Sunday, March 30, 2014

Women's Museum showcases quiltessential art

Mary A. Stinson (American)
Crazy Quilt, circa 1880

Brooklyn Museum, photograph by Gavin Ashworth, 2012

Quilts didn't mean much to me until I saw 35 of them recently at the National Museum of Women in the Arts. The quilt which greets visitors at the entrance to the presentation is more than 200 years old.

Pictorial Quilt, circa 1795
Brooklyn Museum, photograph by Gavin Ashworth, 2012

Probably made in England or Ireland

I left the museum more than a little astonished by the creativity and degree of difficulty the quilts exacted from their makers.  I saw splashy quilts, historical quilts, colorful quilts with stories, in an exceptional exhibition at the museum, Workt by Hand: Hidden Labor and Historical Quilts. 

On the day I went, I lucked out to find (and tag along, i.e., eavesdrop on) three quilting experts from Country Piecemakers of central Virginia.  The ladies had come up to Washington by train to "scout" the show for their colleagues "down South" and see if it was worth a trip up by the rest of their "bee."

Interrupting them with usual diplomatic flair, I asked: "Does it meet muster?" In unison they answered enthusiastically "yes!" and told me the Hexagon Quilt alone was worth it. (Later on, they amended their statement to include a "crazy quilt." More than one "crazy quilt" hangs in the display, but I think they were talking about Mary Stinson's from 1880, above.)

Said quilter Colleen Woodcock: "It's freaking me out because it's so cool." (I am not sure if she was talking about the quilt or the show, maybe both.) Her companions were Donna Goff and Sandie Terrien who have studios, entire rooms in their homes devoted to their art.

Elizabeth Welsh from Virginia
Medallion Quilt, circa 1830
Brooklyn Museum, photograph by Gavin Ashworth, 2012

Anyway, If you admire creativity and fine craftswomanship, are fascinated by the history of art and culture, and support women's endeavors, this is a exposition you do not want to miss.

The name, Workt by Hand, comes from an archaic spelling of "worked," and the phrase "workt by hand" is one often repeated in historical quilting literature, according to a museum statement. Besides, Catherine Morris, the show's curator and editor of the handsome 124-paged catalogue, says the abbreviated term is quite fitting in today's social media world.

Pictorial Quilt, circa 1840
cotton and cotton thread
Brooklyn Museum, photograph by Gavin Ashworth, 2012

The quilt above, according to the catalogue, was likely made by several different women. All the blocks are individually designed, and the one with a woman's silhouette includes initials, a cat, and the symbol of the Freemasons, a square and compass.

Anna Williams, Baton Rouge, Louisiana (1927-2010)
Quilt, 1995
Cotton, synthetics
Brooklyn Museum, photograph by Gavin Ashworth, 2012

It is likely that in the "early days," wealthier women who had more time on their hands than farming women, took up quilting, and were probably aided by slave help. And it is plausible, too, that the quilts were not used for beds but were hung, like they are in the show which is arranged chronologically (except when similar designs demand to be together).

Most of the quilts are from the 19th century but span the 18th through the 20th centuries and come from Europe and the U.S. They all are part of the 100-year-old collection of 160 quilts at the Brooklyn Museum which organized the show. Ms. Morris is the museum's curator at its Elizabeth A. Sackler Center for Feminist Art.  

The catalogue calls the quilts "prescient precursors to modernist abstraction and material documents of the history of women." Their legacy was launched in modern times with the 1971 show at the Whitney Museum of American Art, Abstract Design In American Quilts, which attracted huge media attention and introduced a new perspective about "women's art."

Scholar Janneken Smucker, who is speaking at the museum on April 24 in a free talk, says the Whitney show "elevated quilts to the status of art." 

Fine detail, vibrant colors and designs, appreciation for exquisite artistry and a brief education into what goes into quilting (including the loooong time required to make one) are some of the "takeaways" I took home, and you can likely find more.

