Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Keeping warm in Colima

"And everyone dancing"
After the Feria del Libro in Guadalajara, a massive event that I have never mastered, I went on by bus to Colima, one of my favorite places to visit in Mexico. Like Guanajuato, the state and the city share the same name. But there most similarities end..The city is flat and tropical, with three plazas strung out along the main street. One of them has swan fountains spurting at each corner. I was so taken with the swans the first time I visited the city, I wrote a short poem:about people dancing in the plaza at night surrounded by the fountains. When I went back this time on a Sunday evening, there was a CONACULTA dance event happening in front of the handsome city hall with six hundred in the audience.

During the hot  part of the day I walked to the Regional Park with its round swimming pool and shaded picnic area with zoo and nature signs, my favorite park so far in Mexico.

Comala boy and his horse
From Colima, I went uphill to Comala, the place whose name Juan Rulfo borrowed for the ghost town in his acclaimed novel Pedro Paramo.  I don't know how it looked after the Cristero Wars, but nowadays the streets are lined with trim white houses topped by red tile roofs, a uniformity I associate with Purepecha cities like Patzcuaro. I learned that because this is festival time in Comala, weekend visitors from Colima stay away. So first I went across the bridge over the flowing river, then ate in solitary splendor at the splendid restaurant Piccoli Suizo opened five weeks ago by its Swiss chef who recently relocated from el DF at the request of his Colima-born wife.

So does Colima have a down side? Several: hard to get to, three hours or more by bus from an international airport, a siesta almost necessary in the hot and humid climate.

This bowl of onion soup cost more than
I usually pay for a comida in Gto. The buttery
rolls made on site were delicious
I've only touched on a few of
Colima's delights as a place to visit..

Sunday, November 30, 2014

Morelia Music Festival's Magical Flutes

Mind-expanding. the phrase may be trite but  the saturating effect of hearing four flute-players perform contemporary and Baroque music on a variety of flutes was anything but banal. The four flautists were Alejandro Escuer from Mexico, Claire Chase and Camilla Hoitenga from the United States and Giovanni Antonioni from Italy.

If you went to Luminico in the Juarez earlier this month, you saw and heard Alejandro Escuer playing his flutes. Yes, plural--nowadays flute players play several, often changing from one to another during a single piece. Or to put it another way as Escuer does. says "My breath is my instrument.
Playing a long flute wiith notes an octave lower
than on a usual C flute. (FMM photo)

When asked whether children like hearing contemporary music, the extroverted, innovative musician-academic grinned and mimed their dancing. He went on to explained that the flute is an expressive instrument similar to the human voice, He reminded us that flutes and drums are instruments, which go well together, are the instruments with the longest history and are found in every culture. (in face although he didn't say this, archaeologists think a pierced bone may be a flute dating from prehistoric times.)

Ror the launching of Escuer's new CD  Flying, composer-musician Rodney Sigal, music critic ]Juan Arturo Brennan and Sergio Vela (for a while the director of the Cervantino, now the Morelia festival's director) spoke, followed by the flautist playing four of the pieces, including one by Gabriela Ortiz, composer of a piece Ana Cervantes' commissioned for Vuelos de la Monarca.

Camilla Hoitenga and Claire Chase played works by the Festival's honoree, Finnish composer Kaija Saariaho the concluding weekend of the Festival. Saariaho achieves with percussion and harp. At her press conference, when asked how she composes, Saariaho the composer explained that she writes from her imagination, of course using the thorough knowledge of instruments learned during her training.

I never imagined I would hear work by a Finnish composer not named Jan Sibelius..

Claire Chase, musical entrepeneur
as well as flute-player
Chase's ensemble ICE (international Contemporary Ensemble), played Saariaho's Terrestre, along with several other of her pieces. Six Japanese Gardens for percussion and synthesizer mesmerized me, as did a piece for at least a dozen percussion instruments.

Camilla Hoitenga (Saariaho says Hoitenga knows
just how to play her pieces
The composer who worked closely with Camilla Hoitenga on parts of Aile du Songe, the concerto for flute and orchestra, which she then dedicated to Hoitenga. The flute player,.wearing a dark blue gauzy dress perfect for the bird-themed Aile du Songe, performed Saariaho's concerto with the National Symphony for the first part of the closing concert.

Beethoven's Ninth Symphony as the final part struck me as as incongruous as pairing a butterfly with an elephant. I had difficulty shifting gears, but I admit the Festival director and his committee knew how to end the Festival with a bang.

Stepping back to the earlier concert of the final day,  recorder player Giovanni Antonini with the Italian Barroque orquestra Il Giardino Armonico received a standing ovation from chamber orchestra's delighted audience in the colonial patio of the Palacio Municipal. The ensemble at last responded to their chanting. I wouldn't have known from listening to the encore with closed eyes, but with them open I could see how tired Antonioni was.When I checked the age of this youthful-looking grey-haired musician, I found he was seventy-two. Flute playing isn't for sissies, although when the brother was twelve, he quit because some boys said that it was..
The group also included srings (one each),
harpsichord and triomba (above)


For me, the frosting on the cake was meeting Juan Arturo Brennan who used to write the OSUG program notes until, as he said, he was fired. If he were asked, it was clear to me he would love to start writing them again.

