Sunday, May 31, 2009

St. Lawrence violinist to lead chamber music

Geoff Nuttall, first violinist for the St. Lawrence String Quartet, will replace Charles Wadsworth as director of the Spoleto Festival Chamber music series. The announcement was made at 9 p.m. during a tribute concert to Wadsworth, who is retiring.
Wadsworth started with the Spoleto Festival in Italy in 1960 and has been with the Charleston festival since it was started in 1977. He has also finished his last year heading the Charles Wadsworth and Friends touring series which stopped in Columbia and Camden.
The St. Lawrence Quartet was founded 20 years ago and has been a mainstay at the festival since 1995.
(You can read more below about Nuttall's playing, hair and shoes.)

Saturday, May 30, 2009

Wrapping up Spoleto

Back from my second, and I think final, visit to this year’s Spoleto Festival. Ended it with a performance by Cedar Lake Contemporary Ballet. The more I saw of the group, the less I liked.

But the chamber music concert this morning rivaled (and Ravel-ed) the one Thursday.(You can read more about that concert in the entry below.) Again, it was the St. Lawrence Quartet (with pianist Stephen Prutsman which ended an already outstanding concert with the Quintet for Piano and Strings by Dmitri Shostakovich. It is one of the masterpieces of all time for the quintet and piano and the group brought all its wide-ranging emotions to the full effect, from the martial roar to the oddly quiet closing.

That was hardly the only good thing on a program that traveled to England, France and Spain as well as Russian.

It started with one of Franz Joseph Haydn’s “London trios” for violin, flute and piano on to Enrique Granados’ song “The Maiden and the Nightingale” and the “Premiere Rapsode” with clarinet (Todd Palmer) and Prutsman on piano.

It doesn’t get much better than all this.

After the Hayden, host Charles Wadsworth noted that it was “a delicious bit of wake up music.” Absolutely.

Wadsworth was in good form at the concert too (even when he wasn’t at the piano.)

“You’re only as old as you feel – and I feel 80,” said Wadsworth, who turned 80 recently and is retiring after this festival. (Everyone’s lips are still zipped – someone actually made the zipper-on-mouth motion at me today – about who will fill his shoes. His shoes, his suit, his shirt were all white one day. His tie was pink.)

Mentioned most often is Geoff Nuttall, first violinist with St. Lawrence and the associate artistic director of the series. Nuttall played last weekend with cropped brown hair but he has since bleached it yellow blonde.(He's done this kind of thing often.) Known for his flashy playing and outfits he’s sticking with a pair of two-toned black and brown boots. I’ve seen him wear them in years past, but not for every concert. Must be lucky boots.

The concert Friday was nearly as good starting with some fun waltzes by Joseph Lanner and Francis Poulenc’s Clarinet Sonata, which Wadsworth saw in its premiere performance in 1963, played by Benny Goodman and Leonard Bernstein.

That one ended with the Two Violin Quintet in G minor by Mozart, which Nuttall called “pathetic in the best sense – sad, brooding.”

Although Nuttall invited people to get up and dance to the waltzes, no one did. Waltzes also ended my day with “Addicted to Bad Ideas: Peter Lorre’s 20th Century” – people did dance for that but not many waltzed.

Wadsworth is the subject of a special on SC ETV Monday at 10 p.m. (it will be repleased June 4 at 9 pm. and June 10 at 7 p.m.) It follows him from his hometown of Newnan, Ga., to Spoleto, Italy, where he began a chamber series to Lincoln Center where he founded the chamber music society, to Charleston and beyond.

And of course you can still see and hear him every day this week. The festival runs through Sunday.

You can hear the chamber concerts from the first week at 1 p.m. Monday - Friday this week on SC ETV Radio.

Ran into many people I know: Michel McNinch of Columbia, Kent Ambler of Seneca and Peggy Howe and Taylor Blanton (left) of Charleston who are showing at the outdoor art show at Marion Square. Working in a tent in the Charleston weather for 17 days – that’s hard work.

Speaking of that (weather, not art) everyone was lucky this year. Not too hot and a breeze.

A couple of weeks ago the mural painter Jeff Zimmerman was covering the inside and outside of Redux Contemporary Art Center with giant heads, fire hydrants and crumpled soda cans. He’s finished and it looks good. The center is at 136 St. Philip St. And he was on the “Today” show last week.

What a world

One thing is certain: the World/Inferno Friendship Society can
really rock. But as far as a theatrical offering goes, the group's
"Addicted to Bad ideas: Peter Lorre's 20th Century" is not particularly theatrical. That doesn't mean the band doesn't provide a totally entertaining evening of entertainment while
sort of following the life of the actor Peter Lorre, who was an acclaimed actor in Germany before coming to the U.S. where he appeared in many acclaimed (as well as really bad) movies.
It's hard from this show to get much of a sense of Lorre's life. Singer Jack Terricloth does a fine job of sort-of playing the actor down to the weird accent and mannerisms. The show very effectively uses clips from Lorre movies, which have been manipulated, but not too much, which are shows on a triple screen above the stage. These screens are also used to project live video of the band members. A couple of the players also take on brief roles of people in Lorre's life, but there's no real attempt to "act" and one points out how absurd it is that he's playing a role in a play when he's just a rock musician.
The largest problem in telling the story of Lorre is that the lyrics are unintelligible. (Lyrics sheets are available, but on a recent night they ran out.)
Regardless, this is still an exhilarating, rockin' show. Peter would be proud.
"Addicted to Bad Ideas" continues tonight and Sunday.

