Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Modern Music, Modern Art in Tuscany

     Your faithful Beautiful Florence blogger has just returned home from a short vacation visiting loved ones in Florida.  There, the weather was sunny and warm;  here I flew over the Tuscan coast from Rome to Florence a mere two hours before the Costa Concordia cruise ship, way too close to Giglio island, 
crashed into rocks.

      In the wake of jet lag, I will leave fellow professional journalists final word on the tragedy.  Before departing Florida I saw a TV special on "extreme" size cruise ships as was the Costa Crociera, hosting gyms, pools, restaurants, "cliffs" for rock climbing, libraries, beauty salons and every other luxury imaginable, along with 4,000+ passengers and 1,000+ crew.  The total number happens to be the population of the small town where I grew up, Highland Falls (New York), located in the Hudson Valley just outside the U.S. Military Academy at West Point.  The images of an abandoned whale-size ship on its side simply brought to mind an easily-imagined metaphor:  that of a greedy, way-too-materialistic society running aground on the rocks of economic disaster.

  That having been said, life goes on.  During my first week in Beautiful Florence 2012, I attended a concert of modern (!) American (!!) music at a 17th century theater, Teatro della Pergola, compositions by Charles Ives (1874-1954).  As previously reported, Michelle Hilt visited the Picasso exhibition at Palazzo Blu in Pisa (open until January 29), and she is Beautiful Florence's designated first-ever guest blogger (report below).  Above is a Picasso work on display, Bust of a Faun (1946) on loan to Pisa from the Picasso museum in Antibes, France.

      First things first--the concert.  Being Tuscany's only professional American journalist, upon landing I was given news about the concert, a very rare performance of American music, hence the italics.  Regarding chamber music performances, Florentines like their Beethoven and Mozart, Mozart and Beethoven, with a little Bach, Brahms and Schubert thrown in for good measure.  As for my beloved Debussy and Chopin, their music is the nearly exclusive domain of Florence's French Institute.  So it was real news that an Italian pianist, Emanuele Arciuli, and a German baritone, Stephan Genz, would be performing an all-Ives program at the historic Teatro della Pergola in town.

Above is the foyer of the theater.  As you can see, it is a sheer pleasure just walking in.
The concert started at 9 pm;  I left my home at 8:10.  Unfortunately a white Fiat Panda was blocking my car, so I honked and rang doorbells for a half hour until the culprit, unrepentant ("This is the first Monday evening in five weeks that I've had to move the car from behind yours") appeared.   With no time to make a scene, at 8:40 I left for the Pergola, arriving 10 minutes after the concert's start.  After Genz finished a song, I was seated, and started to take notes.  Not being a music expert, I noticed, however, that he was singing in German.  I hurriedly consulted the program, to find that the first half consisted of songs that Ives had composed both in English and in German (surprise).

Between songs, pianist Arciuli would talk about Ives, how he was the father of American music, an experimental composer who had a conservative Yankee lifestyle (Italians pay attention to lifestyle).  He said that Ives interspersed classical European musical styles and motifs  such as Beethoven's First Symphony with undercurrents of ragtime, jazz, spirituals, traditional American songs, punctuated by dissonance.

I take his word for it.  All I know is that the music was
molto bella, relaxing,  and like
a breath of fresh air.

Arciuli appeared as artistic as the photo above.  While playing, he would throw sheets of music when he was done with them, which landed in a heap behind the piano.
After the intermission, he was the soloist.  He made introductory remarks about the Ives "Concord" sonata he was about to perform, speaking of the four movements, dedicated and entitled according to 19th century New England writers and thinkers Emerson, Hawthorne, the Alcotts and Thoreau.  Either you know who they are and what they stand for or you don't.

In my professed musical (but not literary) ignorance, I can only say the concert was wonderful.  The organizers, the Amici della Musica (Friends of Music) had to argue with local papers to cover it, as alas, initially, my fellow journalists thought it to specialized (i.e. too rare) for Florence.  Encore!

Onto Picasso.

The city of Pisa, a hour from Florence, is known as the home of the Leaning Tower and an airport hosting budget airlines.  The last several years, however, Pisa is a making another claim to fame by organizing winter (off- tourist season!), modern (!!!) art shows in the Palazzo Blu.

Palazzo Blu literally translates to the "Blue Palace."  When Michelle Hilt called ahead to find the address, she was told "walk straight from the train station, cross the river, turn right and you will see
 a blue building."

The palace is indeed blue.  How it can be is a mystery to me, as Tuscany has strict laws about building colors--there is a palette which confirms to all the tints used in Renaissance, as well as 17th, 18th and 19th building facades.  That allows variations on creamy yellow with gray or sandstone brown trim, the most eccentric color allowed being salmon or a rare case of Pompeii red.  But blue?

The subtitle of the show (open daily 10 am - 7 pm, as stated until Jan. 29) is "I wanted to be a painter and I became Picasso."  The artist was not known for his modesty, and his photo greeted Michelle at the door.

I turn the pen over to Michelle.

"Palazzo Blu--characterized by an intense shade of blue--is the current home of a collection of Pablo Picasso's work starting, appropriately enough, with the artist's Blue Period.  Many of the works are loaned from private collections, and all are accompanied by extensive captions.

Entering, the visitor can read a simple yet detailed account of Picasso's life.  Beyond the background information,  a hallway leads to the heart of the exhibition.

The show begins with "The Artist at Work" (1964), a silkscreen on paper of the artist as he wished to be shown--as could be expected, the work is a self portrait.

Continuing on, the show is divided into 10 sections including "Cubism,"  "From Realism to Synthesis," and "The Dream and Lie of Franco."

From 1907 until 1914 Picasso, with the assistance of George Braque, created a brand new artistic concept.  Cubism uses superimposition and juxtaposition of different views in order to make space nonexistent.  Cubist pieces in the show include Still Life with Guitar (1942), Still Life with Basket of Fruit  (1942); my personal favorite was The Dance on the Beach.  

Next on the itinerary is "From Realism to Synthesis."  After WWII, Picasso abandoned the canvas and paintbrush.  He devoted his time exclusively to lithography, and it was during this period that he began to conceptualize the way he worked.  The following room, "The Dream and Lie of Franco," takes the visitor back to the '30s, with the outbreak of the Spanish civil war.

Picasso collaborated with authors and contributed his imagery to many books.  The pages of his most powerful examples are displayed in a maze-like structure through part of the exhibition.

During his 70's, Picasso, still artistically insatiable, began to work in linoleum, and the retrospective features 60 exhibits in this medium." (see below)

With the exception of not displaying the manifesto of Cubism, Les Demoiselles di Avignon (although there was a photo of the work), the show was spectacular, says Michelle, who also reports that it ended with the following quote (which, as an artist, she found inspiring):

"When I was a child, my mother told me 'If you become a soldier, you will be a general.  If you become a monk, you will end up as pope.'  I wanted to be a painter and I became Picasso."
- Pablo Picasso

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