George Romney’s portraits
When I started reading Michael Woods’s article on George Romney’s paintings, I thought the Art Museum was holding a special exhibit I hadn’t heard about. Then I realized the Romney paintings are part of the permanent collection-- paintings I’ve probably looked at several times over the last five decades.
It was a good piece; Woods passed on some interesting information about the artist and told us why he responds to Romney’s work. But I especially liked the fact that he wrote about paintings we can all look at any time we want to.
The news media usually hook arts commentary to current happenings, like special shows. But Broad Street Review doesn’t have to limit itself. We’re writing, in many cases, about works that have lasted for centuries, in a medium that isn’t limited by the storage capacity of newsstands and bookshelves.
The next time I visit the Art Museum, I’m going to stop in Gallery 278 and take a fresh look at two of Philadelphia’s older residents.
July 23, 2009
Tom Hunter’s war photographs
Re Anne Fabbri’s review of photographs by Tom Hunter—
Her compassionate report of a sensitive young soldier-cameraman’s response to the Iraq war will send me to the art show despite my lack of enthusiasm for photography exhibits, especially since one of my grandsons is in Iraq now.
July 21, 2009
Thank you, Anne Fabbri, for highlighting this work. It is an out of the way gallery, but the work should be front and center. Thank you for bringing attention to it.
July 21, 2009
Re ”Pina Bausch: A personal memory,” by Merilyn Jackson—
A lovely tribute and an important one, to a dance monument. Thank you, Merilyn,
July 26, 2009
Philip Roth’s Indignation
I am in the process of preparing a presentation on Philip Roth’s Indignation to a men’s book club at the Dallas Jewish Center and found Ted Hechtman’s November 2008 review in a web search.
I was most interested in Hechtman’s discussion of Rabbi Goodman. My home was Davenport, Iowa, and Rabbi Goodman officiated at both my bar mitzvah and confirmation. At the time I lived in mortal fear of him, but realize now how commanding he was and how much I have respected his advice and help at that time. For whatever reasons, his behavior always reminded me of FDR, and I have used him as a model to compare other rabbis since then.
Thanks for helping an alter kocker like me to relive some pleasant memories. I too miss the rabbi and the commanding way he filled the pulpit. I find solace in such books and think of things past. Thanks for your help.
July 21, 2009
When writers collide
Re Dan Rottenberg’s defense of Beeri Moalem (“When writers collide,” Editor’s Notebook )—
Beeri Moalem’s age is irrelevant. His summation of music history and style included many errors (ably pointed out by Dan Coren) that would be apparent to any young music student.
There are many good books that can help anyone who wants to write about music. I recommend Roger Sessions’s book, Questions about Music, especially the second chapter, “Talking— and Thinking— about Music.”
Washington Square West/Philadelphia
July 15, 2009
There is another reason to listen to a young musician like Beeri Moalem, although many of us “old farts” refuse to acknowledge the validity of the reason.
Often enough, younger people will know more and/or are certainly more up-to-date than us old farts! They may have seen or done things so new that they haven’t yet caught on with the older population. Younger folks are certainly more technologically clued in than older folks!
At 24, when I left grad school and worked as a pharmacist at St. Elizabeths (no apostrophe— mistake of Congress) Hospital in Washington, I worked with a then 60-plus-year-old pharmacist who had had a drug store in Boston. He knew nothing of hospital pharmacy practice: preparing intravenous solutions, etc. In comparison, by that time, I had worked in three hospitals, had been one of the first people in the country preparing total parental nutrition solutions, and also had training as a hospital pharmacy resident.
Yet the old fart refused to consider anything I had to say. It was impossible for him to concede that I might know something that he did not.
My father had a wonderful attitude: He said, “You can learn something from everyone you meet.” He always added that sometimes the lesson learned would be things not to say or do, but it was still a valuable lesson.
July 15, 2009
I don’t think that Rottenberg really addresses Dan Coren’s quite trenchant criticisms. It’s one thing to give a guy a chance and another to defend what he produces.
July 17, 2009
This exchange represents everything I love about the Broad Street Review. Keep it coming!
July 21, 2009
Beeri Moalem writes:
“The struggle of the composer today is to create something original when so many things have been tried and documented—to find a voice without falling into one of the clichéd categories that I outlined. It’s the struggle to create something pleasing for audiences, university professors and musicians simultaneously. Something beautiful, interesting and meaningful yet also unique.”
Yes, all creative artists have had a taste of this struggle. But the struggle of the creative artist is not to be original (nothing is original; since the Creation, all we do is move the pieces around). The struggle is not to be unique (it is a vapor and dissipates as soon as it’s grasped). The struggle is not to avoid cliché (cliché is simply laziness— either the composer’s, which is easily fixed, or the listener’s, which cannot be). The struggle is to tell the truth.
