May 13, 2009
Sir Thomas Beecham rehearses the London Philharmonic in a 1932 newsreel:
(This is the latest in a weekly series of arts-related videos that appear in this space each Wednesday.)
Posted May 13, 2009 12:00 AM
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This is a blog about the arts in New York City and the rest of America, written by Terry Teachout, Laura Demanski (otherwise known as Our Girl in Chicago, or "OGIC" for short), and Carrie Frye (who signs her postings "CAAF"). Terry, who lives in New York, is the drama critic of The Wall Street Journal and the music critic of Commentary.
Terry's latest book, Pops: A Life of Louis Armstrong, will be published in December by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt in the U.S. and JR Books in England. One of his essays is included in Robert Gottlieb's Reading Dance, published last year by Pantheon. He contributed an essay to Coudal Partners' Field-Tested Books (as did OGIC) and wrote the introductions to William Bailey on Canvas and the paperback edition of Elaine Dundy's The Dud Avocado.
To watch Terry's wsj.com review of Guys and Dolls, go here.
Terry is collaborating with Paul Moravec on The Letter, an operatic version of Somerset Maugham's 1927 play. It was commissioned by the Santa Fe Opera and will open there on July 25, 2009. Here is an ongoing series of progress reports on the writing and production of The Letter.
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For better and worse
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Notes from an unkept diary
The case for lower-case opera
The envelope, please
Right turn at Albuquerque
Men at work (VII)
Scene stealing (I)
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Becoming an artist
In one piece
Among the brethren
By the clock
No, but I heard the movie
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All blessings are mixed
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Van Cliburn in Moscow, Vol. 1 (VAI). The long, barren years of Van Cliburn's retirement from the concert hall have largely blotted out the memory of the young virtuoso who stunned the world by winning the 1958 Tchaikovsky Competition at the height of the Cold War. Few people under the age of fifty know that he was--for a time--one of the finest pianists of the twentieth century. This disc, the first of five drawn from Russian videotapes of concerts given by Cliburn in his prime years, contains 1962 performances of Tchaikovsky's First Concerto and Beethoven's "Emperor" Concerto accompanied by Kiril Kondrashin and the Moscow Philharmonic, plus two encores, Chopin's F Minor Fantasie and the Liszt Twelfth Hungarian Rhapsody, a Cliburn warhorse that the pianist never got around to recording commercially. All are played with the expansive yet firmly disciplined romanticism that can also be heard on his best studio recordings. An unforgettable document of a great artist who lost his way in mid-career and spent the rest of his life wandering in the wilderness of celebrity (TT).
The Norman Conquests (Circle in the Square, 235 W. 50, closes July 25). Alan Ayckbourn's 1973 comic triptych--three farces about adultery and its discontents, set on the same weekend in different rooms of the same house--is a jolting combination of laugh-till-you-choke lunacy and deep melancholy. This long-awaited Broadway revival by London's Old Vic does it full justice. The three plays can be seen individually and in any order, but the best way to see them is in a single day-long sitting. Specially priced marathon performances of "Table Manners," "Living Together," and "Round and Round the Garden" take place each Saturday and on May 17 and June 28. Break the piggy bank and go while you can (TT).
Michael Gorra (ed.), The Portable Conrad (Penguin, $18 paper). I blush to admit that I failed to notice when the much-loved old Viking Portable Conrad edited by Morton Dauwen Zabel in 1947 was replaced two years ago by this updated and expanded edition, which covers much of the same ground but adds The Secret Agent. Not only is that a highly significant improvement, but Michael Gorra's introductory essay might just be the best short discussion of Conrad and his work ever to see print. Among other good things, it strikes a perfect balance between aesthetic and political considerations, doing full justice to both sides of the coin (Gorra's comparison of Conrad to Cézanne was so startlingly apposite that it took my breath away). Even if everything in this seven-hundred-page volume is already on your bookshelf--as well it should be--you owe it to yourself to read Gorra's essay, which can also be found here. It's a model of lucidity and concision (TT).
The Friends of Eddie Coyle (Criterion Collection, out May 19). Peter Yates' near-forgotten 1974 film version of George V. Higgins' harder-than-hardboiled novel about a washed-up small-time Boston hood has finally made it to DVD. Everything about this movie is memorable, but it's Robert Mitchum's performance in the title role that makes The Friends of Eddie Coyle a classic. One of the greatest film actors of the postwar era, Mitchum got even better as he got older, but only two or three the movies that he made in the last quarter-century of his life came close to tapping his immense potential. This is the best of them, a little masterpiece of disillusion that is more than worthy of the man who made Out of the Past, The Night of the Hunter, and Cape Fear (TT).
Bruce Boyd Raeburn, New Orleans Style and the Writing of American Jazz History (University of Michigan Press, $26.95 paper). A fascinating, exceptionally well-written study of the origins of American jazz criticism and scholarship, both of which turn out to be rooted in the emergence in the early Thirties of the idea of "authenticity" as a criterion for excellence in jazz. Raeburn, the curator of Tulane University's Hogan Jazz Archive, has probed deeply into the work of the enthusiastic amateur scholars who first sought to document the beginnings of jazz in New Orleans, and his thoughtful account of what they wrought is destined to become one of the standard works in the field (TT).
Out of the Past
Stewart O'Nan, Last Night at the Lobster. I don't know how this tough, no-nonsense 2007 novella about the closing of a suburban chain restaurant got past me, but now that I've finally caught up with it, Stewart O'Nan is going straight to the top of my catch-up list of contemporary novelists. At first glance there doesn't seem to be much to it, but before long you realize that you're reading a deeply serious moral tale whose protagonist, a Red Lobster manager whose marriage is in trouble, is one of the most memorable fictional characters to come to my attention in recent years. Short and wholly to the point, Last Night at the Lobster is a minor masterpiece (TT).
The Devil and Daniel Webster. William Dieterle's bracingly dark 1941 screen version of Stephen Vincent Benét's once-popular short story about a New England farmer who makes a Faustian bargain isn't exactly forgotten--the Criterion Collection released a deluxe version in 2003--but it's not nearly as well known as it ought to be. The cast, especially Walter Huston and Edward Arnold, is superb, and the atmospheric black-and-white cinematography borders on the miraculous. As for Bernard Herrmann's score, which won him his only Oscar, it's identical in quality to the music he wrote for Citizen Kane in the same year. If you missed this one on TCM the other day, pick up a copy of the DVD and revel in a first-class piece of work (TT).
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Terry Teachout on the arts in New York City
Andrew Taylor on the business of arts & culture
rock culture approximately
Rebuilding Gulf Culture after Katrina
Douglas McLennan's blog
Jan Herman - arts, media & culture with 'tude
Apollinaire Scherr talks about dance
Tobi Tobias on dance et al...
Martha Bayles on Film...
Drew McManus on orchestra management
Greg Sandow performs a book-in-progress
Exploring Orchestras w/ Henry Fogel
Kyle Gann on music after the fact
Greg Sandow on the future of Classical Music
Doug Ramsey on Jazz and other matters...
Jerome Weeks on Books
John Perreault's art diary
Lee Rosenbaum's Cultural Commentary
Tyler Green's modern & contemporary art blog
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Archive 5830 entries and counting
A list of new things we've liked (subject to unexpected and wildly capricious updating).
Not new, but still worth a look or listen (and no less subject to change without notice).