Thursday, July 25, 2013

Artists wanted to exhibit works in Romare Bearden Park

Hey artists! 

The Mecklenburg County Parks and Recreation department is taking applications from artists who wish to exhibit their work at the Romare Bearden Park grand opening.

The park, named for the Charlotte artist, will have its grand opening from Aug 30-Sept. 1 on S. Church St. 

Artists can download applications here.

The Mint Museum Uptown will give tours of its permanent Bearden gallery for free during the park's opening weekend.

Monday, July 22, 2013

Jazz at the Bechtler adds shows

The jazz series at the Bechtler Museum of Modern Art will now present each act twice due to popularity and sold-out shows.

Beginning August 2, each Bechtler jazz event will include two concerts--one at 6 p.m. and one at 8:15 p.m. Doors open 30 minutes before the shows begin.

The last show in this series, featuring Maria Howell, sold out several days before the concert. I was going to blog about it, but felt it would be cruel to provide info for a show you couldn't attend.

August 2 will feature the Ziad Jazz Quartet playing Latin jazz. See the rest of the series outlined here.

Tickets are free for museum members, though they should reserve tickets; $12 for non-memebers. You can purchase or reserve tickets here, or call 704-353-9200.

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Tour de Disappointment

I've been looking forward to 2013 for years. Because two of my favorite things celebrate their centennial this summer-- the Tour de France and Stravinsky's ballet "The Rite of Spring"--I have (moronically) been referring to 2013 as my "year of destiny" for about five years in anticipation. Surely their convergence would mean good things for me.

It's been a great year in many respects, but the actual Tour de France and "The Rite of Spring" have been real let downs. Here's why The Rite was disappointing, but let's focus on the Tour.

This is going to require a little Tour de France 101; if you're a rabid fan like me, you can skip this paragraph. The Tour consists of 21 daily stages in which 9-person teams compete for various wins: stage wins (whoever crosses the finish line first that day); General Classification leader (whoever has the shortest time overall, marked by the yellow jersey); and other titles like "King of the Mountain" (best climber: polka-dotted jersey), best young rider (white jersey, awarded through points system to best under 25), and best sprinter (green jersey, also awarded through points system). The jerseys trade hands throughout the three weeks depending on who leads the competition, and the final winner is named in Paris on the last day.

On Sunday, Chris Froome, who had already been wearing the yellow jersey for about a week, beat everybody up the lunar-looking Mont Ventoux, one of the toughest climbs in Tour history. He easily pulled away from his only contender that day, a 23-year-old Colombian rider (Nairo Quintana) who had an 8-mile climb to school every day as a child.

Scenes like this are why you watch the Tour, this is how sports stars become heroes. Or it was until cycling's elaborate doping scandal mutilated the infinitesimal  amount of support the sport received from Americans (it's not all Lance's fault, but you can blame him for all I care, I never liked the guy). After watching guys shoot away from their rivals on mountain passes as if shot out of a cannon, and then learning they had a positive drug test, it seems remiss not to question poor Froome. He's been more than civil with reporters who repeatedly ask him if he's a doper, but his patience is running thin. Who can blame him? He won the hardest stage of the Tour in its centennial year, and all anybody wants to talk about are the sins of past riders.

His heroism seems even less believable after he won the time trial Wednesday. You mean he's the best climber and the best time trialist in the group?

I don't want to think things like that, but spectators have two choices: they can join the camp of naivete or the camp of cynicism. Both feel awful. I find myself withdrawn and neutral, unable to amp up my usual excitement. For the record, that feels awful, too.

The competition isn't disappointing, but the preservative hesitancy to feel anything for it certainly is. Let's hope time heals the wounds. And that Froome is telling the truth.

Sunday, July 14, 2013

A new kind of CSA: Community Supported Art

Charlotte's arts community is taking a page from local farmers.

Like the idea of community-supported agriculture (CSA), where people buy shares of farmers' produce and periodically receive a box of what they harvest, the Arts & Science Council has announced that they'll have community-supported art.

Same model, different yield: replace farmers with artists and produce with artwork.

Here's how it works: the ASC commissioned 9 artists to create 50 pieces of limited edition artwork. The work will be wrapped and distributed to "share holders" at three events in September, October and November.

You could get a variety of things: photographic prints, sculptures, line drawings, tea cups, a painting.

“One of the things that makes a program like this so exciting is the mystery,” said Katherine Mooring, the ASC's vice president of cultural and community investment. “You don’t know what’s going to come in your share until you open it. Not only are you getting unique work from amazing local artists, but it’s a great way to expand your creative palate.”

Shares can be purchased beginning at 10 a.m. on July 30 through for $400. Only 50 shares will be available, and each shareholder will get a box of artwork at each of the three pick-up events.

The nine commissioned artists are: Elisa Berry Fonseca, wire sculpture; Caroline Brown, mixed media painting; Sharon Dowell, mixed media painting; Rose Hawley, fused glass; Rebecca Haworth, mixed media painting; Tomoo Kitamura, ceramics; Alex McKenzie, conceptual drawings; Jeff Murphy, digital art, photography; and Verna Witt, ceramics.

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Aggregation Transformation: an installation

Beginning on July 12, UNC Charlotte will display a collaborative installation called "Aggregation Transformation" created by four faculty members at the College of Arts + Architecture: Ryan Buyssens, Kelly Carlson-Reddig, Heather Freeman and Eric Waterkotte. The installation will be displayed in the college's Projective Eye Gallery.

There will be an opening reception at 6 p.m. on Friday. The installation will remain up through Sept. 13.

The 20-foot work will include steel wire, bands, all covered with a mesh "skin" of sorts, creating a "vertical terrain." The installation also incorporates projections, animations, sculpture, robotics and print.

Eric Waterkotte and Kelly Carlson-Reddig create "Aggregation Transformation," on view at UNC Charlotte's Projective Eye Gallery, July 12-Sept. 13.

Monday, July 8, 2013

Music for a rainy day...or days

If you're like me, you're getting tired of the seemingly unending rain. Do we live in Seattle or Charlotte?

