Arts & Culture
Violinist Tim Fain and Composers Concordance do it right with an all new concert in New York
Greetings from New York City, and welcome to my column! Here, I write about new music and media, and the people who create the art. Check it out.
On a warmish November night, I attended a packed new music event put together by Composers Concordance, violinist Tim Fain, and an influential cohort of cutting-edge composers. The concert, A House of Many Rooms, featuring violinist Tim Fain with pianist Timo Andres, took place on November 8, 2015 at (Le) Poisson Rouge, a downtown venue on Bleecker Street that boasts a beguiling, flickering red fish at the entrance and a reputation for fresh sound all its own.
On the program were compositions by Kevin Puts, Dan Cooper, Milica Paranosic, and Christopher Cerrone, along with the world premieres of Beirut is A House of Many Rooms, by Randall Woolf, and Natural, by Gene Pritsker. Most pieces were related to physical places.
Dan Cooper’s well-integrated El Planeta Rojo had the feel of an electro-acoustic score for animation. A sound world of mournful violin phrases hovering lazily over angular electronic grooves, echoing a distant, orderly universe, created a fine sense of what dreaming about Mars could actually sound like. Arches, by the Pulitzer Prize-winning composer Kevin Puts, provided a blissful playground for Tim Fain’s articulated bowing in the seemingly abstract Caprice-Aria scheme, while Milica Paranosic’s Al’ Airi Lepo Sviri, set to a poignant video by Carmen Kordas, brought about a progressive treatment of common, if all too easily appropriated, misconceptions about the role of the feminine in traditional cultures. A sense of pre-industrial pure was present in Gene Pritsker’s Natural, an electro-bucolic pairing of samples recorded in nature with bursts of analog electronics and violin lines. The accompanying visuals mimicking early video technology were created by the composer.
As an expat myself, my pulse quickened at the opening of Randall Woolf’s Beirut is A House of Many Rooms. The heavily romantic opening motives well supported the unabashedly romantic notions I harbor for Sarajevo, my birthplace. By weaving the sounds of the ‘oud, Lebanese singers, city noises and a solemn violin operating mostly in lower registers (as if culled from a Jerzy Grotowski play), Woolf achieved a moving tribute to the essence of “Beirut, the Paris of the Middle East”. His score, not unlike the city itself, cradles western and eastern cultural idioms, and many more besides. The sense of excitement forged through coexistence was deepened by an accompanying film expertly shot in Beirut by Mary Harron and John C. Walsh, one that reveals the nature of communal life reminiscent of Peter Greenaway’s work. This is impressive given that the film was made after the music was completed.
Winner of the 2015 Samuel Barber ‘Rome Prize’, Christopher Cerrone was represented by a crafty work that combined 1990s minimalist language with gestural pop in a sonata form. For this piece, Fain teamed up with Timo Andres who shone brightly at the piano with a crystalline sound and attractive dramatic timing.
Described by the Boston Globe as a “charismatic young violinist with a matinee idol profile, strong musical instincts, and first rate chops,” Tim Fain’s offerings that night confirmed the Globe’s judgment and then some. Fain is an extremely sensitive interpreter who, with an assured yet understated virtuosity, pulled the utmost from every score. He proved to be a charming host and showed impressive panache, even during a tech glitch which temporarily prevented the start of one piece. But most of all, Fain imbued the night with a sense of purpose and the need for contemporary composition –a feat hard to achieve in a town with over 250 concerts per night and where new music ensembles and soloists, and their audiences, seem to multiply overnight in every borough.
The funds for the event came from a number of arts foundations, including the New York State Council on the Arts, New Music USA, and private donors.
Connections ‘n Picks
An “enterprising new music organization” according to The New York Times, Composers Concordance presents over 15 concerts every season, attracting over eighty top musicians to perform, along with visual artists, technologists, choreographers, and filmmakers. The beginnings of the organization are tied to the vision of the composer and electronic music pioneer Otto Luening. Now in its 30th season, Composers Concordance is a hard-working endeavor through which many talented composers have a chance to be heard and many an innovative technological tool tried out. I pick Directors Gene Pritsker and Dan Cooper who co-curate the programs. I pick my fellow Associate Directors for the 2015-16 season Milica Paranosic, Peter Jarvis, and Melissa Grey. Many creations done for and by the organization are released through Composers Concordance Records, and distributed by Naxos. I pick the label for its innovative thinking and appetite for cultural change. I pick the NYC audience that came out in force and knew how to reward the artists. I pick Tim Fain for saying “yes.”
