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Jonas Mekas

I Seem To Live ~Vol. 1- 1950-1969

~The New York Diaries  Jonas Mekas~ with entries by Adolfas Mekas

~ book designers: Fabian Bremer, Pascal Storz ~ editor: Anne König


1000pgs. illustrated; photographs; archival footage

This place is full of drunk poets and I don’t know what.”  underground filmmaker Jonas Mekes writes in a 1958 journal entry, And those poets he was drinking with would include Kerouac, Ginsberg, LeRoi Jones (Amira Buraka), & Peter Orlovsky. It is just one of Mekas’ prose snapshots in the first publication “I Seem To Live: Vol. 1 – 1950-1969, his sprawling 1000+ pg. diary that is a sprawling epic prose verite of underground and bohemian New York City.

Jonas died in January 2019 at the age of 96, so it is particularly poignant that Spector Books published this important record of an underappreciated Lithuanian-American artistic visionary at a pivotal time.

The publication of ‘I Seem to Live’ coincides with the recent screenings of the Mekas brother’s landmark film ‘Guns of the Trees,’ which along with Robert Frank/’Jack Kerouac’s ‘Pull My Daisy,’ John Cassavettes’ ‘Shadows’, Gregory Markopoulos’ ‘Serenity’ and Shirley Clarke’s ‘The Connection’, however unheralded, represented a pivotal revolution in American films as they reflected sociopolitical movements ignored by the Hollywood studios system, which were becoming not only cultural irrelevant, but crumbling under their own excesses.

‘I Seem To Live’ is Mekas’s manifesto to all artists, indeed a survivor’s guide for all artists to overcome all obstacles not only to produce creative work but, in this case, a warrior like pursuit in the name of free artistic expression.

A poet himself Jonas he has been called by cine-files the “godfather of avant-garde cinema” in the US. With his brother Adolfas they wrote and published Film Culture magazine, established the New American Cinema (NAC) and Mekas’ Coop, the artist co-op (Coop) he ran out of his apartment which became a locus for poets, musicians, filmmakers, & other visual artists. Crucially, as busy (& stoney broke) as Jonas always was during this period in New York, he was part of the international network of filmmakers including that included the cinematic zeitgeist coming of Europe.

war, survival & artistic refugee

Jonas and his younger brother Adolfas fled Lithuania when the Soviets seized the country back from the Nazis after WWII. The brothers were interred in forced labor and DP (displaced persons) camps at the end of the war. They were on one of the last boats of the camps that sailed to America in 1949.

The brothers moved to Brooklyn, and considered themselves DPs in NY and at tried to make their way and careers in a new country.  They were intellectuals, and had interests in photography and film but meanwhile they had to immediately get jobs. Adolfas enlisted and was back in Europe fighting. Jonas found temporary jobs through the immigration placement service, eventually getting a job in a print shop.

Ostensibly a diary of filmmaker, film journalist Jonas Mekas ‘I Seem To Live’ is also a philosophical survival guide of a Lithuanian immigrant, a stranger in the strange land of New York City, trying to create an underground film movement in a money-driven business.

Jonas may have been a rebel filmmaker, and all the while a classic compulsive diarist. In fact, among the best in the form. Put him in the class with Christopher Isherwood, Virginia Woolf, Ned Rorem, and Serge Prokofiev (yes, I’ve read them all), & a few others.

The rhythms of his daily writing are journalistic, poetic, stream – of –consciousness with all the vigor of a consummate journalist and an inspired poet. He documents the immigrant experience in during the 50s & 60s, a defining time culturally, socially and certainly in film arts as the studios busted up and international and independent cinema was part of an art revolution in New York.

The hefty volume is peppered with photos, letters, illustrations, government papers, newspaper clippings (several on artists who were dragged before McCarthy’s House Un-American Activities Committee hearings) of Mekas and his expansive world of artists, writers and film luminaries from rebel directors Jack Smith (Flaming Creatures) and gay filmmaker Kenneth Anger (Scorpio Rising) to Hollywood titans like Orson Welles. Jonas also guided Andy Warhol on his first experimental films and abstract artist Yoko Ono.