I started digging around for some rain-related music, and there's a song for every raindrop Charlotte has seen in the last month. Here's a jumping off point for a larger playlist, or the "Best Of: 1970s Edition:"

"Ain't No Sunshine When She's Gone" by Bill Withers

"Buckets of Rain" by Bob Dylan

"Riders on the Storm" by The Doors

"Who'll Stop the Rain" by Creedence Clearwater Revival

"Rainy Days and Mondays" by The Carpenters

Friday, July 5, 2013

Book by Gastonian wins national prize

Gastonia artist Lore Spivey won first place at the Focus on Book Arts conference in Forest Grove, Ore. with her book, "13." 
"13" looks at the year 2013 (The Year of the Snake) and the spectrum of cultural beliefs and superstitions that surround the sometimes  lucky, sometimes unlucky number. 

Spivey won this award at the June 25-30 conference. To see photos of the interior and other books she has created, visit her website.
Spivey teaches theater at Forestview High School.
“I am very pleased and gratified to be chosen by the Focus On Book Arts Conference for this honor," she said. "It is nice to be recognized outside my local area."

Wednesday, July 3, 2013

A dissonant and wonky "America"

No doubt this Fourth of July will bring "America," or "My Country Tis of Thee," as it's more commonly called, to your ears. You may not get a chance to hear what I consider its greatest rendering, though, unless you plan to spend some time in the presence of a pipe organ, which, admittedly, isn't the setting most of us imagine for our country's birthday.

American composer Charles Ives' work "Variations on America" presents the patriotic tune in a range of ways, some playful, some jubilant, some sarcastic, some dismal. As a person who experiences a wide spectrum of feelings and thoughts about my country, I find this version of patriotic music much more accommodating--it's less dependent on my good opinion and pride; it allows me to acknowledge the positives without feeling fake for ignoring the negatives.

You've got to listen. I know the video is nine minutes long, but start it and listen while you ice your American flag cake.

"Variations on America" by Charles Ives (1874-1954)

Monday, July 1, 2013

Summer Pops in the park this week

Any symphony's Fourth of July concert is always a crowd pleaser. The Charlotte Symphony Orchestra's 2013 offering includes all the favorites as well as some appropriate pieces that won't necessarily be heard around the country this week. Here's the line up:

SMITH/Ochoa "Star-Spangled Banner"
BAGLEY "National Emblem March"
TRADITIONAL "Armed Forces March"
COPLAND "Lincoln Portrait"
HANDY/Wendel "St. Louis Blues"
ELLINGTON/Hermann "Duke Ellington Fantasy"
VARIOUS/Wendel "Back to the Fifties"
SOUSA "Liberty Bell March"
D'ANGELO "America the Beautiful"
TCHAIKOVSKY "1812 Overture"
BERLIN/Ades "God Bless America" 

This concert will be heard at 8:15 p.m. at Village Park (8th St. Greenway) in Kannapolis on Tuesday for free; and again at the same time Wednesday at Symphony Park (4400 Sharon Rd., behind SouthPark Mall) in Charlotte. Tickets are $10 for adults and free for children under 18 for the Symphony Park concert.

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

High school students' self portraits, inspired by Giacometti

Mallard Creek High School students visited the Bechtler Museum of Modern Art's "Giacometti: Memory and Presence" exhibit in January, looking for inspiration. 

The product--the students' self portraits in Giacometti's style--are hanging in the Ross Gallery at CPCC (Overcash Building, 1206 Elizabeth Ave.) through Aug. 5. There will be an opening reception today from 5:30-7 p.m.

Giacometti's spindly statues represent one of the go-to faces of modern art, though the Bechtler exhibit focused on the twentieth-century artist wholistically, including sculptures as well as paintings and drawings. 

Mallard Creek High School students work on self portraits inspired by modernist Alberto Giacometti.

Photos courtesy of Grace Cote.

Monday, June 24, 2013

New music in Charlotte

Today begins the second week of the Charlotte New Music Festival.

In its second year, this annual event provides composition and choreography students with two weeks of workshops, masterclasses, lectures and composition lessons with local, national and international composers and musicians.

Composition teachers include John Allemeier, Craig Bove, Armando Bayolo, Mark Engebretson, Ronald Parks and Lawrence Dillon.

A slew of guest musicians are also present to perform the new compositions.

Works produced in festival will be premiered at 8 p.m. on Thursday at St. Peter's Episcopal Church.

At 8 p.m. on Friday, a concert at Levine Properties (301 E. 9th St.) will present music written in a speedwriting challenge.

Saturday closes the festival with a presentation of the collaborative works. Music and dance pieces will be featured in the 8 p.m. concert, also at Levine Properties.

All concert tickets are $15. A full schedule of events is available in this document.

Thursday, June 20, 2013

Sum Art Show

At 7 p.m. on Friday, the Birdsong Brewing Company will host Sum Art Show--a summer-themed show featuring seven artists/designers. Many are from around here, but not everyone is local.

In case the date's significance eludes you, Friday is the summer solstice.

Artists include Cathleen Foley, Nick Irwin, KC Preslar, Dan Romanoski, Sam White, Karlie Winchell and Chris Cureton, who organized the event.

The evening is free and is scheduled to last until 1 a.m. You can learn more here.

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Charlotte cartoonist in final 3 on 'Strip Search'

In the end of April, The Charlotte Observer published an article about cartoonist Abby Howard, who grew up in Charlotte and is competing on "Strip Search," a reality game show for web cartoonists. At age 20, Howard is the youngest of a dozen cartoonist summoned to participate in the challenges.

Now, she is in the final trio of contestants. In the final challenge, Howard was required to create a brand new comic with six strips, three character bios and one t-shirt design. Tuesday night, the final episode of "Strip Search" airs, revealing the winner. You can tune in to at 7:30 p.m. PST to see if Howard will win $15,000 and a year in the Penny Arcade studios.

You can also check out Howard's personal web comic here.

Friday, June 14, 2013

ArtSí celebrates their tenth anniversary

This weekend, ArtSí opens their tenth-anniversary celebration with several events in Uptown.

ArtSí is Charlotte's arts community initative to support and connect Latino artists in Mecklenburg County. 

The celebration--called Con A de Arte (A is for Art) will begin at 9 p.m. on Saturday with a kickoff party as Cosmos Café. From 6-8 p.m. on Tuesday, there will be a literary night at the West Boulevard Charlotte Mecklenburg Library. A closing reception and awards ceremony will be held from 6-9 p.m. on Thursday at the Mint Museum Uptown. Here, featured artists will respond to the exhibition "Sociales: Débora Arango Arrives Today," on view at the Mint through this Sunday.

