Bernstein’s ‘Mass’ is nothing less than an Austin triumph

Leonard Bernstein‘s “Mass” is about nothing less than a profound loss of faith, Not just personal, but also national, even universal.

Premiering 1971 during some of the most grim days of the Vietnam War, the great composer’s theatrical take on the traditional Mass structure was to deconstruct it and put it back together.

In this case, last week’s cover of Austin360 predicted the triumphant outcome.

He poses a saintly Celebrant against competing masses of singers, dancers and instrumentalists.

First one group, then others, and ultimately the Celebrant himself lose the comforts of faith and peace and smash the religious images that adorn the altar at the center of the stage. If this spirtual chaos can seem heart-rending today — and at the Long Center for the Performing Arts on Friday, it was — one can only imagine the effect on buttoned-up audiences right after the 1960s, a decade that tore apart conventional social norms on so many fronts.

No wonder its debut at the Kennedy Center was so controversial. Not only that, the two-hour spectacle that begins with Broadway-Bernstein’s “Simple Song” — sung too softly here — ricochets musically among Copland-Bernstein, Stravinsky-Bernstein and the sometimes unsettling High-Modernist-Bernstein.

RELATED: In a coup, Austin lands Leonard Bernstein marvel.

All this added up to an evening of almost overwhelming sensation, thanks primarily to Peter Bay, who has dreamed of conducting this towering piece since he witnessed the Kennedy Center premiere 47 years ago.

Let’s break it down:

  • Children’s choirs: The combined troupes, led by multiple directors, provided moments of joyful respite from the the heavier drama of “Mass.” Their brightly-clad innocence and sweet harmonies elicited an audible “aw” from the audience every time they appeared. Despite Michael Krauss‘s large, never crowded and gorgeously sacred set, the kids were by default and musical necessity required to cluster downstage. While stationed there, they were the stars of the show.
  • Bernstein100Austin Chorus: Placed upstage of the altar, this formidable group of singers, dressed for most of the action in dark robes, provided a sort of solemn anchor for everything else. Led primarily by Craig Hella Johnson of Conspirare, their sound was rock-solid and responded to whatever challenge Bernstein and Bay threw at them. It would be interesting to hear some of their sections done separately in concert. They would hold up.
  • Street Chorus: While the upstage choir blended into a whole, this group of two dozen or so singer-actors — dressed in street clothes and semi-seated to the side — injected particularized humanity into their roles. While they clearly represented some of the social subsets from the early 1970s, the performers made each part their own, thanks in part to stage director Josh Miller‘s efforts to distinguish each individual’s profile. Their solo meditations on faith and doubt really got the show’s near-operatic project rolling.
  • Dancers and Acolytes: Not having seen a stage version of “Mass” before, I could only imagine — or rather, struggle to imagine — the function of these mostly silent figures dressed in plain black-and-white cassocks. Yet, choreographed by Jennifer Hart, they kept the show in almost constant motion, delineating sections and amplifying the major themes. Included onstage were some of Ballet Austin‘s finest dancers, who know how to make movement into theater. If you don’t have the dancers, you don’t have “Mass.”
  • Celebrant: At first, baritone Jubilant Sykes provided the warm, soulful heart of the show. Wearing his vestments lightly and employing the full range of his stunning voice, Sykes tried to reach out and mend the rips in the social-sacramental fabric around him, not easy to do when there are 300 other performers around you. Yet when it came time for the Celebrant to break down and lose his personal connection to God, Sykes, defrocked in a solo spotlight, gave us a raw psychological study that could have been drawn from the most terrifying Greek tragedy.
  • Austin Symphony Orchestra+: Austin’s primary classical ensemble was supported by rock, jazz and marching band musicians. Yet they carried the preponderance of the musical weight triumphantly under Bay’s baton and, let’s be plain, they have never sounded more urgent or imperative. Especially during the interludes, they shed any mundane notion of constraints or equivocation. And as the audience made abundantly clear during the curtain calls, this was pinnacle so far in the career of conductor Bay. That’s not to say it’s downhill from here, but with this monumental “Mass,” all the participating Austin performing arts groups proved our city can aspire to almost anything. (And it made profit that will go back to the arts groups, says co-producer Mela Sarajane Dailey.)

