Tuesday, December 24, 2019

Gifts from the Gifted

Gifts from the Gifted

Born From Stardust, by Oxana Dallas

Boston Bricks II, by Diane Belfiglio

Gauss, by David Kuntzman

An Imperfect Art, by Patricia Zinsmeister Parker

School Shootings School Bus Cape, by Judi Krew

The Rider, by William M. Bogdan

Grey Matter, by Steve Ehret

Birch Bramble, by Catherine M. Cindia

By Tom Wachunas

   EXHIBIT: Stark County Artists Exhibition / THROUGH JANUARY 26, 2020 / at The Massillon Museum, 121 Lincoln Way East, in downtown Massillon, Ohio /

http://www.massillonmuseum.org/    330.833.4061

   As the end of 2019 draws near, I’m sincerely grateful. Thank you, Massillon Museum, for continuing the tradition of this important annual juried exhibit – a gift to anyone who savors contemporary art. Thank you, participating artists (a total of 47 individuals out of 79 who entered) for your marvelous giftedness. I feel honored, indeed humbled, to be in your company. Really. The fruits of your creative labors have made this year’s Stark County Artists Exhibition truly the strongest I’ve seen in many years, remarkably rich in formal and conceptual diversity.

   And to all of you ARTWACH readers, give yourselves the gift of viewing the work by these artists: Seth Adam, John B. Alexander, Diane Belfiglio, Todd Bergert, William M. Bogdan, Peter Castillo, Catherine M. Cindia, Therese Cook, Oxana Dallas (Best in Show), David L. Dingwell, Laura Donnelly, Steve Ehret (Second Place), Megan Farrabee, Kathleen Gray Farthing, Gerald Fox, Sharon Frank Mazgaj (Honorable Mention), Robert Gallik, Coty J. Giannelli (Honorable Mention), Jared Hartmann, Charity Hockenberry, Judith Girscht Huber, Judi Krew (Honorable Mention), David Kuntzman, Sam Lilenfield, Timothy Londeree, Priscilla Sally Lytle (Honorable Mention), Nicole Malcolm, Robyn Martins, Tom Migge, Michelle Mulligan, Clare Murray Adams, Benjamin R. Myers, Tina Myers, Robert Nicoll, Patricia Zinsmeister Parker, Mark V. Pitocco, Anna Rather, Jacob Redmon, Erika Katherine, Israel Robinson, Priscilla Roggenkamp, Hilda Sikora, Sari Sponhour, Rosemary Stephen, Alex Strader (Third Place), Tom Wachunas (Honorable Mention) and Pat Mather Waltz.

   My gratitude is made all the more sweet by the award of an Honorable Mention for my piece, “Deus ex Machina #3.” Here’s a link to some pictures and a few brief thoughts on the work, if you’re interested:

   Additionally, I’m thankful for not being one of the jurors asked to assess levels of excellence and assign awards.  In an exhibit of such high caliber as this one, it’s an unreasonably challenging ask, if not a futile, perhaps even silly one. As it is, the jurors (Ken Emerick, former Artist Programs and Percent for Art Director at the Ohio Arts Council; Sarah J. Rogers, Director at the Kent State University Museum; and Stephen Tomasko, Akron artist and photographer) who assembled this superb collection saw fit to distinguish “Born From Stardust,” a textile work by Oxana Dallas, with the Best in Show award. There’s much to commend this beautifully sparkling, cosmic night vision of a statuesque woman encircled by people in postures of allegiance or adoration, or maybe supplication. The tactile intricacy of the weaving technique alone is hypnotic.

   Diane Belfiglio’s brighter, more earthbound oil pastel on paper, “Boston Bricks II,” is equally hypnotic, and no less beautiful, no less fascinating in its technical acuity. The gently bristling surface of overlaid chromatic textures is infused with sunlight, with the elegant simplicity of the brick pattern seemingly imprinted by subtly translucent crossings of dark shadows. 

