Wednesday, April 29, 2015

A Cathartic Close to Canton Symphony Beethoven Festival

A Cathartic Close to Canton Symphony’s Beethoven Festival

By Tom Wachunas

    “It’s not just a question of conquering a summit previously unknown, but of tracing, step by step, a new path to it.”  -Gustav Mahler

   First-time listeners to Music Einem Ritterballet (Music for a Knight’s Ballet) might understandably hear more of Mozart or Haydn than Beethoven in the work. Still, the choice of this early composition (1791) for the opening selection the third concert of the Canton Symphony Orchestra (CSO) Beethoven Festival (on April 25 at Umstattd Hall), jaunty and charming as it is, ultimately served to  illuminate Beethoven’s separation from his classical predecessors in a steady and bold ascent to the pinnacle of his ninth symphony.
    Once again the journey continued with pianist André Watts performing Piano Concerto No. 4 and, after the intermission, No. 5 (“Emperor”). In these, all of the aspects that comprise Watts’ consummate artistic integrity – his breathtaking embrace of lyrical nuance, his keen attentions to intimate dialogue with the orchestra, and the sheer force of his technical virtuosity – were wholly evident. During the intermission, I heard one audience member, wide-eyed and nodding his head emphatically, declare to his companion, “That piano player is a poet.”  Indeed.
   Particularly astonishing was the lengthy (the longest I’ve ever heard) cadenza in the first movement of the No. 4 concerto, replete with sustained trills, lavish scales and chording, and crisp arpeggios that travelled up and down the keyboard like so many cascading waves. That monumental interlude seemed to foreshadow the even more electrifying piano dynamics, as well as the sumptuous orchestral textures of the fifth concerto – all of it performed with riveting panache.
   A similar presaging unfolded in the final concert of the festival (April 26), beginning with Fantasia in C Minor for Piano, Chorus, and Orchestra, generally known as Choral Fantasy, composed in 1808. Structurally unique in Beethoven’s oeuvre, the work augured many of the ideas and innovations that would come to full fruition in his ninth symphony, completed 15 years later. Both works have a choral finale, and the main theme threaded through the eight sections of Choral Fantasy greatly resembles that of the ninth symphony’s glorious last movement, which is something of a symphony in itself.
   Mr. Watts’ piano work was especially enchanting as he finessed the successively more elaborate variations on the main theme, all impeccably balanced with the captivating sonority of the orchestra. The choral finale was initiated by the wondrously ethereal voices of sopranos Rachel Hall and Maribeth Crawford, along with mezzo-soprano Kathryn Findlen, tenor Timothy Culver, baritone Britt Cooper, and bass Nathan Stark (the quartet of Hall, Findlen, Culver, and Stark would return for the fourth movement of Symphony No. 9). Joining them were the Canton Symphony Chorus, the University of Mount Union Concert Choir, and the Walsh University Chamber Singers. This marvelous gathering of blissful, inspired voices paved the way to the evening’s most lofty summit.     
    In introducing Symphony No. 9, I’ve never heard Maestro Gerhardt Zimmermann be more articulate, poignant, or sincere. He rightly referred to the work not so much as an earthly accomplishment, but an unparalleled, life-changing phenomenon - a “…miracle in music history,” and a profoundly cathartic message for all humanity.
    And so I found the performance to be just that – cathartic -  from the primordial quiet, chaos and struggle of the first movement, the startlingly brisk, pounding pace of the second movement (what Zimmermann called “a maniacal dance”), the ineffable serenity and majesty of the third movement, and through to the unearthly choral power of the finale. Still and ironically, I remain confounded by the inadequacy of words to describe what transpired. Then again, it is in the nature of the greatest music, greatly rendered, to leave one in speechless awe.
    As if driven by the same forces that compelled Beethoven to find his perfected expression of the mysteries and grandeur of life, the orchestra and chorus were caught up in a benevolent conspiracy of excellence. All of the elements that have made the CSO so remarkable in the past were here elevated to an unprecedented zenith.
    Cosmic silence to creation. Angst and suffering to the blessing of brotherhood and joy. Divine destiny. Here was Beethoven’s rapturous “kiss for all the world,” his urgent and sacred embrace of the universe, delivered by a magnificently impassioned conductor, ensemble, and chorus.
    At the final, triumphant burst from cymbals, bass drum and timpani, we in the audience immediately stood as one, lifted by our own rapturous noise of gratitude and approval. FREUDE!         

