Helen Lucas and Ernestine Tahedl (The Aird Gallery until Oct 24)
My visit to this show was a bit rushed, but I'll be going back for a better look. The day I dropped in, Ms. Tahedl was
on hand. It would be exaggerating to claim that we're friends but we've had friendly encounters at various arts events.
Ms. Tahedl's pictures in this show are mostly large acrylics: semi-realistic landscapes, all drippy
and misty, infinitely subtle shadings of colours all running together. If I were a billionaire with a showcase home of glass
and steel, I'd buy her five-panel screen of the Rocky mountains to adorn my foyer. One of my favourites of her pictures, though,
is a relatively small one just inside the door, another blurry landscape, but in a more sombre mood than many of the others.
Ms. Lucas is showing large florals (acrylics, I think). What especially interested me about them
is that the drawing is precise but the flowers still manage to burst out of the frame with exuberance; they don't have that
tight, cramped look that some botanically exact flower paintings have. Ms. Lucas' colours go the opposite direction of Ms.Tahedl's:
bold, plain statements. The nearlyl all-white ones especially impressed me.
Nathan Berg on "In Performance", CBC Radio Two (Oct. 13/04)
This concert gave me a problem. I wasn't intending to listen. The repretoire didn't interest me much: no really good songs,
ie. no Mozart, Beethoven or Schubert. So I decided, instead of listening, to take a hot, relaxing bath. After starting the
water, though, I turned on the radio for a quick sampling. Mr. Berg's huge, velvety bass baritone really grabbed me. That
meant having to take a radio and put it on the bathroom radiator. (No suicide scenario here: the two are well distanced.)
When you're listening to a concert in this situation, the problem, once you've filled the tub,
is: when do you add more hot water to keep yourself from getting cold? During the Saturday afternoon opera, there are always
some dull bits or some recitative when the sound of the tap running won't hurt but, the way this concert was shaping up, I
didn't want to miss a single note. It turned into quite an awkward evening: lying there trying to keep warm, making do with
just a trickle of hot water now and then. I didn't risk getting up and going to another room for fear of the major disruption
that would cause.
By the time I had settled into the tub, Mr. Berg had finished his Strauss songs and launched into
a set by Brahms. Host Peter Tiefenbach (having enjoyed him when he was on CBC staff, I'm always glad to hear him again)
explained that Herr Brahms was feeling pretty glum because Clara Schuman was really ill and he was beginning to realize he'd
never loved anybody but her. So we got the usual lugubrious mood from Brahams, except for a surprise in the last song
which was based on St. Paul's first letter to the Corinthians: "Unless I have love...." etc. Who would have thought of turning
that into a militaristic clarion call?
Then came some Maurice Ravel songs as imagined in the voice of Don Quixote to Dulcinea. Mr. Tiefenbach
told us M. Ravel was fatally ill when these were written and had great difficulty putting the notes on paper but the last
one, a drinking song, had vitality bursting out all over and running off in all directions. If I was hearing the French correctly,
a repeated refrain was "Je bois la joie" (I drink joy). Good thing if we could all die like that.
A series of quieter songs by Henri Duparc brought us Mr. Berg's voice at its most silky, seductive
and tender. Those sudden drops in pitch were electrifying. Made me think of an old friend whose grandmother used to say of
a certain gentleman, "He can park his slippers under my bed any time."
The final set was Robert Schuman's DIchterliebe. I do love it when singers choose foreign
language repretoire with lots of words that you've learned from your vocal studies years ago, with the result that you
get the feeling you're understanding everything. Mind you, Mr. Berg's passion had a lot to do with that. He tore into "Ich
Grolle Nicht" in all-out, chewing-the-scenery mode, at the far end of the emotional spectrum from the Duparc songs.
True, there wasn't any of the beautiful classical repretoire that forces the singer to show off
his voice at its most polished as he negotitates the precise demands of the music. Everything that Mr. Berg gave us was large,
romantic and all-over-the-place. Maybe the top notes were occasionally a bit pinched, sometimes a note of falsetto creeping
in, not the way your singing teacher taught you to do them back in Vancouver in the 1970s (at least, not the way Herr Fischer-Dieskau
does them) but who cares, apart from your singing teacher? If Superman rescues you from the burning building and takes you
zooming across the skies, are you going to complain that the ride's a bit rough at times?