   Speaking of elegant structure, David Kuntzman’s acrylic “Gauss” is a meticulously composed symphony of geometric abstraction. The overlapped grids in bright, pulsing colors create a spatial dynamic that breathes.

   A grid motif is also apparent in the mixed media painting by Patricia Zinsmeister Parker, “An Imperfect Art.” Here, though, the pictorial structure is not a neatly delineated scheme, but rather a raw, visceral arrival – a gestural rumination that emerged through time. Parker makes art that wags a wry finger in your face and rattles your expectation of “finished” aesthetic protocol. Her work is seriously engaged in the mindful play of pure markmaking and often brings to mind the sassy kid who refuses to color inside the lines.

   On a more somber and cautionary note, two works: “School Shootings School Bus Cape,” by Judi Krew, and “The Rider,” by William M. Bogdan. Krew’s piece is a compelling, thoughtfully constructed remembrance of a tragic reality in American society, as she explains with heartbreaking statistics in the chalkboard panels mounted on a music stand next to the yellow-caped mannequin: “…Since 1840, there have been 471 recorded incidents of a gun being used at an institution of education to wound or kill another person or one’s self…” Even more arresting, she writes, “…Unfortunately, this is a work in progress…”

   Bogdan’s stark woodcut print is an apocalyptic montage of sorts. His expressionism isn’t rendered with refined precision so much as scratched, clawed, pounded into being. No picture of noble intent or victory here. The horses’ hooves are like anvils. Those helicopters in the sky are like hovering, fattened vultures. That ghostly figure at the lower right is appropriated from Nick Ut’s shocking 1972 photo of a naked young Vietnamese girl, terribly burned and fleeing her village after it was bombed with napalm. But this is more than a jarring remembrance of that,…of then. Like Krew’s sobering notes on a work in progress, Bogdan’s print is a potent connection to a horrific still now, and with it, a haunting reminder that nothing changes if nothing changes. 

   Let’s shift gears for a moment into some surreal shenanigans, some unfettered fun. With a punctilious polychromatic palette, Steve Ehret masterfully manipulated “Grey Matter” – a spectacular, slick oil painting on panel (Second Place award) – into a fantastically fastidious panoply of protoplasmic phantasm. A mind-morphing loony landscape.

   If you consider this exhibit as an essay on the state of Stark County visual arts, Catherine M. Cindia’s encaustic (beeswax) painting, “Birch Bramble” is yet another of many exclamation points. It’s a sylvan scene that’s so dimensional, so sumptuously tactile, that it could be fairly called a relief sculpture. 

  But wait, there’s more, much more. The most meaningful award you can bestow on any of the artists here is your presence. Your time, your intentional looking, your willingness to come and actually see. They’ve earned it.

   Merry Christmas.  

Saturday, December 14, 2019

Unwrapping the Christmas Presence

Unwrapping the Christmas Presence

"Amended Big Bang Theory" - acrylic, fabric, paper, found object

By Tom Wachunas

   …The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the One and Only, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth…  John 1:14

Now faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see…   Hebrews 11:1  

   Did the practice of giving and getting gifts (i.e., “presents”) at Christmastime begin with the simple notion that it was the wise thing to do, as in a grand identification with those three “wise men” traveling from afar to worship a new king? They were probably astrologers – readers of tiny, distant cosmic lights.  So when did remembering the “magic of Christmas” morph into the ritualized retail mania, the elaborate ceremonies of rabid consumerism which so much of our society engages today? 

   What light are we following? Have we become so enamored of Christmas presents that we’ve become insensitive to the Christmas presence? Immanuel, God incarnate, with us, here and now.

   It wasn’t until around 2001 that my artwork developed into a materiality of a Christocentric nature - a codified language of the heart. Back in 2008 I made a piece I called “A Brief History of Everything.”  Stark and simple, the work was comprised of nine crumpled index cards, painted in blotches of black and white, and mounted horizontally on a narrow board in a sequential row to suggest stages of opening up into an all-white field. It was inspired by the Big Bang Theory, science’s best explanation of how the universe came to be.

