Caught in the Act

Tanglewood: The Music Mecca of Western Mass.

By Jared Bowen   |   Friday, August 24, 2012
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August 24, 2012

It took a determined Russian, an insatiable audience and one very fierce storm to create the New England music festival that now ranks among the world’s greatest. Located in the foothills of the Berkshires of Western Massachusetts, the site's vistas are sublime, the pace is a slow tempo and there is literally music in the breeze. For 75 years, this has been the home of Tanglewood, America’s summer musical oasis.
“To be able to come here in the summer and hear the crickets at night and the wind in the trees during the day and think about music is a dream,” says laureate conductor and famed composer John Williams.
During the summer of 2012, Tanglewood celebrates its 75th anniversary and a legacy that has evolved from a simple summer music festival into what Williams calls “the spiritual home of music in America.” 
“It is a precious spot in our country.  It is one of those magical places where you can come sit….and music one is writing is more than conducive. It’s very, very helpful,” Williams said.
Tanglewood was created in 1937 by Boston Symphony Orchestra music director Serge Koussevitzky. It was composed out of a promise and a problem, says BSO managing director Mark Volpe.
Koussevitzky "wanted a place to train the next generation of musicians," Volpe explains. "Another reason for Tanglewood is much more pragmatic. You had this orchestra which at that point was very gender-specific (it was all men), and the men would all go back to Europe because they were almost all European. Then they’d meet a fraulein and they wouldn’t come back, so you never knew in October what orchestra you’d have." So Koussevitzky wanted a way to employ the musicians year-round so he could keep and build an orchestra.
So Koussevitzky made Lenox, Mass., the BSO’s summer home. It had already been a literary retreat for writers like Hawthorne and Melville, and on that first summer season, well-heeled concert-goers were bowled over — almost literally.
“We had a tent up here and the tent got blown away by a big storm and hence within a few months they raised enough money to build a shed,” Volpe says.
The Shed, as it’s affectionately known is the centerpiece of the Tanglewood campus today, a complex that features stately homes, rehearsal “huts” and the majestic Ozawa Hall. But the Shed is where hundreds of thousands of people settle into seats or on the sprawling lawn every summer — as drawn to the place as to the staggering array of international artists who’ve insisted they appear here for 75 years, says Boston Pops conductor Keith Lockhart.
“From the very first couple of years when Koussevitzky was here and young people by the name of Copeland and Bernstein were studying with him, it really has become something beyond a music institute where people come and hear a bunch of concerts. It stands for an approach to music that’s grounded in a place of great natural beauty that is away from the rapid-fire way in which our urban lives tend to work,” Lockhart says.
“I do walk the grounds often,” says Williams. “Since I’m writing music, I’m sitting down all the time, and to get up and walk for an hour or so everyday is something that I’ve found is essential for me.”
Many of Williams’ historic Hollywood scores were composed at least in part on the campus. It is also fertile ground for young 20-something musicians who train and perform here each summer as part of the Tanglewood Music Center, a prestigious fellowship organization directed by Ellen Highstein and founded by Koussevitzky.
“There’s something to be said for the fact that if you have people who are really excellent and really devoted, something will continue. They’ll make it continue because they have to express it,” Highstein says.
“The best of what we are you can see in [the young musicians],” says Williams. “And the best of what we can become we see in these kids that come here and study. They have the same idealism in them.”
Tanglewood truly is its own symphony: a blend of dreams and conviction, of talent and beauty. It is an American music mecca whose pilgrims and preachers are unwavering.

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PEM Curator of Chinese Art Moves to MFA

By Jared Bowen   |   Friday, August 10, 2012
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August 10, 2012
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Dr. Nancy Berliner (MFA)

In museum circles this is pretty big. Not "I-found-a-da Vinci-behind-the-furnace" big, but a major change in the art world, nonetheless. Dr. Nancy Berliner, curator of Chinese Art at the Peabody Essex Museum and an absolute treasure herself, today was named the new Curator of Chinese Art a the Museum of Fine Arts.

At PEM, where she'd held the same position since 2000, Berliner was the force behind the aquisition of the Yin Yu Tang House, moved from a Chinese village to the museum where it now resides, just off the courtyard. Even more striking was her 2010 exhibition, The Emperor's Private Paradise: Treasures from the Forbidden City. Regarded with high esteem by the Chinese government for her scholarly work, she was given the unprecedented opportunity of curating a show of Forbidden City artifacts and was allowed to exhibit them outside of China for the first time ever. It was on view here before going to the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York and it would not have happened without her.

It is monumental then, that Berliner is moving over to the MFA and leaving a tremendous legacy at PEM.  It's also very interesting in light of the fact that PEM disclosed last fall that its ongoing capital campaign had already brought in $550 million. That is considerably more than the $504 million the MFA netted with the close of its own capital campaign in 2008. Stakes are high and the quest for talent seems to be getting a little bruising.

Read the piece about finding art in surprising places that Berliner contributed to our Go Straight to the Art page earlier this summer:

"I have walked into humble houses in remote Chinese villages and seen dynamically-composed patchwork bed covers and door curtains made from old clothes by the women of the house. I’ve blown away dust in the Forbidden City to reveal intricately inlaid mother-of-pearl patterning in black lacquer." Read more....