Monday, April 20, 2015

A Kingdom of Precipitous Peaks

A Kingdom of Precipitous Peaks

By Tom Wachunas

    EXHIBIT: Unorganized Territories – Sculpture by Mark Schatz, at Main Hall Gallery, Kent State University at Stark, 6000 Frank Avenue NW, North Canton, OH, THROUGH MAY 4 / Viewing hours Mon.-Fri. 11 AM to 5 PM, Sat. 10 AM-Noon

   “…I try to evoke something deeply familiar in surprising ways.  I acknowledge and even relish the fragmentation, distortion, and reinvention of our remembered places.” – Mark Schatz

    Some materials and methods of assembly do indeed have an innate capacity to awaken memories or invite storytelling. The several untitled sculptures that comprise this airy installation by Mark Schatz (Assistant Professor and Foundation Program Coordinator for the School of Art at Kent State University, Main Campus) instantly transported me to my childhood train set. At its most “magnificent,” it sprawled across a few crude, rickety tables in the basement, piled high with hand-painted papier-maché mountains, popsicle stick buildings and erector set bridges. Architecturally unsophisticated and unreasonable to be sure, it was still my world, manifesting an exuberant desire (or maybe compulsion?) to construct a fantasy kingdom.
    Likewise, you might call Mr. Schatz’s installation a corrugated kingdom, conjuring unusual living habitats along Lilliputian longitudes. His meticulously laminated and cut cardboard forms evoke the eerie columns of eroded rock strata called earth pyramids, fairy chimneys, or hoodoos, carved through eons of geologic change, located in various arid terrains around our planet.
    On the face of it, the thought of building a home atop such formations is purely unreasonable. An absurd foundation for a place to live. Seeing the idea as a symbol, however, is an entirely different exercise. By crowning the pinnacles of his isolated tapered towers – some of them leaning precariously - with little models of unfinished wood frame houses, like so many hermitages, Schatz invests his forms with a surreal whimsicality that nonetheless leaves generous room for building a personal narrative.
    You could begin by considering the idea of corrugated cardboard itself – its physical design and functions -  and the associations that come with it, such as storage, stacking, mobility, unpacking, impermanence. Look closely at the nature of the material and the variations that happen between all those layers of tiny, alternating curved ridges and grooves – the irregular gaps that can suggest tunnels or caves, or corridors to the other side of the mountain, as it were.
    Further, there’s the idea of some sort of pre-set plan or control for the laborious cutting and accumulating of individual planes that progressively lessen in area as the towers ascend to their narrow peaks. Accidents and/or mistaken calculations come with the territory.
    So maybe it’s not so unreasonable to regard these forms as representing adaptation to unpredictability, or as allegories of a process for embracing change. Both dangerous and thrilling, here’s a delightfully entertaining kingdom symbolizing all those places and times where serendipity might rule.      

Thursday, April 16, 2015

Like a box of chocolates?

Like a box of chocolates?