   I recently made a variation on the same theme, this one called “Amended Big Bang Theory,” measuring 48” tall, 10” wide, 4” deep, pictured above. The theory states that the cosmos began as an unimaginably small singularity, a less-than-microscopic mass of immeasurable density, which exploded some 14 million years ago into all manner of cosmic pieces still speeding away from us. Of course there’s no definitive scientific accounting for the origins of that singularity. No explanation of how, why, or for that matter…who. We simply assume that “it” was always…there.

    Faith is truly the gift that keeps on giving. Just like the physical universe described by Big Bang theorists, real faith is an actuality in a perpetual state of expanding, or unwrapping, as it were. By extension, growing from the tiniest intuition - a singularity in its own right – or the smallest seed of willingness to seek and believe what science alone can never apprehend, I have found that in matters of spirit, faith is a great and constant outward reaching of the soul which can indeed give rise to empirical certainty.

   “Amended Big Bang Theory” is a vertical sentence, or if you will, a prayer and a Christmas greeting. The white expanse at the bottom is not so much a period or an end to the sentence, but a beginning. It’s not a tiny, distant cosmic speck, but a large, tangible presence of light. It’s an echo of John the Baptist’s welcoming Jesus into the world we know, on to the ground where we stand, forever into our midst. Behold, the Lamb of God…

   My prayer for all you readers – both now at Christmas, and every day - is that you nurture the seeds of your willingness to let faith grow and bear fruit.

 Happy Holydays.

Monday, December 2, 2019

Cryptic Kisses and Other Tangible Tensions

Cryptic Kisses and Other Tangible Tensions

Lock Born

Kissing Stones

Void in Echo

Site of a Scene: in RED

Site of a Scene: in a Blue Tint

EXHIBIT: Distance Loop, a solo exhibition featuring works by Melissa Vogley Woods / ending on December 5, 2019 / at The William J. and Pearl F. Lemmon Gallery, located in the Fine Arts Building on the Kent State University at Stark campus / 6000 Frank Avenue NW, North Canton, Ohio

 / Gallery Hours for the remaining duration of the exhibit: Tuesday- Wednesday, December 3d and 4th, 11:00 a.m.- 6:00 p.m., AND Artist’s RECEPTION / Gallery Talk: Thursday, December 5, 12:30pm

    Toto, I have a feeling we’re not in Canton anymore.

    What makes the Lemmon Gallery a vital and truly inspiring venue for viewing contemporary art is its singular purity of design and potent agency of purpose. Here’s a place apart - a gorgeous retreat from the commercially familiar, a challenging alternative to the locally safe and insular, a venturing away from the comfortable and provincial. The art shown here springs from a serious curatorial commitment (thanks for this installation to Andrea Meyers) to presenting fresh, provocative aesthetic visions and practices from beyond our immediate region.

   The announcement for this installation described the work of Melissa Vogley Woods - a multidisciplinary artist from Columbus, Ohio -  as focusing “…on the nature of internal and external conflict and resolution with additional interests in erasure under patriarchy and homespun methodologies against it.”  Heady stuff, to be sure.

   A recurring motif in Woods’ sculptural assemblages is the human mouth, in the form of thick, curvaceous lips made from scagliola. Scagliola is a mixture of pigments and plaster that can be fashioned to look like marble. In “Lock Born,” an oblong rod of thin steel loops out from the wall, holding up a row of 12 marbleized orifices that hang in midair like so many pendants on jewelry chains. Depending upon your viewing position, the lips appear to come at you from a distance, starting with smaller, closed mouths at the far end that progressively get larger as they open wider. There’s an eerie, indeed primal sensuality about this work (a quality apparent in other pieces here as well) which suggests something slowly emerging from tight-lipped silence into an utterance – a single word, a phrase, maybe a shout. Or is it simply an exhaled breath? 

