Friday, December 30, 2016

My favorite concert of 2016

The Free Times's final issue of the year bore a headline that neatly summarizes the feelings many people seem to have about the 12 months just gone by: "2016: The Worst."  Between the shocking result of the election and the seemingly out-of-proportion rate at which some beloved and iconic pop musicians of high regard (David Bowie, Prince, George Michael, among others) were snatched too soon from our midst, it's an understandable emotion.

But the juxtaposition of life-affirming beauty and tragedy, of hope and despair, is an ever-present element of the human condition. It has ever been thus. And in that spirit, as other aspects of the culture have gotten year-end retrospectives, it's worth just taking a few moments to celebrate the vibrant classical music scene in Columbia and what it brought us in 2016. And on that count, 2016 was definitely NOT the worst, in fact it was maybe one of the best ever.

I didn't get to every event in town of course, not even close to and other life obligations tend to get in the way, but here's a great thing that I've noticed over the span of the 12 years I've lived here: the breadth and depth of cultural offerings in this town has expanded so much that one no longer feels [as] desperately depressed to have to miss this one or that one now and then for unavoidable reasons. And, as many of my friends and colleagues have remarked recently, we are now often having to choose between simultaneous events, both of which we might like to have attended. On one level, that may be frustrating; on another level, it's the sign of a burgeoning, maturing cultural scene within our city.

Undoubtedly two of the biggest stories of the classical music year in Columbia would probably be the appearance in April of the legendary new-music group eighth blackbird under the joint auspices of Southern Exposure New Music Series and the Indie Grits festival, and the new Juno Concerto by Bela Fleck commissioned by the South Carolina Philharmonic, premiered by Fleck and the SCP in November. (neither of which I was in town to be able to see 😞 ) These three entities (SouEx, Indie Grits, SCP) all did fantastic work in 2016.

Among concerts I was able to get to, Chamber Music on Main continued to thrive with stellar performances by world-class artists from the touring/festival world, culminating in an appearance by Brooklyn Rider in December (meaning we got to hear two Beethoven quartets live in Columbia within a month's span, more on that in a minute); Opera at USC* continued to astound, particularly with a delightful Barber of Seville in February and an astonishingly beautiful "Sunday in the Park with George" by Stephen Sondheim in early November; in June, the Southeastern Piano Festival brought us several nights of legendary pianism, including Sergei Babayan performing the complete Bach Well-Tempered Clavier Volume I at the Columbia Museum of Art, and Ann Schein's regal recital of big juicy repertoire (Beethoven's Les Adieux Sonata, Schumann Davidsbundlertanze, Chopin B minor Sonata) in the resonant acoustics of Trinity Episcopal Cathedral.

Marina Lomazov absolutely owned the Rachmaninoff Piano Concerto No. 2 in a dazzling but also highly poetic and lyrical performance in September with the USC Symphony. Also in September we saw the Columbia performance at 701 CCA's gallery space of USC's Experimental Music Ensemble under the direction of Greg Stuart, reprising a performance of works by Michael Pisaro that they had done several days earlier in New York City to great acclaim.

One of the premier wind quintets around today, the Imani Winds, arrived for a spectacular several-day residency (the first of several planned) at USC in October, and electrified a bursting-at-the-seams crowd with their concert on the Southern Exposure Series, including a scintillating and completely successful arrangement of Stravinsky's "Rite of Spring."

The quintet's energy and precision transformed their mere five instruments into a large and powerful ensemble.

It is another USC School of Music ongoing residency, that of the Parker Quartet, that brought to Columbia what I felt (as an audience member) was the concert of the year. That was their Nov. 3 performance in the SOM's recital hall (a great acoustic space for quartets) of Beethoven's Op. 130 (with its original finale, the rather unhinged "Grosse Fuge") and Schubert's massive G Major Quartet No. 15, D. 887.