Related events at the National Museum of Women in the Arts include:

April 2, 12 - 12:30 p.m. Gallery talk. Free to attend.

April 5, 10 a.m. - 2 p.m.: "Workshop: Catch the Quilting Bug-Sashiko Sampler." In conjunction with the National Cherry Blossom Festival, Jennifer Lindsay will teach Japanese embroidery techniques in a program for those age 10 and above. (Children 10 - 14 need adult accompaniment.) Materials are included. ($15, adults; $13, students, seniors, and members. Reservations required:

April 5, 12 - 5 p.m.: "Demonstration: Discover Quilting." Free to attend.

April 6, 12 - 5 p.m. Free admission all day (first Sunday of the month)

April 9, 12 - 12:30 p.m. Gallery talk. Free.

April 16, 12 - 12:30 p.m. Gallery talk. Free.

April 18, 12 - 1 p.m. Curator talk by a quilt expert. Free.

April 24, 11:30 a.m.- 12:30 p.m. Janneken Smucker, assistant professor of history at West Chester University, will talk about the exhibition's content and themes. Free.

April 25, 7 p.m. Spring Gala black tie soiree for the museum with cocktails, dinner, dancing, silent auction, and tours of the exhibition. Call Melody Ain at 202-266-2815 or send email to

What: Workt by Hand: Hidden Labor and Historical Quilts

When: Now through April 27, 2014, 10 a.m. - 5 p.m., Mondays through Saturdays, and 12 - 5 p.m., Sundays

Where: National Museum of Women in the Arts, 1250 New York Avenue, N.W., Washington, D.C. 20005

Admission: Free on the first Sunday of the month (April 6) and on other days: $10, adults; $8, seniors and students, and always free for members and children, 18 and under.

For more information: 202-783-5000

Metro station: Metro Center. Exit at 13th Street and walk two blocks north.

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Book review: 'Empty Mansions' by Bill Dedman and Paul Clark Newell, Jr.

Anyone with a cent of interest in the Corcoran Gallery of Art will find this tome of particular interest, about a woman who lived to be 104 and was so fearful of invasion of privacy she refused to press charges when Edgar Degas' Dancer Making Points valued at $10 million was stolen from her New York City apartment.

The book, Empty Mansions: The Mysterious Life of Huguette Clark and the Spending of a Great American Fortune tells the story of the youngest child of W.A. Clark (1839-1925), copper magnate, former member of the U.S. Senate (whom the New York Times called "a scoundrel" in her obituary) and philanthropist who bequeathed paintings, rooms, and lots of money to the Corcoran for which thousands of Corcoran fans will be forever grateful. (Note to the National Gallery of Art:  Please keep all.)

On March 1, 2014 Ms. Clark's name was mentioned again in the Washington Post in another long story about the Corcoran's future and the $10 million gift from Ms. Clark's estate to help keep the Corcoran going, for now.

The book never really says why hyoo-GETT (the pronunciation; born in Paris) resisted public exposure which may be because no one knows.

The best parts of the book are the vignettes which pop up every few pages, especially closer to the beginning, written in first person by Ms. Clark's cousin, Paul Clark Newell, Jr., who communicated with her every so often, or rather, she communicated with him by phone, calling him and never leaving a personal telephone number.  (Most...most?  Not most, but all contacted her via her attorney which is another story.)

If you've heard that she owned huge mansions in New York, Connecticut, and California which she never visited for decades and paid staff to maintain them all, and in the case of the Connecticut house, bought it in the 1950s partly as protection from the Russians in case they stormed New York (hmmmm), an estate she never occupied, you heard right.

If you've heard Ms. Clark spent the last 20 years of her life in a hospital, you heard right.  (No worries about grocery shopping, dry cleaning, companionship, housekeeping, bill paying, taking out the dog, preparing meals, etc. since...) 