Winners rejoice for 2018 Austin Critics Table Awards

Seems like yesterday when we sat down at Katz’s Deli to vote on the first Austin Critics Table Awards. Now a whole new generation of arts journalists are making the decisions. We could not be happier.

The following individuals and groups were honored Monday night at Cap City Comedy Club. (If I missed any, let me know.)

CRITICS TABLE AWARDS 2018

THEATER

Production (tie)

“Henry IV,” The Hidden Room Theatre

“Ragtime,” Texas State University Department of Theatre and Dance

RELATED: “Ragtime” is an American classic.

Direction

Jason Phelps, “The Brothers Size”

David Mark Cohen New Play Award

“Wild Horses,” Allison Gregory

Performance by an Individual

John Christopher, “The Brothers Size”/”Fixing Troilus and Cressida”

Chanel, “Lady Day at Emerson’s Bar and Grill”

Jennifer Coy Jennings, “Wild Horses”

Sarah Danko, “The Effect”/”Grounded”

Judd Farris, “Henry IV”/”The Repentance of Saint Joan”

Joseph Garlock, “The Immigrant”

Performance by an Ensemble

“The Wolves,” Hyde Park Theatre

Periphery Company

“Wimberley Players,” Wimberley

DESIGN

Set (tie)

Stephanie Busing, “The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time”

Chris Conard/Zac Thomas, “Pocatello”

Costume

Buffy Manners, “Shakespeare in Love”

Lighting

Rachel Atkinson, “Scheherazade”/”Twenty-Eight”/”Catalina de Erauso”/”The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time”/”Con Flama”

Sound

Lowell Bartholomee, “Grounded”

Digital (tie)

Lowell Bartholomee, “The Effect/Wakey Wakey”/”The Repentance of Saint Joan”/”Grounded”

Robert Mallin, “Enron”

DANCE

Concert

(“Re)current Unrest”, Charles O. Anderson/Fusebox Festival

Short Work

“Four Mortal Men,” Ballet Austin

Choreographer

Jennifer Hart, “Fellow Travelers”/“Murmuration”

Dancer

Anika Jones, “Belonging, Part One”

Rosalyn Nasky, “Come In!!!”/”Pod”/”There’s No Such Thing as a Single Stripe”

Jun Shen, “Belonging, Part One”

Ensemble

“Exit Wounds”/”Masters of Dance,” Ballet Austin

RELATED: Ballet Austin aims for the heart with “Exit Wounds.”

CLASSICAL MUSIC

Concert/Opera

“Southwest Voices,” Chorus Austin

Chamber Performance

Golden Hornet Young Composers Concert, Golden Hornet

Original Composition/Score

“I/We,” Joseph V. Williams II

Singer

Marina Costa-Jackson, “La Traviata”

Jenifer Thyssen, “An Early Christmas”/”It’s About Time: Companions”/”Complaints Through the Ages”

Veronica Williams, “Songs of Remembrance and Resistance”

Ensemble

“Invoke, Beerthoven”/Golden Hornet Smackdown IV

Instrumentalist (tie)

Bruce Colson, “It’s About Time: Companions”

Artina McCain, “Black Composers Concert: The Black Female Composer”

VISUAL ART

Solo Gallery Exhibition

“Claude van Lingen: Timekeeper,” Co-Lab Projects

Group Gallery Exhibition

“Yo soy aqui / I am here,” ICOSA

Museum Exhibition

“The Open Road: Photography and the American Road Trip,” Blanton Museum of Art

Independent Project

2017 Texas Biennial

Gallery, Body of Work

Co-Lab Projects

Artist

Michael Anthony Garcia

SPECIAL CITATIONS

John Bustin Award for Conspicuous Versaility: Mary Agen Cox, Jeff Mills

Deacon Crain Award for Outstanding Student Work: Connor Barr, Kat Lozano, UT; Ben Toomer, Texas State

Outstanding Music Direction: Austin Haller for “Ragtime”

Outstanding Choreography: Natasha Davison for “The Drowsy Chaperone”

Horn of Plenty Award: Benjamin Taylor Ridgeway & Jennifer Rose Davis for the masks in “Rhinoceros”

Jurassic Spark Award: The Hatchery for creating the raptors in “Enron”

One Singular Sensation Award: Kaitlin Hopkins for the Texas State University Musical Theatre Program

RELATED: Kaitlin Hopkins takes Texas State to the top.

