Thursday, April 30, 2009

Mahler and Morihiko

Almost a decade has passed since the S.C. Philharmonic played a Gustav Mahler symphony. That changes Saturday.
Although the composer’s Symphony No. 1 will be new for the orchestra, it will be even newer for music director Morihiko Nakahara. This will be the first time he has conducted a Mahler symphony. It’s a little intimidating (especially with all the instructors Mahler, who was a conductor, put in the score), but Nakahara has been waiting for a long time.
“I’ve liked his music since I was in high school,” Nakahara said one morning between bites of a bagel with egg at a Main Street café.
Not exposed to much pop music when he was young, Nakahara found in Mahler music that spoke to his own youthful anxieties and hopes. And like all good art, it keeps giving to those of all ages.
The concert will have another first with the orchestra playing music by Philip Glass. It will play two movements from Glass’ 1997 “Heroes” which was inspired by music David Bowie and Brian Eno created during the late 1970s.
All these firsts put a big bow the package that is Nakahara’s first year as new music director.
Anyone who has been around Nakahara during his time here, and that’s a lot of people, can tell he’s enjoying himself. Although he still works in Spokane, Washington, he has spent most of his time in Columbia. He plans to do the same next year.
“It has really exceeded my expectations,” he said of coming to Columbia. “I feel so welcome and embraced. It’s been a touching experience.”
And for those who have heard the Nakahara-led orchestra the feeling is mutual.

A bit about Mahler and the First Symphony

The First is not as big and convoluted as some of Mahler’s later pieces, but as Nakahara noted this week: “Mahler was a complicated guy.”
Few first symphonies are as strong as this one, Nakahara said.
It draws upon folk song and often provides a parody and then a parody within a parody, Nakahara said.
“People really didn’t know what to do with it.”
Its history is complicated too. Mahler started writing it in 1884 when he was about 25 and finished a version with version with five movements in 1888. During the next decade he revised and cut and in 1899 the version we know was published. (His second, third and fourth symphonies were also completed during the 1890s.)
By the time he was writing these symphonies, Mahler was already an in-demand conductor and his conducting was more appreciated than his music. In 1897 he became conductor of the Vienna Opera, an Imperial post of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. He conducted the Metropolitan Opera and New York Philharmonic for a year each before his death at 50 in 1911.
His music didn’t find much favor during his lifetime; he was ahead of his time. He did push the limits of what was tonally accepted and his use of pop tunes was seen as vulgar by some.
Other forces were at work too.
His music calls for a big orchestra, with extra percussion and brass. World War I and the Great Depression were barriers. Then there was that Nazi thing.
Although Mahler had converted to Catholicism, which he had to do for the Vienna Opera post since Jews couldn’t hold Imperial posts, this didn’t count for much with Joseph Goebbles, German Minster of Culture.
Even while Mahler’s music went unheard by the wider public for several decades, many 20th century composers were inspired by his work and his music was championed by conductor Leonard Bernstein and others. He has come to be seen as one of the greatest.

The S.C. Philharmonic performs at 7:30 Saturday at the Koger Center. Nakahara will give pre-concert talks at 6:30 and 6:50 p.m. $12 to $42. (803) 251-2222 or

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Charles has (almost) left the building

After Thursday’s chamber music concert at the Columbia Museum of Art, host Charles Wadsworth – like another legendary musician – will leave the building. He’s retiring from the concert tour which brings him and some very fine musicians to Columbia, Camden, Savannah and other spots. (Wadsworth, who turns 80 next month, is also retiring from the Spoleto Festival USA and a festival in Colombia, South America.)

Will the audience leave with him?

Of course people come for the music played by the likes of cellist and co-host Edward Arron, pianists Stephen Prutsman and Jeremy Denk, the St. Lawrence String Quartet, clarinetist Todd Palmer and others, but many come for Wadsworth. Like Spoleto, he’s a brand they can trust and they like his long-winded stories.

While I’m fond of Wadsworth, and it’s hard not to be, I get a little tired of the stories and jokes. For me it gets in the way of the music.

But the complaint I hear most often about the concerts is that they are too expensive and too stodgy.

I disagree.

The concerts are informative and informal. If anything Wadsworth’s ramblings make them a little too loose limbed. The playing is almost always exciting.

At $30 for museum members ticket prices are not out of the normal price range for high-quality music. Since the Koger Center years ago eliminated concerts by out-of-town musicians this series is the only place to hear this kind of music on this level in this city. Yes, the USC School of Music brings in guest artists as does the S.C. Philharmonic and USC Symphony, but those are not their reasons for being. And musicians at the school and in the orchestras like to hear great musicians as well.

Edward Arron, right, takes over programming and hosting in the fall and doesn’t plan major changes. (The lineup will be announced in June.) Organizer of a series at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, Arron has recruited new musicians to the series fold who have provided fresh voices. There’s no reason to think the music won’t be just as good or better. After all Arron’s Met series is considered one of the best in New York.