Even beauty is secondary. Beauty grows from truth. Seek originality and you will never find it. But tell the truth, and you’ll get originality and beauty and everything else thrown in.
There are as many ways of telling the truth as there
are composers. If one is fortunate to grow as an artist, new struggles will replace the ones left behind. But far from discouraging, they reveal new ways of telling the truth.
July 23, 2009
Beeri Moalem replies: The hypothetical search for truth sounds as unattainable as the search for originality or beauty or the avoidance of cliché. And all of these searches are equally worthy in theory but all frustratingly vague.
Kile Smith replies: I maintain that the various searches are in fact not equally worthy. I couldn’t agree more that finding the truth can be frustrating. But it is attainable, if only in part. The alternative is absurdity. Some people hold to that, although I don’t see how they can and believe they’re using reason.
Editor’s note: To read the further colloquy between Moalem and Coren, respectively, click here and here.
Michael Mann’s Public Enemies
I’m so pleased to see a consideration of the films of Michael Mann as part of Mark Wolverton’s review of Public Enemies. Mann’s Thief is one of the great, albeit overlooked, films in the American movie canon, and Heat is a masterwork, with Robert DeNiro’s role as a professional heister letter-perfect. Even Al Pacino’s loud mouth is put to good use, and the divine Ashley Judd’s supporting role is breathtaking.
“Miami Vice,” the TV series, was a landmark, and the subsequent movie, also directed by Mann, was lost in whatever shuffle films are in the midst of today.
Thanks for giving a great moviemaker his due.
July 15, 2009
Editor’s note: For more on a related subject, see Bob Ingram’s ”Personal Bad Cop Film Festival.”
Those Barnes quotations on the Parkway
Now that we know the future site of the Barnes Foundation collection, proudly proclaimed with huge, painted signs on the Parkway at 20th Street, when will the authorities enlighten us about the meaning of those quotations?
So Albert C. Barnes (let’s not refer to him as Dr., since he never graduated from medical school and earned no academic Ph.D.) wrote to the expat art collector, Leo Stein, on July 17,1914, “Cézanne still holds me with a good strong grip. I love his crudity, his baldness of statements and the absolute sincerity of the man.”
How can a statement be bald? Hairless? Rounded? Without ornament, maybe, but is that what he meant?
Perhaps Barnes was getting carried away by his rich man’s ego, fed by all the hungry artists flocking to his side. Surely, if it were only a typographical error, this mistake would have been corrected months ago. Instead it serves as an advertisement for the quality of the new museum’s coming attractions.
Another quotation, this one in a letter written to Alice Dewey on July 1, 1920: Barnes confides, “I have never been able to decide whether Renoir or Cézanne was the biggest man in art.”
I guess that’s why he bought all those paintings of fleshy, pink nudes by Renoir. I believe the decision has been made: Today we would trade all of those for one Cézanne.
People do read signs. Let’s be certain they say what we want to publicize. Image often substitutes for reality.
Anne R. Fabbri
July 17, 2009
For the record, Dr. Barnes was indeed a medical doctor, having earned his medical degree at the Penn’s Medical School in 1892. He performed his internship at the State Hospital for the Insane in Warren, Pa., and practiced medicine in South Philadelphia for several years before going to Germany to study chemistry and philosophy.
When he returned home, he worked in advertising for Gray’s Glycerine Tonic and consulted for H.K. Mulford, a pharmaceutical house. This broad experience in human health preceded the establishment of his own company to market the drug Argyrol. The profits from this venture enabled Barnes to pursue his interest in art, something that he felt he wouldn’t have been able to do had he not sought wealth in establishing his company.
Needless to say, we are quite fortunate that he did pursue art. But I also have no doubt as to why Barnes became known as “irascible.” Even now, more than a half a century after his death, not only is the legitimacy of his work continually questioned, but now his educational background as well!
Victoria C. Skelly
July 21, 2009
It is interesting to observe how many different ways it is possible to malign Albert Barnes. Have you ever read an article that uses positive adjectives to describe him? He could be called a distinguished educator and discriminating collector, a man of scholarship and taste. It could be noted that he was extremely democratic in his treatment of his employees and way ahead of his time when it came to integration.
But no, it is always “the irascible Dr. Barnes.”
It may feel necessary for those in Philadelphia who support the move to also continue to support the myth that Dr. Barnes was somehow unworthy of our respect, in order to feel justified in destroying the Foundation he established. It’s ironic that the same city whose civic leaders that called his paintings “degenerate” when he first unveiled them is now going to such great financial lengths, at this time when all our cultural institutions are in dire need of funds, to move his collection five miles in order to call them their own.