Their masthead Film Culture Magazine was launched with a roster of professional writers including Andrew Sarris, Edouard de Laurent, Arlene Croce, Eugene Archer, Peter Bogdanovich and George Fenin the dedicated staff of the first issue of the magazine, meanwhile so desperate for money that they eventually made a loan from Lutheran monks in New York, and were eventually sued by the order for non-payment of the loan (they eventually paid the monks back.

After Adolfas’ US military service, the brothers moved to from Brooklyn to  Manhattan and were immersed in international cinema. They founded Film Culture Magazine, and brought together filmmakers, writers, cinematographers hosting lectures at the 92 St. Y and makes-shift locales. , Meanwhile they were trying to make their own experimental films, revolutionize how films could be made independently. They were in constant debt, but kept writing, filming, borrowing and occasionally stealing, under whatever the dire circumstances to keep working at it.

Meanwhile, Jonas was writing everything down about their trials of starting a magazine and codifying an independent film community in New York. Living day to day, hand to mouth.

Edouard de Laurent “Immigrants to America do not ‘adjust’ to America, They rather resign to it. They live in a state of resignation.”

Shooting philosophy

Part immigrant memoir, part art treatise, part philosophical manifesto of the arts vs. the world of commerce, politics and American culture. Mekas quotes Emerson, and in and also writes of the urban wilderness from his outsider point of view. 

Equally admiring and damning of American culture. Recognizing from the start the possibilities of a vivid social experiment of a melting pot of cultures in New York, but also very aware of racism, sexism, poverty and the failures of the federal government to treat citizens equally. And the rabid anti-intellectual era of the 50s that McCarthy and his cronies targeted socialists, communists, gays, artists and anybody HUAC tagged as subversive.

He is constantly discussing the state of the arts in the US, and is a sharp observer of both commercial films in the US and the serious filmmakers and the entire post-WWII auteurs in Europe.

You would think that there would also be a record of Jonas’ personal life and relationship, and there are scant entries and not in detail, but you get the general sense that he had an active romantic life.

Adolfas was back from the service and part of Jonas cast and crew for his movie Guns of the Trees, shooting on location in Manhattan, the New York countryside and New Jersey, encountering law enforcement, starvation, constant harassment by police in the city and in rural areas, for shooting without permits or on private property.

send in the cows

They rolled with the punches and often kept the camera rolling even as the cops gave them shakedowns & gun wielding farmers. Mekas and rag-tag production crew soldiered on when their money ran out, their cars broke down (fortunately Adolfas was a good mechanic. They ran out of film all the time, they had to borrow Movieolas to edit their own films.

There are hilarious mishaps while shooting all of which Jonas chronicles in his diary. They had permission to film on a cow farm and the cows continued to stampede away, and at one point they ended up hiding in the woods, when they were located, the actors had disappeared.

end of part 1– upcoming in part two – Jonas lands at Rikers’ on obscenity charges, was with Andy the night Andy he got shot, & more movie mayhem with Salvatore Dali & other legendary artists and more about his social activism during the turbulent 60s. & for dance historians Jonas was on the scene at Judson Church for the pioneering work of postmodern dancer-choreographers Anna Sokolow & Erick Hawkins, et. al.

Editor Anne König notes in her afterward that Vol. 2 of ‘I Seem To Live’ covering the Mekas brothers from the 70s to 2011, that there will be an index. Konig also explains that just two years before his dead, Jonas worked with translators and transcriptions of his hand-written text and assembling some 2,000 pages of text that constitute his diary scanning 60 years.