But can the series survive Wadsworth’s departure?

Those of us who believe the music is bigger than the maestro hope so.

The concert is at 7 p.m. Thursday and features Prutsman, Wadsworth, Arron, Eric Ruske, horn, and Jesse Mills, violin, playing music by Dvork, Brahms, Glazunov, Arensky and Prutsman. $30 for members; $35; $10 students tickets available Thursday only.

(803) 799-2810.

Read my interview with Wadsworth and Arron in this week’s Free Times, available around Columbia or at

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Nude Wednesday!

It's "Nude Wednesday" a regular feature to get you over the hump. Every Wednesday we'll feature a nude, most by artists from the area. You do not have to be naked to participate.
"In the Morning Light," by Bonnie Goldberg of Columbia.

Keeping in touch

Thanks for taking time to visit "Carolina Culture" since it emerged from the shambles of my life, career and the newspaper industry about a month ago. (This Thursday to be exact if you want to send a gift)
People from all around the state have been in touch and have sent along information about upcoming events. If you wish to do the same follow these guidelines:
1. Send it two weeks in advance.
2. If you are sending a standard press release it makes my life easier if it is in the text of the email.
3. Send photos, but not too many.
4. Send good photos.
5. AT THE TOP of the press release state what the event is, where it is (including a street address), when it is (times, if it is an art show it must have a closing date) and a contact number the public can call.
6. If you'd rather send information by regular mail, with a CD or flashdrive of photos, contact me.
Right now I am not in a position to create and maintain and extensive calendar of events, but the site will always have one with the top five to 10 events. If you are looking for an extensive listing of art events in the midlands, go to the Columbia Convention and Visitors Bureau calendar at
Also notice the big Halsey Institute of Contemporary Art at the College of Charleston logo on the right hand side of the page. This is an ad. "Carolina Culture" has now sold out. If you are interested in buying in, please contact us.

Monday, April 27, 2009

Another walk through the Vista arts

Although the attention usually goes to the Thursday night public opening of Artista Vista in the Congaree Vista, what’s usually forgotten is that most of these exhibitions are on display for weeks. I love the gallery hopping thing; see lots of people, eat some cheese, talk, talk and talk. I don’t do much looking, and although some people do, most really don’t.

I went back today for another look.

“Perceptual Painters” organized by artist Brian Rego of Camden, is one of the best shows the gallery has mounted. The seven artists are associated with the Pennsylvaina Academy of Art, which is considered a quite conservative place. These paintings are conservative, but it is conservatism to admire – good technique, solid composition, emotions and ideas that speak softly rather than scream. The paintings are of interiors, still lifes, a few figures and some landscapes and while all the art feels tied together, each artist has a distinctive voice.

The complex and cool interiors by John Lee (right) give way to a warmth and a little humor in Dave Campell’s mostly small pieces. A few of the works are a little more out there, but they show plenty of skill and imagination with traditional approaches.

It's obvious that these artists are talented, but judging they also seem young. I want to see what happens when they really push themselves during the next few years. In the meantime, this show will do quite nicely.

“Perceptual Painters,” through June 27.

“Wings” a small show of paintings by Elizabeth Foster, sings a bit then flies away.

The show at the Carol Saunders Gallery most often focuses on birds birds flying, birds looking at us and birds dong things bird might be able to do if they organized a union such as moving a nest and delivering mail.

Foster’s birds are beautiful and well-rendered, but what she does with them doesn’t often work. Those set in a kind of patterned background look a little too much like plain old decoration. Where she tries to set them free, they’re often lost in an undistinguished landscape. Foster is most likely doing this intentionally – the finished feathers contrasting against a more unfinished background. But these birds and their flights of fancy call out for more finely-tuned technique.

The show is up through May 23.

Carl Blair of Greenville (his "My Heart is Longing for You" is in the upper left) is one of the state’s art treasures and it’s always good to see his work. What can one say about his most recent show at if Art? Not much more than it is a very fine show with some real standouts. Oh and that it has a bunch of animal sculptures in it, but more about that in a minute.

Blair is a landscape painter, but one who mostly keeps the landscape in his head and does that he wants to with it. This most often find its way into canvases that are often grid like, but which can also explode into glowing pools and swooping shapes. There’s all that in this show, which has works dating back to the 1984, although most is from the last decade.

For me, the mostly abstract “I Think I Play Snowy Day” from 2003 is one of the most beautiful, moving and most unusual of his works I’ve seen and I’ve seen hundreds.

The animal sculptures are rough-hewn critters with a little color. They’re fun and unless you drop one on your foot, harmless.

“Flora and Fauna” runs through May 9.

Each spring, the resident artists of Vista Studios (also known as Gallery 80808) have a group show. This isn’t a commercial gallery, although it sometimes serves that purpose.

All the artists do fine work, but the exhibition itself doesn’t serve the viewers, the gallery or the artists well.