   The four very large canvas paintings included in the installation, collectively under the theme of “Site of a Scene,” are lavish, glimmering abstractions in acrylic, marble dust, various grounds, and water-based mediums. These are magnificently complex and ambiguous panoramas wherein measured, regular patterns and structures collide with, or melt into organic pools and atmospheric pockets of rich color. Rigidity and fluidity in dramatic moments of equipoise. A visual theatre of integration and disintegration all at once.

   Other sculptural pieces here confound easy definition or categorization. They can seem alternately like garden totems, strange gravestones, or perhaps distant cousins to cairns – forms, dating to ancient times, made from stones piled up as memorials or landmarks. Memorials of what? Mended or broken relationships? Loves lost and found? All of the above?

   So I’m left in a state of inquiry, of continued looking, wondering, even guessing. But with art, it’s always the lingering questions, not the instantaneous or obvious answers, which I’ve found to be the most compelling affirmation of being alive. And besides, in the end, who doesn’t savor a really good mystery? 

Thursday, November 21, 2019

Sublime Storytelling from the Canton Symphony Orchestra

Sublime Storytelling from the Canton Symphony Orchestra

By Tom Wachunas

   The November 9 concert by the Canton Symphony Orchestra CSO) was a particularly eclectic program of five works exploring the theme of storytelling, beginning with Mozart’s Overture to The Marriage of Figaro. In the genre of opera buffa, there’s hardly a more scintillating curtain raiser than this madcap orchestral frolic. The fast-paced music is replete with crisply punctuated rhythms and many shifting colors, and the ensemble played it impeccably.

   Following this invigorating romp into unfettered jollity, the musical temperament shifted dramatically with Concerto Dei Fiori (Concert of Flowers), a one-movement piece for violin and chamber orchestra composed in 1996 by Sylvie Bodorová. In the course of her career spanning from the late 1970s, she has become one of the most sought-after and performed champions of contemporary Czech musical culture.

   Concerto Dei Fiori is a piquant melding of moods, at once somber and sweet, tumultuous and meditative. All of the work’s thematic tensions were articulated here with mesmerizing panache in a sensitive dialogue between the small ensemble and the featured soloist, CSO concertmaster Cristian Zimmerman. His remarkably fluid playing was imbued with an emotive intensity that very effectively evoked the music’s sensations of wandering and discovery, of slowly ascending from brooding darkness to blossom in the promise of light. His electrifying cadenza nearly midway through, pierced by savage dissonances, was a grand unleashing that gave way to stratospheric high notes, finally ushering in a stately hush as the ensemble quoted J.S. Bach’s Cantata No. 180, Schmücke dich, o liebe Seele : “Adorn yourself, of beloved soul, leave the dark den of sins, come into the clear light, begin to shine with glory…”

   Following that gorgeous moment of found serenity was a story of a different sort - Samuel Barber’s Knoxville: Summer of 1915, for soprano and small orchestra. Barber set this fascinating work - perhaps best called a free-form operatic poem, or “word painting” - to text written by American poet and novelist James Agee (1909-1955). The words form a distinctly dreamlike remembrance of a sultry summer evening, presented from the perspective of a child, and made all the more enchanting here thanks to the rhapsodic intonations from soprano Hilerie Klein Rensi. Beyond the sheer radiance of her actual singing, which was often inflected with a lilting, conversational timbre, Rensi’s performance was suffused with a captivating theatrical expressivity. She seemed to float effortlessly between wistful   moments of wide-eyed childlike wonder and the more bittersweet musings, implicit in the text, of an adult all too aware of mortality and impending sorrow. Throughout, the ensemble invested Barber’s seductive and haunting melodies with a crystalline, even magical dimensionality. 