The Poisson Rouge program illuminated the world’s many corners and offered a sense of hope for a contemporary music that reflects a glorious, multifarious and yet essentially undivided existence. This feeling of promise –now more of a rarity in a post-Paris world– is what interests me as a citizen and a creator; this promise inspires me to write, and create, what I do. With the world around us kicking like a wounded colt, the resolve to trust the possibility of the positive voices now multiplying, giving us a wiser version of ourselves through the arts, is a choice to be made. Reverse-engineering, please! For the audience on Nov. 8, this concert represented a solid opportunity to choose well. It also made plain that Tim Fain has the capacity to play a larger role outside of the concert hall if he chooses to do so.
Get in touch and let me know about what inspires you artistically in your corner of the globe. And, if all else fails, you can always like me on Facebook.
Arts & Culture
The film ‘Cuba in Africa’ wins Thomas Sankara Prize
From late February to early March, in Ouagadougou the capital of Burkina Faso, there was the week-long Africa’s largest film festival FESPACO. In fact, FESPACO was launched in 1969. This festival provided some kind of entertainment, but the most important aspect was the platform created show screening different films with diverse themes. The competition was very keen with rewards for winners delivering excellent results.
Wolfram Vetter, the European Union ambassador in Burkina Faso, called the film festival “an important contribution to peace and reconciliation in Burkina Faso and beyond.” The EU was the event’s largest funder after the Burkinabe government, and has contributed approximately €250,000, equivalent of ($265,000).
Records showed that there were more than 15,000 people, including cinema celebrities from African countries such as Nigeria, Senegal and Ivory Coast, and from abroad including France and the United States. Some 1,300 films were submitted for consideration and 100 selected to compete from 35 African countries and the diaspora, including movies from Dominican Republic and Haiti. Nearly half of those in the fiction competition this year were directed by women.
Among them was Burkinabe director and producer Apolline Traore, whose film “Sira” – considered a front-runner in this year’s competition – emblematic of many Burkinabes’ suffering. It tells the tale of a woman’s struggle for survival after being kidnapped by jihadis in the Sahel, as her fiancé tries to find her.
An interesting film, “Cuba in Africa” has received a warm, emotional response all over the world. Most people never heard of this story. Screening this film, people were touched by the altruism of Cubans who sacrificed their sons and daughters on behalf of Africa.
Negash Abdurahman, producer of Cuba in Africa, told us that his film has won the Thomas Sankara Prize. Abdurahman is an Ethiopian-American filmmaker and an educational technology specialist. He is also the Founder of RI Systems Inc.
His award-winning film Cuba in Africa was years in the making, overcoming many challenges. Cuba in Africa tells the story of Cuban volunteers who gave everything to win the independence of Angola, Namibia and contributed to the fall of apartheid in South Africa.
Abdurahman spoke briefly with us from Ouagadougou. Here are the interview excerpts:
How would you interpret the film festival that took place in Burkina Faso? What are the key features during this gathering?
Abdurahman: FESPACO is the biggest, oldest and most prestigious film festival in Africa. FESPACO is the French acronym for the Pan-African Film and Television Festival of Ouagadougu. The 28th edition of FESPACO took place from February 24 to March 5 in Ouagadougu, the capital city of Burkina Faso.
The festival opened with much fanfare and cultural pageantry. The heads of state of both Burkina Faso and Mali attended the opening ceremonies. For me, one of the emotional moments of the opening ceremonies was Sidiki Diabate of Mali playing the mesmerizing Kora, a traditional string instrument of several West African countries.
In your critical assessment, what were some of the messages translated to the audience there? Are these related to the Africa’s political culture, traditions and history?
Abdurahman: FESPACO celebrates African cinema and tells African stories through the eyes of Africans. This was very clear at this year’s festival as well. This year’s theme was “African Cinema and Culture of Peace.”
