Not the Messiah

Not the Messiah (He's a Very Naughty Boy): A Comic Oratorio based on Monty Python's Life of Brian
Libretto by Eric Idle and Music by John Du Prez
The Collegiate Chorale and Orchestra of St. Luke's/Ted Sperling
Carnegie Hall, December 15-16, 2014

Not the Messiah was superb (albeit with minor overtones of shtick). But what else to expect from Monty Python alumnus Eric Idle, and John Du Prez, one of the composers of Spamalot and composer of the soundtrack for Python's swan song film, The Meaning of Life. This was truly an evening of whimsy on a grand, grand scale, with an excellent full orchestra playing wonderful arrangements, a chorus of one hundred-or-so voices, four outstanding soloists, and of course Eric Idle (who at this stage of his long career possesses whimsy-imprinted DNA). Read more »

The Last Ship with Sting

Sting has come to Broadway, as both composer of the new musical The Last Ship and, more recently, in an effort to improve the show's struggling box office numbers, one of its stars onstage. The show itself, while having some book and story flaws, ultimately emerges as an engrossing, touching musical, with an impressive and melodic score that serves the story and the characters. It is an often stirring tribute to the human spirit.

The musical, inspired by Sting's own experiences growing up, takes place in the streets and shipyard of Wallsend, in the northeast end of England. The town and its residents are having problems, as the shipyard has been closed down. For reasons that don't entirely make sense, the residents are inspired to build one last ship. The Last Ship deals with familiar themes: father/son relationships, an economically depressed town, the lure of the sea, and the idea of a community; these are real people whom the audience can care about, and the results are sincere, earnest, gritty, and noble.

Sting himself is a commanding presence as Jackie White, the shipyard foreman. His character is not the lead, but Sting makes the most of it and shows his theatrical skills. The lead character is Gideon Fletcher, who left his home town at the age of fifteen to go to sea and escape the town, then returns fifteen years later. Gideon had issues with his father, and also left behind a young girlfriend, Meg, who he still loves. Michael Esper, who plays Gideon, was out the night I saw the show, but his understudy, Jeremy Woodard, was excellent. Rachel Tucker is glowing as the now grown up woman he left behind; Fred Applegate provides some comic relief and a twinkle in his eye as the local priest, while Collin Kelly Sordelet is impressive as Tucker's teenage son. Read more »

Fantastic Voyage

Francesco Clemente: Inspired by India
The Rubin Museum of Art
Through February 2, 2015
 
Two Tents
Mary Boone Gallery
Through December 20, 2014

The original impulse in my life as an artist was to write and to break from writing into image.... Art is the last oral tradition alive in the West. - Francesco Clemente Read more »

An Interview with John Mendelsohn

I first came to know Kook Projects from curator Soojung Hyun, who asked me to participate in their inaugural show Kooky Cutters: Redefined Realities. What I find particularly intriguing about this gallery space, besides being new and not in your typical art district, is its discreetness. Founded and directed by Kate Kook and co-founded by its curator, WooJae Chung, Kook Projects stands as one of the more unorthodox spaces in New York City, as it has no street visibility. For their openings, this nicely converted ground floor apartment directs its visitors to enter through an iron-gated service entrance, down a set of stairs, and past the building’s recycling area to an alleyway that leads to a fenced-in courtyard and interior spaces.  Read more »

Quote of the Week: Scott Rudin

"If you're going to spend two or three years of your life working on something, you've got to be making the kind of movie that discusses and influences the culture and is engaged in the world you're living in."

Scott Rudin (born 14 July 1958), American film producer and a theatrical producer who has won an Emmy, Grammy, Oscar, and Tony. (Produced Team America, trailer above.)

No, Really. Ask Me Anything

Screenwriter, director, and novelist Allison Burnett adapts his critically-lauded book Undiscovered Gyrlretitled Ask Me Anything for the screen, with excellent results. (By the way, only two writers I can think of have even attempted to migrate their prose from page to screen as both writer and director -- Norman Mailer and Stephen Chboksy.) This dramatic coming-of-age indie boasts an outstanding cast with a wickedly twisted plot twist that is so left field that you may have to watch it again to get it. Part Lolita meets Looking for Mr. Goodbar a la a precocious teenage blogger gone rogue. Read more »

The Shape of Things to Come

Henri Matisse: The Cut-Outs
The Museum of Modern Art
Through February 8, 2015

In the early months of 1945, Matisse wrote to his daughter that he had gone as far as he could with painting in oil, intending instead to focus his efforts on a large-scale decorative project using the cut-out paper technique he had employed to make sketches and maquettes for his mural and theater projects in the early Thirties ("Red Dancer" [1937-38], and "Two Dancers" [1937–38] for Diaghilev's Rouge et Noir). "Painting seems to be finished for me for now… I'm for decoration -- there I give myself everything I can. I put into it all the efforts of my life." Although he had already been employing this technique for years as an adjunct to his paintings, it was not until the mid-Forties that he turned almost exclusively to cut paper as his primary medium, introducing a radically new operation that came to be called a cut-out. The Museum of Modern Art has devoted an entire exhibition, a mini-retrospective of sorts, to this final chapter in Matisse's work. Read more »

Music and Sex: Scenes from a life - first installment

[Editor's note: We are going to be supplementing our usual critical fare with more new, previously unpublished creative pieces. We've done a bit of this in the past, most notably with Ken Krimstein's cartoons and Dusty Wright's music; now we plan to increase our publication of this type of content. Please contact us if you would like to contribute original work.

