Our own Phillip Bush has listed his top ten “arts happenings that brought joy in 2011.” He doesn’t claim it’s inclusive; it just covers the stuff he caught and enjoyed. Here it is:
10. USC Symphony with violinist Vadim Gluzman, Sept. 22: Gluzman’s rendition of the Brahms violin concerto was as masterful as any you could hope to hear at Carnegie Hall, Royal Festival Hall in London, or Disney Hall in LA. Even in the quietest passages, his Strad’s tone penetrated to the cheap seats in the notoriously mediocre acoustics of the Koger Center with astonishing presence. The “kids” of the orchestra under Donald Portnoy’s direction played this “symphony of a concerto” at a very high level, especially considering it was their first concert of the year. Bonus fun was had watching Gluzman join in on tuttis and practically wander halfway into the middle of the violin section, exhorting his fellow fiddlers.
9. Launch of “Jasper” Magazine, September: Cindi Boiter left “undefined” magazine to launch a new bimonthly arts periodical, “Jasper,” with a strong team of contributors. I sure hope it succeeds, as the first two issues look very promising, with perceptive writing, intriguing subject choices, and an appealing look to the eye. Ms. Boiter says the magazine is “committed to comprehensive arts coverage…across artistic genres” and I also hope that will be borne out in issues to come. Their strengths and interests do seem to lie primarily with visual art, dance, and theater, which is perfectly fine–those are all vibrant cauldrons of activity in the Midlands. I’m personally hoping that their music coverage will not limit itself to rock and the club scene but also include the very active “alt-classical” scene here (vividly described by the Free Times in this July cover story) and even…dare one hope?…the best of the more “straight-ahead” classical scene as well. After all, who’s really more radical than Beethoven when you get right down to it?
8. Triennial Revisited/Biennial at Gallery 701 CCA (Sept.-Dec.): The retrospective of the Triennial shows of SC artists dating back to the early 90’s and the relaunch of the concept in the form of a two-part Biennial show at 701 CCA was a very promising development for the visual arts in this state. The Triennial retrospective, being a kind of all-star selection of already “select” works from past Triennials, naturally was more uniformly impressive. But, whatever the limitations of this space, the selection process, etc., (see piece by Jeffrey Day in “Jasper”s Nov.-Dec. issue) the two Biennial shows had some very arresting works, especially ceramics (Jim Connell of Rock Hill and Alice Ballard of Greenville), and the gesso-and-graphite black-and-white works of Chapin’s James Busby.
7. Opening of Conundrum Music Hall in West Columbia (June): Like my #6 which follows, there is a bit of fraudulence for me to cite this event, in that I still have not made it to a single Conundrum show. (I mentioned those babysitting costs, right?) But it’s not because I haven’t wanted to. The dreamchild of local arts entrepreneur Tom Law, the alternative West Columbia space has already welcomed a dizzying array of musics, from avant-jazz to experimental-classical to a string quartet from the SC Phil, and much, much more. It’s astonishing how busy the space has gotten already. Law’s eclectic tastes and interests promise a continually intriguing menu of presentations into the indefinite future. Conundrum is a tangible manifestation of the transformation of Columbia’s music scene in the past decade.
6. Columbia Museum of Art opens “Masterpieces of the Hudson River School” Nov. 19:OK, this is also kind of cheating to put this on my list, since I haven’t technically “seen it, ” i.e., spent time with it (plus it’s barely been up a few weeks and will be around till April, so it probably should–and likely will–be on the Top 10 list for 2012). But I had a meeting with museum staff on an unrelated matter earlier this month in the actual galleries containing this show, and thus kind of breezed through with a cursory glance at these works, and a lingering look at just a very few. Well, to quote from a famous “Seinfeld” episode: they’re real (masterpieces, that is), and they’re spectacular.