   The concert ended, as it began, on a dazzlingly felicitous note, this time with Zoltán Kodály’s Dances of Galánta. This lavishly orchestrated work is a rambunctious Hungarian rondo with special attention given to the clarinet. The orchestra rose to the moment with all the lush sonority and clarity we’ve come to expect from this accomplished body of gifted artists. Yet interestingly enough, it was the performance of the work preceding this enthralling climax that remains in my mind as the most extraordinary musical encounter of the evening – Aaron Copland’s Appalachian Spring Suite. 

   Maestro Gerhardt Zimmermann introduced this eminently familiar American classic - which I’ve always heard played by large orchestras - with a humorous and touching reminiscence about meeting, knowing, and savoring Aaron Copland. Then he faced his ensemble, now pared down to a scant 13 pieces (as originally performed in 1944) and proceeded to essentially transcend mere familiarity. You’d think that with such a small group of players, the scope and depth of Copland’s idyllic vision would be somehow diminished. Instead, they simply proved that less can in fact be more. ‘Tis the gift to be simple indeed. I’ve never heard this iconic work performed with more genuine emotional sensitivity, more sweeping lyrical elegance, than on this occasion. What was old had become new again. Better than beautiful, it was sublime.     

Monday, November 11, 2019

Prank and Circumstance

Prank and Circumstance

Dede Klein and Benjamin Gregg

April Deming (l), Dede Klein

(l. to r.) Dede Klein, April Deming, Benjamin Gregg, Micah Harvey

Lames Alexander Rankin (l.), Dede Klein

(l. to r.) Micah Harvey, Shani Ferry, Dede Klein

Dede Klein, Micah Harvey

By Tom Wachunas

Photos by Jeremy Aronhalt

   The series of four plays comprising the 2019/20 season from itinerant Seat of the Pants Productions are offered under the theme of ‘The Kindness of Strangers,’ described as “…posing questions and inspiring dialogue about how we engage with the foreigner, alien, or person who is different in our midst.” There’s something curiously appropriate, even poetic, about landing the first play of the series in a venue as theatrically nontraditional as Canton’s Habitat for Humanity of East Central Ohio.

   Directed by Craig Joseph, Ripcord is a wickedly delicious comedy by David Lindsay-Abaire that centers on two elderly widows who turn their time in an otherwise pleasant senior living facility into a mutually adversarial habitat. Talk about odd couples. From the start, chronically cranky Abby (Dede Klein) complains about everything. She can’t stand her bubbly, newly-arrived roommate, Marilyn (April Deming). Abby pleads with a senior center staffer, Scotty (Benjamin Gregg), to assign Marilyn to another room, but to no avail. So when Marilyn - who says she never gets angry about anything – makes a bet, Abby - who says that nothing scares her - jumps at the chance.

   The wager? If Abby can first succeed in making Marilyn angry, Marilyn moves out. But if Marilyn can first frighten Abby, Marilyn can have the bed she wants - the one closest to the window with a beautiful view of the park outside.

   Pull the ripcord.  A madcap game of oneupsmanship ensues, escalating into ever more mischievous practical jokes, and thrusting both women into a scenario of painful revelations about their respective pasts.

   The theatrical acumen of Craig Joseph’s entire cast is marvelous. As Abby, Dede Klein presents a visceral rendering of feral grumpiness, colored by a tired cynicism that at times feels, frightfully enough, misanthropic. Similarly startling in her authenticity, April Deming paints a spot-on portrait of Marilyn’s seemingly unflappable kindness and garrulous optimism. It’s fascinating to watch these hopelessly conflicting temperaments subtly morph from a slapstick clash of wills into a pathos which perhaps neither character could have anticipated at the beginning of their prank war.