Monday, November 24, 2014

Morelia Music Festival: Brodsky Quartet: Bartok and Late Beethoven + Other Tidbits

The four accomplished, affable British musicians who make up the Brodsky Quartet take pleasure in explaining the music they play, whether to the press or to their audience. After their rueda de prensa, I asked Ian Belton, the Second violinist, to explain the Quartet's Russian name. Forget the Nobel prizewinning poet, Joseph Brodsky. Instead the name honors Russian born Adolph Brodsky who was invited to Manchester at the end of the 19th century to be concertmaster of the symphony, then later directed the Royal College of Music in Manchester for a quarter of a century.
The others played standing, with the cellist on a platform,
her head level with theirs

Playing a program that led up to two of the greatest string quartets ever written, Bartok's Quartet #5 and Beethoven's late quartet, # 14, the Brodsky started with two short pieces from Bach's Art of the Fugue (for which Bach never specified instruments) and the haunting work Preghiera by the contemporary Norwegian violinist Henning Kraggerud.

Later, over a humdrum lunch, the eyes of a young travel writer shone as she expressed her excitement about hearing the rhythms and melodies of the Bartok. For me, the whole balanced program was a delight.

Violiinist Daniel Rowland holding the attention of the audience


Morelia Music Festival 26: A Sock to Shostakovich

The Moscow Quartet members left for the US at the beginning of the 90s
At their press conference, one of the four women comprising the Moscow Quartet explained that being a musician has nothing to do with gender, "not in our playing of the instruments, not in our lives." Even so, as part of the audience, I found hearing a quartet entirely made up of women gave me a special connection to the music. Hearing these Russian women put their souls into playing Shostakovich totally absorbed me.

I hadn't known how much muscle went into playing a Shostakovich quartet. So you can imagine my consternation when the gun-like sounds of fireworks pierced the walls of the patio of the Municipal Building for three minutes while the Quartet played the final movement of Quartet #3. The musicians, although clearly dismayed, kept playing. But, oh, what mindless scheduling by the Festival!
Sisters, the 2nd violinist and violist 

Sunday, November 09, 2014

Aprons/Mandiles Expo-Venta Baratillo

You can still see some of the 20 aprons, each one different and a tribute to creativity in Gto. Barbara MacPherson and Kate DeLos were the hardworking organizers. Karenia Fernandez and Norma Carmona also took part in the inauguration last Saturday.

I loved the extra dimension the overhanging exhibit brought to the Baratillo. Looking forward to it again next year.
Real autumn leaves from the US used here

Apron made by a friend

Barbara, Kate, Norma & Karenia Fernandez

"Blue Moon" by Mexiguana

Saturday, November 01, 2014

Books Now Organized in English Language Library

Looks topsy-turvy here but it isn't
Open M-Th 10-4, except Wed 11-4. Chances are you'll find something to read. The library even has a few excellent reference books.

Donations of books in good condition, especially fiction and non-fiction 1990 or later, are welcome. Feel free to write your name and the date of your gift at the back of the book.

Because space is tight, there are many free giveaway books for the taking.

Friday, October 31, 2014

Cervantino 2014: Great Ride While It Lasted

I have to admit I was pessimistic beforehand about this one, but I am already full of memories of even more events than I wrote about. One of my favorite FIC junkies feels the same way and so did people who knew the one or two events that would make them happy.

Jorge Volpi, the director of this year's Cervantino, opened the Festival in the presence of the Crown Prince and Princess of Japan, expressing grief about the traagedy of the Normal School students. As director, Volpi made sure that FIC 42 would fertilize culture in Mexico: Not only Proyecto Ruelas, which developed actors and drew large audiences, but the Critics workshop and the Academia orchestra, both providing opportunities for talented Mexicans and others to hone their skills. And, once again, the FIC commissioned an opera and a dance work.

Here's a heartwarming story I heard: A friend took a retarded teenage girl she knows to the Butoh performance at the State Auditorium. The young woman was entranced, responded appropriately according to my friend. Maybe there's a lesson here. Maybe more of us should think of inviting someone we know who says"I'm not going to anything." a common response around here.

Grumbles: The untimely closing of most art exhibits the principal one, especially from people who work. And as always to select photos to download akes a long time because a slideshow is lacking.

Scene from Rasgado's opera Paso del Norte
When the new agenda booklet arrived, Ii found it practical. The sabana made planning easier, though.

An under-the-radar event I found very powerful:: the opera composed by Victor Rasgado of Oaxaca
based on a play that told the true story of twenty Mexicans who died of suffocation when the train car in which they were going clandestinely to the US was shunted onto a siding. Poetic lyrics, powerful acting and singing by Lourdes Ambriz and others. Supertitled even though it was in Spanish.