This is a show in which the artists put in whatever they want to put in. I’m sure they’re putting up what they think are their best pieces, but one person’s best work, according to them, next to another person’s best work, according to them, may not make for the best show. And this needs to be a real show, not just one from artist A and one from artist B and so on. It’s a strange show because it is all about the group, but it is also completely about the individual.

Hiring someone to organize the resident artists’ exhibition would probably be too expensive and complicated and would no doubt cause hard feelings. And the last thing we need is to mess up something like Vista Studios which is a monument to the survival of art in the Vista.

For the visitor who doesn’t know much about Vista Studios, there’s no explanation of what this place is, why the show exists and who these artists are. The person who is stopping by for the first or maybe even fifth time doesn’t know it from the gift shop around the corner showing art. For those of us who have been around time, it may seem obvious, but this year it is painfully NOT obvious.
Even monuments need upkeep.

The Vista Studio resident artist exhibition is on display though May 15.

One long-term Vista gallery was missing this year: the I. Pinckney Simons. The gallery which has existed in Columbia in one form or another for 30 has closed its Columbia location on Gervais Street to concentrate on its Beaufort location.

Sunday, April 26, 2009

New and new new music

Ever wonder what avant garde rock performance groups do
on Sunday afternoons before a gig?
They go to Target.
I ran into members of Sleepytime Gorilla Museum, playing in Five Points tonight, at the Target near Lexington. One of the road crew was very excited about the choices of footballs available.
The group has been around since 1999 (considerably longer than than Target and the Highway 378 sprawl over former farmlands that it is part of) and uses traditional and homemade instruments, such as the Sledgehammer Dulcimer. The show starts around 9 at Sudsworks, right on Devine Street.

If that's all too much, I'd suggest going to hear slightly less new music.
The USC Graduate String Quartet plays works by Bela Barton (that's him with the cig), Dmitri Shostakovich and Antonin Dvorak at 7:30 p.m. Monday.
Bartok's Third String Quartet, from 1926, is a short but demanding work that squeezes a great deal from a minimal amount of thematic material. It's one of his best shorter works.
Much better known is Dvorak's "American" Quartet, which he wrote in 1893 while spending a summer in Iowa, and shares characteristics with his "New World Symphony" written around the same time.
It's all rounded out with a polka by Shostakovich. And if you want to know what that's like you'll just have to go and hear it.

Come back this week for:
Morihiko and Mahler and the S.C. Philharmonic.
Chamber music master Charles Wadsworth, leaves the building.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Talking, and wearing, trash

So what do you do with your old grocery bags?
If you're like me you collect them in a cabinet under the sink.
Fortunately, there are some more imaginative than I.
See what they've done at Runaway Runway, a fashion show where the duds are made from trash or something like it. The outfits will be made of everything from snack food wrappers to hay bailing wire. I''m a little disappointed there's no road kill division.
There was some concern last year that not all the materials used were recycled: some just used non-traditional materials, such as dozens of paper coffee filters. Brand new. The environmentally-insulting bleached paper kind.
This year participants are being strongly encouraged to really recycle. And in this economy how can one not?
(Oh, don't be cynical and point out that parked SUV with the engine running.)
Runaway Runway struts its stuff at 701 Whaley St. Doors open at 6. Pre-catwalk entertainment will be provided by the Blythewood Percussion Ensemble and Unbound Dance and Alternacirque. The fashion show allegedly starts at 7:30. Tickets are $20 if you want to sit; $10 if you don't.
Above: Travis Teate's creation of one of his recycled outfits.

I did my own recycling recently. First I picked up a battered violin from a big cardboard box at the S.C. Philharmonic office. I had a little free time between leaving my last job and starting this site and was unencumbered with potential conflicts of interest. So I asked to take part in the Painted Violins project for which the orchestra asks artists to turn violins into visual arts objects.
Then I took it home and looked at it for a while.
Paint it? Too boring. Wrap it in old inner tubes? Might give people the wrong idea. Pound a bunch of nails into it? Kind of passive-aggressive. A walk along the Saluda River provided the answer and the materials. Here's your change to give me a review. Driftwood, sticks, wisteria bark and broken musical instruments are not my usual art materials, but it turned out better than I thought it would.
About 23 artists have taken part this year. The violins will be sold Friday night from 6 to 8 at Whit-Ash Rug Gallery on Gervais St.

That’s free, but if you’re buying make sure you have at least $250.

This is a weekend when you need a lot of money and several bodies.

Somehow the Cultural Council of Richland and Lexington County is also having a fund-raiser tonight, “Color the Arts,” the same night as the Philharmonic, one of its members organizations. Tickets for that are $50, but most of the money will come in from sales of local art. That’s extra. Then the USC dance program is having a big fundraiser, $75 to $125, on Saturday.

The Runaway Runway was originally scheduled for last night (Thursday, April 24), but someone woke up in time to move it.

Who is the keeper of the calendar?