Poetries revisited


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for Johann

fr. The Music Rooms

the hours
echoing or enfolding
quietly, lighted in
children’s weather
remembering what surreal
brilliance was
gone by elsewhere

a terminal luster
on a missed eclipse
of forecasts, unapocalyptic
As a test of secular faith
As a wire that all
is forgiven in flight
or forgotten by the promontory
of water and shadow
sometimes liquid

silhouetted swept back in
a hollow tide

(the scribbles of the dooms are
for selfcursed minds

wouldn’t imagine
lilac would
dance out through the
breeze in quite this way.
so precisely free
or that there would be that suspension
of venal clarity that is
only told in the buried rock
I thought all
there was to do to survive was
by the fight that made us

and not condemned
I recall the nights’

infinite silences before the resolutions of Bach’s notes

from ‘Days of Mercury’


‘Red sail’ by Jan Carroll

au revoir Marcel

Are you quiet
Are you quiet
Over Damascus
Over Jerusalem
Over Atlantis
Quiet enough
To get by
Without me
Have you made me

a shield
For me
An all gods
Dead or alive
godless prayer
for me
or a lyre

That keeps us safe
Leads me inside
Your Amsterdam
Where we
Drink absinthe
to stumble into Paris
liberate me over
The fields of the dead

Are you with me
Are you with me
This time as you were before
In Barcelona
Where we didn’t leave that
bombed villa for two weeks
Before we were both starving
In the woods
Are we quiet enough
Running along this rivers
of the dead vanished but hearing
the whispers of the dead
I know you don’t want
To hear me
Because you think you can
Save us another way
But you did come to me in…

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Another fouffy poem because I forgot


20900008sketch by John Way circa 1952)

The Music Rooms

                            fr Days of Mercury

The Lustrous silence of emotion

lyricism defiled
to glorious feral

to 16ths
fragments recline
Deep in another dream

visions of
Mercury’s flight to Delos
That burnout like a silent horror movie

but on this afternoon
we lay around waiting for
some guests
who said they might arrive,

but have no intention of letting them in


let us
escape now

He is
of Lustrous Emotions
O negative to my Oe’er negative
most campy vampirique
inked my body, then
I thought
the light in his body is
the neural charge
the eternal flame & afterburn
together composer=architect=composer
dreamers’dreamer dream

silent lovers

Keeping them out
slugging a bottle
‘52 Chateau Margaux
rabid laughing
in our madrigals
shadows disappear
on torsos
the dignity…

View original post 192 more words

& poetries


From Days of Mercury

prelude in transit

~”wordless darkness that underlies all verbal truth~Perhaps something only music could suggest” -Timebends by Arthur Miller

spiraling dissonance
dragged out of the ice basilica

Sutured behind a wing
vanished into sky

escaping through hands
Unwritten unspoken

swallowing the illusion
mourned to infinity

retold through time
vanquished eye
Secret away
witness from afar

catapulted yet saved in the steeled notes

banished from consciousness
but not lost finally
precision of thismusic
conjured from thelines
Of profane air

blessed godlessrune

sacred to itself

foretold by the wings of mercury

a prelude in transit
Riveted to his tracks

bleeding in flight
then returned

this night

where these souls & eyes

will dance again

View original post



Michael Daugherty, Paul Jacobs & conductor Edward Gardner
(uncredited photo courtesy Paul Jacobs FB page)

The Philadelphia Orchestra

Verizon Hall, Philadelphia

Edward Gardner, conductor

Paul Jacobs, organ

February 27-29, 2020

British conductor Edward Gardner made his Philadelphia Orchestra debut in Verizon Hall leading a rousing performances of works by Benjamin Britten, Edward Elgar and a raucous organ concerto by American composer Michael Daugherty. Gardner is in demand on concert and opera stages all over the world is the conductor designate for the London Symphony Orchestra starting in 2021. His three concerts with The Philadelphians showed the many reasons why.

There were several of empty seats in Verizon Hall in for the first concert one guesses because of a week of scary news about the Corona virus, but those in attendance were obviously very glad to be there.

Gardner was all business striding on the podium in Verizon Hall and launching into  ‘Sinfonia de Requiem. A piece the 26 year of Britten composed in part to honor his parents, as well as an anti-war statement from a committed British pacifist. It was composed in the US when Britten followed poet W.H.Auden to the US to sidestep the gathering war clouds in Europe. Britten, ironically, was commissioned by Japan for the work , which was meant to premiere at an official ceremony in 1939, but Japan rejected the work and in view of the coming war, Britten was lucky they did.