By Tom Wachunas

    EXHIBIT: April Assemblage, biennial show from the Canton Artists League, THROUGH MAY 10 at the Canton Museum of Art, 1001 Market Avenue N., Canton, Ohio  330.453.7666

    How many different ways are there, really, to say “mixed bag”? Hodgepodge? Gumbo? Mélange?  A box of chocolates?
   Unlike Forrest Gump’s glib acceptance of life’s unpredictability, I usually seem to know in advance exactly what I’m going to get from the biennial exhibit of the Canton Artists League (CAL). Weighing in on this latest incarnation is déjà vu all over again.
    The show is stylistically diverse in CAL’s ever-dominant, conventional 2D genres of painted landscape, floral, portrait, and still-life imagery. Not surprisingly, the levels of technical finesse and conceptual depth in these works ranges from genuinely marvelous to mediocre with, sad to say, nearly half leaning (some more so than others) toward the latter. The judges’ awards notwithstanding, what follows is a consideration of what I found to be especially savory, in no particular hierarchy of merit.
    In the tradition of the Old Masters oil technique, local mentor Frank Dale (his portrait, Coquette, stunningly lives up to its name) and some of his beneficiaries are well represented. Those include Kristine Wyler and her diminutive, haunting portrait, The Dancer, and Michele Tokos’ poetic A Foggy Day. So much powerful lyricism on such tiny picture planes!
   There are occasional forays into varying degrees of 2D abstraction, though none as wholly nonobjective or challenging as Joan Willms’ small acrylic Mood Indigo. There’s a strange tension between its tentative, enigmatic waves of patterned, scratchy linearity and its slick silver (though arguably too bulky) frame.
   Among a total of 69 wall pieces, there are a few mixed media works, including a delightful assemblage by Cheryl Eul, Camofish, reminiscent of ritualistic tribal art.  It’s disappointing that there are only two printmaking entries in the mix, both of them intriguing metal plate works by Anna Rather. Her Crushing and Receding is a fantastical rendering of what might be a nature sprite caught up in a swirl of watery creatures and organic textures. Also disappointing is the relative scarcity of sculpture.
    For sheer mastery of craft, there are several exquisitely finessed entries. They include a colored pencil work by Sharon Frank Mazgaj, Shiny Things (First Place in “Other Media”); Emma, a quilt by Irene Tobias Rodriguez (Second Place); The Road Home, an oil landscape by Pat Ripple; Waiting For Incoming Tide, a watercolor by Wanda Frease (First Place in Water Media); and a small stoneware sculpture that looks remarkably like cast bronze, Balancing Snow Boy by Laura Donnelly.
    Equally exquisite are Girl From Ipanema, a figural watercolor by Nancy Stewart-Matin, and an acrylic botanical painting by Judi Krew, King of the Hill. Both employ a robust color and compositional dynamic. Stewart-Matin’s mark making is at once delicate and sure in its clarity and fluidity, with some passages recalling the contemplative elegance of Asian brush painting. Krew achieves an almost crystalline effect with her vibrant planes and wedges of color, suggestive of a stained glass window.
    So, without belaboring too mush much the negative, and to continue the Gump (grump?) analogy, while many confections can be, say, too sweet, sour, hard, or soft, the aforementioned delicacies are…just right.

    PHOTOS, from top: King of the Hill by Judi Krew; Shiny Things by Sharon Frank Mazgaj; The Road Home by Pat Ripple; Camofish by Cheryl Eul; Girl From Ipanema by Nancy Stewart-Matin

Saturday, April 11, 2015

Jonah Jacobs' Tactile Microcosms

Jonah Jacobs’ Tactile Microcosms

By Tom Wachunas

    EXHIBIT: Post Human Biomes, work by Jonah Jacobs, THROUGH MAY 13 at Journey Art Gallery, 431 4th Street NW, downtown Canton / Gallery hours are Tuesday – Saturday Noon to 6 PM / or by appointment  330.546.7061  

    biome: a major ecological community type, e.g. a tropical rain forest, grassland, or desert  (Merriam-Webster)