No one. But more on that later.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Art against the tide

Please forgive me in advance. Eventually there will be room and time for substantial stories on this site. Right now, there are a whole lot of interesting arts events taking place. We're in the regular spring blast of everything happening at once. I don’t know about you, but I didn’t get much rest last weekend and don’t plan on getting any this weekend.

Way back in the Pleistocene, or maybe it was 1992, the Congaree Vista was largely a wasteland. Empty buildings. A working rail line down the middle of Lincoln Street. If you wanted to go to the river you’d have to fight your way through the kudzu - but you really wouldn't have wanted to get to the river.

Like so many similar places the first people to move into the area were artists. Some got studios, a few galleries were born. Even before much of anything else had happen, a really good restaurant, the Motor Supply Company, opened in what had been the Motor Supply Company. They didn’t have to make up funky names.

And like so many similarly once-blighted areas the artists mostly got priced out. If it wasn't for Vista Studios, there would be almost no artists working in the core of the Vista. It's a small miracle that any artists or galleries remain.

This is the time of the year when the remaining art enterprises and quite a few that do a little art on the side open up the doors for the Artista Vista gallery crawl. I’m completely shocked that the arts haven’t had a big crawl to a more welcoming part of town.

There was a time when Artista Vista really offered something you couldn’t find other places, especially when artists moved into run down buildings and did installations. That’s all gone now, but the art shows that are held during the event are usually solid if not all that exciting

What this year’s event has that many haven’t is that it’s heavy on performances, although not of what one would call the performance art kind (pity too.) Here are most of them: Wideman/Davis (pictured at right), a dance company at 701 Center for Contemporary Art; Elizabeth Foster not only did the delightful bird paintings at the Carol Saunders Gallery, she’ll also sing about them; the S.C. Contemporary Dance Company performs at Gyrotonic Vista; and if you don’t think glass blowing qualifies as some kind of dance they you’ve never seen it done and you can at One Eared Cow Glass.

Exhibitions not to miss:

“Perceptual Painters” at City Art is made up of seven painters tied in some way to the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts. It’s organized by painter Brian Rego, of Camden, who is also in the show. I made a quick run through of the not-quite-finished show Wednesday: the art is well done technically and full of emotion. (at top of page is "Model Undressing" by Scott Noel.)

“Wings,” the bird show mentioned above. Apparently the last time paintings by this artist were shown, I loved them.

Brett Flashnick’s photographs - some journalism, some art - are at the Columbia Music Festival Association.

This should be the out of the way gem: Nic Ularu, head of theatre design at USC, has an art show at Gyrotonic (which is some sort of machine-oriented gym.) He manages to do paintings that are shown internationally, designs plays around the world, and writes plays. Don’t expect to see him in the Vista because his play “The System” opens that night at LaMaMa in New York.

For the past few years the S.C. Philharmonic has invited local artists to pick up cheap violins and transform them. Figuring that just about everyone who needs a painted violin has one (although cellos, clarinets and at least one drum are involved as well) this will be the last such offering for a while. And unlike years past, the works will NOT be shown and sold at the final philharmonic concert.

You can check them out during Artista Vista at Whit-Ash Rug Gallery. A reception and auction will take place from 6 to 9 p.m.Friday April 24.

Among the artists who painted – and pulled and twisted and turned – the instruments are Scott Hallyburton, pictured left, Christian Thee, Dylan Fouste, Mana Hewitt, Roy Paschal (whose piece will completely freak you out), and (full disclosure here) me.

The main night walk runs from 5 to 9 p.m. Thursday, April 23 and most of the places will also be open Friday and Saturday April 23 and 24 from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m.

Everything is officially free until 9 p.m. Thursday night, including admission to the art gallery at the State Museum.

For more info go to

Monday, April 20, 2009

How was your year at the PHIL?

The final concert of the first year of the SC Philharmonic under the baton of Morihiko Nakahara is almost upon us. Kinda like that sentence.
What did you think?
If you heard all the concerts which was the best and which the worst?
How did you like the playing and music selection?
Were you someone who didn't care about the orchestra, but went this year because of the new music director?
A long-time philharmonic supporter who hates or loves what the orchestra has done this year?
And what do you think about Nakahara's jacket?
Let me know.

I haven't been keeping up with Nakahara's blog like I should, but I just read the one titled "Done with My Taxes." It's very informative, but has very little to do with taxes.
This will take you to to the B106 radio station website where you will be greeted by photos of a bunch of graying middle aged white guys (Sting, Don Henley, John Mellencamp, Elton John, Me), but it's the right place.

Sunday, April 19, 2009

A disorganized, delightful concert

The final Chamber Innovista concert at USC Sunday provided many annoying moments.

Only about 15 paying audience members attended. As one of the people who paid said to me at intermission everyone wants everything to be free.

The information I was provided with about the concert was incomplete – missing proper titles and even an entire work. Nor did it contain any background on the composers or the pieces. Nor did the program given out at the concert have this information.One poor student had to move a grand piano by himself.