Always a Safe Flight Award: Barry Wilson & Team for Rigging Design & Execution in “Belonging, Part One”

Outstanding Touring Show, Dance: Johnny Cruise Mercer and Fusebox Festival for “Plunge In/To 534”

Blanton Museum of Art for Ellsworth Kelly’s “Austin”

Vortex Repertory Theatre for “Performance Park”

AUSTIN ARTS HALL OF FAME INDUCTEES

Norman Blumensaadt (Different Stages) – company founder, artistic director, director, actor

Kathy Dunn Hamrick (Kathy Dunn Hamrick Dance Company, Cafe Dance) – company founder, artistic director, choreographer, dancer, educator

Michael and Jeanne Klein (Blanton Museum of Art, The Contemporary Austin, Ransom Center, et al.) – patrons, board members, civic leaders, arts advocates

Anuradha Naimpally (Austin Dance India, Cafe Dance) – company founder, artistic director, dancer, choreographer, educator

Get an early look at what’s coming up at Creek Show 2018

Creek Show, the annual procession of light art staged by the Waller Creek Conservancy, turned a corner of sorts last year.

What started as mostly elegant minimalist efforts along downtown Austin’s eastern waterway went maximalist in 2017 with masses of pink flags for “Night Garden” by Eric Leshinsky (lead) with Colter Sonneville, Megahn Skornia and Wenjie Zhao.

“Night Garden” was a hit for the Creek Show in 2017. Contributed by creekshow.com

The designs for year five — the free event will be Nov. 9-17 — were recently announced and promise to continue the large-scale experience. In 2017, more than 20,000 people attended Creek Show, sampling the kind of attractions planned for a transformed Waller Creek. For 2018, Creek Show will be in a different section of Waller Creek — between Ninth and 11th streets — and include Symphony Square, where the “Creek Show Lounge” will be located.

Here’s a look at early renderings of what’s planned for 2018, along with the teams behind the designs:

“Tentsion”

By Perkins + Will

Chet Morgan, Assoc. (lead)

Jenny Adair

Caitlin Admire

Aaron Manns

Emilie Ogburn

Ellen Saathoff

Paul Ward

“Ambedo βeta”

By Polis

Daniel Goodwin (lead)

Brianna Graves

Olivia Nguyen

Bruce Wilcoxon

“Parabolus”

By aod

Jose Roberto Corea (lead)

Courtney Jones Burton

Gretchen Leigh Du Pré

Jeff Fletcher

“Light Lines”

By Campbell Landscape Architecture + Tab Labs

Cameron Campbell (lead)

Bill Baird

Taurin Barrera

Stuart Campbell

Jenny Janis

Viddhi Jhaveri

“La Noria”

By Drophouse Design

Christian Klein (lead)

Matt Satter

Christy Taylor

“Urban Scrim”

By Lemmo Architecture and Design

Ryan Lemmo, (lead)

Stephanie Lemmo, Assoc. (lead)

Jonathan Butler

Julia Martinelli

 

 

 

Setting the highest standards for the Art Dinner at Laguna Gloria

Etherial location. Elegant crowd. Exquisite cuisine. Excellent art.

Scene from the Art Dinner at Laguna Gloria. Michael Barnes/American-Statesman

For the past five years, the Art Dinner at Laguna Gloria has benefitted the Contemporary Austin. Hosts expertly employ the arboreal setting on the grounds of the Clara Driscoll villa to create an elevated atmosphere at dusk and into the evening. This year, that effort included the passage of the S.S. Hangover through the lagoon with members of an Austin music collective playing a dirge-like piece.

Visual artists do love a bit of theater!

The S.S. Hangover at Laguna Gloria. Michael Barnes/American-Statesman

Guests were in no hurry to pass up cocktails a key points in and around the villa, but the seated dinner took place under tents on the front lawn. Happily, I was placed next to designers Lydia G. Cook and Geoff Fritz from the Cambridge, Mass. firm of Reed Hilderbrand Landscape Architecture. They helped explained the company’s master plan for the Contemporary’s Marcus Sculpture Park, including connectivity to nearby Mayfield Park.

RELATED: Imagine a new welcome at Laguna Gloria.

The modest but tasty dinner arrived courtesy of restauranteur Tyson Cole along with chefs Ed Sura of Uchiko and Joe Zoccoli of Uchi. (Note to other Austin charity hosts: You don’t need a big slab of animal protein to satisfy.) The evening climaxed with an unusually civilized live auction featuring work by artists close to projects at the Contemporary.