Britten’s sinfonia pays homage to classical requiems within less shrouded symphonics. The opening movement a brooding symphonic gravity but more than musical grieving. The ‘Dies irae’ a progressive orchestral polemic, of the brass heralds and percussive trajectory that decrescendos into orchestral fragmentation chaos, punctuated with ominous arrests. The precision and thrust of the percussion and brass, all the way down the line was breathtaking.  The final movement (requiem aetermam) with its lyrical voicings of the woodwinds of unresolved serenity or meditation. Gardner led the orchestra with precision and passion that is prescient to many of the composers later music and themes.

For many, Michael Daugherty’s Once Upon a Castle was the big surprise of the night for its musical portrait newspaper titan William Randolph Hearst, immortalized in Orson Welles’ film classic Citizen Kane.

 Gardner contours its showpiece qualities, and details all of the dramatized themes. Paul Jacobs is a champion of new music and Daugherty’s organ is the Hearst/Kane protagonist that ignites thrilling dynamics the rest of the orchestra. 

The first movement The Winding Road to San Simeon– has a speedy (as in motoring) panoramic atmosphere. Then Neptune Pool a reflective tone poem and at its center an intoxicating jazz noir trumpet solo Then Rosebud, named for the infamous sled, which symbolized Kane’s tragic flaw that haunted everything Kane did. the finale, The vampy climax ‘Xanadu’ inspires gothica musical dark shadows of the castle. Jacobs is an organ virtuoso and he literally pulled out all of the stops with this work.

But just as enchanting were the delicate mis-en-scenes of Patrick Williams flute lines and the stunning trumpet solo by Peter Curnow The audience on their feet with lusty applause and Jacobs gave even more with the classically lusty Passacaglia J.S. Bach for an encore.

 The closer was a repertory favorite of The Philadelphians and Gardner put his own stamp on it. For many, Edward Elgar’s Enigma Variations is revelatory moments, one might hear in its chambers the soul searching musicality of Elgar. The pastorals, the dance music, the stately dignity and out of the blue its pulsing symphonic heart variation titled Nimrod. Philadelphia Orchestra consistently performs the piece with exacting detail, giving each variation equal luster.  And Gardner bringing sonic balance even with a skittish entrance leading into the profound dimensions of Nimrod.

Gardner’s tempo adjustments and The Philadelphia strings vivid depth of sound that just goes through the body. Among the many outstanding soloist included principals Hai-Ye Ni (cello) David Kim (violin) and Daniel Matsukawa (bassoon).



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Sarah Glinko, Ross Beschler & Steven Rishard in Ravji Joseph’s Describe the Night at the Wilma Theater
(photo by Joanna Austin)

Describe the Night

Written by Ravji Joseph

directed by Blanka Zizka

The Wilma Theater

Broad & Spruce St., Philadelphia

Feb- 1-Feb 22, 2020

The Wilma Theater has been redesigned as a multi-tiered amphitheater to frame Rajiv Joseph’s provocative 2017 political play ‘Describe the Night.’ A sterile sunken stage lined with hundreds of file boxes, and looming behind, a distant forest in Poland circa 1920.  In the dark shadows of the forest, Isaac Babel is a wayward soldier writing in his diary about war crimes he has just witnessed. A Russian officer named Nikolai, interrupts and the two start a conversation that sparks an argument.  

Nikolai says he understands a field war report, but ‘personal observations’ are lies and proclaims “Truth is what happens, false is what does not happen.” Who wins this debate is left in the shadows, as we are transported to 2010 in a car rental outlet in Smolensk, Russia. Feliks the agent has witnesses a plane crash in which Polish government officials, including the president and his wife are killed. The KGB has just interviewed him and are coming back.

Meanwhile, Mariya, a journalist pounds on the door begging to be let in. She just escaped the crash scene where other reporters were being rounded up by Russian officials. The police return and Feliks and Mariya both escape, one with a mysterious diary given to Feliks by one of the dying passengers on downed flight.