Friday, May 29, 2009

What makes a perfect day at Spoleto

Thursday morning get up and drive to Charleston with plenty of time.
Listen to one of the best chamber music concerts I've ever heard, starting with a delightful piece by Giovannie Bottesini for double bass, violin and piano. Tony Manzo almost climbed up and down the bass in finding all the crazy notes the composer had written. His eyebrows moved almost as much as his arms.
Then the D Major Flute Quartet by Mozart which is hard to fault when played by people like this.
The real monument: Ravel's String Quartet, the only one he wrote, played by the St. Lawrence String Quartet. I just about cried it was so good. (Also happy birthday to St. Lawrence - it just turned 20.)
I actually got to sit down and have lunch, a very good one at Slightly North of Broad, sitting as I usually do, at the chef's table in back.
Hit a couple of galleries and talked to Stacy at Carolina Galleries. She never knew my work for The State, but really likes this site. I feel very lucky.
Full of energy for some reason, but drive over the big bridge to check into my cheap hotel. Short nap.
Back over bridge for 5 p.m. concert by shamisen player Yumiko Tanaka. The shamisen is a three stringed banjo-like instrument developed around 1600 in Japan. Tanaka, with a very funky bubble hairdo, a drip painted shirt, and poofy skirt over pants, proceeded to abuse the ancient instrument. Banged on it a bit, stuck strings under the strings and so on. Then she played a tradtiional work called "Hidaka River." Then on to more new work with "Snakes, Eggs" which required her to count aloud as well as play and it was hypnotizing. There was also a song about a monster who woke up with "5,000 little whales in his trousers" and a piece which included dialogue between Hamlet and Ophelia.
A Spoleto miracle: a second sit-down meal in one day. And not alone. I ran into Spoleto PR head Paul Edwards and Gibbes Museum PR head Marla Loftus - and they let me eat with them!
Found a phone booth and changed into a new suit.
Went to hear the festival orchestra play Gustav Mahler's "Das Lied Von Der Erde." Got a hug from Charles Wadsworth before it.
Terrific piece played (as are most big works the orchestra takes on) with great feeling. Soloists Sasha Cooke and Russell Thomas just about perfect. Conductor Emmanuel Villaume is also great to watch, swooping and diving and crouching and bouncing.
Right from that to an outdoor concert by the Punch Brothers (led by Chris Thile who was with Nickel Creek for many years.) I came in right as the grop was starting a song during which Thile broke into a pure falsetto.
The high point though was the four movement "The Blind Leaving the Blind."
"It's 43 minutes long," Thile said, and after a pause added, "You think I'm kidding."
He also noted that he hoped the Mahler concert had ended. "I'd be too embarrassed to be playing this at the same time."
He may not be Mahler, but he has no reason to be embarassed. I went in knowing next to nothing about Thile, Nickle Creek or the Punch Brothers. I'm a converted.
Mixed berry sorbet. Bed.

Thursday, May 28, 2009

The weekend starts now (do you note a Spoleto bias?)

It is a big day at Spoleto. Of course it always is.

Appropriately it includes a big piece of music by a big composer: Gustav Mahler’s “Das Lied von der Erde” (Song of the Earth).

The work follows the life of a man from dissolute youth to dying day, written in1908 when the composer thought he was dying. He was, but more slowly than he realized. The work, with text based on 8th-century Chinese poems, was premiered in 1911 six month after his death.

The orchestra has played many of the Mahler symphonies since Emmanuel Villaume was hired nine years ago as director of orchestral and opera at the festival so the tradition continues. The content of the piece isn't surprising since Mahler was always consumed with death. (It was actually his Tenth Symphony, but he refused to call it that because so many composers died while or just after finishing their tenth.)

"He's saying I’m just disappearing, but the way I’m disappearing is going to be artistic," Villaume said this week. "He's saying goodbye with no bitterness."

Ironically, while many Mahler symphonies contain a funeral march, this one doesn't.

"Song" does have two vocal soloists, which also helps fill a vocal music void in a festival with only one opera. (Mahler had history with that opera, “Louise” by Gustav Charpentier, having conducted the Vienna premiere of it in 1902.)

"We have two smashing singers to do it," Villaume said.

Both are making their Spoleto debuts. A few months ago, mezzo soprano Sasha Cooke (left) sang the role of Kitty Oppenheimer in the Metropolitan Opera production of John Adams’ “Doctor Atomic.” The other is tenor Russell Thomas, (right) who has performed at the Met and many other opera houses.

"It is a taxing role" and Thomas "is eating it for breakfast," Villaume said.

The concert is at 8 p.m.
Villaume, just appointed artistic director of Slovenian Philharmonic Orchestra, will also lead the

orchestra in Brahms’ Violin Concerto, with soloist Sarah Chang, and Tchaikovsky’s Symphony No. 6 Tuesday (June 2).