This was a program that challenged and asked the best of both performers and audience, with two titanic works that in their own way represent the pinnacle of the genre. Written less than a year apart (late 1825 and 1826) each quartet explodes the tradition of the form and genre developed over the previous half-century, and points the way to the future, but in completely different ways  The Beethoven is still bewildering (nearly two centuries later) to follow structurally as a listener with its six movements, and concluding it with the Grosse Fuge is the icing on the cake. (Beethoven's publisher pleaded successfully with LVB to replace this final movement with something more palatable for the players and audiences of the day. The Fugue remained as a stand-alone composition with its own opus number, but some quartets---like the Parker Quartet---perform Op. 130 with its original finale as Beethoven first envisioned). This most uncompromising of Beethoven's late adventures into fugal writing assaults the listener with 128 measures right off the bat of music marked forte or more and taxes the players to the max. The PQ rode the beast triumphantly all the way to the end, and then returned after intermission with an equally massive work from the astonishingly-productive last couple of years of Schubert's life.

The Schubert G Major may be more structurally comprehensible than the Beethoven but the sheer winding scope of each movement makes it occasionally a challenge for the listener to retain a sense of the relationship of any particular moment to the whole. What makes this piece miraculous is Schubert's mastery of the harmonic language of his day in taking us from stability to instability in a second, as in the very opening of the work which establishes a major-to-minor juxtaposition immediately, or areas where Schubert has modulated us so far away from the tonic key that we have a real, palpable sense of being "a long way from home." And in terms of texture, Schubert breaks new ground for the string quartet here, with tremulos, extremes of register, and a willingness to push the envelope, whether it's the feeling that the quartet is going to rip the strings off their instruments in the driving tarentella of the finale, or a heartbreaking quiet fragility that seems to ask the players to use but one hair of their bow at times.

It was a tribute to the Columbia audience the Parker Quartet has developed over their several years of visiting here, that they would ask us to go on this journey with them. Always brilliant and accomplished interpreters, they brought a new level of maturity and passion and risk-taking to this mammoth program. Those of us lucky enough to be in attendance knew we were being granted special access to magical and wonderful truths, some of the best of what humans can achieve. It was a glow that was shattered only a few days later with the national election.  The Free Times may well find that they have to repeat their year-end headline for 2017 and beyond, if the signs of the national unraveling continue, but works like Op. 130 and D. 887 have survived through worse and will always bring joy and revelation to those open to receiving it.

PS: on a personal note, 2016 brought special thrills to me in terms of performances I was fortunate to be a part of here in town: it was exciting beyond compare to collaborate in February with Morihiko Nakahara and the South Carolina Philharmonic in both the Ravel G Major Concerto and Gershwin's Rhapsody in Blue; and in November, I joined the Parker Quartet in their second residency concert for the Brahms Quintet in F minor----a joy to work with musicians of such personal charm and deep musical integrity. We had a great time.

photo credits: Southeastern Piano Festival; Phillip Bush; Jamie Jung
*full disclosure: my wife is vocal coach for Opera at USC productions

Monday, December 26, 2016

The blog is revived for a third time!

About a year after moving to Columbia SC from Ann Arbor in 2004, I launched a blog titled Mostly Music in the Midlands on the old Blogstream site, in which I wrote about some of the music happenings in town, as well as some posts from gigs on the road (I was doing more traveling at that time), and touched on a few other areas of the arts locally that were of interest to me and, I hoped, to a few others. This was of course in the days where blogging was THE thing, before the advent of Facebook and Twitter.

I did the blog for about 4 years, nearly 300 posts most of which unfortunately vanished when Blogstream did. Many of these are now retrievable via the Wayback Machine, and I will post a link to the lot of them eventually here. Some of them may be of some mild interest to anyone who would like to know more about what was happening in the arts (especially classical and alt-classical music) scene here in Columbia during the 2005-2009 period (warning: the site seems to load really slowly). Unfortunately, even via the Wayback Machine, the pictures that accompanied many of the posts are no longer there.  Perhaps I can reconstruct these aspects of the entries as well eventually.