5. Calder Quartet, Southern Exposure Series, Nov. 17: This LA-based quartet, as comfortable with thorny modernist scores as with backing The Airborne Toxic Event on David Letterman, riveted the audience at the USC School of Music’s recital hall with a superb performance. It was a special thrill to be able to hear one of the first performances of British wunderkind (you can still say that about him, can’t you?) Thomas Ades’ “The Four Quarters,” which had all of Ades’ trademark sonic imagination but with a greater mastery of understatement. But the highlight was the Calder’s unrelenting performance of Henryk Gorecki‘s obsessive Second String Quartet. That the hall had not a few empty seats for this (free, for goodness’ sake) show was criminal: bad luck/timing or something more worrisome?
4. Edward Arron & Friends “Wadsworth” Series Concert at Columbia Museum of Art, May 3: The world-class chamber music series at the Museum formerly curated by Charles Wadsworth is alive and well under cellist Arron’s leadership, and is in fact generally more programmatically intriguing since he took the reins. The players and playing is almost always at a level one would hear at Lincoln Center or any major-city chamber venue, but last May’s concert stood out, a world-class Dream Team of American string artistry, Naumburg-prize-winners sprinkled among them: Yehonatan Berick and Carmit Zori, violins; Hsin-Yun Huang and Nicholas Cords, violas, along with Arron. If you were not reduced to tears by their committed, passionate readings of Mozart and Dvorak string quintets, you surely must be one of those Easter Island stone statues. Or a Republican presidential candidate. Or both.
3. South Carolina Philharmonic with Jennifer Frautschi, violin (September 15): What a week that was for world-class violin soloists in town(see #10)! Morihiko Nakahara certainly “gets it” about the role a conductor has to play in a community like this if an orchestra’s going to survive, much less thrive; but lest ye think he’s merely about the marketing and being the genial “be-everywhere” public face of the SCP, this concert was a reminder of the ways in which he has musically transformed this band. Frautschi’s scintillating Korngold concerto with the orchestra’s lush and agile accompaniment was a delight in itself: but it was the committed and heartfelt Tchaikovsky “Pathetique” Symphony that could not help but win over any listener. Sure the strings are undermanned, but MN wrung every ounce of passion and sound from them. And the winds, so pivotal in this work, are a great strength of this orchestra. Heck, the very opening of the Tchaikovsky was a bracing reminder that, oh yeah: quite possibly the greatest American bassoonist around today happens to live in our town. And more good news, thanks to ETV (see #1 below), you can hear this concert right now if you’re so inclined.
2. JACK Quartet on Southern Exposure Series, USC (April 15): If I think about it, I’d probably have to say that every year since I moved here in 2004 Southern Exposure would have presented the “concert of the year” in my estimation. 2011 is no exception. It says a lot about the band, the piece, and the audience that a concert series has built over time, when a performance of Xenakis’ “Tetras” brings a packed house to its feet in Columbia, South Carolina. That’s exactly what happened last April, for a string quartet in which it’s rare at any moment for any player to be playing their instrument in anything approaching the “conventional” method. But the logic, rigor, and emotional arc of this masterpiece is undeniable, especially in the hands of such masterful advocates as the JACK Quartet. Their star is continually rising: I can hear the refrain now, years from now, “Did you know they once did a concert here in Columbia? Blew the roof off the joint.” JACK Qtet has released a DVD of the Xenakis quartets; you can get a taste of what you missed here on YouTube.
1. SC Legislature Smacks Down Gov. Haley’s attack on Arts Commission, ETV (June): The legislature’s rebuff of the Governor’s cynical and shortsighted attacks on these small but vital South Carolina institutions (by resounding margins) was easily the best news of the year for the arts for a couple of reasons. Of course, the veto overrides preserved (for the moment) funding for the good and often overlooked work that the Arts Commission, for example, undertakes in underserved corners of the state. But above and beyond that immediate effect, the debate over this issue mobilized arts supporters around the state to positive action, a stance of fierce advocacy; it also crystallized for many the real value of the arts to both the quality of life and actual economic well-being of the state. Also, and not unimportantly, at a time when the Palmetto State has become a laughing-stock for much of the country (see Daily Show’s “Thank You, South Carolina” feature), this moment was one where South Carolinians could stand proudly, in contrast to the sad situation in Kansas, for example.