If you've heard that Ms. Clark gave her hospital nursemaid $31 million you heard right.  (It was not all in one lump sum, the tax man cometh,  but spread over 20 years, for spending on the nurse's family's upkeep, this and that, roof repairs, college educations of children, new cars, tires, a spring bouquet.  How about a trip or two?  You need a house?  A new one? You know how bills mount up.)

But it wasn't only the hospital nursemaid who came whining to Ms. Clark for handouts, but hospital doctors, nurses, attorneys, accountants, friends of friends who were about as bad, and she rewarded most of them. 

Beth Israel Hospital got mad when staff learned she was only going to leave the hospital $1 million and immediately sentenced her to a room without a view. (The estate is suing the medical center for $100 million.  You go, Estate!)

When some of Ms. Clark's jewelry worth in the millions and stored in "securities" at Citibank went missing in 1991, "Whoops!" said Citibank "Can't find it! But we can call in Lloyd's of London if you must have the appraised value, darling, which will mean press, lots of press, and is that something you really want?" She accepted a reduced value of $3 million.

And then that bank went and did it again, in 1994, when one bank department forgot to pay her safety deposit box fee to another bank department and "Whoops!  So sorry we couldn't find you.  Owner? What owner? We called the locksmith and broke that lock on that box and sold everything in it.  To make it up to you, we'll give you 35 cents for every dollar of your value, how's that?"

What did she do for fun? 

She did paint and collect original dolls and ordered the construction of meticulously crafted Japanese doll houses and castles over decades for which she paid thousands of dollars.  (Where are they now? The book says the nursemaid got them, however, after Empty Mansions was published, Mr. Dedman, the author, reported for NBC News on January 30, 2014 that the Bellosguardo Foundation, the recipient of her $85 million Santa Barbara, California estate, will get them ($1.7 million value). Many of her art works, priced in the millions of dollars, are presently on world tour (skipping a stop in Washington, not enough money here, I suppose, but then Moscow was bypassed, too.  Maybe, not such a good time to stop in Moscow) culminating in auctions at Christie's in May and June.  Get your number.)

You will be surprised to learn that when Ms. Clark died in 2011 relatives came calling, most of whom had had no contact with her for decades, if they had ever met her. "Why Cousin Cosette, fancy meeting you here at the grave site."  "If your last name is Clark, please get in line." (The estate battle is being fought in the courts in New York.)

The book is well researched, but its biggest downfall is a dearth of pictures. I was so frustrated when this and that painting would be mentioned, and there would be no picture. Alas! I have never known such consternation when reading a book which boasts 70 graphics which are at least 70 too few. You would think copyright holders would be pleased to share their images to boost traffic, but perhaps, that was not the case.  Anyway, the writing style borders on encyclopedic which is adequate since it is facts I want, author, not concocted fictional conversations, thank you very much.

As the authors say, Ms. Clark (who called herself Mrs. Clark; different generation; you have to read the book) never used her money to treat anyone in an ill manner. She gave handsomely to the Girl and Boy Scouts, among many other non-profit organizations.  In her sister's memory her parents donated 135 acres they bought 40 miles north of New York City to establish the first national Girl Scout camp which is still open today, Camp Andree Clark.

Ms. Clark maintained her lucidity throughout her life and appeared to know exactly what she was doing.

The book's title and cover are par excellence.  Of course, being without Huguette's purse, I did not buy the book:  I got on the waiting list at my favorite public library:  Fairfax County.  It pays.

Saturday, March 15, 2014

Guest conductor falls ill at NSO

Rafael Fruhbeck de Burgos/photo from Columbia Artists Management, Inc.

Just before the nightingale's recorded song filled the Kennedy Center's Concert Hall last night, guest conductor Rafael Fruhbeck de Burgos, who has led the National Symphony Orchestra more than 200 times, dropped his hands, slumped at the podium, and stood with downcast head, his body supported by the railing, almost as if he had been overtaken by sleep.

The audience murmured faintly.

