Tuesday, July 5, 2022

Splendid Sibelius, Stratospheric Tchaikovsky


Splendid Sibelius, Stratospheric Tchaikovsky from Canton Symphony Orchestra 

Jinjoo Cho

Rick Robinson

Gerhardt Zimmermann

By Tom Wachunas 

   “Music begins where the possibilities of language end.” -Sibelius

    The first selection on the June 25 “Triumphant Tchaikovsky” program from the Canton Symphony Orchestra (CSO) was Jean Sibelius’ Symphony No. 3 in C Major. With this work, premiered in 1907, Sibelius offered a bold departure from the explosive emotionalism so prevalent in late-Romantic era music. This symphony was a renewed embrace of Classicism’s purity of form and melody, and one that, oddly enough, left many initial audiences of the day somewhat bewildered.

   But here, under the ever-enlivening baton of Maestro Gerhardt Zimmermann, no such disappointment ensued. Throughout the work, the lavish sonority of the CSO strings articulated a riveting vista, alternately austere, mystical and exhilarating, suffused with crip, textured harmonies and colorful contrapuntal interplays, all impeccably balanced with zesty woodwinds and sturdy exclamations from the brass.  

   Then, talk about connective programming. The next selection was Essay No.1 – After Sibelius, written in 2006 by African-American composer Rick Robinson. Inspired by the compositional style of Sibelius - particularly the theme of the first movement coda in the 3rd symphony – Robinson’s marvelously crafted homage is an episodic argument, or dialogue of sorts, between what he calls the “Aware Self” and “Shadow Self.” The work is a complex continuous narrative, dense with contrasting motifs that sweep across a vast, intricately textured soundscape of constantly shifting colors and dimensions. Every section of the ensemble had a clear and strong voice in this emotional conversation, speaking in stirring crescendos, from gentle moments of euphoric reflection, into louder strident passages. Like navigating through dark storms, the orchestra sailed to a lovely parting of the clouds with eloquent finesse.

   After intermission, the CSO transformed Tchaikovsky’s glorious Violin Concerto in D Major into an enthralling corporeal event. Internationally acclaimed violinist Jinjoo Cho has a distinctive performance style that offered more than just the flawless precision of her lightning-fast fingers, or the crystalline fecundity of tones flowing from her instrument. For as much as she illuminated this pillar of violin literature with commanding authority, dispatching her highest notes as if to pierce the stratosphere, she was in turn played by the music. When not actually playing the violin, she surrendered herself to listening to the orchestra, as someone enraptured, gracefully swaying, her face aglow in a beatific smile, sending vigorous nods of approval and encouragement aimed at her fellow artists, who responded with equal verve.

  A particularly uncanny - though in retrospect, wholly understandable - incident transpired when the sheer intensity of Cho’s electrifying cadenza leading to the conclusion of the first movement caused a serious breach of concert hall etiquette, breaking the golden rule of Thou Shalt Not Applaud Until The Last Movement Is Finished. So sayeth Silly Protocol. This moment, though, was no scattering of a few folks nervously clapping. It was a spontaneous standing ovation from many riding a big wave of boisterous praise. And even then, think of it as but a rehearsal for the instantaneous thunder of appreciation that erupted at the concerto’s utterly spectacular end. Triumphant Tchaikovsky indeed. 

Thursday, June 23, 2022

Radiant Composites


Radiant Composites 

People Playing Pool and Killing Time

Waiting for the King of Birds to Appear

Shanti the Loveable Leopard

Day of Rest and Relaxation

Picasso Family Reunion

Live Music and Entertainment

By Tom Wachunas

   “It took me four years to paint like Raphael, but a lifetime to paint like a child.” – Pablo Picasso

“…So take a walk through Scott Simler’s re-imagined worlds and see how they challenge your notions about time, space, narrative, how beauty is created, and who it’s created by. I guarantee that the journey will be a delightful one - and that you’ll be changed by your travels.”  - Craig Joseph, a curatorial mentor for this exhibit

EXHIBIT: Super Scott’s Magical Mashed Up World / art by Scott Simler, presented by Cyrus Custom Framing & Art Gallery, and Just Imagine Gift Gallery and The Workshops, Inc./ on view at Cyrus Custom Framing & Art Gallery, 2645 Cleveland Avenue NW, Canton / THROUGH JUNE 30, 2022 / gallery viewing hours Mondays-Fridays 10:00 a.m. to 6:00 p.m., Saturdays 11:00 a.m. to 3:00 p.m.