    At first blush, the title of the Jonah Jacobs exhibit at Journey Art Gallery bodes vaguely apocalyptic. While “Post Human Biomes” might initially smack of scarred environs or ecosystems surviving some sort of Malthusian catastrophe, this is decidedly not the message conveyed by Mr. Jacobs’ intriguing visual explorations.
   These are tactile clusters of upcycled materials that are, in a way, three-dimensional documents of the artist’s intensely meticulous manual labors. In a larger sense, those repetitive labors have yielded mesmerizing forms that hover invitingly somewhere between familiar surfaces and mysterious, inflated 3D molecular maps. You might call these structures, at once simple and complex, discrete metaphorical ecologies wherein the changeable climate is color itself – vibrant, even joyous.
    The substances that comprise these mixed media sculptural works are common if not somewhat unconventional. A good example is the large wall piece, a half-dome configuration called Peridium I (referring to the outer, spore-bearing coat of fungi such as mushrooms): egg cartons, oatmeal, salt, sand, plaster and model railroad gravel. Materials in other works include cotton swabs and finely shredded fabrics and papers. Don’t be denied a surprise by looking too quickly at the modestly-scaled The Living Word. The uniformly miniscule pieces of green-dyed paper (hint: it’s newsprint) make it appear to be a simple swatch of artificial turf. But as is the case with all the pieces here, really close scrutiny is its own reward.
    Another admirable enticement here is the inclusion of many smaller-scaled (roughly hand-sized), affordably priced modules. Each is an elegant unit in itself, yet made so that buyers could design and assemble multi-part, in-home pieces of their own.
   There is a sensual, spectacular density in Jacobs’ motifs of repeated small forms congealing to make larger systems or symbiotic “communities.” Often seething with opulent, bristling textures, they can alternately suggest animal, foliate, or mineral microcosms, not unlike coral reefs, lush gardens, or exotic geodes. These constructions are wholly beguiling transformations of ordinary ingredients into extraordinary evocations of nature’s intricate and fecund architectures.

    PHOTOS, from top (first three courtesy Judi Krew/ SnarkyArt Studio, bottom photo from Jonah Jacobs Facebook page): Installation view, Acretion (36” diameter) in foreground; Blue and Violet Polyp I; The Lines Begin to Blur; Peridium I (28” diameter)

Saturday, April 4, 2015



By Tom Wachunas

    “Now is the time for judgment on this world; now the prince of this world will be driven out. But I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all men to myself.”  - Jesus, from John 12: 31-32 

    EXHIBIT: Stations of The Cross: Visual and Written Reflections on Christ’s Final Week – 13 writers, 14 visual artists –  Organized by Translations (mobile) Art Gallery, presented at Cyrus Custom Framing & Art Gallery, 2645 Cleveland Avenue NW, Canton, Ohio, THROUGH MAY 29
Viewing hours: Mon.-Fri. 10a.m.ish to 6p.m./ Sat. 11a.m. to 3p.m. / closed first Saturday of the month

    Participating writers: Tim Barlow, Judi Christy, Dave Dettmann, Gennae Falconer, Paula Guiler, Jenny Hardacre, Beverly Joseph, Joe McDonald, Christina Schnyders, Tony Schnyders, Melody Scott, Tom Wachunas, Harry Winters
    Participating visual artists: Clare Murray Adams, Paul Berlanga, William Bogdan, Katherine Cox, Lynn Digby, Laura Donnelly, Ted Lawson, David McDowell, Micah Miller, Tina Myers, Pam Neff, Christopher Triner, Artie Vanderpool, Ashley Villers

