestra is not a new arrangement from the Broadway musical STOMP but was written in 2010 for solo violin, to be used in that year’s Tchaikovsky Competition. The composer, wanting it to sound like a blue grass fiddle tune, used the scordatura technique (“mistuned” in Italian) to give it a punchier effect, thus sounding a bit like a viola. That effect was not needed when arranged for orchestra as the Sarasota Orchestra actually uses a few of their own violas when playing a piece like this.

     The final selection will be Mendelssohn’s Symphony No. 3 (or so they say). It was his second to be started, fifth to be completed, and third to be published – his second was not published until after his death. Mendelssohn was inspired to begin this composition while walking in Scotland and viewing a ruined chapel where Mary Queen of Scotland had been crowned. The alternative title for this symphony is, of course, The Scottish.

     Johannes Debus, music director of the Canadian Opera Company, will be conducting. In addition to his work with the COC, he conducts orchestras and operas at festivals around the world. In 2016 and 2017 he conducted Salome and Tales of Hoffmann at the Metropolitan Opera. Info at Sarasotaorchestra.org.

     A few of the Sarasota Orchestra’s musicians will be sprinkling some of their holiday notes at the Church of the Redeemer on Dec. 10. Betsy Traba, principal flutist, and Phoebe Powell, the new principal harpist, will be joining the Choral Artists of Sarasota in a presentation of A Christmas Celebration! 

     Joseph Holt will be conducting an evening of holiday harmonies, festive favorites, and African American spirituals. There will be English, American, French, and Italian arrangements of these festive songs during Sarasota Choral Artists 45th season. Info at Choralartistssarasota.org.

Crazy is as crazy does

     Girl Crazy, by George and Ira Gershwin, opened on Broadway in 1930. Crazy For You (a rewrite with a different mix of songs) by George and Ira Gershwin, opened on Broadway in 1992. The new, updated production of the Gershwins’ Crazy For You opened in Sarasota last month and will end its Asolo Rep run on Jan. 4. The next day the lights at the Florida State Center for the Performing Arts, next to the Ringling Museum, will go dark. 

     The opposite of “dark” is “bright”, as in fantastic, spectacular, big-time Broadway, worth seeing, and an all-around-hit. If you like laughing with a smile on your face, this is a musical written just for you. One reason that the show is so wonderful is the dancing. And the reasons for the great dancing are that the director, Denis Jones is also the choreographer (nominated for two Tonys for that creative ability), and that the principal actors/singers/dancers are so graceful and athletic. Sara Esty, who plays Polly, the postmistress of Deadrock, Nevada, was, in a former career, a soloist with the Miami City Ballet. And a tip of the hat to the men and women in the chorus line. They float, they tap, they kick, they tumble and fight, and are always in sync. The costumes ain’t bad either. Info for this and upcoming shows at Asolorep.com

And a jazzy Christmas to you too!

     Christmas, like many things, can mean different things to different people. Above and beyond the religious aspect, there is also the celebration of family and friends getting together – whether in person or via Zoom. Admittedly, the Zoom thing can get a little tricky when having Christmas dinner. Hard to pass the gravy to Aunt Hazel when you only have the cranberry sauce. 

     But, if you do get together, hopefully it will be for more than a two-hour turkey fest followed by an equally long nap. What to do together on one of those uneventful days before the big one? If you’re around on Dec. 8, take your crew over to the Glenridge Performing Arts Center and partake in Nate Najar’s Jazz Holiday

     As Nate and his guitar has been providing this musical cheer for more than 15 years, you know that he has really found the right groove. A melange of holiday favorites and old chestnuts – a good mix indeed. Besides Najar’s normal quartet there will be the brassy sounds of trumpet and saxophone, the silvery fluttering of flute, and the warm vocal tones of Daniela Soledade.

     Busy on the 8th? Then hold off for a day and on the 9th you’ll be able to listen to the big band sound of the Pine View Jazz Band. As these students also perform at charitable functions, they’re registered with the State of Florida Department of Agriculture (how about that for a bureaucratic tidbit of trivia). Or, how about this, go see both shows.

     Finding this whole December thing a bit hectic? Then relax in an easy chair for the rest of the month and, on Jan. 6, relax a bit further with the soothing sounds of Sarasota’s own Maria Wirries, as her sultry/Broadway voice serenades you. Info for all at Gpactix.com.

Christmas all month long

     For most people (especially adults) Santa arrives but once each year. And, with not many chimneys in southwest Florida, Santa finding you or you finding him can be a hard task indeed.

     Luckily for children, things are a bit easier. Yes, Santa will be visiting not just the malls (photos extra), but will be appearing nine times between Dec. 2 through 24 at a theatre near you. And very near to you, if you live somewhere close to Florida Studio Theatre’s Keating Theatre. Santa has been an ongoing star in this show, Deck the Halls, for many years and this year’s offering has an all-new mix of songs and sketches. The FST’s motto is “When in Florida, do it Florida style”. 

     If your young ones get the play-going bug this season, and it lasts into the new year, then go ahead and get them (and you) tickets to Red Riding Hood which runs Jan. 7 through Feb. 10. In this adaption of the old classic the wolf is Wolfgang, an actor. Yes, definitely a different version of the Grimm story. Info on this and other FST shows at Floridastudiotheatre.org

Rodger Skidmore
Author: Rodger Skidmore

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