Nine Virtuosi and a Glass Harmonica on Crowell Concert Series (Feb. 1)

Director of the Center for the Arts Pamela Tatge discusses the New England premiere of the concert “Music at Thomas Jefferson’s Monticello” with Wesleyan Professor of Music Neely Bruce.

Wesleyan Professor of Music Neely Bruce played in an extraordinary concert in the summer of 2011 at the Caramoor International Festival—it brought to the stage the Baroque instruments that would have been played in the mansion at Monticello (harpsichord, Baroque cello and violin) and the fife, fiddle and banjo that would have been played in the slaves’ quarters.  It was an astonishing program, curated by Paul Woodiel, a three time winner of the New England Fiddle Contest and a former private lessons teacher at Wesleyan (and great colleague of ours).

Jerron “Blind Boy” Paxton. Image by Bill Steber Photography.

On Friday night, Music at Thomas Jefferson’s Monticello comes to Wesleyan! Neely Bruce will give a pre-concert talk at 7:15pm and walk the audience through the program (which includes works by Corelli, Handel, Haydn, and Mozart; martial music from Camp Dupont; and traditional songs and tunes including “Barbara Allen” and “The Gal I Left Behind Me”). There’s a fantastic moment after intermission where two groups will play the same tune, Haydn’s “The White Cockade”: one group will play it on harpsichord, Baroque cello and violin; the other on the fife, fiddle and banjo. The concert brings a number of virtuosi to the Crowell Concert Hall stage in addition to Mr. Bruce and Mr. Woodiel, among them: Jerron “Blind Boy” Paxton (Neely tells me that 24 year-old Blind Boy doesn’t believe music exists after 1941, the year Jelly Roll Morton died!); Mazz Swift, a very cool violin/vox/freestyle composition artist who is also an accomplished singer and Julliard-trained violinist who has performed with the likes of Kanye West and Jay-Z; and Jennifer Hope Wills, who for nearly four years won audiences’ hearts as Christine in Phantom of the Opera on Broadway.

The concert also features Dennis James and the first-ever appearance of a glass harmonica on the Crowell Concert Hall stage. Mr. James has recreated the instrument originally designed by Benjamin Franklin. We all know what it’s like to dip a finger in a glass and circle it around the rim until a sound is formed. That’s the operating principle of the glass harmonica, whereby spinning glass disks (bowls) on a common spindle are configured with the lower notes (larger disks) to the left, and higher notes (smaller disks) to the right. The shaft is turned by means of a foot pedal (now motorized), and the sound made by touching the rims of the bowls with moistened fingers. By the way, you are invited to attend a free lecture/demonstration on Saturday morning at 11am in Crowell Concert Hall, where you can see and learn about the instruments played in the concert [fiddle, fife, banjo, harpsichord, and glass harmonica] up close.

This anchor concert to our year-long exploration of Music and Public Life is absolutely not to be missed.

Music at Thomas Jefferson’s Monticello
New England Premiere

Friday, February 1, 2013 at 8pm

Crowell Concert Hall

$24 general public; $19 senior citizens, Wesleyan faculty/staff, non-Wesleyan students; $6 Wesleyan students
Pre-performance talk at 7:15pm by Professor of Music Neely Bruce

Lecture/Demonstration: Instruments at Thomas Jefferson’s Monticello
Saturday, February 2, 2013 at 11am
Crowell Concert Hall

“Social Sculpture” On View in Zilkha Gallery (through March 3)

Director of the Center for the Arts Pamela Tatge reflects on the exhibition FOOD-WATER-LIFE—LUCY+JORGE ORTA, on view in the Main Gallery of the Ezra and Cecile Zilkha Gallery through Sunday, March 3, 2013.

“70 x 7 The Meal,” act L City of London, Lucy + Jorge Orta, 2006-2050

It’s the start of the spring semester here at Wesleyan University, and our student gallery monitors are preparing to welcome a new exhibition into the Zilkha Gallery: FOOD-WATER-LIFE—LUCY+JORGE ORTA. I was introduced to the French artist couple by Ginger Duggan and Judy Hoos Fox, independent curators who have brought two exhibitions to Zilkha Gallery in the past two years:  Connectivity Lost in September 2010 and Passing Time* in January 2012. The Ortas, whose studio is in Paris, contributed 70 x 7 The Meal to Connectivity Lost, a set of plates that were a part of their public art piece that they have mounted in cities around the world whereby thousands of people share a meal together on a set of limited edition plates, forging a powerful encounter of people from all walks of life.

Ginger and Judy shared with us that although the Ortas have exhibited all over the world, and in group shows in the U.S., they had never had a solo show in this country.  Wesleyan partnered with the Tufts University Art Gallery who organized the exhibition, and we have our opening on Tuesday, January 29 from 4:30pm to 6:30pm.

I’m excited to have this stunning exhibition in our gallery for many reasons, first because the issues their works illuminate are those that many in our community are discussing:  biodiversity, environmental conditions, climate change, and exchange among peoples.  The exhibition also intersects with this year’s Feet to the Fire theme, Earth and Justice for All, with many courses in Wesleyan’s College of the Environment exploring environmental justice issues.

But most importantly, it’s been a long time since we’ve had large-scale sculptural elements in the gallery.  The minute I saw their work I could see it beautifully sited in Zilkha:  the height of the gallery frames the strikingly colorful parachute installations; the segment on food is situated in front of the gallery’s windows and is in dialogue with the trees and grass of our courtyard; the film of the Ortas’ public art work in Antarctica is set against the raw majesty of the floor to ceiling limestone of the Main Gallery’s back wall.

And the full-scale canoe that is docked in the center of Zilkha has a sister canoe that the Ortas have installed at the Shanghai Biennale, where it is a fully-working water purification system. The Museum of Contemporary Art is pumping in water from the Huang Pu River, up 20 meters into the museum’s third floor.  It is purified in a bamboo “factory” and then clean drinking water is available for the visitors to taste, enjoy and take away in a specially designed OrtaWater bottle.  I’m sorry that our budget didn’t allow us to do the same with water from the Connecticut River!

Following the opening on Tuesday, the exhibition will be on view, alongside Janne Höltermann’s Remodeling Zilkha installation in the North Gallery, through Sunday, March 3.

*Many of you may not know that Wesleyan’s exhibition, Passing Time, left Middletown last March and traveled to Indiana’s DePauw University, then to the Salina Art Center in Kansas.  While we will be celebrating the opening of the Orta exhibition on Tuesday, Passing Time will open at the Bakalar Gallery at Boston’s Massachusetts College of Art and Design!  If you missed it at Wesleyan, you can see it in Boston through Sunday, March 3.