Arts on the Horizon: March

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By Rodger Skidmore

Go-Go, Van Gogh

You already know the answer to the question, “Who has played Vincent Van Gogh in the movies?” — Kirk Douglas, Martin Scorsese, Benedict Cumberbatch, and Willem Dafoe, as well as a lot of other actors of whom you might not have heard (like the French actor/singer Jacques Dutronc — best known as a singer of garage rock and psychedelic rock).

What united all these actors? — the fact that they often play mentally (and otherwise) tortured people. And Van Gogh certainly was that.

Son of an evangelical preacher, Van Gogh became an evangelical preacher. A failed art dealer in London, he became (at the urging of his brother Theo) a failed artist. Often described as suffering from severe depression, it seems more likely he was schizophrenic. He certainly was depressed, but must have had great highs, given that he painted such joyous masterpieces as Starry Night, Café Terrace at Night, and so many portraits of bright yellow sunflowers and fields of wheat. Although, it must be admitted that his painting Wheatfield with Crows is pretty ominous. Yet, perhaps the crows are simply coming for the wheat, and not for us.

Van Gogh created about 900 oil paintings in the nine years that he was active, mostly done in the last two years of his life. Perhaps one can produce more paintings by using aggressively broad brushstrokes.

And doing so adds a tremendous amount of vitality, more than one finds in the landscapes done by earlier artists.

Van Gogh’s painting Café Terrace at Nightlives is at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, but like many snowbirds, it will be visiting Sarasota — March 4 through April 24. The venue is the Starry Night Pavilion at University Town Center, south of the mall. And it will be bringing many friends as well — watercolors and drawings in addition to Van Gogh’s more famous oil paintings. Beyond Van Gogh: The Immersive Experience will be immersing you in more than 300 works of Van Gogh’s art. And immersion is the word.

This is not your normal museum tour where you walk past a series of paintings. Here the art does not just stay on the walls, it moves and changes, grows and becomes alive. Van Gogh sold one painting during his short life and now they go for $20 to $100 million. Owning one of his paintings is a great financial investment, as will be the time you invest in seeing his art as its never been seen before. Info at


Pick up a shiny new twenty-five-cent piece (one of those metal ones that existed before that imaginary stuff, like Bitcoin, came along). There are images on both sides that are quite different — usually a portrait on one side and a building on the other. The quarter is a metaphor for life — the yin and yang of existence — the transitory and the permanent. But metaphysical dualism can go beyond that. Yes, the building is more permanent than the individual that is portrayed, but memory can be kept alive forever and buildings can be leveled is a few years.

This leads, of course, to Robert Mapplethorpe and Patti Smith, and to the garden setting in which they appear. Mapplethorpe had his own duality: known by many chiefly for his photographs of the male body, which can exhibit the same sensuous curves as that of the female, he was equally appreciated for his portraits. Especially his portraits of flowers. Flowers, growing on a hillside, petals trembling in the breeze, are always beautiful because you see them and leave. They exist in a permanent state of youthful beauty as long as that seeing mind exists.

Cut flowers are usually viewed and appreciated at their peak, and then wither and die. Mapplethorpe, for the most part, only photographed cut flowers. But by photographing them, made them even more permanent than the memories of the ones growing on that hill.

Patti Smith grew up as a tomboy, but later found her sensual side, partnering for a while with Mapplethorpe, until he found his own sensuality. Moving to New York to become a performance poet, she evolved from being a spoken-word artist into a songwriter, and finally a singer-songwriter. Before the 20th century, poets were remembered, if at all, by their work on paper. Ms. Smith, thanks to recordings (like Mapplethorpe’s photography), become immortal.

Both artists are on display at Selby Gardens — in the orchid conservatory and spotted about acres of downtown’s outdoor splendor. Patti’s writings are signposted along garden paths and her voice subtly follows you while looking at Mapplethorpe’s portraits of flowers in the conservatory. Actually not “his” portraits, as the Selby does not cut their flowers in these arrangements, but instead has potted them as beautifully as Mapplethorpe’s, when he put his in vases.