Award winners will be recognized at the final event. Recipients include Edwin Gil, Queens University of Charlotte, Rosie Molinary and Lucilla Ruvalcaba.

To learn more about these artists and events, visit

Thursday, June 13, 2013

Brevard Music Center 2013 season announcement

Having grown up just south of the North Carolina line, N.C. was always a special destination for my family--we only went as a treat, usually for good food or good music. Brevard Music Center's summer festival received many visits, and a file of my best memories include listening to an excellent orchestral or operatic performance in Brevard's open air auditorium as the summer storms hissed in the trees just a few feet away.
Between June 21 and August 4, Brevard will present orchestral, opera, wind ensemble, new music, chamber music and recital programs.
Opera productions include Franz Lehár's "The Merry Widow," Peter Brook’s "The Tragedy of Carmen," Verdi’s "Falstaff" and a new feature: Opera in a Box. Composer Michael Ching   will bring his work-in-progress and finish it with the help of Brevard's opera students and staff. 
The orchestra will play "Scheherazade," Tchaikovsky's symphonies nos. 5 and 6, the "Pines of Rome" and Schubert's "Unfinished Symphony," to name a few. Classical guitarist Celil Refik Kaya will join the orchestra to play Rodrigo's "Concierto de Aranuez." Conductors will include Keith Lockhart, JoAnn Falletta, Matthias Bamert, Jeff Tyzik, Grant Llewellyn and Ken Lam.
Additionally, Brevard puts on free events, pops concerts and pre-concert events, and on July 23, Garrison Keillor will host "A Prairie Home Companion" on their Radio Romance Tour.
To see a full list of festival events and ticket prices, visit

Sunday, June 9, 2013

Last week to connect

This is the last week McColl Center for Visual Art will house "Connectivity," an exhibit curated by Cynthia-Reeves Projects.

With a variety of traditional and unusual media, the pieces in "Connectivity" address interaction and intersection--how and why we connect. Learn more in this Q&A with the curator.

Whether it be John Grade's wood and resin sphere or Janet Echelman's colorful net sculpture, something on view will hold your attention.

The first pieces I saw when entering the repurposed church were created by Beth Ganz. Two large prints of vines hang beside each other, covered with wax paper painted with lines mimicking the vine directions. The black and white print juxtaposes the bright--sometimes neon--paint. I haven't worked out why the pieces resonated so strongly with me, but I have envisioned the wax and paint covering on every framed thing in my home.

Check it out. The show ends Saturday.

Wednesday, June 5, 2013

Classical musicians making fun of classical musicians

Last weekend, I had the extreme pleasure of attending a chamber music concert at Spoleto Festival USA. I attended each of the 11 concerts in the 2012 season and have looked forward to this season since the day it ended last year.

The programs are adventurous, the musicians are impeccable and spirited and Geoff Nuttall, the series director, earns the superlative of the best classical music presenter I have ever seen (I am more sure of this every time I see him). No one regards the music more highly than he, but he also displays great irreverence toward it, hitting on my favorite combination of qualities: a commitment to excellence without taking things too seriously. This is a big part of Nuttall's success and popularity.

Nuttall introduced a viola and piano duo with a mixture of undying devotion to its composer and...viola jokes. 

Mind you, this category of humor adapts easily to whatever your favorite instrument to hate is; I changed "viola" to "bassoon" for my editor, who loves to mock the bass double reed. Here are Nuttall's jokes:

What do lightning and a violist's fingers have in common?
They never strike the same place twice.

What's the difference between a viola and an onion?
Nobody cries when you cut up a viola.

What does the Royal London Philharmonic viola section have in common with The Beatles?
Neither have played together since the 1970s.

Feel free to appropriate these for whatever instrument plagues you--they work especially nicely for the saxophone or bagpipes.

Here's a bonus joke, not heard at Spoleto: 

What's the difference between a viola and a vacuum cleaner?
You don't have to plug a viola in for it to suck.

Ba-dum ching.

Monday, June 3, 2013

The real delight of 'Homeland': TV binge

You probably already know this: The Charlotte Observer hosted a television cast and crew of 65 people--including Claire Danes--last Tuesday when "Homeland" used our newsroom to film a scene for their third season. Read more about that here.

Those of us who grew up watching Danes struggle through adolescent turmoil as Angela Chase in "My So-Called Life" have not forgotten her teenage heroism; I worked hard not to blurt approval of how she dealt with Jordan Catalano when she walked past my desk.

The filming was exciting, but perhaps more exciting was the excuse to engage in a favorite past time: binge TV.

Despite my admiration for Danes, I hadn't seen a single episode of "Homeland" when we got word that the show would be in the newsroom (This is almost entirely because "Homeland" isn't on any of the internet TV providers--Hulu, Netflix, etc.--you can watch it on Showtime's website, but you have to have a television subscription to access it online, and I haven't had a TV in my home for ten years. That didn't stop me, though: I paid to add Showtime to my parents' cable package for the month so I could watch it online--it's my duty as a cultural reporter.).

I gave myself two weeks to watch two 12-episode seasons, definitely a time commitment with hour-long episodes (read: binge opportunity). I won't tell you how many episodes I watched a day, or, consequently, how many hours of sleep I missed, but it didn't take the whole two weeks.

I'm always a little ashamed if I let myself watch a few hours of internet TV (hence the long and justifying lead in), but the more I bare my guilt to close friends, the more I see how common TV binging is.

Netflix knows about that millennial weakness, too. That's why they've been releasing shows all at once, like the fourth season of "Arrested Development" and "House of Cards." For the record, I have only watched 2 episodes of AD, and on two separate days, no less (am I feverish?).


Now comes the hard part: waiting for new episodes, just like in the old days (two years ago). After finishing season 2 of "Homeland," I'm ravenous to know what Saul will do as head of the CIA. Is this good or bad news for Carrie? Withdrawal from binge TV is rough.

A friend and I discussed the phenomenon of binge television watching last night. His thoughts: "This is America! What do you mean I can't load the next episode??"

Wednesday, May 29, 2013

10 ways to celebrate "The Rite of Spring" centennial

It's here. 100 years ago today, Stravinsky's "The Rite of Spring" debuted in Paris, telling the story of pagan springtime rituals with jagged rhythm and choreography. 100+ theories suggest reasons for the riot that ensued.

