HuffPost Arts&Culture's Haiku Reviews is a monthly feature where invited critics review exhibitions and performances in short form. Some will be in the traditional haiku form of 5x7x5 syllables, others might be a sonnet and some might be more free-form. This month, George Heymont, Laurence Vittes and Peter Frank give their quick takes on performing and visual arts.

Is there an exhibition or performance that you think people should know about? Write your own "haiku" with a link and shine a light on something you think is noteworthy in the comments section below.

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  • What if you always wanted to make a disaster film but couldn’t afford expensive special effects, action adventure movie stars, or CGI scripting? Writer/director Todd Berger seems to have found the perfect solution. <em>It’s A Disaster</em> is a low-budget indie film that takes place at a Sunday couples brunch as people learn that a series of dirty bombs has been detonated downtown and a radioactive or chemical cloud is headed their way. As telecommunications fade, the Internet becomes unavailable (and the only contact with the outside world is a telemarketer calling from Manila), each of the brunch attendees has to figure out how to cope with what will probably be his last hours alive. The problem is that, even with a cast headed by David Cross, America Ferrara, Julia Stiles, Kevin M. Brennan, and Rachel Boston, none of these characters is particularly likable. There are, however, some genuinely funny moments to be enjoyed.

  • The title of Matthew Lopez's poignant new dramedy, <em>Somewhere</em> (which received its world premiere in October 2011 from the Old Globe Theatre in San Diego and has just received its regional premiere from TheatreWorks), is an acutely specific reference to a song, a show, a time, a place, and a critical moment in the history of the American musical theatre. As the play begins, the Candelaria family is getting ready for a quick family dinner. The hopes of the effusive Candelarias are clearly focused on two goals: being cast in a musical and welcoming their father, Pepe, home from his travels. It soon becomes obvious that Pepe is not only the hero of numerous family legends, but has been gone for a long, long time. When the family is visited by Jamie MacRea, who is now working as an assistant to Jerome Robbins, Alejandro's closest childhood friend quickly becomes the center of attention. Throughout Lopez's play there are periodic radio announcements about current events, including the growing American involvement in Vietnam. Late in the second act, when Jamie finally convinces the increasingly depressed Alejandro to reconsider his dream of becoming a dancer, it's already too late. By the end of the play, Alejandro is in Vietnam while his worried family bravely tries to celebrate Christmas without him. I found Lopez's play to be a deeply touching breath of fresh air Hats off to a tightly-knit ensemble (especially Michael Rosen and Eddie Gutierrez) and an extremely promising young playwright. – by George Heymont Alejandro (Michael Rosen) dances with his mother (Priscilla Lopez) as his brother and sister look on in <em>Somewhere</em> (Photo by: Mark Kitaoka)

  • <strong>Peter Lodato</strong> practices a tender, painterly kind of reductive abstraction that improbably enhances minimalism with impressionism. To be sure, Lodato’s rigorous arrangements of vertical panels, as spare as anything Newman, Marden, or Judd ever determined, depict or infer nothing but themselves – or, more to the point, nothing but light itself. But in conjuring the myriad intensities and coloristic nuances of light, Lodato tempers the borders that separate the discrete areas of black and white, red and not-red, with the subtlest of burrs. He does not so much draw boundaries as infer them – not gradating between the color bands, but neither cutting them sharply asunder. In defining light rather than surface with paint, Lodato achieves quavering, numinous effects more akin to the optical voluminousness of his California light-and-space colleagues than to the brittle facture of elemental painting back east. Several glowing studies for a color-room installation tie Lodato yet closer to the Light and Space tendency. (William Turner, Bergamot Station #E1, 2525 Michigan Ave., Santa Monica; closed. www.williamturnergallery.com) – Peter Frank PETER LODATO, Rouge, 2012, Watercolor and flache on paper, 14 x 14 inches

  • Diablo Theatre Company recently presented <em>Singin’ in the Rain</em> (which is based on the popular 1952 MGM movie musical starring Gene Kelly, Donald O’Connor, and Debbie Reynolds). Since the film was first adapted for the stage in 1983, this show has gone through numerous revisions. Under Dyan McBride’s direction, Keith Pinto, Ryan Drummond, and Melissa WolfKlain worked hard to live up to their charismatic MGM counterparts but were often stymied by Kelly James Tighe’s achingly slow set changes and Mary Kalita’s brassy portrayal of the stupid, jealous silent screen star, Lina Lamont. The performance got an extra boost of adrenaline during tap routines choreographed by Staci Arriaga but, with an extra-long first act and a second-rate pit band, this production of <em>Singin’ in the Rain </em> lagged considerably. – by George Heymont Keith Pinto stars as Don Lockwood in <em>Singin’ in the Rain</em> (Photo by Mark Kitaoka and Tracy Martin)

  • What happens when a child prodigy peaks too soon and loses his spark? How can he succeed when he's lost his confidence and artistic fire? These questions --and many, many more -- are addressed in <em>Old Wicked Songs</em>, a beautiful and poignant drama by Jon Marans which was recently staged by Center Rep in Walnut Creek. It's easy to see why <em>Old Wicked Songs</em> was nominated for the 1996 Pulitzer Prize For Drama. By contrasting Stephen Hoffman's metronome-obsessed, often soul-less renditions of songs from Robert Schumann’s <em>Dichterliebe</em> with Professor Mashkan's more expansive interpretations -- as well as Patrick Russell's sweet, but untrained voice with the artistry of great lieder singers like Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau and Thomas Quasthoff -- this play demonstrates how art enriches our lives while deepening our appreciation for love, loss, joy, and sorrow. Center Rep's production was beautifully directed by Jessica Heidt (especially in the moment when the young man's defenses crumble). Heidt's staging benefits immensely from the fact that both Patrick Russell and Dan Hiatt are as adept at the keyboard as they are on their feet. – by George Heymont Dan Hiatt and Patrick Russell in <em>Old Wicked Songs</em> (Photo by: Kevin Berne)

  • Marketed under the umbrella title of <em>Beautiful 2012,</em> this is actually a collection of four short films created for Youku, (China’s leading Internet television company). Each has a distinctive Asian touch. <em>You Are More Than Beautiful</em> tells the story of a young man who has hired an actress to pretend to be his fiancée in order to satisfy his dying father’s wish that his son take a bride. By the time they arrive at the hospital, the old man has lapsed into a coma. In <em>Walker</em>, a monk holding a breakfast roll in one hand and a plastic bag in the other appears in stark contrast to the bustling population of Hong Kong as he moves across the city at a snail’s pace, his bright scarlet robes visible in one long shot after another. While <em>Long Tou</em> depicts a family that can’t stop arguing about life and death (including an abrasive mother who remembers how, as kids, they used to delight in beating the corpses of dead children), <em>My Way</em> is a poignant tale of a transsexual’s tender journey to and from the operating room. – by George Heymont