“Music in Time” will introduce many people to the shamisen, a Japanese stringed instrument. Yumiko Tanaka will unveil a brand new piece as well as other recent works for the old instrument today. She’s also musical director and plays for puppet master Basil’s Twist new work “Dogugaeshi,” which runs Saturday to June 7.

Continuing through the weekend are “Addicted to Bad Ideas/Peter Lorre’s 20th Century,” a rock musical by the World/Inferno Friendship Society today through Sunday; Cedar Lake Contemporary Dance, Friday and Saturday; and ukulele player Jake Shimabukuro Saturday.

For a full schedule go to

Tickets $10 to $100; most $25 to $50.

Piccolo picks:

The Southern Literary Festival starts today with Cassandra King giving a talk called “You Can’t Make This Stuff Up” at 3 p.m. today. Ron Daise, one of the creators of the TV series "Gullah Gullah Island," makes a presentation at 10 Friday.

Columbia writer Janna McMahan will give a talked called “The Modern South,” a place she explores in her newest novel “The Ocean Inside,” which was published in late April.

“I was talking to someone who said the only way she could understand Southerner was by reading Southern literature,” said McMahan, a native of Kentucky who has lived in Columbia for two decades.

“The Ocean Inside” is set in what one might call the Post-New South. It is very much a story of today about a girl struggling to find herself as her family struggles with her sister’s illness, money and other pressures. It’s Friday at 3 p.m.

All the Southern Lit events are at the Charleston County Public Library and cost the rather high price of $15.

Honestly there are so many things going on at Piccolo, it’s hard to dig through the schedule let alone recommend much.

Good bets are the various comedy and improv shows on the Piccolo Fringe (“FrankenMatt” and “Big Dicktionary”) much of the classical music and odd things such as Kosher Jazz, played by Simon Harding Saturday and Sunday.

A great place to find previews and reviews of just about everything – no, make that everything – is Charleston City Paper (which has been kind enough to plug Carolina Culture early and often.)

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Nude Wednesday!

The maker of this painting is
a mystery for now. But it will
be in a show by a group of student
artists from the University of South Carolina
opening Thursday at Gallery 80808 in Columbia.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Random Spoleto notes

Funny fan masks of a young

Charles Wadsworth, who just turned

80 and is retiring as chamber music

series director.

That wooden ring holding the violinist’s dress together must chaff.

Found on the first page of my notebook after

seeing the opera “Louise:” Fat Ass.

Why do I never tire of seeing the colorfully-attired Seed and

Feed Marching Abominables? (right)

What does a harp made of the bones of a murdered girl sound like?

She entered the dark theater after the play “Don John” has started. With her short skirt and bleach-blond “wing” hairdo I thought she was in the cast. She wasn’t - her costume and hair were too outlandish for the play.


Listened to Joe Rackers play piano at the City Gallery while sitting in a little lounge areas the artist Dorothy Netherland had set up. I want to steal the chairs, but will settle for the table between them.

Theory aggressively proposed at Vickery’s after “Don John:” John’s sidekick Nobby is his Johnson.

How many pairs of underwear are the girls in

Don John wearing?

The Spoleto press office can do many things, but it cannot fix a screeching fan belt.

I'm very tired of jokes from the stage of the chamber music series about playing music written within the last 25 years. If John Adams is good enough for the Metropolitan Opera he’s good enough for Spoleto.

Why do I keep running into Dave from “Don John” when I want to run into Polly?

SCETV Radio has joined forces with WDAV in Davidson/Charlotte, N.C. to produce the program "Spoleto Today" which runs each day at 11 a.m. The good news is that it has been extended to an hour and is now heard in a larger portion of North Carolina.

That still doesn't explain why the program did a big piece about the new conductor of the Charlotte Symphony Orchestra and then played a big piece of music he conducted with the orchestra last season. It was longer than an interview with Charles Wadsworth, retiring host of the Spoleto chamber series.

If you need a light, go around to the back of the theater. Crews smoke.

Heading to my car I saw these whirling dervish music boxes in the rug store window

Sunday, May 24, 2009

More knockouts from Kneehigh

The most-anticipated Spoleto show has to be "Don John" by Kneehigh Theatre. The company first appeared at the festival two years ago with "Tristian and Yseult" and expectations for "Don John" have been, to say the least, high. More than kneehigh. And if it isn't quite as magical as "Tristan and Yseult" it pushes both the company and the audience into new areas.
"Don John" is of course based on the old Don Juan tales about the man who bedded
hundreds of women - and raped
some of them.
The company places the story in late '70s England on a set that includes night club lighting, a dance floor, cargo ship containers, one of which contains a full band. The
production is loaded with music and dance and while most of the time it's rock, at times Mozart's opera "Don Giovanni" pours from the speakers. There's also a lot of sex and it's pretty graphic.
Like "Tristan and Yseult," "Don John" is both funny and tragic. If this story isn't quite as moving, well that's this story.
The cast does just about everything. Dances, acts, sing, a bit of acrobatics. Gisli Orn Gardarsson as John and Mike Shepherd as his sidekick Nobby are the center of all the action. The tall, dark Gardarsson is perfect as the cad you hate to love; he's a very bad guy, but you can see why he charms - although his charm in this version appears based on raw, animal chemistry more than anything else.
All the eight actors, most playing multiple roles, are excellent.
Amy Marston is both funny and pathetic as spurned lover Elvira who will not give up and can she sing up a storm. Patrycja Kujawska as the Polish maid Zelina is sexy as hell, and funny AND she plays the violin and Carl Grose as her short, chubby boyfriend is a great actor and physical comedian (he's also one of the writers of "Tristan and Yseult.) But this is very much an ensemble effort.
Those who like Kneehigh's style will find "Don John" another entertaining and really quite educational production.
The show runs through the festival.