CBC Radio Two: New Schedule
At almost two weeks into the new schedule at CBC Radio Two, it's time to report my impressions.
I have been complaining about the popoularization of CBC radio for decades. The process started,
in my experience, about 30 years ago, with the appointment of a bureaucrat named Margaret Lyons who was going to sweep away
many of the established classical programs and replace them with more popular fare. Ever since, I've thought of the "Lyonization"
of CBC radio with some bitterness. Why does CBC have to be popular? The populace can get junk whenever and wherever they want
it; the airwaves are full of it. Why not save CBC radio for the good stuff that we can't get any place else?
And don't talk to me about diversity. Even before the recent shake-up, more and more "world music" was
creeping into the schedule. Oh, I know we're a multicultural country and our taxes support the CBC and parliamentarians have
to be answerable to their constituents and all that. But do they really think this is going to draw more satisfied listeners
or is it just an exercise in political correctness?
From the advance notice, it sounded like this recent re-vamping was going to be the final chop
in a slow, agonizing execution. Maybe it was time to say a sad farewell to the CBC I used to know and start scouting garage
sales for CD collections.
The first big change is that "Music and Company", the early morning weekday show with genial host
Tom Allan, is cut cback to three hours instead of four. The only great loss in this is that there will be no more "In The
Shadow" segments, the ones that took place in the fourth hour on Thursdays. This series, in which Tom explored
the lives of composers who had some success in their day but who have been largely ignored by posterity, was my favourite
part of the show. But maybe the series had run its course. The segments seemed to be mostly repeats lately. It was getting
to the point where we knew Amy Beach's life inside out and upside down.
The newly titled request program "Here's To You", with Shelly Solmes, now runs from 9 am to noon.
That's ok, I suppose. The request show isn't the high point of the schedule but sometimes you hear something that isn't "The
Pearlfishers' Duet" or "The Lark Ascending". I had some problems with Ms. Solmes at the outset of her tenure as host of "Take
Five". She sounded like a pearls-and-silk kind of gal who was at pains to sound as if she was letting down her hair. But she
occasionally makes a self-deprecating remark that plays off her sophisticated image and I find that endearing.
The big worry was Eric Friesen's new afternoon program "Studio Sparks". He apparently knew what he was
up against because his promos proclaimed, "Change is good for you". I wanted to shout back: "No, it isn't, not when it amounts
to popularization." It sounded like he was going to be giving us an eclectic mix of classical, jazz, popular and world music
-- a lethal combination, in my view.
Well, I've only heard bits of the program (some work has to get done around here, after all) but it's
not bad. He started off with lots of Renee Flemming -- several songs and an interview -- and you can't get much better than
that. Apparently, he's going to play selections from concerts he likes, along with recordings he has personally chosen for
one reason or another. (There used to be programs like this on the CBC French radio; don't get me started on the recent disasters
in that department!) The jazz and popular elements haven't been too disruptive. Altogether, it looks like a pleasant mix,
a sort of "magazine" program. Let's face it, those two hour concerts that used to occupy this space could be just a trifle
boring. How many times do you have to hear Mozart's "Jupiter" symphony?
Best of all, Mr. Friesen's personality comes through better than before. He has always done a
good job as a classical announcer but, for my taste, he tended a little too much towards the caricature of the old-time CBC
announcer: plummy voice, awed tone in the presence of high culture. Now that he has more opportunity to express his own thoughts
and feelings, he sounds more unbuttoned and friendly. Not that he's ever likely to rival the avuncular and all-knowing Bob
Kerr for the honour of being my favourite radio personality of all time, but so far so good.
I haven't had much chance to hear "In Performance" or "On Stage" but there have been some suspicious
incursions of jazz elements in those departments, as far as I can tell. Still, we have a lot of the beloved stand-bys: "Choral
Concert" and "Music for a While", to mention just a few. And thank God for "Saturday Afternoon at the Opera". I need my weekly
fix of the irrepressible quizmaster Stuart Hamilton. That man seems to enjoy his life so much, he's a tonic.
So the rush on the garage sales is on hold for a while.