  • <strong>Tanja Roscic</strong>, based in Switzerland, produces kitchen-sink paintings, laden to the point of overflow with images, gestures, quotations, citations, brushstrokes, images, meditations, and anything else that might (or might not) fit. Everything winds up fitting, however, whether into a page-size drawing or a painting rendered on what seems to be an unfolded tent, because everything is rendered with knowledge, care and poise. Roscic’s conjurations of folk art (including quilts and kitchen amulets), adolescent doodling and quasi-mystical diagramming at once mock the left-footed form taken by most untrained visual expression and admire that expression’s vitality and persistence. Her own elegant but unrestrained approach seems if anything a validation of the amateur impulse through a correction of its clumsiness. To be sure, Roscic’s work is powerfully enlivened by her own imagination – not just her ability to bring disparate thoughts and conflicting ideas together so logically and yet so dynamically, but her apparent need to generate such thoughts and ideas in the first place. (Ltd. Los Angeles, 7561 Sunset Blvd., Los Angeles; closed. www.ltdlosangeles.com) – Peter Frank TANJA ROSCIC, ONO installation view, 2013, photo: Lee Thompson

  • A new script by one of America’s most promising playwrights was recently featured as part of the Aurora Theatre Company's series of new play readings for its Global Age Project. Set in a suburban community where a middle-aged white couple adopted a seven-year-old black child from the war-torn Congo, the now teen-aged protagonist turns out to be anything but the perfect young man that others assume he has grown up to be. In J.C. Lee's <em><a href="http://lee-plays.blogspot.com/2013/02/luce.html">Luce</a></em>, this extremely talented and prolific young writer unveils a provocative new way to ask theatregoers the age-old question: "How well do you <em>really</em> know someone you love?" – by George Heymont : Playwright J.C. Lee

  • <strong>Luke Whitlach </strong>concocts relatively small abstractions that, for all their compactness, boil with an elegant but furious power. Many erupt at the center of voids in cloud trails that seem jetted either from a fire or a nebula. Even the sparsest, most angular of these compositions quiver with unbridled energy. And conversely, even the most ferocious of these explosions seems ordered by “rational” forces that undergird the spectacular blooms with architectural bones. Whitlach’s slightly exotic mix of pigments and dyes on bleached canvases endows these already mesmerizing little disasters with captivating luminosity. (Richard Heller, Bergamot Station #B5a, 2525 Michigan Ave., Santa Monica; closed. www.richardhellergallery.com) – Peter Frank LUKE WHITLACH, mortar stone and brick, 2013, Mixed media on Arches paper

  • In 1912, Buster Keaton used a violin to paddle through a flooded orchestra pit and clowned around onscreen as a cigar-smoking chimpanzee. His performance in <em><a href="http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Playhouse_(film)">The Playhouse</a></em> is a tour de force that was conceived and executed by an artistic genius. Playing all nine members of a minstrel show (as well as the musicians in its band) offered Keaton a new challenge in camera technique which, with the help of Elgin Lessley, he met with great skill and wit. – by George Heymont

  • Following passage of the California DREAM Act, the Marsh Youth Theatre in San Francisco embarked on creating a new piece of musical theatre which focused on undocumented students in the Bay area who live under the constant threat of deportation. <em>In and Out of Shadows</em> is filled with stories about kids who didn't want to change their name when they snuck across the border, teens who went on vacation in Mexico and were stopped by immigration authorities when they tried to re-enter the United States, and those whose families consisted of documented and undocumented immigrants. From the hard-working Filipino-American mother who is arrested and threatened with deportation after her employer is investigated for failure to pay his taxes to the affable jock from British Columbia, the evening is peppered with Tagalog, Spanish, Spanglish and other languages commonly heard in the Bay area. Whether one focuses on the young man with no skills (other than his abundant charm) or the girl who wants to become a doctor; whether one looks at the pair of boys who want to become DJs or the Indonesian girl who tells her friends about her native country, as the students struggle to prepare their personal statements for an AB 540 conference at UC Berkeley they share what it was like to have to be sedated with cough syrup or crawl through sewers in order to enter the United States. – by George Heymont Louel Senores and Deanna Palaganas in the Marsh Youth Theatre’s production of <em>In and Out of Shadows</em> (Photo by: Katia Fuentes)

  • If you want to see an example of creativity as "intelligence having fun," watch the opening sequence from 1920's silent film, <em><a href="http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Scarecrow_(1920_film)">The Scarecrow</a></em>, as the 5'6" Buster Keaton and 6'3" Joe Roberts sit down to one of the most elaborately choreographed breakfasts (truly an engineer's wet dream) that you will ever see in your life. After numerous scenes in which he is pursued by Fatty Arbuckle's pet dog, Luke, watch how Keaton launches an extended romantic/comedic arc with the innocent act of tying his shoelaces and segues into a multi-vehicle chase (escalating from horse to motorcycle) that ends up with one of the speediest marriages on record. The planning and coordination of this extended sequence are immaculately executed. – by George Heymont

  • <strong>Joanne Lefrak</strong> etches on Plexiglas – by hand, but working from photographs she projects onto the material. The desert landscape figured prominently in the bulk of the work New Mexico-based Lefrak exhibited, but terrain from back east and images of objects she found near home also figured in the presented pieces. Lefrak emphasizes such picturesque and provocative subjects – pirate maps, junked devices from Los Alamos – as if to contrast with the near-invisibility of their visual presence. The images can barely be seen on (well, mostly behind) the Plexi surfaces, and gain any sort of visual traction at all from the shadows they cast behind themselves. In fact, though, it’s the other way around: Lefrak’s unique technique and the diffident imagery that results comment on our tendency to miss the most fascinating things around us and goad us into looking harder by tantalizing our eyes with traces of the pictorial, wisps of reality. (Leslie Sacks Contemporary Bergamot Station #B6, 2525 Michigan Ave., Santa Monica; closed. www.lesliesackscontemporary.com) – Peter Frank JOANNE LEFRAK, Pilgrimage from Nambe to Chimayo, NM, 2012, Etched Plexiglas, 34 x 26 inches

  • Filmmakers Deann Borshay Liem and Ramsay Liem pay homage to the 60th anniversary of the end of the Korean War with their poignant documentary which explains how Allied Forces divided Korea into two parts (and how the arbitrary choice of the 38th parallel wreaked havoc on many families). In <em>Memory of Forgotten War,</em> Korean-American senior citizens who were innocent children at the time of the Korean War describe how they amused themselves by using peanuts as toys. They also describe what it was like to live without food and look forward to the candy given to them by American soldiers. Those who managed to rebuild their families in South Korea were not allowed to communicate with family members who remained behind in North Korea (until the families who fled South migrated to the United States and were able to establish contact with their relatives). Their reunions with brothers and sisters whom they haven’t seen in six decades are heartrending, as is much of this excellent documentary. – by George Heymont

  • Written by Tanya Shaffer (whose <em>Baby Taj</em> delighted TheatreWorks audiences at its world premiere in October of 2005), <em>The Fourth Messenger</em> is far from a formulaic musical. Driven by Vienna Teng's densely-written lyrics and propulsive score, this is an intelligent, skillfully crafted, and extremely ambitious piece of music theatre about spirituality and self discovery that demands the attention of any serious theatregoer or student of religion. Joe Ragey has created a simple yet remarkably elegant unit set which allows for quick and highly effective transitions between scenes. The orchestrations by Robin Reynolds are first rate and, under Christopher Winslow's solid musical direction, Teng's music and lyrics reveal a fresh and exciting new theatrical talent with a distinctive voice of her own. The musical has been beautifully staged with grace, wit, and plenty of dramatic flair by Matt August (who pulls exceptionally poignant performances from his two female leads). <em><a href="http://thefourthmessenger.com/">The Fourth Messenger</a></em> is a refreshingly original piece of musical theatre that is accessible to contemporary audiences and relevant to today's search for spirituality. I wish it a long and healthy future enchanting audiences around the world. – by George Heymont

