October 22, 2020

Genius & Anxiety by Norman Lebrecht

This has certainly been a time for book-lovers to get immersed in history and large novels. While some book reviewers have suggested picking up War and Peace or One Hundred Years of Solitude, I chose books to learn more about Jewish and Irish history.

Norman Lebrecht has written a jam-packed history book entitled Genius & Anxiety – How Jews Changed the World, 1847 – 1947. Freud influenced how we view sex and psychology. Einstein pioneered concepts of time and physics. Marx mapped out the elements of communism versus capitalism. Kafka and Proust changed how we view literature. Sarah Bernhardt revolutionized acting and celebrity.

Less well-known people also contributed to our modern world. Karl Landsteiner helped make blood transfusions and major surgery a reality. Paul Ehrlich helped formulate chemotherapy. Rosalind Franklin paved the way for genetic science. Siegfried Marcus may have created the first motor car.

Lebrecht frequently writes about music so there is ample mention of seminal composers like Mendelssohn in the 19th century and Kurt Weill and Leonard Bernstein in the 20th. He highlights Korngold and Eisler on the West coast and Leonard Bernstein in the east. In truth, what would Hollywood or Broadway look and sound like without Jewish creativity? Name three famous American composers and one reels off George Gershwin, Aaron Copland and Bernstein.

The book’s brilliance is particularly in Lebrecht’s description of what was happening in the world as he profiles these creative people. Industrialization, the World Wars, the Russian Revolution, the rise of the Nazis, the McCarthy era, the creation of the state of Israel, all figure into this expansive canvas. Lebrecht does not argue that Jews are genetically smarter and more talented than others but that they have a strong tradition of culture and education. Historically being outsiders may have also caused them to think “out of the box” and push new ideas in everything from science, politics, business and the arts.

Genius & Anxiety is the type of book you could either absorbingly read cover to cover, or skip around in, according to your tastes.

Eric Whitacre: Rock star of the choral world

Online recordings are all the rage now, but here are a couple of works by Nevada native, composer, speaker, choral conductor and handsome dude, Eric Whitacre.

A young girl sent him a video of her singing one his his choral compositions. He hit upon the idea of having multiple singers send in recorded choral parts and assembling them into virtual choir performances.

Enjoy these two clips.

Lux Aurumque by Eric Whitacre – 2009
Poem by Edward Esch
185 voices; 12 countries; 243 tracks.

Sleep by Eric Whitacre – 2010
Over 2,000 videos from 58 countries.

Interesting to note that as a teenager, Whitacre had been in a rock band, but could not read music when he started undergraduate study at the University of Las Vegas, Nevada. He persevered to graduate with a degree in Music Composition.

His body of work to date includes choral works, orchestral pieces, a musical and music for film and television.

Van Gogh, Starry Night Art Experience in Paris

After two different ex-pats in Europe urged me to catch the Van Gogh, Starry Night art exhibit in Paris, I took notice. This was indeed no ordinary art exposition, but an Art Music Immersive Experience at the Atelier des Lumieres in the 11th arrondissement near the Père Lachaise Cemetery.

L’Atelier des Lumieres, the first digital center for art in Paris, opened in 2018 with a show featuring the work of Gustav Klimt. Would that I had a time machine to catch that show now. Bing images will have to suffice.

The current show featuring Vincent Van Gogh’s work is an otherworldly mix of his painted images from faces, to furniture, to landscapes to the famous starry night painting. Van Gogh’s brush strokes are almost palpable; his handwriting is even scrolled across the 140 video projectors throughout the former iron foundry.

An incredible sound system surrounds you in music of various types while you soak up the Van Gogh images. The soundtrack includes Janis Joplin, Nina Simone, Maria Callas, Miles Davis, Die Moldau by Smetana and an eerie version of Mozart’s Piano Concerto in C Major. However disparate the musical pieces are, they all seem to complement the enchanting visuals.

Some people choose to sit or stand in one area while viewing the multi-media presentation while others meander through the industrial space. There is a mosaic lined water pool on view below the main floor, a balcony and two additional viewing rooms, one round, the other glass or mirror-lined.

Two shorter eye-popping films play between the periodic Van Gogh program, Dreamed Japan, Images of the Floating World and Verse by Thomas Vanz but the real draw is Van Gogh, Starry Night (La Nuit Étoilée). The Atelier des Lumieres site recommends to plan for an hour in the space.

