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Monday, February 27, 2012

Diamonds in the Desert, 3 -- Rembrandt, Orchestra Hall

How do you get to Carnegie Hall? Practice, practice, practice!

The same could be said for the musician wanting to get to Detroit's Max Fisher Hall (aka Orchestra Hall), home of the Detroit Symphony.

We didn't get back to the hotel from the DIA till after 5:30, because our tickets to the Rembrandt exhibit weren't until late in the day. There was plenty to see and savor in this exhibit showing how Rembrandt changed in his interpretation of painting Jesus.

Photos weren't allowed in the exhibit. Most of these are from an excellent Time slideshow; one is from the DIA website.

The idea of the exhibit was to show how Rembrandt was one of the first European artists to focus on Jesus as a compassionate, good, young and kind person -- to find his humanity.

To do so, he chose models who were Jewish and who lived in the same Jewish quarter of Amsterdam as he did.

Interestingly enough, Rembrandt's religious art may have been as much a commercial as spiritual endeavor. During that period in the Netherlands, the Calvinist religion promoted a great desire to have images of Jesus in the home. Rembrandt whipped out his pieces for quick sale to his fellow Amsterdam citizens. It was the copious records from his later bankruptcy that provided the provenance for many of his works.

(I have to admit, it sort of freaked me out that he was the equivalent of the Thomas Kincade of the day.)

The exhibit also had wonderful models of Amsterdam during that time and excellent multimedia features. If it is headed to a city near you, I recommend it.

And, for a short and very interesting review of the exhibition catalogue by Lloyd DeWitt, reviewed by WKAR's Lev Raphael, please listen to THIS LINK. Raphael makes excellent points about the impact of seeing the illustrations in the catalogue and savoring each image and accessible sections of text over time, versus the still-thrilling, but sometimes frustrating, of experiencing such a powerful exhibition in a crowd. Makes me wish I'd bought the catalogue!

But all that art viewing set us off course for dinner! And remember a few posts ago, I mentioned the restaurant at the hotel? Not an option for dinner! So, we found a Japanese restaurant near the DIA, wolfed down some noodles and rice and were off to the symphony.

To walk into Orchestra Hall is truly a grand experience. Our seats were on the first floor, under the balcony. Perfect for seeing every bit of the concert, titled "Ravishing Rachmaninoff."

Leonard Slatkin conducts the Detroit Symphony Orchestra, and he is one of the most renowned conductors in the world. The first piece was an interesting new piece by a woman named Cynthia McTee called "Einstein's Dream" -- not quite my cup of "tea." But the second was the Shoshtokovich Violin Concerto No. 1 in A Minor, Op. 99, with a violinist named Julian Rachlin. There were plenty of tricky and intricate passages in the four movements and he was masterful, getting the standing ovation he deserved from an appreciative audience.

During intermission, we headed to the balcony for photos and then down front.

You can get an idea of the scale of the hall, yet it felt rather intimate.

And the architectural details were lovely.

The second act, Rachmaninoff's Symphonic Dances, Op. 45. I loved this piece, filled with energy, power, lightness and quieter moments. And yes, another ovation.

The Rachmaninoff was being recorded by the DSO -- I have a feeling I'll be getting that CD!

Then it was back to the hotel (where the restaurant bar had closed before we arrived at 10:30. No glass of wine for us that night!

But we did pass by a couple of Detroit's other "diamonds" -- The Fox Theatre (above) and Comerica Park, home of the Detroit Tigers. (It will never replace the original Tiger stadium in my mind, though!)

Next: A brunch to die for in a converted mansion. And, for some great illustrations and a look at a treasured children's book I've loved since 1958, visit Chopsticks and String HERE.

Friday, February 24, 2012

Diamonds in the Desert, Pt. 2 -- The DIA

Walking down Woodward Avenue, from the St. Regis to the Detroit Institute of Arts in the slush was no pleasure. But once we got inside, good things began to happen.

First, the sold-out "Rembrandt: Faces of Jesus" exhibit had openings at 3:30 p.m. That was a bonus. (More about that in the next post; it's exceptional.)

But even if we hadn't been able to get in, the DIA is more than worth the $10 admission -- or free for members! After all, when you can stand centimeters away from a Van Gogh self-portrait, that's worth more than the price of admission! I gasped.

You will find beautiful puppets.