Arts Weekend Rundown: Big Dreams

By Jared Bowen   |   Thursday, August 9, 2012
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August 9, 2012

BOSTON —  A variety of arts on exhibit this week make us take notice of what it means to follow a dream, from the hard work to make it onto the stage, to quiet reflection, to dealing with the aftermath of dreams that are crushed

billy eliotBilly Elliot
Plays at the Boston Opera House through August 19

Set in a small town, the story follows Billy as he stumbles out of the boxing ring and into a ballet class, discovering a surprising passion that inspires his family and his whole community. With the creative input of Tony-winning legends director Stephen Daldry, choreographer Peter Darling and writer Lee Hall, and with music by Elton John, Billy Elliot will enchant the dreamer in all of us.

ansel adamsAnsel Adams: At the water's edge
On view at the Peabody Essex Museum through October 8

Ansel Adams' appreciation for water was never far from the surface. He was drawn to the subject in all its forms, from rain, fog, mist and clouds to crashing waves and waterfalls. At the Water's Edge combines famous images with extraordinary but lesser-known examples, expanding knowledge of Adams' work and building appreciation for the artist as an important and innovative modernist.

>>See Jared's interview at the Peabody Essex Museum.

potteryThe 79th Annual Craftsmen’s Fair
On view at the Mount Sunapee Resort (Sunapee, NH)
through August 12th

The Annual League of NH Craftsmen’s Fair is a nine-day event that showcases the work of more than 350 craftspeople’s items made by hand. Meet and talk to the craftsmen, learn about their techniques, and purchase from them. Find creative and practical gifts at over 200 craft booths and The Shop at the Fair. Do-it-yourselfers (adults and children) can sign up for workshops -- including basket weaving, tools for kids, and glassblowing -- and make their own handmade treasures.

queenQueen of Versailles
Now playing in area theaters

Filmmaker Lauren Greenfield shows us the construction of the biggest house in America, inspired by Versailles, and documents the life of a billionaire family and their financial challenges in the wake of the economic crisis. With the epic dimensions of a Shakespearean tragedy, The Queen of Versailles follows billionaires Jackie and David's rags-to-riches story to uncover the innate virtues and flaws of the American dream.

Artists for Humanity Opens in Faneuil Hall

By Jared Bowen   |   Thursday, August 9, 2012
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August 9, 2012

BOSTON — Quincy Market is a maelstrom of Massachusetts merchandise.  But make your way past all the Red Sox caps, stuffed baked beans and lobster tchotchkes and you’ll find a brilliant little boutique oasis in the corner of historic Faneuil Hall.  It’s Artists for Humanity—The Store featuring merchandise designed by teenagers. Very clever ones.
For 21 years now, Artists for Humanity has employed teenagers to make art. Roughly 225 students from Boston neighborhoods annually make their way into AFH’s Fort Point channel headquarters named the EpiCenter to find their muse and mine undiscovered talents in seven artistic media including painting, sculpture and video production. This is not just a fluffy confidence-building exercise. AFH’s professional artists, teachers and mentors guide kids into creating art they sell. And not just to proud parents—major Boston corporations and banks have commissioned AFH works.  Now the enterprise is expanding with their very own store featuring T-shirts, mugs, tote bags, buttons, water bottles and more sporting student designs.
“We didn’t want this to be like all the other stores,” says AFH Marketing Director Rich Frank. It’s not. Wicked populah now is a red T-shirt featuring a Tim Burton-esque Boston Terrier with a very Boston bark. Proceeds go to AFH, the teen designer receives royalties and with Holliston-based souvenir chain Color Inc. generously providing the retail space, the non-profit’s overhead is nil.
Artist for Humanity’s reach is jaw-dropping. Architectural Digest magazine twice commissioned the group to create its signature tables featuring recycled materials for AD events. That led Neiman Marcus to commission tables for a new California store and that led Newton-based shoe company Clarks to order up tables and stools made of old catalogs for an upcoming convention.
AFH alum Kershner Williams, who splits his time between The Store and mentoring at the EpiCenter, is all about the business. The students “are going to create something that someone’s always going to see,” he says. “They need to focus on that because once they put that together, they’re selling their story.”
It certainly beats a paper route.

Ansel Adams Water Photos at PEM

By Jared Bowen   |   Tuesday, August 7, 2012
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August 6, 2012