   The supporting cast performs with equally impressive aplomb.  Benjamin Gregg is downright endearing as the dutiful resident aide Scotty – patient, infectiously funny, but increasingly exasperated by the womens’ ceaseless shananigans. He’s sure they need to get out more. So at one point, he invites them to visit the haunted house attraction where he’s been hired as an actor. There, he plays a prisoner bellowing his melodramatic pleas for mercy and tearful goodbyes as he’s repeatedly executed in the electric chair. Amidst all of this scene’s belly laughs, there’s a fleetingly heartrending, indeed symbolic moment, wherein Abby stands away from the crowd, not so much scared as haunted by sadness, gazing down at a baby doll that’s been shoved into her arms by a desperate  woman (Shani Ferry) pleading for someone to rescue her child.

   Meanwhile there are first-rate performances by Shani Ferry as Colleen, and Micah Harvey as Derek, Marilyn’s daughter and son-in-law. Marilyn has enlisted them as co-conspirators in her elaborate plots to scare Abby. In one particularly ingenious scene, we see all of them tethered together for a skydiving adventure led by a stoned-out instructor played by James Alexander Rankin, who later plays Abby’s estranged son, Benjamin, with riveting poignance. In another scene of bizarre, gut-splitting hilarity, Micah Harvey, disguised as a ridiculous rabbit with fiery eyes and gold fangs, attempts to rob Abby at gunpoint as she sits reading on the park bench. She’s perturbed, sure, but definitely not scared. Yet.

   Some darker truths about these embattled women are further revealed. But some truths can be freeing. In the end there’s a brief, gentle smile of truce as they sit near that prized window overlooking the park. This wildly entertaining freefall has placed them, and us, in a path of peace.

   Ripcord, at Habitat for Humanity East Central Ohio, 1400 Raff Road Southwest, #Ste A, in Canton, Ohio / Performances on Friday and Saturday, Nov. 15 & 16 at 8 p.m., Sunday Nov. 17 at 2 p.m.

Starring: Dede Klein, April Deming, Benjamin Gregg, Shani Ferry, Micah Harvey, and James Rankin. Directed by Craig Joseph; assistant directed by Kyle Huff, and stage managed by Allison Harvey. Set design and construction by Kevin Anderson; Scenic artist - Tim Eakin; costumes by McCarty & Morgan Custom Costumes; lighting by Ayron Lord; props by Lisa Wiley; sound engineer - Megan Slabach; sound design and original music by John Gromada.

   Tickets $25,  at Evenbrite     https://ripcordsotp.eventbrite.com 

Wednesday, November 6, 2019

Color It Joyful

Color It Joyful

By Tom Wachunas

   A suggestion: dust off your bible and open it up to Genesis, chapter 37. Therein begins the iconic drama (which continues for several more chapters) about a family torn apart by envy and hate. Jacob favors is son, Joseph, more than any of his other 11 sons, and makes him a spectacular robe of many colors, befitting, it would seem, a king. Joseph flaunts the garment, along with his gift for interpreting prophetic dreams, which include a vision of Joseph ruling over his entire family. This causes his already jealous and angry brothers to hate him all the more and subsequently plot his demise. Rather than kill him outright, they sell him to a caravan on its way to Egypt. Then they stain his precious coat with goat’s blood, presenting it as evidence to Jacob that his most beloved son had been killed by a wild beast. Prior to the joyous reconciliation some years later with his family, Joseph ends up in an Egyptian prison, yet ultimately rises to a position of power and prestige second only to the Pharaoh himself.

   This has certainly been the adventurous stuff of many children’s Sunday school lessons. In many ways, that presentational spirit of a child’s perspective remains at the core of the musical by Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice, Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat. It’s a perspective carried over from the show’s humble beginnings as a very short “pop cantata” performed by a London children’s choir in 1968. Appropriately enough, then, the scintillating Players Guild production, directed by Jonathan Tisevich, begins with Rachael Armbruster as the effervescent Narrator, addressing a group of 12 wide-eyed children seated attentively at her feet. Throughout the show she effectively adopts the persona of an ever-friendly teacher, with a notably bright singing voice, brimming with bubbly warmth and enthusiasm. Interestingly, that pleasant persona is something of an ironic presence considering the gloomier underpinnings of Joseph’s plight.