I'm a sucker for puppets and I loved these marionettes. I'm told there are puppet shows in the atrium periodically. I'd love to see one of those.

There are astounding paintings by great masters of American Art (Frederick Church below). His mastery of light in the landscape is magnificent.

Portraits tell stories and are loaded with symbolism. (The fish in the bowl and the wallpaper crowns over the little girl's heads represent privilege and protection from the world outside.) This is John Everett Millais' "Leisure Hours" (1864). Love the rich texture of their dresses.

There is furniture...

....and beautiful wood carving.

The night before we left, we watched a movie called "Modligliani" -- I was excited to walk into a gallery and see a "Modi" staring back at me! (This was dated 1917-1920) The story (which may or may not have had its own elements of fiction) brought the work into a more vivid context for me.

Warhol? Sure! (and Picasso, too!)

And what about European painting masters? Rick's favorite is "The Wedding Dance" by Pieter Bruegel the Elder in 1566. One of the things about this particular painting and many others in the museum was that it was purchased by the City of Detroit for the museum. That was then... this is now. These days, the city isn't purchasing much.

Like 'em bright? Matisse did!

Female impressionists? Who can argue with Mary Cassatt? ("In the Garden," 1903-4)

The gentlemen? A number of Renoir, Pissaro, Monet (below).

Religious? Fra Angelico is a favorite.

And I have always loved Della Robia.

Stained glass? This John La Farge triptych (1809) was a favorite of mine. I've always been fond of his windows in Boston's Trinity Church.

My favorite painting is this one called "The Nut Gatherers," done by William Bouguereau in 1882.

I first saw it with my friend Patricia decades ago. It reminded us of us -- long, blondish Patricia, dark, short-haired me. I miss her terribly and seeing this painting within a few months of the tenth anniversary of her death (or is it more?) was a bit of a choke up for me. We used to share that same kind of long talk about everything under the sun.

I've always been fond of art nouveau, so this painting -- a preliminary study for a poster that appeared later advertising a newspaper titled "La Depeche de Toulouse" (1892) appealed to me.

And again, I was attracted to the furniture in this style -- and had to put myself in the picture!

Rick and I tend to agree on most art, and we were both very fond of this portrait of "My Daughter Elisabeth" (1914) by Frank Benson, a lovely study of his daughter.

I also liked these two Winslow Homer's. I'm rather used to seeing his work reflect the sea; these were simply beautiful. This one is titled "Girl and Laurel" (1879).

And this piece is "The Four-Leaf Clover" (1873).

And what would a visit to a museum be without a glass display! Their shelves are much tidier than my china cabinet.

We passed up the "Brunch with Bach" concert, but thanks to the lovely windows overlooking the courtyard, were able to enjoy it anyway!

In the last post I mentioned the Diego Rivera mural. That will be the subject of an upcoming post. He deserves one of his own! As you can see, it's massive -- and there is far more hidden meaning than I can possibly convey!

But that's for another day. Next time, we'll return for a look at the Rembrandt "Faces of Jesus" exhibit and then step away from the art museum for art of a different type!

(If you're a book fan, check out the gorgeous illustrations from my newest Chopsticks and String book post -- this is a treasured children's favorite that isn't to be believed! See it HERE!)

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Diamonds in the Desert -- Part One

When I was about seven or eight years old, my mother bundled me up, took me to Lansing's train station and we boarded the train for Detroit.

I was so excited, I could hardly stand it -- it was not only my first train ride, but I was going to meet Carolyn Haywood, my favorite author, who was signing books at the J.L. Hudson department store.

Downtown Detroit was the biggest place I'd seen -- tall buildings, bustling with people. The Hudson building was 25 stories high -- I don't remember how many floors the department store had -- just "a lot."

What I do remember about that day is getting my book and following my mother around the store, parking myself on any chair, mannequin base or, if necessary, the floor, so I could read "Back to School with Betsy" while she tried on clothes.

Much has changed since those days. The Lansing depot is now a restaurant -- one with fabulous, vintage decor, Tiffany-style lamps, and Old Lansing artifacts. The food -- a tad mediocre. But still a fun place to go.

Writer Andrew Nelson (in a National Geographic article HERE) recalls the Detroit station as a "vast atrium that was inspired by the imperial baths of ancient Rome." In his article "Rise and Shine Detroit" Nelson says "Even a little boy in the mid-1960s notices the tempo. The Motor City is in motion. We build America’s cars. Thanks to Berry Gordy’s Motown, the world hums our songs. The city, fifth largest in the U.S. by population, is at the top of its game."