New music in the afternoon

The first Music in Time series started with a bang - from one of the founders of Bang on a Can all stars. Members of the festival orchestra performed BoC founder Julia Wolfe's "Cruel Sister" an unrelenting piece that keeps building and building and building for 30 minutes. Just when you think it can't go on, it goes on.
The concert opened with the decidedly mellower"The Bulls of Bashan" a violin concerto by Gavin Bryars, a lyrical piece for string orchestra and solo violin.
Both works received their North American premieres at the festival. In a series often filled with lots of small pieces, these two large, contrasting works was one of the best concerts the series has put on.

Loud, jarring, strange - brilliant

I'm pretty open-minded about art.
But after sitting through the first 10 or so minutes of Hiroaki Umeda's movement, sound and light performance - during which there was little movement, sound or light - my patience was running out. Especially since I'd run out on the St. Lawrence String Quartet just as they were preparing to play at piece written for them by John Adams so I could make it to Umeda's show.
Then things started happening. Light. Distorted sound. Movements that felt like a man being jammed with information and trying to process it. This went on for a while. Then the light went blue. The movements changed as if he was traveling through space. More of this. It was pure magic and not just about his technical brilliance as a dancer, but for the strangely pure emotional message it sends.
This is the kind of really edgy performance (especially on a sunny Sunday afternoon in Charleston) that often loses half its audience at intermission. That didn't happen at Umeda's performance which says something terrific about that audience as well as Umeda's talents.
His final performance is Tuesday.

"Rabbit' missed by a hair

"Story of a Rabbit" is a one-man show by a man who goes with Hugh Hughes. It starts out being a play about a play and putting on a performance during which Hugh explains that since it includes an actor, a musician and a flip chart it is a "multi-media show." The set is scattered with simple but odd props - a rabbit sculpture, a telephone, a model of a residential area, and an action figure in a plexiglas box, the last of which is used to demonstrate what happens when a floor sander doesn't contain sawdust well.
The story is not really about a rabbit, but about the death of Hughes' father's death. The show is imaginative and engaging - until it really becomes a play about the death of his father. Then it becomes a much-more conventional one-man play about something very personal, which is not all that engaging.
"Rabbit" continues with two performances Monday.

Saturday, May 23, 2009

A long day at Spoleto

My first day at the Spoleto Festival, my 20th it turns out when i stopped and counted, was a busy one. Up at 6:30 (too early), tour of the being-renovated Dock Street Theatre at 10, opening ceremonies where I saw a lot of people I knew and searched frantically for the person whose apartment I'm renting. Actress and former National Endowment for the Arts chief Jane Alexander, too many thank yous from various people, a moving tribute by Mayor Joe Riley for outgoing chamber music master Charles Wadsworth and Wadsworth rushing off because he had to play the harpsichord in a few minutes (I tried to use that excuse but it didn't fly.)
It wasn't as hot as usual.
At the concert Wadsworth got a much-deserved warm response from the audience which then sang "Happy Birthday." He turned 80 on Thursday. He conducted the performance and the audience did well. The high point of the first concert was the final work, the Concerto for Violin, Piano and String Quartet by Chausson.
I managed to get some lunch (Moe's if you must know) and didn't manage a nap. Then to the opera.
Because of budget cuts, the festival is doing just one opera this year, "Louise" by Gustave Charpentier. The 1900 opera tells a familiar story: a young woman wants to leave her restrictive home and run off with a poet. And "Louise," sung beautifully by Stefania Dovhan in her U.S. debut, does that. The music is very engaging, all the performers stellar and the technical aspects, if not particularly inventive, are interesting choices. Some of these, such as making Louise's home a huge room, don't work well at first. But later when daughter, father and mother are reunited, with Louise sitting on the couch in this drab apartment, wearing her lighted "Queen of the Bohemians" crown it makes sense.
That said, the opera itself is over-the-top lyrically, even compared to opera, and the story not always that compelling.
Director Sam Helfrich has made some bold choices, which lends both creepiness (what's going on with Louise and her father?) and funny (when the Love God of Paris won't share the spotlight with some dancing girls.)The rather indefinite end which Helfrich emphasizes is also a good move in an opera where too much of the expected happens.
Charpentier was a one-hit wonder and it's easy to see why this piece was so popular all the way up to the composer's death in 1956. But one does wonder if it was the best choice for the only opera this year.
Additional performances are May 25, 31 and June 6.
The opera lasts about three hours after which I headed south to a party and ran into old and new friends. I was chatting with Bob and Bev Howard, formerly of Columbia and active with Trustus, who have lived in Greenville for about a decade now, when we were asked to leave by the hostess. Nah, we weren't having too much fun; the cops just really shut things down in the residential area at midnight.
Gotta run - a play at noon, a concert at 3, a concert at 5 and a play at 8:30.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