It was partly Facebook that took over the role for me (and many others) that blogging had filled, a way to more easily and concisely link to things of interest with perhaps a comment or two attached. But primarily parenthood was the nail in the coffin for coincidence that I stopped the blog about 2 years after my son was born. I made a half-hearted attempt to revive it a couple of years later via this platform, but it fizzled out can read those entries from the second incarnation of the blog here in the menu to the side. 

But I've lately been inspired to try yet again, for a third time. It's certainly NOT because I have more free time; most assuredly, I have less! Unlike during the first two versions of the blog, I am no longer completely a free-lancer, but now a duly (and happily) employed member of the piano faculty at the University of South Carolina. So perhaps I have to be a little more circumspect in some of what I write, and certainly with the reminder that anything I write here is done as an individual and does not necessarily reflect any official view on the part of the University or the School of Music.

The reason I'd like to have another go at this is because I think there can always be more voices out there discussing the arts in our town, especially classical and alt-classical music. With the departure of Jeffrey Day (former arts writer for The State) for a job in California a couple of years ago, and now the recent changes in editorship and ownership at the Free Times, it seems that certain kinds of music are getting slightly less attention than they did even a year or two ago, and that seems a shame to me and somewhat ironic, because the state of musical life and its diversity in this city is healthier and more vibrant than ever before, from what I can tell. We have tended to "punch above our weight" culturally in this town and I think that's more true than ever now.

I'm not sure how often I'll be able to post: but my modest goal for this revived blog is to bring a little focus on upcoming musical events in town (and perhaps some other arts happenings of note), perhaps by highlighting some particular aspect of the event that I find most intriguing, whether it be the music being performed, or the performers (whether locally-based or on tour from elsewhere), or something else entirely.

Most of all, I invite comments and conversation on this blog. In fact, a new goal for me this time around is to have guest bloggers post with their own voices and perspectives. The more conversation about art and music in Columbia, the more voices that join that conversation, the better.

Monday, March 26, 2012

Final week Hudson River School at Columbia Museum of Art

Winter Twilight Near Albany, N.Y. (1858) George Henry Boughton; Collection of the NY Historical Society

This is the final week (April 1 is the last day) for an impressive show that's been up at the Columbia Museum of Art since November: "Nature and the Grand American Vision: Masterpieces of the Hudson River School Painters."   Just speaking personally, the show resonates for me on a couple of levels, one of which is that I've spent some time with these paintings before: the show originates from the collections of the New York Historical Society, at the other end of the block of West 77th Street from where I lived for some years in the 1980's and 90's. (It's across the street from the Museum of Natural History). The other "resonating point" for me is that, as a New Yorker for so many years, I treasured opportunities to get out of the city and spent much time hiking and exploring some of the very areas along the Hudson or elsewhere in upstate New York that are portrayed in many of these landscapes (Lake George, for example, one of my favorites as it was for many of the Hudson River School artists, like Jasper Cropsey). 

That's why one of the most delightful features of this show, for me, was the enormous mid-19th-century annotated map of the Hudson, from its source in the Adirondacks to its mouth at New York City, lined across a whole wall of one gallery. Also fascinating (if you're a map freak like me) are several cases of travel guides and maps from the 18th and 19th centuries pertaining to this then-quite-wild area of the nation, assembled from the University of South Carolina Library's Special Collections. In fact, this Friday at noon in the Rare Books Room of the USC Library there will be a lecture (free with pre-registration) on some of this material and how it relates to the work of the HRS artists, given by Special Collections Librarian Jeffrey Makala, which I really hope to catch. 