  • <strong>Ben Jones</strong> is an animator by vocation, and a meta-animator by avocation. The video projections – and the videoized objects – he produces in the fine-art context brim with tropes lifted from kids’ cartoons, animated commercials, show intros, and other examples of the “deliberate” noise that crowds our visual lives, onscreen and, increasingly, off. This fact, more than most any image or sequence Jones produces, gives Jones’ work its persuasive power, its sour wit and nails-on-chalkboard energy. Even when he is generating straight-ahead narrative passages – passages that never describe much of anything logical, much less fit into any overarching story – it is the relentlessness of its visual parade, countered by its illogic sequencing, its stuttering teleology, that gets to us. Jones’ is a nasty Pop art whose delirium is as enervating as it is pleasurable, as exasperating as it is hilarious. Within all this, Jones does prove himself an unusually imaginative and supple craftsman – and, for all the wacky stops and starts, story-teller. (MOCA Pacific Design Center, 8687 Melrose Ave., West Hollywood; closed. www.moca.org) – Peter Frank BEN JONES, from Road Trip 2, 2012

  • Anyone who has struggled to put together a piece of furniture from IKEA will find himself laughing hysterically while watching 1920's <em>One Week</em>, in which Buster Keaton and his bride (Sybil Seeley) try to construct a build-it-yourself house they have received as a wedding gift. <em>One Week</em> was actually inspired by a 1919 Ford Motor Company educational short about prefabricated housing entitled <em>Home Made</em>. As you watch <em>One Week</em> (which includes some of the actual devices that were shown in the making of <em>Home Made</em>), keep in mind that none of Keaton's stunts were planned on a computer or rendered with CGI scripting. They were all performed live and without the use of miniatures (Keaton's trick house in this film is built atop a large turntable). – by George Heymont

  • <strong>Ulu Braun</strong>, working in Berlin, produces an especially effulgent kind of hyper-video, designed for installational – indeed, room-size – projection and based on a voracious comprehension of filmic culture, classic and contemporary. Marco Brambilla exhibits a similar sensibility, but Brambilla is a clear and dogged formalist, avoiding narrative in favor of citation; by contrast, it is the very sense of pictorial drama unfolding over time with which Braun plays time and again, inserting his manifold quotations into far larger, unfolding, often picaresque schemata (albeit ones that can ultimately loop around on themselves). Braun’s projections are mesmerizing first because of their stunning vividness (as well, of course, as their walk-in scale); but they keep us riveted less through incantatory repetition than through the promise of surprise, of absurd spatial juxtapositions and lunatic sequencing. Braun thinks big, even panoramically, and exploits the expansive potential of the latest video technologies to their utmost; but his is not a stentorian voice, but an orchestral one, coordinating a vast array of detail into a coherent whole. (Youngprojects, 8687 Melrose Ave., W. Hywd.; closed. www.youngprojectsgallery.com) – Peter Frank ULU BRAUN, from The Park (2-channel version), 2013

  • The main attraction at the San Francisco Silent Film Festival’s Winter Event was a screening of that 1924 Douglas Fairbanks classic, <em>The Thief of Baghdad,</em> accompanied by the Mont Alto Motion Picture Orchestra. While this silent swashbuckler and scenic spectacle benefits from the natural athleticism of Fairbanks and his undeniable charisma, plenty of comic contrasts are provided by Sojin Kamiyama as a villainous Mongol prince who bears a striking resemblance to filmmaker John Waters, Anna May Wong as a Mongol slave, Noble Johnson as a fat and silly Indian prince, and Tote Du Crow as a soothsayer. Add in a heavenly unicorn, a flying carpet, a fake dinosaur, and the eye-popping production design by William Cameron Menzies, and you’ve nearly three hours of delicious entertainment. You can watch the entire film in all its glory in this video clip.

  • I've been hoping for years to see <em>Waiting for Godot</em> and now, thanks to the Marin Theatre Company, my long wait is finally over. Vladimir/Didi (Mark Bedard) and Estragon/Gogo (Mark Anderson Phillips) are two confused clowns trapped in an absurdist time warp. Although each day starts anew with similar expectations, Vladimir has better luck at remembering what happened the previous day. Estragon's memory seems to have been wiped clear each morning. While there are slight variations in their day (Lucky and Pozzo cross the stage in opposite directions, two boys who work for Mr. Godot take turns informing Vladimir and Estragon that Godot won't be showing up, but might make an appearance the following day), it's best to approach <em>Waiting for Godot</em> as if it has been set in the kind of snow globe one shakes and inverts in order to witness its peculiar magic. MTC's Jasson Minadakis directed this production with a superb cast. As Pozzo, James Carpenter's booming basso offered the perfect counterbalance to the ever optimistic twinkle in Mark Bedard's eyes. Likewise, the hulking resignation of Ben Johnson's Lucky was relieved by the physical goofiness and wide-eyed, confused bulldog stare of Mark Anderson Phillips as Estragon. While some explore Samuel Beckett's 1953 masterpiece in search of trenchant symbolism, I find that its greatest reward is its elasticity and the numerous opportunities it offers to create comic moments that are not in the text. <em>Waiting for Godot</em> requires actors whose comedic instincts and teamwork allow them to approach Beckett's work as if it were a piece of chamber music written for clowns trapped in a nonsensical no-man's land. – by George Heymont

  • <strong>Eric Fischl, Rachel Hovnanian, and Catherine Chalmers</strong> may seem to have little in common besides the fact that all live and work in (or near) New York. But the juxtaposition of their three exhibitions brought out the reflective, even contemplative sides of their work. Hovnanian’s reflectivity is often literal, working as she so often does with mirrors and highly polished surfaces. But her objects, structures, and installation force us to contemplate more than ourselves; rather, they deposit us in the middle of – and frequently as the protagonists in – psychological dramas of intimacy and surprising complexity. Hovnanian’s methods may be in-your-face – populating a slick dining room table, for instance, with video screens on which mommy, daddy, and daughter’s visages squirm in domestic discomfort – but her moral message is nuanced. Catherine Chalmers focuses her lens on other species, here the leafcutter ant, regarding their often startling behavior with a mixture of shock, admiration, and Aesopian sense of anthropomorphism. Chalmers aestheticizes her own documentation of the tropical ant’s voraciousness, sending them dragging their leafy morsels across a brilliant white surface as often as across the jungle floor. In these contexts the cuttings they make from trees and bushes also become uncanny in their loveliness. But you can almost smell the blood and the doom, and not only in the “war” scenes: these creatures seem on the brink of eating themselves out of house and home, and Chalmers’ ritualizing celebration of their labors only makes them seem the more human. Eric Fischl has long painted human folly writ large; but by casting our peculiar impulses in ambiguous contexts, Fischl – after all these years – still manages to accommodate us to one another’s perversities, even as he further perverts such activity by shifting its contexts through subtle deformation. Here, that deformation results from the isolation of figures in motion, in large watercolors and not-so-large bronze sculptures. Conjuring Matisse, Rodin, and Degas, Fischl may be interested as they were in human locomotion, but where they delighted in the banality of intimacy, he finds ominous resonance. (Imago, 45-450 Highway 74, Palm Desert CA; closed. www.imagogalleries.com) – Peter Frank CATHERINE CHALMERS, Antworks – Parade, 2012, Pigment print, 24 x 90 inches