A small review of a big show

When you enter Leslie Hinton's exhibition you really do ENTER it. The barrage of colorful, crazy stuff stuffed into Gallery 80808 embraces the visitor, although some of these funky creatures stacked on the floors and dripping off the walls have sharper fingernails than you'd think.
Hinton has been toiling away at the University of South Carolina art department as a master of fine arts student. She's studying ceramics, but the works in this installation are also made of scrap wood, fabric, paint, paper plates, ballpoint pen ink, balloons, glitter, a medical model of an almost full-term fetus, her late father's work identification badge, and cupcake sprinkles. Depending on how one counts, the show has about 100 pieces.
The central area is occupied by a half dozen large ceramic forms connected to the figure. Some have discernable torsos and heads, others just head. A few sport arms and legs. Most are a mix of materials.
An entire wall is a kind of homage to the old-fashioned dolls that had china heads and arms attached to soft bodies. But these heads are often much larger than bodies and sometimes the head hardly exist ‑ as if they've spent all their time thinking about how to make themselves bigger and softer and more appealing to a child.
Colorful fat ribbons suspend puppet-like a group of squishy creatures. They dangled from cut-up paintings mounted on the wall. You can only see the paintings by lying on the floor, which at this point in the journey might be a good idea.
The show turns a corner with a grouping of houses looking storm ravaged and occupied by traumatized figures. These pieces are darker in content, form and color. They're pretty broken up, glazed with drippy pink as if a candy coating was being washed away and a burned over, chunky gray-black.
This is a sort of autobiographical installation. That medical school fetus is in the belly of a ceramic portrait of the artist's mother. Several works are connected to the recent death of the artist's father and the show culminates in a large sculpture about him that includes personal objects she retrieved from his car.
This is a fun, funky, and ultimately moving exhibition, falling somewhere between a fabulous dream and a nightmare.
It's up Tuesday. An opening reception takes place Saturday at 6 p.m. Cupcakes will be served.

Some stunning shows for Spoleto

Johnathan Brilliant's installation at City Gallery.


During the Spoleto Festival USA and its little sister Piccolo Spoleto the visual arts take a back seat. The big festival is out of the visual arts business. The Gibbes Museum of Art usually does something that may or may not be particularly profound. The Halsey Institute for Contemporary Art gallery at the College of Charleston always has something cool and fun, but that’s the way it operates year round.
Exhibitions put on by Piccolo, which is run by the city of Charleston Cultural Affairs Office, are hit and miss – usually miss.
This year there are hits all the way around: “Hair on Fire,” at the Halsey Institute; “Prop Master” at the Gibbes Museum of Art; and last but also first "Contemporary Charleston 2009" at the City Gallery at Waterfront Park.

“Contemporary Charleston” at the City Gallery at Waterfront Park is a sweet surprise. It focuses on a small group of young Charleston artists familiar in the city. The quality of the work and the exhibition is miles above the usual Piccolo offerings. Contemporary Charleston” is actually the third show with that title. The first was in 1991 at the Gibbes Museum of Art, the follow up 2004 at the City Gallery. Both took a much longer view than this show.
The new version curated by City Gallery director Erin Glaze is very contemporary and condensed with only five artists only (Jonathan Brilliant, Ishmael, Dorothy Netherland, Karin Olah and Ben Thompson) showing all new work, some created for and in the gallery,
With such a small number of artists this isn’t a big overview show, but with such a small group it presents a good sampling of each artist’s work.
All but one of these artists is established mostly in Charleston and a few outside.
Netherland, who burst on the scene several years ago with her paintings on glass inspired by ‘50s domestic life, is the best known. Her paintings have been an engaging barrage of overlapping images and garish colors. This show has a few of these, but she’s mostly represented by images that tone down the frantic visual activity. These are more mature and coherent paintings that show an artists who pushing her ideas and craft.
If Netherland’s work is presented in a traditional way (rectangular artwork on rectangular walls), Brilliant’s two installations take over the space. His huge sculpture fills a two-story space in the center of the gallery. It's made of wooden coffee stirrers – 70,000 of them. It is huge but lighter than air with swooping curves that floats above the viewer and also presses down on them.
The solo-named Ishmael started as a graffiti artist and spray paint cans are still his tool. His smaller works place stenciled images on raw wood that feel streetwise and natural. He literally stretches out with an abstract work that takes over a 30-feet wall. One has the feeling that he’s found a whole new language on such an expanse.
Ben Timpson, a recent transplant, makes tiny creating nature-and-figure-inspired images, from parts of flowers, insects, bones, even blood. After all the tedious work (he’s one of the few artists around using tweezers) he ends up with something an inch or two in size mounted in boxes with magnifying glass and lighted from within. The execution and presentation are excellent. The show also includes large (36-by-24-inch) photographs of the tiny pieces, which strip away much of the magic found in the microscopic originals.
Olah is the most traditional and conservative of the artists which is not a negative. Her mostly-abstract collages have always been visually interesting and well-crafted, but in this show her art flowers. Rather than staying within the rectangle, she has just gone right off onto the wall linking several of the individual pieces with fabric that flows like rivers across the walls. (above right.)
Each artists’ process is explored in videos shown behind displays of tools and inspirations, ranging from books to toys to (in Netherland’s case) two very funky chairs and an end table. The show is subtitled “Revelation of Process” and it does that, but does so but without getting in the way of the finished art.
This show is nearly perfect.
If a “Contemporary Charleston” along the lines of this one can’t be an annual event, it is certainly worth exploring as an every two or three year show. Maybe it could even be expanded into a Contemporary South Carolina exhibition – as a kind of replacement for the Triennial that the S.C. State Museum and S.C. Art Commission unceremoniously dumped. It is actually better than some of the Triennial exhibitions. In that case, it would be worth doing regularly if Erin Glaze is in charge.
“Contemporary Charleston,” through June 7. City Gallery34 Prioleau St. (Just behind the pineapple fountain in Waterfront Park). (843) 958-6484