 I'm not an art expert so this isn't really a review of the show itself; for that I happily steer you to two fine pieces in our city's paper of record, the Free Times: a preview piece by Jeffrey Day from last November and Mary Gilkerson's review of the show in FT from a couple of weeks ago. The exhibition is lopsided in the sense that it's dominated numerically by pieces from Asher Brown Durand and a couple of other artists, while some noted HRS painters are barely there (only one piece by Frederic Church, for example, and of a scene in the Andes to boot). The star of the show of course is the renowned five-painting cycle by Thomas Cole, "The Course of Empire." In an exhibition of big, gasp-inducing landscapes, these works still knock you over the head with their virtuosity as well as their rather heavy-handed allegorical message. They're important American paintings, not to be missed: 
Thomas Cole. Oil on canvas, 1836; Collection of The New-York Historical Society

But for all the big, bold landscapes that make up most of "Nature and the Grand American Vision" at the CMA, it's a couple of the smaller, more intimate works that captured my attention the most, the ones I circled back around to a couple of times before walking out the door. Some, like the winter scene at the top of this post by George Boughton or the Hackensack Meadows scene by George Inness, put me in mind of some of the works by the French artists of the Barbizon School: 
George Inness (1825–1894)
Hackensack Meadows, Sunset, 1859
Oil on canvas
New-York Historical Society
Whether your taste runs to these smaller works, or the enormous canvases of an idealized American landscape that perhaps was and perhaps was not...this is an exhibition worth seeing before it leaves, a special opportunity to see all these works together without having to go to New York, an important part of the story of American art.

Thursday, December 29, 2011

10 arts happenings that brought joy in 2011

By no means can I claim to have attended all or even a majority of the notable arts events in town last year: time and budgetary restraints made sure of that. And my occasional traveling took care of some of the rest: for example, I didn't make it to a single event at the Southeastern Piano Festival (but I heard it was great).  Nor did I really attend any theatre or dance events (have I mentioned yet that our household budget was tight this year?).  So while Top Ten lists are very popular this time of year, it would be ludicrous to call this "my top ten," given the relative lack of breadth of the sample. Instead, I can only offer one person's limited overview of some of the events in the arts in the Midlands that brought me great joy in 2011, and here they are:

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.

Other Events On The Midlands Arts Scene That I Loved in 2011: 

Artista Vista (April)
ACME Ensemble on Southern Exposure Series (September)
"Cendrillon" by Massenet, Opera at USC (February)
David Yaghjian, "Everyman Turns Six" show, ifArt Gallery show at Gallery 80808 (August)
Greg Stuart plays John Cage at 21 Sounds Series, The White Mule (June)
"Who Shot Rock?" exhibit at Columbia Museum of Art (beginning of year through May)
"Castelli's Cabinet" exhibit at McMaster Gallery (November)

...and much, much more...

Sunday, September 4, 2011

Belated happy 100th, Bernard Herrmann!

The centennial of Bernard Herrmann's birth took place last June, and as you can plainly see, I haven't exactly been keeping up with this blog so it's not surprising that it's taken me this long to post something in tribute. Herrmann is one of my favorite American composers...not just favorite "film composer" but one of my favorite composers period. There's no question that his work raised the art of film scoring to a new standard, at least for awhile. I'm not so sure about the period we are in now...there certainly are some great craftsmen working in the genre, but I'm not sure how many are as willing to push their comfort zone to create something truly original that ultimately becomes inextricably linked with the film itself in one's memory. Then again, how many composers are given that latitude in scoring a film today? Even Herrmann, as is well known, eventually ran up against that barrier, and even with Alfred Hitchcock himself despite a long string of successes.

Today most people who know Herrmann's work know it through those scores for various Hitchcock films, most notably "Vertigo" and "Psycho," and that's understandable given that those are not just some of Herrmann's greatest scores, but also two of the most accomplished and visionary films for which he wrote music. For this Happy 100th post, however, I'd like to pay tribute to some of my favorite Herrmann scores for non-Hitchcock films (or in one case, TV), to encourage everyone to seek out more of his work.