  • <blockquote>The challenges facing the characters created by Stephen Adly Guirgus in <em><a href="https://www.vendini.com/ticket-software.html?t=tix&e=e8d73206d428e9fea2eac2dfca988f04">The Motherfucker With The Hat</a></em> are extremely familiar. With the exception of Uncle Julio, each has a history of substance abuse which has honed their talents for telling lies. Not only are these people acutely conscious of the risks they face, they are all struggling to survive one day at a time. Keenly aware of their skill at self-sabotage, they are constantly battling the physical and psychological weaknesses which make them want to snort, fuck, and drink (although not in any particular order). Guirgus has created a script that is intricately plotted, populated with complex characters whom the audience genuinely cares about, and is hysterically funny. Because the weaknesses which enslave Jackie, Ralph, Veronica, and Victoria are all too human, too recognizable, and too predictable, their capacity for betrayal is all the more venal, selfish, and hard to resist. Whether it involves a man betraying his wife, a woman betraying her lover, or an Alcoholics Anonymous sponsor betraying his sponsee, each person's pain is real and goes deep. The San Francisco Playhouse's ensemble is rock solid, with Gabriel Marin and Margo Hall at the top of their always formidable game. Working on Bill English's multi-level set, Carl Lumbly and Isabelle Ortega provide perfect romantic counterparts. Rudy Guerrero gives one of his best performances in years. Performances of <em>The Motherfucker With The Hat</blockquote></em> continue through March 16. – by George Heymont

  • Kurt Bodden has returned to town with his comically subversive monologue entitled <em><a href="http://www.themarsh.org/Kurt_Bodden.html">Steve Seabrook: Better Than You,</a></em>( which is now playing at The Marsh). Bodden portrays a middle-aged motivational speaker who is slick and subtle but will probably never rise to the level of someone like Tony Robbins. Using the audience as participants in a “weekend workshop for personal growth,” he encourages his attendees to “live vicariously through themselves” as they try to plot out a future course of increasingly vague disappointment with their lives. Bodden has the language of corporate team-building down pat. While his Steve Seabrook character may seem in control of things during the workshop, in the off-moments when he tries to get the lighting man to join him for drinks or dinner, Seabrook is revealed to be no more than a lonely traveling snake oil salesman hungry for companionship. – by George Heymont

  • Winter + Winter is an extraordinary record label which has resisted any efforts to do anything but pursue paths into the future, much of it based on experimental work in early music performance practice. They are in many ways a Sol Babitz Early Music Laboratory of the 21st century. This neat sampler CD begins with Bach's "Kunst der Fuge" recorded by Lorenzo and Vittorio Ghielmi, followed by Paolo Beschi playing the Prélude from the fourth cello solo suite; Uri Caine's version of the Variation 18 from the Goldberg Variations featuring Ghielmi's gamba quartet and Caine's improvisation on the Silbermann piano; the Spanish ensemble Forma Antiqva presents Frescobaldi's Gagliarda Prima; the brothers Zapico contribute a refreshing and invigorating "Concerto" by Kapsberger; Teodoro Anzellotti enchants with the sounds of his accordion in Domenico Scarlatti; Enrico Onofri (first violinist of Il Giardino Armonico) plays the music of Dario Castello with Ghielmi and Margret Köll. And before the final piece the Windsbacher children's choir proclaims a healthy "Tönet, ihr Pauken." - Laurence Vittes Baroque Music in the 21st Century: A Winter + Winter sampler CD Featuring Teodoro Anzellotti, Paolo Beschi, Uri Caine, Lorenzo Ghielmi, Cittorio Chielmi, Die Freitagsakademie, Forma Antiqva, Windsbacher Knabenchor, Marianne Ronez, and Aaron Zapico

  • San Francisco's Silent Film Festival presented F.W. Murnau's 1926 version of <em>Faust</em> (the last film he made in Germany) as the grand finale of its Winter program. Those familiar with Murnau's work from films like 1927's <em>Sunrise: A Song of Two Humans</em> know him to be a master of lighting and shadow. Early in the film, Mefistofele and an Archangel are seen arguing over who rules the earth. When the Archangel mentions Faust, he inspires Mefistofele (who spreads an ominous cloud that carries the plague throughout Faust's village). Frustrated by his inability to help villagers whose families are dying from the plague, Faust then summons Mefistofele (who is only too happy to indulge the aged philosopher in exchange for Faust's soul). In the following clip from <em>Faust</em>, one can see how Murnau used smoke and fire for dramatic effect. His <em>Faust</em>is filled with haunting images that range from terrified faces to a giant Mefistofele hovering over a miniature village. Emil Jannings is a fleshy force of malevolence while Gosta Ekman's portrayals of the younger and older Faust are often quite touching. Camilla Horn's Gretchen and Yvette Guilbert's lusty portrayal of Marthe Schwerdtlein provide strong dramatic foils to the two male leads. – by George Heymont

  • I have been immersed recently writing about the solo violin and cello music of Bach; it's been a nice change to listen to the liquid charms of his flute sonatas. Fans of cool pianist Angela Hewitt will also be delighted to hear her in this chamber music setting, accompanying Andrea Oliva. Of unfailingly remarkable quality, all these works exploit the full potential of an instrument which was only just coming into its own and replacing the recorder when they were written. Oliva's lyricism and agility coupled with Hewitt's hybrid-retro Bachian style make this an album to treasure along the lines of what Murray Perahia does in similar repertoire. - Laurence Vittes Bach Flute Sonatas Andrea Oliva, Angela Hewitt Hyperion CD

  • Composed at about the same time, in the late 1850s, Brahms' two Serenades could not be more different. The big D major Op. 161 is big and grand enough for a Symphony; the second in A major Op. 16, is intimate and lovely on a very unconventional scale beginning with the complete absence in the latter of violins (resulting in some bewitching colors). Recorded live at the First Congregational Church in Berkeley, the performances have weight and a sort of genial quality that does not preclude them from playing very sumptuously indeed. The Philharmonia Baroque sounds in excellent fettle, led by its starry cast of original instrument wind players Janet See (flute), Marc Schachman (oboe), Eric Hoeprich (clarinet) and Dennis Godburn (bassoon). Audiophile sound especially when you turn up the sound. - Laurence Vittes Brahms Serenades Philharmonia Baroque Orchestra conducted by Nicholas McGegan Philharmonia Baroque CD

  • Directed by Pablo Larrain, <em>NO</em> offers provocative proof that some things in politics are not much different from selling cars and trendy clothes. The business has become as much about counting votes as about making people feel good about themselves for voting. Set in 1988 against the background of an election that everyone assumes has been rigged to keep Chile’s dictator, Augusto Pinochet, in power, <em>NO</em> becomes a battle of advertising styles. On one hand, those opposing Pinochet want all the politically correct reasons to depose the dictator to be enunciated on television. Drafted to help craft their campaign’s message, ad man René (Gael Garcia Bernal) insists that a happier message is needed if the NO campaign is going to sizzle rather than fizzle. René faces multiple obstacles. Not only must he convince his clients to take a radically different approach to messaging, he must survive the intimidation tactics of his President's thugs (many Chileans “disappeared” under Pinochet’s rule). To make matters worse, Pinochet’s reelection campaign is largely being steered by René’s boss at the advertising agency where he works. <em>NO</em> offers a fascinating lesson in revolutionizing retail politics which, coming on the heels of the Obama/Romney competition, shows that some things about marketing and advertising never change. – by George Heymont

