Sunday, October 23, 2005

When I am really

living in New York I am massively lazy and only go to things if someone else tells me when & where to be & arranges for tickets, I would be completely misrepresenting myself if I said that I am missing NY particularly because of cultural events, and yet being away it certainly becomes wildly more appealing to line up some good stuff when I'm in town, and I have just had the most idyllic visit. Lots of my favorite people in the world, plus excellent arts-related things (not nearly as book-oriented as I usually tend to be).

Most sublime and delightful were Nico Muhly's amazing settings of passages from Strunk and White's Elements of Style (and Maira Kalman's paintings for the illustrated version are quite extraordinary, the originals were on display in the reception room before and after the concert and they are really some of the most beautiful things I've seen for a long time). Here was the link for the event, and here was the lovely piece in the Times (which includes a perceptive description of the music, which the author of the piece heard in rehearsal the week before). It was completely amazing, sitting with perhaps five hundred people in the seats along the tables in the main reading room at the New York Public Library and listening to the miraculously elegant and intelligent and haunting music Nico had written. The performers were superb, the place was perfect (I felt as if I was uncannily listening to something written for me and me alone, it was so exactly what I love--Nico's music has this Benjamin Britten-esque thing that I adore, the phrase "popular music" has quite different connotations but you really feel that the best name for what he writes would be a defamiliarized version of popular music, it is so accessible and appealing and yet distinctly his own & not at all what anyone else would have written--and in a library of all places!). A recording was made, and I'll link if it goes up online--also there may be a segment on NPR sometime in the next week or two. I think my favorite settings were of the lines beginning "Do not use a hyphen between words that can better / be written as one word: water-fowl, waterfowl" and "Nice"; but my favorite single piece was "Chicago (Duet)," which has the most enchanting music but also the wittiest use of language and setting together ("Without a friend to counsel him, the temptation proved irresistible").

Then on Friday I saw the spirit photography exhibit at the Met, it is pretty great though not actually sublime: the ectoplasm photographs are the most grotesque, especially given the general depressingness and weird class stuff about the women who are the professional mediums (I think this may be more or at least differently resonant now than even at the time, because of how much we think now about bodies and eating disorders and matter and words and stuff, you really have almost to choke when you look at these things, stretches of supposedly ethereal but really all-too-bodily cheesecloth ectoplasm streaming out of mouths and--I am afraid to say--vaginas and so on). The most appealing photos are the deliberate hoaxes; I am very much looking forward to getting the exhibition catalog, The Perfect Medium: Photography and the Occult, and examining it more closely.

And then this afternoon I did indeed see the truly enchanting Moscow Cats Theatre. I was laughing so much I had to wipe the tears from my eyes, it is quite an amazing show (and so Russian, too, that's partly what I love). Here's my favorite cat, and here's another cat doing a handstand--pawstand--literally it held this position for at least 10 seconds.

Light reading round the edges, mostly on the bus, was three novels by Terry Pratchett: Equal Rites, Guards! Guards! and Men At Arms. I find Pratchett's novels extremely funny but I also read them feverishly with an eye to how the hell he does it--he makes it look really, really easy but there is something extremely cunning going on to make these books so enjoyable to such a large number of people.

Not much going on here blog-wise over the next week or so, as I've got a massive amount of work to do between now and Wednesday evening and then a trip to a conference on Thursday. But air travel always licenses light reading for me, so expect more book-related commentary at the end of next weekend. Meanwhile a few trivial posts may come this way, although I can't promise anything much.

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