     At about 6:00 pm this past Friday evening, I cut my customary early rounds of First Friday gallery visits short, in mid-stride toward Journey Art Gallery, interestingly enough. This was not so much because of the forbidding weather as it was a persistent, inner prompting - a nagging voice to the point of distraction, really. A voice separate from mine, a voice I too often ignore in favor of seeking my own. Mea maxima culpa. “Come back to reality,” He kept saying, “you need to be thinking about something else now. Think about what you saw and felt an hour ago.”
    Long story short, at around 4:30 pm I had been at Cyrus Gallery. What I experienced there stayed with me through every ensuing moment and footstep for the remainder of my evening, regardless of whatever else I was viewing farther downtown. I was indeed being drawn back to reality. To HIM. The uncanny irony of it all is that on this First Friday evening, this GOOD FIDAY, it was art that was calling me to not look at art. More precisely, the subject of the art in Stations of the Cross superseded the aesthetic forms through which it (HE, actually) was being expressed.
    Yes, the words of the writers, provided for visitors in meditation booklets, are inspiring, personal, relevant, well-crafted. Read them as you take in the powerfully resonant images – some modern, some traditional. All remarkable in their way. That said, this is not to “review” the “show” in my normal manner, but simply to thank the participants, and Translations curator Craig Joseph, for giving honest form to their courageous, soulful visions. Visions meant for all of us to embrace.
    For those of you who have yet to find true faith in the reality addressed in this exhibit, by all means please come to savor the art. Even after Easter. The message isn’t seasonal, it’s eternal. And it’s nevertheless my prayer that maybe, just maybe, it ceases to be only a temporal art experience for you and draws you to His persistent voice.

   It’s the same voice that inspired my own contribution to the exhibit.

    STATION SIX :: Jesus is scourged and crowned with thorns
    Passage :: Luke 22: 63-65 / John 19: 2-3
    Meditation :: It’s difficult to conceive a bloodier form of physical punishment  than the ancient Roman scourge – a whip made of leather ropes knotted with metal barbs designed to rip away flesh with every strike. Giving harrowing new depth to “adding insult to injury,” the jeering soldiers relentlessly taunted Jesus. Irreversibly caught up in their frenzy of blinding bloodlust, they inflict a final indignity by wedging a crown of thorns on to his head. No doubt they were pleased to think it the ultimate mockery of his kingship, which they did not comprehend. “Father forgive them,” Jesus would pray from his cross three hours later, “for they know not what they do.”  
    To Reflect Upon ::  The question is, do we know the true kingship of Jesus? Do we comprehend the indignity, insult, and unspeakable pain we inflict on ourselves and each other by denying or mocking his centrality in our lives?  Consider: Who but God Incarnate, in an act of perfect redemptive love, could submit to the horrific physical and spiritual torment we read about in the Gospels without raising a resistant hand or uttering a withering curse? Oh, the divine irony of it! That curse had been declared millennia beforehand in Genesis 3, the crown of thorns already laid upon our heads. “Cursed is the ground because of you,” God said to Adam, “…It will produce thorns and thistles for you…” The consequence of Adam’s arrogance, pride and disobedience left the legacy of a severed relationship with God and in its wake a corrupted creation. A crown of thorns for all humankind, and the promise of death. It would have been our hopeless inheritance through eternity had it not been for God’s plan to have Jesus Christ take such a crown upon himself for our sakes. As Isaiah reminds us, Jesus was crowned with our iniquity that we might stand forgiven, free and righteous in his Father’s presence.
    Prayer :: Oh my Lord, Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace, thank you for loving the world so much that you gave your son Jesus so that whoever believes in him will not perish, but have eternal life. Thank you for offering us the crown of eternal life in him. Grant us the daily courage and faith to accept it with humility, and the willingness to submit to your plans for us. In the name of Jesus we pray. Amen.
    What Next? :: Please continue praying for this thorny, arrogant world to cease mocking the amazing grace and love of Jesus. Pray that we honor and glorify his kingship by surrendering our self-seeking desires, priorities and motivations to him. Savor God’s plan for every knee to bow and every tongue to confess that Jesus is Lord. It’s a matter of life or death. 

    PHOTOS (from top – click on pictures for enlarged slideshow): Station One – Jesus on the Mount of Olives, by Lynn Digby; Station Seven – Jesus Takes Up His Cross, by Micah Miller; Station Eight – Simon the Cyrene Helps Jesus Carry His Cross, by William Bogdan; Station Nine – Jesus Meets the Women of Jerusalem, by Clare Murray Adams; Station Ten – Jesus is Crucified, by Pam Neff