Friday, August 31, 2007

JAKES Theatre Company

A new theater company is making an auspicious debut with "You're a Good Man Charlie Brown."

JAKES is an acronym for Emory John Collinson, Jessica Gisin-Mosley, Ken Robinson, Angel Sosa, and Shannon Wallnutt. (You may have to fiddle around a bit to get the acronym.) These local theater veterans - all have appeared at the Fine Arts Center - recently banded together with the three-fold goal of providing learning experiences to aspiring young actors, to perform unfamiliar material, and to be affordable.

Their maiden voyage is first-rate community theater. The ensemble is tight. Gisin-Mosley's swift direction makes excellent use of the cozy space in the basement of The Classical Academy. Every word is clear, even in the ensemble songs, and the five-piece band directed by Susan Calvert is well-prepared.

The production also mixes adults and students well, with the adults doing the heavy lifting. Collinson's angst-ridden Charlie Brown gives the show its serious center: Today, this kid would probably be medicated. Robinson provides the show's high-point in "Snoopy," a languorous hymn to a dog's life, cutely accompanied by some hand-puppet birds - which are about the closest thing to high-tech in this production.

Gisin-Mosley's Sally is actually more forceful than Wallnutt's multi-layered Lucy, which is jarring to life-long "Peanuts" fans but probably won't bother anyone else. Besides, I'll never turn down an opportunity to hear Gisin-Mosley's soaring voice.

Trevor Miller's philosophical Linus stands out among the students.

I'm not a fan of Clark Gesner's show, which is basically a series of extended "Peanuts" cartoons set to bland music. Given my druthers, I'd choose a book of Charles Schulz's originals; given my second druthers, I'd watch one of the old TV specials. But "You're a Good Man Charlie Brown" is too unpretentious to dislike, and it admirably fits JAKES' educational goal.

Final performances are 7:30 p.m. today and 2 and 7:30 p.m. Saturday at The Classical Academy, 975 Stout Road. Tickets are $8 adults/$5 seniors and military. Call 231-0441 for more information.

Monday, August 27, 2007

Two Thoughts on De Marsche's Move

When I was interviewing people last week about Tim Hoiles leaving the Fine Arts Center board, two of them, unprompted, gave me their thoughts on Michael De Marsche's next move.

Jeff Brown, artist and FAC board member, accentuated the positive: "I think he has a fine position. It’s amazing good luck."

But to Roberto Agnolini, arts advocate and member of the FAC museum board, Yerevan trumps the job: "That city where he’s going, it’s a hellhole."

Saturday, August 18, 2007

Jina Pierce Leaves

Jina Pierce has officially left her job as curator of fine art at Pueblo's Sangre de Cristo Arts Center. Pierce had been on a leave of absence since mid-June.

Pierce had a genius for imaginative programming that challenged audiences without ever losing sight of the center's public mission. Exhibit themes ranged from the science-fiction-based "Zero Gravity," to the astonishing "Magical Realism: A New Generation," to an exhibit rooted in the culture of low riders.

She will be sorely missed in the arts scene — arguably more so than De Marsche, because Pierce had not alienated nearly as many people.

Pierce is in, I think, Los Angeles. Here's wishing her luck.

Monday, August 13, 2007

Rocky Mountain Amateur Piano Competition Post Mortem

Some ruminations about the Rocky Mountain Amateur Piano Competition, which Kensuke Ota won last Sunday. (Complete results here.)

For the first time since the competition began in 2001, the winner didn't sweep the three judging panels. Ota won the professional jury award and the audience award; Jelena Vladikovic, who finished second in the professional jury deliberations, won the press jury award. (The partial exception is the 2002 competition, when the professional jury was itself divided. That year, Victor Alexeef and Scot King shared the first prize. However, Alexeef won both the press and audience awards.)

On talent and potential, Ota was an easy choice. Unless the finale of Kapustin's jazzy sonata Op. 39 is a lot easier than it sounds — and I hear this is not the case — Ota had the cleanest and most fluid technique of any finalist. His performance of the finale of Rachmaninoff's Sonata #2 had exceptional structural clarity: Ota mostly avoided the nearly irresistible temptation to get mired in by Rachmaninoff's inner voices. His enchanting performance of Liadov's Barcarolle, Op. 44 caused me to wonder — yet again — why Liadov's music is so rarely performed.

These three performances were the best 18 minutes of the finals.

But two things moved the press jury — consisting of Paul Burke, Sharon Friedman, Eve Tilley and me — to vote for Vladikovic. One was Ota's stiff, pedantic performance of the first movement of Beethoven's "Appassionata" sonata. Vladikovic performed all three movements of the same piece with vastly more passion, color, maturity and musicality. The other was the fact that Ota's finals repertoire represented his entire competition repertoire: He had played parts of it in the first and second rounds. Since his "Appassionata" helped him not at all, and a brief Scarlatti Sonata helped him only a little, Ota basically won the competition with 18 minutes of repertoire. In contrast, Vladikovic brought an hour of repertoire.