The musicians were in the middle of the third section of Pini di Roma by Ottorino Respighi (1879-1936) which the program said includes "a thrill in the air....a nightingale sings." The production slowed for just a few seconds, and notes softened. Near the maestro sat two female violinists, clearly stunned by the event.  They exchanged glances, immediately lay down their instruments, and rushed to the conductor's aid, helping him to a sitting position on the steps of the podium

As fast as cymbals chime, Mr. Fruhbeck's body straightened, he lifted his hand and baton, and from his sitting position where he remained for the duration of the piece, he led the performers through the last few minutes of Respighi's fiery finish.

When the music stopped, the conductor rose and stood without assistance, and facing the audience, placed his hand on his chest momentarily, acknowledging the orchestra members and the audience, and walked off the stage by himself.

The crowd clamored and cried to see him again who obliged the demands, returning to the stage without assistance to wave and accept gratitude from the well-wishers. He turned and walked off, but the vociferous crowd, which it had been all evening, wanted more.

Suddenly, the lead violinists, no doubt exhausted and emotionally wrung, quickly stood and literally marched off the stage ending the accolade from the packed house, fuller than I have seen it in a long time.

Throughout most of the evening's performance I had marveled at the hearty enthusiasm expressed by the audience, happy and glad to be at a concert on a Friday night with springtime advancing, robins chirping, and daffodils ready to parade their grace and color for Washingtonians to admire. (Good riddance, Winter!)

Earlier, before intermission, the guest pianist  who turned 23 on March 5 and was making his NSO debut, Daniil Trifonov, delivered a rousing "Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini" written by his Russian comrade, Sergei Rachmaninoff (1873-1943). Mr. Trifonov's fingers moved up and down and away from the keyboard as fast as if he were touching a hot stove. He crouched over the piano like cradling a newborn. (You can never go wrong with Rachmaninoff.)

"Bravo!" the mostly standing audience shouted repeatedly at his finish, producing four encores which Trifonov answered energetically with an unusually lengthy, but well received, piece that may have been Chopin's Op. 18 Waltz. This led to three more encores after the encores, extending the evening's entertainment well past the customary terminal hour.

(I must mention Mr. Trifonov's apparel which was in keeping with our present relationship with his motherland: a black suit, white shirt, skinny black pencil tie, and hair which slung to the music.)
Daniell Trifonov/photo from

Mr. Fruhbeck and Mr. Trifonov were not the only guest artists: Kelley O'Connor (not in green but wearing an elegant and stylish long black gown with halter top design) beautifully sang the love sick parts of Candelas from El amor brujo by Manuel de Falla (1876-1946) whose works Maestro Fruhbeck has recorded in their entirety.

Kelley O'Connor/photo from

Ms. O'Connor's mezzo-soprano's voice was frequently almost overcome by the sounds of music. Probably because she has appeared with the National Symphony several times, the audience did not respond as enthusiastically as it does to most "newcomers."

Oh, and there was more entertainment: The delicious "Nuages" and "Fetes" from Nocturnes by Claude Debussy (1862-1918) began the evening.

Three long consecutive nights conducting at the Kennedy Center would be demanding tasks for anyone, let alone someone with the history of Rafael Fruhbeck de Burgos which includes 2011 Conductor of the Year by Musical America, the Gold Medal awarded by Vienna, "Emeritus Conductor" bestowed by the Spanish National Orchestra, and in the past year alone, he has led orchestras in New York, Philadelphia, Cincinnati, Pittsburg, San Francisco, Detroit, Saint Louis, Houston, Seattle, among some cities. Not bad for an 80-year-old. 

The program repeats tonight.


Friday, March 14, 2014

Sunday is the last day to see 'Dying Gaul' in Washington

Dying Gaul in the Grand Rotunda of the West Building, National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C./photo by Patricia Leslie

People!  Do you realize what we have before us at the National Gallery of Art for only a few precious days more?  It's a masterpiece of time, one of the enduring pieces of art which students the world over study and observe with mouths open wide.
Dying Gaul in the Grand Rotunda of the West Building, National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C./photo by Patricia Leslie

The work by an unknown artist has been compared to the Winged Victory of Samothrace and Michelangelo's David, two of the best known and most studied sculptures in art history.