  • This is a lovely recording of music by the composer who remains one of the cello's greatest friends. Although most of the music here has been recorded by countless cellists through the annals of time, unique to this disc is that Christian Poltéra is performing his own transcriptions of Dvorak violin pieces and songs including the beloved, 4-movement Violin Sonatina. The songs include "Lasst mich allein," which Dvořák quotes in the slow movement of his B Minor Cello Concerto, "Songs My Mother Taught Me," and "Song to the Moon" from his opera Rusalka. What makes this disc special is the lovely quality of the playing and the refined ambience and, in SACD the noticeably more sumptuous sound, which Bis, working in a Berlin studio, has accorded the performers. While we take for granted how effective this music is, Dvorak initially had misgivings about the instrument's ability to "speak"; still, he became profoundly fond of the cello especially in what he considered its best registers, the chestnut tones of the middle strings and the plaintive lyricism on the A string. This recording also underlines Dvorak's range as a composer of basically intimate expressions of love and sadness while the transcription of the Sonatina gives the cello an opportunity to sound light-hearted; if you're not a member of the cello fraternity, you may be making your first acquaintance with the dashing, galant 8-minute Polonaise in A major. Playing on a 1675 Andreas Guarnerius, Poltéra, who studied with two famous virtuoso/teachers Boris Pergamenschikow and Heinrich Schiff, takes a persuasively reasoned, occasionally passionate and, in the obscure Polonaise and the always popular Rondo in G Minor, superbly virtuosic, approach to setting speeds and connecting to the music's emotional interior. - Laurence Vittes Dvorak Music for cello and piano Christian Poltéra, cello. Kathryn Stott, piano BIS Hybrid Super Audio CD: can be played back in Stereo (CD and SACD) as well as in 5.0 Surround sound (SACD)

  • Written and directed by Christopher Graybill, <em>The Great Gastromancer</em> is a short film that started off with one goal, didn't quite get there, and (even though it was billed as "without a doubt, the strangest short film at the SFIndie Film Festival") became hopelessly conflicted. Graybill describes his protagonist, Charlie Grumbles, as “kind of modeled after Myshkin from <em>The Idiot</em>. He just wants to make people laugh and just has a real kind of simple demeanor. Then it’s discovered that he has another talent, which happens to be listening to the undead through the noises in his stomach." Whereas, in live performance, an audience can watch a ventriloquist trying to project his voice onto his dummy, dubbing a film with someone's voice completely shatters the dramatic illusion. The cruelest irony is that the trailer for <em>The Great Gastromancer</em> stands head and shoulders above Graybill's completed film. – by George Heymont

  • This is the Elgar to beat! Sol Gabetta mixes extreme restraint with abandon of the most passionate kind; in the short cadenza in the second movement, her playing recalls Beatrice Harrison, the concerto's champion whose recording with Elgar conducting is still the definitive guide. Playing on her exquisite 1759 Guadagnini Gabetta carefully selects her spots and varies her slides, from bar to bar sometimes, creating throughout wonderfully authentic, spontaneous energy. Everything is judged perfectly, beginning with the opening crunch of the double-stopped chords, the descent into the lower registers, the entry of the chorale in the winds; nothing moves without a matching emotional impulse. Gabetta's Elgar Concerto is the gateway to smaller Elgar and Dvorak, Respighi’s verdant Adagio con Variazioni and Petris Vasks's "Gramata cellam." Elgar Cello Concerto + other Elgar, Dvorak, Respighi and Vasks Sol Gabetta, cello Danish National Symphony Orchestra conducted by Mario Venzago RCA Red Seal CD

  • How's this for an opening moment? The lights come up on a man and woman in a messy apartment. Neither one can remember their names or how they got there. As they struggle to come to their senses, they notice some drug paraphernalia on the table and a syringe lodged in the man's forearm. Powerfully directed by Loretta Greco, the Magic Theatre recently presented the world premiere of <em>Se Llama Cristina</em>, a challenging new drama by Octavio Solis which takes the audience on a wild roller coaster ride as Miguel (Sean San José) and Vera (Sarah Nina Hayon) struggle to figure out the who, what, why, when, and where of the moment (as well as how in the name of hell they got there). Is this a nightmare? Are they trapped in a bad meth trip? If so, why is some angry man named Abel (Rod Gnapp) pounding on the door and threatening them? <em>Se Llama Cristina</em> is a drug-addled, 80-minute rocket ride through psychosis, temporary amnesia, and a woman's panic over possibly being pregnant in which a sweet-talking abusive boyfriend can be foolishly forgiven and a deep fried chicken drumstick can be mistaken for an infant. Sarah Nina Hayon and Sean San José deliver bravura performances as the two anguished and confused leads. Rod Gnapp adds another sterling portrait to his extensive rogues gallery of angry, confused straight men. – by George Heymont Vera (Sarah Nina Hayon) and Miguel (Sean San José ) in a scene from <em>Se Llama Cristina</em> (Photo by: Jennifer Reiley)

  • Weird and wacky, and totally essential for an understanding of how the musical mind works, sort of the unintended Jonathan Sacks effect. It is a reminder, whatever your response, of how powerful 17th century Italian composer Girolamo Frescobaldi's music has been on musical imagination ever since. This highly imaginative release is dedicated to arrangements of Frescobaldi's music, each composition bearing the hallmarks of its transcriber's distinct style. In addition to offerings by Respighi, Harold Bauer and Samuel Feinberg, the disc features Anton Reicha's 36 Fugues pour le Pianoforte, a work that pays homage to the early-Baroque composer through its use of the composer's Recercar Chromatico. The same theme also appears in Ligeti's Omaggio a Girolamo Frescobaldi, a modern interpretation using the twelve-tone scale, and the compilation extends its twentieth-century focus through the inclusion of Bartok. Bartoli has recorded Respighi's Piano Concerto, Busoni's immense Fantasia Contrappuntistica and a selection of the Liszt/Busoni arrangements, so you can imagine the flair, relish and virtuosity he brings to his Frescobaldian task. - Laurence Vittes The Frescobaldi Legacy Respighi, Bauer, Reicha, Feinberg, Bartok, Ligeti Sandro Ivo Bartoli Brilliant Classics CD

  • Scott Thurman's blood-chilling documentary, <em><a href="http://www.therevisionariesmovie.com/">The Revisionaries</a></em>, shows how a group of well-meaning Christians have diligently worked to alter the textbooks read by Texas schoolchildren in order to reflect their severely misguided religious beliefs about history and science. Led by Don McLeroy, a proselytizing dentist from Bryan, Texas (who has serious doubts about evolution and honestly believes that humans coexisted with dinosaurs), the Texas State Board of Education clearly favors the Bible over scientific method. In her book entitled <em>Eichmann in Jerusalem: A Report on the Banality of Evil</em>, author Hannah Arendt opined that, throughout history, many of the great evils have not been committed by madmen, sociopaths, or tyrants but by well-intentioned, ordinary people who felt that their beliefs were normal. Because much of <em>The Revisionaries</em> involves talking heads (as well as footage of discussions and votes during school board meetings), Thurman's documentary resembles watching frogs and lobsters being lulled to sleep by the rising temperature of the water around them as they are boiled before being served as dinner. <em>The Revisionaries</em> sadly and irrefutably proves that "You can't fix stupid." – by George Heymont

