International VSA Festival 2010

I wish I had been able to attend more of these events featuring artists with disabilities, June 6-12,2010. My friend and I, along with my aunt, went to one event together the afternoon of June 7. We had a tough time deciding which one to go to. Performances and workshops included dance, media arts, education, literary arts, music, theater, and visual arts. I bookmarked a few of the singers–who are very good, from what I can tell on their websites. Many of these acts were Kennedy Center Millennium Stage performers. But there were performance venues all around town.

We finally decided on Locomotion–three integrated dance companies in performance at The Shakespeare Theatre’s Sidney Harman Hall. Some of the dancers had intellectual disabilities, while others did not. Some dancers used wheelchairs, and others were ambulatory. They were the Moving Company, Karen Peterson and Dancers, and The Dancing Wheels Company. My favorite performance was “Quo Vivaldi.” The dancers performed to “Spring” from The Four Seasons.

As with all modern dance, the messages weren’t completely clear right away. I took from it that even though I and others may have disabilities, we have many other things. In addition, we belong.

My friend went on a different day to see comedian Josh Blue, who has cerebral palsy. He was joined by Kathy Buckley, who is deaf. and another comedian.

I didn’t make it to another event, though. I would have liked “An Evening of International Classical Music” a lot. The musicians had various disabilities. Works by Bach, Beethoven, Chopin, Prokofiev, Rachmaninoff, and Kriesler were all on the program. I really regret missing that one.

The disability art exhibit “Revealing Culture” is at the Smithsonian’s Ripley Center through August 29. Maybe I can still make that one.

I wish that these events attracted more average, everyday folks who might not have cared about disability previously. Even more so, I wish that these events had not been listed primarily in the Health & Science section of the Washington Post, although I did see a listing in the Metro section on one day. All the events really belonged in Arts & Style. Having a disability does not automatically mean health issues!

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A Spring Afternoon of Classical Music

I didn’t get a chance to write about this on the day it actually happened, so I’m doing it now, working from program notes. On Sunday, April 18, my aunt, a friend of ours, and I went to George Mason University’s Center for the Arts to see a performance of the Academy of St. Martin in the Fields. Not getting the chance very often to see a classical concert, we had been looking forward to this for a while. We had wonderful sunny weather, and there was a slight breeze. GMU is so built up now! I hadn’t been there in a long time, and it was difficult to find the place at first.

Ever since I’ve listened to 90.9 Classical WETA FM, each program host, particularly John Chester on the overnight shift, plays a lot of material from the group. A favorite piece is “Fantasia on a Theme by Thomas Tallis,” but they’ve done so much more. Lilly gave me CDs of their recordings of Vivaldi concertos, as well as Ralph Vaughan Williams compositions (Christmas and birthday gifts from a couple of years ago). When I first heard the group name, I thought it sounded very pretty, and I felt at peace. They are named for the first place they ever performed in–The Academy of St. Martin in the Fields church–in 1959. Sir Neville Marriner founded the chamber group. My aunt was actually hoping he would be at the performance. Alas, no such luck!

My aunt makes jokes when their work comes on the radio (e.g., “There’s that devil Neville again!” or “Oh, those poor people! They must be so tired after being out there in the field for all that time!”), which always makes me chuckle, if not laugh outright. She actually really likes them now. “They grew on me,” she says, following it up with, “You know, Classical WETA would have nothing to play if it weren’t for the Academy of St. Martin in the Fields.” But she also knows that I also keep an ear out for Joshua Bell, Anne Sophie Mutter, and others.

Anyway, once we got there, the concert hall was lovely! The first event was a brief pre-concert discussion on the third floor with one of the Academy members (a violinist) and Nicole LaCroix, an evening host on Classical WETA FM. The room had colorful portraits of jazz musicians and great views of the outdoors through the large glass windows. I was surprised that the Academy of St. Martin in the Fields members have to fight for audience share in Great Britain, but are very well known over here. The violinist, whose name escapes me at the moment, talked a lot about his musical background. There was a lot of discussion about what we would be hearing, and some people asked questions. I tried to think of something to ask, but I was not as well versed as the other audience members. I knew from past research that on this tour the players (first and second violins, violas, cellos and double basses) played the same program in all locations. Directing the show (and first violinist) was Julian Rachlin, an artist new to me.

The actual show, at 4:00 p.m., was held in the concert hall. Our seats were fairly close to the front, with excellent views of the stage. The stage was rather plain, with no background color or decorations. All the musicians were dressed formally, in black. First on the program was the “Holberg Suite, Op. 40,” which Edvard Grieg composed in 1884. The piece honors Ludvig Holberg, Norwegian playwright, philosopher and scholar. I didn’t think I knew the piece, but there’s this one section that is very cheerful and always makes me smile every time it is played on the radio. I recognized it right away. Next came Beethoven’s Sonata for Violin & Piano No. 9 in A major “Kreutzer” Op. 47. Franz Schubert’s Arpeggio Sonata, D. 821 was arranged for viola and strings. Finally, Astor Piazolla’s Four Seasons of Buenos Aires rounded out the program. Written between 1965 and 1970, they are a great complement to Vivaldi’s The Four Seasons.

Classical music still is somewhat serious. But no one minded when a few people decided to clap before it was actually time.

I discovered earlier that the Academy of St. Martin in the Fields produced a book on its history, marking the 50th anniversary in 2009. When times are much better, that book is first on my reading list. I have to order directly from England, and it is going to be frightfully expensive. Another something to look forward to.

The Joy of Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony

After a long time away, I listened to Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony this morning, reading the accompanying liner notes. It is from the CD collection “Beethoven: 9 Symphonies” conducted by John Eliot Gardiner. An extra CD contains interviews that he did about the music. I have been feeling low lately. When I heard the melody of “Ode To Joy” begin, my spirits rose. The song is in German. Here is the English translation:

Joyful, joyful
We adore Thee
God of glory
Lord of love
Hearts unfold like flowers before Thee
Hail Thee to the sun above
Melt the clouds of sin and sadness
Drive the dark of doubt away
Giver of immortal gladness
Fill us with the light of day

With light
With light

Mortals join the mighty chorus
Which the morning stars began
Father love is reigning o’er us
Brother love binds man to man
Ever singing march we onward
Victors in the midst of strife
Joyful music lifts us Son ward
In the triumph song of life

I hope that as Beethoven wrote this, he also felt joy, optimism, and contentment. Maybe he felt like singing. And of course, everything that came before in the work is just as beautiful.

The reading of a good biography of Beethoven may confirm this, but I think there were many times in Beethoven’s life where he wasn’t happy, as stern portraits of him have always suggested to me. It will be good at some point to have a complete picture of his life. One of the reasons I listened to the Ninth Symphony is a current book called “The Ninth: Beethoven and the World in 1824” by Harvey Sachs. I just wanted the music in my head while I read. I’ll definitely be listening again.

When I logged onto Twitter last night, I noticed that the NSO tweeted along with its show of “Romeo and Juliet,” “West Side Story” and other romantic music. Unfortunately, I didn’t have any of these recordings, so I couldn’t pretend I was there. Last year, when the NSO performed Beethoven’s Symphony #6 (“Pastoral), I put the CD on my computer and followed along. It wasn’t the next best thing to being there, but a great start. Apparently, Beethoven felt better in the country. An escape from city life was good for him, and I can certainly understand that.

Whenever I listen to anything by Beethoven, I always recall that, eventually, he wasn’t able to hear what he created for himself and for the rest of the world. That certainly must have disappointed and saddened him very deeply. But at least he could still hear the notes in his mind, and feel them in his heart.