Dying Gaul in the Grand Rotunda of the West Building, National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C./photo by Patricia Leslie

It is one of the world's antiquities, a treasure which has survived the ages, spending hundreds of years buried in a Roman garden, and later, as a kidnapping victim by Napoleon who stole it from Rome in 1797 and carted it off to Paris for showcasing at the Louvre for almost 20 years.

Dying Gaul in the Grand Rotunda of the West Building, National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C./photo by Patricia Leslie

Dying Gaul is a marble beauty, a model of a Greek bronze made supposedly upon directive by the King of Pergamon in 228 B.C. to celebrate his kingdom's victory over the Gauls. (See map.) The king may have ordered several statues of his enemy in defeat, his competitors who fought in the nude. 
From William R. Shepherd's 1923 Historical Atlas showing Pergamon around 188 B.C./Wikimedia Commons

Wikipedia says the warriors shed their clothing to show their spirit, fortitude, and skill which Polybius (200 - 118 B.C.) wrote was "a terrifying spectacle, for they were all men of splendid physique and in the prime of life."  (Dying Gaul)

Dying Gaul in the Grand Rotunda of the West Building, National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C./photo by Patricia Leslie

Meanwhile, Dionysius (60 - 7 B.C.) of Halicarnassus thought their lack of protection was rather dumb and showed the Gauls' "barbarian boastfulness."

Dying Gaul in the Grand Rotunda of the West Building, National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C./photo by Patricia Leslie

The sculpture reveals the deadly wound in the subject's chest and his forlorn frustration as he accepts his fate.  He doesn't look so much like he is dying as he is resigned to reality, angry and injured as much mentally as physically and not pumped up to continue a battle any more.  See how his skin glistens with sweat.

Dying Gaul in the Grand Rotunda of the West Building, National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C./photo by Patricia Leslie

Dying Gaul was found between 1621 and 1623 in an excavated garden in Rome on property once owned by Julius Caesar. 
After word got out about the sculpture, formerly called Dying Gladiator since that's what the "experts" initially thought he was, royalty like King Philip IV (1605-1665) of Spain and King Louis XIV (1638-1715) of France ordered life-sized replicas.  Historians claim Thomas Jefferson (1743-1826) had Dying Gaul (or a copy) on his wish list.

Three of the artists Dying Gaul inspired, according to a brochure available at the sculpture, include Diego Velazquez, Jacques-Louis David, Giovanni Paolo Panini.  

What happened to the bronze the king ordered 2,000 years ago? Claudio Parisi Presicce, the director of the Musei Capitolini in Rome which owns Dying Gaul, told the Wall Street Journal it was likely melted down and used for weapons.  This copy was created in the first or second century A.D.

Dying Gaul in the Grand Rotunda of the West Building, National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C./photo by Patricia Leslie

At the unveiling of the sculpture in December at the National Gallery of Art, Ignazio R. Marino, the mayor of Rome called Italy's loan of the sculpture to the U.S. an "eloquent demonstration of the close friendship...and fruitful cooperation" between two of the world's most beautiful capitals and two of the world's most prestigious cultural institutions, the Musei Capitolini and the National Gallery of Art.  The presentation and this gift to the American people is one of more than 300 events Italy has staged throughout the U.S. over the last year to celebrate The Dream of Rome and 2013-The Year of Italian Culture.

The American people are grateful to the Embassy of Italy, the president of Italy, the Musei Capitolini, and the National Gallery of Art for the opportunity to see the sculpture on its first trip away from home in almost 200 years.

What: Dying Gaul

When: Now through March 16, 2014, 10 a.m. - 5 p.m., Monday through Saturday, and 11 a.m. - 6 p.m., Sunday.