BOSTON — The summer show at the Peabody Essex Museum is an exhibition of Ansel Adams photography. It’s the legendary photographer’s work as you’ve never seen it before.
We can be reasonably excused for thinking we’re all too familiar with the often over-exposed Ansel Adams. But in its new show Ansel Adams: At the Water’s Edge, Phillip Prodger, Curator of Photography at the Peabody Essex Museum shows us reasons to reconsider.
“There are pictures of water that are almost violent, the muscular energy of some of these pictures of cascades tumbling over waterfalls, swelling with water. Then there are other moments that are more meditative or contemplative, a little more withdrawn.”
In a riveting show, Prodger wades into Adams’ lifelong relationship with water—going all the way back to the beginning—when the seaside San Francisco native was lured by the landscape at age 13.
“His first memories were hearing the slapping of the waves on the sand and smelling the salt air. So something that was very deeply engrained in him. And as our exhibition shows, it is something that he carried with him throughout his career, ” Prodger said.
Adams had a lifelong romance with nature, including recurring dalliances throughout New England and especially Cape Cod. At the onset though, Adams’ work was radical. It was the 1920s and Adams had no allegiance to Victorian tradition.
“Those pictures tend to be very nostalgic, soft focus. Often the pictures are very colorful, deep sepia color often in the prints. Ansel did away with all that,” Prodger said.  “He was part of a generation that felt things in a picture should be sharp focus, the things in the picture should be neutral black and white and really created a sort of unconventional, confrontational and direct style of photography that we now know and love so well.”
What’s more, he challenged himself—especially with water.
“With a waterfall or a raging rapid or crashing waves on a shore, you never know exactly what you’re going to get. Ansel didn’t know exactly what he was going to get. So I think it was more of the virtuosity of anticipating the scene before it happened, and of knowing where to be finding the right place and right time to fire the shot,” Prodger said.
The show frequently reminds us that photography we might easily take for granted today was staggeringly complicated for Adams. In 1953, he invented the developing process for these 10 by 12 foot murals.
“He had to stitch together three different sheets of paper because the commercial papers available then didn’t reach that scale. So it was really a technical feet. Shooting across the room, on three separate sheets of paper, developing them rolled up in troughs mounting them together perfectly so you couldn’t see the seams, they’re really something special,” Prodger said.
Always versatile, Adams worked with an array of formats and equipment. Consistent, though, was the emotion he brought to his work and hoped would be conveyed in return.
“When Ansel took a picture of, say, a waterfall, if he was happy or sad or full of energy or was dragging that day, he hoped that an element of his experience of that scene would enter into that picture. And then he further hoped that later on when we looked at it, we would get some of that feeling back out of it,” Prodger said.
And what we get from this show is a refreshing look at a legendary photography we only thought we fully knew.

Cirque's Giant Tribute to Michael Jackson

By Jared Bowen   |   Friday, August 3, 2012
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August 3, 2012

BOSTON — The biggest traveling show in the world rolls into Boston this weekend. Jared Bowen dances his way into Cirque du Soleil’s new Michael Jackson extravaganza.
Michael Jackson was the king of Pop and pomp. Cirque du Soleil relishes going over the top in the big top. Imagine then, the spectacle as Cirque takes on Jackson in its new stadium show, Michael Jackson: The Immortal World Tour.
“It’s MJ rock concert meets the circus,” said Cirque dancer Shondra Leigh.  “You get the best of both worlds. You get the flying and the acrobats and the cool costumes and the elaborate props and screens and everything but you also get the true MJ feel. You hear the music, you hear his voice”
Shondra Leigh is dancing in the show which mines the late singer’s genius—transposing his music with Cirque du Soleil’s own vocabulary of movement. Jackson’s influence though, prevails.
“[Michael Jackson’s choreography] is like a style of its own, it’s the same as ballet, tap, jazz, and then there’s MJ. It’s actually a form. It’s a thing you have to study, you have to master it and you know, there’s something oozy about it, it’s so smooth and sexy and crisp and so many things,” Leigh said.
It’s people with far greater talent than me who worked with many of Jackson’s colleagues and family to craft a show that nails the performer’s perspective. Many of them work inthe show.
“It’s completely changed my life, actually, in a lot of ways. It changed my perception because I got to learn more about it from a deeper root because we are so fortunate to have worked with people who directly worked with him, ” said Leigh;
The show is literally the biggest in the world right now says Artistic Director Tara Young.
“That’s largely due to our set and our human beings that are here. We have 35 trucks, which is the biggest arena show actually by… I don’t know really, by 10 trucks. We’ve broken records. We were the biggest show Madison Square Garden ever saw.”
Big show, big props from light up coffins used in Thriller, of course, to giant children.
Brian Blumeyer, Head of Props, shows me some items that make the show pop.
 “This is our boy in the moon. He’s one of the m any props we have in the show. When we’re in the show we have a performer who actually gets in this thing, we roll him out on stage, we hook it up and we float it about 30 feet above the stage. And he’s in here basically manipulating, he can make the head spin and there are rods in the hands so he can manipulate the hands and arms. He’s behind a giant screen, it’s very life-like, eerie,” Blumeyer said.
There are thousands of costumes in the show—from dark to light.
“As you can see we can do quite a bit with them. This is not just a test mode for my technician to repair them and see what needs to be done on them,” Blumeyer added.
This is all very much the essence of Michael Jackson in a show that indeed ensures he remain immortal.
“Seeing it through [Jackson’s] brother’s eyes and his children, they are incredibly proud. To watch them see this show from the front row and they’ve seen it a few times, its absolutely heartbreaking,” Young said.

About the Author
Jared Bowen Jared Bowen
Jared Bowen is WGBH’s Emmy Award-winning Executive Editor and Host for Arts. 


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