What wasn’t annoying was the music – especially that played during the second half although I got the feeling that a goodly number (which in this case was a small number) of the audience found it annoying (kind of strange, awfully loud) but I found it exhilarating.

By any name, including the incorrect, the variations on themes (performed on oboe, clarinet, bassoon and piano) by Heitor Villa-Lobos written by the young composer Andre Mehmari was solid and stunning. It swooped and looped, was playful and jagged. That was followed by the equally dynamic “Homage to Federico Garcia Lora,” by the doomed composer Silvestre Revultas, and played by an 11-member ensemble with conductor. It’s a short, but splashy piece that has a great many edges, every single one honed sharp by the players.

The second half cast the first, a trio by Francis Poulenc, and the peppy “A Brass Menagerie” by John Cheetham, in a shadow. It also blocked from view nearly all disappointing aspects of the concert organization.

St. Paul Sunday” host Bill McGlaughlin put in a plug for Phillip Bush, so why shouldn’t I. Pianist Bush, who lives in Columbia, is on a new recording just put out by the public radio program.

If you want to know what happens before a play hits the stage you must go to

There you’ll find a great video of Trustus Theatre’s creation of “The Elephant’s Graveyard,” which opens Friday. In it you'll see how this ensemble work, directed by Robert Richmond, comes together, and hear Trustus artisttic director Jim Thigpen tell you why you won't want to see the show.

A river of music

Like most people who grew up in the latter half of the 20th century, I never listened to much classical music. Like many young journalists, I wanted to write about rock and roll and spent five years or so doing so. But writing-about-popular-music years are like dog years; one year in the pop music world is five years in the regular world.

Before you know it, you’re ignoring the guy who really wants you to come and hear the band he’s bringing to town (several times), but you pass on Widespread Panic again and again because they have nothing in common with REM or RUN-DMC.

In the early 1990s I began going to a lot of chamber music concerts and operas at the Spoleto Festival USA and fell in love with both. It’s not hard to do when you are listening to the St. Lawrence String Quartet and seeing completely whacked out opera productions.

For a long time I didn’t go to that many classical concerts in Columbia.

Out of a sense of duty (even before I was writing about classical music) I’d drag myself to the S.C. Philharmonic. The war horses were dragged out and flogged not all that well. And it was never loud enough. (That has changed dramatically with new music director Morihiko Nakahara, engaged players and a solid staff and board.)

About five years ago I meet some of the newer faculty members at the USC music school, the first being pianist Marina Lomazov, who I met at a gallery crawl in the Congaree Vista. Between Lomazov and composer John Fitz Rogers and Joe Rackers, an exceptional pianist who is also married to Lomazov, I found myself going to more and more concerts at the school and most of those are by faculty members. Nearly all of them were good and many way beyond good. My favorite concerts of the Southern Exposure contemporary music series also almost always the ones by the USC faculty.

The music school keeps hiring more and more new, good and – to add some icing - really nice and fun faculty members.

As the school year draws to a close only a few concert remain so take advantage while you can.

The final Chamber Innovista concert coming up Sunday, April 19 at 3 p.m. sounds pretty innovative. The Quartet for Oboe, Clarinet, Bassoon, and Piano by Andre Mehmari, (pictured above) a 32- year-old composer and musician who played on the Spoleto Festival jazz series a few years ago, will be performed by Rebecca Nagel, oboe Joseph Eller, clarinet, Peter Kolkay, bassoon, and Joseph Rackers, piano.

Staying south of the border the group will play a work by Mexican composer Silvestre Revueltasl, written in 1936 to honor writer Federico García Lorca, who was killed during the Spanish civil war. In another direction is Trio for Oboe, Bassoon and Piano by Francis Poulenc. It’s not free, but at $15 not bad. And where else are you going to hear something by Mehmari?

I’ll be there unless the weather is nice – which it usually is on Sunday spring afternoons. In that case I’ll be in my kayak listening to water music.

Professor Christopher Berg performs an all too rare concert at the school Monday night at 7:30. He’ll play Federico Moreno-Torroba's Sonatina and works by Agustin
Barrios, Julia Florida and Don Pérez Freire.

In an email Berg told me, “USC made me a distinguished professor last June, which immediately made me think of what La Rochefoucauld wrote, ‘The world oftener rewards the appearance of merit than merit itself.’ So, to prove him wrong I've been busy: I was on sabbatical and finished the first installment of my ‘Re-Imagination of Performance’ series for the leading guitar journal and my teaching at USC has kept me busy. I had 25 students audition for entry into the guitar program for 2009-2010. And then, of course, keeping up concert repertoire and performing. Earlier this month I was at Randolph-Macon College and UVA for concerts and master classes. But enough of that…”

Well enough until the concert.