  • This second volume of Music & Art's tribute to iconic Polish violinist Szymon Goldberg, who rose meteorically to become Furtwängler's Berlin concertmaster at the age of 21, gathers together 78rpm material comprising Bach and Mozart concertos, Haydn piano trios and sonatas by Mozart and Beethoven, plus repertoire to which he did not return in later years, such as string quartets, string trios and string duos. In the Bach and Mozart concertos, in which the orchestral playing is generally more velvet and over-upholstered than we are used to hearing today, the impeccable integrity of Goldberg's slight, silvery tone asserts itself through its steely command of line and tone. If you follow the music with a score you will see that Goldberg follows its lines and contours as if he was tracing precisely what the composer wrote down, moving at comfortable, user-friendly tempos and adorned with whatever affect or virtuosity was required: accompanied by a laugh perhaps (as at the beginning of Beethoven Op. 12 no. 2) or by impossibly sad but ineffably beautiful sighing (as in the Adagio of Beethoven Op. 8, recorded in 1934 with Hindemith and Feuermann at his side). The music is enhanced by the booklet's rare photographs and drawings, and by Tully Potter's absorbing biographical essay. - Laurence Vittes Szymon Goldberg: The Centenary Collection Vol. II: Commercial Recordings, 1932-1951 Music & Arts (8 CDs for the price of 6)

  • The original Broadway production of <em>Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs</em> served as the inspiration for 1916's silent film version of <em>Snow White</em> (starring Marguerite Clark). Its enchanting prologue begins with a Santa Claus-like figure placing a series of dolls on a dining room table. The dolls magically come to life and enact the story of Snow White. The silent version of <em>Snow White</em> does a beautiful job of capturing the young maiden's innocence and generosity of spirit. Is it any wonder that, when discovered sleeping by the seven dwarfs, one of them comments "I don't know if girls can talk." A restored print of the entire 1916 silent film has recently been uploaded to YouTube by the Cinema History Channel. You can watch it in its entirety here: – by George Heymont

  • He was one of the more itinerant of the Golden Age conductors after WWII. Paul Kletzki, born in Poland as Pawel Kletzki, was also one of the most successful young composers in Germany before the Second World War. During the 1920s his compositions were championed by Toscanini and Furtwängler. The latter invited Kletzki to conduct the Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra in 1925; by the end of 1932, Kletzki had become its chief guest conductor. Along with his conducting career, all Kletzki's compositions, which were published by major houses like Simrock and Breitkopf, fell to the Nazis; all the printed copies were destroyed and the printing plates melted down. Fleeing to Italy, Kletzki took printed and manuscript copies of his music with him, then had to leave them behind again when he fled Italy and settled in Switzerland. In 1965 a construction crew working near La Scala in Milan found the metal trunk in which Kletzki had placed his music, but he was never to open it, afraid that, having lost his music once, it might have been destroyed a second time by nature. It was only after his death in 1973 that his music has been rediscovered. The Orchestral Variations from 1929 (they received their world premiere by Furtwängler and the Berlin Philharmonic) are tonally rugged and powerful, engrossing and masterfully written. The Third Symphony, written in 1939, was dedicated to Madame Olga Oboussier, a wealthy woman who had purchased music paper for the destitute refugee. It is a massive musical document of remembrance and indictment, full of fugues and sonata form. It could be "in memoriam" for his family, the Jewish people, the German musical legacy; he never said, and he did not receive confirmation that his mother, father and sister had died in the Holocaust until 1946. - Laurence Vittes Paul Kletzki (1900-1973) Orchestral Variations. Third Symphony "In memoriam" Bamberg Symphony conducted by Thomas Rösner Musiques Suisses CD

  • During the run-up to Super Bowl Sunday it was bizarre to see the media turning to puppies, orangutans, and other dubious oracles for predictions about which team would win the big game between the Baltimore Ravens and the San Francisco 49ers. The folly and frenzy of this type of approach to competitive sports is best captured in a hilarious new documentary entitled <em> <a href="http://www.seerofseers.com/">The Life and Times of Paul The Psychic Octopus</a></em>. For those who don't remember, Paul was the supposedly psychic cephalopod from Weymouth, England, whose ability to predict the outcome of several soccer games during the competition for the 2010 FIFA World Cup transformed him into an international superstar. Housed at the Sea Life Centre in Oberhausen, Germany, Paul became a cultural icon after correctly predicting the winners of four consecutive games in which Germany's national football team was competing. Paul soon acquired a booking agent, opportunities for marketing endorsements, and ended up having a lavish funeral (which can be seen at the beginning of Alexandre O. Phillipe's outrageous documentary -- which is billed as "a biopic of tentacular proportions"). While Phillipe's film is filled with interesting information about <em>mollusca</em>, much of it is devoted to celebrating a style of show-biz hokum that would have made P.T. Barnum proud. From psychics who claim to be communicating with the soul of the dead octopus to hucksters trying to establish whether Paul is an English or German citizen, <em>The Life and Times of Paul the Psychic Octopus</em> gives new meaning to Barnum's famous claim that "There's a sucker born every minute." Here's the trailer:

  • Set in the crown of a Hungarian evening at Walt Disney Concert Hall, a radiant, commanding Midori and the Los Angeles Philharmonic swept aside the cobwebs of the conventional concerto experience in Peter Eötvös’s labyrinth of sound and architectural emotion; it was the world premiere of the 69-year old composer's DoReMi, a Concerto for Violin and Orchestra, commissioned by the Los Angeles Philharmonic, the Leipzig Gewandhaus, and the BBC Proms. The music’s appeal was real and immediate; the audience became deeply absorbed from the opening bar and for its length of 20 unbroken minutes. Afterwards, they responded with great whoops of pleasure and repeated demands for curtain calls. The music is concerned with 21st century notions of tonal relationships, perhaps a Sudoku response to the anagrammatic existence of DoReMi in the soloist's name. But the impact was anything but intellectual. Compared to another recent Los Angeles Philharmonic concerto commission, Esa-Pekka Salonen’s Grawemeyer Award-winning Violin Concerto of 2009, Eötvös’s new sonic spectacular has a less human, more alien narrative; his smallish orchestra (strings, brass and lots of woodwind doublings), infused with a battery of percussion instruments (and three percussionists) that shimmer, blast and otherwise find marvelous, even gentle noises to make, creates an abstract, visually three-dimensional, sonic environment of high-sheen, high-tech fabric against, with and through which the soloist is challenged to navigate. The prize to the violinist—and which Midori won so magnificently on opening night—lies in projecting the musical line with the power of an electric violin and the warmth of a Strad. A very young and powerful-sounding Philharmonic maximized the brilliance of Eötvös’s writing to the full, playing its part in pushing the soloist to the limit. They responded to Pablo Heras-Casado’s precise, balletic urging with the consummate virtuosity and open-hearted generosity that is becoming their trademark. The woodwind solos were unusually refreshing and brilliant in their other chores for the night, Kodaly’s Hary Janos Suite and Bartok’s Concerto for Orchestra. [Photograph of Midori by Greenfield-Sanders] - Laurence Vittes Midori Premieres Peter Eötvös’s Violin Concerto Walt Disney Concert Hall Jan. 18, 2013