But there's another "but," which may have influenced the professional jury. Vladicovic brought her own baggage — namely, that she stretches the definition of "amateur." She's a former professional, working on getting her chops back after a hand injury. In contrast, Ota is a Ph.D student in physics.

("It says something about the profession of music that somebody with that kind of talent and ability is choosing a different field," said Thomas Wilson, conductor of the Chamber Orchestra of the Springs and a member of the professional jury.)

It added up to an appropriately ambiguous climax to the always enjoyable competition. Aside from the awards ceremony, which started late and dragged on forever, the proceedings were smoothly run. The Saturday recital by Russian virtuoso Yakov Kasman was as astonishing as expected, though for the first time I found myself disagreeing vehemently with an interpretation: Schumann's Sonata #1 wasn't merely fast, but too fast, and the near absence of dynamics in between very soft and very loud gave the piece a theatricality verging on insincerity. However, Kasman more than redeemed himself with his luminous interpretation of Scriabin's Sonata #3 and his energetic Prokofiev Sonata #2, in which his amazing virtuosity was completely in service to the piece's playfulness.

The greatest testament to the mood that founder and president Chuck Cabell has created was the number of former contestants who returned simply to hang out or volunteer. Not counting locals such as John Saxon or myself, I saw at least three who had come from out of state: Brad Arington, Michie Akin and Carolyn Luskin, all of whom have been finalists in previous years.

Wednesday, August 08, 2007

Fine Arts Center History P.S.

In the July 29 Gazette, I had a story on the history of the Fine Arts Center. In it I mentioned several reasons for the decline of the center's art school following WW II — including budget issues, the decrease of interest in regionalism, and the rise of abstract expressionism.

My mother has informed me of another major cause: a societal change that she thinks was the most important factor in the school's decline.

"After the war, artists didn't go to art schools any more," she said. "They started going to college and getting MFAs."

This makes a lot of sense The G.I. Bill put college within reach of millions of people for whom it had previously been impossible. Universities also exploded in size, meaning thousands of artists who would previously have taught in art schools went into academia instead. This was the case with my father, Bernard Arnest. He was probably expecting to teach at some Fine-Arts-Center-like institution, but instead ended up at the University of Minnesota.

The affect on art was dramatic. On the plus side, post-war artists received a broader education, which is reflected in the greater emphasis on artistic concept in contemporary art. On the minus side, technique suffered. When my father studied at the Fine Arts Center, the regimen included two three hours of life drawing every day, plus twice-a-week two-hour evening sessions. He joked that, "if an artist sees a man jump out of a second story window he should be able to draw him before he hits the ground." That level of skill all but disappeared in the 1960s and '70s.

My father returned to Colorado Springs in 1957 with a two-fold job - teaching art at Colorado College, and heading the Fine Arts Center art school, where he had his studio for many years. (His was probably the last generation for whom it was reasonably possible to get a good college teaching job without a college degree.) I asked my mother when the art school finally ceased to be a training ground for professionals, and she didn't remember: "It just sort of petered out," she said.

The moral of this story, if there is one, is that dreams of resurrecting the Fine Arts Center as a major professional art school will probably never leave the dream stage. I don't see it happening without a major shift in the way art careers are built, or a major partnership with Colorado College.

Oh, and moral number two: Always talk to your mother when you're reporting for a big story!

Monday, August 06, 2007

FAC Aftermath

The Fine Arts Center's Extremely Grand Reopening, on balance, has to be counted as an extremely big success. The capacity crowd at the gala seemed to be having a great time; the galleries were well-attended following their Saturday reopening; and everybody I talked to loved David Owen Tryba's addition - as do I.

There was only one glaring miscalculation to the festivities: The cost of the lectures by Thomas Hoving, John Waters, and Joel Grey. The only one I attended was Hoving's, but had I paid $45 to see this hastily prepared, hour-long chat - $49 for non-members - I would have been quite upset. (I had tickets to Grey, but my legs rebelled at a fourth visit in three days to the FAC...)

With the expansion safely - and brilliantly - accomplished, the Michael De Marsche watch officially begins. His stock in town will never be higher, he's attracted a lot of attention in the museum world, he has only a year left on his contract, and he seems to like challenges. I can't believe there won't be multiple museums bidding for his services.

Any bets?

Thursday, August 02, 2007

So it begins...

Thomas Hoving speaks tonight at the Fine Arts Center - the beginning of the center's four-day reopening celebration. I'll be there, and for some of the other stuff, and will report regularly.

There's some time to go through the galleries prior to the lectures, so I'll be able to see the new galleries exhibiting art for the first time. There were a couple of hard-had walk-throughs, but that only gives you hints of how the final spaces will work.