Where: The Grand Rotunda, the West Building, National Gallery of Art, between Third and Ninth streets at Constitution Avenue, N.W., Washington, D.C. On the Mall.

Admission: No charge

Metro stations: Smithsonian, Federal Triangle, Navy Memorial-Archives, or L'Enfant Plaza

For more information: 202-737-4215

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Free organ concert by world award winner at St. John's Mar. 12

Dongho Lee will be the guest artist at Wednesday's free noon concert at St. John's Episcopal Church, Lafayette Square
The public is invited to a free noontime organ concert Wednesday at St. John's Episcopal Church, Lafayette Square, where Dongho Lee, award winner at global competitions, will play Felix Mendelssohn's Aria and Variations, the introduction and passacaglia from Joseph Rheinberger's Sonata No. 8, G.T. Thalben-Ball's Elegy, and Variations on "America" by Charles Ives.

At the annual meeting of the American Guild of Organists in 2010, Ms. Lee placed first and won the audience prize in the National Young Artists' Competition.  She is a world virtuoso, playing in arenas in the U.S., Europe, Canada, and Asia.

Currently, she is the associate director of music at Christ Church, Episcopal in Charlotte, N.C.  Ms. Lee is a native of South Korea, and holds graduate degrees from Yonsei University and Yale's Institute of Sacred Music, and is working on her doctorate at Indiana University. Her first recording on the Pro Organo label in 2011 featured 20th century music. 

St. John's hosts First Wednesday concerts every month from October through June, however, last week's Ash Wednesday services changed this month's presentation to March 12. 

The church is known to many Washington residents and visitors as the welcoming yellow church at Lafayette Square, the “Church of the Presidents.” President James Madison, who served as president from 1809 to 1817, began a tradition for all presidents who have either attended or joined St. John's. A plaque at the rear of the church designates the Lincoln Pew where President Abraham Lincoln often sat when he stopped by St. John's during the Civil War.

Other St. John's First Wednesday concerts, all starting at 12:10 p.m., are:

April 2: The U.S. Air Force Strings conducted by 2nd Lt. Shanti Nolan, with Michael Lodico, organist, performing Francis Poulenc's Organ Concerto

May 7: Easter music for trumpet and organ with A. Scott Wood and Benjamin Hutto

June 4: Organist Alan Morrison


Who on March 12:  Dongho Lee, organist

What: First Wednesday Concerts (the second Wednesday in March)

When: 12:10 p.m., March 12, 2014

Where: St. John’s, Lafayette Square, 1525 H Street, NW, at the corner of 16th and H, Washington, D.C. 20005

How much: No charge

Duration: About 35 minutes

Wheelchair accessible

Metro stations: McPherson Square, Farragut North, or Farragut West

Food trucks: Located two blocks away at Farragut Square

For more information: Contact Michael Lodico at 202-270-6265,
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Sunday, March 9, 2014

Baltimore Symphony presents 'From Russia with Love'

Nadja Salerno-Sonnenberg was the guest artist at Thursday's performance at Strathmore by the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra/Photo by Christian Steiner

It was a night of music from Russia. 

Forget Putin but think Shostakovich (1906-1975) and Rachmaninoff (1873-1943), my two favorite composers, who filled the house and the program by the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra at Strathmore Thursday evening.

What was not to like?

The evening began with Sergei Rachmaninoff's always popular Vocalise followed by the powerful presentation by guest artist, Nadja Salerno-Sonnenberg, who delivered Dimitri Shostakovich's Violin Concerto No. 1 in A minor. 

From the first movement, when the sounds from her violin expressed sadness and later, foreshadowing, with singular percussion, a haunted tension led to the fierce passion of the second, the scherzo, and the melodies of the third, culminating in the lively but harsh finale.

The fervor Salerno-Sonnenberg utilized in interpretation matched the color of her red top which matched the blouse Maestro Marin Alsop wore which matched the evening's energy exuded by all the forces on stage.