My Own Art Walk
One Friday afternoon, my subway trip downtown was stopped at Eglinton. Service from there to Rosedale had been suspended
because of a "personal injury". So, I got to a phone, cancelled my 2:30 meeting (don't you love the business-like sound of
that!) and, in the company of a few hundred former passengers, started a leisurely stroll downtown for my 3:30 meeting. It
turned out to be a sort of "art walk" of my own making
The first stop was the Palette gallery on Yonge St. near Summerhill, where I happened to notice some
gorgeous pictures by Tim Daniels in the window. His pastels were some of my favouites works at the City Hall art show
this past summer. I never used to be interested in pastels; I thought they were always pale and pastel. Silly me. Mr.
Daniels produces them in rich, vibrant colours with a wonderful play of light and shadow. I fell in love with his very simple
but dramatic compositions, such as a bunch of flowers in a tin can set against a window. Here in the gallery he's also
showing some oils and acrylics: forest scenes, landscapes, streets of San Francisco. Again, the marvellous contrast of light
and shadow, but I wish he'd gone a little lighter in some of the black shadows in the street scenes. I perfer my blacks mixed
with a little colour to enliven them.
Then it was on to the Drabinsky gallery in Yorkville for a look at some pictures mentioned in the Globe and
Mail. Sky Glabush paints pictures of buildings, mostly modern, low-rise apartments and offices. Completely isolated from any
surroundings and with almost no landscaping to soften their edges, they stand stark against pale skies.The main thing about
these buildings is the insipid colour, mostly greyish, pinkish, greenish, with sometimes a touch of garish ornamentation.
I suppose they're ironic, droll comments on urban architecture. Mr. Glabush seems to be saying: look what awful things we've
contstructed for the sake of conformity to what are supposed to be acceptable urban aesthetics. At least, that's the effect
of most of the pictures on the main floor.
The pictures downstairs are, for the most part, quite another matter. Here are several black
and white pictures (mixed media, mostly), rather small (about 12 by 8 inches), of buildings, some of them still under construction,
some of them private dwellings with a particularly modernistic angularity. It seemed to me that these pictures must be from
a different period because the feel of them is so different. Instead of mockery, we have loving contemplation of
these structures. While the pictures upstairs are amusing and thought-provoking, these are deeply satisfying. But the curator
following me around said that all the pictures are from the same period.
A huge one on a downstairs wall struck me as the masterpiece of the collection: an
office building, all glass and steel, rendered in a way that amounts to almost total abstraction (think Mondrian).
The use of colour is at its most subtle: mostly greyish, whitish and blackish (as I remember it) but a very pale greenish
background seems to pervade the whole picture.
I continued on to the Justina M. Barnicke allery at Hart House on the U of T campus for a show of abstract
works from the permanent collection. Surprising as it was to me, I liked the work of the more recent painters better than
that of the "old masters" of Canadian art. A Lawren Harris picture -- a sphere emerging from wedges -- made me think
of one of those awful covers of a science fiction paperback. Looser work from some of the older painters gave the impression
that they were a bit giddy about throwing off the shackles of traditional painting and were producing squiggles and scribbles,
not quite sure what to do with the new freedom. To me, the newer work seemed more confident and assurred. Given my interest
in urban landscape, a huge picture suggesting a jumble of apartment buildings and fragments of other urban clutter appealed
to me.(Unfortunately, I can't give the artist's name. Not knowing this was going to turn into a review, I didn't make
notes and the program isn't much help.) It's all very indistinct and blurry but it reminded me of looking up a narrow street
in Marseilles at the endless balconies with laundry flying in all directions. I loved another artist's pair of pictures side
by side: one all smeary purple with a tiny strip of bright orange at the edge, the other with the relationship of the
colours reversed. Ted Godwin's Battle of Britain pleased me too. Haven't the faintest idea what it has to do with
said historical event but it offers a soothing organic yellowish green seen through a whitish grid, with blobs of stronger
colour here and there. Rather like peering at a garden through a trellis.
