Sunday, March 25, 2012

U.S. Musicians & Artists at the Pergola

Florence is celebrating the 500th anniversary of explorer Amerigo Vespucci's birth in 2012 with a whole series of events highlighting cultural contributions by natives of the U.S.  The American continents were  given Amerigo's name by a German mapmaker of the period. 

One more recent evening at the historic 16th century Teatro della Pergola was dedicated to American artists living in Florence and a concert given by the Pacifica Quartet from the United States.
In keeping with the current John Singer Sargent show at Palazzo Strozzi, the oil paintings exhibited in the foyer of the Pergola were beautiful examples of classic realism, which in the entire world is taught exclusively in Florence by American and Canadian artists.

Here are artists Charles H. Cecil and Matthew Collins, standing next to their works, a landscape and a portrait.  Matt is a former student, now a teacher at the Charles H. Cecil Studios, an atelier where aspiring artists are taught the classical approach to oil painting, based on a realistic perception of nature and the humanistic values of the Renaissance.  Cecil himself has been trained in this method, having studied painting with R.H. Gammell in Boston (who in turn was influenced by the naturalism of Florence-born
John Singer Sargent) and Richard Lack in Minneapolis.

Here is a thoughtful viewer, Robert Shackelford, admiring a portrait carefully done from life by Cecil.  An amateur artist himself, Shackelford is the director of Harding University in Florence as well as the secretary of the Association of American College and University Programs in Italy (AACUP).
The works were done using "sight size," where in order to represent a subject and its background
in gradations of light and shadow according to scale, Charles and Matt are accustomed to stepping back a given distance from the picture, in order to depict it in correct proportions.

The exhibition and the concert drew a large crowd, including such fellow American artists resident in Florence as Richard Maury and his wife Anne.  Richard is picture above, wearing a beret with his hand on Anne's shoulder.

The Maurys, like Cecil, were honored by the American Consulate in 2005 with a first-ever exhibition by professional American artists in Florence.  The show was set in the lemon garden (limonaia) of Palazzo Medici Riccardi, a venue granted by then-president of the Province of Florence,
Matteo Renzi, now the current mayor.
Richard Maury is especially known for paintings of everyday life, depicting scenes and people
 with a naturalness, lifelike detail and precision.
Anne Maury, too, is known for her accuracy, one dedicated to botanical illustrations.
Both the Cecil Studios and the Maury home/studios are located on Florence's "Left Bank,"
 the neighborhood of artists and craftsmen, the Oltrarno.

There was also a young art student from the Angel Academy representing realism in the foyer of
the Pergola Theatre.  Hayley Laura Brown was as lovely as her painting:
"Still Life with Roses," (2012) oil on linen.

The theatre began to fill up with American residents, including American university faculty, in addition to U.S. Consul General in Florence Sarah Morrison and
Florence city councilwoman Cristina Giachi.  The two women arrived just as the
concert was about to start, so they entered the Saloncino.

Consul General Morrison looked at the program and commented that, contrary to advance publicity, at least by looking at the names, the musicians did not appear to be American.
Apart from Sibbi Bernhardsson, who was born in Iceland,
the members of the Pacifica Quartet, which they named for the ocean off California, are American.
Even Simin Ganatra, who introduced the encore--a Beethoven piece--in an unmistakeable
American accent.  Named America's 2009 Ensemble of the Year, the group has been appointed
quartet-in-residence at the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

The audience's unanimous consensus was that
 the classical performance was excellent.
After the mandatory Old World opening--as we are in Florence, it was Beethoven of course,
the Pacifica Quartet played Elliot Carter's String Quartet #5 (1995).  The American composer, born in 1908, is still alive and kicking.  The composition, to the untrained ear, full of odd plucked sounds and dissonance, was clearly contemporary music.  American resident Susan Arcamone, who was in the audience, said the music was meant to represent discordant communication among the inhabitants of a nursing home, mirroring disturbance in sending and receiving messages.  I like the theory, however, I have not found out whether it is actual fact.

After the intermission, the Pacifica Quartet interpreted the "American Suite" by Dvorak (1841-1904), who composed it in Iowa on vacation from a teaching job in New York.  "American Suite" was to influence generations of American composers, including Charles Ives and the aforementioned Carter.   There are no clear, acknowledged American influences in the piece, apart from the literal transcription of birdsong!  It was chirped by a loud-voiced Scarlet Tanager (maybe the musician above is wearing red in tribute), a relative of the cardinal, who was visiting Dvorak's back yard during his artist-in-residence days in Iowa.

Home Sweet Home

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