Before the festival, there was much tension because of the conflict going on in the northern part of Burkina Faso. Some people feared that it might not even be held at all. Playing on this fear, according to a few Burkinabe I spoke to, the French threatened not to protect the festival if they did not get their way.
French troops did, in fact, depart a few days before the opening of the festival. Fortunately, the Burkinabe were able to provide their own protection. The festival and all associated music and cultural celebrations concluded without a hitch.
What place was the film “Cuba in Africa” in the festival? What other films have similar themes to this film during the demonstration (show) in Burkina Faso?
Abdurahman: My film, Cuba in Africa, was an official selection in the short documentary category. Cuba was the only country in history that came to Africa’s aid without expecting anything in return. An Island nation of roughly 8 million people at the time, sent over 400,000 people – military as well as civilians – to help Africans in their fight for freedom.
This was unprecedented. I am honored to report that we won the much-coveted Thomas Sankara Prize. You can watch a two-minutes trailer for Cuba in Africa at http://www.cubainafrica.com
How was the final conclusion, in spite of the challenges and setbacks, of the festival?
Abdurahman: The best films won trophies and monetary awards in their respective categories. The mood was celebratory. FESPACO is a truly African institution with its own warm, unique characteristics.
Arts & Culture
Mirroring the Heart of Heaven and Earth: Ideals and Images in the Chinese Study
Mirroring the Heart of Heaven and Earth: Ideals and Images in the Chinese Study, an exhibition designed by New York-based firm OLI Architecture, has opened in the Palace Museum. Located in the center of the 72-hectare complex in the Forbidden City, built in the fifteenth century, the museum houses one of the world’s largest collections of ancient Chinese artifacts, calligraphy, paintings, and porcelain. Working closely with curators at The Palace Museum, OLI Architecture has created a space that brings together art and objects spanning from antiquity to contemporary art within the historical architecture.
Housed in the Meridian Gate Galleries, Mirroring the Heart of Heaven and Earth centers on the evolving role of the scholar throughout Chinese history, exploring the relationship to the court, to other scholars, the natural world, and the universe. The exhibition brings together 105 works ranging from antiquities to contemporary art, including books, scrolls, vases, sculptures, paintings, screens, cups, and seals. Alongside the art, the displays also include materials such as brushes, ink, and paper ranging from the 6th to the 21stt centuries. The three gallery wings are divided into three chapters: “Chapter One: Sanctuary of Literature and Music,” “Chapter Two: A Channel for Enlightenment,” and “Chapter Three: A Bond of Companionship.” These chapters deal respectively with the themes of a spiritual haven; self-cultivation and the bond between humanity and nature; and the appreciation of the finitude of life against the infinity of the universe.
The exhibition encourages a dialogue between heritage objects and modern artworks. For instance, an eighteenth-century plaque bearing the words ‘Chamber of the Five Classics’ in the Qianlong Emperor’s hand, that typically hangs in the hall that served as the imperial study, is prominently displayed at the beginning of the exhibition. The Five Classics include some of the oldest surviving Chinese texts and are the central works of Confucianism.
Contemporary artists represented include:
- Liu Dan (b. 1953) an ink painter trained in traditional style ink painting, he lives and works in Beijing, China.
- Xu Bing (b. 1955) is a multimedia artist known for his calligraphy and printmaking, who divides his time between New York City and Beijing.
- Xu Lei (b. 1963) an ink painter heavily involved in China’s 1980’s New Wave movement who currently serves as the Art Director of Beijing’s Today Art Museum.
- Bai Ming (b. 1965) a ceramicist and painter who teaches at Tsinghua University in Beijing.
Young Ho Chang (b. 1956) an award-winning architect and researcher who is currently a professor of architecture at MIT. Hiroshi Okamoto, Founding Partner of OLI Architecture, remarks, “Our office often works with contemporary art and artists. It was a challenge to design this remarkable exhibition with pieces from famous contemporary artists paired with such rare and prominent antiquities. When we started the project the idea of the scroll and the ephemerality of paper became a central concept. Where the art and antiquities were displayed on a transparent softly glowing surface which flowed from the vertical to the horizontal at the datum of a scholar’s table height giving the viewer an intimate experience.”