After the ball

Big turnout for the big party at the Columbia Museum of Art. Apparently more than last year, 700 +, but I was too busy talking to count. Someone told me the writing here is not critical and edgy enough. Another said my review of "Turner to Cezanne" (in The State a month ago) was snide. I said I didn't think so. They said I should read it again. I just did. I can't tell.
Most everyone asked if I could make money doing this. The answer is "No" but it's more complicated than that. The answer might be "Yes."
It was one of those rare occasions when elected officials enter the museum. Spotted Bob Coble, Columbia mayor, and Kirk Finley, councilman.
As usual saw no University of South Carolina art department faculty members. Yes, it's the end of the semester and tickets to this ball were $150. But none of them were at the opening reception for the show in early March and and that didn't cost anything - if you're a museum member.
Seemed like everyone was having fun, but I was a little too busy to notice.
Made an unscheduled stop at the Art Bar on my way home.

Friday, April 17, 2009

A long day and a good dance

This has been a long day in a long week. First, thanks for visiting the the blog and listening to me talk about it when you've seen me around.
Stopped by early this evening to say hello to Carl Blair, who has a solo exhibition of serious landscape paintings and funny animal sculptures at the if Art Gallery in the Vista.
I hadn't seen Blair in a long time. The retired Bob Jones University professor is one of the nicest men I know. Saying he's "retired" isn't really correct, since he's so productive as an artist. I had just a few minutes to look around, but what I saw was what i usually see at one of his shows: good art.
The last time I went to watch The Power Company dance group I was so hacked off at what was going on I left at intermission. I knew the group was capable of so much more.
So I was back tonight to see if they'd gotten on track and they have.
The group did a full night of dances, some older, like "Walrus Wrestling," some brand new like "Last Night I Had a Dream," a moving work by Christian von Howard with music by So Percussion. There were also expansions and updates on "at this point..." choreographed by Christine Keirnan with music by Dan Cook and "The Otis Project" by Stephanie Wilkins, set to music by Otis Redding.
The first solo part of "at this point" was a high point. I love and know Redding's music, so it's hard for me to get past what I'm hearing to see what I"m seeing. But anyone who can take "Dock of the Bay," Redding's biggest hit and most atypical tune, and not make it silly and sentimental gets my vote.
The Power Company does the same thing again tonight at 7:30 at Columbia College.

Living artists in a dead space

A dozen artists, most members of the About Face art group that meets in the basement of the Columbia Museum of Art, have been working in an unused second floor space of the museum for the past month or so. Both the basement and the second floor area (usually dubbed the ‘dead space’) are open and raw with exposed ducts and pipes, concrete floors, flourscent lights. The artists have transformed the second floor. They’ve painted art on walls and pillars, put up a floor-to-ceiling art gallery and created makeshift studios constructed of packing crates.

You can see the art and the artists during the museum Soirée du Soleil gala Saturday night. The artists will be playing painters of the period that produced art in the exhibition “Turner to Cezanne: Masterpieces from the Davies Collection, National Museum Wales” which is at the museum. Those artists were mostly French, working in the late 19th and early 20 centuries. You might have heard of some – Monet, Manet, Renoir, Van Gogh.

This is the second year the museum has done a big blowout, high ticket gala. So far about 700 tickets have been sold. At $150 a head, it isn’t cheap, but it certainly should be fun. I had a blast at last year’s gala. But make up your mind – it’s $175 at the door.

(Full disclosure: I am not a member of About Face, but I regularly, even religiously, attend the group’s figure drawing sessions. Otherwise I’d never make art. It’s usually not OK for a journalist to belong to any group he or she might cover. I DO purchase a basic annual membership to the art museum. I also climbed ladders and painted on the pillars upstairs.)

The museum wants 35,000 people to pass through the door before “Turner to Cezanne” is sent along to the next venue in June.

The week the show opened in early March the museum offered a “pay what you wish” evening – pretty good considering the normal price is $15. I figured there would be a big line waiting to get into the museum, but when I arrived shortly before the doors opened at 5 p.m. only about ten people were lined up. I was shocked at the lack of interest considering the buzz about the show. A few weeks ago, the museum did a similar promotion with even less response. The museum has led the horse to water, hell it’s led the horse to whiskey, but…

People are obviously avoiding me because about 17,000 have attended “Turner to Cezanne” which means the 35,000 figure is well within reach. The 35,000 figure was picked because that was the highest attendance for any show at the museum. One big difference is to see the earlier show cost about $5 and to see this one it’s $15. The show is also drawing from all over – 40 percent from others states. I’d say this is a hit.

Public radio on stage

Hours before I dress up and head to the museum Saturday, I’ll be watching the public radio program “What’ya Know.” Yes, watching. The show is making a stop at the Koger Center Saturday morning and it will be broadcast nationally. Nice, but kind of a day late and a dollar short.

