Tag: John Cage

Books We Love: Peggy Guggenheim, The Shock of the Modern by Francine Prose

Peggy Guggenheim: The Shock of the Modern (2015)

By Francine Prose, Yale University Press, 211 pp.

 

Best-selling author Francine Prose, known for nonfiction titles like Anne Frank: The Book, The Life, The Afterlife, and Reading Like a Writer, wrote a heartfelt biography of Peggy Guggenheim, influential art collector, and early promoter of Modernism in America. Well-ahead of her time, Peggy developed a taste for the avant-garde and unconventional that followed her throughout the entire life. She altered the course of art history in an unprecedented manner by meticulously pursuing new styles and supporting emerging artists.

Born in New York City in August 1898 to a wealthy family, Peggy Guggenheim developed an interest in art at an early age. Her father, Benjamin Guggenheim, perished on the Titanic in 1912, leaving Peggy with a comfortable inheritance. Her mother Florette Seligman, who came from a prominent banking family, also left Peggy with a considerable inheritance, allowing for a sophisticated, privileged lifestyle.

“A Guggenheim, or a Strauss, or a Seligman was expected to be meticulously well mannered and to avoid anything that might be considered ostentatious or vulgar,” explains Francine Prose in her biography of Peggy Guggenheim (p. 37).

As a child, Peggy traveled frequently to Europe with her mother Florette where they stayed at stylish hotels, and learned about art, French history, British literature, and German opera, explains Prose.

In 1920 Peggy moved back to Europe, “in a frenzy to see great art.” “She knew where every important painting was located and insisted on seeing them all” (p. 60).

From 1922 to 1928 Peggy was married to Laurence Vail, a French-born American playwright, novelist, and painter who belonged to the Dada movement. Peggy’s life, relates Prose, had “periods of intense travel interrupted by interludes during which she established and oversaw large bohemian households in Paris, in London, and in rural beauty spots in England and France” (p. 17).

After her failed marriage with Vail, Peggy engaged in notorious affairs with playwright Samuel Beckett, sculptor Constantin Brancusi, and Surrealist painter Max Ernst, whom she married in 1941 – the marriage would end in divorce five years later.

Peggy’s uncle Solomon Guggenheim, who also was an avid collector of modern art, might have been an inspiration to Peggy: Solomon and his mistress, artist and art advisor Baroness Hilla von Rebay opened The Museum of Non-Objective Painting in New York in 1937 to display Solomon’s growing collection which included works by Kandinsky, Chagall, Picasso, and many others. As the collection kept growing, the effort eventually led to the opening of Guggenheim Museum in 1959 at its current location on Fifth Avenue in a building designed by famous architect Frank Lloyd Wright.

While in Europe, Peggy opened Guggenheim Jeune gallery in London in 1938, an unfortunate time, as WWII was about to break out the following year. Peggy had traveled to Paris the year before to secure art for the opening show. She had hoped to open the gallery with an exhibition dedicated to Constantin Brancusi, but the Romanian sculptor was out of town at the time, and Peggy turned her attention to Jean Cocteau. Guggenheim Jeune opened in January 1938 with a show dedicated to Cocteau – the gallery would close in August 1939 due to the war outbreak. In fact, Peggy had plans to open an art museum in London in the fall of 1939, when the war broke, and she had to return to New York.

In June 1941 Peggy and her family sailed from Marseille to New York, bringing with them Peggy’s significant collection of modern art which included 150 works by artists such as Kandinsky, Klee, Mondrian, Braque, Miro, Dali, Magritte, Giacometti, Brancusi, and Max Ernst, works that could have not safely remained in Europe. At first, Peggy had hoped that the Louvre Museum in Paris might have sheltered some of the works, but the museum directors considered the art “too modern to merit saving,” as Prose relates.

Back in New York, Peggy opened Art of This Century gallery, which shortly became the city’s cultural center. The gallery functioned from 1942 to 1947, when Peggy returned to Europe. Alexander Calder, Georgia O’Keefe, and Jackson Pollock frequented the space which was at once “a cultural landmark and a tourist attraction” (p. 137). Peggy helped launch Pollock’s career at Art of this Century – the artist showed four times at the gallery during its existence, and drew the attention of art critics such as Robert Coates at the New Yorker, and Clement Greenberg at The Nation.

In 1943 the gallery hosted the first exhibition of collages in the United States. Also, “among the most remarkable aspects of Art of This Century,” writes Prose, “was the unusual amount of attention paid to women artists” (p. 140). She goes on to say: “equally striking is how few of these women – Frida Kahlo, Louise Bourgeois, and Leonora Carrington – went on to develop careers and reputations remotely approaching those of their male contemporaries” (p. 141).