I kept finding that one FIC event played off another. Just one example, seeing the staging of the soldiers in Coriolanus and then in the scenes I saw in Mexiamora. Once again, I was fascinated by  how much the costume design contributes to the effect a work has. Hats off to the unsung hero(ines) who design and make these clothes.

We were lucky with the weather this year, although the one rainy day almost wiped out the Tea Ceremony.

Friday, October 24, 2014

Cervantino 2014: Ballet of Belgrade's Mesmerizing Night of Dance

FIC$@ photo by Claudio Reyes
I watched Alexandro, Alexander the Great's life as imagined by choreographer-librettist. Ronald Savkovic, through my skin -- as sheer dance without a thought about meaning. For the first hour of the 80 minute millennial ballet. I felt I was in the presence of a work of genius, a word I don't use lightly. Words fail me, except for saying that Savovic sees the work as semi-autobiographical. Instead, I''m providing a link with two dozen photos of this contemporary ballet as a reprise if you were there and an up-close look if you were elsewhere.

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Cervantino 2014: Unhappy Endings

I knew the music but was seeing the ballet
for the first time. FIC42 photos -Claudia Reyes
I have written so enthusiastically about FIC42 that I may be losing credibility with you, dear readers, So, even though this has been an incandescent Festival, I do have some reservations.

First of all, as reporting on each event takes more time than you might think, I skirt writing up theater or dance events that bore me. Think 1.8 of the two dance productions I've seen so far this year at the State Auditorium.

I broaden my perspective as I go to more dance and theater. I thought that although Coriolanus gripped me most of the way through, the end of this modern version let me down when it failed to suggest the noble funeral given the superhero. After seeing how Tiger Lillies staged the aftermath of Ophelia's death, I was even more skeptical of the company's decision.

In this small photo, a closer look would show
Romeo is grimacing  not smiling
At Edipo, I felt unhappy about the staging at the end. As always, Edipo/Oedipus gouged out his eyes, but then suddenly the backdrop shone a brilliant sky blue. I nay have an idea of what the director intended but he didn't knit the themes of the play together as I would have liked.

Again, during the final scene of the nearly perfect Romeo and Juliet ballet, at the end suddenly a great deal happened very fast. I consider the problem to lie with Prokofiev (or some say Stalin), not the choreography or dancing. In fact, the company from Monterrey kept me wide-awake until after eleven when the ballet ended.  

Monday, October 20, 2014

Cervantino 2014: Shakespeare Two Ways [Proyecto Ruelas; Tiger Lillies/Theatre Republique]

Energetic, costumed actors in scene from HEnry V

I thought I was in heaven or at least in the Old Globe Theater as I watched scenes from Shakespeare performed without a set for the audience on all sides in Plaza Mexicamora. We were watching young actors from the Guanajuato neighborhoods Arboledas, Cupulas, Martires 22 de abril, Lomas del Padre and Cervera, directed by Luis Martin Solis (please forgive the lack of accents) put on scenes from Shakespeare. We saw scenes ranging from tragedy (Lear and Hamlet) to comedy Two Gentlemen from Verona)and the history play (Henry V) shown at the right.

I wish I had a photo of Lear's fool, but the creature in a teddy bear costume moved too fast for me or was facing away at strategic moments. The actors had been trained to act for an audience on two sides, my only quibble with the production. At any rate, I hope I'll be seeing more of this this budding actress.. .

By the way, this was my second time watching stripped-down Shakespeare in a Cervantino. Several years ago a Colombian company put on a colorful Hamlet originally prepared for high school audiences in their own country. At last, I could follow the plot.

FIC Photo, Carlos Juica
Press tickets were limited, so I only entered Teatro Principal during the intermission of Tiger Lillies/Teatro Republique's production of Hamlet, notable in a different way from Proyecto Ruelas, but I soaked in enough to know I won't forget this emotionally complex, theatrically exciting evening at the Principal. .

The theater itself will never look the same to me again. The five person cast used the full depth of the stage with the three musicians in the foreground at either side. Unfortunately the Cervantino photographer focused on the characters instead showing them in front of the visually simple but technically complicated set that heightened the power of the production. I don't have a photo, either, of the projection of huge ocean waves against the back wall for Ophelia's death by water, imaginatively shifted to the open sea instead of the tranquil English Avon familiar to Shakespeare..

The dramatic intensity of the play came from the singing of the pianist-narrator who could have come from 1930s Berlin, from the actors (Hamlet spoke impeccable British English) and the Queen was perfectly cast,and from the musicians pounding out their sometimes punk, sometimes blues music, at the side of the stage.

For me, this Hamlet was a thoroughly satisfying evening in the theater with all facets reinforcing each other. Mercifully, Fortinbras wasn't brought in at the end to mitigate the sight of the corpses littering the stage. While Hamlet was dying, his pause before saying "The rest is silence" was perfect.

Note: by typing Theatre Republique into Youtube you can see a short clip that gives a visual sense of the production. Tiger Lillies Hamlet will take you to Tiger Lillies' whole Hamlet album.