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.  

Tuesday, May 24, 2022

Some Enlivening Locutions



Some Enlivening Locutions 

detail - "May I Share A Word With You" by Judi Krew

"May I Share A Word With You" by Judi Krew

(left) "Murders in the Rue Morgue" by William Bogdan
(right) "Our Weapon is Truth" by Sally Lytle

"Lavish Lilies I" by Diane Belfiglio

"Small Reflections" by Christopher Triner

"DeDeKind" by David Kuntzman

"A Place in the Mountains" by Isabel Zaldivar

By Tom Wachunas 

   “The aim of art is to represent not the outward appearance of things, but their inward significance.” – Aristotle 

   EXHIBIT: 79th ANNUAL MAY SHOW/ at LITTLE ART GALLERY, located in  The North Canton Public Library, 185 North Main Street, North Canton, Ohio/ Viewing hours: Mon.-Thurs. 10 a.m. to 8 p.m., Fri. 10 a.m. to 6 p.m., Sat. 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. /  THROUGH JUNE 4, 2022

From Merriam-Webster, definition of locution:

lo·cu·tion | \ lō-ˈkyü-shən (noun)

1: a particular form of expression or a peculiarity of phrasing

especially : a word or expression characteristic of a region, group, or cultural level

2: style of discourse : PHRASEOLOGY

     Jurors  Allyssa Hixenbaugh and Elizabeth Taylor have written that they  had “not an easy task” in selecting a scant 28 artworks from more than 130 submissions to this hallowed annual ritual. While I was consequently disappointed by the absence of 3D sculptural works on view (with one notable exception – more on that later), I’m happy and grateful to report that one of my monochrome 2D mixed media collages, Politics and Religion, did make the harvest, so to speak. I wrote about that piece in late 2020, and here’s a link to the post if you care to revisit:


   This year’s May Show crop once again heavily favors art of the representational sort, with very little in the way of nonobjective abstraction. In that genre, David Kuntzman’s acrylic painting, DeDeKind, is a stunning mathematical mind-bender. Its complex layers of interlocking angled grids seemingly move forward and recede all at once in a suggestion of infinite spatial depth.

     As a whole, the show feels somewhat safe, as in quietly academic and traditional. This is certainly not to say it lacks technical or conceptual excellence. Several of the most compelling pictures depict the natural world, including landscapes. You might call them diverse narratives, or locutions of locations. Among those, Isabel Zaldivar’s wild, loosely painted acrylic, A Place in the Mountains, exudes a raucous joy with its harmonized planes of electrifying complementary hues. A much tighter method of layered mark-making imbues Christopher J. Triner’s acrylic painting, Small Reflections, with an enchanting sense of sparkling luminosity – a woods enlivened with magical, lambent light. And the remarkable precision of lines, organic shapes, and saturated color all unite to make Diane Belfiglio’s watercolor, Lavish Lilies I, an altogether breathtaking ode to delicate, sunlit textures.

    Elsewhere in the mix, two small portraits mounted side-by-side make for a sobering contrast in considering the darker if not more solemn side of existence in modern times. One is downright morose, the other poignant and  contemplative. In William Bogdan’s raw, bluntly rendered etching, Murders in the Rue Morgue – The Moment Before, a monstrous, wrinkled hand rests on the neck and shoulder of a woman in profile. Her eyes look to the edge of death. The moment before indeed. To the right, the girl in Sally Lytle’s gently fluid oil painting, Our Weapon is Truth, looks directly at us, her dark-eyed gaze at once mournful and expectant. Cutting across her neck and shoulders is an edge, where the blue and yellow fields of the Ukrainian flag meet, and here mix into a wispy swipe of green. Green, the color of growth, of hope? The promise of a life, like this painting, not yet finished?  

   And finally, on another Ukrainian / global note, there’s the exhibit’s sole sculptural – and most arresting - entry: Judi Krew’s interactive, life-sized  robed figure called  May I share a word with you? The piece has a lot to say.  In 73 languages. Here are Krew’s words about her work :

    One World * One People * One Voice. This coat contains 94 words in 73 different languages. The words are: Peace – Care – Kindness – Hope - Faith – Hello. Viewers are encouraged to gently lift any necktie piece and discover the word rendered and its language of origin. The more we learn, the more we will become a world of understanding and peace. The headpiece is based on the traditional ceremonial dress of the Ukrainian people. It contains three words to be shared: Peace - Freedom - Assistance. Materials for both: black out curtains, necktie skeletons, spray paint, shirt scraps, thread, embroidery floss, buttons, labels and crochet remnants on the headpiece.