   Once again, my apologies for such a late posting about a remarkable exhibit that’s closing in one week as of this writing. If you’ve not seen this show yet, make time. Please.

   First, a few words about the artist from painter Vicki Boatright (a.k.a BZTAT). She works at Just Imagine Gift Gallery in downtown Canton (201 6th Street NW), where Scott Simler creates his invigorating work.

   “Inspired by Picasso, Van Gogh and Gauguin, artist Scott Simler takes his cues from the masters. He adds his own imagination and magic happens. A true visionary, Scott uses simple brush strokes to create intricately painted scenes of joy and fun. Scott has emerged as a leading artist in the Canton Arts District, working out of the Just Imagine Gift Gallery, a unique arts program offered by Twi (The Workshops, Inc.) that empowers adult artists with developmental disabilities to discover their creative side.”

    Scott Simler’s paintings aren’t mere imitations of the pioneering Modernist artists that inspire him - Picasso, Van Gogh, Gaughin, among others. He doesn’t outright copy a painting style so much as heartily embrace and converse with it. Communing with a legacy. Call it sympathetic dialogue. He remembers such conversations when he draws with paint, then re-contextualizes them into moments, scenes, indeed a world, of his own making. It’s a raw, uncomplicated world, but nonetheless electrifying –  buzzing with bright colors and lively shapes, all bouncing and dancing with palpable glee.

   You’ll find nothing sinister or threatening about Simler’s eye-popping paintings. Often droll, perhaps, but never dark. For example, of his famous The Night Café painting, Van Gogh wrote, “I have tried to express the idea that the café is a place where one can ruin oneself, go mad, or commit a crime.”  Simler, though, in his People Playing Pool and Killing Time, transformed Van Gogh’s intensely agitated room into a place of radiant optimism.    

   Need a prescription to alleviate CCS (Chronic Cynicism Syndrome)? Take a long look at two (or three or four) Simler paintings. Warning: Side-effects include sensations of unmitigated joy.

Saturday, June 18, 2022

Signs and Wonderings - A Disciple's Journey



Signs and Wonderings – A Disciple’s Journey 

Mens Christi (Mind of Christ)


The Sower

Signs and Wonderings

Writes of Passage

By Tom Wachunas 

    …The man without the Spirit does not accept the things that come from the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him, and he cannot understand them, because they are spiritually discerned. The spiritual man makes judgments about all things, but he himself is not subject to any man’s judgment: “For who has known the mind of the Lord that he may instruct him?” But we have the mind of Christ.

1 Corinthians 3:14-16

   EXHIBIT: Signs and Wonderings – A Disciple’s Journey, art by Tom Wachunas / Through July 23 at Patina Arts Centre, 324 Cleveland Avenue NW, downtown Canton / OPENING on FRIDAY, JUNE 24, 5:00 p.m. to 9:00 p.m. / Viewing hours: Thursdays 12:00-8:00 p.m./ Saturdays 12:00 to 9:00 p.m./ Sundays 12:00-4:00 p.m. / ALSO on First Friday, JULY 1, 5:00 p.m. to 9:00 p.m

THANK YOU, Alaska Thompson, Director of Patina Arts Centre, for your support and great work in making this exhibit happen!


   These days, none of us needs to settle for merely imagining the ethos of human society as confused and conflicted, fraught and frustrated. With fists clenched and eyes clouded by tears, we writhe in our cultural wrecking and reckoning. This has been our earthbound reality for a very long time.

   These days, Charles Dickens’ anaphoric “it was…” in the classic opening of his A Tale of Two Cities surely lives on as a haunting, potent anthem of our NOW. It IS the best of times, it IS the worst of times, it IS the age of wisdom, it IS the age of foolishness, it IS the epoch of belief, it IS the epoch of incredulity, it IS the season of Light, it IS the season of Darkness, it IS the spring of hope, it IS the winter of despair…

   Most of my art of the past 20+ years has been in the form of painterly mixed- media assemblages - what I have often called ‘spiritual tableaux.’ They illustrate – sometimes literally, sometimes metaphorically - a continuing realization and loving embrace of Biblical and Christocentric content.