Arts & Culture
World Economic Forum Announces 2023 Crystal Award Winners
Artist Maya Lin, acclaimed soprano and arts/health advocate Renée Fleming and actors and humanitarians Idris Elba and Sabrina Dhowre Elba are the recipients of the 29th Annual Crystal Award, the World Economic Forum announced today. The winners will be honoured at the opening session of the Forum’s Annual Meeting 2023 in Davos-Klosters, Switzerland, on the evening of Monday, 16 January. The award celebrates the achievements of leading artists who are bridge-builders and role models for all leaders of society.
The Crystal Award is presented at Davos each year by Hilde Schwab, Chairwoman and Co-Founder of the World Economic Forum’s World Arts Forum. The cultural leaders receiving the 2023 Crystal Award are bridge-builders. They connect us to each other; they help us reflect on the human condition and they provide visions of the world that can cut through the limitations of short-term or linear thinking.
Maya Lin receives the 2023 Crystal Award for her extraordinary creative talent in combining science, art and architecture and her exemplary leadership in the promotion of nature and environment. Lin has fashioned a remarkable interdisciplinary career through her highly acclaimed art and architectural works, showcasing sustainable design and emphasizing a stronger connection to the land and nature.
From her first public work, the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington D.C., Lin has been committed to focusing attention on the key issues of our time: women’s rights, civil rights, Native American history and the climate crisis. In 2016, on awarding Lin the Presidential Medal of Freedom, President Barack Obama said her Vietnam Veterans Memorial “changed the way we think about sacrifice and patriotism and ourselves”.
Lin’s latest memorial, What is Missing?, is experimental and multidisciplinary in nature. In this work, Lin uses science-based artworks to raise awareness of the current mass extinctions of species, while emphasizing that by protecting and restoring habitats and reforming our land-use practices we could significantly reduce emissions and restore and protect biodiversity
Renée Fleming receives the 2023 Crystal Award for her leadership in championing the power of music and its relation to health, community and culture.
Renée Fleming is one of the most acclaimed sopranos of our time and a leading advocate for research at the intersection of arts, health and neuroscience. She launched the first ongoing collaboration between the Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts and the US National Institutes of Health (NIH) with the participation of the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA). The Sound Health initiative explores and brings attention to research and practice at the intersection of music, health and neuroscience. This collaboration has led to workshops at the NIH and events and performances at the Kennedy Center. It also led the NIH to recently award $20 million in funding for music and neuroscience research over five years. The Renée Fleming Foundation is now partnering with the Foundation for the NIH to develop a toolkit for standardizing music and health clinical research for brain disorders of ageing. Fleming has presented her programme, Music and the Mind, around the world.
Idris Elba and Sabrina Dhowre Elba receive the 2023 Crystal Award for their leadership in addressing food security, climate change and environmental conservation.
Actor, filmmaker and humanitarian, Idris Elba, and his wife, the model, actress and humanitarian, Sabrina Dhowre Elba, were appointed UN Goodwill Ambassadors for IFAD in April 2020. As IFAD Goodwill Ambassadors, they focus on issues related to food security, climate change and environmental conservation. The couple recently visited an IFAD-supported project in Sierra Leone, where they met farmers who received support for rice production and assistance with rural finance after the Ebola crisis.
The late Queen Elizabeth II awarded Idris Elba with the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire (OBE) in 2016 and the Prince’s Trust, founded by King Charles in 1976 – which Elba credits with helping to start his career – appointed him as its anti-crime ambassador in 2009
Elba supports causes related to poverty, HIV/AIDS, at-risk and disadvantaged youth, health and education. He worked with the UN and the Department for International Development in the UK during the Ebola health crisis and filmed campaigns in support of UNICEF, as well as the Sustainable Development Goals. He has recently created a number of youth-focused campaigns to promote education and learning and discourage violence.
Sabrina Dhowre Elba works with a variety of civil society organizations, including Farm Africa, raising funds to help farmers across eastern Africa, and Conservation International on environmental issues. She promotes gender equality and the empowerment of women and girls worldwide. She chairs the European board for Global Citizen and has been a keynote speaker at leading global events.
Idris Elba and Sabrina Dhowre Elbaare board members of Conservation International.
Crystal awardees are part of a large community of cultural leaders in Davos.
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