But before we know what’s happened to them, we flashback to 1937 Moscow, where Nikolai and Isaac get together after many years. Nikolai’s wife, Yevgenia appears and seems to barely be tolerating Nikolai’s controlling ways and fancies herself a seer, who Nikolai has said, always predicts war. He makes her sit with Isaac and predict his future in a ritual involving blindfolds and bathes his arms.  The fates and secrets of these characters are some of the play’s most dramatic moments.

Joseph goes back and forth in time as we try to piece together the mysteries of this narrative puzzle that frames the dystopian realities and scabrous illusions of 90 years of Russian history. At times, the pile-up of dizzying fragmented exposition can strain one’s concentration over the course of the near three-hour production. But, past trying to figure out all of the pieces, this is exciting forensic theater of the absurd laced with magic realism.

The urgent messages of totalitarian governments boiled down to the horrors of the inescapable ‘techniques’ used to get ‘enemies of the state’ to submit.  The playwright echoes the omens of Orwell realized, and of Bertolt Brecht’s The Resistible Rise of Arturo Ui which Brecht wrote as a warning to America that the rise of a fascist leader can happen anywhere in the world.

Joseph’s dialogue cycles are character-driven even though the subtext is freighted with political subtext, there is a sustained emotional drive in this material. This whole cast is uniformly excellent through this heavy handed material.

Blanka Zizka’s sharp direction brings out the best in lengthy two-character scenes, but this is ensemble work, the artistic results of the Wilma’s HotHouse roster of actors working together in studio work together (ala repertory theater) all year round.  Zizka wisely doesn’t have the cast use Russian accents.

Ross Beschler and Steve Rishard, as Isaac and Nikolai, deliver edgy performances full of naturalism and operatic intensity.  Fine performances by Anthony Martinez Briggs and Brett Ashley Robinson as Feliks and Mariya in the dense fog of action and freighted dialogue of the first act, and later when their characters reappear.

Sarah Glinko’s shows amazing range as the beautiful and furtive Yevgenia and eventually as the scary ancient Yevgenia, serving her leach soup and predicting war. Keith Conallen gives a chillingly convincing performance as Vovo, the low-level, judo-loving KBG agent who is trying to gain power by any means necessary. Vovo is Joseph’s inspired proto-fictional Putin, as a cipher wrapped in a tyrant around a little boy.

He agrees to shadow a young woman that is trying to escape to the west in 1989 when the Berlin Wall comes down. Campbell O’Hare’s is Yevgenia’s rocker granddaughter Urzula, who knows how to tame the volcanic Vovo.  The character is a fictionalized Putin, written as a cipher wrapped in a tyrant around a little boy.

The production designs keep giving and is a stunning collaboration of Thom Weaver’s lighting in tandem with Matt Saunders’ set, video elements by Christopher Ash and hypnotic music and sound design by composer Christopher Colucci.

Even with its jagged structural edges, and a few flat character twists, (one, in particular, is a surprise when it lands, even though it is a too convenient plot device),  without doubt Ravij Joseph has written an explosive and timely political play. The messages and implications in Describe the Night narratively and visually, stay with you to chill you even more in our winter of discontent.



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Love, Cole 

The Letters of Cole Porter

Edited by Cliff Eisen & Dominic McHugh

Yale University Press

Hardcover, 662 pgs photographs

After his death, Cole Porter’s relatives and estate basically wanted to erase any perception that one of America’s greatest songwriters was gay, though it was common knowledge even during his lifetime. The matter is now officially settled by the composer himself settled with the publication of The Letters of Cole Porter, just released by Yale University Press.   

Cole Porter starts his lifelong letter writing habit when he was a student composer at Yale, and  even at the height of his fame, while he composed hit Broadway musicals, Hollywood films and a was a star in his own right in the theater world and cafe society in New York, Paris and London. 