    This exhibit presents many tactile narratives, written in a language of the heart. Here is a codified archaeology of my soul as it continues to straddle or cross boundaries, at once daunting and joyous, between struggle and surrender, between the accessible and the unknowable, between the mundane and the mystical. Ultimately, these pieces symbolize aspiration, inspiration, faith, and discovery.

   And so it is that once upon a time I came to truly know that Jesus Christ was not a fiction, not a liar, not a lunatic. He was exactly who he said he was, and still is: God incarnate.

   These days, He calls, I follow. And stumble. A lot.

Thursday, June 16, 2022

Facing the Music


Facing the Music

Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov and Joseph Haydn, by Errick Freeman

Robert Schumann, by Errick Freeman / Johannes Brahms, by Payton and DaQuane Finley

By Tom Wachunas


EXHIBIT:  Canton Symphony Orchestra (CSO) 2022 Fundraising Gala Online Auction, featuring the Composer Portrait Project - artworks by Errick Freeman, DaQuane Finley, and Payton Finley.

For some background, and a closer look at the art and artists, click on this CSO website link:



EXCERPT: “In the summer of 2021, Rachel Hagemeier, CSO Manager of Education and Community Engagement, and Errick Freeman, visual artist, molded the idea for the Composer Portrait Project. This portrait project aims to help the patrons of Canton Symphony Orchestra visualize the people behind the music and showcase the diversity we do not realize is on stage. Before each concert, portraits of the composers featured on that concert are unveiled to the public. Errick brought together a group of local artists, Dauber Copse Fam, to create art pieces on wood, 2’x4′ in size. Each portrait is unique, different in composition, and representative of the character of the composer. By the end of the 2021-2022 season, 25 composers will fill the space of CSO’s gallery.”


   For the duration of the CSO 2021-22 concert season (ending on June 25 at 7:30 p.m. with the “Triumphant Tchaikovsky” program), an ongoing concert of sorts has been evolving in the gallery at Zimmermann Symphony Center. It’s a marvelous concert of portraits, or music for the eyes, if you will, performed by a trio of truly remarkable artists: Errick Freeman, DaQuane Finley, and Payton Finley.

   Together, they have constructed an intriguing montage of bold, spectacular pictorial and compositional styles. Capturing more than mere facial likenesses, their individual renderings exude an intense thoughtfulness about the very spirit of the composers and their musical visions. The collection is a wholly compelling reflection of the depth and diversity of music performed by the CSO throughout its season.

   Even though the originally scheduled annual CSO gala has been cancelled, the online auction is still LIVE! Don't miss your chance to win an incredibly unique portrait of a composer from the 21-22 season, produced in partnership with artists Errick Freeman, Payton Finley, and DaQuane Finley. Bidding ends on June 26, 2022 at 11PM.  

Click on this link to participate:


Thursday, June 9, 2022

A Visceral Vitality

A Visceral Vitality

Top row (l. to r.) Fear, Opposition, Anger
Middle row: Loss (1.), Vader, Loss
Bottom row: Hate, Betrayal, Suffering

Clockwise from top left: Air, Fire, Water, Earth


Treebeard (self portrait)

By Tom Wachunas 

  “Every portrait that is painted with feeling is a portrait of the artist, not of the sitter. The sitter is merely the accident, the occasion. It is not he who is revealed by the painter; it is rather the painter who, on the coloured canvas, reveals himself.” ― Oscar Wilde, The Picture of Dorian Gray

  “There comes a time when the painting is no longer about likeness, but about memory, emotion, and expression.” -Scott Alan Evans 

EXHIBIT: VISAGE – new portraits by Scott Alan Evans, at The Hub Art Factory, 336 6th Street NW, downtown Canton.  NOTE: There are two remaining dates for viewing this exhibit: Open Studio night on Tuesday, June 14, 7:30 p.m. - 10:00 p.m., and Closing night, Friday June 17, starting at 5:00 p.m. 

 What do you consider to be an excellent painted portrait? What impresses you, enthralls you, pulls you in? Is it a perfectly executed physiognomy, an astonishing “likeness”? Is it the skillfully refined lineaments of mesmerizing mien or dignified deportment? Flawless tromp l’oeil technique? 

   You’ll find nothing of that ilk here. The brush that Scott Alan Evans wields isn’t a magic wand. He doesn’t conjure fool-the-eye illusions. His representational methodology isn’t one of micro-managed naturalism. It is on the other hand a substantially pared-down, albeit expressive sort of boldly colored realism. 