Warning: the chapter below contains "adult situations."]

Music and Sex: Scenes from a life - A novel in progress by Roman AkLeff

"We only walk by continually beginning to fall forward." - William Gibson, Zero History Read more »

Song of the Week: Dan Wilson - "Love Without Fear"

Okay, so those of us who dig Dan Wilson's singing, songwriting, and playing know how incredibly talented he is. His first band, Trip Shakespeare, remains one of America's epic pop-rock outfits, even if they were always under the radar of mass consumer consumption. Then he went and outdid himself with his next band, Semisonic. "Closing Time" is a repeat offender on my iTunes repeat button. And if that wasn't enough -- cuz the guy's gotta pay the bills -- the Twin Cities native wrote hit songs for the Dixie Chicks, Adele, Dierks Bentley, even freakin' Taylor Swift. How I missed this song when it was released is anyone's guess. But here it is for all of you to enjoy on this chilly December weekend. Pick up his new solo CD, Love Without Fear, now. 

ANNIVERSARIES: Sergei Rachmaninoff Conducted Philadelphia Orchestra in Recording of His Symphony No. 3 75 Years Ago

Philadelphia Orchestra/Sergei Rachmaninoff
Rachmaninoff: Symphony No. 3/Isle of the Dead/Vocalise
(RCA Gold Seal)

During most of his life, Sergei Rachmaninoff (1873-1943) was best known as a pianist and composer. He only took up conducting through an odd set of circumstances. The premiere of his First Symphony in 1897 was seriously marred by the inept conducting of Glazunov, who was reputedly drunk. Not only did this impress on the young Rachmaninoff how crucial a good conductor was to the success of his music, the critical rejection of his First Symphony on the basis of that performance sent him into a depression and caused a mental block against composing. Read more »

Bong Jung Kim Gets Right to the Point

Bong Jung Kim has a very deliberate and consistent way of working. His intention, which is navigated through bold combinations and contentious juxtapositions of symbols, mixes metaphors as he vies for a deeper cord in our psyches. He is primal with respect to color and technique, yet he tells his tale with references to the darker side of the collective contemporary social condition and our quick to throw away and ever-upgrading technology. Read more »

TV Review: The Librarians

[Spoiler Alert: This review contains a few spoilers, though I have tried to keep them to a minimum while still making this a viable review.]

When the first made-for-TV Librarian movie appeared in 2004 (The Librarian: Quest for the Spear), I watched it simply because it sounded so silly (and I also have a fondness for magic and fantasy). The premise is a normal metropolitan library under which is hidden a magical library containing not only rare (or mythical) books and manuscripts, but historical/magical (and religious) artifacts: the Ark of the Covenant, Excalibur, Pandora’s Box, even Noah’s Ark. This library -- which exists to protects these items, as well as protecting the general public from the wrong use of magic -- is overseen by Judson (Bob Newhart) and his assistant, Charlene (Jane Curtin). They hire a librarian whose job it is to go around the world either finding magical artifacts, or preventing those artifacts from falling into the wrong hands. The librarian is chosen for a combination of the breadth of his knowledge and intelligence, and his ability to think himself out of various predicaments (since he does not carry any weapons). In the first film, Noah Wyle becomes the new librarian, whose task it is to recover part of the Spear of Destiny (the spear used by the centurion to pierce Jesus’ side), which has been stolen. Read more »

A Comparative Listening Survey of Dvořák's Ninth Symphony, Part II

Having given the history of the "New World" in Part I, it seems wise to preface Part II with some words about how the symphony is constructed. The movements are:

I.    Adagio; Allegro molto
II.   Largo
III.  Scherzo: Molto vivace
IV. Allegro con fuoco

Unusually, every movement starts with an introduction. The first movement's is the most famous:  starts with a striking slow introduction that establishes the current of nostalgia for, or homesickness for, the composer's native Bohemia. Another reminder of this comes with the famotus flute solo -- or does it? Some have remarked on its similarity to "Swing Low, Sweet Chariot," but this is not so much a quote as a paraphrase, so to speak; small bits of "Chariot" are elided into something new that mingles many flavors: African-America spiritual, yes, but also Native American music and Bohemian folk music, which share a pentatonic flavor. Read more »

Bobby Keys & Ian McLagan, R.I.P.

Two music legends have passed on recently, Small Faces/Faces' keyboardist Ian McLagan and super session saxophonist Bobby Keys. Texas-born and bred Keys is best known for his work with The Rolling Stones. (As well as his hard-charging camaraderie with Keith Richards.) His honkin' can be heard on such Stones jukebox anthems as "Brown Sugar," "Happy," and "Can't You Hear Me Knockin'" as well as John Lennon's hit single "Whatever Gets You Thru the Night". He also played with one of my favorite bands, Delaney & Bonnie  as well as The Plastic Ono Band, Nilsson, Joe Cocker, George Harrison, Eric Clapton, and many more. Last year I caught him in action with Bob Weir. Read more »

Song of the Week: New York Funk Exchange - "Get On The Floor"

Ready to get on your good foot? "Get On The Floor" people! From the very tasty horn-and-vocal band New York Funk Exchange with the delicious vocals of Serena Fortier. From their must-listen, 14-track sophomore album This Is Your Brain On Funk. Perfect for those post Turkey day exercise workouts. Might even get Grandma and Grandpa out on the dance floor with this one.

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