You don't want to take any chances with your celebration, because it's going to be a long time before another round number comes up, so you might want to take matters into your own hands. Here are a few humble suggestions to mark the centennial passing of "The Rite."

10. Play a bassoon in an abnormally high range. If you engage in this form of celebration, don't be surprised if you set an ancient pagan ritual in motion.

9. Only travel by stomping.

8. Get down on your hands and knees and kiss the earth.

7. Along with your boos and hisses, bake a cake, put 100 candles in it, and throw it on stage in the riot you start at your nearest theater.

6. Go to France and talk with a Russian accent.

5. Paint some primitivist backdrops for your home.

4. Take time to honor your elders.

3. Dress in something heavy--long skirt, long sleeves, tall boots. If you're worried about being hot, don't worry, you're going to be hot. To truly celebrate, you should be dancing like a maniac.

2. Whether you go to a fortune teller or read the stars, definitely predict the future.

1. Sacrifice a virgin.

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

"Sumer is icumen in"

It looks like our cool spring is coming to a close. There's a song for that.

"Sumer is icumen in," or "Summer has come in" exemplifies the 13th-century rota (Latin for "wheel"), something similar to our idea of a canon or round (like "Row, row, row your boat"). It was composed around 1250 in Wessex English, so some words are familiar, but most aren't.

Here's one of many text translations:

   Summer has come in, loudly sing cuckoo!
   The seed grows and the meadow blooms
   And the wood springs anew, sing cuckoo!
   The ewe bleats after the lamb, the cow lows after the calf.
   The bullock stirs, the buck-goat turns, merrily sing cuckoo!
   Cuckoo, cuckoo, well you sing, cuckoo!
   Don't ever you stop now, sing cuckoo now! Sing cuckoo!

Give it a listen as you welcome summer:

Friday, May 24, 2013

My three Bs

Some outdated version of music appreciation taught the grandeur of the three Bs--Bach, Beethoven and Brahms. No offense, boys (except to Brahms: lighten up, buddy), but I'm going to give you my three Bs. These pieces reliably exhilarate me every time I hear them.

In no particular order:

Brubeck's "Unsquare Dance"

Dave Brubeck's playful asymmetrical rhythm brings a freshness to jazz I always crave. There's a great Youtube video of some modernist ho-down choreography, but tragically, the sound has been warped.

Beck: Cell Phones Dead

Beck has always been a favorite, and this song demonstrates everything I like about his music. The coda, in particular, causes a transcendent experience every time I hear it (it shames the coda on "Hey Jude"). If you ask me any of life's daunting questions while the latter half of this song is playing, I can give you a great answer. 

Barber: Violin Concerto, Op. 14

I first heard this concerto in 2009 from a front-row seat at The Philadelphia Orchestra. I bought the ticket cheaply at the last minute, and though a front-row orchestra seat isn't usually ideal, I relished the soloist's proximinity; I could have shined his shoes without standing up. The piece functioned like a soundtrack to the things I was dealing with, lending some semblance of organicism to what felt chaotic on its own.

Thursday, May 23, 2013

North Carolina has seen an 8-percent increase in creative jobs over the past five years

If you're an advocate for creativity and the arts, get ready to be uplifted.

Last week, the N.C. Department of Cultural Resources announced that the Creative Vitality Index (CVI)--a national report that measures the creative economy's health every year--shows an increase of more than 8 percent in creative occupations jobs in North Carolina over the past five years. The creative industry provides almost 320,000 jobs to North Carolinians.

The increase took place in positions including architects, librarians, fine artists, designers, performers, photographers and public relations specialists.

Here are the CVI's specific findings for North Carolina:

  • Creative industries are directly and indirectly responsible for almost 320,000 full-time, part-time and sole-proprietor jobs. This figure represents 6 percent of North Carolina's overall workforce. These creative industry jobs generate over $12 billion in wages, salaries and benefits--$2 billion more than the impact four years ago.
  • The number of jobs in creative occupations increased by more than 8 percent over the past five years to 137,225 total creative jobs. This figure represents nearly 3 percent of the state's workforce. Between 2010 and 2011 our state gained 6,833 creative full-time, part-time and sole-proprietor positions in creative occupations.
  • Creative industries in North Carolina generate more than $18 billion in revenues and more than $7 billion in exports.
You can view the 2013 Creative North Carolina fact sheet here.

Monday, May 20, 2013

The assault

As I write this, about 1,000 cyclists from around the world are huffing it up the tallest mountain east of the Mississippi River.

The annual Assault on Mt. Mitchell, a 102.7-mile ride, began at 6:30 this morning in Spartanburg, S.C., ending at Mount Mitchell's peak--that's an elevation of 6,683 feet.

The pros finish in about five hours. I know a guy who once took 12 (talk about masochism), and if I remember correctly, he was the last finisher.

The ride contains 11,000 feet of climbing--4,000 in the first 70 miles and 7,000 in the last 30. Check out this graphic half way down the page to make sure you're properly impressed. Whether first or last, cyclists usually take the same amount of time to ride the first 70 miles as they do the last 30.

Several hundred riders signed up for The Assault on Mt. Marion, stopping at the 70-mile point, a respectable ride no matter who you ask. They have barbecue and showers at Marion's summit--who in their right mind would agree to ride 30 more vertical miles?

So if you know someone who has ridden either assault today, or if you see any sweaty people in spandex looking tired, think about how many miles you didn't ride today and give them a pat on the back.

Friday, May 17, 2013

Charlotte's Children Choir and Charlotte Folk Society join forces for "The Great American Folk Song" event

This Saturday, the Charlotte Children's Choir teams up with the Charlotte Folk Society for a concert featuring "The Great American Folk Song." The Descant, Treble, Lyric and Concert choirs will perform traditional songs and folk harmonies with a string band. The folk society will provide musicians on the guitar, banjo, fiddle, bass and mandolin.

When: 3 p.m. on Saturday, May 18
Where: Matthews United Methodist Church, 801 S. Trade St., Matthews, NC
Tickets: $8-$10; 704-372-1000 or

The Charlotte Children's Choir is a nonprofit organization that provides music education to Charlotte's youth, ages 8-18. Their education is performance based.

The Charlotte Folk Society, conceived in 1982, preserves and promotes the traditional folk arts in the Piedmont region, including music, crafts, dance and folklore.