He married socialite Linda Lee Thomas in 1918.  By all accounts, his wife knew and accepted his affairs with men, but they were the celebrity couple on the theater and society circuits in New York, Paris and London.  Even during their yearlong globetrotting honeymoon, Porter was writing lusty letters to Boris Kochno, a star dancer in Diaghilev’s Ballets Russes.  At times Porter sounding completely obsessed that he would not be able to arrange clandestine meetings with the dancer.

Porter was from a wealthy family, and he easily moved among wealthy American and European society, where men had the means to create a protected private gay life.

Few clues to Porter’s love for Linda come through in his letters.  He speaks of her so off-highhandedly about their relationship that she comes off as a companion than a.  His passion is more apparent when writing to his colleagues, lovers and Yale alums, as he globetrots with Linda living a gay (in the old meaning of the term) and a barely hidden life as a most famous gay composer living a most extravagant double life.     

 Many of the letters reveal Porter as a charming, egocentric tunesmith right out of one of the frothy backstage musicals RKO and MGM were churning out during the Depression.  But other than being tone deaf to the strife of millions of Americans in the 30s, he was at the height of his powers as a composer that connected with his audience, in the theater, in films and by way of popular singers and big bands.

 Top stars like Ethel Merman, Fred Astaire, and Eleanor Powell, just to mention a few championed his work. As did bandleaders and popular singers.  Many performing his songs even before the charts were published.A short list of classics would include ‘Night and Day’ ‘Easy to Love’ ‘Let’s Do It’ ‘Anything Goes’ ‘Begin the Beguine’ ‘Too Darn Hot’ ‘So In Love’ ‘In the Still of the Night’ ‘Love for Sale,’ et al.

Porter had the mutual admiration of his contemporaries, including  Irving Berlin, George Gershwin, Noel Coward, Johnny Mercer, et al. Even late in his career, Porter and Berlin shared the distinction of being the most prolific and successful songwriters of the 20th century.

The diary entries reveal Porter as a hard-working composer writing at the top of his game and ready face off with Hollywood and Broadway producers, stars and moguls to promote and control how his music was used commercially.  

In 1937, Porter life radically changed will he was riding in the country and his horse reared up, throwing Porter and then landing on on top of him, crushing both of his legs. Throughout the rest of his life, Porter faced risky surgeries and other physical difficulties, but he didn’t really complain about it more than document the setbacks that affected his professional life.

And he continued to compose multiple productions in New York and Hollywood, even though his shows weren’t the hits they used to be. His cache as one of the authors of the Great American Songbook increased as singers and bands on the ‘hit parade’ continued to record his songs.

After WWII Porter’s brand of sophisticated, escapist musicals lost their appeal with audiences.  He had two flops in a row and a biopic about his life with Cary Grant was also panned by critics (though both scores produced hit songs).   His triumphal comeback was the musical Kiss Me Kate, which revived his career during the 50s, with a string of hit musicals Can-Can, Silk Stockings, High Society and several revivals of his earlier shows.

His letters to his lovers and close friends during Linda Porter’s slow decline reveal little about his relationship with Linda, but it is obvious that her health was foremost on his mind. The older Porter essentially doesn’t change, but his worries about his career, his mother’s health, Linda’s reveal a sadness that he masks with his characteristic positive outlook.

He doesn’t slow up professionally or socially after Linda’s death and outside of a few passing references in his letters, he doesn’t really write about how he is handling grief or carrying on without Linda.

When Porter has to return to the hospital for more operations on one of his legs, that ends in his right leg being amputated, Porter, now over 60, he essentially becomes a recluse, cutting himself off socially and turning down work.

 The Letters of Cole Porter makes for compulsive reading as fascinating, if sketchy self-portrait of one of the architects of the Great American Songbook. The editors fill in some gaps for continuity, but for the most part, this collection is Porter’s narrative via his own correspondence~~In equal measure frank and furtive~ there is a lot to read in between the lines~ cue music~ Well, Did you Evah? What a Swell Party It (still) Is.