If you or someone you know is going to be in Paris through Dec. 31, 2019, please suggest they catch this impressive art and music experience. Admission may not be purchased at the venue, so order your tickets on-line. 14.5 Euros per adult and well worth it.

The official site: https://www.atelier-lumieres.com/en/van-gogh-starry-night

If you can’t attend, here are Bing images from the Van Gogh show:

https://www.bing.com/images/search?q=van+gogh+exhibit+paris+2019&id=D0FAA86B1F68580C3D995F75F91BB7BE1E83B1B4&FORM=IQFRBA

Flats and Sharps Music Stores

Remember the days when you could go to the downtown loop and find sheet music stores where you could actually peruse the current hits and Broadway shows?

Thank heavens for the few music stores that still carry a selection of piano, vocal and instrumental sheet music. Flats and Sharps in Rogers Park with a second store in Norwood Park carries a good selection of sheet music, instruments and musical accessories.

They also have music lessons and host open mikes and other concerts. If only every neighborhood had a musical nexus like Flats and Sharps.

A while back, I was looking for the sheet music purveyor, Coulson’s, which used to be near the 410 S. Michigan Avenue Building and was told it had moved. A Google search informed me that they now have a store on the 6th level of the 900 N. Michigan Avenue Building. The next time I pop in Bloomingdale’s, I plan to check out Coulson’s selection of sheet music.

I know that almost all sheet music is available on-line, but there’s nothing like going into a music store and seeing the classical, pop, Broadway and rock tunes on display. The real treat is when the clerk actually can recommend their favorite new show, the best beginning adult piano book or the new Leonard Cohen songbook that just came out. Brick, mortar, personal attention and music! I’m there.

http://www.flattsandsharpe.com/

https://coulsonssheetmusic.com/

An American In Paris at the Oriental Theater

I had heard about this charming musical ever since it premiered on Broadway to great acclaim in 2015, so it was with great anticipation that I caught this national tour version of An American In Paris.

The production has several things going for it. Ballet sequences are breath-taking as conceived by director/choreographer Christopher Wheeldon.  George Gershwin’s music provides the lush soundtrack for the whole show. Not only do we hear permutations of his famous An American In Paris orchestral work, but we are treated to portions of his classical Second Prelude, his Concerto in F, his Second Rhapsody and his Cuban Overture. Beloved songs like I Got Rhythm and The Man I Love are sung by cast members, but lesser known tunes like Fidgety Feet, Who Cares and Liza shed new light on Gershwin’s song catalogue.
The technical aspects of the show dazzle with creative use of screen images on the electronic back drop and moving screens. Parisian buildings, paintings and other famous sights delight the eye throughout the show. A recurring view of the river Seine is most amusing as two boats are depicted by different artistic techniques.

The plot harkens back to the basic romantic formula found in black and white movies. Three men who are friends are all in love with the same ballerina. Boy and boy and boy meet girl. Only one boy gets girl.

The action takes place in Paris right after World War II in 1945 so the frothy doings are sprinkled with references to the German Occupation, the Resistance, and the Holocaust making this a work of both light and dark.

For me the orchestral music, the dance sequences, the stage images and Craig Lucas’ snappy dialogue outshine the singing, but this is a quibble when the over-all effect of the production is to know that one has spent a delightful evening at the theater.  Broadway In Chicago will be running An American In Paris at the Oriental Theater through August 13, 2017.

http://www.broadwayinchicago.com/show/an-american-in-paris/

GNOD – The Global Network of Discovery

I happened upon a site with the acronym gnod, quite by accident, while looking for authors similar to crime writers Donna Leon and Henning Mankell. Created by Marek Gibney in Hamburg, Germany, the Global Network of Discovery (gnod) features word maps to discover authors related to what you already like.

Not only can you look up networks of authors, but you can also fill out brief questionnaires that help the site learn more about people’s literary choices. The user is queried about whether you know, like or dislike a particular author.

The site also has sections on music, art, movies, and electronic products. In truth, the electronics portion seems to be the site’s commercial raison d’être, but this shouldn’t dampen your enjoyment of the rest of the site when you are looking for new authors, composers, films, and artists.

http://www.gnod.com/