With such a rich regional musical history, this should be a great concert!

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

A new batch of artists at McColl

McColl Center for Visual Art has seven new affiliate artists. On Tuesday night, they each introduced their work. Here's what they shared:

  • Jason Watson's (drawing, printmaking) work has these elements in common: they're on paper, they include bodies or figures and collage and found materials usually play a role. Watson likes to spend time in museums or thrift stores that have carved busts--he sketches the heads and later incorporates them into his work.
  • Linda Luise Brown (painting) creates abstract, colorful, non-representation paintings. A lot of her process is spent priming her canvas so that her starting surface resembles an older material. Her paintings hint towards landscape, though she has "dissolved" the edges of any noticeable shapes.
  • Virginia (G.H.) Boyd (mixed media, printmaking) said she makes art to exercise things from her head. She makes pieces profiling women mavericks in the South, contradicting the fragile and dim-witted stereotype that goes along with the Southern Belle.
  • Natalie Bork (mixed media) takes inspiration from an Italian tradition of carving into glass. She creates a similar feel by layer paint onto pieces of metal and carving the surface, revealing the layers of color. She also embraces wabi sabi, the Japanese aesthetic that fixates on imperfections.
  • Natalie Abrams (encaustic) uses a wax-based substance to explore the dimension between painting and sculpture. Often on plywood, she combines ribbons of wax with pools of it, creating a topography reminiscent of the ocean floor. 
  • Jennifer Parham Giloman (drawing, painting, mixed media) looks at how memory defines who we think we are in her work. She often uses figures in domestic materials--wallpaper, fabric--to represent loss, layering or excising parts of pastoral scenes.
  • Aspen Hochhalter (photography) explores wet-plate collodion, a photographic process from the mid nineteenth century. She experiments by pigmenting her photographs with the ash from burned photos or hair.
Charlotte can look forward to the work these artists produce during their time in McColl's studio space.

Monday, May 13, 2013

An ode to my dumbphone

This weekend, an uncooperative charging port in my four-year-old phone forced me to join the ranks of every other journalist in this country: I now own a smartphone.

Unsure what to do with a dead phone incapable of being charged, I put it on my dresser. Leaving the house this morning, I felt traitorous as I picked up the iPhone instead of the LG. The old phone facilitated elements of almost all the relationships and exchanges I've had over the past four years, including a transition to journalism and dozens of subsequent interviews. In gratitude, I give you some high points:

  • Last summer, I interviewed Dame Stella Rimington, former director general of MI5 and author of seven spy novels. You know when James Bond movies introduced a female M? Judi Dench's character was based on Rimington. I was petrified to talk to her, a situation made worse by a phone problem in the newsroom and inclement weather; with nowhere to go, I huddled with my dumbphone under a squatty awning and asked her what she thought of M's management style. She felt M tolerated far too much erratic behavior from Mr. Shaken-not-stirred.
  • Two weekends ago, I texted a bass who sings for the Metropolitan Opera. He arranged for me to take a backstage tour of the Met and see "Das Rheingold," one of my all-time favorites. Amazing.
  • A year ago, I called violinist Geoff Nuttall to discuss his thoughts on the chamber music series at Spoleto Festival USA in Charleston, S.C. As the series director, Nuttall may be America's greatest ambassador for chamber/classical music--he demystifies and humanizes an art form padded in pretension without diminishing its quality; his audiences laugh and listen in equal parts.
  • As I worked on a musicology master's thesis at Florida State, I cried over the Kafkaesque cruelty of academia on my phone--graciously, the moisture didn't cause the keys to stick. I also used it to call my parents and tell them I'd passed my thesis defense, and then again to say I was withdrawing from the doctoral program to pursue arts journalism. I called when I got into the journalism graduate program I would later attend.
  • I interviewed author Roger Rosenblatt about his friendship with and admiration for Norman Lear and his writing. Glorious. I have loved Rosenblatt for a long time.
  • Also at Spoleto Festival USA, I talked to conductor John Kennedy about the last American John Cage debut. All of Cage's work has now been heard in the U.S. On the same concert, the orchestra played a piece by Radiohead's Jonny Greenwood.
  • Just a few weeks ago, I talked with composer Carlisle Floyd, who wrote "Ain't it a pretty night," one of my favorite arias. Our conversation illuminated a startling number of similarities between us: we're both from rural towns in South Carolina; we both attended Converse College; We both attended Syracuse University; we both lived in Tallahassee; and for about a week, we were both in Charlotte simultaneously. The last one is pretty unimpressive, but look at all our other parallels!

I will talk to other artists on my new phone, and--bonus--I will check my email and get directions to exhibits or concert halls. Even so, my old LG will probably remain on my dresser for a few months, reminding me of all the great conversations I've been happy to have.

Saturday, May 11, 2013

This one goes out to all the mothers

In honor of mothers, and the debt we children can never repay. Give this a watch, you won't be sorry:

Billy Collins reads his poem, "The Lanyard."

Friday, May 10, 2013

24 hours of Beethoven

In a graduate seminar on Beethoven's ninth symphony I took at Florida State, I learned about Leif Inge, a Norwegian artist who slowed a recording of the iconic work down so it stretched over 24 hours. He called it 9 Beet Stretch. But a clever name does not a clever project make.

My sadistic professor made us listen to about 45 minutes of it in a room with no windows--probably so we wouldn't have the opportunity to hurl ourselves out of them.

The work was performed about a dozen times in its entirety, and in those performances, only about a dozen people ever sat through the whole thing.

I can only imagine that anyone listening to 9 Beet Stretch would feel a sense of urgency, mentally fighting the sound, trying to push it along. At least in the first few hours. Maybe something more comes later, maybe there's a revelation at the eighth or seventeenth hour, but I will never know. And it's not because I can't endure things of great length--I love the "Ring" cycle.

My physical reaction is one thing, but intellectually, I still don't support it--and I can acknowledge that there's some carry over from the former. I'm not a purist, so I would never say something shouldn't be done because "that's not how the composer intended it." All I can do is tell you why I hate it. There are small moments in the music that Inge bloated by drawing them out. They still have the same proportionate relationship to the big moments, but you would never know it. You can't discern the small and the big in this form; honestly, I don't think you could discern the voices from the violins. This project neutralizes the hills and valleys, and who wants that?