July 22, 2009
A persistent Bach myth
Re Tom Purdom’s review of Buxtehude Consort—
Just a few more adjustments, and I’ll be ready for the maiden voyage of my long-awaited time travel capsule. One of my first missions will be to debunk the persistent myth that Bach walked across the Harz Mountains in the middle of winter.
Meanwhile, you can read my June 2006 article, ”Pay to play on the Kimmel’s organ”, which touches upon this crucial matter.
July 15, 2009
Tom Purdom replies: When Dan Coren gets his time capsule ready, I’ll be glad to help defray the costs.
Personally, I’ve never been convinced Bach’s journey was a big deal. A 200- mile walk may look like an epic journey to spoiled moderns, but it might have seemed more routine in the 18th Century. A healthy young man could do it in two weeks or less, without strain, assuming he was traveling through settled country, sleeping in inns and buying his food as he went. And he could probably save a few steps now and then hitching rides from passing farm wagons.
Dan Coren replies: Tom, that’s a very convincing argument. Perhaps that first time travel venture could be put to better use. I have a number of questions for Schubert as well, some of them about your favorite Op. 99 Piano Trio. So let’s go visit him together.
Anna Moffo vs. the other divas
Re “Anna Moffo’s unique appeal,” by Dan Rottenberg (March 2006)—
I have heard everything that Moffo recorded, seen her Lucia, Rigoletto, Sonnambula, Bohème, Traviata and other performances; I have met her and studied her. What one finds is that she did the same things as others, howbeit more easily, with more warmth, and a lot less “girding up and shrieking” than all those bovine competitors.
Unlike Sutherland, whose voice and technique I adore (though she was stiff onstage and sounded as if she had a mouth full of mush), Moffo’s diction allowed you to understand exactly what she was saying. Unlike De Los Angeles, who was my first love, Moffo didn’t scoop all the way through Traviata, taking a breath in the middle of the repeated high C’s. Unlike
Callas, whose dedication to the composer, vocal ability and acting skills I respect for many reasons, she could trill without sounding like truck brakes. Unlike Tebaldi, she wasn’t flat on her top notes, instead lifting off of them, coyly upward.
Unlike Freni, she was not cold, stiff, or unmoving, boring after 20 minutes. Unlike Sills, who didn’t sing any longer than Moffo, she didn’t develop a vibrato so wide that one could drive a truck through, even though Moffo did stop singing early; and she sang all of the notes, not just the highlights, like so many of the others to whom comparisons could be made. So many sopranos sort of gloss over some of the runs, and Moffo captured every note, no matter how difficult.
She was not a temperamental prima donna, and her conductors commented that she always prepared, even sometimes on short notice.
So, why do you think she was not in the same league as the others, pray tell?
You are right about a few things, though; she was a more believable actress in those roles than the “bell-cows,” and opera shouldn’t be about the heifer with the biggest voice, who at age 50 would be trying to play a 16-year-old. She was a class act, and an exquisite American product. She was also a really sweet person, and was just as warm to us, her fans, even in person, as was the tone of her voice. With that warmth, she changed the coloratura landscape forever. I join those who lament that she sang herself out early.
R. Gene Baxter
North Little Rock, Ark.
July 23, 2009
Taylor Hicks defended
Re Jim Rutter’s review of Grease—
Gee, you must really love Taylor Hicks to make him the focal point of your entire review. Otherwise, you wouldn’t have given him the time of day. Thanks! I love him, too!!
You have great taste in a great entertainer.
Kansas City, Mo.
July 12, 2009
This guy doesn’t look too greasy to me. He is gorgeous and one of the nicest people I have ever had the pleasure of meeting. What on earth is your problem? I have heard almost nothing but good reviews and accolades about his performance and voice. The crowd loved him at the show that I attended.
The problem is, Taylor Hicks is a decent guy who never trashes anyone. Jim Rutter, the only greasy slimy person I see in this article is you.
July 12, 2009
Jim Rutter appears to have a vendetta against one Taylor Hicks. He comes off as a “Hicks hater” out to destroy his career and image. Rutter would have been better served to give kudos to the rest of the cast and leave Taylor Hicks out altogether. But then, he wouldn’t get the hits and negative comments.
July 16, 2009
Re Mark Wolverton’s essay on ambient/space music—
Actually, Philadelphia has been a center for space/ambient music since the early ’80s, when “Star’s End” started.
Lehigh Valley, Pa.