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Pianist Daniil Trifonov (courtesy Philadelphia Orchestra)

The Philadelphia Orchestra

Yannick Nézet-Séguin, conductor

Daniil Trifonov, piano

Jan. 30, * 31- Feb 1-2, 2020

Verizon Hall, Philadelphia

To commemorate Beethoven’s 250th birthday, Philadelphia Orchestra conductor Yannick Nézet-Séguin has launched BeethovenNOW, the year to revisit and put the current orchestra’s stamp on all the symphonies and the bounty of other repertory from Beethoven’s works.

Yannick kicked it off in grand style, with the orchestra back in their longtime house, the Academy of Music, for a subscription concert for the first time in two decades. Pianist Yefim Bronfman performing Beethoven’s Piano Concerto no. 4 (slated for CD/digital release). The same week the orchestra was back in Verizon Hall with four performances with pianist Daniil Trifonov performing Beethoven’s 1st and 5th concertos. Trifonov may have been the marquee draw, but the rest of the program proved just as interesting with works by Lili Boulanger and Louise Farrenc, that also highlights the orchestra’s season long overdue concept of performing more works by women composers.   

Beethoven’s Piano Concerto No. 1 has a lengthy symphonic opening, played on this night with full force. Trifonov makes a warm entrance, a bit distanced from the orchestra and. there were moments the pianist-orchestra energy was a little cold.  Everything came together in the Largo and some moments of Beethoven transcendence by the Rondo Allegro 3rd movement. Trifonov’s interpretive artistry came thundering through in Beethoven’s cadenzas, illuminating the edge of Beethoven’s adventurism.  

Trifonov revels in the improvisational aspects of certain composers (brilliantly with Chopin) and   in this concerto give him room to explore. He is in the zone, lurching over the keyboard with an entranced intensity, then pulling back, bolt upright, his head drops back in the progressions and orchestral resolves. Worth noting that the maestro kept close eye on the pianist, there was no doubt who was driving this concerto. You sense his visceral connection to the music that is not a performance pose or mask. After three curtain calls of unabated standing ovation, after a long pause backstage Trifonov strode back onstage and unceremoniously sat down to play   Wilhelm Friedemann Bach’s Polonaise No. 8 in E minor with its haunting lyricism that is simply magic in Trifonov’s hands.

This season the orchestra is finally performing more music composed by women, past and present, Nezét-Séguin and on this night the orchestra performing two works that should be part of the orchestra’s heavy rotation repertory.  A surprise that the maestro didn’t introduce either work, something that he often does with compositions that are being performed by the orchestra for the first time.

The concert opened with a radiant performance of Lili Boulanger’s D’un Soir Triste (Of a Sad Evening)   composed in 19 17-18 the last year of her life. She was only 24 years old.  There is so much musical life in this work, even with the foreboding atmospherics, Boulanger’s vivid dynamics of the strings and frame the her progressive mise-en-scenes.  Among the outstand soloists- cellist Hai-Ye Ni, harp and violin dialogues by David Kim and Elizabeth Hainen. Kyoto Takeuti in the haunting background celesta. All of it so distinctly Boulanger’s, what a great loss to music that she died so young.

The closer proved just as captivating in an altogether stellar performance of this rarely performed work. In a program note for Louise Farrenc’s Symphony no. 2. Nézet-Séguin writes that concert audiences not familiar with Farrenc’s work will be tempted to compare it to the famous classical-romantic composers of the early 18th century- Berlioz, Gounod, Schubert, etc. and certainly on the surface of the symphony there are symphonic tropes of the era.  Nézet-Séguin in the program notes that Farrenc’s voice “doesn’t sound like any of these people. It sounds like her.”  The structure of the symphony’s four shorter movements is unique, as are the pulsing subtleties of the strings, the sensual blend of woodwinds prescient to French tone poems of the early 20th century. Farrenc was writing her own chapter of French symphonic music that has, without doubt, too long been ignored.