The Charlotte Symphony Orchestra will close their season this weekend with Beethoven's ninth symphony. I'm really looking forward to the normal tempo.

Thursday, May 9, 2013

Beethoven and rape. What?

The Charlotte Symphony Orchestra will conclude their season this weekend with the perpetually popular "Symphony No. 9" by everyone's favorite deaf, disheveled German.

In graduate school, I took a seminar on Beethoven's ninth symphony taught by a reception historian. We looked at all the ways communities and people used the iconic music to illustrate or symbolize something. The spectrum is quite wide for a well-known work like the ninth.

Feminist musicologist Susan McClary, for instance, felt that Beethoven's joyful symphony told a more violent story--one of rape. In a 1987 issue of the Minnesota Composers Forum Newsletter, McClary wrote, "The point of recapitulation in the first movement of the Ninth is one of the most horrifying movements in music, as the carefully prepared cadence is frustrated, damming up energy which finally explodes in the throttling murderous rage of a rapist incapable of attaining release."

That's not what you hear?

Here's some context: different parts of a musical piece function like characters. The key a piece of music is in--or the note that sounds most like home--is one team. There's also a second team, and the different components of each team follow certain conventions in their interaction (like people!)--for instance, the chief key usually starts the piece, and it certainly ends it. Somewhere between the beginning and the end, that key persuades members of the opposing team to the other side. This is a crude explanation, but the point is that music (not all music, but this is narrative music) has a drama that's determined by the way the chords work together.

McClary is arguing that the second team is not being persuaded, and the first team is forcing the exchange.

And here's the thing: she's not wrong. You can see the music that way--it's true that the chords interact in a way that mimics rape. But in order to agree with her, you have to be willing to put on her glasses.

When McClary published her assessment of the ninth symphony, many people thought she had taken up residence in a cuckoo clock. That's not what I believe, but I don't choose to see it the way she sees it. It's valid, but I'm not interested in that particular reading (sometimes I wonder if she saw the film "A Clockwork Orange" and decided not to put on Stanley Kubrick's irony glasses).

That's what's so great about narrative music: you can hear so many different things in it. It's incredibly versatile. Maybe the reason Beethoven's ninth symphony is so popular is because of its versatility. Yes, it's beautiful, but lots of beautiful music is stranger to the ears that know the ninth. Its relevance to so many stories, and therefore lives, could be the factor responsible for its iconic status.

Monday, May 6, 2013

Technology and art: New York City edition

After seeing how Charlotte combines technology and art, I decided to see how New York does it.

On May 4, I saw Robert Lepage's production of "Das Rheingold" at the Metropolitan Opera. The first of four installments in Wagner's "Ring of the Nibelung," the show uses a machine as the set: long, rotating panels that can flatten into a stage or rise into a vertical spiral staircase, covered with screens. The production has been critically lambasted and flogged, not only for a failed vision, but for the failed vision's expense. The Met spent $16 million on the production, including reinforcements for the stage; it couldn't hold the 40-ton set.

"In their fetishization of technological brilliance at the expense of just about everything else," wrote The Boston Globe's Jeremy Eichler, "Lepage's productions remain a chilling, cautionary tale."

The New Yorker's Alex Ross wrote that “pound for pound, ton for ton, it is the most witless and wasteful production in modern operatic history.”


They're not wrong. Even if you put aside the fact that the thing fails artistically, it's an obstacle to the singers--two of them unintentionally slid down the tilted panels during Saturday's production, which is not an uncommon occurrence. Again, yikes!

But there were plenty of beautiful moments, many of them enhanced by the machine (A lesson I've learned recently: actively lowering your expectations can do wonders for your experience. Too pessimistic?). The opening, for instance, shows the panels rippling against a blue horizon, creating the surface of the Rhine River. Slow, undulating waves gave way to the Rhinemaidens (mermaids) swimming through air as bubbles floated from their mouths on the panel screens. When Wotan and Loge trekked to Mime's lair, they went by the machine's vertical stairs suspended in the air, resembling a double helix; they were suspended from cables as they walked on the vertical surface--if it were a movie, the camera would have been in the ceiling. This highlights video shows the machine. Don't ask me why the opera highlights video doesn't have any singing in it...

I don't know how to reconcile my knowledge that the set was not worth the money with the stunning experience I had. I'm so intoxicated by Wagner's music, and we all know the story is a hit (J.R.R. Tolkien used the same mythology to form "The Lord of the Rings"). And that's not a bad outcome, making your audience weigh and contemplate for days to come. Check out the most famous snippet from the "Ring:"

"Ride of the Valkyries" from Robert Lepage's controversial production of Wagner's "Ring" cycle at the Metropolitan Opera.

Wednesday, May 1, 2013

Music for May

For years, I’ve associated the month of May with Debussy’s “The Girl with the Flaxen Hair.”

I learned this two-page piano piece in the ninth grade. Like any musician, I remember certain lessons in the context of the piece that taught it to me. For instance, I remember the Chopin nocturne that taught me to play three beats against four and I remember the etude that taught me that you don’t have to play as fast as you can—that was Debussy, too.

“The Girl with the Flaxen Hair” taught me about the depth of beauty that lies just after the bright-eyed ambition deflates—when newness has worn off, but before cynicism shows up. This is how May feels. In the scope of a year, May begins the second third, spring is in motion, and things have settled without becoming stale. The brand of beauty in Debussy’s piece identifies that feeling May gives me.

Have a listen. The intoxicating chord is at 1:47. 

Saturday, April 27, 2013

Projectile Frustration

Here we are at the end of Charlotte's 2013 Ulysses Festival.

With a theme focusing on the convergence of technology and art, we saw a lot of projections. Images projected behind performance art is not an inherently bad idea by any means--for instance, CSO's 2013-14 Knightsounds series will include a program celebrating Ansel Adams. Now that would be a great place for some projections.

"American Music Masters and Pioneers," the April 19 Knightsounds concert, had a great line-up: more living than dead composers, a timpani concerto, some minimalism--excellent prospects. And the music was wonderful. But the accompanying primary-colored geometric projections were frustrating.

Knightsounds is designed for a younger crowd--younger music, the availability of tweet seats, drinks and a DJ following the concert. But I can't help but think that the projections are meant for young people, too, that the involvement of digital technology is thought to lure Generations X and Y from their iPhones.