July 14, 2009
Michael Jackson’s demons
Re “Michael Jackson and his Demons,” by Maria Thompson Corley—
I hope you play the piano as well as you write and think. Michael Jackson was another in a long line of American tragedies who died mainly because they had no one to watch their back, as the saying goes. Howard Hughes comes to mind, as does the whole list of early dead rock stars and comedians like John Belushi. Drugs are nearly always involved. Stardom and genius are lonely spheres, and drugs seem to help— except when they don’t, and the results are usually fatal.
Rest in peace, departed king.
July 1, 2009
Maria Corley Thompson replies: I agree: Some people seem ill equipped to handle life, and many of them are among the ranks of the most creative. I’ll add Jimi Hendrix to your list of people whose trajectory haunts me because their brilliance was married to an inner turmoil that they were never able to resolve.
I’m not sure drugs do more than seem to help (which is probably your point) although as a person who never took drugs myself, I can only claim a peripheral understanding of their effect.
Regardless, as I continue to watch Michael’s videos and listen to his singing far more obsessively than I would have expected, I’m grateful to live in an age where greatness is electronically preserved, at least in some respect, and can be experienced again and again.
The Rape of Lucretia
My review of The Rape of Lucretia apparently wasn’t as clear as I thought. Steve Cohen’s review lists me among the people who were irritated by the Christian commentary in the opera.
In my review, I said, “If you’re a secular non-believer, like me, you may be irritated by the presence of a guy who keeps yakking about Jesus.” The “like me” referred to my religious beliefs (or lack of them), not to my feelings about the religious content of the opera.
I’m actually intrigued by the way our civilization rests on two different traditions. I’ve been fascinated by their entanglement, in fact, since the first time I saw Britten’s opera and noticed that he had placed both traditions on the same stage.
At science fiction conventions, I’ve discussed this subject with James Morrow, an entertaining, notably literate writer who writes offbeat books like Towing Jehovah— a novel in which God literally dies and the protagonist must tow the colossal remains across the ocean. Morrow feels our culture has been split between religious values and Enlightenment values ever since the 18th Century, and he argues that this split means our society is insane.
I trace the two traditions back to the Greeks and the Hebrews and take a more detached view. To me, the two traditions are snared in a permanent, dynamic relationship that can produce both clashes and creative tensions.
There are even times when the division can produce a synthesis. The last pope did that when he spoke in Philadelphia and called for more help for Third World nations by repeatedly invoking “Christian-humanist values.” The pope was the leader of a major Christian denomination and a highly educated man, and he could speak, therefore, as someone who had been shaped by both traditions.
More recently, the biologist Edward O. Wilson has done something similar, actively creating bridges to evangelical Christians who base their environmentalism on the idea that God wants them to be stewards of his creation.
July 7, 2009
Doubt at People’s Light
Re Bill Murphy’s review of Doubt at People’s Light—
Excuse me, but why do you feel the need to critique this performance in relation to what Meryl Streep did in the movie?
Your headline is extremely snide, and though I’ve never met the great one (and she is the great one) I would venture a hefty sum that she would be the last person to suggest her performance was definitive in any way— simply her interpretation.
I saw Cherry Jones do it on Broadway, and that’s as good as it gets, too. But at no time would I compare Streep to that. What’s the point? Where does that get you?
As an actor who will likely play this role in 2010, my first task is to forget I saw either one of them play this role!
June 24, 2009
Hidden Cities Festival
Re A.J. Sabatini’s review of the Hidden Cities Arts Festival—
I live and work just blocks from the Disston Saw Works, and I’m still in awe of the artwork of John Phillips and Carolyn Healy displayed at this historic complex. Their visual and aural interpretations of the factory and its community stimulated much thought and discussion about the past and the future of this community.
We are deeply indebted to Carolyn, John and the whole Hidden City team for enriching our community in such a profound way.
June 30, 2009
Re Steve Cohen’s review of Philadelphia Theatre Company’s Grey Gardens—
Referring to the song, “Jimmy Likes My Corn,” Cohen remarks, “The script doesn’t tell us much about their neighbor Jimmy or why we should give a damn what he likes.”
Cohen’s comments would be a lot more convincing if he got the character’s name right. It’s Jerry, and he’s not their neighbor—he’s a “stray,” which Little Edie mentions when she talks to the audience about him: some random 17-year-old fellow that Big Edie has picked up, just the way she picked up her pianist decades before.
Who is Jerry? Does it matter? Grey Gardens is not about him. All you need to know is that he is someone who may or may not be using Big Edie, with or without Big Edie’s knowledge and permission— someone who fulfills Big Edie’s desperate and pathetic desires, just as the pianist Gould did.
June 27, 2009
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