“What’ya Know” has been in South Carolina several times, but never in Columbia. And while we’re getting this show, other places around the state are, and have been, bringing in various public radio show and personalities for several years. Ira Glass of “This American Life” was recently in Greenville, as was writer and frequent “TAL” contributor David Sedaris and Garrison Keillor, host of “A Prairie Home Companion.” Most of these shows are sponsored by the SC ETV radio network, but ETV isn’t certain why Columbia hasn’t hosted any before. They do say that the management of The Peace Center in Greenville is very connected always takes an interest in the public radio folks.

Look at the Peace Center calendar some time and you’ll see there’s a lot they’re interested in booking a lot of interesting and varied acts.

The Koger Center, which is owned and operated by USC, isn’t in the booking business. If business comes and space is available, things will come to the Koger Center. But it is a university and a rental facility – the Koger Center doesn’t put on shows. If you’d like to see the Koger Center take an active role in bringing in people like Keillor, Glass and others, you’ll have to find out who at the university is actually in charge of the center. After several years of trying I was never able to.

If you want to know about “Whad’Ya Know” you’ll have a hard time doing so at the Koger Center, which has the program listed simply as “Michael Feldman” on its website. (After a couple emails to the Koger Center, they tell me they’ve changed the listing.)

Even if you don’t know Feldman you probably know Drink Small, the blues player who will be a guest. Also onstage will be Mark Smith, a USC history professor who tastes and smells history in his books.

And of course the ladies will be throwing their undies at my former colleague and “Whad’Ya Know” guest Brad Warthen. Warthen used to be editorial page editor of The State and is creator of the t-shirt that says “Accountable to No One” all state government employees issued upon hiring.

Warthen is now raking in the big bucks with his own blog at

So is another former colleague, and a guy I could really talk to, the fine, funny and first-rate editorial cartoonist Robert Ariail. He’s at

His cartoons would be good on the radio as well, but what does Feldman know? Not much. You?

Where to find "Mother Courage" review

You can find my review of "Mother Courage and Her Children," produced by Theatre South Carolina at USC, at the website Onstage Columbia. Bottom line is that it's a good production that I don't think captures writer Bertolt Brecht's intentions. It's one of the few "my opinion," subjective reviews I've written in a long time. I don't know if that's blog related.
The site is operated by James Harley, well-known for his acting as well as his theater reviews. Others reviewing for the site are August Krickel, Larry Hembree and Ann Dreher. You'll find more and better written theater reviews there than anywhere else around town. And that was true long before I started writing for them.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

A busy weekend coming

Near the end of each week, this blog will have a list of things happening in the coming weekend. If there’s something you think should be on the list and isn’t, let me know. But not your baby shower unless I can attend without first making a purchase at Super Super Baby World.
This weekend starts early and leaves late.
Tonight (Thursday) the Dutch jazz group Ab Baars Trio with Ken Vandermark plays tonight (April 16) at the 701 Center for Contemporary Art.. $12. 8 p.m.
If it’s anything like Dutch theater it should be outlandish and wonderful.
The Bertolt Brecht play "Mother Courage and Her Children," April 17- 26 at USC’s Drayton Hall Theatre, corner of College and Sumter streets.(Spoiler alert: almost everyone dies.)The photo of the badass woman above is Robyn Hunt, who is playing the title character. She's just like your mom.
Indie Grits Film Festival, through Sunday April 19, Nickelodeon Theatre, 701 Center for Contemporary Art, CMFA ArtSpace,

The usually offensive (and we mean that in a good way) playwright Neil LaBute’s “Fat Pig” can be seen at Trustus Black Box Theatre Friday, April 17, through April 25. 8 p.m., $10.

Chamber Innovista concert 3 p.m. Sunday April 19 USC School of Music. $15.

I’ve found that the most extensive and generally best events calendar can be found at the Columbia Metropolitan Convention and Visitor’s Bureau web site
It doesn’t have EVERYTHING but it has more than most places.
Also the CVB “2009 Official Vistors Guide” is excellent. It has the most extensive and accurate arts group listings you can find. Unfortunately this list is not on the CVB web site.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Music to watch and hear

Jake Shimabukuro, who will perform at the Spoleto Festival next month. Highly unlikely you've ever heard a ukulele player like this.

The amazing woman Susan Boyle on "Britain's Got Talent." I know we're all supposed to hate these "Idol" shows as well as the musical "Les Miserables," but if this doesn't (at least) almost make you cry you need a heart transplant.

In an ideal world there'd be a great video of Buddy and Julie Miller performing her "All My Tears" in overdrive. Alas, it ain't there. The first time I saw Buddy he was in Emmylou Harris' brand new at the time band Spyboy. At Furman U. of all places.
This is the video of that band. Got to see Buddy and Julie in Charlotte and then at the Library of Congress of all places. He's playing with Robert Plant now among othes. And the bassist, Daryl Johnson, plays with the Stones now.

Some housekeeping.