In addition to promoting emergent artists, as Prose relates, the gallery “was used as a background for fashion shoots in Vogue and Glamour, and was the subject of a photo feature in the New York Times Magazine” (p. 138).

In 1946, when Peggy was 48 years old, she published her memoir Out of This Century, which Prose calls “a remarkable document.” “It is hard to think of an important visual artist from the first half of the twentieth century who does not appear in its pages, in the company of an impressive number of celebrated novelists, memoirists, and poets” (p. 11). Several pages are dedicated to Peggy’s “battle to acquire Brancusi’s Bird in Space.”

In 1947 Peggy returned to Europe, and bought Palazzo Vernier dei Leoni in Venice. Her collection was swiftly included in the 24th Venice Biennale in 1948, one of the most prestigious art shows in the world. Afterwards, the collection traveled to Florence, Milan, Amsterdam, Brussels, and Zurich, before returning to Venice in 1951, and being permanently housed at Palazzo Vernier dei Leoni. Among luminaries spending time with Peggy while in Venice, Prose mentions Surrealist painter Marc Chagall, Beat poet Allen Ginsberg, and experimental composer John Cage.

In 1969 Guggenheim Museum in New York showed a large part of Peggy’s collection, which remains one of the most important in the world. To learn more about Peggy Guggenheim Collection, visit https://www.guggenheim.org/artwork/site/peggy-guggenheim-collection.

Weekend in the Catskills – 7/03/2015

This weekend in the Catskills:

  • Simone Dinnerstein performs Bach’s Goldberg Variations, and Adam Tendler performs John Cage at Maverick Concert Hall;
  • West Kortright Centre celebrates its 40th anniversary with a Gala Dance Party;
  • Stagecoach Run Art Festival celebrates its 20th anniversary – fifty visual artists in the Treadwell – Franklin area will open their studios to the public. Events are scheduled at the Bright Hill Literary Center and Franklin Stage Company, among others;
  • And Hanford Mills Museum will host a traditional 4th of July family celebration and a fishing derby on Saturday.

Read more at Upstater.com.

Happy Independence Day!
Happy Independence Day!

Featured Destination: Maverick Concert Hall

Source: Facebook
Source: Facebook

Maverick Concert Hall, founded in 1916, is the oldest continuous chamber music festival in the country. The festival, running from June to early September, presents an eclectic program of the Catskills folk songs, jazz as well as classical music. On June 28 this year the original 1916 concert, which featured music by Joseph Haydn, Max Bruch, and Robert Schumann, will be reproduced to mark the beginning of the Maverick’s centennial program. In 2016 the festival will celebrate its 100th anniversary.

I spoke with conductor Alexander Platt, the music director of the Maverick Concerts.

A research scholar for the National Endowment for the Humanities before he entered college, Alexander Platt was educated at Yale College, King’s College Cambridge (where he was a British Marshall Scholar), and as a conducting fellow at both Aspen and Tanglewood. At Cambridge he was the first American to hold the coveted post of Assistant Conductor of the Cambridge University Musical Society, and as conductor of the Cambridge University Opera Society he led revivals of both Berlioz’s BEATRICE AND BENEDICT and Britten’s OWEN WINGRAVE, to high praise in the London press. During this time he also made his professional conducting debut at the Aldeburgh Festival, his London debut at the Wigmore Hall, and reconstructed the lost chamber version of the Mahler’s Fourth Symphony, which has gone on to become a classic of the repertoire. In addition to recording for Minnesota Public Radio, National Public Radio, the South-West German Radio and the BBC, his recording of the Max Bruch’s Scottish Fantasy with violinist Rachel Barton Pine is still heard frequently on radio stations across America. 

Simona David: Alexander, you are the musical director for several symphony orchestras: the La Crosse Symphony Orchestra, the Grand Forks Symphony Orchestra, the Marion Indiana Philharmonic, and the Wisconsin Philharmonic. You have conducted other orchestras as well. Talk a little bit about your work: what does it take and what does it mean for you to conduct orchestras?   

Alexander Platt: It’s important to gain valuable experience over years and decades. Conducting an orchestra whether you have twenty-five people in front of you or a hundred and twenty-five it’s like being in the middle of Grand Central Station at rush hour. You’re hearing all these disperse sounds, and your job is to sort out all those sounds and mold them together. Ultimately it’s a very mysterious process like telepathy, when without saying a word you, as a conductor, blend the sounds together by your physical movements and your inner vision of the music. Some of the greatest rehearsals in the history of orchestras happened without the conductor saying a word.