Members of the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra/Photo, BSO

While she pierced her instrument with her bow, Salerno-Sonnenberg moved up and down, bending at times almost at right angles, frequently grimacing and expressing anguish.

Music and stand were unnecessary since she seemed to play with her eyes closed most of the time, or so they appeared to me in my chair nearby.

She pounded the violin strings, leaving one guessing how the poor instrument was able to endure her strength and intensity without breakage, but it answered in perfect response every time, softly and eloquently as she required, alas, no doubt fearful of going astray.

At times, during a violin respite, Salerno-Sonnenberg stood and turned her back to the audience, becoming a fan to enjoy majestic achievement by the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra while Maestro Alsop weaved and led nearby.

Conductor Marin Alsop of the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra/Photo, BSO

Salerno-Sonnenberg's casual apparel (black skinny jeans) belied her performance which ended with shouts and cheers from the standing gallery and, for the first time, she smiled broadly and saluted her comrades, orchestra members whose output, as usual, was every bit as perfect as one has come to expect. 

The evening ended with Rachmaninoff's splendid Symphonic Dances with noticeable contributions from his beloved piano.  He wrote it only three years before he died, a summation, which he composed for the Russian ballet dancer, Fokine, according to program notes. 

For the encore, the orchestra played Shostakovich's Bolt Ballet Suite, No. 8 Final Dance and Apotheosis which was well received.

The Baltimore Symphony Orchestra/Photo, BSO

Strathmore's love affair with Maestro Alsop continues:  Her contract has been renewed for seven years.

Ms. Salerno-Sonnenberg, a U.S. citizen, was born in Rome in 1961 and emigrated with her family to the U.S. when she was eight years old. In 2008 she was appointed music director of the New Century Chamber Orchestra in San Francisco. 

You can take the music out of Russia but you can't take Russia out of the music.  Amen. 

Thank you to Total Wine & More for sponsoring the show. 

Please, once more I must ask what's wrong with Strathmore that it doesn't install more seats and tables for dinner patrons?  How many years have I been complaining about this?  Think of the missed revenue because of lousy facility management, not to mention customer satisfaction.

Although you may be seated at one of the tiny tables for dinner before the concert, it does not guarantee that a pushy patron (comparable to those at the Kennedy Center) will not uplift your chair and dump you right out upon the floor. Or so goes the feeling.

After being dumped, just try to enter the lobby outside the music hall and find a seat to drink your wine or coffee.  Reserved for ushers and closed to patrons until 7:30 p.m., if you please.

Where is a person to go? 

Oh, I forgot: The patio with a temperature of 30 degrees Fahrenheit. Конечно!

Coffee or wine may warm you up on the Strathmore patio/Photo, BSO

BSO performances coming up at Strathmore:

March 15: Bach's Brandenburgs

March 22: Mendelssohn's Violin Concerto

March 27: The Bee Gees and 'Stayin' Alive'

April 5:  Bugs!  (Two performances for young children)

April 5:  Andre Watts Returns!

April 10:  Itzhak Perlman

April 25: Off the Cuff:  Mahler's Titan

May 3: Moo, Baa, Neigh (Two performances for young children)

May 3:  Yefim Bronfman

May 15:  All That Jazz, celebrating Kander and Ebb

May 24:  Tchaikovsky's Violin Concerto

May 29:  A Midsummer Night's Dream Concert

June 7:  Summertime Movin' and Groovin' (Two performances for young children)

June 7:  Beethoven's Ninth

June 14Casablanca with music

Where:   Strathmore is located at 5301 Tuckerman Lane, N. Bethesda, MD 20852.

Park:  For free at the adjacent Metro Strathmore station.

Tickets:  Click here.

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Wednesday, March 5, 2014

Olney's 'I and You' is unforgettable

Rachael Tice and Thaddeus Fitzpatrick in Lauren Gunderson's I and You now on stage at Olney Theatre/photo by Stan Barouh

It hums along at a great pace but the ending will leave you gasping.