  • Written and directed by Alonso Mayo, <em><a href="http://www.thestoryofluke.com/">The Story of Luke</a></em> is certainly not the only film to feature an autistic character. However, Luke (Lou Taylor Pucci) is neither hopeless, helpless, noncommunicative, nor a savant. As a fairly high-functioning person with autism, Luke is precise, focused, intelligent, methodical, and extremely well-mannered. There's just one problem. The film begins shortly after his grandmother has died, which means that Luke's carefully constructed world and safely structured lifestyle have vanished into thin air. The challenge facing Luke is to master a new environment and new lifestyle. His uncle Paul (Cary Elwes) and cousins Brad (Tyler Stentiford) and Megan (Mackenzie Munro) make no bones about the fact that Luke's Aunt Cindy (Kristin Bauer van Straten) is a total bitch. But when Luke sets out to get a job, meet a girl, and become a man, his determination and resourcefulness win over such dubious onlookers as Zack (Seth Green) and Angry Betsy (Ann Holloway). Along the way, Luke develops a crush on a sweet and attractive receptionist named Maria (Sabryn Rock) and has an extremely poignant encounter with his birth mother (Lisa Ryder). Seth Green triumphs as a highly dysfunctional, angry young nerd. Lou Taylor Pucci's captivating portrait of Luke rests on a foundation of vocal modulation, careful phrasing, practiced body language, and the kind of simple goals that make most people around him seem horrifyingly petty and materialistic. <em>The Story of Luke</em> is a gem of an indie film that you won't want to miss. – by George Heymont

  • With the concluding two discs in Onyx's homage to Robert Schumann, Ilya Gringolts concludes a remarkable series of performances which demonstrate to an extreme, occasionally nerve-wracking and consistently unforgettable degree the out of control, fiery side of the composer's emotional makeup, contrasted unavoidably to his dear friend Brahms's magnificent sobriety. This is a set to treasure and reset your notions of what the music of Robert Schumann can be. At every turn, Gringolts and his colleagues move swiftly and deftly, led by his quick, nervous vibrato and forceful phrasing, to catch a change in mood, a new tune, a surge of energy and again, more suggestively this time perhaps, a new tune. There are lots of key places that bear this out: The last movement of the Second String Quartet, with its impossible cello 16th-note figures that must trigger one of the composer's greatest inspiration, or all is lost. Or the sexual ebb and flow of the Piano Quintet's first movement, and then all the way through. These same qualities apply to the violin sonatas and piano trios, already issued; it's music that we can never know well enough, especially in revelatory performances like these. The playing thrives on a close, intense and uncannily natural ambience (all except the violin sonatas were recorded in the Lutheran Church of Saint Catherine, St. Petersburg, Russia). Philip Borg-Wheeler's liner notes make absorbing reading. - Laurence Vittes Schumann Chamber music works Gringolts Quartet (Ilya Gringolts, Anahit Kurtikyan, Silvia Simionescu, Claudius Herrmann). Dmitry Kouzov, cello. Peter Laul, piano Onyx ONYX4081 (5 CDs, specially-priced)

  • Put a group of Indian-American rock musicians in a van and send them out to find some of the best dosas available in New York, and you get a laid-back hipster’s approach to Indian cuisine. Amrit Singh’s freewheeling short film, <em><a href="http://dosahunt.com/">Dosa Hunt</a></em>, features a group of his friends including <em>Vampire Weekend's</em> Rostam Batmanglij, <em>Das Racist's</em> Himanshu Suri, Ashok "Dapwell" Kondabolu, <em>Yeasayer's</em> Anand Wilder, <em>Neon Indian's</em> Alan Palomo, and jazz pianist Vijay Iyer as they set off in search of the best South Indian crepes in areas like Jackson Heights, Queens. The high point of the film is a stop at a local Indian supermarket for all the ingredients to make dosas. <em>Dosa Hunt</em> also features a unique rating system not yet seen on television’s cooking shows. Each dish is awarded a certain number of “Bobby Jindals” with the lowest score indicating the best dosas – and a suggestion that since Louisiana's Governor Bobby Jindal is such a pathetic douche that they allow “minus Jindal” ratings for the best dishes. – by George Heymont

  • There was a period of time at the end of the 50s when EMI came to define the best in classical music sound with its large sense of space, its effortless handling of massive amounts of orchestral detail and color, and its seeming affinity for bonding with musicians giving of their best. The 13 CDs worth of music recorded by the Romanian Constantin Silvestri for EMI with orchestras in Bournemouth (which he helped build into a world-class band), London, Paris and Vienna from the late 50s until his death in 1969 at the age of 55 were audiophile and musical sensations. There is a direct strength, command and eloquence in these performances which showcase the crack British orchestra, the EMI team performing feats they would never duplicate, and mainstream repertoire receiving its first great stereo versions. Said to have been meticulous in preparation and rehearsals, he showed what two-channel sound could accomplish in Elgar's In the South, Dvorak's Eighth Symphony and 7 CDs of Russian music, Silvestri helped to affirm EMI's international standard and prestige. (EMI, however, have not included the concerto recordings Silvestri made with the Russian virtuoso Leonid Kogan which remain priceless.) Jon Tolansky's excellent liner notes seal the deal. - Laurence Vittes Constantin Silvestri: The Complete EMI Recordings EMI 15 CDs

  • Political junkies and people who remain in awe of the cultural changes wrought by the blogosphere won’t want to miss a new documentary by Steve Maing about two Chinese bloggers attempting to spread the word about local injustices. The younger one, Zhou Shuguang (whose screen name is Zola) decided to stop selling vegetables in rural China and use his electronic gadgets to launch a career in political muckraking. An extremely media conscious 20-something who is eager to achieve fame, Zola is frequently warned by his fans whenever the government is preparing to arrest him. At one point, he is denied boarding for a flight to attend an international bloggers conference in Europe. Zola’s counterpart, Zhang Shihe (who is old enough to remember what life was like under Mao Tse-Tung) has become famous while blogging under the name of his pet cat, Tiger Temple. Both men relish the challenge of becoming citizen journalists, even if it means facing censorship and government intimidation. While Zola eventually marries a woman from Taiwan and manages to escape from mainland China, Tiger Temple keeps pedaling around China on his bicycle, helping local citizens protest about sewage leaks and other injustices. <em><a href="http://hightechlowlifefilm.com/">High Tech, Low Life</a></em> offers fascinating insights into how electronics have become a democratizing force in citizen journalism which is forcing China’s culture to become more transparent. – by George Heymont