But the projection quality was abysmal. As I was trying to absorb some new music I had never heard before (kudos to the CSO), I was distracted by what looked like my 1997 Windows screen saver. Or latte art. To fracture my attention for these swirls and lines is...well, it feels patronizing. It reminds me of pacifying a fussy baby by hanging a mobile in the crib.

And here's the kicker: it was the second time that week I'd been annoyed by nonsensical projections. In Opera Carolina's production of "The Pearl Fishers," a few large props were placed on the stage and supplemented by backdrop projections. This makes a lot of sense financially, and some of the images were nice, but logic was left behind. As the story progresses, the action takes place in the same location for a long time--Bizet and other opera composers didn't vary location much because scenery changes were logistically difficult. It doesn't take much to change location with projected backdrops, but upping the change frequency because it's easy doesn't make sense. As the action progressed on the tangible temple steps for close to an hour, the background changed every few minutes. Projection for projection's sake. But the images weren't worth it--if Knightsounds covered the Windows screen saver, Opera Carolina projected the desktop images. I've seen that tropical cove before.

I didn't see Opera Carolina's production of "The Magic Flute," I didn't live in Charlotte at the time. From the pictures I've seen, the more abstract aesthetic allowed more flexibility with projections and their rate of variation. "The Pearl Fishers" aesthetic was supposed to be realistic. The two methods and aesthetics don't cross over very well.

I understand that projections are a low budget way to visually enhance a production, but I think we can do better. If what we do with technology confuses the message or jeopardizes the integrity of the original art, it's a problem. No one can blame anyone for experimenting, but the hypothesis and result diverged along the way. Let's hone and progress.

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

David Sedaris's voice

I love to be read to. There hasn't been a time in the last five years that my car hasn't held several books on CD, checked out from the library and often overdue. I spend a lot of time in the car these days, but even when my commute was quite short, I would listen to books 10 minutes at a time (I'm currently listening to "Great Expectations," picking up all the subtleties that I missed in the ninth grade English class).

What's even better is having the person who wrote the book read it to you. It would be hard for me to find a recording of Charles Dickens voice acting Miss Havisham, but I  listened to Tina Fey read "Bossypants" and I've heard David Sedaris read his essays in a number of auditory venues.

So I was thrilled to hear Sedaris read his work on Monday night at Blumenthal Performing Arts. He read a few essays, monologues and poems (couplets about dogs featuring rhymes like "sphincter" and "distincter") from his new book, "Let's Explore Diabetes with Owls: Essays, Etc.," available this week. 

Sedaris makes plenty of self-deprecating jokes about his high-pitched voice, but that's not what I'm talking about. To hear an author's inflection, or where they whisper and yell, or where they talk out of the side of their mouth uncovers so much more about the story. In Sedaris' case, the experience usually unearths more giggling.

If what you're reading is written by someone still breathing, see if the public library has it. Or if the author tours, buy a ticket to their show. You'll learn a lot.

Monday, April 22, 2013

#TweetSeats at the Charlotte Symphony Orchestra concert

Live tweeting is a big thing in journalism school. As an arts journalist who focuses in performing arts, I would flinch every time Syracuse University asked me to live tweet an event. The thought of sitting at a symphony concert or opera with my phone out goes against every lesson I've ever learned about concert etiquette. And I have glowing concert etiquette--I live to defy the people who mutter something about the young people who are late, who have their phones out, who are talking during the concert.

To satisfy my assignments, I would live tweet restaurant experiences, art galleries visits and street fairs.

Some things are fated, though. The Charlotte Symphony Orchestra experimented with tweet seats during their final Knightsounds concert last Friday, and I was asked to participate. Two back rows were reserved for tweeters. We were given a few hashtags and asked to dim our phone screens.

There were about five tweeters. It's an interesting product in itself, but it wasn't a great concert experience--not because the music wasn't good, but because I wasn't listening the way I usually do. I'm not terribly interested in taking my (very few) twitter fans to a concert--it fractures my attention and creates a superficial musical experience because I'm trying to cook up a witty comment rather than listening to the subtleties of the music.

Below is the result. I storified the #knightsounds tweets--fyi, the latest tweets are at the top, so you should read from the bottom up, like a twitter feed.

Knightsounds season finale--American masters and pioneers

The Charlotte Symphony Orchestra concluded their Knightsounds series with an evening of American music and an experiment with tweet seats. Here's the concert from a social media point of view.