“Hair on Fire” brings together some artists with a Charleston connection (Loren Schwerd taught at the college for several years and Caryl Burtner showed her collection of toothbrushes and other items at the college a decade ago) as well as others from across the country. They’re all women and they all make art of, or closely connected to, hair.
Making art from hair isn’t new and to prove it the gallery has a display of historical hair art borrowed from the Charleston Museum dating back to 1750.
By far the most engaging works are Sonya Clark's real hair sculptures. Among her pieces are a braid-like form running from ceiling to floor on a white paper scroll; hair twisted and shaped to form “Root and Branches,” (left) a delicate but robust “Hair Wreath” and a tiny hand made of hair perched in a tiny wooden bowl.
A collector bordering on the obsessive, Burtner displays hair clipping gathered nearly 30 years ago from friends, along with photos of the hair donors. Next to that she asks visitors to the museum to trim a few locks, put the hair in a plastic bag, label it and nail it to the wall.
The center of the room is dominated by a Schwerd’s shed-like structure (nearly as big as a small utility building) made of artificial hair. Her home and hair theme continues upstairs in smaller, wall-mounted sculptures based on collapsing buildings she saw around New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina.
Althea Murphy-Price like Schwerd uses fake hair for her sculptures, which sometimes resemble hair (elaborate wigs) but not always. From blond hair she has made a wall bloom with flower-like forms. Another of her pieces feels directly tied to the historical hair works.
Ruth Marten’s watercolor paintings provide a nice contrast to all the sculpture and are so well rendered and rich and varied.
Talia Greene transforms old portrait photos for a rather gothic and ghastly (in an understated way) installation. The people in the small photos are slowly covered with flies creating hair and beards.
This is overall a well-balanced exhibition that could have used a little lock trimming (Greene’s pieces are too many levels removed from the original photos and Murphy-Price and Clark’s art overlap too much.).
Like most of the Halsey shows, it also isn’t afraid to have fun.
“Hair on Fire,” runs through June 15. The gallery is at St. Philip and George streets. (843) 953 5680.

While the College of Charleston gallery has gone to the Charleston Museum for historic hair, two North Carolina artists have mined the Gibbes Museum of Art collection.
Juan Logan and Susan Harbage Page have created the installation “Prop Master,” by using objects from the museum collection (and some from the Charleston Museum) to explore issues of race, gender and class in Charleston.
Such undertakings started around 1995 when the artist Fred Wilson created an installation called "Mining the Museum" in Baltimore.
Logan and Harbage Page have followed this tradition resulting in a thought-providing, intellectually-rigorous, artistically-exciting show.
The installation allows the artists to comment on the history of the museum as well as the city.

"Prop Master" is set in the large upstairs gallery which is really more of a ballroom than a gallery. It’s a grand space where the well-to-do have mingled for 100 years beneath portraits of their ancestors, who bear names such as Manigault, Pinckney and Middleton.
Portraits of people with those same names are part of “Prop Master,” but most were taken recently and all are of black people. How did they get those names? They got those names because their ancestors were owned by Manigaults, Pinckneys and Middletons. On the wall hang portraits of Ya’Sheka Drayton, Ayanna Gadsden and so on, although their flow is interrupted by Colonial-ear portraits of the white people who held these names.
The other side of the gallery is given to a huge big group of miniature portraits (the museum has an extensive collection of miniature) where the artists play with race and gender in tiny ways.
The center of the grand room contains a platform enclosed by four battered columns and on it are 10,000 little boxes. Of these 40 are black, the rest are white. That’s the breakdown of art by black vs. white artists in the museum collection. It may require a bit too much explanation, but it still very effective as an artwork and as a statement.
“Prop Master” is a very worthy follow-up to last year’s powerful “Landscape of Slavery” exhibition. The museum is at the forefront in the region in putting together its own well-researched and scholarly exhibitions.
Prop Master” though July 19. 135 Meeting St. (843) 722-2706.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Get out

I’m sort of relieved there’s not a lot of new stuff happening in Columbia this weekend – because I’m not going to be here. I’d suggest you do join me in Charleston for the opening weekend of the Spoleto Festival USA. You can still get tickets for many of the performances and the city-run Piccolo Spoleto Festival has tons of offers as well.