His actual photographs are on display in the Payne Mansion amongst photos of Smith and Mapplethorpe together. This particular display of photos, recordings, and flowers titled Robert Mapplethorpe and Patti Smith/Flowers, Poetry, and Light will be at Selby Gardens forever — or until June 26 — whichever comes first. More info at

Time for jazz

What is the best time to see and hear jazz? Morning, afternoons, and evenings. Especially from March 13 through 19 at Nathan Benderson Park. And yes, throughout the UTC mall as well. The Sarasota Jazz Club has, again, put together an outstanding series of shows. It says it is the biggest festival ever. The kickoff event is FREE. You bring your sunscreen, hat and folding chair and it provides the music.

Panama Drive will start things off with a set of Latin jazz fusion tunes and Melanie Massell, who hails from Bradenton, will then do a stormy set of vocals.  

The Roy Gerson Trio (Gerson on piano, Mark Neuenschwander on bass, and Dave Morgan on drums and vibes) will close with some smooth grooves. Roy has played at the Blue Note and Village gate in New York and appeared in over a dozen films.

The Pub Crawl Trolly will ferry you from venue to venue to hear more than 10 different jazz groups on the 15th. They’ll be playing in restaurants, bars, open spaces within the mall, and at an outdoor venue as well.

Wednesday through Saturday provides multiple treats. First, the members of the band La Lucha — John O’Leary, piano; Alejandro Arenas, bass; and Mark Feiman, percussion — will be the house rhythm section backing different groups each evening. They will also have their own set on Saturday night.

Wednesday’s first set features guitarist John Piazzarelli and song stylist Catherine Russell performing a tribute to Billie Holiday and Frank Sinatra. They are followed by perennial favorite Houston Person playing tenor sax playing accompanied by Ken Peplowski and the La Lucha rhythm section. Dick Hyman and Ken Peplowski will be together again, and not for the first time, on Thursday. Another Thursday set will be led by trumpet virtuoso Terell Stafford. Friday pairs nine-time Grammy nominee singer Tierney Sutton with Shelly Berg — followed by Russell Malone, his guitar and his friends.

The last night begins with Arturo Sandoval and his band, ending with La Lucha. Well, not really ending because Friday and Saturday feature Late Night Jazz Jams going on to 11:30 p.m. Much more info at

Three centuries in one evening

     The Sarasota Orchestra is hosting a retrospective of three centuries worth of music and has selected one piece from each century. The event is March 10-13 at the Van Wezel. 

Dvořák’s New World Symphony is an obvious choice for the 19th. Conceived during Dvořák’s visit to America and completed in Europe, it has flavors from each.

Samuel Barber’s Concerto for Violin is not just good 20th century violin (and orchestral) music, it has a great talent playing it — guest violinist Simone Porter.

The 21st century, not yet over, has less music from which to choose, but maybe less is more when Toccata for Orchestra is reviewed. James Beckel’s work has solos for all instruments, so maybe more is more.

     April 1-3 brings another violinist to the stage of the Sarasota Orchestra. Angelo Xiang Yu, winner of the Yehudi Menuhin International Violin Competition and member of the faculty of the Sarasota Music Festival, will be performing Mendelssohn’s Violin Concerto, Mendelssohn’s last orchestral work. Bramwell Tovey, the orchestra’s new music director, will also be conducting Coleridge-Taylor’s Ballade for Orchestra, Strauss’ Till Eulenspiegel’s Merry Pranks, and Ravel’s Daphnis et Chloé Suite No. 2.

