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Archive for October, 2010

Thiebaud’s Color Revelations at Sacramento’s Crocker Art Museum

October 22nd, 2010 No comments

It is my last “furlough Friday” hopefully. I am sitting in my studio at the computer sipping the morning cup o’ joe. Over the quiet hum of my computer and the tap of my fingers on the keyboard, I hear the soaring voices of the luminous and uplifting recording of Eric Whitacre’s “Cloudburst” and other works performed by Polyphony and Stephen Layton. It sets a contemplative tone for my day today. Utter loveliness. It tightens my throat to hear it.

We had always planned to visit the opening of Sacramento’s Crocker Art Museum’s new wing, but it took a phone call from a friend to get us into action (this is Your phone call!). Years ago I had performed at the Crocker as a musician, and had enjoyed viewing the art work of some fine painters of the American West. We’ve loved being members of SFMOMA (San Francisco Museum of Modern Art) and the de Young Museum(also in SF). Anyway, last weekend I got a call from my son living in San Francisco that his roommate’s mom (a painter) was visiting from New York and wanted to see the Wayne Thiebaud: Homecoming exhibit at the newly expanded Crocker Art Museum in Sacramento. It was quickly decided that this should be a group excursion. My son was particularly interested to attend the show with my husband because David studied painting with Mr. Thiebaud many years ago.

After paying our admission (which we applied toward a membership), we climbed the stairs to the second floor of the new wing to see the Thiebaud exhibit. Right there in the hallway, I was captured. Of course, I’ve seen Thiebaud’s work in books and slideshows. But I’m telling you, NOTHING compares to seeing it in person. What I missed in the 2D representations of his work was the Paint. My God. The way the man uses paint is electrifying. He is generous with it. He uses the paint to add a topographic dimension to his paintings that I totally missed by viewing pictures of his work. These hills and valleys, furrows and perturbations of the force found in his brush strokes add impact and emotion to his representations. There was a fairly recent painting of a dog on the beach where Thiebaud’s use of frantic brushstrokes outlining the figure of the dog gave me the illusion that I was seeing the wet pet shake water all over the place. It evoked memories of seeing a similar scene so familiar to me.

Another wonderful gift of seeing Thiebaud’s work up close was the impact of his use of color. Musicians know that each time we play a musical note there are reverberations of related tones called harmonics that hang in the air with the pitch we just played and help give the tone its characteristic sound or timbre. Well, Thiebaud plays with harmonics  of color. The edges of his figures and subjects vibrate with colorful overtones. They aren’t pastels either. They electrify his images. I felt like I was being swept into another world looking at his paintings. It added a sense of heightened reality and more. It was Super-real.  I rushed from painting to painting ingesting that electricity and intensity. Wow! I felt changed inside. I looked at his portrait of a man in a white button-down shirt. Sounds straightforward, doesn’t it? But the white shirt had a rainbow of color harmonics in it that I instantly recognized as something I had always seen, but never seen. Now I am looking for all the colors I have been missing when I let my brain fill in the blanks instead of really seeing what is actually in front of me.

On a last sad and yet humorous note, I was so excited about seeing the show that I completely missed the rest of the museum and the fact that there were 12-15 MORE Thiebaud works on the third floor. Don’t make my mistake! I’m going back this weekend to enjoy the rest of the show and to actually look at the other Crocker offerings!

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Categories: Art, Painting

How Opera Won Me Over

October 10th, 2010 3 comments

I don’t know about you, but I always had an attitude about opera. Give me some chamber music, a piano concerto or a symphony and I’m happy to submerge myself into an hour or two of focused listening and experiencing of classical music. But I was very snotty about singers and opera in particular. Most of my fellow woodwind players and I barely considered singers to be “musicians”. I think it was fostered by the attitude that we woodwind players had about everybody else in school. The jocks were the brass players. And the string players were the cattle (there are so many of them in an orchestra). Moo. The percussionists were a fascinating enigma to me, I dated several. The pianists and the guitarists were lone wolves. And then there were the woodwind players. They were the real musicians. They were the ones I felt the intimate connection with when we played together. I married one of those (not my current husband).

It took several experiences for me to change my opinion about singers and later about opera.

First, I had the experience of playing flute in the pit orchestra for some Puccini operas. The music was so heartbreakingly beautiful that I allowed myself to fall in love with it in spite of the singing.

Then a close girlfriend married an opera conductor. When she came to California to visit me, with him in tow, we spent the whole night listening to opera. I tried to have an open mind for her sake, and largely succeeded at least for the night (aided by continuous drinking of cheap French wine and the smoking of cigars while discussing the merits of obscure – to me – opera performances).

Then many years later, as I introduced my current husband, David, to Puccini’s La Boheme, little did I know that it was the beginning of an obsession for him. I, being the musician in the family, had to save face and nod wisely when he exclaimed over a new find.  “I knew that.” “Really.” I came home from work to encounter booming voices and bombastic music ringing throughout the house. He started collecting recordings of Puccini operas. Then it was Mozart. Then it was Verdi, Delibes, and Rossini. When he started playing Wagner’s operas, I knew I had created a monster.  As far as I was concerned, Wagner belonged in the genre of cartoon music composers. His operas were blow-your-brains-out* loud music that lasted an eternity and had a wildly unbelievable storyline.

My attitude about opera (not Wagner – stay with me here) was reversed, finally, when I went to the San Francisco Opera for a live performance. The sets, the orchestra, the costumes, and the soaring rich resonant voices produced a revelatory experience.  I got it. I understood what was so special about opera. It is an encompassing experience that isn’t represented nearly as well in an audio recording as it is at the live “happening” event. From then on, I was in harmony with my husband about going to the opera. Every year we bought tickets for a few operas locally and in San Francisco. But I still didn’t feel  “the love” for Wagner. I really had no patience to listen to any of his music.

Today (ahh, you waited), when David and I attended the performance of Wagner’s Das Rheingold streamed LIVE from the New York Metropolitan Opera to a theater  in Sacramento, I lost my aversion to Wagner. To put it in modern terms, it was like the real, the ORIGINAL Lord of the Rings Trilogy for classical music buffs. I completely bought the ludicrous storyline when I thought of it as a fantasy/science fiction story. The sets were magic and the close-ups of the singers made me really buy the emotional content of what they were singing about. I cared. I was completely engaged in a magical story that had music so expressively woven into it (and performed so fabulously) that the music was the setting, the music WAS the story. Wagner made something more than music + costumes + sets + story. The sum of these parts was in a new dimension for me. It was jaw-dropping and utterly absorbing.  The music was loud when it was perfect for it to be loud. The long conversations of the Gods were packed with emotional content and a sense of building suspense.  Art provokes an emotional response, and the new Robert Lepage production of Wagner’s Das Rheingold completely meets that criteria in the most pleasurable way. It has opened up a new world for me to explore. I can’t wait for the next installment in the series! Bravo!!!!

*blow-your-brains-out, this is a flute-player’s jaded perception of orchestral music tutti sections

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Categories: Music, Opera