Dr. Sam Rumi and Dr. Meena Vendal andat the Art Dinner at Laguna Gloria. Michael Barnes/American-Statesman

“When all was said and done, we raised more than $500,000 in the live and silent auctions,” reported the museum’s spokeswoman, Nicole Chism Griffin. “One hundred percent of these funds will go to support exhibitions at both of our locations. We also raised  $325,0000 toward the purchase of Ai Weiwei’s “Iron Tree Trunk.” Our goal had been $100,000 for the evening! This $325,000 will go toward fulfilling the Edward and Betty Marcus Foundation’s challenge grant of $500,000 (for the purchase).”

I hear that some guests danced till the wee hours.

Andre Revilla and Rachel Imwalle at the Art Dinner at Laguna Gloria. Michael Barnes/American-Statesman

Austin Symphony

Some notes on the Austin Symphony‘s recent concert at the Long Center.

• One way to fill a house: Schedule Beethoven‘s Fifth. It is the duty of artistic leaders such as Peter Bay to expand tastes and lead audiences in new directions. Still, the Fifth — if well done, and it was — satisfies and enlightens with each fresh interpretation. It comes with the added benefit of a standing-room-only crowd.

RELATED: Why I adore the Austin Symphony.

• I’ve tried to sit in every part of the Long Center house since it opened 10 years ago. Row 4 on the orchestra level was not the right place to take in the concert’s opening piece, Michael Torke‘s “Bright Blue Music.” All I heard was the lower range of the strings and all I saw were the polished shoes of the musicians.

• Turns out the same seat was ideal for Leonard Bernstein‘s “Serenade (after Plato’s Symposium) for Solo Violin, Strings, Harp and Percussion.” Here, only the strings really mattered and they came together beautifully in conjunction with violinist Vadim Gluzman‘s playful then profound solo turn. Booked as part of the “Bernstein at 100” celebration, this near-concerto is a gem to revive more often.

• Bay has proven time and again that he can take epic forms to ever higher heights. Last season, it was Mahler‘s Sixth, an almost brutally difficult symphony to get right. With Beethoven’s Symphony No. 5 in C Minor, the challenge instead is overfamiliarity. Bay and his always advancing ensemble treated the first movement with rhythmic clarity, the second with architectural balance, the third with taut force and the final movement with bristling brilliance.

Your input needed for Texas Medal of Arts Awards

Since 2001, the Texas Cultural Trust, an advocacy group, has been honoring our state’s luminaries through the Texas Medal of Arts. The laurels are bestowed every other year at one of the most glamorous galas in Texas. The most recent one in 2017 at Bass Concert Hall was a blow-out.

John Paul and Eloise DeJoria win a 2017 Texas Medal of Arts Award for their corporate philanthropy with Patron and Paul Mitchell. Contributed.

RELATED: What the arts mean to great Texas artists and patrons.

Now the Trust wants your input.

Send your nominations in by April 5, 2018 for the February 2019 edition of the honors. Categories include architecture, arts education, arts patron (corporate, foundation or individual), dance, design, film, lifetime achievement, literary arts, media/multimedia, music, television, theater and visual arts.

RELATED: Soaking up the glamour of Texas Medal of Arts.

For a complete list of past honorees, go here. The 2017 winners included Eloise and John Paul DeJoria with Paul Mitchell/Patron, Kris Kristofferson, Lynn Wyatt, Lauren Anderson, Yolanda Adams, Renee Elise Goldsberry, Tobin Endowmen, Dallas Black Dance Theatre, Leo Villareal, Frank Welch, John Phillip Santos, Scott Pelley and Kenny Rogers.

ICYMI: New $6 million portal for Laguna Gloria

The Contemporary Austin has raised $6 million to make the entrance to Laguna Gloria more welcoming.

The entrance to Laguna Gloria will be transformed by a $6 million welcoming project. Contributed by Reed Hilderbrand

READ MORE about the plans at our premium site MyStatesman.com.

The beloved 14-acre site, home to b’s 1916 villa and, now, the sprawling b, is set to undergo a multiphase face-lift. The first step is to break ground March 21 on a new $6 million guest-friendly entrance complex and improvements to the verges of West 35th Street.