  • The great Croatian countertenor, Max Emanuel Cencic, crowns his latest recital with a number of exquisite rarities. Cencic writes in the liner notes: “With these arias by Vivaldi and his lesser-known contemporaries I am hoping both to capture the musical tastes of Venice in the early 18th century and to recreate the moods and colors of a city that was open to the world. Venice was one of Europe’s most important musical centers, both exporting its operatic glories and importing new ideas from Rome and Naples.” Vivaldi is of course represented by several pieces, nut it's the other composers that make this disc fun to explore, including the Venetians Albinoni, Caldara and Porta and two composers born elsewhere in Italy, but who became closely associated with Venice: Gasparini (born in Lucca), who employed Vivaldi at the Ospedale della Pietà and who became something of a mentor to him, and Giacomelli (born in Piacenza), whose style was very close to Vivaldi's. Gasparini's touching aria "Sposa, non mi conosci" was borrowed and transformed by Vivaldi into the celebrated "Sposa, son disprezzata" in Bajazet. - Laurence Vittes Venezia Max Emanuel Cencic, countertenor Il Pomo d Oro conducted by Riccardo Minasi Virgin Classics CD

  • The Aurora Theatre Company in Berkeley recently presented the world premiere of a new play by Anthony Clarvoe that had been part of 2011's Global Age Project. <em>Our Practical Heaven</em> is built around six women of multiple generations. While each has a distinctive physical or character flaw, they remain impressively uninteresting throughout the evening. What these women share is a wide range of dysfunctional behaviors coupled with a devastating inability to directly and honestly communicate with each other. Clarvoe's script generates plenty of laughs from the audience but poses numerous problems. His two middle-aged soul sisters are distinctly unlikable women. Even though Sasha has cleared the five-year mark as a cancer survivor, it's hard to conjure up any sympathy for a woman who is such a dyspeptic, unrelenting bitch. Aurora's production benefits immensely from Micah J. Stieglitz's video design, Mikiko Uesugi's set design, and the sound design of the ever reliable Clifford Caruthers. But even with superb actresses like Anne Darragh, Joy Carlin, and Julia Brothers, it's hard for Clarvoe's play to generate much sympathy for a group of women who make Anton Chekhov's whiny <em>Three Sisters</em> seem like efficiency experts. – by George Heymont Sasha (Anne Darragh) and Willa (Julia Brothers) in a scene from <em>Our Practical Heaven</em> (Photo by: David Allen)

  • When I have been in Poland recently, at festivals in Zakopane and Gniezno, I have been struck by the fine quality of the young Polish musicians I heard and met–not just their total instrumental command but their sense of wild poetry and romantic pride. It was national in some sense, as you realize when they played Chopin or Zarebski, but it translated entirely to music of other nations, the Beethovens, Mozart, Brahmses, and so on. It made every bar of the music they played riveting and totally convincing. Although they were all string players and pianists, in this new recording by the young Polish guitar virtuoso Krzysztof Meisinger of music by Heitor Villa-Lobos, suffused in its own Brazilian color, I heard that same magical transference take place. - Laurence Vittes Vila-Lobos Guitar Concerto, Five Preludes, Melodia sentimental Krzysztof Meisinger, guitar Academy of St Martin in the Fields conducted by José Maria Florêncio Fuga Libera CD

  • Michel Gondry's new film, <em>The We and the I</em>, follows a group of high school students from The Bronx as they ride home on a city bus after classes let out on the final day of the semester. The only hope for this cinematic bomb to end is for its unfortunate bus driver to reach the last stop of her seemingly interminable route (waiting for that blessed event would be infinitely enhanced if viewers could at least listen to the hissing sound of air escaping from the film's tires). In addition to some bit roles by experienced character actors, <em>The We and the I</em> features a large number of hyperenergetic young actors (some of whom show more potential than others). Gondry's premise turns out to be far more interesting than his finished product. Although the symbolism is hardly subtle, one of the best moments occurs early in the film when a remote-controlled toy bus gets crushed in local traffic. So much energy! So much drama! So much bullshit! Don’t waste your time. – by George Heymont

  • Like each of its two predecessors in Naive's bizarrely costumed, irresistible Vivaldi bassoon concertos series, Sergio Azzolini and his back to the future original instrument crew find beauties in the music written for the bassoon that defy gravity. Interleaved with the haunting minor key songs and harmonies are courtly B flat expressions of affection and pleasure. The recordings, made at the Church of the Madonna della Formigola, Cortifella Pieve, Brescia, are audiophile as always. The great notes by Sergio Azzolini are titled Mystery of the Bassoon. The bassoon is in fact the instrument assigned the largest number of solo concertos after those written for the violin, the composer’s own instrument.There are 39 concertos for bassoon in the National Library of Turin, which means Naive and Azzolini are only just half way on their wonderful journey. - Laurence Vittes Vivaldi: Concerti For Bassoon Vol. III Sergio Azzolini, bassoon L'Aura Soave Cremona Naive CD

  • As part of its Winter program, the San Francisco Silent Film Festival screened <em>My Best Girl,</em> a delightful romantic comedy starring America’s sweetheart, Mary Pickford, and her soon to be third husband, Charles “Buddy” Rogers. Directed by Samuel Taylor, the story has Pickford cast as aoyal stock girl Maggie who works at the Merrill Department Store and must put up with the antics of the boss’s playboy son, “Joe Grant,” when he goes to work for his father’s business. It doesn’t take long for Maggie to peg Joe as “the dumbest stock boy in the world,” but she can’t help falling for his charming smile and beautiful eyes. Soon, Joe has been promoted to become Maggie’s boss and they’ve started to fall in love. But he’s already engaged and Maggie has yet to discover his true identity. <em>My Best Girl</em> has some great comic moments based on mistaken identities, but its true strength lies in the charm of its two leads. You can watch the entire film in this video clip. – by George Heymont

  • There is quite a lot of treasure to be mined in the authentic performance practice fields, as this new disc so urgently reminds. It's a tremendous new recording of Vivaldi's Opus 10 Flute Concertos played by brilliant young Belgian virtuoso Matthias Maute and one of the Big Apple's top original instrument crews, Rebel (accent on the second syllable). It's an extraordinary display of panache and virtuosity in which Maute chooses his weapon for each concerto from alto recorder, sixth flute (soprano recorder) and traverso (flute), dazzles on each, and Rebel backs him with ferocious energy and risk-taking authenticity, showing that the boundaries of original instrument excitement have not been stretched so tight that they can't be stretched some more. The playing is out of the box with its ornaments, plastic phrasings and simulated spontaneity so that each new section, each new tune, each new dashing series of runs and trills, brings with it unexpected surprises and just enough time to catch your breath between movements. The spectacular sound, recorded in St. John's Lutheran Church in Stamford, CT, is rough and edgy at times–appropriately so for the playing style–but doesn't mind being tamed. John Moran's lapidarian liner notes discuss Vivaldi's music through the lens of his Dutch publishers Estienne Roger and Michel-Charles Le Cene, and paint a fascinating picture in which art clamored with business in the composer's life. Moran notes that the Vivaldi "found out that printed editions were eating into direct sales of his manuscripts, so in his latter years he returned to his earlier business model." Food for thought in today's turbulent music rights atmosphere. - Laurence Vittes Vivaldi: "Venetian Dreams": Concerti, Op. 10 (1729) for recorder or flute and strings; Sonata al Santo Sepolcro, and Concerto in G Minor for Strings Matthias Maute, recorder, sixth flute and traverso Rebel led by Jörg-Michael Schwarz Bridge CD