Number one among these "other" Herrmann scores would be the achingly romantic score for "The Ghost and Mrs. Muir" in 1947:

A close second would be for the score to Francois Truffaut's film realization of "Fahrenheit 451," especially the Prelude and that otherworldly glockenspiel part:

Herrmann did an enormous amount of work for television, especially the CBS network, in the 1950's and 60's. Part of that included incidental music for a number of "Twilight Zone" episodes. Everybody knows the famous "ticking clock" Twilight Zone theme which was written by Marius Constant, not Herrmann...but to me the original Twilight Zone theme music which Herrmann did compose and which was used only in TZ's first season is far creepier, far more chilling. See what you think:

Let this be a jumping-off point for you to explore more of the vast body of work by this very significant American composer...including the concert works he composed. And, since I just love the guy's music so much, I'll relent and include one Hitchcock-film excerpt here, one of my very favorites if perhaps not quite as famous as Vertigo or Psycho...the Prelude from "The Man Who Knew Too Much":

Saturday, April 16, 2011

"Don't miss" show at Sumter gallery closes 4/22

This is the final week ahead for two wonderful exhibits at the Sumter County Gallery of Art that really captured my imagination on a visit back in early March. Joe Walters is a South Carolina artist based now in the Low Country who has been recently creating numerous wall-mounted sculptures, assemblages really, that seem to replicate thickets of branches, leaves, bird eggs, and the like from natural models, but carry their own abstractions with them. Some of these are combined here to form triptychs, making larger statements. Jeffrey Day wrote an excellent piece in the Free Times some weeks back that gives you a really good sense both of what Walters' art is like and the kind of career he is having, what makes him tick.

Across the hallway, in the other gallery space of roughly equal size, is an equally evocative show by North Carolina artist Anne Lemanski. Lemanski's work, too, is essentially sculpture, but she seems to come out of more of a craft tradition, having studied at the Penland School in North Carolina. (I asked Jeffrey Day recently about where the dividing line into "craft" can be located, especially when talking about pieces that don't have any clear link to functionality...he laughed heartily and gave me one of those "you don't want to open THAT can of worms" looks.)  Most of her work here consists of fantastical animals, some more realistic than others, composed of various materials (leather, paper, even industrial plastics) sewn together; the animals (more specifically the manner in which they are depicted) are meant to evoke larger political/sociological/ecological questions in the viewer. A good example is her coyote made of Mexican serapes:

 More intricately--and intimately--spectacular, is the array on the far wall of the space entitled "A Century of Hair 1900-1990."  Lemanski uses her same painstaking techniques of assemblage to portray women's hair styles from each decade of the century, and as the gallery's own notes on the exhibit describe, "embedded in each sculpture is a commentary on the culture of the time: how women were regarded and the challenges they faced in each decade." Much more on Lemanski and her working process from Verve Magazine here.

Directions to the Sumter County Gallery can be found here. I had not been to the gallery prior to this visit, but found that combining a drop-in at the gallery with a walk around the nearby Swan Lake Iris Gardens makes for an extremely pleasant half-day trip. Meanwhile, I look forward to seeing more work from these two Carolinas artists in the years ahead.

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Council nixes city arts czar

Columbia City Council has put the kibosh on Mayor Benjamin's plan to hire a Cultural Arts Director for the city. Given current economic conditions, this decision shouldn't be too surprising to anyone. Still, it was a kind of double-whammy for the arts in Columbia yesterday: renowned poet and professor (and Emmy-award-winner) Kwame Dawes announced he is leaving USC next year for the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. Dawes, the founding director of the now-defunct USC Arts Institute, made it pretty clear that the defunding of the Institute was a major factor in his decision to leave. The decision left Provost Michael Amiridis scrambling a bit to defend the decision to defund the Institute, while trying to acknowledge the loss to the University that Dawes's departure represents. Of course, to be fair, Amiridis is in a thankless position in these times of economic duress to the university. But the question of whether funding came down to "production vs. promotion" of the university's arts offerings is a more complicated question than Amiridis' summation to the Daily Gamecock would have you believe. Speaking of the Daily Gamecock, I think they've got it right on this.