SD: Your repertoire is so extensive: the level of familiarity you have with hundreds of works – all major composers from the Baroque era, Classical era, modern composers, and you’re also engaged with other musical genres such as folk and jazz – it’s impressive. Let’s talk a bit about your repertoire and what you like most.    

AP: What I like most as a conductor is the central line of mid-19th century great composers, starting in the late 18th century with Haydn and Mozart, and then going through Schubert and Beethoven, Schumann and Brahms, Tchaikovsky and Dvorak, Elgar and Sibelius. I’m actually very old-fashioned in that regard. I do have a special love for the music Mahler because my graduate thesis at Cambridge was to reconstruct a lost Chamber version from Vienna in the 1920s of Mahler’s Fourth Symphony. I think the works of Dvorak, the great Czech composer, are vastly underplayed. We literally hear two or three pieces by Dvorak, we hear the great New World Symphony, which is great work that brought joy to millions and millions of people, but the man did write eight other symphonies. Each of them is a gem. I’m probably the only American conductor of my generation who has all nine of the Dvorak’s symphonies in his active repertoire. I very much live in the 19th century as a conductor.

Contributed Photo. Credit: Dion Ogust.
Contributed Photo. Credit: Dion Ogust.

SD: You conduct both symphony orchestras and operas. How are they different, and how do you approach them?

AP: That’s a wonderful question. Conducting opera and conducting orchestras are two occupations that are completely different. On the more mundane level they’re completely different in regard to scheduling – one of the reasons why now I’m mostly working with orchestras. If you work with an orchestra to prepare a concert it’s one week of rehearsal, it’s three – four rehearsals over a week, and then one or two concert performances. When you prepare an opera, that is a six week project minimum, often a couple of months with many weeks of rehearsals, and at least two weeks of shows. Also, more importantly, on a musical level, it’s a totally different mode of rehearsing. When you’re a symphony orchestra conductor, you basically run the show. Even in the most egalitarian structure, somebody has to be the boss. It’s just not enough time to open up every question of interpretation. In opera rehearsal it’s inherently much more complicated. The conductor is just one of many planks of leadership, if you will. The conductor is in constant collaboration with the stage director, and the principal singers. So there are two vastly different experiences.

SD: You’ve been the musical director of Maverick Concerts since 2002. The festival will celebrate its centennial this summer. Let’s talk a bit about the beginnings of the festival.

AP: In the midst of WWI a bunch of free thinking artists in the hills around Woodstock decided to mount a festival of classical music for the relief of Belgian war refugees, which was a very noble cause at that time. It was Hervey White who founded the festival. Hervey and his buddies found a book of drawings of French cathedrals and without any engineering or architectural experience they built the concert hall in the fall of 1915 – spring of 1916. The concert hall still stands today. In 1916 began the first series of what we call the Maverick Concerts. The festival has literally been going ever since. It’s a very simple, very pure experience which I think is part of the festival’s charm: the festival has not been over publicized or over engineered. It’s a festival that is really all about the music.

Contributed Photo. Credit Dion Ogust.
Contributed Photo. Credit: Dion Ogust.

SD: On Sunday, June 28 you will recreate the first concert performed in 1916.

AP: Yes, on June 28 at 4 o’clock we’ll have the Shanghai Quartet with pianist Ran Dank recreating the very first program at the Maverick Concert Hall – one of the great later String Quartet by Joseph Haydn, Max Bruch’s lament for cello and piano Kol Nidrei, and after the intermission the evergreen Piano Quintet by Robert Schumann. A great program that will take us back to the very first summer at Maverick.

SD: The festival includes folk and jazz in addition to classical music performances, and there are also poetry and acting moments as well.

AP: Yes, this will be a glorious season. On Friday, July 3 the great pianist Simone Dinnerstein will be playing the complete Goldberg Variations by Bach, a work that she has literally performed all over the world. Saturday night, the 4th of July, we have a brilliant young pianist Adam Tendler who will play the complete Sonatas and Interludes for Solo Piano by John Cage to celebrate Maverick’s historic connection with John Cage: as you know, Cage premiered his landmark work 4’33” of silence at Maverick in 1952. It will be a great season.

Contributed Photo. Credit: Alan Carey
Contributed Photo. Credit: Alan Carey

120 Maverick Road, Woodstock, NY 12498

(845) 679-8217

For more information, visit

http://www.maverickconcerts.org

© 2015 Simona David