After my 3:30 appointment, the afternoon ended at the Aird Gallery in the provinical government
buildings on Bay Street where a juried show of small original prints was on. The piece that leapt out at me from across the
room and kept calling me back was was "Staircase" by Elizabeth Myles Elliot: a beautifully composed two-storey view of a front
hall in strong yellows, oranges, indigo and olive green. Charlotte Koo's "Untitled", some inky smudges on white paper, turned
out to be a winter landscape of evergreens on snow. I love that kind of thing. Even more interesting was Ms. Koo's "Wanderings":
a murky, cloudy blackness with just a suggestion of a path leading into it, maybe a fence post or two. And speaking of
cloudy and black, I also liked John Ming Mark's slightly off-kilter rectangles, overlapping at their edges, filmy black
like photo negatives. Some more traditional-looking works were pleasing too. Two etchings of sleeping girls by different artists
provided a nice contrast: one innocent and child-like, the other (of a more mature person) hinting at repressed sensuality.
Turner-Whistler-Monet Show (Art Gallery of Ontario)
I had the good fortune (at great price) of seeing this show on a private tour for members of the Toronto Watercolour Society
one morning before the show opened to the public for the day. The docent who took us through the show gave us very insightful
comments, although I don't know whether she said anything that wouldn't have been available on the recorded commentary available
The theme about the inter-relationship of these painters was interesting, but why did I feel it
was being hammered home a little too forcefully? It felt as though there was some chauvinism on display: look at the brilliant
thesis our very own curator came up with one day while working in her garden! But maybe the problem was just that there wasn't
time to absorb the theory. We simply had to nod dumbly at what we were told, then hurry on.
Most of the work was well worth seeing but I felt some of the early Turner works -- in particular
one very ugly landscape with a little cutout dog stuck in the foreground -- should not have been shown. Granted, the point
was to show how Turner was influenced by Poussin's handling of light, but couldn't a better Turner work have made
the same point?
Just a few of my favourites. The Whistler etchings of Venice are ravishing. How does he create such
a complex effect of architecture, water and mood with a few black scratches on paper? I drooled over some of the Turner watercolours.
Their minimalism -- just a few pencilled suggestions of buildings, with swirls of colour -- reminded me of Cezanne's watercolours:
more suggestive and evocative than assertive. It was fun to see Whistler's "Nocturne in Black and Gold: The Falling Rocket",
the work that launched the famous lawsuit in which the artist sued the critic John Ruskin for claming that he, Whistler, was
conning the public. The huge Monet's with their explosions of colour are very pretty, of course. My problem with them is that
I wish he didn't keep copying pictures from calendars and date books that you can find on sale in all the stores come January
of every year.
Rodney Graham: A Little Thought (Art Gallery of Ontario)
Shows like this depress the hell out of me. Here's a man hailed as one of the most brilliant and creative artists on the
Canadian scene and I can't find anything in his work that strikes some kind of spark for me.
The show consisted mostly of short films running in loops."A Reverie Interrupted" features a handcuffed
convict plinking tunelessly at an old piano, watched over by a policeman who eventually steps forward and leads him away,
then the loop begins again. In "Photokinetoscope" a man cycles through a park, a playing card pinned to the spokes of
his bike, stops and ponders, drinks from a thermos, gets back on his bike, stops to look at a statue, the loop begins again.
Sometimes, I caught a glimmer of significance. "Edge of the Wood" showed a grove of trees at
night, swept by a searchlight, while noise that might have been a helicopter roared overhead. I felt a bit of a frisson, imagining
myself a fugitive hiding in those woods. So maybe the idea is that you create your own story to go with the pictures? "Softcore"
featured young couples in various states of undress play-fighting in sand at the foot of a cliff. Granted, it had a certain
erotic buzz, but any more than the average shampoo commercial?
In "Vexation Island", a comatose pirate with a wound on his forehead lies on a beach watched over
by a parrot. Many shots of waves, sky, palm trees. I stood back and took in the 20 or so people intently watching the screen.
Suddently it occurred to me that maybe we were the show, maybe this was the artist's point: we are such dumb sheep that
we will stand and watch something, hoping against hope for some sort of meaning to emerge.
Here's the meaning that the artist offers for this "Vexation Island" in the program: "The short
film aspires to be an accurate diagram pleasingly rendered, of the catastrophic events that conjoin states of consciousness
(shots) according to at least one possible theory. I wish to posit an island or rather a stripped down island adventure comprising
the Natural Fluxes -- bird-centred, man-centred and tree-centred -- that divide and re-form repeatedly according to the principle
of the loop."