Saturday, December 10, 2011

Cultura in Urbis

Last night I attended a musical performance by a sacred music choral group that was simply amazing. This usually isn't a type of music I seek out, but in a live setting, this sort of music provides a transcendent experience.

When I began This Land is Your Land my intent was to focus on many topics that interest me, including politics, music, art, culture, education, science and religion, among others.

Somehow I have had my intentions hijacked by my obsession with the subversion of our economic system by the lads and lasses at the southern end of Manhattan Island. Willful unfairness that nurtures vast selfishness at the expense of the least among us will do that to a fellow. And there is the matter of my house losing half of it's hard won equity due to some sleight of hand on an algorithm infused spreadsheet 50 stories above the East River. Invisible hand, indeed.

But I have still been absorbed with the creative spectrum of the humanities during this unflattering obsession. Let me summarize:

I have been working on an art project that will involve 20 prints based on a central set of themes, not the least of which are the DNA that is our blueprint, and the cognition that separates us from our carbon based brethren. A few thumbnails of the works in progress are along the right side of this blog. When printed they are presented in 18" x 14" frames.

I recently was involved in a program at Steppenwolf Theater called First Look 101, in which a group of us followed the creative process behind the production of three plays, from the first read of the scripts to the final performances. Like wow.

I went with family over the Thanksgiving weekend to see a once in a lifetime event at Chicago's Symphony Center. The Chicago Symphony Orchestra, simply the best of the best, helped celebrate the 50th anniversary of the release of the marvelous musical West Side Story. At great expense a print of the movie with the music removed was created, leaving the dialogue, vocals, and incidental sounds intact. The CSO, with the direction of a talented conductor, played the music live, in sync with the singers and choreography. Words can't express how remarkable this performance was by the CSO, along with the compositions, the acting, the dancing and the artistry of the presentation. Frankly, at that point in her all too brief life, Natalie Wood could have raised the pulse of the recently departed. What an evening of entertainment.

One of the more rewarding things I've done lately is attending a series of performances, one of which I alluded to at the top of this post. Rockefeller Chapel (which is really a huge cathedral) on the campus of the University of Chicago, has a series of musical programs revolving around religious themed music. I recently saw a group called Bella Voce doing choral music, which, though based on ancient traditions, were mostly composed in the modern era. Last evening's performance featured an ensemble called The Tallis Scholars, which, I am told, is the preeminent vocal group in the world for the sacred choral music from the Renaissance. Again, like wow.

One of the great things about going to the Rockefeller Chapel for a performance is that your evening can include a meal at one of the areas fine restaurants, as well as a pre-concert visit to one of the many incredible book stores in Hyde Park, the university community where students are so driven that they are given workshops on how to take a break from studying. Never a problem for me and my university peers.

The Rockefeller Chapel also hosts work composed and performed by University of Chicago students, and I recently saw a concert that included mind blowing performances of Philip Glass pieces, as well as a performance of a work I really never thought I would ever experience, 4'33" by John Cage, a composition that created a furor when it was first performed in 1952. It is more Samuel Beckett than Irving Berlin, and pisses off as many people as it tickles. I was tickled.

On the way home last night we swung by the Aon building (once called the Standard Oil building) which, you recall, is one of the tallest buildings in the world. As a young man from a tiny town, I vividly recall during my first year of college being enthralled and amazed by my exposure to the avant garde art world I had no idea existed. The student activities board somehow took it upon themselves to book showings of artists and performers that seemed like they were from another, more exciting (and subversive) universe.

I recall visiting an extremely odd art exhibit on campus and thinking, "You are not in Kansas anymore."

Among those shows were screenings of odd movies by a guy named Andy Warhol, which, while often disturbing, and occasionally like watching paint dry, were always stimulating. I mention these facts, and we drove by the Aon building, because the Art Institute was somehow projecting Warhol's movie "Empire" on the 1,000 foot high facade of the building. "Empire" is an eight and one half hour movie that simply shows the upper half of the Empire state building from daylight to dusk to darkness. An eight and one half hour movie of a building in which nothing happens, while projected on the side of a building.

This is why I love Andy Warhol.

Oh - my companion and I were good for probably about two minutes of the movie and that was enough.

As you see, I don't spend all my time obsessing over the Master's of the Universe.


Read more:     Steppenwolf Theater First Look 101
Read more:     The CSO and West Side Story
Read more:     Rockefeller Chapel
Read more:     Bella Voce
Read more:     The Singing Fire
Read more:     The Tallis Scholars
Read more:     Philip Glass Metamorphosis
Read more:     John Cage 4'33"
Read more:     The Art Institute
Read more:     Coop Bookstores
Read more:     Obama Lore in Hyde Park
Read more:     Andy Warhol's Empire