   Krew’s materials and methods are themselves a grand and eloquent locution, literally and symbolically, of the ties that bind our longings for connectivity and unity in times of unspeakable turmoil.

Tuesday, May 10, 2022

A Magnificent Feast from Canton Symphony Orchestra


 A Magnificent Feast from the Canton Symphony Orchestra

Gerhardt Zimmermann

Matthew Jenkins Jaroszewick

(clockwise from top left) - Rachel Hall, John Pickle, David Small, Diane Fox

By Tom Wachunas 

      Talk about perfect timeliness. In this abysmal era so saturated with our blood and tears, along comes the Canton Symphony Orchestra (CSO) with its inspiring April 30th concert, called Music For Humanity, presenting a lavish feast to feed yearning souls.

   The first half of the evening featured two works conducted by the vivacious Matthew Jenkins Jaroszewicz, CSO Associate Conductor, beginning with Fanfare for the Uncommon Woman No.1. Composed in 1986 by Joan Tower, the work was inspired by Aaron Copland’s iconic fanfare and employed the same instrumentation of brass and percussion. Tower dedicated this surprisingly brief work to “women who take risks and are adventurous.” Adventurous to be sure, while the opening theme is a subtle echo of Copland’s, the CSO brass was remarkably bright, crisp and and crackling in its relentless morphing of the motif into quick, layered variations, both delicate and discordant, robustly spiced with startling bursts of timpani.

   The banquet continued with an especially delectable hors d’oevre in the form of Ralph Vaughan Williams’ Serenade to Music. Williams composed the work in 1938 for orchestra and 16 singers as a grand ode to the life-affirming potentiality of music. The sung text was adapted from a lovely scene in Shakespeare’s The Merchant of Venice, wherein two lovers pause on their walk through a verdant estate, glimmering in the moonlight, mesmerized as they listen to a group of musicians playing nearby. Mesmerizing indeed, the orchestra and choir here were a remarkable personification of that entranced couple, investing this wondrously atmospheric meditation with a rhapsodic reverence.    

    After the intermission, CSO Music Director Gerhardt Zimmermann joined his orchestra along with the Canton Symphony Chorus, directed by Britt Cooper, and University of Mount Union Choir, directed by Grant Cook. Here then was the Maestro, the intrepid master-chef, if you will, at his most technically astute, emotionally alert, even brave. Astride the pinnacle of his interpretive prowess, Zimmermann and his brilliant co-conspirators served up the evening’s main course - the most enlivening recipe for pure symphonic magnificence ever composed: Beethoven’s groundbreaking Symphony No. 9, Op. 125 “Choral.”

   Like misty storm clouds, tremulo strings in the first movement whispered, then swelled into fragmented themes suggesting the cruel vicissitudes that haunted Beethoven’s life. The unmitigated, largely upbeat intensity of the Scherzo movement – briskly stated, but never too rushed – was a decidedly more jovial probing of hope, giving way to the contemplative, majestic melancholy of the third movement. Throughout these movements, the orchestra consistently navigated the complexities of intertwined colors, textures and moods with a riveting clarity and precision.

   Then came the colossal, episodic final movement, a sumptuous regale in itself. The jarring, momentary uproar of the opening settled into short-lived snippets of themes from the previous movements, all quickly dismissed with the emergence of a new theme in the low strings that steadily grew into a full-fledged hymn.

   And just as the music seemed poised for yet another dark storm, a very loud halt was called by a lone, stern and rumbling voice from, of all places, the audience. Striding down a side aisle and stepping up on to the stage like a general joining his troops, baritone soloist David Small sang out the first stanza of Friedrich Schiller’s anthemic poem, Ode to Joy: “O Friends! Not these sad tones! Let us raise our voices together in more pleasant and joyful tones!”

   Thenceforth, it felt like all of heaven breaking loose. The combined choruses repeated the baritone’s words with utterly breathgiving power, and joining the exultant proceedings were the other members of the superb vocal quartet: Rachel Hall, soprano; Diane Fox, mezzo-soprano; and John Pickle, tenor. Their singing - crystalline and radiant - was enough to make angels jealous.

   The symphony’s thunderous final note brought the enthralled audience immediately to their feet in an equally thunderous roar of approval. And gratitude, I’m sure, for a great service rendered. After all, in these increasingly sad and troubled times, the CSO had just fed us a generous helping of unfettered joy.