On April 10, members of the orchestra will be performing another Coleridge-Taylor work, his Clarinet Quintet. Coleridge-Taylor has said that he had been inspired to write this piece after listening to Brahms’ Clarinet Quintet and that Brahms had been inspired to write that piece after hearing clarinetist Richard Mühlfeld play. Brahms’ quintet will also be on the program. Mühlfeld’s role will be played by Bharat Chandra, Sarasota Orchestra’s principal clarinetist — an inspired choice. Info at


     To say that the play, The Play That Goes Wrong, is a laugh-a-minute would be a great big insult. A better term would be that this comedy, now playing at Florida Studio Theatre through at least the end of this month, is a laugh every few seconds. This comedy, about a community theatre production of a 1920s murder mystery, starts with the stagehands putting the finishing touches on the set. Everything goes downhill from there. And in some scenes, literally downhill. This play will be performed wherever good set designers and actors are located, for years to come. More info at

An opera about Vladimir Putin?

     Well, not Putin — you’ll have to wait about 10 or 15 years for that one. So, how about an opera about Attila the Hun? Same thing, right?

Attila took over an older empire that he did not build, but wanted to expand it. He beat up a bunch of smaller tribes and next wants to attack Kyiv, er, we mean Rome.

Then Attila has a dream that an old man warns him to turn back. So far, a good parallel, but here is where things begin to differ a bit. Someone wants to poison Attila, a pretty girl saves his life, Attila wants to marry the pretty girl, so she stabs him to death. This actually did not happen in real life — this is not history, it is opera. But then history does not give you great music by Verdi the way the Sarasota Opera does in its presentation of Verdi’s opera Attila this month starting, on the 12th. 

     In March the Sarasota Opera is also presenting a real opera (meaning there is no history whatsoever). Just more beautiful music, this time by Georges Bizet and sung by real opera singers, live. The setting is a fishing village on the coast of Ceylon with two fishermen in love with the same woman (told you it was an opera). There are storms, hidden identities, and a village on fire. Great stuff. Great sets. Great etc. More info at

Pop-up musicians — all over the place

     Various groups from the Perlman Music Foundation (PMP) keep popping up in Sarasota — and we are glad of it. The PMP was started by Toby Perlman back in 2004 and its alumni and friends keep appearing in and around Sarasota. And March is no exception, just exceptional. Three members of the Juilliard String Quartet (violin, viola, and cello) will be performing at the Church of the Redeemer on the 13th. The quartet portion of the program is a piano quartet, so one violin is out and the pianist Anna Polonsky has been added to the roster. It will be performing Mozart’s Piano Quartet No. 2 in E-flat major; Penderecki’s String Trio for Violin, Viola, and Cello; and Brahms’ Piano Quartet No. 3 in C minor. Yes, sumptuous is the word to use. Info at

     To add a real bit of Perlman to the PMP members coming to Sarasota, Itzhak Perlman will be appearing at the Van Wezel with the Pianist Rohan De Silva on March 8. Info at

     At Temple Sinai a new group is popping up: the Risus Quartet, brought to Sarasota by the Artist Series Concerts of Sarasota. It is a young South Korean string quartet, in residence at the Butler School of Music in Austin, Texas, and will be playing March 6. By the way, “Risus” is Latin for laugh — as in the French verb “rire,” to laugh. This quartet wishes to bring joy and laughter to their audiences. More info at

     Some say the Ides of March are at mid-month — and that you should beware of them. That was then, and this is now, so instead, celebrate them. And the best way? By going, on March 15, to the Riverview High School Performing Arts Center to hear the Takás Quartet as it performs Ravel’s String Quartet and Schumann’s Piano Quintet. How does a quartet become a quintet? By adding pianist Joyce Yang. Info at

     Have plans for the evening of Friday, March 18? Great, have fun. And that morning, to start the day right, attend Upsetting the Classical Tradition: Beethoven and the Next 100 years, at 10:30 a.m. at First Presbyterian Church. Alan Wasserman at the piano. More info for this free concert at

Rodger Skidmore
Author: Rodger Skidmore

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