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Have You Been Too Busy to Think About Your Life?

VanDerBeek's Breathdeath, 1963 (16mm transferred to DVD).

In the past weeks, on either side of Bissonnet Street in Houston’s museum district, there’s been a striking contrast in human presence and absence. The joyous Stan VanDerBeek retrospective at the Contemporary Arts Museum Houston, co-curated by Bill Arning and João Ribas, is full of images of people. The Charles LeDray show at the Museum of Fine Arts Houston, workworkworkworkwork, feels more like a ghost town. Or perhaps, a set of spaces still … [Read more...]

Preliminary data, first experiments

Principal Jun Shuang Huang and  soloist Katharine Precourt with Houston Ballet II, inagural performance, Margaret Alkek Williams Dance Lab during grand opening for public on April 9, 2011. Photo: Jim Caldwell

Now mostly settled in their stellar downtown Dance Center on Preston Street, on Sunday evening artists of Houston Ballet gave a private showing of their Choreographic Workshop 2011 in the Margaret Alkek Williams Dance Lab. This isn't a laboratory per se, but what looks more like a black-box theater to the average eye. The "preliminary data" from these first experiments demonstrate that there are more than a few young people in the company with … [Read more...]

Language taxed by war: Gittoes, Glass and Ginsberg

from left to right, Rawanda Kibeho, Rawanda Maconde, Shit, Blood and Tears, 1997, oil on canvas

“Now and then, from the deep, hidden river of life, great spirits in human form are thrown up,” Henry Miller wrote in 1956.  “Like semaphores in the night they warn of danger ahead,” he continues. The phrase is from The Time of Assassins and refers to the French poet Arthur Rimbaud. On a hot Sunday afternoon I had this particular book, along with my journal, tucked under my arm when I returned to Houston’s Station Museum of Contemporary Art … [Read more...]

The Appealing Vulnerability of Daniel Adame

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When I moved to Houston, I had to learn about the plants. I understood nothing of the humid sub-tropical environment or the strange soil. After several failed attempts in the dense clay of my patio garden, I turned to Equisetum hyemale, or “horsetail” reeds, which seem now to be thriving. I like watching things grow, and these reeds spread in a curious manner. The primary plants send their roots traveling until a barrier is encountered, and … [Read more...]

One Tibetan Thing, Reproduced

Standing Before Darkness

Seven years ago in Toronto, at a Kalachakra initiation given by H.H. The 14th Dalai Lama, I saw secular Tibetan dancing for the first time. Of course, I saw much “devotional” dancing there as well, if that’s the right term.   The preparations for this important Buddhist ritual require at least a week of effort from hundreds of people. In addition to creating an intricate sand mandala, the lamas perform Dance of the Earth, which pacifies … [Read more...]

Dallas After Callas

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It was early December 1957, only a few days after the legendary Maria Callas made her Dallas debut. TIME magazine reported, “As of today, Dallas is on the map as an opera town along with New York, San Francisco and Chicago.”  I wonder, though, if today any of those cities could hold a candle to what’s going on here in northern Texas. I'm fully aware of the audacity of that statement, and I know what you're thinking. The best American opera … [Read more...]

à la recherche d’une musique perdue

Ives Notes

Every so often, a pianist comes along who changes my life. This happened in D.C., when I listened to Peter Serkin juxtapose Beethoven and Stefan Wolpe. It happened one night in a faded Victorian living room in Hartford, when Edmund Niemann played John Adams' Phrygian Gates, only a few years after the piece had premiered in San Francisco. It certainly was the case for me when Barenboim played the late Beethoven sonatas. And it happened again last … [Read more...]

Watching Tone Poems in Houston

Image 05 - 1933-Paris-Flammarion-01-024 copy

Before moving to Houston, “Sound and Vision” suggested to me David Bowie’s flashy 1990 tour, the name taken from one of my favorite tracks on his legendary Low. But now the phrase reminds me more of Houston Symphony, with its ongoing “Sound Plus Vision” series. During the 24 years that I lived in Boston, I don’t recall ever seeing visual projections at Symphony Hall. I suppose it would have been unthinkable to that conservative crowd, … [Read more...]

Chanter, You Stay

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He says his music continues an American tradition “exemplified by artists such as Charles Ives and Bob Dylan.” I could hear influences of both in a seven-minute excerpt from his latest opera, Voir Dire, on a libretto by Jason Zencka. Friday, I predicted that Matthew Peterson would win this year’s Opera Vista Festival. Saturday, it was announced here in Houston that Peterson did, in fact, win the competition. Next year around this time, we’ll be … [Read more...]

Tonight: Opera Vista Festival Finals

Opera_Vista_semi-finals_2500_350w_263h

It seemed inevitable that my love of television “reality” competitions would cross with my fascination in opera, but I had no idea this would happen in Texas. If you want to know what’s going on in contemporary opera today (and I mean that literally), you need to be here in Houston. The thrilling Opera Vista Festival introduced six composers of new operas on Wednesday, and based on audience response to brief performances, two have already been … [Read more...]

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