Storified by · Sun, Apr 21 2013 11:53:58

Stepped out of the theater into a dance party at Knight Theater thx to Charlotte DJ Andy Kastanas @cltsymphony #KnightSounds #ulyssesfestJamie Wolf
And thus ends the live tweeting, but not the dj beatz. See you at the reception. #knightsoundsLeah Harrison
I love a concert with no intermission. I hate the 25 minutes of interruption. #knightsounds #kudosLeah Harrison
@leaheharrison You do realize the soundtrack you've provided tonight, in probably the most dramatic night in the history of Twitter?Matt Ewalt
Not the only one swaying to American in Paris. A Gershwin night at the Knight! @cltsymphony #KnightSoundsJamie Wolf
@CLTsymphony American in Paris Where are Gene Kelly and Leslie Caron? #KnightSoundsHeidi Frankson
Gershwin's "American in Paris" completes the concert. Visions of Gene Kelly @CLTsymphony #KnightSoundsJessica Thomas
@leaheharrison I LOVE Short Ride! So jealous.Kelly Vaneman
Crazy ride! Adams' Short Ride in a Fast Machine. Frenetic and exciting. #KnightSoundsHeidi Frankson
Adams's ride is uncomfortable! #KnightSoundsMandy Smith
I've been on that ride with my brother. Adams was right, it's terrifying. #knightsoundsLeah Harrison
John Adams! Yes! Minimalism! A short ride in a fast machine is based on driving in the N. Cali mountains. #knightsoundsLeah Harrison
Taking a frightening but exciting trip in a Lamborghini w/ Adams and then off to Paris w/ Gershwin! @cltsymphony #KnightSounds #ulyssesfestJamie Wolf
Bairos is a great emcee for events that are meant to attract the young and hip. Lucky Charlotte! #knightsoundsLeah Harrison
...So it's weird to like some of their music so much and not care about other pieces they wrote. Afraid that's the case here. #knightsoundsLeah Harrison
Both Gershwin and Copland have such identifiable sounds, & much of their respective catalogue a sound similar... #knightsoundsLeah Harrison
To end, Gershwin in all his cartoonish glory #anamericaninparis #knightsoundsLeah Harrison
So it's not the best Copland piece. Sure does sound American for having Mexico in the name. #knightsoundsLeah Harrison
Brass killed it w/ Copland's El Salon Mexico! Tequila, anyone? @cltsymphony #KnightSounds #ulyssesfestJamie Wolf
So excited to hear El Salon Mexico! @CLTsymphony #KnightSoundsHeidi Frankson
Is that tequila I hear? #copland #knightsoundsLeah Harrison
Copland's #elsalonmexico next. Inspired by a night in a Mexican nightclub. #knightclub #knightsoundsLeah Harrison
American composer inspired by a Mexican salon. CSO takes us across the border w/ Copland. @cltsymphony #KnightSoundsJamie Wolf
Standing ovation at #knightsounds. Leo deserved it!
Mesmerized. On the edge of my seat. A full range musicality and emotion from the timpani. @cltsymphony #KnightSounds #ulyssesfestJamie Wolf
Great timpani soloist. Bravo, Leonardo Soto! #knightsoundsLeah Harrison
Leo is #AMAZING. Timpani concertos rock at #knightsounds #CSOrocks
Urban Sketchers are here tonight! #KnightSounds Symphony
Wow! Leo Soto "Rose the Roof" in Michael Daugherty's spectacular work! #KnightSoundsHeidi Frankson
Now I think we're dealing with mallets that have mini maracas as heads. #whoa #knightsoundsLeah Harrison
Pedals adjust pitch n kettle drums. Lots of sliding and scooping. Like trombone drums. #knightsoundsLeah Harrison
If you thought drums couldn't have a full range of melodic pitch, check out M. Daugherty's timpani concerto. #knightsoundsLeah Harrison
And now, a timpani concerto. #knightsoundsLeah Harrison
A DJ composer, Bates really puts a spin on the sound of the Symphony! @CLTsymphony #KnightSounds #ulyssesfestCharlotte Symphony
Technology integrated into the orchestra via a "laptop player" for Mason Bates' piece @CLTsymphony #KnightSounds #ulyssesfestJessica Thomas
Mason Bates. Tech=focal point. Laptop player sitting among violins. Tech sounds are so much smaller than instrumental sounds. #knightsoundsLeah Harrison
#KnightSounds just felt scared, excited, nervous and relieved all within the last 7 min of Dooley's pieceCharlotte Symphony
A new Indiana Jones score, perhaps? #templeofprojections #raidersofthelosttux #knightsoundsLeah Harrison
Paul Dooley in the house to hear his electronica-inspired piece performed tonight @CLTsymphony #KnightSounds #ulyssesfestJessica Thomas
American music has an ambitious, bright-eyed sound. #ADAMschoenberg #knightsoundsLeah Harrison
Schoenberg is first artist since Mahler to be signed by Universal says Rafael-Bairos. #notbad @CLTsymphony #KnightSoundsJessica Thomas
In rondo form, a principal theme alternates with one or more contrasting themes. 'Rondo from American Symphony' #KnightSoundsCharlotte Symphony
A. Schoenberg American symphony. No, not Arnold. #knightsoundsLeah Harrison
Informal means no penguin suits, untucked shirt tales and swirly projections. #knightsoundsLeah Harrison
About to live tweet the @CLTsymphony #knightsounds concert. American masters and pioneers, majority still breathing!Leah Harrison
Here we go tweet seats @CLTsymphony #KnightSounds #ulyssesfest Thomas

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

"Poetry of Resilience" screening at CPCC Wednesday and Thursday

After tragedy and persecution--Hiroshima, the Holocost, the Rwanda Genocide--six people consider human resilience through poetry.

Katja Esson documented their experience in her award-winning film, "Poetry of Resilience." CPCC will screen the film at 12:30 p.m. Wednesday in Pease Auditorium and at 9:30 a.m. Thursday in Tate Hall.

Esson and one of the featured poets, Li-Young Lee, who survived China's Cultural Revolution, will discuss the film and poetry at 11 a.m. after the Thursday screening in Halton Theater.

When I spoke to Esson, she talked about her early anxiety about presenting poetry through film. She didn't want to have poems read over blurred footage of water lilies--there must be visually compelling material for good film. Likewise, she was nervous about excerpting parts of other artists's work (Lee's poems are very long).

She feels confident about the finished product now.

Esson will also address film and videography students at CPCC while in Charlotte.

Monday, April 15, 2013

Artist Emily Connell to give lecture on Tuesday at CPCC

As a child of two ceramicists, Emily Connell was born with it in her hands. At least that's what the letters adhered to her face and shoulders say in an image of her work.

Photo courtesy of Emily Connell.

Text on the body, hands and self reference are three themes that permeate Connell's work. Currently living in Kansas City, she is visiting Charlotte this week as a guest artist during CPCC's Sensoria festival. Connell will discuss her work at 11 a.m. on Tuesday in CPCC's Center for Arts Technology, room AU 101. This lecture is open to the public.

Another biographical bit that makes it into her work: Connell grew up attending Catholic school, so expect to see reliquary images, references to the crucifix and Bibles. The last of these may not be immediately recognizable, though, as they have gone through processes with ceramic materials. Connell alters books (dictionaries, encyclopedias and Bibles--reference books) by covering the individual pages with slip (a liquified suspension of clay particles in water). Some of these are fired, some are cast in plaster, some are embellished with wells of gold luster. Many of these pieces have also been sliced with a round saw more commonly used on bricks. 

Photo courtesy of Emily Connell.

The book series is particularly exquisite. The finished pieces resemble hunks of natural material that age and weather have changed--they look almost petrified.

Contemporary art has the capacity to feel intimidating, but this lecture is a friendly environment for newcomers. Attendees can hear from the artist and ask her questions. After hearing her lecture this morning, I was reminded of seeing a Shakespeare play. As you settle into an unfamiliar language (Elizabethan English or 21st-century art), your brain is a little slow to pick up details and subtleties, but it will adjust! Hang on and you'll absorb some new ideas and expressions.

You will also get to see this beautiful piece, created while Connell was in school at the Kansas City Art Institute. She was required to use an umbrella, a chair and herself.

Photo courtesy of Emily Connell.

Join Connell on Tuesday morning to see what contemporary art looks like.