Sharing piano music, buying a painting, and going to a new ballet

by Rob Tiller

Stuart is not overly excited about our new painting

What does art mean to life? I’ll take a strong position, and say, simply, everything.

My brother, Paul, and sister-in-law Jackie were passing through last week, and we convened for dinner at Zely and Ritz. But first, they came up to our apartment to see the view and have a cocktail. I wanted to play some piano music for them, but hesitated to propose it. Sharing serious music just isn’t something people normally do in these modern times.

I also recognize that for some people it would be an imposition. I think my playing is thoughtful and nuanced, but it isn’t perfect. Even if I were a seasoned professional concert artist, it would still be true that my nineteenth and early twentieth century repertoire would not be to the taste of everyone. Although it amazes me, I understand that some people find it bewildering or boring. I hope this is mostly because of lack of education and exposure — which is one reason I think it’s important to share it.

Fortunately, Paul and Jackie studied music in college and enjoy various genres. And so I played for them some Chopin (the Nocturnes in c-sharp minor and D flat) and Debussy (the First Arabesque). They sounded good, though maybe a little stiffer than when I play for myself alone. Playing for someone else dramatically changes the sensation of making music. Perhaps it’s from adding adrenalin. Things that seemed settled can become unsettled. Sometimes new beauty emerges, and sometimes things fall to pieces. This is one of the reasons I was happy to have these family listeners — without listeners, it’s impossible to learn how to communicate the music. Paul and Jackie seemed to enjoy it, and were very gracious.

At lunch time on Wednesday, Sally and I met at the Adam Cave gallery to look at some paintings. Sally had followed up on a review she’d read with investigation on the Internet, and come up with some works that might work for us by Byron Gin. Adam, the proprietor of the gallery, had agreed to pull together his stock of Gin works, and told us more about the artist. We both felt excited about Three Birds and a Cup, and discussed it more over a lunch at the Remedy Diner (great veggie sandwiches and rock music). The next day, we decided to take him up on his offer to take the painting home and see how it looked before committing.

Three Birds and a Cup, by Byron Gin

I think it’s a touching, slightly funny and engaging painting. The house sparrows look like quizzical house sparrows, but the space looks vibrant blue and gold paint. The yellow cup looks like a cup. The eye and mind shift back and forth between the birds and the cup, and the natural and human world. I find it nourishing and stimulating.

Friday night, we ate at Buku before going to the ballet. It was unseasonably mild, so we sat outside at dinner. Buku has increased its vegetarian offerings, and the ones we tried were good: baba ghanoush, arepas, and lentil wat. I also had the flight of three half glasses of Chilean wines, which were quite delicious.

At Fletcher Hall, we heard choreographer Lynne Taylor-Corbett speak on the new work to be performed that evening, The Little Mermaid. We’ve liked many of LTC’s works, including Carmina Burana and Carolina Jamboree. She’s a very engaging personality, and articulate and down-to-earth about what she’s trying to do.

She didn’t put it this way, but The Little Mermaid seems designed for ballet newcomers and kids. This was somewhat true of her The Ugly Duckling, but I found Duckling more elegant and touching. Jan Burkhard as the mermaid was lovely and girlish, and fun to watch, and Randi Oseteck as the sea witch was a great villain. And I particularly liked Lindsay Purrington as the sly village girl who tricks the prince. She made the part more sympathetic than the story might have suggest, so that I was sorry when she got her comeuppance. The costumes were mostly delightful. But I found the music intensely cloying, and the narration at times plodding.

The second half of the program was duets of a serious and more classical nature. I particularly enjoyed Lara O’Brien in an intensely tragic Weiss pas de deux with music by Gustav Mahler (one of the true greats). Peggy Severin-Hanson and Marcelo Martinez were powerful and delightful in Le Corsaire pas de deux. It was great to see this significant chapter in ballet history brought intensely to life.

I recently finished reading Apollo’s Angels, a history of ballet by Jennifer Homans. I found some of it heavy going, particularly the early stages, but it was worth it all for the last couple of chapters, including her writing on Balanchine, which was full of insight. It’s unfortunate that she ends the book on a sour note in which she opines that ballet is dying. From where I sit, there’s still a lot of life. I just checked the repertoire list of the Carolina Ballet, and noted that they’ve presented versions of many of the works that Homans discusses and treats as high points of the art. I’m so glad they’re here.