    As Joseph, Jonathan Gruich is a commanding figure who brings real emotional heft to his singing. He’s wholly believable, either as the dashing, prideful dream-sayer, the slave wrongly accused of lusting after the wife of Potiphar (Pharaoh’s Captain of the Guard) and languishing in prison, or the powerful man who shows Pharaoh how to save Egypt from famine and in the process re-unites with his brothers and forgives them. Meanwhile, Todd Cooper’s portrayal of the strutting, booty-bouncing Pharaoh-in-a-jumpsuit is a deliciously shameless Elvis imitation that brings down the house.  
   So indeed the proceedings never become too dark or heavy-handed. There are in fact numerous truly hilarious passages, often thanks to the male ensemble playing Joseph’s brothers. After they break the bad news about Joseph, elderly father Jacob (Matthew Heppe) limps about in a state of very sincere sorrow while they intone “One More Angel in Heaven” with faces and voices wildly contorted into remarkably individualized expressions of feigned grief and not-so-secret glee. And much later, as they reflect mournfully on their situation in the chanson-style “Those Canaan Days,” the humor is all the more pronounced via their thick French accents.

   Additionally, the women and children ensembles are equally engaging singers and dancers. When these ensembles combine, a kind of tribal intensity ensues, with deeply sonorous vocal harmonies soaring through the brisk and nimble choreography by Lauren Dangelo. Beyond the bejeweled colors of the wild costumes by Suwatana Rockland, this dazzling gem of entertainment shimmers in a delightful pastiche of musical colors as well – from 1920s Charleston and vintage Elvis, to Calypso and Country Western, to name only some – driven by the infectious artistry of the live orchestra conducted by Steve Parsons. 
    Everything seems to move so fast and furious. And just when you think the story has ended, that you’ve heard that final note of an electrifying communal hurrah, the entire cast rolls right back out in a raucous romp - a protracted medley of just about every tune in the show. It’s a madcap recap of unmitigated ebullience. It might at first seem like too much for too long.

   But then again, think for a moment on the terrible and terrifying condition of the world we live in these days. Can there ever really be such a thing as too much joy? Thanks, Players Guild, for the invigorating memo. 

   Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat / at Canton Players Guild Theatre, 1001 Market Avenue N., Canton, Ohio / Through November 17, 2019 / Friday and Saturday at 8 p.m., Sunday at 2 p.m.  (shows at 2 and 8 p.m. on Saturday Nov. 16) / $34 for single tickets, $27 for 17 and younger, $31 for Seniors / available at  www.playersguildtheatre.com   or call the Box Office at 330.453.7617

Thursday, October 31, 2019

Thinking Inside the Box

Thinking Inside the Box

By Tom Wachunas

The Massillon Museum’s Stark County Artists Exhibition will be on view beginning November 2nd, and will run through January 26, 2020. On, Thursday, November 7, from 5:30 pm - 8:00 pm, there will be a FREE reception in the main gallery, now called the Aultman Health Foundation Gallery. Awards will be announced at 7:00 p.m.

Massillon Museum, 121 Lincoln Way East, downtown Massillon, Ohio  Phone: 330-833-4061 / The Massillon Museum is open Tuesday through Saturday 9:30am - 5:00pm, Sunday 2:00pm - 5:00pm

   I’m pleased to report that a recent work of mine, Deus ex Machina #3 (the third in a series), was accepted into this juried exhibition. I think of it as equal parts freestanding sculpture (an altered computer tower) and 3D drawing (graphite and a bit of photo-transfer).

   A blessing and a bane.  A tool and a torment. A fertile world and a wasteland. The Internet. The cloud. The web. What have we wrought? The imposed scribbles, smudges, symbols, and scripts constitute a calligraphy of sense and nonsense, truth and fiction. A 3D essay on confounding dualities. My intent is not to posit answers, neither to condemn nor to glorify, so much as to raise questions. So what indeed have we wrought? A treasure chest of incalculable riches, or a Pandora’s box of unspeakable ills? A servant, or an inscrutable taskmaster? Digital Deity? The god of our age?