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Paul Taylor Dance Company

Michael Novak, artistic director

Choreographer: Paul Taylor

Annenberg Center, Philadelphia

Jan. 24-25, 2020

Paul Taylor’s radiant legacy

Paul Taylor was one of the most innovative choreographers in of the 20th century and he was creating dance up to the time of his death in 2018. His indelible legacy lives in the 147 repertory works he made for his company over the course of 60 years. He left that repertory in the hands of his successor Michael Novak, who was a PTDC dancer and now leading The Paul Taylor Dance Company into a new era. The loss of Paul Taylor could have spelled an uncertain future for the company, but, based on their recent program at the Annenberg Center/NextMove Series they are look as vital as ever going forward.

The company is on a nationwide tour, and Novak programmed a concert of company classics that showcase Taylor’s choreographic range and the mettle of the current roster of dancers.

The concert opened with a poignant short film retrospective that includes footage of Taylor dancing that reminded everyone of a certain age of Paul’s own arresting power as a dancer. In interview clip of Taylor answering with some impatience to an interviewer, “Well, I’m a dancemaker.” And the three contemporary works performed at the Annenberg was more than a reminder of what an American master he was.

‘Syzygy’ from 1987 is framed by a backdrop of a comet dust streaking across space.  The full company, dressed in short tunics, by designer Santo Laquasto, bolt onstage in in staggered unison lines in frenzied abstract, movement, their bodies in subject to invisible gravitational fields.  Meanwhile, composer Donald York’s electronica is a space magnetic field that also drives the dancers. 

The choreography is fast paced and full of asymmetrical, chaotic configurations of steps explosive layouts, fragmented phrasing and turns jarringly moving in forward and reverse. Cleaved bodies crashing to the floor, dancers vanish, then cataputed back to the action, their limbs in counterbalance but Taylor’s making it all dizzying choreographic sense. Within that, there is Taylor’s wit, that are completely revelatory choreographic ground. Taylor’s creative control perhaps symbolized by soloist Madelyn Ho’s is a classical pose rotates slowly in space unaffected by the chaotic forces around her.

Next, ‘Sunset,’ scored to symphonic elegies by Edward Elgar, the ballet is a fine example of Taylor’s synthesis of ballet-modernist idioms. The scene is a ship during wartime and the soldiers on deck. Taylor documents their dreams of sweethearts at home, the battles at sea, their hidden fear and camaraderie and even a shipboard gay romance, the battle at sea, and the reality of the life and death dangers they face. All of the dramaturg is conveyed through Taylor’s masterful storytelling prowess.

‘Piazzolla Caldera’ (1997)  is one of the most erotic tango-ballets ever staged outside of Buenos Ares.  Café lamps hang over the dancers as the scenes de actione play out against a deep vermilion backdrop. The sensual atmospherics of composer Astor Piazzolla’s tango music is intoxicating. Tango on modern dancer bodies can lose some of the earthiness within the precision of the patterns and the dramatic attitude. Taylor for the most part is able to overcome that.

The full company is onstage with td the other side in tight black pants and men, bare chested.  Each group stakes their ground in halting, dramatic group stomps toward each other in formation, their arms arced back like a matador’s, their eyes blazing.

Piazzolla’s sultry dialogues of the violin and bandoneon in ‘Conierto pada Quinteto’ with partners Eran Bugge and George Smallwood squaring off in a sexually charged tango, That heats up, even more, when Madelyn Ho joins them. Both dancers lifted in turn sequences by Smallwood and a ménage that reaches the bluest flashdance.     

In ‘Celos,’ dancers Michael Apuzzo and Alex Clayton play soused buddies who after a few punch-drunk acrobatics to stay on their feet, eventually fall down and dance the horizontal tango. They pass out on top of each other upstage as Maria Ambroise and Lee Duverneck pas de deux, Taylor’s potent tango-balletic fusion.

The full company returns for the lusty ‘Escalo’ that left the dancers smoldering on the floor as the curtain came down.  Paul Taylor brought his company to the Annenberg Stage over a dozen times over the years, and it is a true joy, now that he is gone, this company is as good as ever and just as important, breathing new life in Taylor’s repertory. Michael Novak is making sure his works don’t turn into museum pieces, but full of artistic interpretation and dancer immediacy.

For more information about the Paul Taylor Dance Company’s current tour go to