The effort was made possible by a $3 million grant from the Moody Foundation, which recently gave $15 million to the Waller Creek Conservancy to build a performance venue in Waterloo Park and $9.7 million to the Pease Park Conservancy to improve the green space alongside Shoal Creek, considered the city’s oldest park and site for a new Stickwork sculpture off Parkway.

Get ready for Ellsworth Kelly at the Blanton Museum of Art

Top arts news of the week: UT opens Ellsworth Kelly masterpiece at the Blanton Museum of Art. Although museum members, directors and backers have peeked inside the chapel-like building on campus, everyone can see it during regular museum hours beginning Feb. 18. Check into the Visitors Services desk in the east wing of the museum first. And go on a sunny morning for the best light show.

READ a description of the place on our premium site MyStatesman.com.

The tumbling square windows fill one vault with pale light. Ralph Barrera/American-Statesman

“Patches of color drip ever so slowly down the walls, then pool onto the smooth black granite floor. On sunny days, the tall white barrel vaults swim with jewel-toned iridescence.

“Not only do the intense hues migrate minute by minute, they alter from day to day according to the position of the sun above “Austin,” a phenomenal new building that doubles as a monumental work of art on the University of Texas campus.”

SXSW puts a premium on art in 2018

At some point, South by Southwest will encompass all human activity.

Austin’s vast March spree started with music in the 1980s, then added movies and technology, before taking on education, philanthropy, the environment and allied fields.

Art came next.

“Feast” by Caitlin Pickall

Today, SXSW announced six art projects for its second annual  program scheduled for the conference and festivals March 9-18, 2018. Combined with the UNESCO Media Arts Exhibition at SXSW, the installations are meant to expand the discussion on visual and digital and media arts during the confab.

We’ll share some artists and titles. Find more information at SXSW Art Program.

SXSW ART PROGRAM INCLUDES:

“Conductors of the Resistance” by Ronen Sharabani

“Feast” by Caitlin Pickall

“Future of Secrets” by Sarah Newman, Jessica Yurkofsky and Rachel Kalmar

“Life Underground” by Hervé Cohen

“MTA: Floating Destiny” with music performed by GuQin

“A Colossal Wave!” by Marshmallow Laser Feast

UNESCO MEDIA ARTS EXHIBITION INCLUDES:

“Forgotten Landscapes” by James Hughes and Ha Na Lee

“Gathering”by Lisa Woods

“Herstory” by Yuliya Lanina

“Passage (Variation)” by Luke Savinsky

Meow Wolf

The Living Museum

“Against a Civic Death” by Rodney McMillian:

“Forever Bicycles” by Ai Weiwei

 

ICYMI: How high design can deliver the art of living

This story about how Heather McKinney and Brian Carlson of McKinney York Architects helped artist and educator Katelena Hernandez Cowles and her husband, financial planer James Cowles, plan a home fit for the rest of their lives has enjoyed an afterlife on social media.

READ FULL STORY HERE.

Katelena Hernandez Cowles and James Cowles balanced their personalities throughout their Tarrytown home. Stephen Spillman for American-Statesman

SAMPLE:

Cut straight to the crucial tip: Talk to your designer. And listen. You probably won’t be sorry.

Fourteen years ago, Katelena Hernandez Cowles and James Cowles talked and listened to Heather McKinney and Brian Carlson of McKinney York Architects. And they could not be happier with their pliable three-story Tarrytown house built above a dry creek for the couple and their two children, Celia and Gabriel.

Instead of limiting their ideas to the wants and needs of the time, they collaborated with their architects to cook up a house that they can adapt for the rest of their lives, taking into account inevitabilities such as maturing children, aging parents and life’s hard-to-predict thunderbolts.

Take their tall, airy living room flanked on two sides by hanging art and on the other two sides by a long, open kitchen and a tree-friendly deck with a fireplace. At first, the creative and energetic family furnished this inviting central room with four cozy, double-wide chairs equipped with wheels, since the room’s function fluctuated wildly.

“When kids were young, we’d clear the chairs out of the way to set up huge wooden train-track layouts and had group painting sessions with long rolls of paper, science experiments, paper airplane battles from the balcony down into washtubs on floor,” says Katelena, 46, an artist and educator. “The kids learned to ride bikes and to roller skate in a circular pattern around the central staircase. The Brazilian cumaru wood flooring was so hard it was indestructible. We finally resealed the main floor 11 years later.”