The opera “Louise,” Friday and Monday; “Don John” by the Kneehigh Theatre of Wales (every day, which good because some performances are nearly sold out); chamber music, daily; Alvin Ailey dance company, Saturday and Sunday, selling like crazy; performance artist Hiroaki Umeda, Sunday and Tuesday; pianist Andrew von Oeyen playing works by Liszt, Bach and Stravinsky with the festival orchestra, Monday (seats, but not all that many.)

Tickets range from $10 to $100 or more. Most are $25 to $50.

For more information scroll down and you'll see a big piece on the festival.

For tickets and so on

Piccolo picks:

Trombonist extraordinaire Wycliffe Gordon plays with the Charleston Symphony Friday. Gordon has played with all the greats including with the Lincoln Center Jazz Orchestra. I saw him sitting in at one of the Thursday night jams at the Hunter Gatherer and he was just phenomenal and fun. The free concert starts at 8 p.m. at the U.S. Custom House at the east end of Market Street.

Pianist Joseph Rackers of the USC music school will play music by Ravel, Rachmaninoff and Chopin at the City Gallery at Waterfront Park for Piccolo at 3 p.m. Saturday. It’s $10.

The gallery is also the location of an excellent exhibition “Contemporary Charleston.” I’ll be posting a review of that and several other exhibitions later today (Thursday.)

You can also catch the Seed and Feed Marching Abominable, a marching band of a very different sort. The best concert is at midnight Saturday in the market, in their pajamas.

But if those don’t float your boat, at Piccolo you can hear everything from early early classical music to poetry reading to a one-man performance of the “Star Wars” trilogy.

Prices range from free to about $25, with most $15.

If you're heading to the festivals the first stop should be at the Gaillard Auditorium on George St. between Meeting and East Bay. There you can pick up brochures, buy tickets and get directions.

The fairly new dance company Unbound performs "Les Femmes" tonight through Saturday. Tickets are $30. It's at CMFA Artspace. Call (803) 528-9011.

The graduate art students at USC are often some of the very best artists around, but not always terribly visible. One of my favorites, Leslie Hinton, is opening her master of fine arts exhibition today at Gallery 80808/Vista Studios. The sculptures and paintings are weird and whimsical. It opens Thursday and runs through Tuesday, May 26. An opening reception will be held Saturday night from 6 to 8.

On the local theater scene this is the final weekend for “Elephant’s Graveyard” at Trustus Theatre. “Guys and Dolls” continues at Town Theatre and “Moonlight and Magnolias” does the same at Workshop Theatre.

The Palmetto Concert Band plays a free Memorial Day Concert at 4 p.m. Monday at the Koger Center. The band will strike up music from Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov to John Philip Sousa.

A pair of visiting artists at the University of South Carolina has created a new dance and theater work inspired by images of Hurricane Katrina. ”Based on Images,” by visiting USC choreographers and dancers Thaddeus Davis and Tanya Wideman-Davis is inspired by the destruction of the strom brought to New Orleans and the Gulf Coast. 7 p.m. Wednesday and Thursday ( May 27 and 28) in Drayton Hall Theatre on the USC campus.

Tickets are $15.(803) 777-5112.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Nude Wednesday!

"Touch" by Alejandro Garcia of
Columbia and Colombia.

Friday, May 15, 2009

My Spoleto Sojourn

I can’t recall many details of my first trip to the Spoleto Festival USA. It was 1990 and only the second time I’d been to Charleston.

The first was in September 1989 – about a month before Hurricane Hugo. So Spoleto 1990 was heavy on percussion of construction and reconstruction.

The next year I remember well.

The festival had mounted the site-specific installation art exhibition “Places with a Past” and I got to interview some of the artists involved - David Hammons, Lorna Simpson, Anthony Gormley, Ann Hamilton, Christian Boltanski and others. Good thing I didn’t know how important they were or I would have been scared to death. It was a pretty amazing time. I went repeatedly to the old city jail where Gormley had filled one floor with pluff mud and another with water. I watched Hamilton create a huge pile of blue work shirts in an old garage.

The show was not only great artistically (although it had its share of failures) but it introduced me to the Charleston that was fast disappearing. The courtyards, strange little stores in the middle of neighborhoods, container ships, overgrown cemeteries, crumbling stucco and brick.

Still, it’s a wonder I was able to appreciate “Places with a Past” or anything else because the festival blew up. The art show, and other things, had taken the spotlight off festival founder Gian Carlo Menotti and within a few weeks, Menotti had purged the festival board and staff, starting with general director Nigel Redden, who has put together “Places with a Past.”

Time passed. The festival went into a decline and a few years and managers later, Menotti quit, Redden was brought back and the festival began digging itself out of a $3 million hole. (At that time the festival’s annual budget was only about $4 million. Now it’s about $6 million.)

I’ve now known many more festivals without Menotti, who died in 2007 at 95, than with him, but Menotti is always with the festival in the best way. It was he who decided in 1977 that the run-down city with a rich past was the right place for an American version of his Italian festival. He was right.