The morning of March 10 I learned that I would be losing my job as arts writer at The State – just four months shy of 20 years. One thing that never crossed my mind was leaving town. Columbia has been my home longer than anywhere else and it’s a good place with mostly good people and pretty good art. I like it so much I have two houses here.
Some of those good people helped me get this blog going. I’m not a complete computer idiot ( the operative word being “complete”) but without the technical support of Janna McMahan, Susan Lenz, Kevin Bush and Kathleen Robbins (who took the photo at the top of the blog) it wouldn’t have happened. (I know there are some glitches here for which I take responsibility.)
The moral support from dozens of people I’ve run into during the past two weeks has also been amazing and humbling.

So as I was saying, I lost my job which I’m not happy about. For the last five years or so, I’ve been more engaged and excited about my job than ever before, which is rare to find with someone who has been doing the same thing for so long. I will always be grateful for that.
I’d love to still be there doing what I did – and people in hell want ice water.

Although I said earlier that I didn’t think about leaving town, that’s exactly what I did because I had a vacation planned for two days after I found out I was being laid off. Between the time I got my notice and left town I wrote four stories, packed two decades worth of stuff and started over.
Next thing I knew I was in San Salvador, El Salvador, just in time for my godson Max’s birthday party and the presidential election. I spent two weeks in El Salvador and Honduras looking at the volcanoes and Mayan ruins, wandering through the markets, taking very long bus rides, mangling a perfectly straight forward and lovely language and playing Captain Hook (good mustache, bad hook) at the Peter Pan-themed birthday party. I was killed many times by small children.

Catching up
I missed a few concerts, plays and art shows while I was away but jumped right back in when I returned. One of the first things I hit was the last S.C. Philharmonic concert – which was the best of the season. The orchestra’s rendition of the oft-performed “Enigma Variations” by Edward Elgar was sublime and Aaron Copland’s Clarinet Concert with soloist John Bruce Yeh of the Chicago Symphony supercharged.
I just listened to it again on ETV Radio’s “Carolina Concerts” Monday. Sounded great the second time around too.
Then it was off to St. Joseph’s Catholic Church for a choral concert. The main reason I attended was to hear USC music school dean Tayloe Harding’s “The War Prayer,” with text by Mark Twain. A moving piece of music to a convoluted story by Twain.
The next stop was a double bass concert by USC faculty member Craig Butterfield. Not all that many people would rush out to hear a double bass concert, but then again those folks have probably never heard Butterfield. It was worth fighting with the Hootie and the Blowfish ballet crowd next door at the Koger Center to hear him play, especially Franz Schubert’s Sonata in A major (Originally written for the arpeggione, an extinct six string instrument played with a bow.) He was accompanied for part of the concert by Charles Fugo, whose performance of Beethoven’s “33 Variations on a Waltz by Anton Diabelli” earlier this year is in my top 10 concerts of the last five years. And I’ve been to a lot of concerts.
I’ve also gone to a few art shows: Kara Guther’s sculptures at the USC art department (pig heads and real lemons) and Nikolai Oskolov’s paintings that are a Russian take on the South. The latter show can be seen through April 21 at Gallery 80808/Vista Studios, 808 Lady St. If you didn’t make it to opening night you missed the bluegrass and balalaika music.
The USC art department gallery has final shows by graduate students up or upcoming. These should be well worth checking out, even though with the gallery hours you’ll have to take time off work to see them.
Huy Chu, whose exhibition is up through Saturday (April 18) does odd little figurative sculptures some based on well-known cartoon characters. They’re funny as all get out and well made. Following that is an installation of abstract, organically inspired work (at least that’s my best guess from looking at some of her earlier work) by Amanda Ladymon, running April 21-25.
Coming up:
New, and old, music on Chamber Innovista.
Living artists in the dead space of the Columbia Museum of Art.
What the hell is the problem with the University of South Carolina art department?
Review of the Robert Courtright retrospective at the S.C. State Museum.
Why Columbia gets Michael Feldman instead of Ira Glass, David Sedaris and Garrison Keillor.
Bad web sites. Bad! Bad!

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

If you want to know what's going on in the arts in Columbia, YOU'VE COME TO THE RIGHT PLACE.
I've been covering the arts in Columbia - from visual to theater to classical music and a lot of stuff in between - for almost 20 years. During most of that time it has been an absolute joy.
This forum will be used to share the facts as well as the little tidbits you might have missed, events you should not miss or should avoid. You’ll also be able to read in depth stories as well as reviews and commentary. Some will be serious but many will be fun.
The focus will be on fine arts as traditionally defined: theater, dance, visual arts, music, but with wide open eyes and ears. Architecture, building, planning and zoning, food, furniture, flora and fauna, and history will also find a place here.
If you're reading this you know the arts are getting less and less attention from the media. We plan to fill the gap.

As luck, good or bad or both, would have it Tuesday night NPR aired the story "As Newspapers Downsize, Cities Lose Arts Critics." The reporter of that story and I were National Arts Journalism Fellows together at Columbia University.
Take a look and give a listen at