    Evans never lets us lose sight of the materiality of (acrylic) paint itself: viscous, tactile, moveable, at once liquid and solid, thick and thin. Paint as a primal conduit for channeling the energy of the artist’s gestural hand – the hand that can invest a face, whether still living, passed, or fictional, with a visceral life of its own.

 For as much as we might approach these portraits with any number of aesthetic predispositions or expectations, they approach us. Unfussy, honest and disarming, they are purely… present. Some might call Evans’ raw, simple style naïve. I call it brave.

Sunday, June 5, 2022

To A Torch Lighting Our Time And Place


To A Torch Lighting Our Time and Place

By Tom Wachunas

Jack McWhorter

Surveyor's Map

Serpent Lightning

Facing North

Ptolemy Diagram


   “The act of painting is a clash of different worlds, which in their conflict with each other create new worlds. For me, one of the most intriguing aspects of the studio is the quest for making paintings that have an equivalence in two or more directions. The paintings derive from a system of metaphors drawn from physical science. A kind of blank slate which allows me to describe what I think I know about existing in time and space, history and nature.” 

-Jack McWhorter (1950 – 2022)




   EXHIBIT:    A Celebration of Jack McWhorter’s Life will take place on Saturday, June 11, 2022 from 4:00 - 7:00 pm at the Fine Arts Building at Kent State at Stark, located at 6000 Frank Avenue N. W., North Canton, Ohio 44720.  The exhibit will be on view through June, Mondays – Fridays, 9:00 a.m to 5:00 p.m. Jack's art will be for sale in the William J. and Pearl F. Lemmon Art Gallery and proceeds from the sales of his work will go to the Jack E. McWhorter Scholarship Fund at Kent State at Stark. Contributions for the Jack E. McWhorter Memorial Scholarship at Kent State at Stark may be sent to the KSU Foundation, P.O. Box 5190, Kent, OH, 44242, or online at givetokent.org.  Please make checks payable to the KSU Foundation and note "Jack E. McWhorter Memorial Scholarship" on the Memo line.


   Slowly emerging from some long, sad weeks of mourning, of heart-numbing grief,… of wandering, of wondering why and what’s next…  I offer this post as an artist, teacher and writer who has known and worked with Jack McWhorter since 2007. I am blessed and grateful beyond measure.

   Blessed and grateful for my 15 continuous years of teaching Art as a World Phenomenon and Art History at Kent State University at Stark…all thanks to Jack McWhorter. Blessed and grateful for all the marvelous, impactful exhibits mounted right here at Kent Stark, introducing us to remarkable, significant artists from outside our region…all thanks to Jack McWhorter. Blessed and grateful for the gift of his unwavering passion for teaching, and for his prolific outpouring of wondrous original paintings. And finally, for his constant encouragement and support of my blog. For more than ten years, his paintings have inspired much of my best writing. Here are a few past observations.

   From May 11, 2017 – (Painting Center exhibit in NYC) These integrated systems of gestural and chromatic configurations can allow all manner of associations. They might indicate tangible, scientific phenomena and structures in the natural world, or signal the subtler workings of life on less visible planes. In any case, McWhorter continues to construct a painterly calligraphy of poetic singularities. In his paintings, the mysterious and the mundane are conflated into elegant coexistence. Here is a harmonious convergence of processes conscious and intuitive, processes both known and on the ephemeral cusp of coming into being.”

From November 23, 2021 (Painting Center exhibit in NYC)– “At the core of his aesthetic is a persistent navigation of tensions and harmonies within symbiotic dualities. His compositions, which he calls “live surfaces,” are clusters or matrixes of lines, shapes, and patterns that juxtapose accumulations and singularities, gatherings and dispersals. Like an explorer’s field notes on remembered sights and sites, places and spaces, his pictures often entwine a then with a now, as if remembering their own beginnings even as they are transformed by his imagination into new visual moments.”

From January 8, 2018, on his “Engraved Fields” exhibit at Canton Museum of art, which I was honored to curate:  “…Jack McWhorter has not set out to imitate or improve upon the look of nature. He doesn’t woo us with cosmetic, representational illusionism. Instead, his integrated systems of gestural and chromatic configurations are first and foremost true to themselves – ongoing revelations of what I recently heard him describe as his “personal archaeology.” While they might variably suggest things of private significance such as landscapes or architectures, or fascinating ontological phenomena in the realms of biology or chemistry, their meaning is far from exclusive. Think of them as metaphors for how we as viewers might navigate and process what Jack has called “…the sites of our intimate lives.” McWhorter’s personal archaeology in effect invites us to re-discover our own.”