When I moved to South Carolina in 1989 to go to work for The State newspaper in Columbia, it was to write visual arts and theater. So for the first couple of years of the festival I just went to theater and sought out visual arts, which other than a really big show every few years was mostly local. (The festival is out of the visual arts business now, which is a shame since it did such a good job with “Places with a Past” and even better with the follow-up “Landscape and Art in Charleston and the Low Country” in 1997.)

To really understand the festival and cover it, especially themes and variations on the bigger canvas, I had to go to concerts and operas.

The festival turned me into a classical music fan and a bit of an opera snob – or not so much a snob as an opera-goer with high expectations. “Die Vogel” by Walter Branfels, which hadn’t been done since his work was banned by the Nazis, was mesmerizing. The festival’s take on the 250-year old comic opera “Merlin’s Island” by Christoph Willibald Gluck (best known for his hyper-serious fare) was a delight with the two main characters coming across kind of like Bill and Ted on their excellent adventure. A sample line: “Eating makes me horny.”(That's them after eating at right.)

But I was also crazy about “Lakme” a much more traditional rendition of a very popular opera. I’ll never forget listening to the soprano and mezzo-soprano during a rehearsal in an anonymous room at the Gaillard Auditorium. I remember that better than the full production.

Over the years I’ve seen a lot at the festival that I really loved.

Both the big art shows rank high on my list.

Smaller theater pieces such as “medEia” by Dutch group Dood Paard and “The Great War” during which another Dutch group, Hotel Modern, just about set the entire stage on fire re-enacting trench warfare in miniature, were unlike anything I’ve experienced.

The chamber music series, which Charles Wadsworth (that's him at the keyboard in the photo) hosts for the final time this year, is always the most pure poetry one can find. I never tire of listening to and watching the St. Lawrence String Quartet – they rock. It was also a proud moment last year when Peter Kolkay, a USC School of Music faculty member, was up there on stage with his bassoon.

Another small, but significant high point was when a chamber orchestra played a work by Anton Webern twice during the same concert because the audience hated it to much the first time.

“Peter and Wendy,” the Peter Pan story told with puppets, and “A Doll’s House,” performed by very very small men and tall women, both done by Mabou Mines. “Tristan and Yseult” by Kneehigh Theater. “Love’s Fowl,” an opera about Chicken Little sung in Italian and performed brilliantly by small, poorly made puppets. The Richard Strauss opera “Ariadne Auf Naxos.” The 18-hour Chinese opera “The Peony Pavilion,” of which I saw 15 hours.

Some good memories.

One thing that surprises me is how many people don’t go to this world-class festival. Nope, it’s not cheap, but you can still get a good ticket for about the same price you’d pay for a half-way-decent dinner and drinks and for only $10 to $15 more than you’d spend on a local play or concert. If you don’t like in Charleston, you do have to drive, but once you finish you’re in Charleston, so what’s the problem?

As Oscar Wilde wrote in “Lady Windermere’s Fan,” which was done at the festival a few years ago, some people know “the price of everything and the value of nothing.”

Working on a limited budget, I’ve made a point of always jamming in as much as possible during my Spoleto trips. I tried to spend my employer’s money the way I would spend my own. That means maybe one nice meal, but rarely is there time for many leisurely meals because I’m running from one thing to another.And I'm not there to eat. Nor am I there to sleep so I stay at the cheapest places I can find that aren't too far away and aren't completely disgusting. (I've traveled a lot in other countries so my standards for disgusting may be lower than yours.) One has to decide what's important. I know plenty of people without much money who save up and buy art. I know poeple with plenty of money who don't.

I also pride myself on how much I can see and so far the record has been 15 performances in about seven days. This year, because I really am spending my own money, I’ve figured out how to attend 17 performances in slightly less than six days. I’ll have to duck out of a couple things a little early and maybe get to one or two things a little late, and I might even fall asleep briefly during something (but I won’t be alone in that.)

Although the festival has had to cut back a bit because of the crappy economy (only one opera this year), the lineup still looks good.

My picks

“Don John,” a retelling of the Don Juan story by the Kneehigh Theatre of Wales. The group did a stunning production of “Tristan and Yseult” two years ago.

A concert for the shamisen, a Japanese stringed instrument. Old device, new music.

Jake Shimabukuro plays nice music on a mean ukulele. Or vice versa.

The festival orchestra playing “Das Lied von der Erde” (which translates to “You Could Look It Up”) by Gustav Mahler and conducted by Emmanuel Villaume.

"Addicted to Bad Ideas: Peter's Lorre's 20th Century" provides a look at

this crazy century just passed through the eyes of a tragic actor.

(pictured at right)

Cedar Lake Contemporary Ballet.(below) I don't know much about dance, but usually like the smaller dance companies (even though my dancer friends don't.)

Chamber music concerts. They don’t tell you who’s playing or what they’re playing until you get to the theater, but who cares?

I won’t be shocked if I fall in love with something that’s not on my list.

You can read a couple of my stories about the festival in the May 20 edition of the Free Times. I’ll also be regularly filing stories her from the festival starting Friday, May 22.

For more information about the festival click on the Spoleto logo on the right side of this page or go to