Fast forward to 2012. Nelson says "Michigan Central Station still looks Roman, but it’s a Roman ruin," long closed and oft vandalized. Hudson's was later taken over by Marshall Field's, then Macy's. The original site I visited was demolished in 1998.

Carolyn Haywood died in 1990 at age 92 of a stroke. I still have some of her books on the shelf at the cottage.

Detroit suffered from "White Flight in the late 1960s, when families moved away. First, commuting to downtown, they later built their businesses in the suburbs. The auto industry began to feel the pinch of the economy and foreign imports. Add to that the block-busters, encouraging people to move out of the city before the property values dropped too much. Nelson says that in 2010, the population, once two million, was not quite 714,000.

So, why would Rick and I want to spend Valentine's weekend in a "city that used to be great"?

Because amidst the desolation -- and there is plenty of it -- there are a few diamonds in the desert.

This series of posts continues in several parts and includes the Detroit Institute of Arts, the Detroit Symphony Orchestra and the fabulous Whitney, a wonderful restaurant in a beautiful Detroit mansion.

But first, I'll start with a couple of overall impressions that help put the weekend in context. (I assure you, when we get to the "Diamonds" you'll feel much encouraged.)

We arrived on a bright Saturday morning after a drive on roads that would embarrass Michigan's MDOT -- sometimes crystal clean, at other times with ruts of snow that felt almost dangerous. As we exited at West Grand Boulevard, the tall Fisher building stood ahead on the left, the original GM headquarters on the right and behind the Fisher, the St. Regis Hotel, where we would stay.

I have fond memories of this part of Detroit, based on many trips to the Fisher as a teen. We saw "Hello, Dolly!," my first show there -- Carol Channing stayed at the St. Regis. We saw "Applause!" and I met Lauren Bacall and Penny Fuller in the parking lot -- they stayed there, too. And so did the titans of industry who stayed at GM until it -- well, until it moved.

So, I had pretty high hopes. It was in an area called "New Center," which we never really discovered, it had a classic history. And, at first impression, not so bad. The room was nice, a spacious bed, comfy chair, clean bathroom.

Then you looked at the amenities -- or lack thereof. Not a pen, pad or hotel directory to be had. Where to eat? Well, how about the restaurant downstairs, so nicely mentioned in the website? (As my friend Jan says, "This is Detroit.")

There was a restaurant there, as advertised on the menu. It was closed around noon, but sStill, good to have a restaurant in the hotel, just in case we needed to grab dinner there, or a glass of wine after the concert that night, or our continental breakfast included with our stay. Remember this. It'll come back later!

Then it was off to the Detroit Art Institute, one of the "diamonds." I'll talk more about that in the next post and show you some terrific art. Let me just say that the estimated quarter-mile walk was more like three-quarters in the snow, slush and erratically shoveled Detroit sidewalks.

Nearly every building was closed up or had graffiti. We didn't see any restaurants except for two in the block before the DIA -- a Japanese/Korean spot and a crepe restaurant.

These are a couple of photos by Scott Hocking, whose work we saw at the DIA, truly one of the more depressing exhibits I've ever seen.

The exhibit, "Detroit Revealed," presents a look back at the last decade through the perspective of eight photographers who look at the once-great city through the perspectives of community, history and uncertain future. It presented startling portraits and documentary-like city scenes from urban garden to neighborhoods and closed factories. We didn't see a lot of the neighborhoods, apart from the drive-by on the expressway, and that's not the best way to evaluate. But the desolation in these photos really does capture in its own version what we saw.

The Hocking image is taken at the abandoned Packard Automobile plant in 2009.

The photo below by Andrew Moore shows a typical Detroit factory today. (This may have been the famous "River Rouge" plant, but I'm not sure. Bad blogger notes.)

Compare to the Diego Rivera mural I'll talk about more in a future post, showing Detroit in its prime.

We were in for an emotionally topsy-turvy weekend.

Next: The Diamonds of the DIA

Note: Some photos in this post are from Wikipedia, FreeLibraryBlog, Alpha-Bet Books. Photo of River Rouge Plant by Andrew Moore, 2008 © Courtesy of the artist and the Yancey Richardson Gallery. Detroit Institute of Arts.

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