   Please join me at Jack’s Celebration of Life exhibit. Let’s re-discover. Let’s honor, savor and remember. Let’s be blessed and grateful. Let’s stand in the light of the torch he held so high.

Tuesday, May 31, 2022

From Canton Symphony Orchestra, New Music of the Spheres


  From Canton Symphony Orchestra, New Music of the Spheres 

(l. to r.) Daniel Perttu, Gerhardt Zimmermann,  Jeffrey Biegel

By Tom Wachunas 

    A particularly gratifying take-away from the May 22 Canton Symphony Orchestra (CSO) MasterWorks program at Umstattd Hall was that one need not be in an actual rocket ship to experience the beauties and mysteries of the cosmos.

   As this concert so wondrously demonstrated, an orchestra as sublime as the CSO is itself a carefully constructed mode of transport. Call it a well-travelled vessel, amply fueled by a composer’s art, with performance flight plans navigated by the always sure hand of the conductor at the helm, Maestro Gerhardt Zimmermann.

   For all its surprising brevity, the evening’s opening selection, Starburst, lived up to its name in captivating fashion. Written for string orchestra in 2012 by American composer Jessie Montgomery, this single-movement work is a scintillating burst of her imagination, envisioning the explosive arrival of new stars in a galaxy. The music is a fast and complex progression of changing aural colors, blending sweet, fleeting melodies with brisk, emphatic rhythm variations. Montgomery has called it “…a multidimensional soundscape.” Through all their adroit gliding and sliding, and their crisp stacatto plucking, the CSO strings soared with remarkable alacrity.

    The next work on the program was Joseph Haydn’s light-hearted 1777  Overture to the opera buffa, Il Mondo della Luna (The World on the Moon). The raucous comedy tells the tale of a rich, gullible old man who loves astronomy, and who refuses to let his two daughters marry the penniless boyfriends they love. So the couples devise a devilish theatrical scheme to convince the old man that he’s been transported to the moon, where he meets the emperor and consents to his daughters’ marriage to members of the lunar court. The orchestra was an exuberant embodiment of the music’s symphonic thrust, imbuing it with a spirit of frolicsome majesty.

    Following that winsome fantasy, the evening’s long-awaited centerpiece was the world premiere of A Planets Odyssey, a piano concerto composed by Daniel Perttu in 2021, and here featuring the consummate artistry of pianist Jeffrey Biegel. Beginning with the ear-splitting, brassy blasting of the “Big Bang,” Perttu’s score is, literally and figuratively, a sensational nonstop trek across millions of miles, lasting approximately 22 minutes.

    Perttu’s theme and labyrinthine variations were inspired by his research into the physical properties and conditions unique to seven planets (Earth not included) as described by current science. His music possesses an uncanny acuity for translating visual and tactile phenomena into palpable realities in themselves, endowing the work with a phantasmagorical dimensionality. Through it all, the orchestra is much more than an echo or passive background presence. Every section is called upon to be in constant, active and loud dialogue with the soloist, and the ensemble here rose to the conversation with dramatic, even startling power.

    What magic this union was! If the orchestra could be considered as so many celestial bodies, Jeffrey Biegel’s playing was their collective heartbeat. And ours. His technique was a dazzling defiance of gravity, a life-affirming pulse that brought a sense of intrepid dancing, or relentless marching through this journey. While one hand constantly articulated a spirit of prowling and searching through rapid scales and arpeggios with crackling precision, the other, often simultaneously, pounded out bright exclamatory chords, as if declaring or celebrating the discovery of an immense new spectacle.

   Biegel was equally brilliant in his return to earth, as it were, when performing Chopin’s Andante Spianato and Grande Polonaise Brillante. While the orchestra’s role in this work is a relatively quiet one, the ensemble was nonetheless exquisite in its poetic filling-out of harmonies and colors against the mesmerizing sparkle of Biegel’s bravura.

   The evening concluded with yet another ascent to breathtaking musical heights in Mozart’s Symphony No. 41, “Jupiter.”  In this return to what Kenneth C. Viant rightly called in his program notes “an Olympian nobility and grandeur,” the CSO once again proved itself to be an ebullient tour de force of symphonic excellence.