While you predict the last scene, be ready to drop jaw.

I thought it was only for teens and college students. I was wrong.

The Olney Theatre Center has gloriously exploded in production:  The King and I, Chorus Line, and now, I and You

Jason Loewith, Olney's artistic director, beamed when he talked before and after the production about his focus on new plays and female playwrights, including Lauren Gunderson who wrote I and You and was on hand Saturday night to witness the glowing reception her play received by a stunned crowd.

Loewith proudly announced I and You is a finalist for the 2014 Harold and Mimi Steinberg/American Theatre Critics Association New Play Award.  After you see it, you'll know why and that it will win.

Loewith noted that theatres have to concentrate on sure-fire winners to produce income which enables theatres to survive, thrive, and experiment with new material like I and You.

Rachael Tice and Thaddeus Fitzpatrick in Lauren Gunderson's I and You now on stage at Olney Theatre/photo by Stan Barouh

And back to it: The plot captures an afternoon in the lives of two teenagers, the entire cast, who grapple with the issues of today and always:  self, others, purpose, life and death.  Starring in their conversation is a gift for English teachers everywhere:  Walt Whitman's Leaves of Grass.  (Were copies sold in the lobby?) The youngsters use the book to read sections to each other while working on a joint Whitman project for a class.

Social media is spot-on.  The girl, Caroline (Rachael Tice) is ill and confined to her home.  She texts her mother downstairs. Anthony (Thaddeus Fitzpatrick), a high school classmate, drops in, seeking help on their project, and his poster reveals he needs it, all right. Maybe a fourth-grader crafted it.

That Caroline likes Elvis movies (!), John Lennon and Jerry Lee Lewis (!), and Anthony favors Miles Davis and John Coltrane without any mention of current artists that I heard, is a reach to older audiences, I suppose.

The play of just 80 minutes takes place in three scenes in Caroline's jammed and "messy" (she says; she don't know what "messy" is) bedroom of books, pictures, posters, red bedding, and a "turtle," the significance of which I still ponder.

Their conversation is so today and so "teen talk." They say what adults wonder about, but don't state or ask.  For a while, Caroline is damaged goods and seeking help.  The roles reverse, and Anthony becomes the wounded.  They call each other "weird."  She calls him "Senator."  He calls her "Senator Shut-In."  They banter and knock each other. She talks exactly like every teenaged girl I've ever been around.

Some parts were just "weird," too, like Caroline showing no curiosity about the dead classmate's name or that her mother never showed up or communicated, wondering what was going on upstairs in her daughter's bedroom where a strange boy had parked himself for hours.

Towards the end the script began to drift a little, but then...

I and You is director Eleanor Holdridge's first play at the Olney where she skilfully managed the actors who obviously revel in their roles.

After the play, Ms. Tice and Mr. Fitzpatrick excitedly talked a little about their backgrounds and how jubilant they are to be at the Olney. For the role Ms. Tice auditioned in her hometown, New York, where Mr. Fitzpatrick is a transplant from the University of Alabama where he studied theatre. This spring Ms. Tice makes her film debut in Slider.

They are such a twosome and will travel next to Rochester to act in the play there, another stop in the National New Play Network Rolling World Premiere.

For her terrific and special effects, lighting designer Nancy Schertler gets special kudos.  Those dark colored bulbs in the beginning didn't fool me. I was hoping they would light up sooner or later. 

Other important people in the production:  Dan Conway, scenic designer, Ivania Stack, costumes,  Matthew M. Nielson, sound, Becky Reed, stage manager, and Amy Marshall, managing director.  Bravo!

What: I and You

When:  Extended until March 30, 2014

Where: Olney Theatre Center, 2001 Olney-Sandy Spring Road, Olney, MD 20832

How much: Tickets start at $48.50.

Parking:  Abundant, free, and on-site

For more information:301-924-3400

For more area productions and reviews, click DC Metro Theater Arts.

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