Season preview

By David A. Brensilver

The Tokyo String Quartet’s concerts in October and January take on extra significance because of the group’s plans to retire after this season. Photo courtesy of Yale School of Music.


Asking the leadership of an arts organization to identify a few “highlights” from a season’s worth of programming is a bit like asking the father of identical twins which he prefers. This is the problem with offering readers any kind of region-wide season “preview” or “overview.” And that’s exactly what I’m charged with doing here.

Talking about planning a concert a season, William Boughton, the New Haven Symphony Orchestra’s music director, said, “Every concert needs to be an occasion. I start from each concert being its own entity … having its own personality.”

While planning an NHSO season includes embracing American music (which is part of the organization’s mission) and taking into consideration time, financial restraints, and “things that the audience want to hear,” Boughton said taking audiences and musicians on a new musical journey is just as important.

By its very nature, writing a “season preview” piece is very much an exercise in subjectivity. Choosing which programs to highlight, from handful of organizations’ calendars, amounts to little more than making public one’s personal tastes and recommendations – which is why one asks those in charge of several organizations’ programs to do the choosing, however unfair that is.

Dana Astmann, the Yale School of Music’s concerts and public relations manager fielded my question with grace, pointing out that the Tokyo String Quartet, which has been in-residence at the school for more than 35 years, will make this season its last, with concerts in October and January. And while Astmann talked enthusiastically about a November 13 program featuring Igudesman and Joo (whom she described as musical heirs to Victor Borge), multimedia performances in October and November by faculty pianists Wei-Yi Yang and Boris Berman, and a performance by The Handsome Dans, a trombone quartet whose success in last year’s Woolsey Hall Concerto Competition earned the group an opportunity to perform with the Yale Philharmonia, the Tokyo String Quartet’s plan to retire at season’s end makes its concert programs worthy of “highlighting” on the calendar.

For Gordon Edelstein, Long Wharf Theatre’s artistic director, there is in any particular season “always a balance between the kind of things that I think we can do well and the kind of things I think we should be doing at (that) moment.” Whereas Sam Shepard’s Curse of the Starving Class, in which he’ll direct Judith Ivey, is “a play I’ve been wanting to do for a long time” and one that “takes very special actors,” Edelstein said, programming Clybourne Park seemed simply like the “right thing to do.”

“We generally don’t produce last year’s Broadway hits,” he said, but programming Bruce Norris’ 2011 Pulitzer Prize-winning play – in which “race and real estate collide,” according to Long Wharf’s website – was something Edelstein thought would be “good for the New Haven community.”

Likewise, James Bundy, Yale Repertory Theatre’s artistic director, said he and his colleagues are certainly “thinking a lot about what’s going on in the culture as we’re programming.”

Richard Montoya’s American Night: The Ballad of Juan José, for example, is “really about the history of American integration … an issue of enormous historical and political importance,” Bundy said.

The purpose of going to the theater is “not to confirm your own prejudices,” Bundy said in a conversation about Yale Rep’s world-premiere adaptation of Rainer Werner Fassbinder’s 1978 film In a Year with 13 Moons, which explores issues of sexual identity.

Sometimes, an entire season can be viewed as “very unique,” which is how Kaci Baez, the Yale Center for British Art’s communications coordinator, described the whole of that organization’s fall offerings.

In addition to The English Prize: The Capture of the Westmorland, an Episode of the Grand Tour – which, according to a YCBA press release, “will bring together many of the works on board the (18th century “British merchant ship” that “was captured by two French warships”) along with details about the various owners of its treasures” – the YCBA will present Caro: Close Up, “the first exhibition of (Sir Anthony Caro’s) work organized by an American museum since a retrospective at the Museum of Modern Art in New York in 1975,” according to the YCBA’s website, as well as a series of paintings by respected conservator Mark Leonard that Baez described as responses to John Constable’s early 19th century “cloud studies,” next to which Leonard’s pieces will hang.

For the Yale University Art Gallery, the fall season will mark the end of a massive, decade-and-a-half-long renovation and expansion project and the public opening (on December 12) of those facilities.

“It is the focal point of everything we are doing,” Maura Scanlon, the gallery’s public relations director said. “It is the culmination of 14 years of work.”

According to a media kit provided by the gallery, the “$135 million project has increased the space occupied by the museum from one-and-a-half buildings — the 1953 modernist structure designed by Louis Kahn and approximately half of the 1928 ‘Old Yale Art Gallery,’ designed by Egerton Swartwout — to three, encompassing the Kahn building, the entire Old Art Gallery, and the contiguous 1866 Street Hall, designed by Peter Bonnett Wight (and home to the Gallery from 1867 to 1928).”

To celebrate, the YUAG will present Société Anonyme: Modernism for America, a traveling exhibition of works from its collection that “brings to light the extraordinary history of the Société Anonyme, Inc., an organization founded in 1920 by artists Katherine S. Dreier (1877-1952), Marcel Duchamp (1887-1968), and Man Ray (1890-1976),” according to the YUAG’s website.

While “the reopening (of the gallery) is certainly an architectural accomplishment,” Scanlon said, “it’s (also) an opportunity to put the collection on view in a vast and meaningful way.”

Also cause for celebration is the 15th anniversary – the “crystal anniversary” – of Artspace’s annual City-Wide Open Studios event, which will take place over the course of three weekends in October. While Artspace plans to frame this year’s program in a “crystal” theme, the long-running visual-arts festival is and has always been about the participating artists and their work.

And ultimately, that’s what art is and should always be about. So, that being said, my recommendation to you is to take some time to see what the region’s arts organizations are presenting this year and experience that which you know you like. Also, though, I encourage you to follow Bundy’s direction and experience performances, exhibitions, and other programs that don’t “confirm your own prejudices,” be they artistic, cultural, or political.

David A. Brensilver is the editor of The Arts Paper.

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