   I hope to see you all at the reception on November 7.

Sunday, October 20, 2019

A Riveting Performance from a Rising Star

A Riveting Performance from a Rising Star

By Tom Wachunas

“…This is a story that commemorates living and passing through places of knowledge and of sharing and of that song called life.”
- Jennifer Higdon, writing about blue cathedral

   With Maestro Gerhardt Zimmermann in the pulpit, as it were, the Canton Symphony Orchestra (CSO) took us to church with the first of the three works on its season-opening  October 12 program. Written by the acclaimed contemporary American composer, Jennifer Higdon, in 1999, blue cathedral is a tone poem inspired by the searing loss of her younger brother, Andrew Blue Higdon, to cancer.

   Higdon has explained that she thought of cathedrals as symbolic portals, leading from our world into spiritual realms beyond. Resonant throughout the work is the suggestion of a contemplative walk down cathedral aisles, a slow rising past pillars and glittering stained glass windows, through an immense ceiling to a vast blue sky, only momentarily clouded with sorrow tinged with anger, and finally  to a peaceful state of transcendent celebration.

    Special attention is given in the music to the flute, which Higdon learned to play when she was 15, and the clarinet, her brother’s instrument. Here, both soloists – flautist Jenny Robinson and clarinetist Ethan Usokin – delivered achingly poignant dialogues amidst soft, shimmering chords from the strings, with the flute eventually fading out as the clarinet progressed alone into ecstatic quietness. Additionally, elegant percussive effects brought a haunting dimensionality. A variety of crystalline chimes and ringing bells augmented the sensation of being in a sacred place, including a passage wherein members of the string section gently rotated the small Chinese meditation balls they held in their hands, making a sound like distant wind.  All told, the orchestra rose to this wholly mesmerizing work with a reverence so palpable, so moving, that I felt physically uplifted.

   While blue cathedral is certainly an empyreal journey, the second selection on the program, Grieg’s Piano Concerto in A minor -  with its unforgettable opening of a three-octave plunge down the keyboard – is a more earthbound experience, though no less compelling in its fervent soulfulness. Strangely, I’ve encountered some critical assessments of this work over the years which too quickly labeled it a tired warhorse. I’m sure that the CSO guest soloist, Eva Gevorgyan, would heartily disagree.

   There was nothing hackneyed about how this 16 year-old rising star performed the concerto with not only impeccable technical prowess and clarity, but electrifying emotional intelligence as well. An especially arresting element was Gevorgyan’s physical deportment. Her entire performance was infused with a quirky yet somehow endearing theatricality, as if she had adopted the animated mien of an entranced ballet dancer. In those passages when she wasn’t playing, she often gazed dreamily upward, listening intently to the ensemble, arms slowly swaying, hands poised in midair, seeming to gently grasp and sculpt the music itself.

    Gevorgyan’s articulation of the cadenza at the end of the first movement was a breathtaking display of youthful, sinewy vigor, and beautifully complemented by the delicate, nuanced wistfulness of her playing in the elegiac Adagio movement.  Her powerful rendering of the majestic final movement brought the audience immediately to their feet amidst giddy howls of approval. The encore, Alexander Scriabin’s Poem, Opus 32, No.1, was an all-too-brief moment of elegant, introspective lyricism.

   After intermission, the orchestra’s performance of Brahms’ Symphony No. 2 in D Major was in every sense a brilliant exposition of the work’s almost dizzying array of moods, textures, colors, and rhythms. Still, even after the sonorous magnificence of the jubilant finale, what remains most bright in my appreciation of this extraordinary evening is Gevorgyan’s  riveting ride on Grieg’s warhorse.